Canaan Valley Winter Retreat

I’m back from another trip to Canaan Valley, West Virginia. This was a family trip. But I found time to do some landscape photography, too.

One spot I was excited to check out was the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Last year I drove through the refuge on a backpacking trip around the western side of Dolly Sods Wilderness. I didn’t have time to explore the refuge then, so I made a note to come back.

The refuge consists of high-elevation wetlands, forests, and grasslands. The Allegheny Mountains rise in the distance to create a dramatic backdrop. And during my visit, well over a foot of snow blanketed the ground.

The Blackwater River and other waterways flow through the refuge and eventually into Blackwater Falls State Park.

Blackwater Falls, the park’s namesake, was another location I was hoping to visit on this trip. One morning after a snowstorm cleared, we made the short walk down to the observation decks overlooking the falls. The falls were stunning. The Blackwater River meanders around a bend before plunging further into the forested canyon below.

During our visit, there was significant ice accumulation around and under the falls and a light dusting of snow on the trees and surrounding boulders. It was a beautiful winter scene.

Finally, I was hoping to make a short hike in the evening to enjoy sunset from the famed Lindy Point. Unfortunately, road closures within the park would have required that I hike a couple miles along the road before even reaching the trailhead for Lindy Point. There was at least a foot of snow on the closed section of road and probably even more on the trail. I wasn’t prepared to hike in deep snow, and it was probably better that I didn’t make the trek to Lindy Point anyway. The temperature plummeted to 13 degrees at sunset, which would have made for a very cold walk back. Instead, I enjoyed the view from some overlooks along the park road (between breaks in the car to warm up, of course). The views were amazing.

Once again, West Virginia did not disappoint!

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Great North Mountain Winter Adventure

Last week I completed a 13-mile backpacking trip on the Great North Mountain in the George Washington National Forest. The trip covered parts of Virginia and West Virginia. The snow-covered forest was magical, the views endless, and the night bitterly cold. Fortunately, we were well-prepared to spend a night in the woods in twenty-degree winter weather.

As we ascended the Great North Mountain, more and more snowfall appeared. First some frost and a dusting on scattered rocks along the trail. Then more of the trail and trees were covered, until finally the entire trail had a couple inches of the crunchy white stuff and all of the trees and branches were blanketed. It was nothing short of a wintery wonderland.

In fact, the snow was so heavy it weighed down tangled branches of thick mountain laurel, which obstructed much of the trail along the ridge of the Great North Mountain. Our hike slowed to a crawl at times. Fortunately, we built in plenty of time to reach our intended campsite, so the delay didn’t cause too much concern.

The payoff was an amazing view overlooking the Trout Run Valley of West Virginia and the distant peaks of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians. After gathering firewood and setting up camp, I couldn’t help but spend some time photographing a beautiful winter sunset.

The next morning we were packed up and back to the car just before a major snowstorm approached the area. I never thought of myself as a “fourth season” camper, but this trip really showed me that it is possible to spend a comfortable night in the woods at temperatures well below freezing without a whole lot of expensive gear. The key for me was some extra planning, having a well-insulated sleeping bag and pad, extra gloves and socks, plenty of food and water, and great company. I can’t wait to get back.

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Visiting Great Falls in December 2020

I visited Great Falls over the weekend. We’ve had a fair amount of rain, and I was hoping to see some intense rapids along the Potomac River. I wasn’t disappointed.

I love visiting Great Falls this time of year. There is hardly anyone in the park in the early morning hours. And the 7:00 a.m. opening leaves plenty of time to arrive and set up well ahead of sunrise in the winter months. When the temperatures are low enough, frost and icicles form on the sides of the boulders along the river. Here’s hoping for a cold winter!