Monday, June 22, 2015

Trails on the New River Gorge

Though I've driven though West Virginia on a couple of occasions, I'd never really stopped to see what this beautiful state has to offer.  That changed as our area churches put together a rafting trip in the New River Gorge.  We came down for a couple of days to raft and to enjoy other activities.  I used extra free time to piece together a couple of trail runs.  I had begun to do some research on what the trails look like in the area and had some ideas in mind.  In the end, time allowed me to explore the Canyon Rim Trail (there may be another name for it) and the Endless Wall Trail.  The Canyon Rim trail heads northwest out of the parking lot at Adventures on the Gorge resort.  There is no signage and the beginning of the trail is actually there frisbee golf course.  This makes the beginning a bit hard to follow, but a good common sense idea for a trail eventually will follow it out of the frisbee golf area.

I was at first running this trail perhaps at a 10 min pace just to keep an eye out for things.  There are several overlooks along the way that offer nice views of the New River Gorge.  I took the time to stop at a few.  There are some hills and other elevation changes along the way to get the heart racing as one runs.  Due to time constraints I set myself a turn around time and distance.  I made it 1.5 miles out and it happened I was near a parking loop at the time.  I wish I could have seen if the trail extended further and where it went, but perhaps another time.

I did the Canyon Rim trail run towards the end of our first day out there.  The next day we spent the bulk of it rafting down the New River and that was a blast.  The rafting and the whitewater rapids were great, swimming and floating in the warm water of the river was fantastic, it was a good day.  Upon return we had some more free time and so I took this as an opportunity to check out the Endless Wall Trail.  I had heard great things about it and the trailhead was nearby.

It was easy to find the trailhead at Fern Creek. From the parking lot the trail starts off narrow but quickly widens up for perhaps 2 tenths of a mile. At times the foliage on the side of the trail narrows up close to a single track trail. Usually this is with the Rhododendrons. At other times the foliage thins and things open up more. For the first 7 tenths (according to my track) the trail heads southwest towards the Gorge edge with a few small ups and downs. I passed a few nice families hiking along the way. Along the Gorge edge there are several break off trails that head to some unofficial views on rock outcroppings. The main observation point is Diamond Point which is signed. At some of these little trail junctions there was signage pointing towards “Climbing Access”. At just shy of 2 miles the trail breaks north for a quick half mile trek back to the road at a 2nd trailhead. 

I knew weather was coming and at one of my quick stops along the Gorge edge I saw a report that gave 30 minutes. When I hit the 2nd trailhead and saw it had taken roughly 27 minutes to get there I made the decision to run the trail all the way back instead of the road. On both of my treks each direction I took a stumble and both were close to the same spot near Diamond Point where a small rock jutting out of the trail caught me by surprise and sent me down. Both times I caught my fall just enough that I could turn and land mostly on my side.  Needless to say, this didn't please me in the slightest.

The return trek otherwise went without incident and I was back to the car literally as the rain began to fall. A beautiful trail for an easy hike or a good trail-run. Has a few decent views along the way.  I was reminded afterwards  that there is more to the Endless Wall Trail than just running from trailhead to trailhead.  At one of the climbing access signs the trail descends down to another section which is really what makes this trail so famous.  Some small canyon hiking and rock scrambling provides some highlights as well as views and ladder climbing.  Though those parts wouldn't have fit with my trail run, they sound well worth checking out next time.

On our 3rd day in West Virginia I made a return to the Canyon Rim Trail.  I had some more time and decided I would spend it leisurely by getting a hike in.  I didn't want to drive far and time was somewhat limited so I headed back along the Canyon Rim.  Towards the beginning of our trip I was talking to our trip leader who had been down here numerous times before.  He described a trail that descended down towards the bottom of the Gorge that had some steep sections with a ladder and even a rope.  I was curious to see where this might exist.  As I hiked the Canyon Rim I had my eyes peeled for any other trails that would break off.  

Finally, about 3/4 of a mile down the trail I spotted to my left another small trail heading downhill.  It was near a big boulder that was on the right side of the trail.  I decided to give it a look.  I followed it directly down the slope for a few minutes til it hit a steep clefted area.  Here I found about a 6 foot wooden ladder strapped into place to held descend to a 10 foot ledge area.  From there I saw the rope that had been mentioned.  The ledge nearly cliffs out and drops at perhaps a 70-80 angle near a tree.  I would call this a class 3 section.  Some old rope hung in place there that people had used previous to aid this small descent.  It was probably no more than a 7-8 foot descent.  I debated hopping down there but was beginning to run short on time.  I finally decided it wasn't worth taking on any risk as I was in need of turning around anyways.  Beyond this section I could see the trail switchback more below and it certainly looked as though it could descend more towards the Gorge floor.  I turned around and headed back towards the trailhead.

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