Meadows and mountains


Seneca Creek Backcountry
Labor Day Weekend 2008

Last updated September 5, 2008



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

For me, there are two very special holidays in the year: Memorial Day and Labor Day. It has nothing to do with the events for which they are recognized but rather the time of year on which they fall. One marks the beginning of the warm season while the other marks the end. Though I hate to see my favorite season leave, I know that I really have about six weeks left until the days start to get very short and the Chesapeake Bay gets cold. Hence, it is the time when I try to get as much outdoor time as possible since there is nothing worse than looking back during a cold winter day and thinking that I should have spent more time outside during the summer.

Day One: Saturday, August 30, 2008

We met at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride for a Howard County Sierra Club backpacking trip led by the famous Mike J. Several were signed up for this event and a few were on the waiting list...including me. But despite forecasts for good weather, several people dropped out for various reasons: family committments, work, and injuries.

Mike drove "Big Red" with Melissa, and I drove my Subaru Impreza with Andy. Along the way, Mike picked up Mikhail (Michael). As usual, we stopped at the Micky D's in Strasburg and Petersburg.

It was a long 5 hour drive though it might have been 4.5 hours without the stops.

At the trailhead, we met Pam, Dottie, and Mark. I also saw Tamara from the Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC) who was part of a 20 person meetup group that also planned to spend the long weekend backpacking.

I donned my 43 pound pack and we set sail from a dirt lot at Public Road 112 in Spruce Knob National Recreation Area just east of where it intersects Public Road 131. See first photo at left.

There were a few easy stream crossings (second photo) as we hiked along Seneca Creek heading north on Seneca Creek Trail (Trail 515). See third photo. No, this isn't the Seneca Creek I paddled on August 23, 2008 in Baltimore County; this is Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

There were some nice mountain and meadow views along the way (fourth photo).

Along the way, we passed some caterpillars. See fifth photo at left.

We walked past what appeared to be a 15 foot waterfall. See sixth photo. I remembered seeing it on a photo. It inspired me to bring a swimsuit and goggles.

We posed for a group photo (seventh photo).

It was an easy 5 mile walk on level terrain to the campsite. Our goal was to beat the meetup group and that we did. There were quite a few other folks on the trail too and while we found a suitable campsite, it wasn't our first choice. The folks who stayed before us left a shirt, sunglasses, trash, and toilet paper. I cleaned up all except the toilet paper.

After setting up my tent, I changed into my swimwear and went to the waterfall. Michael and Mike joined me. I swam for a very short while. My peckerometer said the water temperature was bitter cold. I tried to swim to the bottom but I couldn't hold my breath for more than a few seconds. Cold water does that to me. But I could see lots of 6 inch long fish swimming about. The water was very clean. See eighth and ninth photos at left.

Michael swam with his underwear on. After coming out of the water onto land, he covered himself with a towel to remove his underwear so he could wring it out. The towel wasn't big but it covered up his front side to keep him from exposing his unit to us. But little did he know that several folk from the meetup group (about half women) were walking on the trail above and behind him. He could have used a bigger towel as the one he had failed to cover his ass crack. Mike gives people trail names. Sometimes it takes awhile before he comes up with one but after that event, Mike gave Michael the trail name "Moonshine." Michael is quite the character and a very good sport.

It felt good to rinse off under the falls but it didn't take long before I was shivering uncontrollably. If you've read my other trip reports, this seems to happen often with me.

As is typically the case, I brought only food I could eat without a stove. Hence, for dinner (actually most meals) I ate a tortilla with cheese and meat. Not quite gourmet but it gets the job done.

I got a campfire started but it died. My pride was a bit hurt by that but a little more firestarter and some help from Andy and Michael and soon it was stoking. It rained quite a bit on previous days so the wood was pretty wet. I felt a little better when folks from a nearby campsite came by asking us how we got our fire started. Mike gave them some firestarter. Their group sent a good-looking young chick to ask for every time.

Around the fire, I was told about the dreaded brown recluse spider. Its venomous bite sounds worse than any scary campfire story. I've probably seen many in the past and didn't know what they were.

It was fairly humid though the predicted high temperature was a comfortable 81 degrees in Riverton (Mike says to subtract 5 degrees for the trail temps). There was a 20% chance of precipitation during the night so I put my pack cover on my backpack before going beddy-by.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two: Sunday, August 31, 2008

I got LOTS of sleep.

It didn't rain during the night but my rock climbing chalk bag was wet. I use this bag to hold my camera. It turns out that my pack was resting on my Platypus water bladder nozzle. Hence, all my water leaked out during the night and got my camera soaked. It was not working. I opened all the ports, remove the batteries, and let it air dry in my tent for most of the day. I was not a happy camper...literally.

We left our tents set up and did a day hike on the Lumberjack Trail, Huckleberry Trail, and the High Meadows Trail. See Lumberjack Trail/Seneca Creek Loop or High Meadows/Seneca Creek for more information.

Some of this was a scouting trip and we tried to find a path through a large meadow and to a trail on the other side but never found it. From this meadow, we were able to see Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

We filled up on blackberries growing wild. See first and second photos at left. There were also hawthorn plants and stinging nettles. I thing I got stung a few times despite wearing long trousers. At least it wasn't a brown recluse.

The high temperature was predicted to be about 78 degrees and dry. Unfortunately it was also hazy so many of the mountain photos were not too clear. See third and fourth photos at left.

There were several meadow crossings and lots of walking on what might have been old railways. Not much elevation change on any of the hike.

Two Long-tailed Salamanders (Eurycea longicauda) were spotted along the High Meadows Trail, each about 3 inches long; one yellowish orange and the other brown. See fifth photo. Special thanks to Dottie and Mark for providing this photo.

Melissa slipped and fell on one stream crossing. I though she might not have fallen if she had hiking poles but then I fell in the same spot. I tried to use one hiking pole to stop my fall. It shrunk about 6 inches and I fell anyway. Landed on my pack.

Out walk was an easy 7.2 miles.

After having dried out, my camera started working again so I went back out on my own, looking for the meadows and taking lots of photos. I saw a deer that got within 10 meters of me. See sixth photo. Also saw some interesting tree fungii and some weird growth (an egg case?) on a stem (seventh photo). I hiked maybe another 2 miles.

Running on some of the trails, I felt like I was in a Nike cross-trainer commercial. See eighth photo.

Along the way back, I ran into a very friendly couple with a dog. The dog had a bell...possibly to prevent a bear encounter? They had questions about the trail so I introduced them to Mike. I hope they join us for a future trip.

There was a good amount of black bear scat (shit) on the trail. How do I know it was from a black bear? No bells. See ninth photo at left for an explanation.

I went for another swim.

Pam got a fire going much more easily than I did the night before...partly because the wood dried out but also because she did a better job of building it. Michael swam earlier and found the fire convenient to dry out his boxers which also doubled as swim trunks. See tenth photo. Special thanks to Mike for providing this priceless photo.

I got lots of sleep and had several in which I became the new bass player for Motley Crue.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three: Labor Day Monday, September 1, 2008

The predicted high was only about 70 degrees...a bit cold for a waterfall swim.

We packed up our gear, cleaned up the area, made sure our fire was completely out, then started walking back to the car after posing for one last group photo. See first photo at left.

Maybe it was the position of the morning sun but the trip out seemed more scenic than the trip in. Things were very green with lots of fern, grass, or pine. See second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh photos. The creek with all its rounded boulders looked very peaceful. See eighth photo.

Pam, Mark, and Dottie headed their separate ways while Mike, Melissa, Andy, Michael, and I went out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. My appetite wasn't all that strong for most of the trip and I had LOTS of food left over.

Despite the fact that it was the end of a holiday weekend, Andy and I found traffic very light coming home though the police were out in full force.

I got through the weekend with only about 5 mosquito bites...pretty good for me.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

After having spent two weeks in California from July 26 to August 6, 2008, even the best scenery in the area might probably be somewhat mediocre in comparison. Still, I found the trip enjoyable and the company pleasant. It felt good to get outside. I had been cramming to get in hours at work to make up for some of the time spent in Cali during August so any chance to get away from the office was much appreciated.

The weather was very good and we caught some nice views. The blackberries were a nice bonus.

This part of West Virginia has some fantastic areas for backpacking. Over time I hope to explore the rest (including Otter Creek).