Waterfall on Otter Creek


Otter Creek
Easter Weekend 2009

Last updated April 16, 2009



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Think of a song like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," or Damn Yankee's "Come Again." They start out as ballads, build up in intensity, then are released in true-blue rock and roll form. Classic they are. Easter is like that for me.

Not being a religious person, I look at the holidays not in terms of their origin, but the weather. Mid-April is a time when the temperature is sometimes warm enough to wear a wetsuit while paddling and the trees are just starting to green up a bit. It isn't ideal outdoor weather but it is getting there...building up in intensity, just like the start of the guitar solos in the three rock classics I analogize.

Like that big wave that lifts up the back of your board before you ride it to the shore, the anticipation can be as exciting as what you actually want.

Day One: Saturday, April 11, 2009

Norma and I actually arrived at her family's Garrett County farm the day prior but this was our first full day. There was a light, cold drizzle in the morning but the day warmed up a bit and the rain stopped a little later. I don't think the sun ever broke through the clouds for more than a few minutes at a time.

We spent about 8 or 9 hours clearing brush. Much of the brush was already cleared by Jimmy S. (Norma's brother-in-law) and his backhoe. He worked the rest of the day clearing more and pulling up stumps. The plan was to prepare a one acre parcel on the farm so a new home could be built for Norma's mother.

Norma, Joyce (Norma's sister), and I collected branches and put them in piles to be burnt. I had the honor of starting the fires. The larger trees on the lot were removed by Scott W. (Norma's brother-in-law) and sold for lumber.

While most of the branches were small, several were large and heavy. It was tiring to lift and drag them all day. The work was like a low intensity, long duration weight training workout.

Day Two: Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009

Norma and I originally planned to do Mike J.'s 15.9 mile Otter Creek backpacking loop which begins at Mylius by Glady Fork. While I did a fair amount of homework to prepare for this trip, it was a place neither of us had ever been...hence we had to be flexible.

The forecast for Davis, West Virginia (a nearby town) called for a low of 29 degrees. In the high elevation wilderness area, we could expect it to be even colder. My sleeping bag is rated for 30 degrees. Neither Norma or I are winter backpackers and while it is spring in the Baltimore/Washington DC area, it is still winter in the West Virginia highlands. It didn't sound like a fun night to sleep outdoors so we changed our two day/one night backpacking plan to a day hike.

Once we started driving to the start, we realized that the Google directions didn't seem correct. They appeared to take us over roads that were not on my maps or that might have been only suitable for off-road-vehicles. We didn't bother to investigate since we were burning much-needed daylight. Instead, we started at the Dry Fork/Otter Creek trailhead at the north end. This was our closest trail access in Otter Creek Wilderness. To get to the Mylius trailhead would have taken us much longer since we were coming from the north.

We decided to do a lollipop hike heading south on Otter Creek Trail (TR131), then clockwise on Green Mountain Trail (TR130) to Possession Camp Trail (TR158), then north on Otter Creek Trail to the start. I estimated it would be between 17 and 18 miles. It was already 1100. Would we have time?

As Norma and I approached the parking lot, we saw a few soldiers carrying rifles, walking along road 72. There were also some military trucks at the trailhead. I didn't think the military used wilderness areas for training.

On the footbridge over Otter Creek, I stopped to take a photo. My camera complained that the batteries were dead. I had recently put in freshly charged batteries. I put in another set and I got the same error. The view of the bridge and the creek below was very nice. It was a bad time to have a broken camera. I figured this would be the time when I would finally get to see a porcupine in the wild...and have no photographic proof to document it.

As we hiked south on Otter Creek Trail, we kept seeing more men in uniform, not that I minded. Each was carrying a map and rifle and a full backpack. Their packs had a big blaze orange cloth on the back and their rifle stocks and handguards were also blaze orange. We saw one man about every third of a mile during the first half of the hike. I could tell they were working against the clock.

We stopped for lunch, splitting a Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE). One of the soldiers saw us and I suppose he was curious as to why we civilians chose to eat military rations.

I put regular (not rechargeable) batteries in my camera and then it worked fine. Those rechargeables just don't cut it sometimes.

The trail was truly spectacular with clear, rushing water to our right (see first and second photos at left) and some small waterfalls to our left. The trail was also railroad grade. Very flat, fairly wide, and easy. See third photo. We talked about taking Norma's mother out here for a walk sometime.

Though the day started out on the cold side, it warmed up a good deal and remained sunny the whole time. It was a good day to be hiking.

I had many resources at my disposal for this hike but by far the best was the Canaan Valley Adventure Map by Canaan Valley Resort Guest Services. I don't remember where I bought mine but I hear maps are available at Blackwater Bikes, Canaan Valley State Park, and other locations in the valley. I highly recommend purchasing this $8 map if you plan to hike in Otter Creek Wilderness, Dolly Sods Wilderness, or Roaring Plains.

While Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide claimed it was 3.8 miles from the trailhead to the Otter Creek/Green Mountain Trail intersection, my global positioning system (GPS) measured it as 4.3 miles. Cairns marked the turnoff.

The hike up Green Mountain Trail was rather tough as we had an 1100 foot climb over about 1.1 miles. Afterwhich, it leveled off. Here, we also stopped seeing soldiers.

The time was now midway between when we started (at 1105) and dusk (about 1930). At our current pace, there was no way we would finish our lollipop route before dark. I suggested we turn back, making it a yo-yo route but Norma insisted we push onward and finish the hike with our headlamps, if necessary. I admire her sense of adventure. The second half of the hike was at a pretty brisk pace...definitely one I would not want to do with full overnight gear.

At mile 7, there was a campsite with two campers. Here, the trail split. We took the right side which led us to Possession Camp Trail. We followed this for 3.33 miles. I read some great reviews of this trail but found Otter Creek Trail to be much more picturesque. It could be that most of the trees were still bare or that I'm just more of a water person.

Some of the shaded sections of this trail still had snow and icicles (see fourth photo) and the southern side of this trail had a little waterfall (see fifth and sixth photos).

While the ascent up Green Mountain Trail was a bit tiring, coming back down on Possession Camp Trail was fairly gradual.

At mile 10.34, we turned north on Otter Creek Trail. We spotted four men camping. One was fishing. They arrived from the south.

Soon, Norma and I had our first stream crossing. We had been getting a good deal of rain and the water was moving quickly. Naturally, we crossed at the shallowest part we could find but even this had one section that I reckon was 3 feet deep with rushing water. But we managed to avoid it by reaaaaaaching for the most prominent rocks. I think we got by with only getting the bottom 18 inches of our legs wet. See seventh photo.

Now, we were hiking on the west side of the creek. This was much tougher than the railroad grade east side. We stayed on the west side for about 3 miles. Here, we saw the most impressive waterfall. See the photo at the top left corner of this page. It was getting dark so this photo doesn't do it justice.

It was almost dusk by the time we crossed back over to the east side of the creek at mile 13.45. At this point, the river was wider. We had to stop on a high rock midway through to let our feet warm up. The water was so cold that just submerging our feet for a few seconds made them go numb and hurt. I don't think the water was as fast as our earlier crossing but I managed to get the bottom 24 inches of my legs wet. Norma faired a bit drier. See eighth photo.

From here on out, I knew the rest of our hike would be easy, even if we walked in the dark. We would be on familiar ground now.

Norma stopped to pick some wild, fragile vegetable called ramps. The dark soil in which it grew was very fertile...very unlike Hanover dirt.

A little after dusk, we saw a bearded fellow walking south on the trail. I assumed he had already set up base camp somewhere since he was traveling light and walking in the opposite direction of the parking lot.

By 2020, we had to put on our headlamps. It was very dark. Even though we were now walking on a trail that we were on just a few hours ago, I had to check my GPS to ensure we were still on the right path.

By 2045, we were done, having hiked just over 17.5 miles.

There was an Army medic at the trailhead who we spoke to for awhile. It turns out that all the soldiers we saw were participating in a land navigation course. They were active duty infantrymen. The first two campers were saw were also Army folk as was the bearded man. Apparently, one soldier didn't make it back but he was wearing a beacon so the bearded fellow was sent out to find him. Quite the way to spend an Easter Sunday.

I demanded to Norma that we go out for some "man food." We stopped at Denny's where I ate a bacon cheeseburger.

That night, we saw about 12 deer and a great horned owl on the drive back to the farm.

My feet were sore. I think that was the longest day hike I've done since college...but nothing compared to the Mountain Club of Maryland's 40 mile one day hike across Maryland (HAM).
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three: Monday, April 13, 2009

We awoke to a cold and overcast morning. Clearly, we picked the best day of the weekend for our hike.

Surprisingly, we were not sore...just a little stiff.

After a good breakfast, I spent much of the rest of the day taking pictures of the farm animals. There were 3 new calves and one of the goats gave birth to triplets! Another goat was pregnant and expecting any day. I found out three days later that that goat too gave birth to triplets. There were 4 dogs (Toby, Angel, Chloe, and Tasha), 2 indoor cats (Tigger, Mitzi), and a few outdoor cats that I know of living on the farm.
  • Photo one: Baby goat.
  • Photo two: Baby goat chewing on Norma's hair.
  • Photo three: Chickens. The big one looking away is the rooster.
  • Photo four: Norma with barn in background.
  • Photo five: Calf with mother.
  • Photo six: Toby resting with cat. This cat will actually lay against Toby.
  • Photo seven: Toby with football. He isn't the best retriever but he is better than the other dogs.
  • Photo eight: Tasha sleeping. No, she isn't worn out from chasing the football.
  • Photo nine: Tasha looking sleepy. She sleeps as much as a cat.
  • Photo ten: Angel.
  • Photo eleven: Tigger, once a feral cat.
  • Photo twelve: Tigger is curious, and therefore easy to photograph.
  • Photo thirteen: Mitzi is much harder to photograph.

  • On our drive back, we stopped in at Green Ridge State Forest. Other than the Appalachian Trail, I don't know of many places in Maryland where one might go backpacking. But now I know of another. See photo fourteen for a view of the valley from the overlook platform. In photo fifteen, Norma and I are looking a bit tired after a long weekend. But we promised to return someday and explore the trails of the forest, maybe doing a backpacking trip with a bicycle shuttle.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    I decided that my job gets in the way of my outdoor adventures. But then again, if I got to spend as much time outdoors as I wanted, I wouldn't enjoy it as much so maybe it all works out for the best.