Occasionally I find myself wandering out of civilization. It’s not that I don’t like civilization, but sometimes it gets a bit stale. Since I’m prone to getting lost, I usually tag along with some people who generally have their wits about them. This prevents me from getting lost permanently in the wilderness, which would be OK except for the fact that I’d probably die in some gruesome or boring way (whether it’s boring or spectacular, it’s something I want to avoid). The best method of hiking is to get somewhat lost temporarily. That gives you the satisfaction of discovering new places (by definition, you can’t be in a place you know if you’re lost) and gives you a sense of having an adventure. But, like I said, it’s not fun if it becomes permanent. That’s why I tag along with people who know where they’re going. When I get tired of being lost, I yell between wheezes to the guy behind me, “Yo! Where we at?!” He usually says something like, “Just keep following the blue blazes” because he’s tired of trying to point out where we are on the map for the tenth time that hour. It’s at this point I smile, smugly, realizing that I’m colorblind and for all I know, I’ve been following the purple blazes for the last 10 miles.
It was this sense of adventure that had us all stuffed in a Ford Taurus puttering towards West Virginia.
A while back we hiked Dolly Sods North (in West Virginia). Since we already did that, we wanted to go somewhere new, but still within a several hour drive. A quick internet search brought up North Fork Mountain Trail, near Seneca Rocks National Park (close to Petersburg, which is close to the middle of nowhere, which is sort of the point). Some people were dubbing it “the most scenic trail in the Northeast.” I’ll tell you straight up, hiking Dolly Sods in September is a more enjoyable hike. But hiking the North Fork Mountain Trail isn’t boring, not in the least. It gets you hiking right past Seneca Rocks National Park (it’s a big pile of rocks and is way more interesting than it sounds), and boasts numerous breathtaking vistas.
North Fork Mountain Trail runs along the ridge of some mountain (probably North Fork Mountain). More specifically, it runs slightly offest from the ridge of the mountain and occasionally dips down into the valley then climbs with aching limbs up to the ridge again, leaving the hiker wondering politically incorrect thoughts like, “Was the Indian who made this trail guzzling fire water?” The fact that it’s on top of the ridge means there isn’t any creeks, rivers, or streams up there. There is one “spring” that is more of a mud puddle than a fresh water stream. It would take a pre filter, then bacterial filter, then possibly UV filtering to make it drinkable. Unless you’re a dog, but you’re probably not, since a dog would’t be intelligent enough to be reading this article. This being said, you must pack ALL of the water that you’ll need for the hike. This makes your pack ridiculously heavy and your knuckles get all sore from dragging on the ground for many miles. In fact, this is one of the driest mountain ranges around. You see, all the rain gets dumped on the surrounding mountains before it even gets to North Fork Mountain, leaving all the hikers dry but very thirsty. This being said, there’s a very good chance that you don’t have to prepare for rain while gearing up for this hike.
This trail is a straight run so if you prefer to hike the whole thing rather than doing an in-n-out and repeating the scenery, you can hire the services of a local outfitter, Eagles Nest Outfitters, in the Petersburg area. They will drop your car off at the end of the trail, then shuttle you to the start, that way you can hike the trail one way without having to go back the way you came. Unfortunately, this costs you about $105 (it is about two or so hours of driving time for the outfitters), but if you split it among four or five people (as many as you can squeeze into a Ford Taurus) it’s affordable. Plus, John, the guy in charge of the whole shibang, can tell you anything you want to know about the local area and culture. We chose this shuttling route and it proved highly entertaining. Not only were we hiking through fresh scenery, we got to ride in the car with John who, by all appearances, jumped right of the pages of a Patrick McManus book (if you don’t know who Patrick McManus is, shame on you, look him up). John is a genuine, grizzled hillbilly with a thick accent and a vocabulary chock full of phrases no one in modern America understands.
“Oh?” The prospect of being kidnapped by a moonshiner always piques my interest.
“Yea. He aint’ harmful, he’ll just stand there beside a tree and watch you walk past. Just walk on by and don’t mind him any attention.”
“Do you ever see bears?” Nathaniel was sleeping in a hammock and it’s quite likely that if the rest of us would go screaming into the woods, he’d have a hard time untangling himself and catching up.
“Oh yea! We got bears, mountains lions. You don’t see the mountain lions until they are on attacking you. If you see a bobcat, you’re lucky. They don’t like being seen, it’s special seeing one of them cats.”
John dropped us off at a random curve in the road.
“Well, here you’ar. The trail is right beside the posted sign.”
“Uh… Ok. Thanks!”
“Ring me when you get out that way we won’t send a search party after yar.”
And with that we headed into the woods. The North Fork Mountain runs for about 34 miles. The trail runs for almost 24 miles and meanders around on the ridge of the mountain. This is a good hike, and can be moderately challenging (yes, yes, I was puffing hard most of the time) but has a ton of vista’s that leave you breathless. Or else that’s the hiking. Either way, it’s enjoyable and I recommend it. However, if you only have a weekend in this area, I would advise you try hiking Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. It’s in the same Monongahela National Forest but boasts far more diverse vegetation and scenery. It’s best around the beginning of September. The trees shed their leaves earlier in Dolly Sods and on the North Fork Mountain Trail because of the higher elevation. That’s something to keep in mind when you are planning your hike.
Now, I like strong coffee, but I hate dark, plain coffee. I was packing instant coffee because I’m addicted to caffiene and need my morning fix. Especially since my companions were all morning birds, or morning vultures should I say. Since I hate plain coffee, I packed the top compartment of my bag full of Coffee Mate French Vanilla creamers. I only got to use two of them since the rest popped and dribbled all over my pack and back. It got very sticky and annoying, but my pack smelled better than it ever did before.
We were hiking from September 6-8 and it was a little too hot yet. I was sweating so badly, the tops of my hiking boots were literally drenched from the sweat running down my legs. In my opinion, hiking the trail when it’s a little cooler would be more enjoyable, although at that elevation (4,588 feet at the highest point), it gets cold in a snap. Be prepared to sleep in cold weather if you’re trying this hike in the fall.
Some people cache water halfway or 3/4 of the way up the trail so they can restock and so they don’t have to carry all of their water supply on their backs. There are some roads going up to the trail, but only the main highway (U.S. Route 33) goes the whole way over the mountain. The highway is typically where the outfitter would drop you off to start your hike. If you do cache water, make sure you hide it well. Other hikers who have no soul (they do exist) or someone simply wanting to clean up the area, may take your water and dispose of it. This isn’t good. Hide it, but make sure you remember where you put it.
A quick shout out to Eagles Nest Outfitters! We liked John a lot. We found him to be trustworthy and full of entertaining stories and useful information. Eagles Nest Outfitters does a lot of different trips. Check them out if you are visiting the Petersburg, W.VA. area!
Go have some adventure!
Some articles for your consideration before you embark:
Eagles Nest Outfitters phone # (304) 257-2393