West Virginia Photo Trip Part 5: North Fork Mountain
The North Fork Mountain Trail is a rugged 24 mile long path that leads from Judy Gap south of Seneca Rocks to the northern terminus of the mountain, Backpacker Magazine named this hike ” one of the most scenic hikes in the east “. Unfortunately, I was not able to explore the entire length of the trail on this particular trip. Starting at the northern most trail head for Chimney Rock, I began the grueling 3 mile hike towards the summit of Chimney Rock and the cliffs that make this mountain famous. Yeah I know what your saying! A grueling 3 mile hike, what a wimp! Well maybe, but I started the hike much later than I would have liked at 6:30pm and the magic hour was set to begin at 7:00. I took with only the bare essentials to minimize the weight of the pack and hit the trail running. This trail ascends 2,800 feet before reaching the cliffs and is for the most part straight up all the way with a few relatively short lived flat sections. About two thirds of the way up the trail, I heard a loud noise about 30 yards off the trail only to see two black bear cubs thumping through the woods. I put my fear aside of running into the mom and kept trudging upwards.
I managed to summit the cliffs at 7:15 which allowed me more than enough time to survey the area and begin to find the best spot for sunset. I carefully made my way out to the edge of the cliffs on a small outcropping which provided some great views of the mountain ridge and distant landforms. Shooting all the way past sunset to the very edge of light, I packed up my gear feeling that I had made some really nice images.
I threw on my headlamp and stumbled into the pitch black woods only to hear a loud trashing followed by a series of grunts just about 20 yards of the trail. Primal fear hit me in the belly and I froze in my tracks. Was this the mother bear I that was lurking in the area on the way up. Oh #*%#, I am in some trouble now if I have come in between the cubs and the mom. I raised my arms and began to make some loud bellowing grunts in hopes of alerting the bear to my presence and hopefully scaring her off into the woods. I heard another rumble in the same place as before and it continued. I could feel the fear creeping up on me like the dread of a child who awakens in the middle of the night from a bad dream. I noticed the thrashing of the leaves and the brush began to diminish off into the woods away from me. I began to haul ass down the trail while singing and talking out loud for the next mile or so in hopes that if she was still in the vicinity that this would alert her and scare her off. The shadows cast from my headlamp took on the form of great creatures all the way down the trail keeping me on my toes all the way back to my car.