leaves of memory

•04/08/2010 • 9 Comments

The leaves of memory seemed to make
A mournful rustling in the dark.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wildflowers on a grave at Red Ash Island

Monday 04.05.10

Our walk on this day would lead us to an island. Not an island that most would imagine, but an island filled with the remnants of death. Within the New River Gorge there is much beauty. Within the New there is much ‘old’.  History of lives lived and lives ended.

We started our hike on the Brooklyn-Southside Junction Trail, beginning at Cunard;  in search of wildflowers.  We were not disappointed. The mountains were veiled with Dutchman’s Breeches and Spring Beauties. Fresh buds of spring green adorned the trees that bordered the wide, and well maintained hiking/biking trail.

Brooklyn-Southside Junction Trail

Clusters of white and red trillium nestled against old foundations of an almost forgotten time and place.  Trout Lillies lent yellow dollops of color throughout the landscape. Larkspur and ferns were stretching their limbs as if to awaken from a long slumber.

Star Chickweed

A mile or so down the path we encountered a fisherman. He told us that Red Ash Island was definitely worth the venturing. We had heard of this illusive place before and had actually talked of it a week or so earlier.  Knowing we were this close, we decided to take a look.

Red Ash Island, according to the New River Atlas, was used in the 1890’s as a community for smallpox victims. It was also a burial place for over 200 victims of the Red Ash mine explosion.  I did a google search on this place and it’s events. Unfortunately, I found very little.

The Crossing

Upon reaching the island we were unsure if we could find a suitable crossing place seeing that the river was running high. Tracks of deer revealed the way.  The island was nothing like I had imagined.

Red Ash Island

Standing at the tip of the island we could see, through this newly grown forest, the indention of sunken graves covered with leaves from Autumns past. Most of them were marked with river rocks at the head and at the foot.  No names.  No dates.  Just stones.

As we journeyed further we found a few graves with ornate headstones;  most of them were babies. A few rusty pieces of fencing.  A white wooden cross.  A broken gate.  Signs that at one time these souls were remembered.

Grave marker of a one year old

Death was the theme of this place and I was eager to remove myself from it.

Eerily, upon returning home, I heard the tragic news of the mining explosion of Upper Big Branch.


simple beauty

•04/02/2010 • 8 Comments


To find the universal elements enough;

To find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.  ~John Burroughs

A beautiful spring day after a very long winter – is more than enough.

Trout Lilly

I was privileged to have yet another pleasant day of adventuring in the New River Gorge. The temps were warm; the air was fresh; the birds were singing.  It felt good to be hiking without thermal undies and ‘toasty toes’.

Blood Root

I had been waiting for the forest to come  alive after a long winters slumber; to see the buried treasures that lie beneath the snow.  These fragile beauties brighten up the even the darkest of canyons.

Spring Beauties

Along Little Stony Creek it was difficult taking a step without crushing these smiling faces. Many varieties witnessed this day; many more waiting to emerge.


•03/18/2010 • 6 Comments

Wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions…” The Wilderness Act, 1964.

I’d like to say that Bear Rocks, in the Dolly Sods Wilderness; has no trace of man, however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Upon my frequent travels there; I’ve found that it has become quiet the tourist attraction. You see, Bear Rocks is the best view in town, and access to it is relatively easy. There is a direct route to there from either side of the mountain range. All one has to do to see the beauty is get in your vehicle and drive. A parking lot is provided and views galore.

I prefer the back-country trails. Although, they are becoming more populated as word gets out. I suppose that’s due to people like me that share the wonders we’ve captured with the world. It is an irresistible temptation. So much diverse beauty – it’s unlike any other place.

One trip and you’re hooked.

boulder gardens

•03/18/2010 • 2 Comments

The Allegheny Front that forms the eastern edge of the plateau is a ridge that catches and holds storms. I’ve witnessed this on several different occasions. In the high spots you can see how the trees have been sculpted by the wind – strong winds blowing continuously from the west have caused some trees to have branches only on the east side (they are “flagged”). Boulders that have been sculpted by time, and the elements, adorn the unique landscape. If one lets his mind wander these stones take on shapes of animals. I have seen whales, turtles, sharks and many other creatures within them.

Just imagine.

A little bit of Dolly Sods history- via Wikipedia

The 17,371 acre Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. It is located in Grant, Randolph and Tucker Counties, West Virginia. The Dolly Sods Wilderness contains much of the Red Creek drainage and contains bog and heath eco-types, more commonly typical to southern Canada. Elevations range from 2,500 to over 4,700 feet.

The extensive high areas in Dolly Sods and Flatrock-Roaring Plains were once mostly covered by dense, ancient Red Spruce and hemlock forest. The trees were 60 to 90 feet tall  and some measured at least 12 feet  in diameter. The greatest stand of red spruce in the world, in terms of size and quality, could be found along the upper Red Creek. The largest recorded tree ever cut in West Virginia was a white oak, harvested in this region. Nearly as large as a Giant Sequoia, it was probably well over 1,000 years old and measured 13 feet  in diameter at a height of 16 feet , and 10 feet  in diameter 31 feet above the base. We will probably never know how large the biggest trees in West Virginia were because the cuttings were not documented. Centuries of accumulated needles from these trees created a blanket of humus (soil) seven to nine feet deep.

Railroad logging made the spruce and hemlocks accessible in the late 1880s and the huge trees were cut down. Shay locomotives climbed the mountain and logging camps sprang up throughout Dolly Sods, clearing away the virgin forest to feed hungry mills. The humus dried up when the protective tree cover was removed. Sparks from railroad locomotives, saw mills and logger’s warming fires easily ignited this humus layer and the extensive slash (wood too small to be marketable, such as branches and tree crowns) left behind by loggers. Fires repeatedly ravaged the area in the 1910s, scorching everything right down to the underlying rocks. All insects, worms, salamanders, mice and other burrowing forms of life perished and the area became a desert. The destruction was extraordinary. More than one-tenth of the area of West Virginia state was burned over, including one-fifth of the forest area. The complete clearcut of this ecologically fragile area, followed by extensive wildfires and overgrazing, as well as the ecological stresses of the elevation, have prevented quick regeneration of the forest.

The name Dolly Sods derives from the family name Dahle, a German family who homestead the logged areas, clearing and farming them. Burning the logged areas produced good grass cover for grazing sheep, and these open fields were known as “sods“. Locals changed the spelling to “Dolly” and thus the area became known as the Dolly Sods. Repeated burning killed the grass and left only bracken fern, which was useless as fodder. The Dahle family eventually moved on, leaving behind only the Americanized version of their name.


•03/17/2010 • 4 Comments

I have a few.

“The Mountains help to reawaken forgotten dreams.” – Gaston Rebuffat, Between Heaven and Earth

Within the 63,000 acres of New River Gorge National River are over 1,400 established rock climbs. “The New” has become one of the most popular climbing areas in the country. The cliffs at New River Gorge are made up of a very hard sandstone, and range from 30 to 120 feet in height. The rock is very featured, and an abundance of crack and face routes are available. Most of the routes in the gorge favor the advanced and expert climber. The majority of routes are 5.9 and harder, and most sport routes fall in the 5.10 – 5.12 range.

Last year, I embarked on a journey filled with adrenaline rush. Rock climbing will push you to your limits. It’s a sport that appears extremely dangerous but when taking the proper precautions, is incredibly safe. With my friends and family by my side I’ve climbed numerous routes in the Gorge. Successes – many; with an equal amount failures.

My goal this summer is to complete the 5.9+ “Supercrack”. It resides on the buttress known as Thunder, among the taller cliffs in the gorge. One of the hardest maneuvers is at the beginning; thus depleting your arms before you start up the giant face. It also has a tilt that prevents resting. You must hold on to the rock at all times or you will swing away from the cliff and have to start all over.

It’s a doozy no doubt. Kicked my butt and took some skin. It’s been callin’ out my name; taunting me. So I’m going back to settle the score…or die trying. : )

twenty years from now

•03/09/2010 • 4 Comments

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.



~Mark Twain

Or in my words.

Rappel off of very tall cliffs while you can.

Care to join me? : )

This place, known to me as Rams Head /Welcome to Beauty,  is one that has changed my life and the way that I look at things forever. Last summer I came face to face with an enormous fear.  The thoughts of rappelling off of the highest cliff in the New River Gorge made me sick to my stomach.  Standing at the edge looking over was terrorizing to say the least, and if that wasn’t enough my instructor made me set the rig up that we would rappel off of. So not only was my life in the balance, but my dear friends life was too. As I was tying the ropes trying to remember the correct way, I could feel the lunch that I had just eaten trying to make its way back to the surface. I choked down the fear and the veggie sub and continued to fix the ropes.

After our instructor checked my rig and gave it the thumbs up, Fred, my good buddy, said that he would go first.  He did. Reluctantly. His descend off of the cliff face was terrifying to me as I knew as soon as he was down my turn would be next. He reached the bottom with only six feet of rope to spare – talk about cutting it close. : | It would now be my turn.

I grabbed my gloves and helmet and tied my figure eight and waited for the instructor to say go. That time came sooner than I thought. As I stood with my toes on the edge of the cliff I can remember looking down between my legs- I couldn’t see the bottom.  The first few steps were the hardest for the pressure against the cliff was strong and stayed that way until I reached the overhang. At that point I was dangling in mid air just like a spider on a web. It was one of the most liberating feelings that I have ever felt in my entire life. I looked out over the Gorge and took in the view from that unique vantage point. I can remember seeing the lush trees and winding river below and thinking this is pretty darn cool. For that moment I felt as though I had really lived and I’m looking forward to my return rappel from the place known as Beauty.

So twenty years from now I’ll be looking at these photographs and saying…..

trek to the north pole

•03/03/2010 • 2 Comments

I’m notorious for spur of the moment things and this particular adventure was exactly that.  It was more like a midnight run to the north pole seeing that we didn’t leave until six in the evening and at best it’s a four-hour trip during warm summer months. I had received news that 32, one of the routes to Blackwater Falls/ Canaan Valley area , was closed due to the winter storm. Knowing that we chose to take 219.  Luckily it was open, scraped and passable. Upon entering Tucker County it was truly a sight to behold.  All of the trees were painted with fresh snow. So much snow in fact, the National guard had been called in to clean it up.

I was in awe at the size and depth of snow drifts in the area, and knew right away that snowshoes would be needed if I was going to take any photographs. First thing Saturday morning was to do just that, and afterward,  hike the Elakala trail.  The enchanted hemlock forest that I had remembered was turned into the land of Narnia.  Snow packs in excess of three to four feet.  I’ve never seen as much snow as I did on this day.

The wildlife is suffering terribly because of the massive amount of snow fall. The deer are begging for food outside  Blackwater Lodge, and on the road ways.  Five of them approached the Jeep as we were leaving the park Sunday. I felt so sorry for them.  I know that you are not supposed to feed wildlife; but I must say, I had never been more temped to than on this occasion.

There was only two ways to get to Lindy Point, one of my favorite destinations in the park. By skis or by snowshoes.  I was enlightened this weekend, to the fact, that snowshoes are very tiring to hike in, and saddened that the four plus miles that we walked, was in vain. The light was poor and the snow relentless.

None of my photos from the mad dash northward turned out well; however, it was an adventure and most definitely beat sitting on the couch.