Me at one of many vistas


Roaring Plains
September 2007

Last updated September 20, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

With my last backpacking adventure only 2 weeks past, I normally wouldn't be quite so anxious to get back on the trail. But September is the period when I'm trying to cram all my outdoor activities into a short span of time since I know the warm days are coming to an end. Additionally, I could hardly pass up a trip where the second day is described as a "hike over some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain on the east coast."

Day One: Saturday, September 15, 2007

Originally, Norma and I were scheduled to attend this three day Howard County Sierra Club event. Unfortunately, she had to cancel due to work commitments. It was my intention to take plenty of photos on the day of our big hike on Sunday so I could better share some of my adventure with her.

Sometimes the weather in the area of the hike can be overcast...but not Sunday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather report as of Friday for the Davis, West Virginia area was as follows:

Saturday: A slight chance of showers before 9am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 58. Northwest wind around 9 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Saturday Night: Patchy frost after 3am. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 36. North wind between 4 and 7 mph becoming calm.
Sunday: Patchy frost before 9am. Otherwise, sunny, with a high near 66. Calm wind becoming north around 6 mph.
Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 37. Light and variable wind.
Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 73.

I arrived at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride. By 0900, we were off. Jody, John, and I rode with Mike J. while Ellen and Andy rode with Betty. After getting carsick on the drive up to Laurel Forks Wilderness 2 weeks ago, I was guaranteed to ride shotgun this time.

We assembled at the Roaring Plains trailhead on south side of Forest Service Road 19, about 1200 meters west of Dolly Sods Road. There we met with Cavin and Anne. Unlike my last trip, I knew everyone in our group except for Betty.

Roaring Plains is just south of Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest. It is lesser known and more remote. Hence, if you want the beauty of Dolly Sods but would prefer to see fewer people, then this might be a good place to visit.

By 1330, we were walking. Normally we wouldn't get such a late start but this backpacking adventure was a little different than most. We only walked 2.5 miles, heading south on the South Prong Trail. We were on the ridgeline of Red Creek Plains so there were a few scenic vistas along the way. See Roaring Plains Map.

At the southernmost end of the South Prong, we set up base camp near a small stream. Our elevation was a little over 4000 feet above sea level.

Next, we walked about a quarter mile northwest to a seldom-visited vista of the South Prong drainage. We then scrambled up a rock to catch a view of the valley below. Previously, Mike did some trail maintenance in the area where they helped build a stone staircase near the drainage. See first photo at left.

Andy pointed out some huckleberries which look kinda like blueberries but are darker and shiny. See second photo at left.

That was pretty much it for the first day. Mike didn't want to venture further since there weren't any reliable sources of water.

As the sun set, it got quite cold. The winds didn't help.

We ate dinner. With such a short distance to carry full backpacks, we carried a few items we normally wouldn't carry on a much longer trip. Cavin brought some Fosters beers. I brought a bottle of Three Blind Moose red wine left over from my birthday party.

I built a fire which went out on the first try. Some fire starters other than my dryer lint revived it.

I got in a good muscle stretch. Then it was off to bed at 2015. There were absolutely no animal noises which seemed bizarre though it isn't uncommon for this area.

Now was my chance to try out my brand new REI Sahara down feather sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees. I took no chances since I hate being cold. I went to bed with polypropylene underwear, a wool cap, gloves, and wool socks. I ended up getting too hot and had to remove my hat and gloves. But according to Cavin's digital thermometer, the low temperature during the night was 27 degrees! I wasn't cold. When I awoke, my tent was covered in frost and the canteens I brought into my tent were icy! Later I thought that it would have been smart to bring my contact lense solution and lense case into the tent with me to keep them from freezing. Fortunately, they didn't freeze.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two: September 16, 2007

I awoke at 0700 to a frosty tent. The air was crisp and the sun was shining. Visibility was so good I could almost see into tomorrow.

I was amazingly refreshed after having slept almost 10 hours! I expect this is partly because I set my tent over small, semi-rigid plants which acted like a spring mattress under my isomat.

A few people were up before me and had already got the fire stoked which made eating breakfast all the nicer.

Cavin left that morning so he could get back to work. Unfortunately, he would miss the best part of the trip.

We started hiking just after 0900. I traveled light with only my 2 liter Platypus hydration pack, snacks, and camera. No trekking poles as I generally don't find them helpful unless I carry a heavy load.

Our group walked on the Roaring Plains Trail and the Canyon Rim Trail. It was a clockwise loop that doesn't appear on the map referenced above but it was near where Norma and I hiked on January 13, 2007.

Much of the trail consisted of an open, narrow path bordered by small bushes. Some was protected by tree cover and ferns bordering the trail (see first photo at left). Other parts had pine needles and moss along the edges (see second photo at left).

Our first vista was in a clearing where we could see mist in the neighboring mountain ranges. Small plants dominated on the plains instead of trees which gave us some excellent views. See third and fourth photos at left.

After heading south, we turned west, with the Allegheny Mountains now to our backs.

The charming Ellen, our group geologist, pointed out Spruce Knob, the highest peak in West Virginia. See fifth photo at left.

At first, the trail was easy to follow. Worn out pieces of earth, rocks, or dry grass made an easy path to follow. See sixth photo at left.

Eventually, we came to a pine bordered road near an underground pipeline. See seventh and eighth photos at left. A short walk and a little bushwhacking (see ninth photo at left) took us to a splendid overlook where I took a group photo. See tenth photo at left. From left to right are Anne (Doc), Mike, John, Jody, Andy, Ellen, and Betty.

Someone spotted some pink fungus growing in the lichen. It looked downright alien. See eleventh photo at left.

Mike led us back to the pipeline then through some heavily overgrown sections where we lost the trail a few times. I'm amazed we were able to follow it as well as we did. See twelfth photo at left. Mike has a very good sense of direction.

A large flower-like fungus was passed. See thirteenth photo at left. Mike identified it as bondarzewia berkeleyi. Its nick-name is Stump Blossom and it is a gigantic edible that grows tough with age.

Soon, we were in an area where there were more vistas than I can remember. Most hikes only have about 3 so this was a real treat. See photos fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen at left.

The terrain became extremely rocky and the group slowed down significantly. Andy led much of this section, taking us from cairn to cairn along a quarter mile section of talus. See nineteenth and twentieth photos at left.

After the boulder field, we came across a wasp nest on the ground. See twenty-first photo at left. I can't imagine they would have built it there. Perhaps it fell.

Doc and I took photos so we were often in the rear. The folks in the front turned around a bend on the trail near some trees and rocks. Then I heard lots of yelling and a loud rattling noise. They came across a 5 foot long, 5 inch wide rattlesnake. I ran to the front to take photos. See twenty-second photo at left. Fortunately, my 10 power optical zoom camera enabled me to take close-ups from a distance. We made a big detour around the snake and continued our hike.

I later found out from Anne that according to a Morgantown newspaper article on fatal snake bites, in the last 50 years in West Virginia, 13 people have died from Rattlesnake bites, but 9 of those occurred in snake-handling churches. Sometimes backpacking is safer than going to church.

Andy pointed out a plant called "trailing arbutus" which reminded me of a town I lived in called Arbutus.

Back at the pipeline road, the trail was once again more well defined.

We passed the South Fork of Red Creek. See twenty-third photo at left.

Numerous monarch caterpillars were seen in the milkweed and I managed to spot a chrysalis. See twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth photos at left.

We also saw blackberries (twenty-sixth photo) and elderberries (twenty-seventh photo).

By 1700, we were done with our 12.5 mile hike.

I gathered firewood. There were some large logs that were too long so I decided to break them by slamming them against a rock. I saw Pat do this on my first backpacking trip with Mike on April 15-17, 2006. It worked with the first log but the second one was very solid and ended up breaking the rock instead. That's when Anne let me use her saw.

I opened up the wine and John brought out some oatmeal cookies which he shared with the group. John also told me about Enertia backpacking foods which I will likely try. I like the fact that each comes in its own graduated plastic bag, ready to add boiling water. No mess, no cleanup.

Once again, I got a good stretch. I was accompanied by Betty and Anne...or perhaps I accompanied them.

We played a word game called Password taught to me by Jenn several years ago.

Off to bed around 2100. Not much of a moon so the stars were especially bright.

Again, it was a silent night. But unlike last night, it wasn't very cold. I had to strip layers twice and I ended up totally unzipping the sleeping bag. The temperature was above freezing and still a little cold but nothing compared to the previous night.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three, September 17, 2007

Again I awoke to a nice fire at around the same time as yesterday. But I didn't sleep as well. Not very tired I guess. I think too much mental or visual stimulation keeps me awake at times and I had more than my share of visual stimulation yesterday.

We packed up our gear and were back on the trail.

Another day of fantastic weather.

We saw some wild cranberries growing near the boardwallk. See first photo at left.

I snapped a rare photo of Mike least I think he's smiling. See second photo at left.

Within an hour, we were back to the vehicles.

After bidding farewell, Anne headed home; Andy, Jody, Ellen, and Betty went to bird banding place and Bear Rocks; while John, Mike, and I went straight back to the park and ride.

Traffic was light and I managed to get home by mid-afternoon.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

With the warm days of green trees coming to a close, this trip was a nice way to get outside. I managed to see some of the best of West Virginia. It was a part well off the beaten path that few get to see and a side I would never have seen alone. I am fortunate I saw what I did and lucky I managed to get some nice photos. Perhaps others will see them and be motivated to get outdoors a little more often.