My wife decided to take the kids on a two day excursion to Slippery Rock campground to one of her friends “cottages” . At the last minute she decided she had better take the dog in case she wanted to stay an extra day. This freed me of any immediate responsibility, so I decided to do an over night trip and then a day hike the following day. I settled on the Otter Creek Wilderness because I had not yet been there and by looking at the satellite shot it looked pretty wild and isolated.
I left early afternoon on Sunday July the 31st. I decided to spend the night at Black Water Falls State Park campground to see about getting sunset and sunrise shots from Pendleton Point which is a beautiful vista just down the road. I arrived at the park at 5:30pm and figured I’d get my camping spot and then shoot over to the other side of the canyon to take some pictures of Shays Run. Typically when I shoot waterfalls, I put a neutral density filter on the lens to reduce the amount of light entering which allows for longer exposures, so the water looks more appealing and gives a sense of motion . In this case, it was late in the day and so dark within the draw, that I not only didn’t need a ND filter but also had to remove my polarizer filter (which usually lives on my wide angle lens) to reduce the exposure time.
Elakala Falls on Shays Run is made up of three separate falls and right next to the lodge. It’s a very popular spot but on this evening I was the only one there and nothing could be heard but the roar of the falls.
- Elakala Fall #1 on Shays Run
- Elakala Falls #2
I spent an hour or so grabbing some comps before deciding to head off to Pendleton Point to scout a good location for sunset/sunrise. On the way over, I noticed a small fawn hanging out in the dark pine forest with beams of light shooting through the canopy. I was hoping she would walk into a shaft but she did not cooperate and stayed behind the trees until she fled.
- Fawn playing hide-n-seek
After getting back to the other side of the canyon and making my way to Pendleton Point, the sky had not cooperated. Not a cloud was to be seen which made for a very boring shot so I decided to head back to my campsite and cook up some jalapeno wursts for dinner and wait for the star lights to come on at night (while downing a few hop/barley flavored beverages of course). At around 10:00 when the sky really started to get black, I grabbed my gear and walked down to a meadow I spied earlier to take some shots of the Milkyway at the best time of the year.
- The summer night sky at Black Water Falls SP W Va.
Upon waking in the morning, after spending a restless night while a mouse noisily rummaged all around my tent, I was once again disappointing with a cloudless sky. I didn’t even bother driving to Pendleton to see of any photo ops and packed up my stuff and was on the road to the trailhead by 6:45. In hind site, fog low within the valley could have made for an interesting shot but I’ll never know. Chalk it up to experience.
I planned to do a 11.7 mile hike within the Otter Creek Wilderness on a predetermined route called the Turkey Run Loop. For the most part, I get all my hiking maps and trail notes from Midatlantichikes.com. It is truly a great site with all the info you need.
- Turkey Run Loop Trail Map
After a slight delay from making a wrong turn on the drive over, I arrived at the trailhead at 8am. After getting my stuff in order, I was on the trail by 8:30. The Otter Creek Wilderness is very remote and even the trails don’t look like they see much traffic. For the most part, most of the trails are converted old logging railroads but from the info read on some posted signs this area has not been logged since the early 60’s and is not due again until 2030. That is not to say that the trails are not easy to follow but I saw very few footprints compared to what I’m used to in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.
When leaving Big Springs Gap Trailhead toward Otter Creek, one passes through a very lush, healthy forest. This is typical of the whole trail.
- Big Springs Gap Trail
As soon as you reach Otter Creek, you have to cross to get to the trail on the other side. At the peak of summer this is an easy task and I almost contemplated just rock hoping to the other side without taking my boots off but this early in the hike I did not want to take the chance of slipping and then having to slosh through 11 more miles.
- First crossing
After crossing, the trail traveled upstream an additional 4 miles while crossing three different times. Along the way, I past many good campsites, two really nice swimming holes and plenty of beautiful cascades and falls. Upon completion of that section of the trail following Otter Creek, I ran across some nice falls before making my way onto Moore Run Trail.
- Falls at Moore Run Trail
Typical Otter Creek
At this point, it was a gradual ascent to the top of the mountain. Halfway up the trail I nearly stepped on a bee hive that appeared as if it had recently been exposed. I stopped and took a picture and got stung once for hanging around too long. On the positive, for the next 30 seconds my trail pace increased dramatically.
- Bee hive on the trail
When I got to the top on the mountain, the terrain flattened out for a while and the ground started getting wet. At most of the bad sections, logs had been laid down forming a bridge to span the bogs. At one location I noticed some deep prints off to the edge which appeared too wide to be a dogs but too circular to be human. They also formed very deep depressions. What ever made them was heavy.
According to the trail notes, the Turkey Run Trail is a old road that has been reclaimed by the forest. It also notes that there is a good chance of stinging nettle, so I attached the bottoms of my convertible pants for some protection. Sure enough, the stuff was everywhere. Fortunately, the trail was worn wide enough to keep most at bay. At this point I was nearing the end of my hike. Up ahead I noticed a deer spring forward and stopped my intermittent loud conversations with myself to sneak up for a shot (every so often I think and talk to myself out loud (very loud) so I don’t sneak up on a bear). As would be expected, the deer noticed me and was gone. A minute later I spot a bear cub walking down the path toward me.
- Bear cub about 1/2 mile from the Turkey Run Trailhead
I have no idea where Mom is. At this point the cub is still 150 feet away and I stopped moving and I am surrounded by thick weeds. It starts up the hill and I grab a picture. It then turns back down to the trail and I decide it’s time to let it know I’m here with a loud,” Hey, where you goin’ bear!”. It stops, looks around, finally notices me, I yell again, and it bolts uphill. For good measure, I just stayed in the same spot for 5-10 minutes making plenty of noise giving the cub and it’s unseen mother time to regroup and get away.
Continuing a cautious 1/2 mile back to the truck I finished the hike at 3:00. Hiking time was 6:30 for 11.7 miles. I relaxed with a drink for 20 minutes before making the 3:15 drive home.
- The trailhead reward