Hike: On 11/8/2020, my brothers and I hiked the highest point in West Virginia: Spruce Knob. This was part of our first-ever (hopefully first of many!) siblings trip.
Spruce Knob stands at 4,863 feet, #24 of the 50 state highpoints, just ahead of Brasstown Bald, GA and is located within both the Monongahela National Forest and Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. Since this was a lesser-known area of WV, and we chose to go in November, I figured we’d be nearly alone for most of this trip–something I enjoy, having the forest/area to ourselves 🙂
Goal: Complete our 9th highpoint, with big brother Matt as our special guest. Spruce Knob is essentially a “drive-up” highpoint, meaning a road goes nearly to the top, so there wasn’t much of a hike involved. I did have a secondary goal of scouting out a campsite near the top and/or the parking lot, so we could quasi-car camp (not need to haul a bunch of gear miles through the woods).
Gear: I wore my usual Smartwool shirt and socks, REI pants, and Altra shoes. I brought my camera along in my hand, and didn’t need my daypack nor trekking poles since the hike to the peak was only 1/2 mile loop. It would have been smart to bring some water, as it was unseasonably warm that day!
Weather: 72° and sunny!
Pre-Hike / Planning: We figured out the best time for this 3-day trip, considering all of our work schedules, was a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday. So Sunday morning, I had all my gear loaded up in the van without any worries of forgetting an essential item (I’ve learned a few things about packing, seeing how this was our 5th highpointing trip this year–goodness!) I ate breakfast then kissed my boys and husband good-bye, around 8:15, for the 4.5 hour drive up.
I must stop here to give a huge THANK YOU to my dear, patient hubby for all the times he stays home with our boys while I go off on these adventures. I love and appreciate you more than I can express, Javi. Your sacrifice and love for our family is truly incredible.
I headed north on route 220, out of North Carolina, into Virginia, past Roanoke (Ro-noke-ee, as J likes to say!). I drove through cute towns like Boones Mill, which boasted two 2-story cardboard Trump cutouts, and Fincastle, and winded up, over, around, and down the curvy backroads in George Washington National Forest. After talking to my mom for about an hour, I listened to several I’ll Have Another podcasts, then finally some music towards the end. I made one stop for a bathroom break (and to buy some candy bars!)
I kept seeing “WV state line” signs, and felt lost/confused when the distances seemed to say 27 or 31 miles every single time, no matter how long I had been driving. Thankfully I wasn’t lost, despite having zero cell signal for my GPS directions. I wondered if my brothers had left on time, and who would arrive at our meeting place first–turns out, they did.
Our meet-up spot, the Gateway Restaurant on Briery Gap Road in Riverton, bustled with hungry post-churchgoers. I walked in at 12:40, 20 minutes early, and my brothers had already ordered their drinks. I hadn’t seen Joel since South Dakota, and Matt since… July? I gave them hugs, and we caught up over sandwiches and chips.
We ate quickly, to maximize the available daylight (4 hours left!), and headed up the road. Unfortunately, my GPS took us to the Seneca Rocks welcome center, instead of Spruce Knob! So we re-grouped, and I decided to let the boys lead, since Matt could navigate while Joel drove. That worked so much better. I hated wasting precious time with wrong turns.
wasted later, we were on the right road to Spruce Knob. The road became very narrow, and was very curvy. Many cars were coming down, so we hugged the inside of the mountain as they squeaked past us, not wanting to get too close to the steep drop-off, with no guardrails anywhere.
Eleven miles later, we parked in the Spruce Knob parking lot, with only a few other cars/people nearby. We made it!
Hike: The Whispering Pines trail, about a half mile loop, goes to the highpoint and around the observation tower. It took about 2 minutes to get there 🙂
This observation tower, unlike those in NC, GA, TN, and SD–which are considerably larger and more epic, felt a bit small and without any fanfare–but we still had amazing views of the Monongahela National Forest.
We walked along the loop a little more, then took a detour, across a scree field on the way to an open meadow. We scoped out the meadow for a potential campsite, then decided that carrying all our stuff across the uneven, ankle-busting talus (aka scree, aka large loose rocks) wouldn’t be a great idea.
We played around on the boulders for a bit.
After the quick half mile loop, we stopped at our vehicles for some water, then continued on to the Huckleberry Trail to get a longer hike in.
Someone had spilled mothballs at the entrance to the trail, so it reeked of a certain “old-man-musty-attic” odor… Gross!
We walked for several miles, stopping at an overlook, and checking out various campsites along the way.
The forest had lush green moss, sweet smelling spruce, light-colored lichen, and even a bit of leftover snow in a few spots!
In the end, we settled on the campsite closest to the parking lot, as it had an established fire pit, complete with “chairs” made of stones. Though Joel brought wood from PA, the forest supplied us with plenty of dead spruce branches, blessedly dry, which burned quickly, easily, cleanly.
We each made about 2 trips to the cars, carrying various provisions: backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and my cast iron skillet and cooler, so we could make dinner.
As I had hoped, we had everything set up and the fire blazing before sunset.
Matt cooked all the food I brought: hot Italian sausages over the fire, complete with onions and peppers, and made them into sandwiches with dijon mustard. We ate the purple cabbage slaw I made as an appetizer.
After we cleaned up all traces of dinner, I went back up to the parking lot to try to call the family. I had one little bar, and hoped it would be enough signal to get through. It was! For about a minute… then the call dropped, and I couldn’t reconnect 🙁 (same thing happened to Matt when he tried too).
I witnessed an amazing sunset:
We ended the evening around the fire–where else?–with a catch-up of Who’s doing What and Where now (old friends from school), followed by a rousing political discussion–I’ll spare you the details here 🙂
We marveled at how absolutely still and quiet the forest was that night–no car noise, no people, not even birds or bugs or wildlife. Just complete silence, and a clear sky with bright stars shining down.
Matt & I shared a tent, and his double air mattress just barely fit, but ended up being very comfortable. I put in my ear plugs in case of him snoring.
The night ended well… until I woke up near midnight, chilly. Uh oh… this is not good. I have all my clothing on already, except my extra pants and extra socks. I really didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag to put them on, so I laid there for a few minutes wondering what to do, and worried I would end up being cold and awake for the rest of the night.
Thankfully, I had brought my space blanket, learning my lesson when I cold-camped a few weeks ago with MM at Hanging Rock State Park (that night, it dipped to 36° and the wind raged). Here, at least it was above 40° (which my sleeping bag was rated to), though I couldn’t be sure of the temp since I had no cell signal.
I shoved the space blanket (emergency blanket–basically a big sheet of plastic) into my sleeping bag, and attempted to cover my legs with it, since mainly my lower half felt chilled. It saved me, and I was able to sleep the rest of the night, though my toes never really warmed up. I cursed the North Face sleeping bag, and myself for not buying a better one!
I woke up at 6 and laid there until Matt got up to make the fire. Day (and night) 1 = success!
Recommend: This area, while indeed beautiful, felt underwhelming when compared to some of the other states. That said, I definitely enjoyed camping in the lush, quiet spruce forest. And I would love to return to climb and explore more of the area.