Archive for the ‘Trails linking with the C&O’ Category

Sleepy Creek WMA: A 9.4 Mile Circuit Hike Including the Tuscarora Trail

Bear Track on the Tuscarora Trail near High Rock

Bear Track on the Tuscarora Trail near High Rock

Tempting as they usually are, our usual haunts really aren’t all that tempting on a holiday weekend.  Granted, I’m relatively sure the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area was pretty crowded in the vicinity of the lake, but a 9.4 mile circuit that I’ve been wanting to hike near the southern end of the WMA turned out to be a great (and quiet) alternative to fighting crowds in most places.

Great Eastern Trail sign and Tuscarora Trail blue blaze

Great Eastern Trail sign and Tuscarora Trail blue blaze

This hike had a familiar starting point, as I parked on the Hampshire Grade Road across from the Beacon Hill trail head.  From there, Candee and I walked 1.5 miles (on Beacon Hill/Tuscarora) that we’d seen in 2014 before turning left on a forest service road toward Pee Wee Point.  We stayed on the road (Pee Wee Point Trail) for about a mile before taking an abrupt right onto a poorly marked connector trail (.8 miles in length) that displayed one very lonely red blaze on the way to the bottom of the mountain.  The connector proved to be very difficult to follow, but our directions assured us that everything would be okay as long as we kept heading downhill.

Passing a wild turkey habitat area on the next forest service road

Passing a wild turkey habitat area on the next forest service road

The next stage consisted of another mile on a forest service road, as we passed a wildlife clearing before taking a right in the middle of a second clearing onto the white-blazed High Rock Trail.  This trail hosted our hike between the 4.2 and 5.1 mile marks, and after crossing a nearly dry Brush Creek, we headed up a steep hill to majestic High Rock and a sharp right onto the Tuscarora Trail.

Crossing Brush Creek, which was pretty easy  during the dry season

Crossing Brush Creek, which was pretty easy during the dry season

For the next two miles, the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail follows a pair of forest roads, the second of which is a sharp right (leading to Pee Wee Point) that closes the circuit portion of the hike.  At that point, a left turn reunited us with the Beacon Hill/Tuscarora Trail and a 1.5 mile up-and-down back to our roadside parking.

An imaginative blaze on the High Rock Trail

An imaginative blaze on the High Rock Trail

There were a few highlights on the 9.4 mile circuit (with an elevation gain of 1700′).  The first, as mentioned, is a solid, uphill workout on the High Rock Trail.  This was followed by numerous bear signs along the Tuscarora Trail heading away (north) from High Rock.  We met the only two hikers of the day at about the 6.5 mile mark, and as we heard them talking on the ridge above us, a large animal thundered through the woods on our left.  Was it a bear (or possibly bears, as there appeared to be a mother with at least one cub in the area)?  That’s difficult to say, but it’s a definite possibility.

From this vantage point, High Rock Trail drops off to the left and the Tuscarora Trail continues straight  along the ridge

From this vantage point, High Rock Trail drops off to the left and the Tuscarora Trail continues straight along the ridge.  We, however, were heading in the opposite direction.

The Tuscarora Trail and the trails that branch off of it are well-maintained but less crowded than most of our area’s other options.  The Tuscarora itself was created as an alternative route for the Appalachian Trail, and like the AT, it has many rugged stretches.  Unlike the AT, the Tuscarora isn’t a household word, and we were thankful for that over the holiday weekend.

A partial view of High Rock at the 5.1 mile mark.

A partial view of High Rock at the 5.1 mile mark.

Looking for Coal on the Tuscarora Trail

Back on the Tuscarora Trail!

Back on the Tuscarora Trail!

Back on the 16th, we followed the familiar blue blazes of the Tuscarora Trail.  I suppose this one was 100% my idea.  My father was a coal miner, and King Coal handed me a great childhood and the chance to go to college on a silver platter.  After reading about an old mining operation in the Sleepy Creek WMA along the Meadow Branch, I was pretty excited about heading out on the Tuscarora and jumping off for a short trek down the Old Mine Trail.

Looking into the distance at Maryland.  The Potomac is out there somewhere.

Looking into the distance at Maryland. The Potomac is out there somewhere.

We parked at the end of Audubon Road and headed uphill on a logging road before veering off to the left.  The trail meandered toward an overlook of sorts that was kind of lacking because of the barren trees, gray sky, and dead leaves.  The next two miles were mostly downhill, and much of it was over rocks.  It reminded me of the AT near Pen Mar, maybe a little too much.  In fact, the rugged terrain made me wonder about how difficult it must have been getting coal out of these mountains.

"Enough is enough!  I've had it with these monkey-fighting rocks on this Monday-thru-Friday trail!"

“Enough is enough! I’ve had it with these monkey-fighting rocks on this Monday-thru-Friday trail!”  See the blue blaze?

Nevertheless, in 1837, the Berkeley Coal Mining and Railroad Company bought 4,900 acres along the Meadow Branch, and an 1847 map shows three mines operating in the immediate area.  I’m not sure if they were deep or surface mines, but I was expecting to find a neon sign in the woods pointing toward an opening or a shaft.  Such was not the case!  I do a lot of Sunday hiking, but on this day, I kind of wondered why I didn’t stay home and watch football!  I couldn’t stop thinking about football…

Hey, this looks a bit like those old school goalposts!

Hey, this looks a bit like those old school goalposts!

Yeah, that’s when I came across an odd looking tree which was fronted by another tree.  The combination looked like a goalpost, so I did get my football fix in and decided to move on.  We followed the directions in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s trail guide toward the junction of the Tuscarora and Whites Knob Trails, and this led us to the Meadow Branch.  From there we headed back up a slight grade and found coal.  The mining company originally wanted to run railroad tracks to the mines, but the coal deposits weren’t nearly rich enough to justify the expense.  I completely understand; we didn’t find all that much either!  Nonetheless, I do have a thing for coal, and even finding a few sparse lumps made my day.  It kind of reminded me that I have a lot of reasons to be thankful.

There's coal in them thar hills!

There’s coal in them thar hills!

C&O Canal Access Into Paw Paw, WV

New Access From the C&O into Paw Paw, WV

New Access From the C&O into Paw Paw, WV

The convenience store in Paw Paw, WV has always been an option for stocking up on supplies while biking or hiking the length of the C&O Canal.  For that matter, a new B&B opened up recently on the West Virginia side (just beyond the store/gas station), and recreational travelers now have the option to go  approximately 28 miles from Cumberland before stopping after a very manageable first day.  The only problem was that biking or walking along Route 51 has always been a bit of a pain.  Things have changed!

New bike route into Paw Paw

New bike route into Paw Paw

As the towpath reaches 51 (heading downstream), a new .6 (approximately) mile bike path leads from the C&O to the Potomac River bridge.  This access route goes underneath of the abandoned WMRR trestle and follows the road at the bottom of a large field.  Several trees have been planted along the way, adding to the relatively pleasant journey.  When reaching the end, there is a well-marked bike lane into town.

More of the bike route

Near the start

In the past, I’ve always been one of those people who never gave any thought to going into Paw Paw while biking on the towpath.  The idea of making a bottle of water last until reaching Bill’s Place in Little Orleans always sounded better than taking my chances on Route 51.  However, this new route makes Paw Paw an easily reached part of the C&O Canal experience and opens up a number of possibilities.

Easy access to Paw Paw!

Easy access to Paw Paw!

Appalachian Trail: Turner’s Gap to Gathland State Park

Profile for the AT from Turner's Gap to Gathland State Park

Profile for the AT from Turner’s Gap to Gathland State Park

Recently, Candee has been charting some of our hikes along the Appalachian and Tuscarora Trails, and the accompanying graph reveal some interesting details that we have encountered along the way.  This particular hike looked pretty easy at the onset, but the hot, muggy weather was combined with a 6.1% grade that began about two miles into the hike, and the result was a fairly challenging excursion.

Heading south from Turner's Gap.  As usual, the AT had some surprises just around the corned

Heading south from Turner’s Gap. As usual, the AT had some surprises just around the corned

Heading south from Turner’s Gap, the AT looked like a smooth superhighway through the woods.  I should have known that it was too good to be true.  I do love the Appalachian Trail, but a few recent excursions on the C&O Canal had me spoiled.  Big difference! The graph above is a pretty nice outline of the trail, but it doesn’t tell the full story:  we passed a large, open field, a Civil War Monument, and a split-rail fence before the path took an uphill swing that lasted approximately 1.8 miles.  What else?  Of course there were plenty of rocks, and the long descent into Gathland required watching nearly every step.  In other words, typical AT.

About a mile into the hike, we saw this split-rail fence

About a mile into the hike, we saw this split-rail fence

In general, this hike lacked in stream crossings, overlooks, etc., but there were a few sights that kept things pretty interesting.  For starters, the sign leading into the Crampton Gap Shelter informs thru-hikers that there is a sporadic spring near the site.  We’ve hiked most of the trail locally, but I can’t pretend to know a whole lot about the water dilemma that often faces long-distance hikers.  AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, by David Miller, is a great depiction of the trials and tribulations of hiking from Georgia to Maine–particularly finding water.  In the case of Crampton Gap, it would be a good idea not to depend upon the spring.  Luckily, there is a water source close to US 40 (about 7 miles north), just down the hill from the South Mountain Inn.

Crampton Gap.  Do you know where your next drink is coming from?

Crampton Gap. Do you know where your next drink is coming from?

Probably the most interesting sign along the way was a small, wooden block nailed to a tree and emblazoned with the AT logo.  They may exist elsewhere on the trail, but this is the first we’ve seen locally (see below).  We had to get a picture of it, so I suppose the rocks weren’t the only things that stopped us in our tracks.  At the end of the day, in spite of our sweat-stained shirts and sore feet, the Appalachian Trail keeps offering up something new and unusual around every turn (or ascent!).  I think it’s the challenge that keeps us coming back for more.

This isn't your typical white blaze

This isn’t your typical white blaze

Twin Oaks Trail/Loop (Green Ridge State Forest)

The sign indicates that Twin Oaks is a microcosm of GRSF.  That's pretty accurate: it had elevation changes and stream crossings, although water was pretty scarce.

The sign indicates that Twin Oaks is a microcosm of GRSF. That’s pretty accurate: it had elevation changes and stream crossings, although water was pretty scarse.

The Twin Oaks Trail is in the northern end of Green Ridge State Forest.  It’s two miles long, and its name is derived from the old Twin Oaks Schoolhouse, which is now privately owned.  One of the more interesting aspects of the trail is that it forms a four-mile loop in conjunction with the Pine Lick Trail, and the trailhead is near the school on Double Pine Road.

This is the elevation profile for Twin Oaks Trail and the section of Pine Lick Trail that forms the loop.  I was unaware of trail profiles until Candee started to chart them for local sections of the Appalachian Trail.  In spite of being "prepared," I'm usually surprised by long hauls on uphill sections!

This is the elevation profile for Twin Oaks Trail and the section of Pine Lick Trail that forms the loop. I was unaware of trail profiles until Candee started to chart them for local sections of the Appalachian Trail. In spite of being “prepared,” I’m usually surprised by long hauls on uphill sections!

Hiking on the Twin Oaks Trail does have its ups-and-downs.  There aren’t any dramatic changes in elevation, but the trail does emulate a roller coaster ride in that very little of it is flat.  Generally, I enjoy going up and down hills, but the 90+ degree temperature did make the going a little bit uncomfortable.  An overabundance of annoying insects didn’t help either. I can’t complain too much though because that’s a part of pretty much every hike this time of year.

This is a would-be stream crossing on Twin Oaks Trail.  There are a number of these on all of the trails in the forest.  We counted over twenty when we FINALLY hiked the length of the Log Roll Trail.  During our last hike in Green Ridge, we also had some interesting wading opportunities while crossing Fifteen Mile Creek on the Pine Lick Trail

This is a would-be stream crossing on Twin Oaks Trail. There are a number of these on all of the trails in the forest. We counted over twenty when we FINALLY hiked the length of the Log Roll Trail. During our last hike in Green Ridge, we also had some interesting wading opportunities while crossing Fifteen Mile Creek on the Pine Lick Trail

Much of Twin Oaks follows old roadways, but the parts that are a single track were a bit overgrown and laden with briars.  Along with high water problems this winter, we were also thwarted on the Log Roll Trail last summer when thorns ripped us to pieces.  Today’s journey was bearable, but it shows that all four seasons present their difficulties when hiking in the forest.

this was a pretty serious stream crossing on Pine Lick a couple of months ago.  Today, it wasn't a problem.

This was a pretty serious stream crossing on Pine Lick a couple of months ago. Today, it wasn’t a problem.

As stated, between Twin Oaks and Pine Lick, there were several stream crossings.  We did plenty of wading in Fifteen Mile Creek not so long ago, but the water existed only in random pools on this hike.  Small fish were abundant in these little holes along the Pine Lick Trail, and I’m sure they weren’t enjoying the recent drought and hot weather.  In fact, they appeared to be an easy target for all interested predators.

A purple blaze along the Twin Oaks Trail.  This one stands out pretty well because of the white background, but we did have some problems finding our way...

A purple blaze along the Twin Oaks Trail. This one stands out pretty well because of the white background, but we did have some problems finding our way…

True, the so-called stream crossings and overgrowth weren’t major concerns, but we did have some difficulties following the purple blazes on the Twin Oaks portion of the loop.  As the evening shadows started to fall, many of these splotches blended in with the tree bark a little too well (at least the ones that didn’t have a white border), and we did have to backtrack once or twice.  One trick that I learned from reading an Appalachian Trail book is to turn around and look for blazes in the opposite direction when unsure of your direction.  This has come in handy a few times, but today, not so much!

The blue blazes on the Pine Lick Trail were a little easier to spot.  the fact that we were back in familiar territory helped too.

The blue blazes on the Pine Lick Trail were a little easier to spot. The fact that we were back in familiar territory helped too.

Back at the forest’s headquarters off of I-68 at the MV Smith exit (64), they sell t-shirts with the slogan “It’s no walk in the park!”  I’m inclined to agree.  The trails in Green Ridge aren’t treacherous, but they are far from easy.  For anybody interested in taking a stroll through Green Ridge State Forest, I would recommend the Twin Oaks/Pine Lick Loop.  It has a little bit of everything that makes the longer hikes in the forest worthwhile.

The old Twin Oaks School, as seen from a point close to the trailhead on Double Pine Road

The old Twin Oaks School, as seen from a point close to the trailhead on Double Pine Road