Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Revisiting Rocky Point in West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness
One of my favorite summits is not a summit at all. It is a barren rocky outcrop projecting more than a hundred feet from a ridge, its farthest edge offering a magnificent view of the valley over a thousand feet below. One guidebook describes it as offering “spectacular views from a huge flat (but heavily dissected) rock outcrop … an impressive outcrop of Pottsville sandstone that offers the most spectacular views in the S (forested) portion of Dolly Sods Wilderness. Magnificent view of Red Creek Canyon makes the scramble to the top of the rocks worth the effort.” (Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide, 8th Edition, p. 183)
I first hiked to and fell in love with this pseudo summit and the wooded campsite located less than a hundred yards away during a late December backpacking trip in 1976. It is one of my favorite places in the whole world and one of the places I go in my mind when I want to relax and reconnect with nature. I recently hiked there again after not having been there for over six years.
When I remember my recent trek I recall standing in the nearby campsite amidst a grove of tall pine trees. Having been planted in rows decades ago, the trees ascend forty to sixty feet into an almost cloudless November blue sky, their trunks three to five feet apart. With no branches on the bottom third of their trunks, I walk easily amongst them. The trunks remind me of columns in a cathedral, columns supporting a ceiling of green pine boughs.
Decades of dead and decaying fallen pine needles form a soft spongy pad underneath a carpet of day old snow an inch or two deep. The scent of fresh pine above and around me as well as the decaying matter below my feet speak of a rich vibrancy—life amidst death. At an elevation of nearly 3,700 feet, this evergreen grove is an ethereal sanctuary.
On the nearby exposed Rocky Point, perched above the valley floor from which I had hiked the 3 ¾ miles, prevailing westerly winds sometimes whistle and sometimes howl as it flows through the needles, branches and trunks of wind stunted one sided pine trees, their branches pointing east with the wind. Hawks and other birds occasionally soar overhead. At times I can hear their call. I notice a jet’s vapor trail in the distance to the east, its u-shaped curve suggesting it was left by a military jet on maneuvers.
There were no cars in the parking area when I hit the trail three hours earlier. I have not seen a human since I left the car. The only evidence of civilization is a few fire scorched rocks and logs, unnecessary remains and reminders of campfires in the camping area, a couple communication towers off in the distance, and jet trails high in the sky. The jet trails and communication towers cannot be helped. Adherence to Leave No Trace principles could have prevented the camp fire scars.
I experience this peaceful wilderness setting high in the Alleghany Mountains as a thin place where the veil between the worlds is as thin as gossamer. It is a liminal place where earth meets sky and I find renewal and communion with the sublime.
On the hike back down to the car, following fresh bear tracks in the day old snow still covering the trail, tracks that had not been there four hours earlier, heightens my awareness but does not diminish from my sense of having been one with the wilderness. I will undoubtedly return to Rocky Point many times in my active imagination, and hopefully in reality sooner than later.