The weather forecasters told me that Friday, July 10 would present the best weather day of a questionable weather week, with only a "passing thunderstorm" in the forecast. I hate July’s typical daily Central Virginia forecast: "highs in the 90s and humid, with a 40% chance of afternoon storms." In other words, "we don’t really know what’s going to happen, except that it won’t be comfortable."
I was on the road by 6AM with breakfast in hand and Gracie the Fabulous Hiking Dog in back, intent on a bucket list hike that required everything to work perfectly. Three hours on the road, four hours on the trail, then three hours return would allow me to achieve my first ever hike in West Virginia’s Cranberry Wilderness and be back before 5 PM.
I made it to the trailhead by about 9, arriving at a point where there was literally a hole in the forest with a trail going in. I had driven from sunny skies into the clouds as I climbed up into the Cranberry area. The Cranberry forest was so thick that it looked like a curtain covered the forest, and I entered into an opening.
|At the trailhead, there is a hole in the forest, taking you inside the curtain.|
Whenever I researched the Cranberry Wilderness in the past, I would come across descriptions of the area as having vegetation unlike the rest of the Mid-Atlantic and more like the Adirondacks or New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I discounted such accounts, but was amazed when I started hiking here – it reminded me exactly of hiking at lower elevations of the White Mountains. The forest looked just the same! Unfortunately the skies started opening up and I was brushing my way through wet Red Cedar and magnolia. I was wet immediately at the start of my hike, and it wasn’t worth donning my rain gear. This also reminded me of the Whites – one very wet week in particular hiking from Franconia Notch to Mt. Washington.
|This is an incredibly lush area.|
The North-South Trail in Cranberry Wilderness seems to be one of the favorite trails in this large wilderness. I decided to take this trail from the Highlands Scenic Road to the Tumbling Rock Trail, then back. The trail sign told me that this would be 5 miles each way. My GPS ended up totaling a little longer – 10.7 miles for the hike. My experience in West Virginia is that trails are seldom kept up, especially in wilderness areas. There just aren't enough volunteers out this way. So picking a major trail meant that I was less likely to find myself on a nonexistent path.
|There are constantly varying views.|
Despite its relative popularity, the North-South Trail was still seriously overgrown. I was pushing myself through heavy brush almost from the start, then the trail would open up for a while and dry out, then I would be back in the heavy brush. The trail itself was dry some of the time, but much of the trail was worn into a channel, spawning a series of pools, brown from tannin off of the trees, ankle deep. And on the return trip, in a driving rain, the water was deeper than on the way out.
|Several large campsites along the North-South Trail, |
though groups are limited to 10 hikers in the wilderness.
|Cloudy, rainy conditions made for some dark hiking. |
No sunscreen needed here.
|We turned around at the intersection of the Tumbling Rock Trail and the|
|Back at the trailhead, it was still pouring.|
|Interesting conditions on Interstate 64 on the return.|
There were no vistas on this hike, but that didn’t keep it from being a wondrous place to visit. Green was everywhere and the views changed constantly. I can see why this is a popular place to backpack - I barely scratched the surface of this place - but backpackers need to be prepared for wet conditions.
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