March 3, 2013: One could argue chasing peaks isn’t really going after something, but running away.
I left work early and headed to my gear stash, to my atlas, to the moment right before the car-pack when you stare at everything laid out on the floor illustrating destiny. And I was off as the 3 o’clock talk-radio shift change was happening.
Because of the geographical cluster, a lot of hikers/climbers/highpointers do West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania all in one swoop. In the summer, it’s completed in one day. But I was chasing the late winter early spring and still wanted some kind of connection to the cold snow death.
Without consulting the weather, I headed towards West Virginia, where the state motto was, “Montani Semper Liberi,” which was Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free.”
From north central Ohio, it was a 6-hour curvy glide southeast to the Spruce Knobb recreational area.
They got hit hard with a couple feet of snow the week before, so the un-serviced service and forest roads were pretty well-coated. Truth be told, I was going extremely weak and expecting to get pretty close to the summit in my car and then just hike the rest of the way. Nope. God’s forces would not let me half-butt this hill.
Eight miles from the summit parking lot near the top, even in my attractive cellmate’s four-wheel drive Ford Escape hybrid, the road was impassible. It was close to 10 p.m.
Decision time: one, hike the deep-powder road to the summit, a 16-mile round trip.
Two, backtrack to the other side of the mountain and see if I could get closer going that way on the road (very unlikely).
Three, go back to the trailhead for Seneca Creek or Lumberjack and connect to Huckleberry and summit that way (even longer than the road).
So there I sat, trying to sleep on the reclined back seats. I wanted to make a new plan in the morning. Shortly after midnight, I knew sleeping wasn’t possible and I was going to have to just drive back the 8 miles to the main road and try again next year.
With a summit attack plan that would involve feet not tires. Spruce Knobb, West Virginia was my first summit failure.
I ventured north through West Virginia, parking close to the state line of Maryland. There’s no trailhead parking along the state highway, just extra room on the side of the road sandwiched between the guardrail and the white line of the lane. Again I tried sleeping alone, hearing cars and headlight beams drowning the interior of the car.
I was sure a semi was going to smash me down the ravine on the other side of the guardrail.
Up and out at 6 a.m. No gaiters or snowshoes. Just a sloppy slog up the well-packed-out snow path to the summit. Trees stood taller than me and I felt robbed.
On the descent, I went off trail, post-holed through a rock formation to mid-thigh and almost snapped my femur in half. No one knew where I was.
It was the easiest trail possible and I almost completely screwed myself.
Back to the Escape, two hours max round trip. With the gas gauge leaning toward empty, I headed to Pennsylvania.
Mount Davis looked to be even easier than Backbone Mountain in Maryland. There was a well-traveled trail from the parking lot, making its way back the mile to the fire lookout tower and highpoint.
A half-mile down the street from the first lot, one could again park and hike an actual trail to the summit.
So, I strapped on the snowshoes and went that route, breaking trail the whole way. A family from Michigan met me there. Took my pic. They said they were on a highpointing tour. I said good look with West Virginia. They were confident they could drive to the top.
It was after 3 p.m. when I was back in the car heading home, very confused.
Had I succeeded?
Yes I was at the top, but there must be a million harder climbs in both states, not to mention the absolute failure in WV. I think I’m done highpointing. At least I got four. Back to backpacking and travel and building a solid financial future. That Mt. Marcy in New York does look a bit intriguing though…
Read HP #5:
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