Of all the paddling trips I have taken, what is best is finding a new area of wilderness, a true gem. This past Gauley Fest, I was talking to a paddler whom I have paddled past once or twice over the years. This time, he spoke of Nepal and a class 4-5 rapid which he paddled for 3 days. Yes, a three-day rapid! Ah, to dream of going there. There are so many sacred places where we paddle. Here are some “side gems” that you should check out.
The Cascades in Ohiopyle is a place which most don’t know about or get to. If you have not yet hiked Meadow Run trail, you should. There is a great trail that runs from the Slides all the way up to the Cascades. This trail is good for checking out Meadow Run and is a nice couple-of-mile hike. You can cut the walk down a bit by starting at the upper trailhead. It starts by the Rangers’ Station and leads directly to the Cascades. This is a good summer hike if there is no water in the gorge. One time, I was sitting in the Lotus position below the Cascades. A great blue heron was looking for food and landed right in front of me like a ghost in the twilight. The sun had just set and I had to turn on my light to see my watch. This was odd, a bird in the dark. I returned to the same spot the next night and, again, that ghostly bird flew in and landed in the exact same spot! I looked down at my watch. Again, it seemed too late for a bird. It was exactly the same time as the night before. Like a ghost, it flew up and out of sight … over the Cascades. My yoga spot must be a good fishing hole too!
During this year’s Gauley Fest, I was unable to paddle due to a bad shoulder. Instead, I hiked in the New River Gorge to Diamond Point, 973 feet above the river. When I arrived, it was set in a dancing, billowing mist that rose from the deep valley. From Diamond Point lookout, you can see about 270 degrees. The rapids and boats are so far down in the gorge they look like specks of floating dust. The mist would rise and disperse, rise and disperse, over and over with no end. This type of natural beauty is comparable only to the Grand Canyon or the Garden of the Gods out west ... and, Diamond Point’s beauty is just a few hours south of us! You can get information from the Visitors’ Center at the New River Gorge Bridge. The nearby trail for this hike is called the “Endless Wall Trail” …it is flat and only a mile long. Diamond Point is where the “Almost Heaven W.V.” song had to have come from. If you are lucky enough to have a rainy day or if you get there in the early morning, you’ll be engulfed and saturated in a total white shroud of mist.
Another adventure that came about from paddling is backpacking into Bear Run Nature Reserve. One can set up camp next to babbling Bear Run stream. This 5000 acre area is a great hiking or mountain biking destination. Look for the Nature Conservancy just 2 miles north of Ohiopyle on Rte. 381.
If you like to backpack and are in the Cheat River area, another cool place is Wonder Falls on the Lower Big Sandy in WV. It is really cool to sleep next to Wonder Falls. A trail on river right at the Rockville put-in leads downstream to Wonder Falls. Keep this one a secret!
There are often plans and dreams for long travels out west or farther. This time, I was the lucky one, traveling in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state and sleeping on the banks of the Skykomish. The flowing glacier water was so clean that I used it to brush my teeth and make coffee. Rock formations, called Pierces, went up into the clouds and were snow-covered in July!
Just north of the Skykomish, The Upper Tye has a rapid called “Crack in the Earth.” It is a huge granite slab slicing perpendicularly through the creek. Water gushes over the slab and makes an exact 90-degree turn. It is one of the most unique class V rapids in the region. Look on the AW website for pictures. Upstream of Crack in the Earth is Monkey Cage Falls. A very accurate resemblance of a monkey’s face can be seen under the water. The face easily spans 20 feet across the falls and it is so exact, that you feel you have arrived in the presence of some kind of river god. Where the falls start to drop over the ledge, white aerated water blows out of the monkey’s two nostrils!!! You get the feeling that natives of old could have performed sacrificial rituals there … throwing who-knows-what into the white boils below the falls!
Whitewater paddling may start your many adventures, BUT, the side-trips, the sub-trips, these “DIAMONDS” can immerse you in unending areas of beauty and wilderness. Go there … paddle, camp, hike … Teters, Laurel Creek, Middle Fork, Audra State Park; head north to the Moose, Ottawa, Nords; camp on an Erie beach, surf the waves of the best sunsets of the world. Have fun finding yourself wherever you are.