Monday, January 15, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

Joe: "Bobby, I don't want to go on a hiking expedition!"
Bobby: "I promise you, it won't be like that"

Just what you want to hear at the beginning of a boating trip! Oh but wait... I should probably start from the beginning...

Sunday morning I got woken up with a knock on the door. Joe was on the phone. After a mellow day on the Lower Big Sandy on Saturday I was excited to hear what was in store for today. He said a bunch of people were meeting to run the North Fork and that I should meet them there. I was nervous, as usual, but at the same time was really looking forward to it. Joe later called back to say that they would first do a high water run on the Upper B so I decided to just give it another hour and meet them afterwards. But then after checking gauges we realized that the Blackwater was at 675 cfs and still heading up. I called Joe back with the update and he agreed that it was indeed too high and that I should start heading to the North Fork.

But of course things couldn't possibly be that simple. Next he called back to say that Red Run was going off and that he wanted to do that. I pointed out that he'd just told me the day before that that was one of the few runs in Northern WV that I wasn't ready for. "Nah, you're solid," he said. I was going to discuss it further when I got there but it was a moot point as he once again called to say they were going to go check out Otter Creek instead. I'd been told that this was the easier of the Canaan Valley class V creeks so this sounded fine. He gave me instructions to get to the takeout. I arrived in Thomas around noon and still had a good half hour to drive.

I finally made it to the Otter Creek takeout (crossing over the Blackwater which was just pumping!). There I found Joe, Seth, Sean and Bobby Miller. Otter Creek was indeed running and they stood around debating what to do. Apparently Bobby had his heart set on checking out a secret creek whose name he would not divulge. "It's the Dream!" he kept exclaiming. Later he let it slip that it was actually called Moore Run. He told us it was a tributary to Otter that came in about half way down. A short hike, then a steep class V section, followed by a easier class IV section, and then meeting up with the lower section of Otter Creek. He said that there was a marsh between the top and the put in but that the trail went around it. He suggested it might be possible to paddle through it but wasn't really sure.

He explained that there was an easy trail (about like the North Fork trail) that started off at the top of the class V section and followed the creek. We asked how bad the trail back down to the river would be and he explained that it was about as long but less steep than the Blackwater trail. This didn't sound too terribly bad and he said that we would skip the long beginning of Otter Creek and put us in at the best section. Having read the description on AW I knew it was a long run and it sounded like this option would possibly shorten the total length.

"I don't want to go on a hiking expedition!", Joe exclaimed. Sean didn't seem to be too into it either. It had apparently been described as "Something Tao Berman would run"... No thank you!!..."So who's doing Moore Run?". No one budged. But then Bobby continued to make his case. This was exactly what he came out with the intention of doing after all. Ultimately he made it sound pretty good. We would hike to the put in, Joe/Bobby/Seth would paddle the class V drops while Sean and I hiked around. Then we would meet up, run the class IV section and continue on to Otter. Seemed like a bit extra work but ultimately simple enough. I wasn't sure what to expect but hoped that maybe we could at least watch them for part of the run and get some photos / video. So we all decided to go ahead and give it a try.

I had my misgivings but kinda figured that whether we did this or the full length of Otter it would turn out about the same. Just a few weeks before I'd made the (perhaps somewhat rash) decision to put on the Lower Blackwater with Joe just barely an hour or so before sunset. I knew the risk of running out of time the but was willing to go for it. That trip had turned out so well ultimately that I guess I had faith that a lot was possible.

We geared up and piled the boats onto Bobby's Forester. As we drove towards the put in I saw the little forest service sign that said "Moore Run, 10 miles". Ten miles up a mountain. It was around 1:30 at this point. About a mile or so into the drive we came across our first obstacle: A nice green log laying entirely across the road. The root ball was elevated on the hillside on the right but the opposite end was laying more or less on the muddy left shoulder. We got out to survey the situation.

The first obstacle of the day

It was too bad we hadn't brought the truck as it has four wheel drive and a heck of a lot more ground clearance and if nothing else we had a wood saw in there. But that wasn't the case and we needed to figure out what to do. We should have turned around right there and there. Clearly this was a sign!!

How do we deal with this?

Somehow it was decided that if we built up a wood pile on either side of the road that the Forester could make it over the log. As utterly preposterous as this seemed, we quickly started grabbing smaller logs and putting them in position. Sean grabbed the video camera and Bobby lined up for the log boof. After a few attempts he finally got the car lined up straight and actually managed to get it clear over the log! We were all quite impressed!


So that obstacle down, we completed the drive up the mountain to the Moore Run access trail. We got our gear together and started walking down. It was a nice easy walk through some very pretty forest. Sparse rhododendron and evergreens, the sort of place you'd gladly go for a leisurely stroll. I lost sight of Joe and Bobby after a bit but could tell I was going in the right direction from the red plastic shavings on the rocks from where Joe had dragged his boat! After a short bit the trail came out into a marshy clearing, also very scenic. But the path became very muddy and at one point I fell in to my knees. Not too big of a deal though, I was able to find a clean pool and wash off the mud.

The marsh

Eventually things started thickening up a bit and we reached a rhodo filled bank. Joe and Bobby had continued up the trail a bit and found that it was starting to get steep and muddy and Joe decided that it would save a good bit of awkward walking (saving both time and energy) if we just paddled through the marsh. I was skeptical as I pulled my skirt onto the boat amidst the thick rhodo. But as I slid into the water and paddled a short way I saw that things were opening up.

Putting in at the marsh

The marsh snaked through a huge field of wild grasses and shrubbery. Words could not possible describe how ridiculous it looked. We were paddling through hair pin turns of class I water that was barely boat wide. But it was all surprisingly pretty and deep enough to float by easily (not actually being able to take a stroke on the side of the boat though). We were actually having a good time, just enjoying the scenery.

Yes there is water here!

Boat wide

But the tranquility wasn't about to last long. A few small tribs were joining in and the stream was starting to pick up a bit of gradient. Soon it dropped into thick rhodo again. It wasn't more than class II with a few small drops. But the rhodo was so thick and the strainers and sieves so numerous we frequently had to scrape our way over, limbo under branches, and portage while ducking the whole time. Apparently at some point Joe had gotten so far ahead of us that he stopped and sawed off a bunch of rhodo branches to clear the path some! Apparently when they'd decided to go ahead and paddle the marsh Bobby had thought that the put in was within visual sight.

I had broached, pinned, been nearly strangled, swam (after my boat as I had to get out to get it over some obstacle) and we hadn't even reached the real put-in yet!! It was annoying as crap (and slightly comical at the same time). I was cursing my way down. At one point we had to limbo under branches so low that even laying completely on my back deck I thought for sure it would take my head off!

At this point things were becoming truly ridiculous. Sean and I were both becoming fairly agitated. He wanted to try to crawl through the rhodo and see if we could find the trail and start hiking back to the car. But it was so thick we had no chance of actually finding our way. We walked, scraped, crawled, and clawed our way through the thick and finally came to a dead end. The creek (if you could call it that) disappeared entirely under rocks. We climbed over this and found that it reemerged on the other side of a big boulder. More scrambling and we truly reached a dead end. At this point the creek went completely subterranean and we were standing in front of a massive boulder field. The rhodo on either side was so thick that there was no way to walk around it. Unfortunately it had turned out that the put in was not within sight of where we put in on the marsh. It was actually around a another bend and on the other side of this boulder field. So there was only one choice, to go over it.

Sean picking out his line

Bobby and Seth

Joe doing some bouldering

Seth helped me pull my boat up, grabbed it and started hiking. Progress was slow but I was very thankful not to have to deal with my boat. Joe and Seth took turns with all three of our boats while I grabbed Seth's paddle. It was hard enough just getting over the the rocks, which in places were 15 feet tall. I tried to do my part some by dragging Joe's boat here and there but it was way too difficult for me to try to stand up with it. With every step I feared of falling or dropping something into some subterranean cave. At least the rocks weren't slippery though, that definitely saved us a good big of time. They had the texture of rough concrete. Although not particularly pleasant to place one's hand on, they were very grippy and at least easy to walk on.
I really hadn't expected this to become a bouldering trip!!

The boulder field continued on for what seemed like an eternity. At this point I was seriously starting to worry about how much daylight we had left. It was still pretty bright out but we still had at least five miles of Otter Creek to paddle and we hadn't even reached the actual put in of Moore Run yet.

Seth carrying my boat

At the beginning Joe had made a bet with Bobby that if this trip did not turn out well that he'd have to buy him dinner. Somewhere between the marsh and the boulder field it was decided that he'd have to buy us ALL dinner. "That pizza is tasting awfully good, Bobby", I joked. But it was getting late and things were not looking promising. The whole way we could hear the water under the rocks but couldn't see it. Finally, after much scrambling, we made it past the boulders and reached the point where the creek reemerged (and I think joined with something else) to form a fairly decent stream. Finally we had reached the real put in!!

The decision to paddle the marsh was well intended but ultimately set us back several hours. Had we simply continued hiking the trail I think we would have made it to the put in at a reasonable time.

Making it down to the put in

The put in area was very small and we basically had to get in our boats one at a time. We were getting pretty tired and rather parched. To our dismay we realized we'd come out severely under prepared when it came to water. Seth and Bobby had some. I had half a small bottle (I'd forgotten that the other bottle in my boat was empty). Sean had forgotten his entirely.

I was not too keen on putting back on as at this point the creek was starting to pick up gradient and I wondered at what point it would suddenly fall off some precipice. Plus it was still fairly thick with rhodo. But there still was no way to walk arund and as I put on and saw that Bobby, Seth and Joe were already out of sight. I caught up quick and made sure to look back for Sean. We paddled through a bit of class II-III and after a few more pins and branch whacks to the face I was pretty fed up. I looked up and saw a clearing on the side, this had to be the trail. I grabbed onto the bank, climbed out of my boat and walked down to where the three of them were waiting.

This was indeed the trail at the start of the class V section. I turned to Sean, said I was hiking down and insisted that he come with me. I got no objection. It was getting very late now and we had to move. But Bobby was still determined to get his descent on Moore Run. There had been some vague mention ealrier that we'd just all skip it and he would have to come back another time. But this did not turn out to be the case. We were right there, it was still light out, and it seemed silly to waste the opportunity.

But there wasn't really time for us to try to figure out where the class IV section started so Sean and I would just forego this. I was okay with it given the time restrictions. We decided just to meet back up at the confluence. I turned to Joe and said "You'd better be there". "We will," he said. "You wait, we won't leave without you. You don't leave without us". So it was agreed, Sean and I would hike down while the others did the run. To my slight surprise Seth also got out of his boat. He wanted no part of it either at this point.

So Bobby and Joe took off while the rest of us once again started dragging our boats down the trail. Thankfully it was an easy walk and although not nearly as wide as the North Fork trail as Bobby had described, it was still easy to drag the boats. But it did make me wonder just how bad the hike down to the confluence would be. We walked for about a mile or so with no problems. At one point we heard a loud whoop from Bobby as he probably ran some big drop. So for at least the first bit we were going at a similar rate and it sounded like the run was going well. I had to smile a little, at least someone was getting some fun out of this!

As we walked we could see how quickly the creek was dropping off. Though we couldn't actually see it we could see the steepness of the ridge line. To me it seemed like a 1000 foot drop from where we were standing (okay so maybe it wasn't quite that much but damn it was high!). The trail we were on kept on going steady though and did not seem to loose elevation. Eventually we got to the point were it seemed like we were pretty near the confluence. Seth suggested that we'd better start scrambling down now while the shrubbery wasn't too thick. We looked around for the best starting point briefly and started lowering our boats.

It thankfully turned out to be a pretty easy walk down. The boats would snag on trees here and there but mostly it wasn't bad. Overall this part of the trip was more or less as Bobby had described. There was some hazard of twisting an ankle under a root or a hole in the ground as there was no established trail. But overall it wasn't hard. Near the end we had to push our way through some rhodo, with a little crawling. But we made it to the creek.

Through all this: The marsh, the rhodo, the boulder field, the trail, the scramble, I was doing my best to focus on the task at hand an not think about just how little time we had and how much farther we had to go. I knew that if I started thinking about it I would get panicked. I had had to deal with all my phobias at this point (the fear or heights / falling on the boulder field, mild claustrophobia in the thick cage of rhodo) . Being wrapped up in the rhodo at times really gave me the feeling of being trapped. I know these things are pretty irrational but nonetheless unpleasant. I just needed to get through each part a step at a time, it was the only way.

As we reached the bottom of the hill we quickly realized we were still above the confluence! Upstream was a manky looking drop but downstream looked to be mostly class III-IV. Seth looked ahead some and described the first two drops. Nothing hard, just a few ledges. The gradient was clearly starting to taper off so at least we knew we didn't have far to go. We put on with Seth leading and me and the Sean following. We ran the first few drops with no problems and then saw that there was a sizable tree branch over the next drop. We quickly scrambled for eddies. This basically meant broaching up on rocks. Seth found an eddy on river left, I pushed myself up on a rock on the right, and Sean pinned himself on something slightly upstream. The flow was pretty low here and the gradient mild so nothing felt terribly dangerous.

I tried to get out of my boat or else get farther onto the shore but in the process my boat slid back into the current backwards. I spun myself around and tried to go for the eddy across from where I'd been, just above the drop. But of course it was too shallow and clawing at the slick rocks wasn't doing much. Seth had already gotten out of his boat and scrambled down to help. But he was too late and I was sliding backwards into the woody drop. I decided I'd rather go through forwards so I turned into it and hoped for the best.

Luckily, as I'd already seen from my rock perch above, the branches were fairly thin and I was able to push them up with my hands. Thankfully nothing snagged and I made it through relatively unscathed. I quickly dropped into the next available eddy and waited for the guys to come down (it probably wasn't very impressive but I was kinda proud of the quick move). Once they saw I was okay they carried their boats around and put back in. After that we thought about trying to see if there was a trail. We'd seen a flat spot on the river right bank so I climbed up to investigate. It proved to be just a small clearing so we made the decision to continue on. I didn't see any real danger from there so we got back in our boats. Not too many more obstacles from here, just a log or two that were easily avoidable.We actually got to run a few cool little rapids ending in a low angle slide that finally brought us to the confluence with Otter Creek. We were most relieved at the sight of it.

But to my great dismay we found no one there.... Joe and Bobby hadn't arrived yet. For a brief moment I feared they come and gone already but I had faith that Joe would not do that. Sean decided to do some eddy turns just to get a tiny bit more paddling in and we spent a few minutes ferrying back and forth. At this point it was starting to get dark. It couldn't have been any earlier that about 5 pm (remember this is still January after all!!). We sat in an eddy for a bit chatting. I asked Sean what the trail was like (apparently he had had to hike out of Otter Creek at one point previously when a friend was injured). He assured us that the trail was flat and easy and that it followed the creek all the way to the takeout. This made me feel better as I knew we'd be hiking. We still had some vague hope that we could run a few rapids. But we knew that even if Joe and Bobby showed up right then and there, we'd only have a few more minutes of daylight. At this point I was pretty worn out and just wasn't in any state of mind to continue on to run class V anymore. As far as I was concerned, if we were going to hike out then I just assumed start hiking from there. No need in risking getting into any trouble beforehand.

I decided that it would be wise to figure out which side of the river the trail was on (Sean could not remember but did know that it changed sides at some point). So I scrambled up the river right bank while Sean took the left and Seth stayed in the water watching. Climbing into the rhodo I realized just how dark it was getting. Out in the clearing there was still some ambient light but in the trees it was becoming very dark. I scrambled up a ways when I heard the guys calling for me. Sean had found the trail on the other side. As I came back down I realized how disorienting the dark was. As I stepped down out of the rhodo a puddle on the ground gave the illusion of a greater drop and for a second I was very confused. As bizarre as it seemed it felt like the way I had just come had somehow changed. I stepped down carefully, realized I was on solid ground and made my way back to my boat.

Sean had found that the trail continued up Moore Run a short way so he hiked up in hopes of getting a better view in case Joe and Bobby were anywhere nearby. We waited and waited with no sign. It was quite completely dark at this point and I was getting pretty annoyed. The thought of having to hike the whole way back to the takeout hadn't really occurred to me until this point. But now the reality was quickly sinking in. I did my best not to think about how incredibly long it would take to do the hike.

It was getting so late now that I was sincerely getting worried. With the amount of wood we'd seen in the short section we paddled, we realized that they must have encountered even more and it would slow them down greatly. Just the same I feared something terrible had happened. Although I was pretty angry I really just hoped that they were okay.

I also worried that we'd end up having to camp out in the woods. I was pretty thankful that i'd gone to REI a few nights before and purchased some emergency supplies including a two person space blanket! I also had some granola bars, basic medical supplies, waterproof matches, and flashlights.

At this point we decided to go ahead and at least haul our boats up to the trail, which thankfully was only a few feet up from the water. I pulled out my two lights (an LED headlamp and one of those battery free lights that you shake to charge). I had packed the shake light for venturing into the Blackwater Canyon on the previous weeks trips and had thrown in the head lamp out of mild paranoia (this isn't the first time I'd been out on the river in the dark!). Thank goodness i had them both. I knew Joe had a light but no one else did.

We waited anxiously for any sign of them. I got the idea to blow our whistles to see if we'd get a response. Sean tried his first but it was rather wimpy (sorry Sean). I tried mine next and although it was a vast improvement I was pretty sure it would be lost in the noise of the whitewater from both creeks. We waited and listened. Seth thought he heard a response but at this point our ears were playing tricks on us.

We charged up the shake light and started shining it upstream in hopes that they could maybe see it. I even got the camera out and started just taking random photos so that the flash would go off. I figured if they were lost they might be able to use is as a guide or at the very least know that we were there waiting.

Random photo of the dark creek

After a tense wait, we breathed a huge sigh of relief as we began to see flashes of light in the distance. Thankfully Joe had also brought another shake light with him. After a few minutes the light became very distinct and we knew that at least our eyes were not playing tricks on us (I'd been wanting to see that light so bad I honestly think I could easily have imagined it!) . Soon after Joe paddled down. They had started hiking at some point but Joe found it easier to scrape his way down the side of the creek than to crawl through the rhodo. Apparently they had indeed heard the whistle and had responded but could not see the flashes of light through the thickness.

It was so dark in the thick woods that they'd probably started hiking at about the time we arrived at the confluence. Had they had a little more daylight they might have been able to paddle the whole way out. Though Bobby had run most of the drops along the way Joe chose to walk many to save time. Nonetheless they'd run out of light. Another complication had occured right when they set off. Apparently there was a misunderstanding about if Seth was going to do the run with them. At first he indicated that he would but ultimately decided against it. Joe and Bobby set off thinking he was following and ended up waiting for a good 15 minutes before they decided he must have changed his mind. That time could possibly have made the difference of paddling out vs. hiking. A minor misscommunication that cost a good bit of time, the fault only of us all being in a rush.

Finally they made it down and we regrouped on the trail. We didn't have time to chat but at least everyone was safe. We let them rest briefly and started organizing how we would hike. The trail here was flat but narrow so we would have to walk single file. Joe would lead, followed by Seth who had no light, then me with the head lamp, Bobby and Sean with my shake light (which turned out to be the brightest of the three). It was tough going as if we got separated by even a few feet Seth and Bobby couldn't see anything. Even with the lights we could barely see a few feet in front of us and had more or less no peripheral vision. The headlamp was the weakest of the three but I put Sean in charge of the shake light. It required fairly frequent charging and I didn't want to use up any more energy. So I trudged on with my dim little headlamp.

At first the trail was pretty good, narrow but nice and flat and straight. Sean remembered it being really good most of the way to the takeout. But Bobby pointed out that we were actualy a fair but further up then the point from where Sean had hiked before. Sure enough the trail started getting bad. For starters it was very muddy in places, there were tons of trees to crawl over/under. In spots we'd get to a blockage and not be able to figure out how to get around it because it was so dark. Joe would at times get too far ahead of us and it would become tough to see where to go. He'd stop and shout back instructions here and there.

I had been dragging my boat with my tow tether tied around my waist. But at certain points the trail narrowed such that the boats would start to slip off the edge towards the creek and and one point I shrieked as the boat nearly pulled me down with it. I realized this was a bad idea. I was able pull it back up but after that untied it whenever the trail wasn't totally flat. At many points an instruction was shouted back to keep the boats on a short leash as the trail was getting narrow again.

Sean and I both had thought that we might need to ditch the boats. But the thought of having to hike back in there to get them was not appealing either. Plus we knew the trail crossed the creek and we knew we wouldn't be able to get across it without them.

We trudged on, taking occasional breaks. After all we'd been through already this was certainly the worst. I was tired and angry. I had been holding it all together pretty well but finally started to feel like I would loose my mind. At one point I took a step and narrowly avoided falling into a rather deep pit. Another slip in the mud and I couldn't take it anymore... "the Dream" was becoming a nightmare to me. I was getting really upset. "I'm sorry Maggie, I'm very sorry", Bobby said. His sentiment came across as really sincere. I really did believe he was sorry. Although I was still plenty mad it did make me feel better and I almost felt bad for him too. I know he didn't intend for this to happen.

At this point I asked if he could at least carry my paddle. I was having a hard time holding it, my boat and the headlamp. With my helmet on I couldn't actually put the headlamp on my head because the lid prevented it from pointing at the ground and illuminating the trees wasn't going to do me any good. I wasn't about to take my helmet off either for fear of falling and really hurting myself. So I had to aim it with my hand the whole way. Any time I'd have to let it go to steady myself everything in front of me went completely black, it was extremely unnerving. So Bobby took my paddle and we continued on.

At one point we got to a section of trail where Joe said there was no way to drag the boats, we'd have to carry. The trail was steep, sloping, and very muddy. There was no way I was going to be able to keep my footing and lift my boat up at the same time. Joe told me to stay put while he carried his own boat across. He came back saying it was like that for a good 100 yards, picked up my boat and continued on while I made my way still rather precariously.

This was probably the most horrifying part of the whole hike. Just that feeling like you were going to fall into some dark unknown chasm with every step. The fact that the creek was right there made it even worse. We were passing tons of great whitewater below. The noise of the water drowned out a lot of sound and it was very difficult to communicate. It was like walking in a haze. After we got past this part I still kept having flashbacks to it and kept fearing we'd come across more of the same. I kept praying that we'd get to the crossing soon as Sean had assured us that the trail got significantly better on the other side of the creek.

All this time I was keeping up with Joe and Seth while Bobby and Sean would quite frequently lag behind. We would stop and wait for them here and there while we rested. At one point they were so far behind we couldn't see their light anymore. I told Joe I thought we should wait for them. "Why?" he asked. "Well for Sean at least!", I replied! "Oh wait, Bobby has my paddle too". So we waited. :)

I had no idea where the crossing would be but in my mind decided that it would be at the half way point of our hike. I guess it just helped to set a goal and to have something to look forward to. I also rationed out my water such that I would have at least enough to last till we crossed. I really hoped that the second "half" would take less time since it was supposed to be easier.

After some time we finally made it down to the creek bed. We arrived at a sandy beach. This had to be the crossing. After looking around and shining the lights in all directions we discovered a sizeable cairn (rock pile used to mark the trail). This was definitely the crossing. I'd been wondering how on earth we'd get across a class V creek in the middle of the night. I kind of assumed that a crossing would probably be at a relatively flat part in the creek. But there had been the fear that it could require ferrying across some rapid. Thankfully though we quickly saw that it was indeed quite flat. But we could hear the sound of whitewater below and were mildly concerened about getting flushed into some unknown drop.

Cairn at the crossing

I had taken my camera out to take some photos of the cairn. Joe asked if I could use it to take photos of the creek downstream so that maybe the flash would illuminate it enough such that we could tell what was downstream... just in case. Unfortunately though there was so much fog in the air that even using the soft flash all I got was a white mist in the photo. With some observation we realized that there was plenty of space and only flat water with a mild amount of current to negotiate and stopped worrying about it.

Joe would ferry across first with his light, get out and shine it back at us and help grab out boats in case we needed help getting into the eddy on the other side. He got in and easily paddled upstream some then ferried across a mild bit of flow. We aimed our lights for him. The creek was narrow enough that we could easily provide enough light. Seth went next and I followed, holding my headlamp between my teeth. Bobby and Sean came last and we were all safely across.

As Sean had promised the trail improved vastly from here. It was mostly flat and even widened in some places. It followed even closer to the creek and in places we caught glimpses of rapids. But at this point I was really tired and was having a pretty hard time keeping up with Joe and Seth anymore. They would stop and wait for us every once once a while. After a bit I was getting so tired and slugish that Bobby offered to drag my boat for a while. At first I refused because I knew this would be even slower going.

Eventually I was getting rather disoriented since Joe and Seth were too far ahead and I was essentially leading the three of us. The head lamp only provided about 4 foot wide halo of dim light and I kept getting confused as to where the trail went and actually felt somewhat dizzy. At this point Bobby did take over dragging my boat for a bit. Eventually we caught back up to Joe and Seth and I walked up and collapsed on his boat. They seemed worried but I assured them that I could keep walking just couldn't drag my boat anymore. Seth let me finish off the last of his water. That was it, we were totally out.

With the dry suit on I was getting really hot. It was really warm out for mid January in Canaan Valley. Amazingly warm in fact being in the low to mid 50's!! I started taking off a bit of gear. The elbow pads and mitts got stashed in my boat and I would take my helmet off for short periods where the trail was flat enough. I'd been keeping it all on till this point despite the heat in order to protect my drysuit and my hands as I grabbed onto unknown rocks and shrubbery. Really I was much happier being hot than cold anyway.

Bobby eventually had to carry both our boats over an uneven section and after that I had gained back enough energy to continue dragging mine. Joe and Seth were getting really cold as they were wearing shorts. We all stopped for a bit but they said they couldn't sit anymore. We told them to just go ahead and that we would be alright. They took off and we did not see them again on the trail.

With time I began to see vague signs of civilization. There were places where trees that had fallen across the trail had been sawed off. This gave me hope that we were getting close. But the trail dragged on and on and it seemed as it would never end. Sean had told us that another creek, Coal Run would enter shortly before the takeout and that then we would know we were close. They kept thinking that we should have gotten to it already. After some time the headlamp was just not providing enough light and I asked Sean to take over leading. After a bit I caught up to them and was overjoyed to see that they had reached Coal. Now we really were close!

Bobby helped float my boat across while we all waded through knee deep, ice cold water (Which actually felt nice after all the much we'd trudged through). We walked for a short while more and I saw a light from a house across the creek! Finally we were really getting somewhere! Soon after the trail became bad again, Sean had warned of this so I wasn't surprised. It became very rocky and required the boats to be carried. Bobby would come back to carry mine. So I sat and watched as the two of them disappeared in the distance. I watched as the shake light bobbed up and down and would start moving frantically when he had to charge it. Every once in a while I could also see a car drive by on the road above. It was the most amazingly welcoming sight!!

It was clearly taking the guys a while to make it to the end of the rocky section and after a while I lost sight of their light. It was rather creepy sitting there and my ears were starting to ring from all the white noise. It occurred to me that it was silly for me to just sit there and wait, I knew Bobby would come back for the boat and it would be fine there waiting for him. I was also worried that if the light died I'd be stuck out there in the dark by myself. I tried turning it off briefly but that freaked me out too much. And on top of it all I was actually starting to get cold finally.

The whole time I sat there I kept holding onto the tow tether. Even though the spot the boat was laying on was completely flat I felt compelled to keep holding it. I guess I'd just been doing it for so long that I couldn't stop! We'd gotten it this far and i just felt bad leaving it now! It was time to go though so I ditched the boat and started hiking up the trail. Without a boat it took me no time at all. After a bit I passed where Sean had left his boat. I finally found them within sight of the footbridge. I apologized and said I could carry the paddles back but was not going to be able to get my boat. They agreed that they would be able to get all three boats up and I promised to send Joe or Seth back to help. Actually the whole last bit of the hike I kept hoping that they would get back, get in warm clothes and start hiking back up the trail to help us. I found it odd that there was no sign of them yet, I was sure they were well ahead of us.

Nevertheless I grabbed all three of our paddles and headed across the footbridge and up the trail. It was really dark here and the trail was wide making it kinda hard to see where i was supposed to be going. I was really surprised not to see any light up the hill. I had remembered it being a fairly short walk and was sure that Joe would have turned his head lights on. As I made it up to the parking lot I realized why there was no light. The truck was the only vehicle there, Joe's Jetta was gone! For a moment I thought maybe they'd decided to go get Bobby's car while they waited. But this just seemed stupid. As I approached the truck I hoped that they'd at least left us a note...

Sure enough they had!! On the windshield there was a note written in red marker:


A rescue squad showed up, someone (Rachel, Mark, Steve??)
told them we are missing. Going to Hendricks to make cell phone call to
Mark, Rachel, Steve. Back in 10-15 minutes


I couldn't believe it. I knew we were late but it seemed ridiculous that they'd have already called the rescue squad. It didn't even occur to me to check the time. I started up the truck and turned on the lights so I could see better and so Sean and Bobby would have some light to walk towards. I was pretty cold now so I quickly worked on changing. At this point my trusty head lamp actually died! I was so glad I had started hiking again when I did. It had made it to the bitter end! Suddenly it dawned on me that I was terribly dehydrated so I started pulling water bottles out of the truck.

Barely 5 or 10 minutes after I arrived I saw headlights coming down the hill and Joe pulled up beside me. He said they'd called Rachel and told her we were all okay and that she'd work on calling Mark and anyone else. I marveled about the fact that they'd already called the rescue squad and finally it occurred to me to ask what time it was. I peered into Joe's car and starred in complete shock at the display: 12:35 AM.

I had not noticed the time that Joe had written in the corner of his note: 12:15. Apparently they'd arrived at the cars at around 11:15 (the two of them made incredible time, arriving over an hour before I did) . As they changed the rescue squad showed up. They told them we were all okay and that we had lights and were just going more slowly. The rescuers then called Rachel to tell her the good news. But they only told her they'd found Joe and Seth and then eventually that there were 4 men. But no mention of me! So when she talked to Mark initially she sent him into an even greater panic than he's already been in. Eventually word got sorted out but it was after 1 am before he knew I was truly okay.

Apparently everyone was extremely worried about us. Mark thought we were headed to the North Fork and assumed it should be fairly short since I was definitely only planning on doing one lap on it. So he assumed that I would most certainly be done by dark. But plans changed and no one was informed. Rachel had last heard that we were heading towards Red Run and thus had sent the rescue squad there. No one knew where we'd actually gone. A great deal of confusion ensued. Lots of worried phone calls between Mark and Matt and Rachel, Steve, the Chapelles etc.

Steve and Alden (after completing there own North Fork adventure) had left several increasingly concerned messages on Joe's phone. They made it home before 8 pm and got a call from Rachel asking if they'd heard from him. If they weren't already worried, that certainly did it. They decided to call search and rescue and also make the drive back to Canaan to assist in any way they could. Alden, Rachel, the Chapelles, Hollie, and Steve all made the trek out to the Pilot in Hagerstown off of I-70. They were prepared with dry clothes, plenty of liquid, some candy bars, and a spot light. They were 5 minutes from hitting the road again before Rachel got a call from S & R saying that everyone was OK. Certainly a tense night for everyone involved!

Once Joe explained the whole S&R situation to me I asked that they head back down the hill and help Sean and Bobby with the boats. It was incredible how little sense of time we all had out there. Logically it made sense that that long hike would have taken many hours. But someone we'd all convinced ourselves that it couldn't have been any later than about 9:30. We were extremely shocked to find out just how late it truly was! We'd spent over ten hours out in the wilderness!!

No wonder everyone had been so insanely worried about us! I later learned that Matt had also been quite concerned. He'd left me a message on my phone around 10 pm and called Mark for any news considering he was expecting me back at his house by early evening. Unlike everyone else he'd came to a reasonable deduction about what had most likely happened to us and had vowed to head out there at the crack of dawn to help search. It felt good to know that everyone was so concerned but I felt terribly for making them all worry for so long!

We got changed, got all our gear tied up and decided to head back up the mountain to pick up Bobby's car. We were very hopeful that in all this time someone would have cleared out the log. I really didn't want to have to drive the truck over it! Thankfully someone had indeed cut it out and we were able to continue on without further delay. The drive up to the top was on a steep windy mountain road so 20+ miles round trip took a long time. We switched boats back to Bobby's car and made out way down. At the top I was able to get cell signal and listened to the messages from Mark and Matt. On the way down Mark finally was able to call me but I had to get Sean to say that I would call him back because I was too busy driving. As it was I was pretty tired and gripping the wheel hard on this slightly sketchy road.

It was almost 3 am when we pulled into the 24 hour Sheetz in Parsons and I could finally call him back (at this point he'd known I was okay for some time). After a quick meal of Sheetz subs (that Bobby did pay for, as promised) we parted ways. The thermometer read 54 degrees!

Sean rode with me as far as Thomas at which point I continued on up 219 through Deep Creek. I arrived at Matt's house shortly before 5 am and to no surprise found him awake. I was still pretty wired at this point despite having just spent between 10 and 11 hours wandering around in the woods. So I sat up a little longer and gave him the nutshell version of the night's events and eventually crawled up to bed as the first glimpse of daylight began to appear.

I slept for a few hours, sadly saw him off as he went to paddle (there was no way I could get back in a boat that day), slept for a few more hours and headed home. Of all the hell we'd gone through at this point I was most pissed off at having missed two perfectly good days of awesome water. It sounded like the North Fork was too high for a first time run but I would have loved to have actually gotten to do Otter Creek or the high water trip on the Cheat.

Although this trip did not exactly turn out great, at least no one was hurt and we did all eventually make it out. No one had to sleep in the woods. Had we walked around the marsh in the first place we probably would have had a good chance of making it to the Otter Creek confluence and most likely would have been able to paddle all or at least most of the way out. I still think it would have been wise to just abort the trip and hike back up once we got past the boulder field. I know it would have been a lot of wasted time but at least the hike out would have been a lot easier. I honestly never really seriously considered the option at the time though. With the cloud cover it was rather difficult to tell what time it actually was and since none of us had a watch I think that we just kept hoping it was as early as possible.

When Bobby had scouted it before he had apparently only hiked part way down the creek. He went as far as the class V drops continued and when the creek started to taper off he assumed the rest was class IV to the confluence. But as he and Joe discovered it turned out that it once again picked up gradient and continued with more class V drops. So whereas he was expecting it to be half V and half IV, it was actually more like 80% V and 20% III/IV. This info would have been helpful in deciding whether or not to try to run it.

Although the ordeal was truly horrible at moments I do acknowledge that it was a good learning experience. We knew that it was going to be a warm night (though I would have never guessed just how warm!) so we weren't ever in too much danger of the cold. Had it been significantly colder we would never had set out to attempt this. Being able to make it through and complete the long trek did make me feel good about my own endurance. I certainly had some pretty weak points throughout the night. In part from anger and frustration, in part from fear and exhaustion. But I was ultimately able to get past it and continue on. I get the feeling that after this the Upper Blackwater hike out will not feel nearly as bad! Also now if / when anything like this happens again I will hopefully will be better prepared, both with gear and mentally as well.

I will say though that without the help of each of them helping carry my boat at some point I probably wouldn't have made it very far. Thanks so much guys!

A few key points:

1) When doing an exploratory run start damn early!
2) Always have plenty of water and some food.
4) Always carry a flashlight (or three)!
5) Always tell someone where you are going, and update as plans change.

When I got home I started seriously planning out my emergency kit. I got some fire sticks, a better knife, and a water purification bottle. I figure I can use the bottle on its own and then just keep the filter in my drybag for emergencies. I hope to never end up in this situation again but am well aware that these things happen even if the The Dogg is not involved.

I never thought it would be possible for me to actually make it through a hike like this. Wasn't even sure just how long it was. Joe put together a map of our trip using Google Earth:


1) The trail head where we parked at the top

2) The marsh we paddled through (the map shows the path going around but we actually went on through)

3) The point where we separated

4) The confluence

5) The Otter Creek takeout


.65 miles from where we parked to where we put in on the marsh.The hike to where we separated (had we not put in on the marsh) would have been exactly 1.5 miles. The hike from where we separated to the confluence was about 1.2 miles (Moore Run was a total of about 1.5 miles). Then about 6.5 miles of hiking from the confluence to the Otter Creek takeout.That makes for a total of 9.2 miles of run / hike time, in just over ten hours.

Sean, Seth and I paddled about a half mile of this. Joe and Bobby a bit more. But at least they did get to complete their exploratory trip down Moore Run. Joe's description:

"Moore Run is similar in character to Elzey Run with more complex routes and some big sequences similar to those found on Real Manns Creek. Photos and video to come soon! (next trip that is). The hardest section was amazingly almost completely free of wood."

And so concluded yet another Bobby Miller epic...

See post below for some videos of the Moore Run headwaters

Click here for a more complete Moore Run / Otter Creek Photo Gallery

P.S. Thanks to Joe for helping me fill in some blanks and edit this trip report. :)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, I'm not saying this is all related to the SI cover jinx, but, then, you were paddling with D-Wade . . . (In a related story, I was wearing my Drew Brees jersey this past weekend . . . )

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too phunny! We ran More in college, circa 2000.

2:21 PM  

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