Into the Woods of an Allegheny Trail Thru Hike

We are a week into our Allegheny Trail thru hike and entering into stretches of single-track trail in the woods, rather than the double track and gravel roads through the country side that made up the first 100 miles of trail. While I have really loved the road walks, being back in the forest is exciting.

To 100 Miles, and Beyond!

From the town of Davis, we are picked up by Marsha who runs the LRC BnB south of town. She takes us back to her farm, and I enjoy a clawfoot tub in the 100+ year old farm home. The business her family has established is impressive, offering far more than farm to table meals and comfortable beds. She talks of the homesteading and hunting workshops her and her husband host, and I explore their grounds in awe. Chickens, gardens, horses, sheep, and bales of hay decorate the landscape.

The next morning, we hike out of Marsha’s home with light packs- we are slackpacking north, back to Davis, where she will pick us up in the afternoon. After a short road walk and meeting a friendly dog, we find ourselves on trail and make our own 100 mile marker out of sticks. The trail weaves through serene forest decorated by blooming mountain laurel. At some point in the day, we cross into Canaan Valley State Park. I am in awe of the landscape, where the white mountain laurel is accompanied by spruce and fir trees, mossy ground cover, and ferns. It is a unique combination of flora that I am not sure I have ever seen in the same landscape before, feeling both like the North Country and Southern Appalachia at the same time.

We round a corner to see some folks headed towards us. We have yet to encounter any hikers on this trail so we are shocked. It turns out they aren’t just hikers, but trail maintainers out for the W5 work week on the Allegheny Trail. Some of them I have chatted with via email so it is nice to meet them in person. We talk for a while, thank them for their hard work, and press on. We pass rivers dyed brown from vegetation tannins, and the landscape continues to awe me.

I am not paying attention, distracted by the beauty of the forest, and take a wrong step. My ankle screams in protest, and I stand on one leg, hoping the pain will dissipate the way it sometimes does with a rolled ankle. It hardly does. Biting my lip, I move along. I am limping and the pain is sharp. I know I can get through the rest of our day, but try not to think about the rest of the hike.

After a break at Canaan Shelter and several more miles, we come to a short turn off for Blackwater Falls. We take the side trail but I am unimpressed with our vantage point and want a closer spot so I can sit and paint. I figure out how to get to the closer viewing platform but realize there is not enough space, with the constant stream of visitors, to set up and paint a large painting like I had hoped. I settle for a smaller (5”X7”) painting before heading out.

We reach Davis earlier than expected, and stumble upon The Sisters again, enjoying their company over ice cream while we wait on Marsha to pick us up. Thankfully, on the way back to the BnB, we pass a small pharmacy. They have exactly one ankle brace in stock and I purchase it eagerly, knowing from a similar injury on the AT that the brace should be the solution I need.

We enjoy our evening at the BnB and I complete two medium sized paintings for Marsha, an “art-for-stay” barter that we agreed upon earlier.

The Glady Fork

Moving south from LRC BnB, the trail enters the Glady Fork area, following a winding river that is low from the lack of rain. The trail is narrow and less than perfect, but still manageable to navigate. I am thankful that the ankle brace seems to make a significant difference, at least. The day is hot, and there are a surprising number of climbs. I don’t find much reward in the trail here, especially after how beautiful the day before was, and I am irritable. Towards the end of the day, we find a small swimming hole, which we enjoy for some time and my mood improves.

We reach a free, dispersed RV camping area, and since it is the weekend ,the spots are filling up. We bypass some campers with loud generators and bluetooth speakers until we find a small spot along the river with only one neighbor. They chat with us for a while and then offer us hamburgers and corn on the cob. We eagerly accept and enjoy their company. Eventually I head back to our spot where I start a painting of our campsite. Gray Squirrel goes to set up and realizes he must have left his hammock at the BnB! He messages Marsha on his Garmin to ask if she has seen it and if she can just mail it to his home in Florida, deciding he will be fine with a tarp and bivy for the rest of the trip. In less than an hour a truck pulls up. It is Marsha! She brought his hammock, along with a plate of pulled pork, and we enjoy a second dinner.

The next day we start early to avoid the heat and are rewarded with the sight of an otter playing in the river! The trail remains buggy and slightly overgrown, but the break spots are beautiful and we soak our feet multiple times. We reach the road crossing for Elkins (where we are expecting a ride) earlier than we intended, and nap in the meager shade for a while.

Our ride arrives and we are taken to Elkins, where we meet up with The Sisters yet again, shuttled in by another WVSTA volunteer. We catch up at a restaurant before heading to the hotel that a volunteer has secured for us. It is the night of the Allegheny Trail IPA Beer Release at Big Timber Brewing, and the whole reason we came into town. The night is fun, filled with live music, Allegheny Trail spirit, conversation, and a bit too much alcohol. I enjoy meeting so many people from the trail community and am thankful for the opportunity to engage and socialize.

Shelter from the Storm

I realize we should be able to hike the next stretch in one day less than I originally anticipated, so we hit the trail determine to make miles. In this stretch we pass yet another shelter as well as some newer bridges over the water. I appreciate the infrastructure, and enjoy reading the trail log in the shelter. I can tell the trail through here has seen a bit more maintenance and appreciate the ease that allows.

I push ahead of Gray Squirrel, hoping to make it to the next shelter in time to do some painting before dark. Several miles follow a flat rail trail where I can achieve a 3.5 mile per hour pace, and it feels like I am flying. Part of me wants to stop and paint the scenic farmland views from the rail trail, but there is no shade and it’s too hot to sit in the sun for that long.

Leaving the rail trail, the trail goes straight uphill and becomes narrow. Again, I can tell this trail is rarely hiked, but it is not so overgrown that it is cumbersome. I make it to the shelter by my goal of 5pm, but to my distress I find that the water source is dry!

Our options for water in either direction on trail are far and uncertain, so I wait for Gray Squirrel. He has just enough to share with me, but we both go without a cooked dinner to save the precious liquid. I get the time I wanted to paint a shelter scene, and we go to bed as a storm rolls in. Not long into the pouring rain, Gray Squirrel wakes me up to help him syphon water as it pours off the tin roof. It is a silly scene, us both in our pajamas, collecting drips of water using a sit pad, but we are able to fill a liter and feel much better about our morning.

Shavers Ridge and Gaudineer

We are greeted by foggy forest and light rain the next morning, a welcome break from the beating sun. We leave camp at different times, hiking solo for the first time in a while. The trail is well blazed, but not intuitive. While it isn’t overgrown (the canopy is too thick for much growth on the forest floor), the trail is not worn enough to be clear so my head is constantly on a swivel to look for the next yellow blaze. I enjoy the forest, though. The higher elevation brings a different variety of flora and fauna, and I have to step carefully to avoid squishing the red efts that line the trail.

Eventually I find myself on an ATV route but realize I haven’t seen a blaze for a while. I have been off trail for over a mile and it takes some time to figure out the best route back, having not remembered exactly how I got there. So when I finally catch up with Gray Squirrel we decide to stick together for the rest of the day.

The ridgeline continues to be beautiful, but challenging. We reach Gaudineer, and a section of virgin forest that was never logged during the timber era. We enjoy lunch under ancient red spruce.

The decent down Gaudineer is brutal. The pitch is steep and rocky, and those rocks are covered in slippery moss. They also move under step, and it feels like the trail was never truly built here, it is simply a path of least resistance down the mountain. We learn later that due to the endangered Cheat Salamander, there are heavy restrictions on moving and adjusting rocks for trail here.

Stinging nettle covers every square inch of the mountainside, and stings us even through our pants. It is slow going, and we are exhausted by the time we reach the water crossing at the bottom. Here, we are greeted with another flat rail trail, but it is still 5 more miles to the town of Durbin and the sun is back out.

We press on, taking a short break at bridge over a beaver pond, where I have the pleasure of seeing my first beaver as it casually goes about its work. We reach Durbin, relived, and regretting our increased mileage. We picked a hard day to press for 20 miles! Nicolle, the WVSTA volunteer that has been helping us along, takes us back to her cabin where we shower before heading out for a hot meal and beer. We look forward to a zero day tomorrow to rest and recuperate.

Note: I am posting these blogs retroactivly. This blog covers June 20th through June 26

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