Sunday, March 24, 2013

Whitegrass & The Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge

I’ve wanted to go to Whitegrass for years, but all the times I’ve tried there was no snow and the day I went to Blackwater Falls I was worried about time and didn’t drive the extra 10 miles to get there.   While we can’t get any snow in Northern Virginia, Canaan Valley has been blessed with a seemingly endless supply of snow and despite the calendar saying that it was late March, there was a lot of snow up in the mountains, with more on the way!  Since I’d decided against a Spring Break trip for a variety of reasons, I decided that I’d take another day trip West Virginia for some more snowshoeing. 

I took Roxy because I prefer driving the RV on long distances and she’d been sitting for about a month so I wanted to drive her.  It would also give me a chance to run the generator for it’s monthly “exercise”.   Luckily it’s real easy to gather the stuff I need for a day trip and Friday evening I had everything but my cooler packed.  I was up by 5:15 and on the road before 6:30 Saturday morning. 

This time I decided to take the more scenic route through Petersburg, Seneca Rocks, past Yokum’s – the location of last summer’s National Lampoon’s Redneck Vacation, and up and over the Eastern Continental Divide!

P1130068 This was exciting because hopefully this summer I’ll drive up and over the Western Continental Divide!  I’m sure you drive over it going the other way too, but it’s isn’t marked like it is on US33.  This route was a lot more scenic and it didn’t take much longer.  I think it’s the better way to go if you are going to Canaan Valley Resort or Whitegrass because they are both on the southern end of Canaan Valley. 

I’ve become accustomed to heading out to snowshoe and not seeing any snow until I arrive at my snowshoeing destination and today was no exception.

P1130069This is just over the Tucker County line, about 10 miles (maybe less) from Canaan Valley.   No snow.  None. Zip. Zilch.

It was a little after 10 am when I arrived!

P1130071(yea, the picture is crappy b/c of the glare…that’s what happens when you aim and shoot without looking because you are driving!

I was a bit nervous about the road in because it was off the main highway, and those roads tend to not get plowed/treated.  I’d posted the question on the Whitegrass Facebook group and was assured that getting in and parking would be just fine, and it was!  I am glad I got there early though, if I’d been even an hour later, parking Roxy would have been a challenge.  I quickly sized up the parking area and found a place, on what I thought was the end of a row, where I could park Roxy and not take up too much space (one of the other options I’d had to park her later had 4 cars parked there…glad I didn’t park there, I would have taken up 4 spots!) and pulled in. 

As soon as I got out of the van I knew I was in the right place – a young couple was getting out of their truck and man immediately said “Nice Rig!!!”.  He asked a few questions, but mostly gazed at my van in amazement!  He and his wife have been married a week and are planning an RVing honeymoon this summer!  I knew I was among friends at Whitegrass!

After I paid my area use fee, got a map, and checked out the lodge, I was ready to set out!  The map was kinda hard to read at first, so I just set out to explore.  Many of the trails are groomed, which makes it great for skiiers, but harder on snowshoers.  Especially on a day like today where the snow was packed and icy.  It was hard to get off the trail enough to where I was sure I wasn’t tearing up the tracks for the skiiers. (snowshoes have large ice biters on the bottom and are rough around the edges, whereas skis are smooth) I quickly came upon a trail crossing! I couldn’t find the trail on my map but there was a sign on the tree..

P1130076Snowshoe trail!  And the trail looked untouched!  Perfect!  Off I went, not worrying about tearing up the nicely groomed  ski trail! I quickly came to a little shelter that had a map in it and realized that I was heading away from most of the trails, so despite there being lots of “snowshoe trail” signs I decided to head back the way I’d come.  This time I noticed what looked to be a trail heading up the mountain.  It wasn’t on my map, it wasn’t marked, it hadn’t been traveled recently, but it really looked like a trail, so I headed up it!  I could still see the groomed trail so I knew I wasn’t too far off.  Soon I came to another groomed trail!  I continued up and soon came to another trail junction – this one, like all the main trails at Whitegrass was marked with a sign and a map of the mountain, with a “you are here” sticker, so you always know exactly where you are!

P1130082I opted to continue up.  When I got to the next trail junction, I was studying the map trying to decide where to do and a skiier came up behind me and said “You want to go to the right. It’s more scenic, you’ll see the waterfall.”  I’m not sure what made him think he knew what I wanted to do, but I decided I should take his advice, since I didn’t have another plan.  I headed off on the trail to the right, and he continued on up the other trail.   The trail to the waterfall wasn’t groomed and it was better for snowshoeing – maybe that’s why he suggested I go that way? 

I trekked past the small falls and up to another trail junction! Here I decided to keep on going up, thinking I’d go down a “black diamond” trail a little ways up.  The XC ski trails are rated just like downhill slopes and the black diamonds are the toughest.  I’ve never downhill skiied a black diamond so I was kinda excited to do one on snowshoes…even though it’s totally different! 

All the distances on the map were given in KM.  I wasn’t sure of the conversion of KM to miles, but I was quickly realizing that KM were shorter.  I was a lot further up the mountain than I had expected I’d be able to get!  I was considering going all the way to the top, but wasn’t sure.  My camera battery was dying faster than I’d anticipated and I wanted to eat lunch in the cafe.

For now though, I continued up, heading to the “Double Trouble” trail to get down.  Along the way I came to an awesome view of the lodge:

P1130087It’s kinda hard to see it down there…   The area that is now Whitegrass used to be a downhill ski area, they even used to have a lift!  Not anymore!  The only way to the top now is under your own steam!   I could see Roxy from here, so I had to zoom in to get a picture of her:

P1130088You can see that even right by the lodge the snow was patchy!

I continued up to Roundtop.

P1130089     P1130090


Roundtop is a flat spot at the top of one mountain, with more mountains rising around it! I continued to debate going all the way up, or heading back down for lunch and to charge my battery.  Since I didn’t know what time the cafe closed, I opted for lunch!  As I headed down I passed a guy I’d been talking to along the way and he was stunned that I wasn’t going all the way to the top, said it was really easy from there, I almost turned around, but decided if I did go to the top, I wanted pictures so I needed to charge my battery.  

The trip down was a lot of fun!  Usually I hate hiking downhill, but on snowshoes it’s lots of fun!  You can go faster because the snowshoes grip and the snow covers the obstacles that usually trip you! It’s a great workout of those “downhill muscles” that rarely see a lot of action!  On the way down I saw some tracks through the woods so deviated from the groomed trails and headed off through the woods! 

At the bottom I discovered I was parked in!  No worries, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere!

The lodge is a cozy place with woodstoves, mismatched furniture and huge picture windows!  The cafe serves up yummy real food for lunch!  I got a hummus panni and some yummy Spinach and Barely soup (although the edges of the “spinach” were quite curly, I suspect it was kale…even better! Any place that serves homemade soup with kale is my kind of place!).  All the food was fresh and real!  No hot dogs or chicken nuggets  here! :-) 

After lunch I headed back out!  I went up a very steep trail and then came to a groomed trail and kept heading up.  Soon though, I got to a side of the mountain that must get more sun that the rest because this was what I found:

P1130091This was the “good” part of the trail…there were huge patches where there was no snow at all!  Luckily I can walk on plain ground with my snowshoes so I didn’t have to take them off!  Soon I was back on a groomed trail and I found myself back at “Double Trouble”.  This is where I had come down earlier and right by Roundtop.  I decided that I was going to head up to the very top, Bald Knob Summit.   The sun was out and the air was warm, this meant the snow was getting very soft and very packable and it kept forming a solid snowball in the ice gripper on the bottom of my left snowshoe.  Due to the design of the snowshoe it’s a pain to get the snowball out.   I trekked up to the top and it was totally worth it!

I was almost at the summit when I saw this sign:

P1130092Were today’s conditions “wet” or “dry” – I could go either way!  I ended up going to the right, not sure what was on the left side. 


Blad Knob Summit – 4308’ (973 ft above the lodge!)


You can the chair lift for the Canaan Valley Resort.  They are already closed for the season and not taking advantage of this winter’s windfall. 

 P1130094P1130095 P1130100

Views of the Canaan Valley!  You can see, there isn’t much snow down there!

The trip down was more fun than the trip up!  I found a few un-groomed trails and was able to deviate from the trail and go on fresh snow!

Most of the trip down was in the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge!

I’d decided I was going to cut through on the “Fern Gully” trail – a steeper and shorter way down than the “Three Mile” trail, and came to what I thought was the junction, however I saw this sign:

P1130101 Experts only.  hmmmm.  I knew they were referring to expert skiiers.  Snowshoeing is different.  I decided to go for it!  It was very, very, steep!  I see why it was “experts” only!  I was glad I had traction and wasn’t sliding down!   I made it down with no issues!

I was almost back to the parking area and it was about 3:15, if I wasn’t parked in I would be ready to go, but what if I was parked in?  I could snowshoe more.  But I didn’t necessarily want to snowshoe more.  Decisions, decisions.  I ended up heading down, in hopes that someone had moved. 

When I got back to the RV I discovered that while the parking lot had cleared out a lot, the 4 cars that were making it impossible for me to get out, were still there.  I changed my clothes, got a snack, walked back into the lodge, hoping that when I was done with my “chores”, someone would have moved.  I then started wondering if maybe I was underestimating the van and maybe it *could* make it.   I was kinda seeing it as a challenge and I kinda wanted to try it, but failure was not an option and I really didn’t need to go anywhere (I’d wanted to leave by 5 at at the latest so I still had about an hour). 

Here’s what the situation looked like…


There are three cars here! The red van in the back is the one that is blocking me.  The other 2 are parked in what I thought was the road – guess not!


There is a red truck right next to me so I have to pull out (or back up, which I can’t do because of the red van in the other picture), I can’t pull out far enough to get around the red truck because of the 2 cars parked directly across from me… 

P1130103  If any one of the four cars moved, I’d be able to get out without a problem. 

Luckily for me, the owner of the red truck came up just as I was settling to read and wait! I jumped out to ask him if he could move his car if he wasn’t leaving (he had room to pull up a few feet), but he was leaving!  He pulled out and a few minutes later I was on my way!

Since it was only 4:15 I decided to take a reconnoitering spin through the Canaan Valley State Park’s campground to see what it was like for next time.  I was very impressed and was wishing I’d packed to spend the night.  They plow the campsites (as evidenced by the 5 ft mounds of snow at the end of each site), each site has electricity, most sites are pull-throughs (making it easy to come back after dark) and they have showers in the bathouse.   I’m gonna have to work out how to stay warm at night! I’m thinking I need an electric blanket or small ceramic heater – if I have electricity those things work great. 

I decided to take WV 93 to get home because it was more direct so I headed out through Canaan Valley and Davis.  When you go this way you get to see the HUGE windmills on the ridge!  I’d seen a windmill farm on the ridge in CA and there were hundreds of windmills and they looked smaller than these WV ones.  Here they have less than a 100 (I’d guess) but they are HUGE.  It’s probably because they are so close!  This time I knew I was going to see them so I was able to snap a picture as I drove by.



After a quick stop for dinner and generator exercise at my favorite “scenic overlook” outside of Moorfield, I headed on home after a great day in West Virginia! 

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