The rainstorm and the river are my brothers.
— Pocahontas, conceivably
A select seven DCULers started off the new year with a gorgeous hike outside of the Cranberry Wilderness of the Monongohela National Forest. Alex, Kathryn, David O., Brian H., Karan, Stan, and Dan arrived at Vienna on Friday night along with two other DCUL trips headed to the Ramsey’s Draft area. It’s quite a feeling to take over the Kiss & Ride area for 15 minutes after a long week of work. We continued the DCUL party at Sheetz #701 along I-81 before going our separate ways. Our group arrived at the Summit Lake Parking area around 11 PM and wasted no time heading to our first potential campsite for the night. We were pleasantly surprised to not only beat the rain, but also find a AT-style shelter at the Pocahontas trailhead-ish area. Everyone slotted except Alex, who set up his hammock nearby.
A pealing “rise and shine, campers” started off our only full-day of hiking. Many of us were surprised that the rain continued to hold off, despite the many signs of potential stormy weather. Leaving the Summit Lake area, we headed clockwise along the Pocahontas Trail, well-blazed with blue plastic diamonds fasted to trees with arbor nails. These were much easier to find than the typically painted blazes. The trail itself wasn’t particularly strenuous in terms of elevation or rocky terrain. But the unseasonably warm weather had melted most of the lingering snow, making the trail into a silty snow-cone of slush and sediment. At some moments on the trail, such as when the blazes took the group along a newly-formed logging road, it felt like walking uphill on sand — two steps forward and one slippery step back.
Photo credit: Dan
Despite the mud — and there was oh so much mud — the Pocahontas Trail was truly one of the most beautiful trails I have hiked in the Mid-Atlantic. The patches of snow and sprawling stands of hemlocks transported us into the PNW. Entire sections of the trail were carpeted in plush moss, just as the needles on the trees lit up in the afternoon sun like Christmas trees.
Photo credit: Karan
As if that were not enough, most of the group were able to spend their lunch-break at the Falls of Hill Creek, which are worth revisiting. It was such a pleasant surprise to find sixty-foot waterfalls. If I was an ultralight instagram influencer, that would have been the money-shot.
Photo credit: Karan
We had no problems finding water sources. Like Dolly Sods, little rivulets cascaded down the ridges ever mile or two, emptying into the Big Run river. Campsites, on the other hand, were not as easy to find. The tips Alex found on the MidAtlanticHikes page wasn’t entirely accurate. Originally, we planned to camp along Fork Mountain Trail near the junction of Big Run Trail, but the only potential campsites were on the trail itself. Fortunately, Brian followed his gut and checked out the top of Bearwallow Knob. There he found plenty of spots for tents, including his 10′ x 10′ “party tent” duomid. We were all able to set up camp before dark and eat dinner together (without a fire) before the overdue rain finally arrived. A few folks continued the conversations in the party tent while the rest of us turned in.
Despite a night of rain and strong winds, our group enjoyed mostly peaceful rest, protected by the dense coniferous stands covering the ridge where we camped. To complete our loop on Sunday, we only had 7 or so more miles until we reached the North Bend picnic area. Karan and Alex took on the roadwalk sans-pack (and only Karan actually completed it) back up to the cars. After the hike, the crew regrouped at Shenandoah Pizza in downtown Staunton, not too far from where the other DCUL trips were finishing up their own hikes.
It’s exciting to add the Pocahontas/Fork Mountain loop to the long list of DCUL hikes. Despite the long drive, I’m eager to return and find new pleasure hiking this loop during a different season.