Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Sinks of Gandy

Ok, so this is more or less the opposite of a highpoint - the Sinks of Gandy is a cave. My friend Micha calls it "lowpointing". I think I might see if I can visit the lowest point in each state once I'm done with the highest.

Anyway, I like caves, and this one was near the Spruce Knob Lake Campground and is relatively straightforward so I thought I would visit it. Basically, the Gandy River got tired of going around a few hills, so the river bored itself a wide tunnel straight through. The cave is about a mile long, and both entrances are privately owned by different people. Technically trespassing to get there, but no one seemed to mind. The cave is surrounded by cow pastures, so if you go just be mindful that you're on private property and don't litter or mess with the animals.

The southern entrance to the Sinks of Gandy.

Just as we were getting to the cave entrance, a cow came out. I guess that makes him a Cave Cow. The cows were everywhere, but they weren't the real danger...

Cave Cow.................................Cave Cow Pies

The cave itself was a nice 50 degreesish, the water was about the same. Cold, but you get used to it quickly once you're waist deep. Most of the time I wasn't any deeper than up to my knees. There were plenty of dry dirt beds and rocks to climb over, making this overall a fun cave. The constant burbling of the water made us think that there were other people in there with us, but we had the place to ourselves.

The cave is also more or less a straight line without many side passages so it's pretty hard to get lost.

If you ever wondered what a cave looks like in the dark, here you go:

One of the best parts of a cave (I think) is finding wildlife inside. We didn't see any bats, but we did find a cave crayfish!

What we didn't find, though, was the north exit of the cave, so we had to backtrack a mile back to the southern entrance. It took us about an hour to get to the end, and about 45 minutes to get back.

We made our way back to the car and changed out of our wet, muddy cave clothes just before another truck pulled up and dropped off three locals who were going through the cave. I told them I couldn't find the exit, and they offered to take us through with them, but we were already changed and decided instead to go overland to the north exit and wait for them there.

The north entrance was also on private land, and we had to hop another fence and cross another pasture.

We ignored these signs.

The path down to the northern entrance. You can see the Gandy River, and the cave itself is behind the trees on the left.

Somewhere in this mess is the northern entrance. $20 if you can find it. Another $20 if you can also find Waldo.

This was as far as I got. Pretty, but not a way in.

Eventually the three locals showed up, exiting from about halfway up the hill from the "dry exit". There is also a "wet exit", but both are hard to find. The locals said this was the first time they'd found the dry exit, and they'd been coming here for years. I guess I don't feel so bad for not finding it. After some talking with them it seems I was only about 20 yards away from the dry exit. On our way out, we accidentally entered a side passage, realized it wasn't familiar and turned back. Had I kept on going, I would have found the northern dry exit. Oh well, next time.

Trail halfway up the hill leading to the north dry exit.

On our hike back to the car we discovered that cows had moved onto the trail. Seeing as how it was their cowpath to begin with, we gave them a wide berth.

Overall, a very wonderful cave and a great time. Next time I'm finding that other exit!

Spruce Knob, WV - Highpoint #5

Name: Spruce Knob, WV
Height: 4,863'
Date: 5/22/09, and again on 5/23/09

I can't seem to get from point A to point B without hitting points Q, L, and V along the way. And thus while driving from Backbone Mt. to my campsite near Spruce Knob, I took a detour to see Blackwater Falls.

And then I took a further detour to see the petting zoo at Blackwater falls. It was fowl.

Once again I got on the road. I came down Route 33 in WV, and it turns out that the road from 33 to Spruce Lake Campground took me right over Spruce Knob, a switchbacking road that meandered its way up the mountain. It was getting late, and my options were get to camp, or stop at the highpoint and have to set up camp and cook dinner in the dark.

The allure of the highpoint was too strong.

You can hike up from the base of the mountain, or you can drive up like I did. From the highpoint parking lot the highpoint tower is a very, very short walk away. There is at least one trail that seems to take you along the summit...I think I'll come back one day and hike it.

The Spruce Knob HP Tower in the evening.

View from the top. You can see some rainstorms in the distance.

It was chilly at the top (duh) and there were a surprising number of people here, even as late as it was.

Anyway, we drove down the mountain to camp. I should mention at this point it was completely dark, and the road down the other half of the mountain was not paved and quite full of potholes. I'm pretty sure that I drove through them all.

We stopped back at Spruce Knob the next day, during the day. There is a little trail just beneath the tower that actually offers better views than from the tower, so if you go, you should take the time and walk this little beauty.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Backbone Mountain, MD - Highpoint #4

Name: Backbone Mountain, MD
Height: 3,360'
Date: 5/22/09

Continuing my Memorial Day trip, I left PA's Mt. Davis behind and headed south, through a variety of little backwater WV towns.

Somehow they knew I was coming

Near the highpoint, we saw a sign for "the smallest church in the lower 48 states", which was right next to the smallest mailing office.

The smallest church from the outside...

...and from the inside.

This is actually as exciting as you think it is.

And some people think the Post Office doesn't have a sense of humor...
(I almost captioned this one "Your tax dollars at work.")

Eventually I stopped screwing around at the worlds smallest tourist trap and actually went to the highpoint.

The more adventurous way to access Backbone Mountain is to hike up to it from West Virgina. There is a tiny parking area right off Route 219 near a sign indicating the trail up. The cheating way is how the locals do it - drive through a residential area on the Maryland side.

I did it the fun way, walking up a path very well marked with arrows on trees and small rock cairns (which I added rocks to on my way up). It was a very pleasant but steeper-than-it-looks wooded walk.
Once near the summit the path became very rocky, and someone had planted an obelisk up there which I initially mistook for the highpoint marker, and thus took some pictures at.

Gathering my bearings, my hiking partner spotted the next marker to the actual highpoint, and within moments we were at the actual highpoint for Backbone Mountain!

The mailbox you can see in the picture held a guestbook, which I signed and added a note that this was #4 for me, and it also had certificates for getting there! Since it was a very solid bit of exercise for my out-of-shape self to get there, getting a prize at the top was just awesome.

(If you're wondering where the slinky picture is, he was quite satisfied with his picture at the obelisk.)

At the highpoint we ran into three bikers - locals - who showed up with beers in hand. They had ridden up the cheaters path, and apparently only had about a 5 minute walk to get to the summit. But they seemed respectful of the place, so I guess it's OK since they're locals.

Due to the trees there wasn't much of a view.

So...which way to the High Point?

The hike back down was easier, of course, and we passed a grandmother-grandson highpointing pair on their way up. At the bottom we found another pair of hikers just getting started. A busy day for Backbone Mountain.

Back in the car it was off to our campsite near West Virginia's highpoint, Spruce Knob. Or so I thought...

Mt. Davis, PA - Highpoint #3

Name: Mt. Davis, PA
Height: 3,213'
Date: 5/23/09

This was the first highpoint on my highpointing trip over Memorial Day weekend 2009. The plan was to hit PA, MD, and WV over the whole weekend, but I ended up doing them all in the same day...I guess I just couldn't help myself.

Anyway, it was a qu
ick 4 hour drive out to the Mount Davis Picnic Area, which was small but well maintained. There is a paved road you can walk to get to the highpoint tower, but I opted to take the High Point Trail and walk a bit through the woods since it was a beautiful sunny day.

30 minutes into what should have been a 15 minute hike, I realized I was lost. (Yes, I got lost in the Mount Davis Picnic Area. I may be further from taking on Denali than I thought.) So I backtracked, and upon closer inspection discovered that the trail sign was wrong, and some kind soul had cleaned off some sign dirt to point in the correct direction.

Going in the right direction I was at the highpoint in no time. The actual hig
hpoint is atop a boulder, which of course I climbed up, and so did the slinky.

There is an observation tower at the highpoint which offered some great views, and also a little map built into the top (Slinky is sitting on Mt. Davis).

The Mt. Davis tower. You can see the gold USGS disk marking
the actual highpoint in the foreground.

You just can't take me anywhere.

Views from the top (looking North, East, South, and West):

There was a metal (bronze maybe?) map of the local area at the top of the tower, along with some fun facts (highpoint is fun and educational!).

View from the top looking down on the highpoint marker.

After this, it was off to Backbone Mountain, WV...