Monday, November 14, 2016

White Rocks/Opa Overlook

In our ongoing weekly exploration of the Great North Mountain area of the George Washington National Forest along the Virginia and West Virginia border, we bring you White Rocks/Opa Overlook. With hunting season fast approaching, we won't be making too many more trips to GWNF until the season closes, so we're making the most of it now before we move over to land where hunting is not allowed.

Hiking Little Sluice Mountain
It was 6am and Ann asked me, "Should we just get up and have coffee?" Knowing how warm it was beneath the covers curled up next to her and seeing that it was still black out, I said, "The dogs aren't even up yet," the unspoken implication being that the dogs rarely cut us any slack in the morning, beginning to bounce off the walls by 6:15, and that we should enjoy the rare ruckus-free quite time.

We half-dozed until the canine circus got into full swing and I finally got up at 6:45 to take them out. Before I left the bedroom and based on the chill in the room, I threw on three layers anticipating the cold outside. Outside, walking on the heavy frost, I pulled my hood up over my ears. In January, I'm sure that 27 degrees will feel pretty warm, but right now, it's the coldest morning so far of the fall. I struggled with pants or shorts as I always do this time of year. Pants won out, but by 11am, I was wishing for shorts. It's a no win situation this time of year.

On autopilot, half asleep and half exhausted from working 90 hours last week, I made some weak-ass coffee. I don't know how but I measured the beans wrong. After coffee, we got saddled up and on the road by 8am. There's no point in going out screaming early this time of year: it's good to wait for a little sunlight. Those mountain coves stay pretty cold in the morning.

You can approach this area from either Virginia or West Virginia, given that it straddles the border. Today's hike took us out Waite's Run Road out of Wardensville on the WV side to where Cove Run empties into Waite's Run. Our hike took us up Cove Run to the ridgeline of Little Sluice, back north along the ridgeline, and back down to the car.

This was a tough trailhead to find. Well, actually not. We found it just fine. It's just that there wasn't any signage or evidence on the ground that we were at the right place and here up at the tail end of the dirt Waites Run Road is pretty much the boonies with nobody to ask. Unsure of exactly where we were but thinking we were in the correct place (no sign saying "You are here!"), we kept going and finally saw the well-marked Old Mailpath trail as it crossed the road. We turned around and parked, the only car there probably all day. We met no other hikers all day and saw no other vehicles. Win for us!

Right on the Border; We Walked the Border

Unusual: We Started in a White Pine Forest
Our hike started in a white pine forest with a few small hemlocks here and there, pretty unusual trees for around here. As we worked our way uphill along Cove Run and crossing it several times, there was a lot of mud on the trail. Fortunately, it was mostly frozen. Ann borrowed my gloves; it was that cold up under the trees. I was wishing for a pair myself.

Very Chilly Start to Our Day

High Tech Footbridge on Cove Run
Once we had climbed a bit higher on Little Sluice Mountain, we joined the orange-blazed Racer Camp Hollow Trail which paralleled the creek. We weaved in and out of the woods. The number of fields tells me that this area is actively managed for wildlife; they have to be bushhogging the fields each year to keep them from overgrowing.

Walking Through a Wildlife Field; Mill Mountain Ahead
We finally started to climb up and out of the creek bottom to meet the intersection with the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail, not very far at all from the PATC's Sugar Knob Cabin which we visited on our tour of Mill Mountain and Big Schloss a few weeks back. On our climb out of the creek valley, we came upon a spring green area carpeted in moss and ferns, a dramatic change from the brown stands of frost-killed bracken fern we had seen all morning.

So Green it Looked Like Spring
We took the Tuscarora north up onto the ridgeline of Little Sluice, ultimately over the peak and descending to a short trail branching east to our lunch destination, Opa Overlook. As we climbed out of West Virginia up onto the border, the trees really changed to open stands of stunted oaks undergrown with mountain laurel. We saw one big buck up in this area and several downy woodpeckers.

On The Ridge: Stunted Oak Forest
Crossing the peak and starting down the north side of the mountain, we came quickly upon twin cairns flanking the start of the Opa Overlook trail. The trail is supposed to be white-blazed, but there are no white blazes to be seen near its intersection with the Tuscarora. Still, you'd have to be blind to miss it.

Cairn Marking Overlook Trail
Working our way out to the knob where we were to have lunch, we were suddenly confronted with a minor rock scramble. Once up top, I could see that the view was going to be great, but I was unprepared for the "Oh, wow!" moment I would have once I bent around to the left and climbed up just a bit more.

Stunning Panorama from Opa Overlook
The view up top was awesome, looking out at Tea and Little North Mountains with Sheffer Gap between. From Opa Overlook, we were able to see the Blue Ridge/SNP in the distance behind both arms/ridges of the Massanuttens, and of course, the Great North Mountain complex in the foreground. We could see some of the taller peaks of the South District of SNP beyond the southern end of Massanutten Mountain. If you click on the picture below to expand it and look carefully, especially up under the branches of the pine tree, you can see distinct ridgelines for the Blue Ridge and both Massanuttens.

Sheffer Gap; Tea Mountain to Left
As we ate lunch in the warm sunshine taking in these breathtaking views, a raven kept us entertained with its half-frog, half-crow call as it glided by on the air currents. At this point, we had both rolled up our pants and Ann was down to a T-shirt, a far cry from gloves and lots of layers in the morning.

Annie Takes in Little North Mountain and Beyond

Channeling Kate Winslet

Short Sleeves and Rolled-up Pants
From here, it was downhill all the way along the Tuscarora to the pink-blazed Old Mailpath Trail and back down the hill to the car. The good news in approaching Great North Mountain from the Wardensville side is that once you come off the mountain, Lost River Brewing is just minutes away! We took up two seats at the end of the bar and watched the tail end of the Redskins game while chatting away with the other hikers also camped out with us.

Post Hike Reward

Chicharrones: Dangerous, Dangerous Bar Snacks

Nachos: Not Super Awesome

Really Great Wings

Burgers and Onion Rings are Very Good Here
We ended up bringing most of the burger and half the nachos back to the eating machine, who hauled them off to his room, not to be seen again. Lost River Brewing's food has proven to be pretty decent with the exception of their nachos which featured cheap chips, cheap cheese sauce, and canned black olives. We like heartier chips, real cheese, and a good bit more spice. Alas, we can't have everything, can we?

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