SOMETHING for EVERYONE
Use code “ACTIVE” for 20% OFF lodging with blackout dates. CanaanResort.com | 1-800-622-4121
Be Active, Be Happy, Be Outside, #BeHere.
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
West Virginia’s Outdoor Magazine
STAFF Publisher, Editor-in-Chief Dylan Jones Associate Editor, Design Nikki Forrester A Bunch of Other Things Dylan Jones, Nikki Forrester
CONTRIBUTORS Perry Bennett, David Carroll, Davis Dailey, Gabe DeWitt, Julie Dzaack, Nikki Forrester, Justin Harris, Dylan Jones, Matt Kearns, Mark Moody, Shimmy Shimrock, Jesse Thornton, Molly Wolff, Alex Wilson, Katie Wolpert
And now, for something completely different. Yes, you may recognize that line as the title of Monty Python’s 1971 classic parody film. Nearly half a century later, it remains a fitting phrase— especially given the ‘flying circus’ state of the world these days. With that in mind, we set out to make this winter issue completely different. After all, how many times can you write about skiing? The real answer is as many times as you want, and we’ll certainly do it again. But for this round, we decided these strange times justify unique stories, like Gabe DeWitt’s take on the artform of nighttime photography, Nikki Forrester’s data-driven piece on the passionate nature of independent weather observers, and Shimmy Shimrock’s poetic ode to kayaking the deadly Blackwater River. Some say that we learn from our failures, so we’ve incorporated two stories of failure for your education: a brief history of West Virginia’s failed ski resorts (see, and you thought there wouldn’t be anything on skiing) and the saga of attempting to get the perfect shot at Seneca Rocks (spoiler alert, it didn’t work out). I’d also like to note that this is our eighth issue, marking two years of proudly being West Virginia’s Outdoor
Magazine. It should go without saying that this has been an incredible journey. Nikki and I are beyond honored and humbled by the continued support of our readers and advertisers as we keep on growing. To coincide with this anniversary, we’re launching a totally redesigned website to step up our game. You should probably check it out: www.highland-outdoors.com. The new site, designed by Verglas Media in Davis, features a fresh new look and will also include the Highland Outstores, our new online shop featuring custom merchandise and subscriptions (please consider subscribing to help us keep this thing going strong). Of course, if you’re unable to subscribe, we will always offer Highland Outdoors for free at our distribution locations and on our website, because we believe the outdoors is for everyone. Regardless of whatever the weather deities bring us this winter, we hope you enjoy this unorthodox issue for these unorthodox times. Here’s to cozying up and enjoying this issue by the fire. Or, in the spirit of trying something completely different, lie down on the floor, pour a cold cup of gazpacho, and read this magazine upside-down. w Dylan Jones
HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
ADVERTISING Request a media kit or send inquiries to email@example.com SUBMISSIONS Please send pitches and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org EDITORIAL POLICY Our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers. SUSTAINABILITY This magazine was printed on paper certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative with eco-friendly inks. Please consider passing this issue along or recycling it when you're done. DISCLAIMER Outdoor activities are inherently risky. Highland Outdoors will not be held responsible for your decision to play outdoors. COVER Alex Zachrel eyes up a frozen waterfall under the Milky Way. Photo by Gabe DeWitt. Copyright © 2020 by Highland Outdoors. All rights reserved. Highland Outdoors is published by DJones Media, LLC and printed at HG Roebuck & Son in Baltimore, Maryland.
FROM THE EDITOR
Marshall Scot walks a highline over the Gunsight Notch at Seneca Rocks, pg. 32
West Virginia’s Defunct Ski Areas
Paddling the Blackwater’s Big Three in a Day
Finding Light in Dark Places
By Matt Kearns
By Shimmy Shimrock
By Gabe DeWitt
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON
GET OUT AND STAY OUT
By Dylan Jones
By Katie Wolpert
By Nikki Forrester
8 Briefs 40 Profile 43 Gallery
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
B oxer s
RIM TO RIVER 100 RUNS THROUGH NEW RIVER GORGE By Dylan Jones West Virginia’s first 100-mile trail race is officially in the books thanks to the successful running of the Rim to River 100 on November 7. Event founder and organizer Bryant Baker said the race was nearly a decade in the making, an idea born on long-distance trail runs while working as a whitewater river guide at ACE Adventure Resort in Minden. Baker, river operations manager at ACE, is also founder and executive director of Adventure Appalachia, a nonprofit dedicated to providing outdoor experiences for disadvantaged youth. He set out to make the race come to fruition as a creative way to help fund his nonprofit. “My biggest passion in life is facilitating adventurous experiences for people in wild places,” he said. COVID-19 restrictions kept the inaugural race capped at 200 spots, all of which were filled by enthusiastic athletes from across the country— including one runner from Panama— who came to sample some surprisingly tough terrain that spanned many of the New River Gorge region’s premier locales. The runners had 32 hours to complete the out-and-back course, which started and ended at ACE. The course dropped nearly 1,000 feet into the gorge, over waterfalls, through ghost
mining towns, and back up to the town of Ansted before turning back. Along the way, eight aid stations fueled the depleted athletes, which were staffed and sponsored by local businesses, including one run by council members and the mayor of the City of Ansted. “We had so many businesses and volunteers step up and bring it,” Baker said. “The runners were so impressed with the attitude and level of excitement. Out of all the things that happened over the weekend, that’s the thing I’m most proud of.” Baker said 139 runners finished, on par with the typical did-not-finish (DNF) rate of around 30% for 100-mile ultra-races. Caleb Bowen, the crosscountry running coach at Marshall, was the fastest male and recorded the best overall time of 18 hours and 23 minutes. “He was absolutely flying,” Baker said. Whitney Richmond, from Midlothian, Virginia, was the fastest female with a winning time of 22 hours and 41 minutes. While putting on an event of this scale presents many daunting logistical challenges, Baker said one of the trickiest was physically flagging the course. Because the race runs mostly through National Park Service (NPS) land, Baker had to wait until the Thursday before the race to flag and
mark it pursuant to NPS permitting rules. “My wife and I were out Thursday into Thursday night flagging sections together,” he said. “It was like we had our own little ultra-distance race.” For Baker, the race is much more than a fundraiser. The influx of runners, along with their families and support crews, was a boon for local businesses in a time when fall tourism has typically fallen off. “The Fayetteville community had so many people psyched about it,” he said. “West Virginia was due for a 100-miler, we should be known for trail-running just as much as rafting, climbing, and mountain biking. I’m excited to help introduce this area to the ultra-running community.” As you’d expect from someone who regularly runs tens of miles at a time, Baker doesn’t slow down. He’s already hard at work planning for the second edition. “It’s just surreal, I’m still processing what really happened,” he said. “To have people go out and push themselves on a route that you’ve been dreaming about for so long is really cool. I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better myself,” he said. Registration opens in January for the 2021 edition of the race. To experience Baker’s dream for yourself, visit https://www. adventureappalachia.org/rim-to-riverendurance-races. w
WV SKI AREAS ADAPT TO COVID-19 By HO Staff
All West Virginia’s ski areas will be open this winter season, so put that trail map in the freezer and prepare to get
your turns in. However, ski resorts will be operating in some limited capacity. All resorts are expanding outdoor dining and seating options. Tailgating parking lot scenes will be the norm, providing some legitimacy to the way ski bums have done it for decades. Many skiers already use face coverings to stay warm, so complying with Governor
HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
Jim Justice’s statewide mask mandate shouldn’t be too much of a burden. Tom Wagner, executive vice president of Winterplace Ski Resort, said the resort is following the National Ski Areas Association “Ski Well, Be Well” plan of operational best practices. having enough terrain open for proper distancing. Wagner is looking forward
We all hoped COVID-19 would be over by now, but unfortunately we’re still in the thick of it. As such, ski areas around the state are following federal, state, and industry guidelines so they can safely operate during the pandemic.
B r ie fs to seeing folks bring back the old days in the parking lot. “It’ll take us back to tailgating, which is part of the communal fun of the sport,” he said. Like all ski areas, Wagner is encouraging those who’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive and those who are feeling sick to stay home. “The safety of our guests, employees, and the communities we operate in is our number one concern,” Wagner said. “You don’t want to be the reason we lose the season.” Canaan Valley Resort is focusing its snowmaking efforts to widen popular trails and double the amount of lanes in the snowtubing park. A takeout window is being installed at Quencher’s Pub, and according to general manager Sam England, there will be time limits placed on indoor seating. “This will allow an opportunity for all our skiers to have a
meal and warm up,” England said. At White Grass Ski Touring Center, skiers don’t have to worry about ski lifts because there aren’t any. While that removes a huge logistical component from the mix, the café and ski lodge is the center of the White Grass universe. “It all boils down to one word: outside,” said owner Chip Chase. They plan on handling gear rentals through a window, and the café will be doing its famous soups and sammies to-go. “We’re gonna create a tailgate party scene utilizing wind blocks and make it so people really don’t have to go inside,” said Chase. Those who venture into the lodge to warm up and check out the retail shop will be required to mask up. Snowshoe is doing a major overhaul of its resort operations to keep skiers safe. “If we are going to successfully
operate this winter season, we are going to need our guests to do their part as well,” said public relations manager Shawn Cassell. “Masks, social distancing, and general courtesy to one another are going to be essential.” Snowshoe is encouraging guests to purchase lift tickets in advance. All lodging options will be available and resort staff will be taking extra sanitization measures. All restaurants will be open at limited capacity and face covering will be required in lift lines. There will be new maze designs and empty lanes for lateral distancing. Guests will group together and selfload. “We’ve got enough acreage to allow folks to spread out and have their fun,” Cassell said. “Skiing has always been best enjoyed with plenty of distance on the slopes, so maybe this will be the most fun winter yet.” w
SNOWSHOE HIGHLANDS RIDE CENTER RECEIVES SILVER DESIGNATION By HO Staff Well, that was quick. Just over a year after the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center received the Bronze Designation in August 2019, the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) officially bumped the region up to Silver. The Snowshoe Highlands is West Virginia’s only official IMBA Ride Center, denoting a regional mountain biking destination that offers a variety of trails and terrain, bike-friendly lodging options, and cultural amenities like restaurants, breweries, and bike shops.
benches and bike-wash stations to regional lodging options. “West Virginia has been mountain bike central for a long time, and this keeps us on the map,” Lindberg said.
work in Pocahontas County can impact the broader region and West Virginia as a whole,” Rose said. “We really are positioned to be a world-class mountain biking destination.”
Eric Lindberg, president of local IMBA chapter Pocahontas Trails, said the region was just a few points shy of Silver when it was awarded the Bronze Designation. The upgrade was a matter of adding a few beginner-friendly trails, improving existing expert trails, and adding signage and amenities, like tool
Cara Rose, executive director of the Pocahontas County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, helped coordinate the partners involved in the effort. “Partnerships are crucial with projects like this, that’s how you get there,” Rose said. “We’re fortunate to have strong relationships with our public lands.” Both Lindberg and Rose said the Snowshoe Highlands reaching Silver can help inspire other areas, like the Canaan Valley and New River Gorge regions, to earn Bronze designations, which would allow the state to apply to become an IMBA Regional Ride Center. “That’s the long-term vision of how our
While the designation is huge for the Snowshoe Highlands region, it helps promote a positive image for West Virginia. “Any part of West Virginia can attract the mountain biking audience. That’s the beauty of trail development, it can happen in community parks and state parks, and in state forests, so our entire state has an opportunity to begin this kind of development,” Rose said. In keeping with the explosion of mountain biking across the Mountain State, the SHARC Team is already going for Gold and hoping to win IMBA’s top designation within the next five years. w
CORRECTION: In the “It’s Nuttall Climbed Yet” article of our fall 2020 issue, it was inaccurately stated that route developers have free reign to bolt any rock in the Meadow and Gauley river gorges. The article should have stated that route developers can bolt new routes on private land. Bolting restrictions still apply across any sections of the Meadow and Gauley river gorges managed by the National Park Service (NPS). WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
The broad slopes of Mount Porte Crayon were almost the site of Almost Heaven resort.
Lost Turns A Brief History of West Virginia’s Defunct Ski Areas This article originally appeared on our website in February of 2019. We figured it would be best served fresh on paper.
est Virginia’s portion of the ancient Appalachian Mountains is home to a thriving ski industry, currently hosting five unique resorts across a variety of locales and terrain. Although countless turns have been carved on slopes across the Mountain State, many others have been lost. Rising temperatures, shrinking bottom lines, and grandiose plans that never materialized closed some runs and prevented others from coming to fruition. Driftland: Canaan’s Early Days The cold and snowy plateau of Tucker County was, naturally, one of the first areas in the state to have established ski runs. In the 1940s, the Ski Club of Washington, D.C. developed runs on Cabin Mountain near Weiss Knob. The mountain’s slopes and large meadows were colloquially known as Driftland, owing to a three-acre, 20-foot deep pile
of snow. The drift regularly lingered well into May, safely tucked away from the punishing rays of the sun and serving skiers with a gasoline-powered tow rope. Nearby, Weiss Knob hosted a 1,000-foot T-bar lift and a quartermile rope-tow to help skiers access nearly 60 acres of terrain. These smaller, simple operations faced stiff competition when Canaan Valley Resort State Park opened in 1971, featuring snowmaking capabilities and newfangled chairlifts. Cabin Mountain and Weiss Knob ski areas closed a few years later due to stiff technological competition. The legacy of these pioneering West Virginia ski areas lives on through interpretive signage in Canaan Valley. While the T-bar and rope tows are gone, the slopes of Weiss Knob are still part of the White Grass Ski Touring Center, and are open to anyone willing to put in the uphill effort. Southern Skiing Early ski resort development wasn’t confined to Canaan Valley. At one
10 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
point, Raleigh County hosted the southernmost ski resort on the East Coast. The Bald Knob Ski Slopes area was designed by Colonel Robert Potter, a former commanding officer of an Army Special Forces skiing school. It hosted four rope tows, a 2,100-foot expert run, a restaurant, and an ice-skating rink. But the ski area was short-lived and Bald Knob closed around 1964 due to low interest. The slopes were sold for cattle grazing and many of the buildings were burned shortly after. However, Bald Knob Ski Slopes was ahead of its time. A little more than 10 years after it closed, a new resort called Winterplace was opened on the north-facing slopes of Huff’s Knob, about 100 feet higher and 1.2 miles southeast of Bald Knob—Winterplace Ski Resort continues to operate as West Virginia’s southernmost ski area. Once Upon an Urban Access Charleston and Morgantown residents didn’t always have to drive hours into the Alleghenies to satisfy their skiing itch. From the early 1950s until 1973, Chestnut Ridge Park, just north of
By Matt Kearns
Top: The once-trimmed slopes owned by Laurel Creek Club, 1997 & 2016. Bottom: Tory Mountain: 1997, 2003.
Coopers Rock State Forest, offered a 500-foot slope accessible with a ropetow powered by a Ford Model A. Lift tickets cost $1 for adults and 50 cents for students at West Virginia University. Lift operators would sometimes shift the Model A into high-gear to yank skiers up the hill nearly as fast as they came down. The old slope and warming hut are still a part of Chestnut Ridge Park, used most often by sledders taking advantage of rarer snowfalls. Until 1981, Charleston’s Coonskin Park hosted a small ski area near the Yeager Airport runway with 175 feet of vertical relief down a 600-foot slope. Featuring lights for night skiing, the area was popular with students from the University of Charleston (then Morris Harvey College). In addition to skiing, the students used cafeteria trays to sled down the hill, prompting the college to send someone to pick them up after a big snow. A season pass at Coonskin cost $30, and the run eventually closed due to a lack of snow. The Ones That Got Away Perhaps the most interesting histories
of West Virginia’s lost turns are the ski areas that never were. There has been a bit of buzz over the years about developing a resort on Mount Porte Crayon, the fourth-highest peak in West Virginia at 4,770 feet. Appearing as a flat tabletop draped in a thick red spruce forest, Mount Porte Crayon is the highest point on the Eastern Continental Divide and is adjacent to the Roaring Plains Wilderness. The owners of Winterplace had plans to create Almost Heaven Resort atop the rugged mountain, with a potential 2,500 feet of vertical relief. For comparison, West Virginia’s current largest slope is Snowshoe’s famous Cupp Run, featuring a 1,500-foot drop. A critical property acquisition fell through and plans for Almost Heaven Resort stalled. However, much of Mount Porte Crayon’s eastern and western slopes are publicly accessible on U.S. Forest Service land and remain well-regarded among adventurous skiers as one of the east’s greatest backcountry runs. While the purveyors of Almost Heaven Resort ceased to cut a single tree, other failed resorts went so far WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
Clockwise from top left: Chestnut Ridge in its heyday, photo courtesy DCSki. Advertisement for locales on Cabin Mountain in Canaan Valley, photo courtesy DCSki. Free press for failed Tory Mountain, photo courtesy DCSki. The original Weiss Knob Ski Area sign still hangs in its original location at the White Grass Ski Touring Center, photo by Dylan Jones.
as to cut numerous runs into forested slopes, only to fall through and leave their dreams etched onto the landscape. Fifteen miles southwest of Snowshoe in the small town of Woodrow rest the overgrown remains of a resort planned by the Laurel Creek Club. The slopes offered between 800 and 900 feet of vertical terrain starting at 4,100-feet elevation. But west-facing slopes, which receive the most direct sunlight, aren’t ideal for keeping snow around. Many people thought the project was little more than a real estate scam. The main lift line is still visible from the Highland Scenic Highway, but easily mistaken for a pipeline or right-of-way. Perhaps the most impressive of all lost resorts in West Virginia is Tory Mountain, 12 miles south of Canaan Valley near the town of Harman. On a north-facing slope some 4,400 feet in elevation, steep runs were cut straight down the mountain with easier terrain making a long swoop around a bowl in the ridge. Three lift lines are still visible
today. Some of the original developers and slope designers of Snowshoe were involved with the Tory Mountain project. A 1983 brochure and newspaper articles assured investors and the public of the upcoming opening and grand construction, including boasts of 1,100 feet of vertical relief and a single trail up to 6,600 feet in length. Resort plans called for an 18th century-themed village at the base of the mountain, complete with shopping, pubs, and Tory Manor, an impressive 300-room mountain lodge. But alas, the resort never happened. The exorbitant cost of developing utilities was said to be the death of the resort, and like so many other trails, nature is slowly reclaiming the site. Although running a ski resort has never been an easy task, today’s resorts are facing some of these same challenges as they adapt to reduced average snowfall in the state. Many resorts are now investing heavily in snow making capabilities to produce
12 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
more snow on fewer days with subfreezing temperatures. Some are expanding their off-season activities, like downhill mountain biking, to remain economically viable without relying solely on touch-and-go winter conditions. But many questions remain. Can West Virginia sustain these resorts today or will they oversaturate an increasingly limited market? Will the current skiing areas and resorts be able to weather the forthcoming changes in climate, or will some future Google Earth sleuth scroll across a curving swath of stunted trees and wonder what once was? Perhaps the best answer is simply to boot up and get your turns in this season. Whether you ride the lift or prefer to climb to the summit, there are still plenty of turns to find across the rugged slopes of the Mountain State. w Matt Kearns is a frequent contributor to Highland Outdoors and avid adventurer who lives with his wife, Michelle, near Charleston.
the Outstanding Natural Qualities Summer of the Cheat River Watershed Working to Restore, Preserve, and Promote SPEND YOUR
PHOTO BY KENT MASON
ON THE CHEAT RIVER WATER TRAIL
PHOTO BY KENT MASON
Friends of the Cheat
Learn More at www.cheat.org Follow us on Facebook @friendsofthecheat
do you believe in the
of wild places?
summer camp school programs on Spruce Knob since 1972
www.experience-learning.org WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
Paddling the Blackwaterâ€™s Big Three in a Day
By Shimmy Shimrock
eep in the heart of West Virginia, the vast crown of the Allegheny Front rises above fertile valleys. The rivers stemming from this crown are some of the finest whitewater jewels in North America. The Blackwater River is the centerpiece of these jewels, rising above the rest, not in elevation but in its intensity and reputation as one of the most rough-and-tumble rivers in the nation. The Blackwater, aptly named for
its root beer-colored water, drains 142 rugged square-miles along its 34-mile course. When atmospheric conditions at the top of the watershed are ripe for rain, experienced paddlers load up and head toward the promised land. Calm Beginnings Over 1,500 feet above its confluence with the Dry Fork of the Cheat River, the Blackwater winds peacefully through the vast upland bogs of Canaan Valley. Watching the meandering turns of the river snake along its muddy banks, itâ€™s
hard to believe that one of the most heralded whitewater runs thunders just to the west. But as they have done for millennia, these tannic waters imperceptibly move toward the grand crescendo of Blackwater Falls, the iconic feature guarding the maw of the canyon. In a neighboring valley, the North Fork of the Blackwater gains momentum as it rolls through barren coalfields of yesteryear. The burntorange colors of the rocks lining the North Fork are permanent reminders
Alex Wilson, Icon: Freepik
Professional kayaker Jared Seiler stomps a rare run of Douglas Falls on the North Fork of the Blackwater River.
14 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
of the underground mining and coke production of the late 1800s. Surface mining remained active during the early kayak descents of the North Fork in the late 1980s. As a teenager, I remember driving to the put-in for the first time and being awe-struck by the neon mine drainage gushing from the surrounding hillsides while counting coke ovens to distract my mind from the intensity of the upcoming adventure. After descending the North Fork, we joked that our kayak gear was now more toxic than its standard odorous stench. Massive restoration efforts by Friends of Blackwater drastically improved the quality of the watershed, and the large pools above the canyon now house a substantial trout population. But the North Fork’s calmness is short-lived. The moment it leaves the spillway in Thomas, it runs like hell down the bedrock canyon as if it was fleeing its tarnished past.
The River Rises Every once in a dark moon, the crown of mountains lining the Appalachian Plateau holds within its grasp a storm system that unleashes a deluge of water into the basin below. As the rains fill the headwater streams, they begin to collect and swell the Blackwater. A spiking incline on the gauge in Davis alerts us that it’s time to saddle up, shake off the nerves, and prepare to enter the canyon. If there’s enough liquidity, we attempt to conquer all three of the Blackwater’s renowned runs in a single day. As the river level for the Upper Blackwater section bypasses 200 cubic feet per second (CFS), it’s a good sign of what’s to come. It’s usually advisable to wait for the river level to crest and begin to fall. A rising Blackwater is a remarkably different animal than a falling one. The streams feeding into the canyon below are rising as well,
contributing substantially more volume as the run progresses. Optimal flows register between 350-500 CFS, with levels above 500 CFS reserved for those who have the rapids dialed in like a rotary phone. Into the Canyon Our descent into Blackwater Canyon begins in the parking lot used to access the Gentle Trail overlook. The hike down, replete with a 40-pound kayak and full kit of gear, is the first test of the day. If it’s winter, the icy roots and rocks make this leg of the journey one of the most difficult. The final steps down the angled rocks lining the riverbank offer the first glimpse of the Blackwater’s rapids extending below its iconic namesake falls. Legendary kayaker Roger Zbel was on the first descent of the Upper Blackwater, during which his crew successfully paddled each rapid without incident or portage. Zbel told of the
Andrew Gunnoe charging Tomko Falls on the Upper Blackwater.
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
days when the state park permitted paddlers to access the river by taking the stairs to the plunge pool directly below Blackwater Falls. This provided easy access to the two rapids above the modernday put-in, aptly named Roll the Bones and Puke. These drops are still run on occasion, but their disconcerting names leave little motivation for us to hike up the jagged, slippery boulders lining the steep riverbed. My Nerves are Shot! After a long scout of the first rapid, Phil’s 100-Yard Dash, we enter the belly of the beast. As we approach the horizon line of each relentless rapid, the tops of trees and boulders are the only landmarks visible before we drop into the madness. The Blackwater tumultuously tumbles down the canyon at an incredible 250 vertical-feetper-mile through rapids with harrowing names like Pinball, Chopper’s Undercut, Sticky Fingers, Shock to the System, and Flatliner Falls. The pace for a well-seasoned group of paddlers that knows the lines can be surprisingly fast, often completing the entire ‘Upper B’ section in just 30 wild minutes. By contrast, the first descent after the 1985 Election Day Flood took well over six hours, as the charging torrent moved car-sized boulders like marbles and permanently altered the rapids. During one of Zbel’s initial post-flood descents, a group of paddlers gathered near the two-mile marker, where the river rolls off a vertical fall and enters a series of continuous slides extending beyond the vantage point. A paddler named Lucky came careening through the slides and met
16 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
Zbel in the eddy below, infamously asking, “How much further is it, man? My nerves are shot and I can’t take it anymore!” Roger informed Lucky—fortunate in that moment only by name—that he was not quite half-way down the run. Over time, Lucky’s candid declaration became the name for the series of slides that follows, as well as a common sentiment for rookie paddlers reaching that point in their maiden voyages down the Upper B. Shortly after My Nerves Are Shot, the Blackwater Canyon’s walls begin to widen, offering shaken paddlers a momentary sense of relief. We, however, know what lurks ahead. The widening of a canyon is a topographical deviation that usually indicates calmer waters below. But not this day! The break in the canyon walls is merely an opening to let the bombastic North Fork of the Blackwater rush in at the three-mile mark. The torrential rains have spanned the entirety of the landscape above, blessing us with the second run of the day. To run it, we must earn it with a mileand-a-half hike up this steeper, narrower canyon to reach the beginning of this rowdy run that drops nearly 400 verticalfeet-per-mile. Steep & Deep
Clockwise from top left: Paddlers on the harrowing descent to the put-in for the Upper Blackwater, photo by Mark Moody. Christina Kossis launches West Virginia Ledge on the Lower Blackwater, photo by Justin Harris. Roger Zbel on an early descent of the Upper B, photo courtesy Roger Zbel. Matt Fithian looking small on the Upper B, photo by Mark Moody.
Hiking up this side canyon is not for the faint of heart—one slip and we may find ourselves sliding through a slalom course of rusted railroad ties that could abruptly end our day. Once up on the railroad grade, the hike mellows out, offering a last chance for weary paddlers to throw in the towel and catch a ride back to the safety of the parking lot. Despite the temptation,
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
hangs on the tree shadowing the end of his rainbow. As a show of respect to an old friend, I walk around this rapid and spend a few minutes resting by that tree, reminiscing about the many times we exchanged energized grins sliding down the waterlogged bedrock of the North Fork. Slide Into Glory Shortly after the falls of Double Indemnity, the thrashing North Fork merges with its bigger brother, marking our successful descent of two of the most acclaimed class V whitewater runs in West Virginia. The two rivers join to swell the banks further, creating the third and final leg of the Lower Blackwater. There is no break in the action as the ‘Lower B’ remains intense through its upper stretches. But alas, the river slowly begins to relent as the easy-but-fast-moving boogie water between rapids becomes less demanding and the field of view broadens. The nervous adrenaline begins its conversion to euphoria, and the river’s character adapts as the experience nears its crescendo.
we continue onwards. The North Fork of the Blackwater begins with Douglas Falls, a screaming waterfall with a 40foot sheer drop to a cauldron of jumbled boulders below. This behemoth has been run successfully by a small handful of elite paddlers over the years without incident. We choose not to test our luck. From this point, the North Fork appears to fall off the face of the Earth, and we quickly find ourselves staring down the barrel of a 30-foot vertical fall
righteously named Gluteal Mash. After repositioning our kidneys, the descent continues through rapids like World’s Ugliest, Eye of the Needle, Double Indemnity, and Rainbow Room, where local legend Don Smith’s whitewater journey came to its perilous end. I was one of the folks who led Don down his inaugural North Fork journey. Over the years, Don would become a regular on this run, earning the nickname “Blackwater Don” for his hundreds of descents down the river. His helmet still
18 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
Shimmy Shimrock is western Maryland born and raised, on the Youghiogheny is where he spent most of his dayz. Chillin’ out maxin, relaxin’ all cool, boofing off boulders outside of the school. Just a couple of guys that were up to some good, running all the rivers in the neighborhood. He got in one little swim and his mom got scared; she said, “You’re becoming a real estate agent and cutting your hair.”
Top and bottom: Mark Moody
Top: Jared Seiler deep in the froth. Bottom: Evan Garcia with his game face on the Upper B.
The last great rapid is West Virginia Slide, where the high-volume river rolls down a gentle slope of endless bedrock, zigging and zagging across the channel. We glide across the tops of breaking waves as if paddling through endless shore breaks in the ocean. The last couple miles of river gently roll into the small town of Hendricks, hosting the Blackwater’s confluence with the Dry Fork. Even though our nerves are shot, we can finally relax. We’ve just completed one of the greatest hat tricks in all of whitewater. There is but one remaining question: will we return when the river runs high again? w
TALK ABOUT A SWEETY-PIE!
Open Daily for Lunch & Dinner! www.PIESandPINTS.net
Give the gift thatâ€™s
77 / 64 Exit 45
WEST VIRGINIA MADE
BEER. FOOD. TAKEOUT.
Cool Ridge, WV (304) 223-2500 WeatheredGroundBrewery.com WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
Ob s cur a finding light in dark places Words and photos by Gabe DeWitt
lthough the natural world appears dark at night, it’s because our eyes aren’t designed to capture the innumerable photons that are always bouncing around. Fortunately, we used our brains to invent cameras that can freeze photons in place, permitting us to view the world—and universe—in magical ways. Like a cat’s eye, a camera’s aperture opens wide to let in any available light. A camera’s sensor collects that light, producing an image when the shutter eventually closes. With enough time, a camera can capture an image that makes a dark scene appear as bright as midday. Photography—and art in general—has always been a way for me to fold stories into ideas that others can individually interpret. Night photography is a unique and creative way to enrich that process, adding several layers of complexity and problem solving to the puzzle. Seeing in the dark, getting out in familiar or unfamiliar places when the light disappears, and problem solving are crucial components of the night photography process. But just getting your arse out the door is often one of the hardest steps. What sets night photography apart from its daytime counterpart is that it expands the moment of observation from a fraction of a second to multiple seconds, sometimes extending into minutes or even hours. The light from neighboring stars has to travel astronomical distances to reach us, and it takes time for the camera to gather those scattered photons.
20 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
The other aspect that makes it unique is that night photography starts where the epic begins, like that time I forgot my tripod and built a snowman to hold my camera for long exposure shots. Expectation is premeditated disappointment, especially in situations where the objective is to capture an intended image. It’s best to approach a scene with an open mind toward what you’re trying to achieve. Everything seems to fall into place as the images on your camera start to expose the true nature of things around you. When I think about shooting an object, whether it’s the Milky Way or something in the foreground, one of the first things I ask is: Where’s the light coming from? The primary light source often dictates everything that follows. When shooting at night, sometimes the dominant light sources aren’t obvious until the first several photographs are exposed. Strange lighting will appear on objects I had no idea were even there. I move my camera, adjust the focal length to incorporate or exclude light sources and objects, and change settings to expose for those sources. The process is largely manual and very iterative. Shoot, then adjust. Shoot again, adjust again. The shutter, aperture, and ISO— known as the exposure triangle—can be a lot to take in all at once, even during the day. This takes a lot of practice, and I rarely get a shot right on the first try. I find it best to fix one or two of these three main settings and then adjust the other(s) to find the right exposure.
F2.8, 6 sec, ISO 1250, 14mm It was a cold Friday night at Coopers Rock State Forest, zero degrees and still dropping on the rugged spine of Chestnut Ridge. With just enough snow to coat the three-mile road to the iconic overlook, the three of us geared up, clicked into our cross-country skis, and silently slid off. I reached the overlook first, stunned by strange pillars of light hovering in the sky toward the bright lights of Morgantown over one thousand feet below. I soon learned these alienlike beams are called light pillars, an atmospheric phenomenon created when light reflects off ice particles suspended in extremely cold air. Elated, I yelled back to my friends, “It’s the Northern Lights!” Still too far away on the trail, my companions interpreted my shouts of joy as me falling off the overlook. They were just as elated as I was when they found me moments later, still safely within the bounds of the railing. After I set my camera up, we sat in awe, taking in the fantastical Friday night lights, staying warm with well-earned sips of moonshine. Pro tip: a reasonable ration of spirits is a great companion for night photography.
F3.2, 6 sec, ISO 1250, 14mm No, contrary to your brain’s confirmation bias, that’s not the sun. This image was captured around midnight during a full moon at the Coopers Rock overlook. Many night photo shoots have been planned around the moon, such that it’s either out in full force or well-hidden to keep the sky as dark as possible. There’s not a lot to do outside when it’s dark during the winter, and it gets dark way too early! Except for crosscountry skiing, of course. It takes me to places that most people can’t reach in winter and allows time to commune with nature in solitude. Coopers is my go-to XC spot when enough snow falls and doubles as an amazing location for late-night shoots.
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
F2.8, 30 sec, ISO 1600, 14mm The inspiration for this shot of the Jenkinsburg Bridge came while searching for a unique way to photograph the Cheat River. Using Google Earth, I scanned the Cheat Canyon for access points that others may not have tried. I found some wonderful vantages, but nothing struck a chord. Then, in a moment of wonder as I was leaving Marvinâ€™s Mountaintop, I went back to one of the most iconic areas on the Canyonâ€”the river takeout at the Jenkinsburg Bridge. I had a sleeping bag in my truck and enough food and water to make it through the night. With that, I set out to find a new angle of perception. This image is a composite of over 400 images, each a 30-second exposure. As one photo ends, the next shot immediately begins. Through the night, the moon provided enough added light to illuminate the opposing side of the canyon. The glint of light on the rocks in the foreground came from a moment when I opened the door to my truck.
24 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
F2.8, 30 sec, ISO 1600, 14mm The Olson Observation Tower near Thomas was originally constructed to look out for wildfires. But this night, we used the tower to get a little closer to the stars. The moon just appeared, making a proper exposure of the Milky Way much more difficult—too much ambient light overpowers the very faint light from distant stars light-years away. Seeing an opportunity to add some additional depth to the image, I challenged my friend Joel Wolpert to run up the tower steps in 30 seconds or less with a head lamp. Joel’s one of those rare folks who enjoys extreme fitness challenges, especially for photography projects such as this. Light from our closest star is reflected by the moon, which is reflected by the steel truss of the tower. Fresh photons from the headlamp make their way through the space-time continuum, allowing us to see Joel’s path up the steps. The image also captures old light—billions of years old—from the farthest edges or our galaxy. All of these instant and ancient elements combine in one brief yet expanded moment.
F2.8, 25 sec, ISO 2500, 24mm I wanted to capture Canaan Valley in winter glory from a high vantage point. I found a mountain road with ridgeline access, locked in my hubs, and plowed my way up. As I approached the first switchback, my warm tires lost their grip, immediately followed by a dangerous backward slide from whence I came. Once things came to a rest, I realized my vehicle wasn’t prepared for the task at hand and retreated. Sulking in defeat but thankful I hadn’t done any damage, I headed home for the night. On the way, I noticed a pull-off near one of many wetlands in the middle of the valley. Canaan is a beautiful and surreal place during the day, but what’s it like at night? Summoning some willpower to save the trip, I trudged out through the deep snow and discovered a magical, glowing landscape punctuated by an intensely clear sky and reflecting starlight in the wetlands. w
Gabe DeWitt is a Morgantown-based engineer, photographer, artist, and mountaineer. Check out his work: wv-art.com. WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
By Nikki Forrester ow I’m sure you’ve all heard a lot of people complaining about the weather. It’s either too hot or too cold, or there’s too much rain or not enough rain. But for a curious cadre of keen-eyed observers, weather is not a source of complaints, it’s a way of life. David Lesher grew up surrounded by discussions of the weather, but he didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of these chats until an historic winter storm blanketed his home in Washington, D.C. with snow. At just 10 years old, Lesher learned how to log daily temperature throughout the storm from his father, a meteorologist for the Air Force. “It was the thing that lit the fire and it’s always been burning,” says Lesher. “Being a weather observer has been something I’ve done wherever I’ve lived.” Throughout his career creating maps for the U.S. Department of Defense, Lesher always recorded temperature data at home using an outdoor thermometer. When he moved to Canaan Valley 20 years ago, he continued pursuing his passion for winter weather. “I’m a firm believer that the winter is what brings people to Canaan Valley. It brought me here,” he says.
Canaan Valley sits upon the Allegheny Plateau, nestled along the crest of the Eastern Continental Divide. As
the highest elevation valley of its size east of the Mississippi, the weather in Canaan Valley is characterized by cool, pleasant summers and cold, snowy winters. The coldest temperature ever recorded was -27° F on January 21, 1985, and the highest was 96° F on July 16, 1988. Because of the cool weather and frequent hard frosts, Canaan Valley has a shorter growing season than Fairbanks, Alaska, which is only 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. With an average last frost occurring on June 1 and first frost on August 30, the Valley’s average growing season is restricted to just 99 days. While it may be tricky to grow warmweather crops, Canaan Valley reaps a bounty of snow each winter, receiving an average of 12.9 feet (155 inches) of snow, based on the last 30 years of observations. The winter of 1995 – 1996 served up a record-breaking snowfall of 21.4 feet (256.8 inches). “That area creates its own weather,” says Robert Leffler, a climate expert for West Virginia’s high country who spent his career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The broad hump of the Allegheny Mountains in north-central West Virginia forms a barrier about 100 miles long and 15 miles wide. “It’s not an isolated mountain peak, where the air can flow around it, like a boulder in a creek,” Leffler says. This hump forces the entire air mass up and over the mountains, which is the fundamental mechanism for creating snow in the region, also known as upslope snow.
26 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
As air is forced to go up in elevation over the mountains, it cools and any moisture is squeezed out, like wringing a towel. “The angle of that lift is perfect. It’s almost a 90-degree angle to the northwest wind, which maximizes lift,” says Leffler. “That’s why you get days and days of snow up there where it just doesn’t quit. There’s no atmospheric disturbance, there’s no storm, it’s just the lift of the mountains.”
George Thompson and his family started recording daily weather observations in Canaan Valley in 1944, which have continued unbroken since then. In 1994, the job passed onto Kenny Sturm and in 2013, Elaine George took over the task. George and Lesher are two of three observers in Tucker County that participate in the National Weather Service (NWS) Cooperative Observer Program. The program, which was created in 1890, relies on the efforts of more than 8,700 volunteers nationwide. When Lesher joined the program in fall 2001, the NWS gave him a weather station and equipment to ensure that the data being collected was standardized across the country. Every morning at 7 a.m., Lesher records high and low temperatures along with precipitation and snowfall for the NWS. He jokes, “It’s not well-suited for somebody who likes sleeping in.” Along with providing weather data to the NWS, Lesher updates a publicly available spreadsheet with his daily
observations. “I wanted to have a way in which people here could see what the weather has been over the years since we started doing this in 2001,” he says. His Canaan Mountain Snowfall Report features daily minimum and maximum temperatures, precipitation, snowfall, and snow depth. Sometimes he includes comments, like when the first snowflake of the season falls or an oddly warm day in November. He also provides data on monthly and winter seasonal snowfall and the number of days with a certain amount of snow on the ground. Given its ephemeral nature, collecting snow data requires a steadfast commitment and rigorous attention to detail. Lesher measures 24-hour snowfall whenever the flakes start falling, but frequent winds can make his work particularly tricky. “You try to keep track of how much snow fell during that time and not just whatever’s there the next morning,” he says. Avoiding drifted and windswept areas is also key for measuring snow depth, which Lesher calculates by averaging samples from 10 sites in his yard using a yardstick. “In my 20 years here, I have been meticulous in measuring snowfall.” This approach instills a great degree of confidence in the weather data Lesher has collected on Canaan Heights, as well as the trends he has observed over time. For instance, he has never recorded a 90° F day or a night that stayed above 70° F. He’s even recorded a few days that never went above 0° F. More recently, he logged a record high temperature of 72° F for November at his weather station.
The winter conditions of the Allegheny Highlands present a challenge not only to those attempting to accurately measure snowfall, but also to the weather stations themselves. David Carroll, a meteorology instructor at Virginia Tech, set up weather stations at Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, and Cabin Mountain in 2017 to monitor temperature, wind speed, air pressure, and moisture content. Out of the five sites, Carroll says the harshest conditions occur at a site on northern Cabin Mountain, where winds have reached 90 mph. Although none of the other sites have experienced a structural failure, the weather station on northern Cabin Mountain has failed five times in just three years. “I’ve made all kinds of modifications to it, and it continues to blow over. We’re actually using mobile home anchors right now to anchor it, which seems to work,” says Carroll. But when parts continue to shear off during icy, high-wind events, there aren’t many options for reinforcements and repairs. One of the most stunning features of winter in West Virginia is rime ice, which creates a frost line that elegantly
dissects the mountains into brown hues below and pure white above. As clouds settle atop the mountains during 28 or 29-degree days, supercooled water encases each branch and twig in thick frost, highlighting delicate details that become blurred in the snow. Despite its beauty, heavy rime ice can wreak havoc on weather stations. “Ice is really hard on the equipment,” says Julie Dzaack, who monitors two weather observation sites in Canaan Valley for NOAA. “Moving parts can’t move, and yet there is still a motor trying to make them move.” Dzaack moved to Canaan Valley in 1982 and, in 2009, took on a job with NOAA to perform maintenance on the two sites. One site collects data on temperature, precipitation, and wind as part of the U.S. Climate Reference Network, which was established in 2003 to provide long-term, high-quality data on the nation’s climate. The other site is part of the National Trends Network (NTN), which is a country-wide program that records precipitation chemistry. Dzaack collects precipitation samples from this site weekly, which are then analyzed for particulates, acidity, and conductivity.
In addition to daily temperature observations, Lesher is interested in climate, or the long-term average and variability of weather in a particular area. “Clearly there’s been diminishing amounts of snow here,” he says based on his 19-year dataset as well as earlier weather observations from Canaan Valley. “There were typically some winters when 150 to 180 inches of snow in a winter was normal, but not in recent years, certainly not in the last 3 years.” Left: David Lesher observes the weather on Canaan Heights with his best bud Tux, photo courtesy David Lesher. Right: Robert Leffler mesauring snow, photo courtesy Robert Leffler.
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
These data are also backtracked to upper air currents to determine where the precipitation tracked before falling in Canaan Valley. Before joining the NTN, this site was part of a separate program focused on air quality and atmospheric deposition in the eastern U.S. that had to be monitored every day of the year. Because the site was located just two miles from her house, Dzaack frequently hiked or skied to the site. “I certainly never missed a day because of weather,” she says. Checking on weather stations can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours or longer if something is broken. Despite the challenges, Dzaack and Carroll find great joy and purpose in their work. “I like being part of citizen science. The overall dataset of information that’s collected is really valuable not just to Canaan Valley, but to overall trends of what’s happening with climate trends nationally,” says Dzaack. Through informal monitoring, Carroll and his colleagues observed -25° F to -30° F temperatures in Canaan Valley during the last few years, but they’re hoping to record even colder temperatures with their weather stations. The coldest temperature ever recorded in West Virginia was -37° F in Lewisburg on December 30, 1917. “We don’t know much about that record, how it was collected, even where it was,” says Carroll. “The true state record probably lies in a place like Canaan Valley, probably minus 50 or so.” With a weather station now on the floor of Canaan Valley, Carroll and others are simply waiting for a calm, clear night to break the state record.
Top: A station in Canaan Valley collects precipitation as part of NOAA’s National Trends Network to monitor precipitation chemistry, photo by Julie Dzaack. Bottom: A weather station coated in dense rime ice at Bald Knob on Cabin Mountain on a subzero degree day, photo by David Carroll.
28 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
The ground data collected by weather observers throughout the Mountain State is incorporated into models that Leffler uses to create complimentary winter forecasts for ski resorts, schools, ski plow operators, and weather nerds across the Mountain State. “I thought we could improve the winter weather forecasting, which is a cash crop for
Leffler uses four or five models developed by NOAA, universities, the European Weather Center, and others to create his forecasts. “As a human being, it’s very hard to beat the models when you get out past 24 or 48 hours. The physics are so sophisticated now,” he says. Models combine surface data with upper air data collected by aircrafts with temperature sensors. “David Lesher’s observations go into the model, and then it spits out a forecast exactly for his backyard.” While the models can synthesize vast amounts of data over broad geographic scales, Leffler notes that the forecasts produced by the models don’t always incorporate knowledge of the local weather and climate. For instance, knowing the elevation, topography, and socioeconomic factors of a particular region can help create more accurate and informative forecasts. Another variable that isn’t handled particularly well in the models is snowfall. Many models assume a ratio of 10 inches of snow for one inch of rain. “But the amount of snow that falls varies tremendously with the temperature,” says Leffler. “At a temperature of about 0° F, you might get 14 inches of snow for one inch of rain, but as you get toward freezing, you might end up with six or eight inches of snow out of one inch of rain.” He even notes that if it’s very cold and the physics of the clouds are just right, it’s possible to get 100 inches of extremely light, fluffy snow from one inch of rain. Despite advancements in the models and increasing amounts of data, Leffler always acknowledges the random nature of weather. When he blows a forecast, he often sends a follow up analysis of what went wrong in the
WINTER SEASON SNOWFALL (INCHES) Winter season snowfall from 2001 to 2020, measured by David Lesher. Graph adapted from Lesher’s Canaan Mountain Snowfall Report.
NUMBER OF ONE-DAY SNOWFALL EVENTS
the area with all the winter recreation and the heavy snow falls,” he says. Affectionately known as the Fearless Canaan Weatherman, Leffler spends one to two hours conducting analyses for each of his two weekly forecasts. While his forecasts highlight Canaan Valley, they cover about 3,000 square miles of West Virginia’s high country, including Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods.
The number of one-day 2-inch snowfall events (dark blue line) and one-day 6-inch snowfall events (light blue line) from 2001 to 2020, measured by David Lesher. Graph adapted from Lesher’s Canaan Mountain Snowfall Report.
You’ve probably experienced those days where it’s dumping snow outside even though there’s not a single thing on the radar. Well, there’s a reason for that and it’s called a sucker hole. The nearest radars to north-central West Virginia are in Charleston, West Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Stirling, Virginia. Canaan Valley, Spruce Knob, Snowshoe, and the surrounding areas are centrally located in a sucker hole, which is a zone that’s furthest away from the radar. The radar beams, which angle upward, are up at about 15,000 feet and beyond when they reach the Canaan and Spruce Knob areas. During the summer, the radar can detect thunderstorms and rain events as cloud tops often extend up to 40,000 or 50,000 feet. But during the winter, cloud tops hover around 10,000 to 12,000 feet or even lower, leaving snowfall and whiteout blizzards undetected by the radar. “That happens almost all the time in the winter with the upslope snow,” says Leffler. WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
Looking east toward Dolly Sods Wilderness from the summit of Bald Knob, one of the high points on Cabin Mountain in Canaan Valley.
hopes of improving his forecasts in the future. “The randomness of the entire process and the physics of weather is such that some of it is very difficult to predict, as we all know. We’ve all had picnics ruined. And I’ve shoveled eight inches of partly cloudy, just like you have.”
While observing the weather is an endlessly engaging activity for these select few, their efforts ultimately impact us all. “[NOAA], which is the mothership for the National Weather Service, has the responsibility to monitor the nation’s climate because there are so many things that depend on it,” says Lesher. The weather and climate shape our daily decisions to play outside
or stay indoors, as well as our daily conversations about whether there’s too much rain or not enough rain. The climate affects which agricultural crops will grow and the risk of natural disasters, such as floods and droughts. With three ski resorts, the Canaan Valley region is particularly dependent on the weather to draw in visitors from across the country during the winter. Summer tourism in the Mountain State is also influenced by the climate, in part through its effects on the plant communities that thrive here. Dolly Sods is renowned for its flagged spruce trees and harsh, rugged topography. “These sub-arctic plants are located in these places for a reason, they’re holdovers from the last ice age, and they’ve retreated to these cold, isolated valleys like Canaan Valley,” says Carroll. “It’s to
our advantage to not only understand the existing climate, but how it might change over time.” Monitoring long-term weather and climate patterns can provide insight into how plant and animal communities might be affected in the future, which ultimately impact the nature of West Virginia’s iconic landscapes. The dense red spruce forests, jungled gorges, exposed rock cliffs, and broad valleys are all defined by the weather. “If it weren’t for the weather, Canaan Valley would not be what it is,” says Lesher. “It’s that simple.” w Nikki Forrester is associate editor of Highland Outdoors. She wants to become a weather observer, but just can’t wake up early enough.
David Lesher’s Canaan Mountain Snowfall Report: https://bit.ly/3f1jMr2 or spreadsheet.canaanmtnsnow.com Data from the CRN site in Canaan Valley: https://www.atdd.noaa.gov/u-s-crn-groups-map/northeast_group_map/wv-elkins/ NOAA’s National Trends Network: http://nadp.slh.wisc.edu/ntn/ NWS’ Cooperative Observer Program: https://www.weather.gov/coop/overview
30 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
NOAA’s U.S. Climate Reference Network (CRN): https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/crn/
are local residents with an affection for cross-country skiing. “Every time it looked like there might be skiable conditions, I’d go out and try it. I’d write something up soon enough so that if somebody wanted to ski, they could take advantage of the report,” he says. In 2009, he expanded his reports to keep track of the number of skiable days and The Snake Hill Wildlife rock skiing days each winter Management Area outside of season. “A rock skiing day Morgantown spans roughly is when you catch that little 3,000 acres along the Cheat zip-zip on the bottom of your Canyon, offering prime skis,” says Douglas. He also opportunities for winter composed a rating system recreation. With a 20-acre for the overall skiing quality, field and five miles of trails ranging from marginal covering relatively rockless, to primo. For instance, rolling terrain, Strat Douglas in a report from 2015, he found the area was perfect describes, “If the two-to-four for cross-country skiing. “If predicted inches actually you’ve got an inch of snow, materialize conditions should you can do something that improve from Excellent Rock strongly resembles skiing,” Skiing to just plain Excellent.” he says. Along with increasing As a local resident, awareness of Snake Hill as a Douglas would frequently winter recreation resource, ski out his backdoor the reports are sprinkled and into Snake Hill from with musings on wildlife, December through March. constellations, and chance Upon noticing that the area encounters. In doing so, they would often receive more capture the cross-country snow than Morgantown, skiing experience that so Douglas began emailing a many outdoor enthusiasts handful of friends to inform cherish. A report from 2010 them of the snow and ski describes it best: “I spent conditions. “You’re skiing 45 minutes kicking and along and it’s quiet. It’s a gliding, it was all fine and very contemplative exercise. smooth with no clumping or You’re thinking constantly frustrations of any kind. It’s about what the snow is like classic Appalachian early and problems on the trails. winter scenery - goldenrod Often, I’d be composing it stems feathered with snow, in my head as I was skiing the bones of summer’s around,” he says. And thus, weeds standing thick in the the Snake Hill Ski Report field, the sound of the wind was born. and little else.” Since 2004, Douglas has Douglas is moving to North expanded the report from Carolina soon, leaving us to four or five friends to roughly wonder who, if anyone, will 150 people, most of whom follow in his ski tracks. WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON S
ometimes, things just don’t work out. Try hard we might, the complex physics of nature are simply out of our control. Armed with this powerful and pragmatic mindset, two disparate groups met on a whim and came together to shoot for the moon. This is the story of their successes and failures—and perceptions of both—in attempting an astronomical feat.
A Chance Encounter In August 2020, photographers Jesse Thornton and David Johnston were shooting the Perseids meteor shower at Seneca Rocks. The next morning, Thornton was exploring the base of the famous formation when something caught his eye: a line spanning the void of the iconic Gunsight Notch that was anchored on Seneca’s north and south summits. He watched a group pull the line taut on both sides and, to his astonishment, start walking back and forth. “I had never seen anything like this before,” Thornton said. “In my mind they were tightrope walkers, but I had no idea what I was looking at.” Thornton drove to a better vantage point and spent a mesmerizing hour shooting photos and video of the walkers precariously perched on the highline. He posted the images and footage on his Facebook photography page, prompting friend and fellow photog Perry Bennett to encourage him to find out who these wild walkers were.
Through some social media sleuthing, Thornton discovered the balancing act was performed by members of the Steel City Slackers, a slacklining group based in Pittsburgh. Slacklining is the act of walking on a two-inch-wide piece of webbing that is tensioned between two anchor points. This particular line spanning the Gunsight Notch was a highline, denoting a slackline higher than ten meters above the ground. A slackliner typically walks a highline with a harness and safety tether attached to the line to catch a fall. Bennett also sent Thornton a short film featuring a slackliner walking a highline in Utah during a full moon. Thornton and Johnston already had big plans of returning to Seneca to shoot the blue moon—the second full moon in a single calendar month—rising in the Gunsight Notch in October that same year, leading Thornton to a serendipitous epiphany. What if the photography team collaborated with the slackliners to shoot them walking the line across the Gunsight as the moon rose through the notch? Thornton put out the call on his social media channels. Within a few hours, he was in touch with Wade Desai, a founding member and team leader of the Steel City Slackers. “Wade was in immediately, he didn’t ask for any other details,” Thornton said. The project was born, and the teams came together. The ground photography and videography team was comprised of Thornton, Johnston, and Bennett, each bringing a unique
32 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
skillset to the table. The slackline team, led by Desai, featured members of the Steel City Slackers and nationally known slackliners Davis Dailey and Mat Dunkelberger.
Moonwalkers There have only been two successful full moon highline projects, both wellknown and critically acclaimed among the niche slacklining community. The first was late climber Dean Potter’s groundbreaking moonwalk on Cathedral Peak in Yosemite on July 12, 2011. In the short film, Potter free-solo climbs (sans rope) up a small spire as the moon rises above the peak, then free-solo walks (sans harness) the line, appearing as if he is treading upon the moon itself. The second came in July 2020, when famous slackliner Andy Lewis free-solo walked a highline to the backdrop of the full moon between rock towers high above the Utah desert. After spanning the line, he BASE jumped off the cliff with a parachute. It’s common practice for the first person who walks the length of a highline to name it. Strangely enough, Hai Thai, the first highliner to rig and walk the length of the Gunsight highline nearly five years ago, named it Shoot The Moon. Inspired by the films and the name of the line, the team found no reason why they couldn’t create the third moonwalk. But unlike the previous successes out west, they faced a unique set of challenges. While the desert features massive landscapes and near-
By Dylan Jones
Marshall Scot suspended in space.
Astronomical Odds Johnston embarked on an epic journey to calculate precisely when and where the photography team needed to be to capture the moon rising in the Gunsight Notch while fully encompassing a slackliner on the middle of the highline. If you’re suddenly picturing a math montage from the film A Beautiful Mind, you’re not far off. He began with a smartphone app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE), which helps users predict where the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies will be at a given time, date, and location. He dug in, finding October 28 to be the date to shoot the blue moon.
“If we’re in the right location, the moon should rise in the proper part of the notch almost exactly at sunset, meaning the rock and slackliners should still be bright in the twilight,” Johnston said. But the journey was far from over. Johnston soon discovered that TPE, which uses latitudinal and longitudinal data from publicly available maps, couldn’t calculate the perfect location. Near its summit, Seneca’s fin of quarzitic sandstone dramatically rises 220 vertical feet in the horizontal space of just a few feet. “Even the best satellite maps have trouble detecting this sudden rise of contour and sudden drop on the other side,” Johnston said. “It’s critical to know exactly where the notch is above the horizon. There was no way that I could locate the exact location of the U-shaped notch on a satellite map.” The photography team’s precision was crucial because the moon rises
34 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
and exits the notch in a span of just five minutes, meaning they wouldn’t have time to adjust if the location was off. “Even if we had to move 10 feet, it could affect the success of the shot,” Johnston said. Johnston took the matter—and the math—into his own hands. He contacted Luke Yokum, manager of the Princess Snowbird Campground, and Janet Hedrick, owner of the cow pasture adjacent to the campground. With permission from both landowners, he spent several nights in September shooting photos of stars rising in the Gunsight Notch from what he considered the best location for the October 28 shoot. “It was crucial to have the scouting and location support from the Yokums and Janet,” he said. He looked for individual stars in his photos that were adjacent to an identifiable feature in the notch, then
guaranteed clear skies, the relatively small scale of the Gunsight Notch and notoriously unpredictable weather of the West Virginia highlands would require absolute precision and timing to pull off the stunt.
used an astronomy program to identify the stars. He coordinated the timestamp on each photo with the timestamps on astronomical charts and was able to calculate the azimuth and altitude angles of various points in the Gunsight Notch. “Once I had that information, I was able to pinpoint where the notch is on the satellite map,” Johnston said. He manually entered the coordinates into TPE and found the exact shooting location in Hedrick’s cow pasture.
Top: Davis Dailey. Bottom: Dylan Jones.
Johnston, who is retired and pursues photography as a hobby, became absorbed by the project. “There were some days where I did nothing but puzzle over things,” he said. “I created a spreadsheet to collect my star data and do calculations using trigonometry that I hadn’t used since twelfth grade.”
made landfall in Louisiana on the 28th. While the heart of the storm was nearly one thousand miles away, its massive spiraling arms of clouds were not. The slackline team gathered early on the morning of the 28th, going through the plan and divvying up gear. The forecast showed overcast skies and a chance of rain—the “R” word, as Bennett called it. He quickly banned its use on the day of the shoot. The slackers scaled the cliffs and dropped a line to haul up the gear bags. Two groups climbed to each summit, built an anchor, and threw a rope down to a slacker in the notch, who tied the two ropes together and attached the webbing. The tied ropes were used to pull the webbing up to one anchor, then straight across to the other. Once the webbing was attached, a backup line was sent across, and the slackline was pulled taut.
The slackline team was taken aback. “The photography team on the Top: Mat Dunkelberger tensioning a line. Bottom from left to right: Perry ground are leagues ahead, Bennett, Jesse Thornton, and David Johnston ready to shoot the moon. Walking the Line from both an expertise as well The rain didn’t come, but as a creative standpoint,” said The Gunsight highline is just over the clouds did. Wave upon wave of Dailey, who shot photos of the spectacle 100 feet long and nearly 150 feet above soupy, gray clouds incessantly roiled from the South Peak of Seneca. the bottom of the notch—shorter than over North Fork Mountain to the a typical highline, but long enough A Game of Physics east. Tensions were high, literally and that the slackliner would have to be While the photography team was figuratively, both on the highline and on in the right place at the right time, still working at the astronomical level, the the ground as the projected moonrise standing of course. “I can count on one slackline team was playing a game of moment of 6:23 p.m. approached. hand the number of people on the East inches. But the slackers had to be just The photography team radioed to Coast that I would trust to do this kind as dialed in terms of their execution on the highliners, and Steel City Slacker of execution, where the stakes are not the rock and on the line. Given the time Marshall Scot set out over the void. necessarily high but we need to get it in window of five minutes to get the shot, one shot,” Desai said. “You can’t do this It’s safe to say that millions of people the pressure was on. over and over.” have stood atop either summit of Highline riggers can choose from Seneca over the last century, but very A Hurricane Came an array of webbing materials that few have stood between the peaks, offer varying levels of stretch. Desai suspended on a two-inch piece of A protracted dry spell over the Potomac used a special calculator to figure out webbing. “That’s the gift, the cherry Highlands gifted seemingly endless what type of webbing would place on top,” Dailey said. “You get to find bluebird days for climbers at Seneca. the slackliner perfectly in the notch yourself in places that no one else has But on October 26, Tropical Storm Zeta congruent to Johnston’s point of before. There isn’t that much adrenaline reached hurricane strength as it plowed reference in the Gunsight. that comes into play, I’m usually pretty toward the Gulf Coast; the storm WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
levelheaded and quite calm.” “Every time I’ve been on the Gunsight highline, I tear up,” Desai said. “It’s just so iconic in so many ways. It’s scary and exposed on both sides. It truly does feel like you’re a thousand feet up because you look out on either side, and all you see is rolling Appalachia.” For Desai, it all boils down to trust, especially because he didn’t have a chance to inspect the anchors before stepping onto the line. “I’m looking out as I walk towards these two guys thinking how much I trust them. The moment I fall, my life depends on the work they just did.”
Silver linings Occasional changes in the color of the sky offered hope that perhaps the glow of the moon would appear, but the break never came. The photography team shot hundreds of photos from an arsenal of cameras with telephoto lenses, all to the backdrop of a monotone sky. For a moment, it felt as if Johnston’s strokes of genius were all for naught. “I know the damn moon is right there, right now,” Johnston said with a humorous sense of frustration. But was it a failure? Johnston correctly calculated the precise spot to get the shot, and the photography team captured fantastic footage. The slackline team successfully rigged the line, and everyone got up and down from Seneca’s dangerous terrain without incident. “If we hadn’t been concerned about the moon, Marshall Scot finding balance over the void, aerial photo by Jesse Thornton.
we would be viewing this as a huge success right now,” Johnston said. “There was obviously disappointment, but it was tempered by the fact that we were still there seeing something incredible that not many of us have seen,” Thornton said. The slackline team also struggled with the emotional balance at first. “Even though there was a sense of failure to some degree, it wasn’t a failure of our character or our ability,” Desai said. “I still felt a sense of accomplishment that this team made this happen. It was almost flawless.” Considering everything that could have gone wrong, from a line rigger dropping a piece of gear to a camera battery prematurely dying or even heavy rain, everything went off without a hitch. Everything, of course, but the clouds. The team joked that the event was so epic that the clouds traveled thousands of miles to come watch. “It’s pretty apropos that it was clouds that shut us down,” said Desai. “During the hike down in the dark, the only thing I was thinking about were the silver linings of this whole thing. There truly were a dozen silver linings throughout the whole project. That’s what a silver lining is, right? Looking at the edge of the clouds and realizing there’s something back there.” w Dylan Jones is publisher of Highland Outdoors. He once slacklined like three feet off the ground between two trees in a park and wished he had a safety line. WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
Get out and stay out
OVID-19 is the frustrated parent who sent us all outside for the year. Despite the challenges, living with this virus has created additional incentives to get outdoors and stay out for longer periods of time. If you have young kids, a wilderness adventure might seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But if you keep an open mind, have reasonable expectations, and follow a few simple guidelines, it is absolutely worth it, every single time. Make it clear that your adventure is about having fun (without using the word ‘fun’) “Doesn’t that sound funnnn?” If your kids are inherently resistant to the activity you’re planning, trying to explain why it should be fun is unlikely to convince them. Making the fun aspects of a new experience obvious will help your young child develop an imaginative and adventurous mindset, which will greatly increase your chances of a successful outing. And a first successful trip sets the stage for many more.
Plan your adventure with a friend, some cousins, or a favorite aunt or uncle. Involve your kids in the planning process, too. Pick a few locations you think will work well for everyone— whether it’s a short hike nearby, a weekend trip to an established campground, or a backpacking adventure at a more remote destination. Include everyone in the planning process so they can have a say in the final decision. Look at maps, devise a meal plan, and make a gear list together. Having friends join in the adventure makes it clear that this is a fun trip—without using the f-word. This will keep spirits high, even when someone inevitably gets tired, grumpy, or overwhelmed. Keep up the energy When my two kids were three and six, they barreled up a trail in Colorado’s Mount Zirkel Wilderness full of excitement. With dreams of a long day hike through a couple of alpine lakes, I made the mistake of calling them back, saying, “Save your energy kids, there’s plenty of hiking yet!” Buzzkill. I insisted; they listened. We were miserable
38 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
the whole day because they decided they were already tired, constantly needed snacks, and complained that everything hurt. “Oh, look! I just tripped on a root!” Surely, we need to turn back immediately. When you let your kids run ahead to peek around the bend, clamber around on boulders, hide in the bushes, and surprise each other along the way, your adventure might continue much longer than you imagined. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have tons of fun along the way. Keeping the energy high is important for adventurers of all ages. Don’t kill the momentum. Stroke the stoke. When the enthusiasm bubbles over, more motivation and exploration ensue. If you kill the energy early in an attempt to ‘save it for later,’ that ethereal mist of excitement will quickly blow away in the morning breeze. Comfort is key Because your next adventure might already push the limits of you and your family’s comfort zone (can I really do this with them?), it’s important to find comfort in other ways.
Courtesy Katie Wolpert
By Katie Wolpert
When we go on backpacking trips, my six and eight-year-old kids use 18-liter backpacks that also double as school backpacks. A small pack ensures I can’t overload it, and as the kids grow stronger, we strap more supplies onto the outside of each pack. This is an inexpensive way to let a pack grow with them for years.
trip work. And when everyone has an opportunity to pitch in during an outdoor adventure, some kids emerge as leaders. You may be surprised by the kids in your family or friend group who have the best attitudes when the going gets tough.
For a summer adventure, stay close to water. A stream of any size doubles as a potential water source and an aquatic playground for kids (and adults) to cool down. Although our perceived needs have gotten more complicated, they really boil down to food, shelter, and water. Basing your first outdoor adventures around beautiful water sources can reduce stress and increase comfort.
If something feels like too much, it probably is. Forget the mountain top ascent, full traverse, or circumnavigation route. Celebrate getting outside with your family and take the time to enjoy it. If you only make it to the fork in the trail or a sunny spot along the stream, that’s more than OK.
During the winter, invest in a good hat. Long-time cross-country skier Sarah Forbes says, “The best gloves are a good hat.” Get some good gloves or mittens too, but it’s tough to keep your fingertips warm if your head is cold. If your child refuses to wear a hat, make sure they have a coat with a good hood that zips snuggly around their ears and chin. I always bring along an extra neck gaiter or two. These wonderfully versatile garments are like band-aids for any unexpected cold spots that pop up once you are out. Make sure everyone contributes
Courtesy Katie Wolpert
On our first backpacking trip, my youngest child carried the tuna. They were just a few slim packets that slid easily into her pack, but she knew that she had everybody’s lunch and was contributing to the adventure. Over the course of two days, her nervous uncertainty at the start of the trip shifted to full-blown excitement and confidence in the fact that she was strong enough, big enough, and an important part of the crew. Even if you carry most of the water and gear in your pack, let everyone carry a small water bottle to drink as they go. You can also break the tent package down into parts so everyone can carry a piece. Let everyone know their contributions make the whole
Less is more
It’s more important to establish a sense of familiarity and belonging in a new evironment than it is to tackle bigger goals. Start with something easy. Even a decade into our experiment of outdoor family adventures, we enjoy reveling in the process of our trips more than checking off accomplishments. And finally, less is not more when it comes to snacks. Jackie Lambert, a long-time instructor at the outdoor education nonprofit Experience Learning, has guided hundreds of children on their first backpacking trips. Her best advice is to feed kids before they’e hungry. “If they get hungry,” she says, “it’s already too late. All your positive energy is gone.” Once you get outside with kids, you’ll likely discover that they bring a new perspective to wilderness adventures. Kids don’t get distracted by all the tasks waiting for them at home, and they don’t worry about getting wet because it might make them cold later. If we take a step back, let kids lead, and open our eyes to what is right in front of us, we might find we’re on exactly the kind of adventure we were looking for—especially if we remember to bring along some dry clothes for later. w Katie Wolpert works for Experience Learning in Pendleton County. If she’s out of the office, she’s probably out exploring West Virginia’s wildlands with her two kids.
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
P ro file
What’s the story behind the name of White Grass? I started the original White Grass in 1979 in a one-room schoolhouse on top of Shenandoah Mountain in Virginia, on the WV-VA border. It was near a place called White Grass Knob; you can still see that point from Dolly Sods. I started it to make a little bit of a living in the winter, and I was really in love with cross-country skiing and wanted to share it. It was wooden skis and kick-wax. We thought White Grass was a kind of a double entendre—a cool name but also a physical location. I kept the name when we moved to start our touring center in Canaan Valley. Why Cross-Country Skiing?
By Dylan Jones
Welp, you knew it was coming. Sooner or later, we had to publish something about the venerable and inimitable icon of cross-country skiing, Chip Chase. Best known as the Supreme Commander of the White Grass Ski Touring Center in Canaan Valley, Chase has been effortlessly gliding up and down the slopes of Cabin Mountain with a peaceful panache for decades. Chip and his wife, Laurie Little, have nurtured a wonderful family at their home in Canaan. But Chip’s family extends far beyond its biological bounds. The Chases also nurture a passion for human-powered recreation and embrace the granola lifestyle, sharing that love with everyone they encounter. As such, there are likely thousands of folks who consider Chip and Laurie kinfolk—myself included. If you know ‘Chipper,’ and you likely do, I hope this profile reminds you of one of those times you followed him on a bushwhack on Cabin Mountain, a true journey into the unknown. And if you
don’t know him, I hope this profile can provide a brief flash of his character and encourage you to take a trip to White Grass to find out what all the buzz is about. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. What’s your coming to West Virginia story? I was born in Europe in an Air Force family, we lived in Colorado and Alaska before ending up in northern Virginia, where I graduated from high school. After a few years of college, I lived a self-reliant, back-to-the-lander lifestyle in Crider in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia. I had always wanted to move to West Virginia during those days. I started coming over to Petersburg for whitewater races in the ‘70s. I was also at an early Rainbow Gathering in 1980; those were the two things that kind of sealed my moving here. And, of course, I moved to Canaan Valley for the snow and started White Grass in 1981. The amount of snow that fell up here was the thing that really convinced me.
40 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
Describe the vibe of White Grass today. It’s all about that specialness. We’re an authentic place and we have a lifestyle that we believe in. Our attitudes about the environment, friendship, and treating people and the planet well are all over everything we do. I’m fortunate to be involved in everything. I love doing it all: trail work, rentals, teaching lessons. I like the people that come in and I want to make sure that everyone here is treated very special. Crosscountry skiing is a real ephemeral, here-today-gone-tomorrow sport. We’re in an area where the snow is just on the borderline of happening or not, so when it does happen, it’s magic. It’s something that you can’t ever become burned out on or take for granted. You’ve gotta grasp it and get a little piece of it whenever you can. I have an amazing family that supports me. Laurie and I have a perfect
I learned how to cross-country ski while spending a couple of winters in Vermont, and my downhill skiing got converted to Nordic skiing. To me, it made perfect sense. It was kind of like ice skating and skiing at the same time, all while cruising through the woods. I was already becoming a real a lover of nature and rural living, so it just made sense that I would open up this Nordic center.
marriage in more ways than one. She’s just amazingly wonderful with the food. I think the atmosphere is really enhanced by the café. White Grass is as much of a café as a ski center. You have a good mountain and good ski area, but you also have wonderful food. Because of the location and terrain we have, it’s a whole complete package. A lot of Nordic ski centers are not as varied. There aren’t many Nordic centers in this world, especially in this part of the country, but White Grass is fairly complete and I think that’s got a lot to do with the clientele, the staff, and the owners. We keep trying to put more into it every year.
Who is Üllr, and why do you worship him? When I first came to fix up the White Grass building, Bob Barton and his wife, Nita, who started the original Weiss Knob Ski Area in 1959, were fascinated to see that we were gonna bring this phoenix up from the ashes and restore this ski area. Bob was also a bit of a partier, and I think we might have been too, so we had some good times chitchatting. He always talked about Üllr (pronounced “Ooh-Lah”), the Norse god
Courtesy Chip Chase Collection
What is snow farming, and how does it work? Through the years we’ve built a series of moveable fences that catch drifting snow in a storm. Once we catch the snow, we can put it wherever it’s windblown or the ground is wet. We’ve really got it down to a science and have extended our season with the fencing. We’ve learned what type of materials and height and length work best. If it’s windy, five or six inches of snow can form to 30 inches behind the fence. Snow farming is something that we discovered and figured out the hard way. In the early days, we didn’t have any snow fencing. It was just windy everywhere and there wasn’t this love for the cold that we have now. People hated the wind; we didn’t like the wind either. We were always trying to fight it, thinking about planting trees as a wind break. But we learned through the school of hard knocks and we love the wind now that we’ve learned to harness it. Every flake is being farmed and accounted for.
Somehow, skiing on one inch of snow at White Grass can be exceptionally fun. How is this possible? I think it’s possible through people’s attitudes. It’s also our reality that you have to ski on less snow in order to get your ski days in. We’re hard at work to make it to where we can ski on less snow because of the detailed trail work we do, literally with tweezers on our hands and knees, cleaning up sticks and rocks. Year after year, we’re finding out where the problems are, we’re sticklers for detail. If you’re willing to ski on trails that are more of the Nordic kind of terrain that rolls and wanders to grandma’s house, that’s the kind of terrain you can ski on with just enough snow. You’ve always got the old skis that you want to torture, and the perfect time to use them is when there isn’t enough snow. There’s a whole other sport to low-snow skiing. We call ‘em crud puppies—one who revels in marginally skiable snow. That’s something we’ve sort of nurtured through the years as a joke. You’ve gotta use everything you’ve got on every winter day. We make the most out of the least, and that’s just the spirit of the place. What’s your favorite spot in all of White Grass?
of snow. I’d never heard of Üllr in my days skiing out west or in Vermont or Virginia, so I started using that at White Grass right off the bat. It’s our mantra, the lord of ski and snowfall. Everybody loves to have a god or deity for something, and Üllr is just another fun way for people to pray for snow. You get these snowy characters, and you adopt them and they become part of you and what you push your energy toward.
That would probably be in front of my computer downloading all the day’s pictures and posting them on the website and getting these emails and responses from people that bring tears to my eyes. It’s really emotional. People pour it out, saying, “You’ve made a big difference to my children, and to my life and my winters.”
WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
“We’re an authentic place and we have a lifestyle that we believe in. Our attitudes about the environment, friendship, and treating people and the planet well are all over everything we do.”
Aw man, whichever one is up to order. It reminds me of seeing Bob Marley and The Wailers once. Throughout the whole show, I was saying, “This is my favorite Bob Marley song!” But then at the next song, I’d say it again. Then they’d play another. “No, this is my favorite Bob Marley song!” But I’ll say the Thai Chicken is probably the best. It’s so hearty and spicy, and the curry is just right. What do you do in the summer? I do stuff all summer to keep the winter thing going. What appears to exist just a few months of the year is obviously going to have a lot of shoulder work, both before and after winter. For everything everybody does at White Grass, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. We take care of the farm year-round; the farm is the heart of White Grass. It’s a 500-acre cattle farm, so we’re doing a lot of farming and maintenance. In spring, we’re cleaning up and getting ready for the cattle. Then we’re getting ready in October to
do the winter thing again. Otherwise, I do some community volunteer work, go hear live music, and just be part of the community. My love and passion in the summer is mushroom hunting. I’m an outdoors person: hiker, mountain biker, caver, paddler, climbing, a little bit of everything. I try to get people to go hiking and caving and paddling, and share that same passion for the great outdoors year-round. White Grass is known for having a low impact on the environment, what are the details? We take really good care of the land and have a small footprint. If we have any impact at all, we fix it. We won an award years ago for best environmental business in West Virginia. We heat with wood, we don’t create a lot of garbage, we reuse and recycle as much stuff as we can. We pull the nails out of old boards and reuse them. We use local ingredients when we can at the cafe. We don’t bring a lot of people in from out of state. We’re a local employer, and that’s environmental. Our electric bill is super low, something like two or three dollars
42 HIGHLAND OUTDOORS WINTER 2020
per day. We’re not an energy consumer; we’re heating with wood picked up off the trails that you got on your way back from trail work. It’s really neat the way it all works and that’s something we really feel good about. What kind of impact has White Grass had on West Virginia? I think it’s a feather in West Virginia’s cap. People come here and say, “Wow I never knew there would be something like this here!” I don’t think there’s anybody that thinks what we do has been anything but authentic. We’re real big promoters of West Virginia. There’s a wonderful state pride here that I really like. It gives you a warm, tingly feeling. We get a lot of people that come back to West Virginia to show their kids where they were raised and skied with their families. People just adore it here. w White Grass might have a slightly different vibe this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, you should absolutely go rent some skis, explore the snow farm, and get some of that famous soup to-go. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to end up on a bushwhack ski with Chipper himself!
What’s your favorite White Grass soup?
G aller y
Simply stated, winter photography is challenging. Harsh light and monotone landscapes often relegate my camera bag to the dusty corners of the office during the cold dark of winter. Every now and then, between all-day skis and bottomless cups of chaga tea, I get a flash of inspiration. I suit up and head out, armed with a hefty bag of lenses and spare batteries, to battle the elements in search of something my eyes—and my camera sensor—haven’t noticed before. On a meandering saunter through a snowy meadow last March, I came upon just that. These icicles, stained blood-red with sap from an ancient sugar maple, looked like something out of a sci-fi flick. Morbidly foreboding yet stunningly beautiful, I was entranced by these ‘sapsicles,’ shooting over 50 photos before moving on down the lane. I subdued my child-like desire to break one off and taste nature’s bounty, leaving the ephemeral wonder for the next person to discover—or perhaps for no one at all. Sometimes nature’s wonders are best left to come and go by their own devices. Photo and caption by Dylan Jones. WINTER 2020 HIGHLAND-OUTDOORS.COM
West Virginia's Defunct Ski Areas, Blackwater Triple Crown, Night Photography, Weather Observers, Seneca Full Moon Highlining, Getting Out w...
Published on Dec 18, 2020
West Virginia's Defunct Ski Areas, Blackwater Triple Crown, Night Photography, Weather Observers, Seneca Full Moon Highlining, Getting Out w...