This particular piece of information caught my young friend's attention.
The plan was to take Red Creek trail to Big Stonecoal trail (1.5 miles), Big Stonecoal trail to Rocky Point trail (1.2 miles), Lion's Head Spike trail (0.5 miles), Rocky Point trail back to Red Creek trail (1.8 miles), then Red Creek trail back to the trailhead (3.2 miles). With a little bushwhacking thrown in, the round trip would be a little over 8 miles.
The first flat 1.5 miles went fairly uneventful, until we had to cross Red Creek to get to Big Stonecoal trail. At this point my friend informed me he had already developed blisters on his heels. I had loaned him a pair of hiking shoes but I did not notice he had put on "footies" - not a good choice for these rugged, rocky trails.
In his own words, he would "man up" and keep going. The next 1.2 miles were uphill the entire length. Once we hit the first switchback I looked for the cairns that would signal the beginning of the first bushwhacking adventure. At this point on Big Stonecoal trail there are supposedly some very nice falls below the trail in Big Stonecoal run.
The bushwhacking would be quite the adventure! The rhododendron thickets were very difficult to maneuver through, but I would take the lead and make a trail. I got to a certain point where I could see through the rhododendron that the solid ground seemed to disappear. So it was back up the mountain, around the ridge and try to pick my way down again. This would lead to the same result, so I repeated this and the third time was a charm as I finally able to make it to the stream.
I would not be disappointed and the rain the previous day added some water to the stream, adding needed flow to the waterfalls and cascades.
These next few shots ran consecutively on Big Stonecoal:
As we worked our way downstream through this very rugged section of stream, I learned why the ground seemed to disappear in the rhododendron thicket - there was no ground! It's a good thing I decided not to push through the thicket, had I done so it would have been a real bad day.
After working our way past this obstacle we found a route we could work our way back up to the trail. It was nearly straight up but at least we weren't fighting the rhododendron.
Once back on Big Stonecoal trail, our next destination was Rocky Point trail and the Lion's Head spike trail. I was concerned I would not find this spike trail but again rock cairns marked the trail.
It was another quick uphill climb and the trail leveled out in this pine grove. The pines were obviously planted in nearly perfect rows, possibly by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp).
Once at the end of the pine grove we were looking for a small trail out to the rock outcroppings that would contain Lion's Head. The trail was easy enough to find and the view was simply amazing.
Can you make out the Lion's Head?
After taking a nice break while enjoying the scenery and a quick lunch, it was backtracking to Rocky Point trail. Once we returned to Rocky Point it was back around the point below the Lion's Head formation and the junction with Red Creek trail. By the way, Rocky Point trail is aptly named as about a mile of this trail is composed of softball-sized limestone cobble - real ankle breakers.
The junction with Red Creek trail is well above Red Creek and the trail downhill to the creek is much steeper than the trail up Big Stonecoal. I think we chose our route wisely.
Once down and back across Red Creek, my next goal on the way out was to locate Thea's Falls. I had the coordinates but traveling from the north Thea's is easily spotted from the trail. Another beautiful set of falls in Dolly Sods.
I had one more spot I wanted to visit before we headed toward Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob. There is an overlook with a great view of North Fork Mountain and the Chimney Rocks formation.From the top of Dolly Sods it was down to the Potomac watershed and one of the most scenic drives in the state - Route 28.
This is another view of North Fork Mountain and the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River valley (that's a mouthful).
From the overlook we made it to the campground, pitched the tents, and had dinner. These would be firsts for my young friend: first night in a tent and first freeze-dried meal.
Following dinner we made a quick trip to the top of Spruce Knob, hoping to catch a sunset over the Seneca valley but we were too late. By the time we returned to camp our third member of the Sunday adventure had arrived. It was a couple of quick introductions, a little conversation, then off to catch a few winks.
The plan for Sunday was up before sunrise and back to the Spruce Knob summit with hopes to catch a sunrise over North Fork Mountain. As with the attempt to catch sunset, we missed sunrise due to heavy fog. However, we did find temperatures down to 41 degrees (in July) and a wind chill that most likely pushed it into the upper 30's.
Having missed the sunrise, we returned to camp, packed up and hit the trailhead.I was anxious to hit this trail, as it would be the personal completion of Seneca Creek. I had traveled Seneca from the mouth to just below Judy Springs and this section would complete the "puzzle" which is the entire Seneca Creek watershed.
Once at the deepest point in our adventure, we stopped for some photos and a quick bite to eat. The next task was to put my young friend on the first fish of his life - he had never been fishing before. With the low water I had my work cut out for us. It was difficult to put a first-time fisherman on fish with the low water and trying to do it with a fly rod compounded the difficulty.
I think Almost Heaven West Virginia showed itself very well for our visitor!