Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dolly Sods Wilderness - Lion's Head Loop

To date I have entered nothing but Rocky Mountain hikes. Now it is time to add a few that are near and dear to my heart - Almost Heaven West Virginia.

We have several designated wilderness areas in West Virginia and this is (probably) the most popular to hikers, due to the close proximity to Washington DC.

On this day I would show a young engineer from Salt Lake City why we call it "Almost Heaven". He had transferred to West Virginia the previous year but had yet to see what we really had to offer.

Our adventure would be an 8-mile loop, with a spur hike to the Lion's Head. The hike would begin at the Red Creek trailhead at Laneville, West Virginia.

The first leg of the hike (TR514) would be a short, flat two mile hike along Red Creek to the junction of Big Stonecoal trail (TR513). At this junction you make your first stream crossing of Red Creek, usually by July/August the water is low enough to rock hop. Your other choices are to shed your shoes or waterproof hikers and a spare pair of socks. I chose option #3, I wore my wading shoes.

Big Stonecoal trail may not be immediately evident once you cross Red Creek but you can't miss the 4' cairn.

Big Stonecoal trail is an uphill mile to the junction of Rocky Point trail (TR554). According to a reference book I use (Waterfalls of Virginia and West Virginia), there are some very nice waterfalls on a spur trail just before the junction of Rocky Point trail.

I missed the small cairn that marked this spur and at the junction of Rocky Point we decided to bushwhack down to the stream. This sounds fairly straight-forward but I couldn't find a clear route to the bottom. Through the thick rhododendron I couldn't see terra firma.

We finally made it to Big Stonecoal Creek and a nice section of waterfalls. The blooming rhododendron made for even better photos.

As we moved downstream to more cascades I realized why I couldn't see through the thick rhododendron above - that's because there was no ground, it was a 20' cliff. I'm glad I didn't try to push through.

We pushed further downstream to a couple more cascades. The water appears dark, or tea-colored, due to the highly acidic tannic acid content from the conifers and bogs in the extreme headwaters.

From here we decided to bushwhack back uphill to the trail. Once at the trail the small cairn which marked the spur was very evident, I don't know how I missed it.

A quick left on Rocky Point trail and we were looking for another cairn marking the spur trail to Lion's Head - I hoped I wouldn't miss this one.

This cairn was much more obvious and another left and a short, steep section of trail to a nice plateau of "planted" pines. I say planted because they appeared to be perfectly aligned.

Through the pines, you simply pick one of the doors through the trees to the Rocky Point outcropping. It was also easy to find Lion's Head - simply look for the crowd.

It's easy to see why they call it Lion's Head.

After a short break and lunch overlooking the Red Creek valley it was backtracking to Rocky Point trail. This trail would wrap around (below) the rocky point we had just visited and eventually meet back up with Red Creek trail.

Again, master of the obvious, it's easy to see why they call this trail rocky point. It is nearly two miles long with the majority of it being ankle-breaking cobble.

Once we re-joined Red Creek trail it was a quick half-mile downhill to another Red Creek crossing. Just like the previous crossing, it's rock hopping or getting wet.

After this crossing it is an easy, flat two miles back to the trailhead. Somewhere between this crossing and the first crossing there is, according to the waterfall reference book, another nice set of falls.

It was easy to find as we had a small creek crossing directly above it. The moss on this cascade added to the beauty.

The remainder of the hike was relatively uneventful, except for the flushing of a grouse that nearly caused a heart attack. I think my young partner was very impressed with what West Virginia and Dolly Sods had to offer - but his weekend adventure had just started.

He still had my favorite place in the state to visit, the Seneca Backcountry.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mt. Elbert - Northeast Route

At the end of my two week 2008 trip to Colorado I took a day to add another 14er to my list. The goal this time was Mt. Elbert (14,433 feet), the highest point in Colorado and the second highest in the lower 48. There are a couple of routes to Mt. Elbert summit and we chose, for distance and ease of access to the trailhead.

This is what the northeast ridge looks like just off the main road outside of big deal, right?

We set up camp at the trailhead (10,000 feet), with plans to hit the trail before sun-up.

When we woke we found temps in the low 30s and frost on the windshield of the vehicle. A quick cup of coffee and a granola we were first on the trail. To reduce weight I left the DSLR in the vehicle and carried only my small, palm-sized video camera.

It was just getting daylight when we hit tree-line and it was a short distance to the first of the (infamous) false summits. The view from the first false summit, looking north toward Mt. Massive - there was a small herd of elk over there somewhere.

I don't remember if there were three or four of the false summits, it didn't matter, it was a brutal hike. Another false summit!

4.5 miles and over 4,000 feet in elevation gain later and we were on the summit, but not until we met an unexpected traveler a couple hundred yards from the summit. From a distance, I recognized another WVU hat coming up the east ridge route. What a small world, 2,000 miles from home and we run into a fellow mountaineer near the summit of Mt. Elbert.

The summit benchmark:

#1 of Colorado's 14ers!

Gratuitous summit shot:

The views from the summit were amazing as we were surrounded by the other 14ers of the Sawatch Range.

Mt. Massive (14,421)

La Plata Peak (14,336)

To the west  - Elk Mountains and seven more 14ers

This would be my second 14er summit, with my first being Greys, and I would gladly do Greys twice before I do this route again! Hiking down, particularly below treeline, is when you realize just how steep the ascent was - good thing it was dark as we climbed through treeline.

This was my hiking/fishing partner's first 14er, I think he was glad it was over.

What a great way to finish up a great Colorado fishing adventure (6 salmonid species) with a very demanding physical challenge.