Thursday, June 27, 2013

Almost Heaven...West Virginia

What do you get when you take one of the most scenic places east of the Mississippi and add a dozen fit, outdoorsy and positive women?  Magic I tell you...absolute magic!

This past Fall, my friends Chris, Caroline and I went to Canaan Valley, WV for our AGAW--Annual Girls Adventure Weekend.  We had an absolutely amazing time and in fact, it was so much fun, I couldn't wait to return and share the experience with a larger group of friends.  So this past weekend, I organized a three day, Girls Adventure Getaway back to Canaan--one of my favorite places in the mid-Atlantic.

First up on our agenda was climbing the Via Ferrata, which is a fixed route climb up and over two parallel sheer rock faces.  The Via Ferrata, Italian for "Iron Road," has steel rungs and cables anchored into the rock which climbers clip into and out of, as they scale the mountains. 

Ten of us began the climb and one opted out early. 

L to R:  Heather, Kim, Laura, Amy, Jody, Kristi, Paula, Chris and I
The Via Ferrata is safe, but it isn't the place for anyone with a fear of heights as you'll be able to see from the pictures below.

Along the way, we had to cross one of the highest pedestrian suspension bridges in North America (it may actually be the highest).  The photos are deceiving--it's actually much higher than it looks.  As we got to the bridge, the wind kicked up which made the bridge sway even more...which of course added to the thrill of crossing it.


After we crossed the bridge, we continued climbing to the summit.  Here's Jody on the top (notice the suspension bridge far below).

Jody on the summit.




L to R:  Heather, Kim, Laura and Amy on first summit

Kristi on the way up
This picture below cracks me up.  Jody is a total stud--heck she's done the RAAM (Race Across America) on a two person team, but as you can see, she's not crazy about heights.  Her idea of a good view was staring at the rock face right in front of her...while holding on for dear life.  :)

The group on the top of the second summit, with spectacular views of the Allegheny Mountains as far as we could see.

Once we finished, we shared a few celebratory beers with our two guides.   They were great and absolutely loved us--in fact, they asked if they could join our "chicks only" group.  Sorry dudes, no boys allowed!

You know you're getting old when your guides are young enough to be your children :-)!

From the Via Ferrata, we headed to Timberline Ski Resort in Canaan Valley.  I have a friend who generously offered to let us use his ski Chalet for weekend.  We got settled in and cooked tons of healthy food, drank some beer and wine and stayed up late chatting, laughing and getting to know one another better.

On Saturday we awoke and headed into the small town of Davis to participate in the Canaan Valley Mountain Bike Festival.  The Festival had a half dozen scheduled mt bike rides, all of which were led by well known locals.  The rides varied in length and difficulty.  The vast majority of our group opted to do The Nature Tour--a ride that was "medium" in terms of length and difficulty--and was led by Chippy Carefree, a total character who also happens to own White Grass Cross Country Ski Area.  (We all loved Chippy and he loved the end, he was calling us the Fresh Air Girls and he also asked to join our group as well.  I guess there's something inviting about being with a group of people who are so obviously enjoying themselves.)

We headed over to the Canaan Valley Institute and rode on the Camp 70 trails for 3 1/2 hours.

We rode through wildflower filled meadows,

and through gorgeous fern forests,

and through numerous "rock gardens."  The trails were technical and there were a few spills.  In fact, we had to help "rescue" one of the men in our group who fell on a rock garden and broke several ribs.  It was neat seeing Amy, a physical therapist, step up and take charge in her gently soothing, yet confident manner.


Here's Chippy and the "Fresh Air Girls" along the Blackwater River.  (How can you not love a guy named Chippy Carefree???)

While we were busy riding the Camp 70 trails, Lorene and Virginia opted to do a longer tour--a 30 mile ride led by Sue Haywood--a well known, professional mt biker.


Once we returned to our chalet, Clair--a gifted and experienced yoga instructor, led us through a 45 minute class.  I have to sheepishly admit that I have been playing a myriad of sports, running, biking, hiking, backpacking and adventure racing for the past 38 years...and this yoga class, which was supposed to be relaxing, totally kicked my ass!  I am the least flexible person I know...The only position that felt somewhat comfortable was the child's pose--and that's only because I subsequently discovered I was doing it wrong.  :-)  Fortunately, Clair has inspired me to really start working on my flexibility.

By now, as the result of shared experiences over the course of two physically challenging days, we were all good friends.  It's amazing how quickly and thoroughly we bonded.  So that night, rather than go into town, we opted to eat in the chalet and enjoy each others' company.  We talked and laughed about everything under the sun. We shared our hopes, dreams and fears.  We opened up about adventures gone bad, crazy ex'es and some of the challenges we were currently facing.  We talked about global events, good books and places to visit.  Needless to say, it was sisterhood at its finest!

The next morning, 7 of us set out to hike 8-9 miles in Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  I've been hiking there several times before, but this was the first time I was able to access the Sods via Timberline's Private Access Trail.  Normally, visitors have to drive at least 30-40 minutes along twisty, gravel forest roads to get to the public access points.  This time, we could access the wilderness via a 5 minute walk from our cabin door--it was awesome!  Consequently, I was able to experience a whole new area of Dolly Sods that I hadn't seen before. 


Dolly Sods is a rocky, high altitude plateau with a micro climate which results in vegetation more like what you'd expect to see in northern Canada, rather than West Virginia.  As an aside, Dolly Sods is named after an 18th century homesteading family (The Dahles) and Sods is a term for an open, mountaintop meadow. (Thanks Wikipedia--We were wondering how it got its name.)

It was amazing the number of different eco systems we passed through over the course of 9 miles.  From pine forests,

to huge boulder gardens

which were fun to scramble and hop along,

to fern gardens and soggy bogs--they were all spectacular.  In fact, we found one gorgeous campsite tucked into a small stand of pines that was calling our names.

This photo totally cracks me up.  Kristi is a master naturalist and while walking through this mucky bog, she spotted an unusual wildflower.  She was calling for people to come check it out.  Clair in the meantime, was shin deep in muck and was running and hopping away, exclaiming "Ewww, I don't care...I don't care about the flower."  It was hilarious.  Heather is imitating Clair's reaction and laughing hysterically while doing so.

We decided to leave our mark and used a few of the approximately 2 billion rocks to make a cairn.

 It will be fun to see if it's still standing next time we return.


 And there will be a next time, for we shall return...

Each night we were treated to amazing sunset views from our chalet.

I've been home now for 3 days and I still have a silly, ear-to-ear grin plastered across my face.  I'm already dreaming about our next Girls Adventure Getaway...and don't think I can wait an entire year to experience something so good again.  In fact, I know I can't!

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