Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Weekend Report: Operation WILD (Camping in West Virginia)

West Virginia calls itself “Wild and Wonderful,” and it kind of was! SpeedyKate and I went camping at Spruce Knob Lake Campground in Monongahela National Forest (can you pronounce that? We can’t.) for the long Labor Day weekend. 

(View from the top of Spruce Knob.)
Monongahela National Forest was established in 1920 and the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area was the first National Recreation Area designated by the U.S. Forest Service in 1965. It includes more than 100,000 acres of land, 75 miles of hiking trails, and a 25-acre lake. Go Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt – the National Parks are so great!

The choice of this location was not at all strategic – basically last weekend we decided we wanted to go camping, and worked the Google to find somewhere within range that sounded reasonably amusing and still had campsites available: hiking trails, a “mountain,” and a lake. Done done and done.

Western snobs that we are, SpeedyKate and I can’t not put “mountain” in quotes – the Applachians are much more like big domed green hills – but whatever you want to call them, they are beautiful!

We left DC relatively early on Friday, but thanks to some serious accident-generated traffic, did not make it to our campsite until late. Minor SNAFU #1 hit early on – my headlamp (for which I just bought new batteries) did not work.  But we managed to set up the tent in the glowing beam of SpeedyKate’s iPhone flashlight app (amazingly effective!) and the light of an almost-full moon, crawl into our sleeping bags, and fall asleep. 

Some time later, we awoke to the pleasant sound of raindrops on our tent tarp. No big deal – we’re Colorado campers and nighttime rain is to be expected. But those pleasant drip-drops presently progressed to pouring rain, which became thunder and lightning literally on top of us. Our one flaw in the successful tent set-up was that the top tarp was inside-out, meaning the flaps faced the wrong way, meaning SpeedyKate got rain in her face and my inflatable sleeping pad buoying me up in our personal tent-sized puddle. 

Luckily there’s very little that can’t be cured by coffee and breakfast (insert bad pun about dampening spirits here), and then next morning we were all set for an outdoorsy West Virginia day.

We hiked around the lake, and then did a long and muddy out-and-back on one of the trails. 

(No names named, but one of us is clearly better at avoiding puddles...) 
In the late afternoon, we drove up to Spruce Knob, which at 4,863 feet is the highest point in West Virginia. 

And guess what we saw??? A BLUE CRAYFISH. It is real. It’s a thing. (Aka the Blue Mountain Mudbug.) And the best fun-fact post-camping internet searching turned up: this is the only species of crayfish that walks uphill when you put it down. So there’s that. Take a moment and let your mind explode. 

Then that evening the true test of woman-vs.-WILD came: making fire in a soaking wet campsite. Turns out, I can and I did! It took a long time, and it wasn’t quite enough fire to cook anything other than s’mores on…but s’mores are the most important part of camping food anyways (and luckily I’d brought a no-cooking-necessary salad for dinner), so it was a win!

We reassembled our slightly damp tent and got in our very damp sleeping bags...

On night #2 there was no thunder, but it rained HARD again into the morning. We’re certainly not whiners, but we’re also not masochists, so after one night of camping in a thunderstorm followed by a second night of torrential rain, we considered it totally fair and reasonable to call it sleeping-bag-soaked quits. 

But before leaving we went on a lovely hike along Seneca Creek. It was so pretty! 

And then had a whole extra day in DC to relax. It was a great long weekend. Happy Labor Day to you!