Thursday, May 29, 2014

Four Days on Shavers Fork

I first heard about and experienced Shavers Fork river nearly forty years ago when I was a freshman at Davis and Elkins College, as the river's course takes it not far from campus, but I never visited it's higher elevations or camped along it until eight or nine years ago, and then just two days and a night.  Recently, however, I camped alongside it at an even higher elevation four days and three nights.

The headwaters of Shavers Fork are located at over 4,000 in Pocahontas County near Snowshoe Ski Resort, making it, at its headwaters, the highest river in the Eastern United States.  Its over 88 miles of flow take it through Randolph and Tucker Counties until it merges with the Black Fork at Parsons to form the Cheat River. Draining a watershed of over 200 square miles that is more than 97% forested and mostly within the Monongahela National Forest, Shavers Fork is one of West Virginia’s renowned trout streams.  The area I camped in at 3,300 feet was within the Shavers Fork Area of the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest, an area inhabited by very few people but a couple hundred bears.

Camping with a friend I hiked, backpacked, caved and rappelled with as a teenager, we late Thursday.  Soon after we arrived it started to rain so we quickly pitched a 10 x 10 tarp, set up our camp chairs, and hunkered down until the rain stopped a few hours later.  Once the rain abated and the sun came out we pitched our separate tents and organized our camp.

We crawled out of our tents Friday morning around 6 AM.  After a leisurely breakfast we set off around 9 AM intending to explore the area.  We hiked upstream for half a mile following an abandoned trail that paralleled the river. Several blow down areas, fallen trees, and boggy spots slowed our progress but eventually we reached a junction with the Whitmeadow Ridge Trail, which led us to a Forest Road, but not before I caught sight of a small bear or large cub crossing the trail about thirty yards in front of us.

We followed the Forest Road a hundred yards or so down to Shavers Fork were we were greeted by one of the most picturesque settings that I have seen in a long time.  The nearly cloudless deep blue sky and bright shining sun seem to electrify the surrounding forest mountainsides and swiftly flowing shallow water. A long and narrow rocky sand bar, punctuated with vibrant green grass, allowed us to walk nearly out into the river’s center, offering unobstructed views upstream, downstream, and of the sky above.  The scene was sublime.

After briefly exploring the area we retraced our steps on the Whitmeadow Ridge Trail but rather than taking the abandoned trail back to our camp we followed the Whitmeadow Ridge Trail up the mountainside, gaining nearly 700 vertical feet in about four miles of hiking. Reaching a Forest Road at the crest of Cheat Mountain we followed roads another five miles back to our camp.  Altogether we had hiked 12.4 miles and did not a single individual other than a few cars that passed us along the road section of our hike.

Saturday morning was chilly and overcast with either a thin fog or low clouds.  As we enjoyed breakfast and conversation around a small fire in the fire pit it seemed like the temperature was dropping.  Wearing almost every stitch of clothing I had I was able to keep warm but was not motivated to hike.  Finally, around 10 AM, the sun burned through and blue patches of sky began appearing overhead.  As soon as the sun appeared the temperature started rising and I began removing layers of clothing.  Forty-five minutes later I was ready to hike the four miles back up to the crest of Cheat Mountain where I picked up and hiked the 2.9 mile Crouch Ridge Trail 560 feet back down to near the beginning of the road I had hiked up.  From where the trail terminated at the road it was another 1.2 miles back to our camp.  The total distanced I covered on Saturday was 8.2 miles and I had been passed by only one car on the road and one mountain biker on the trail.  While I was hiking my friend was fishing.
We took our time preparing Sunday breakfast and eventually broke camp late morning, leaving the unofficial but established campsite cleaner and in many ways better than we had found it.  We took nothing home with us other than memories of beautiful surroundings, two clear nights filled with stars, a clear running mountain river, and countless rhododendrons still waiting to bloom. By camping four days and three nights on the banks of Shavers Fork and hiking in the area my soul and spirit had been refreshed and fed.

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