It’s been a week since I turned off the TV, struggled out of my favorite chair and went … outside.
No regrets, despite having to wear that back support belt my wife bought me for Christmas. It has a pouch for heat and cold packs. Wearing it makes it easier to get up now that I’ve returned to my more familiar sitting position watching “Star Trek” reruns and writing this dumb newsletter, which, by the way, you really should share. I mean, I’m out here embarrassing myself for your entertainment.
If you didn’t share it just now LIKE I ASKED YOU TO DO don’t worry, I’ll give you another chance at the bottom of this thing. Just know that newsletters don’t grow themselves. They need subscribers, otherwise they’re just a tree in the woods with no one around to hear to it fall.
Speaking of fallen trees, after I got out of my chair a week ago today, I found myself carefully picking my way through a jumble of them, trying to avoid the broken branches that jutted out from their trunks like spears. It was almost as if the high mountain I was hiking had erected military-style barricades to defend itself, throwing down trees and sharpening their spikes to keep invading hikers from discovering its secrets.
I was on Mount Porte Crayon with my wife, Trina, and our guides, the husband and wife team of Gary and Barb. If not for them, we never would have made it to the summit and would likely still be wandering around aimlessly a week later. Gary is good with a compass and a topographical map and Barb is quite the fearless trailblazer. My strategy — to keep from being misplaced — was simply to keep one of them in sight at all times.
My feeble skills as a woodsman notwithstanding, I had been trying to persuade a group of my friends to hike Mount Porte Crayon for more than a year, ever since I started working from home for the pandemic and got somewhat more serious about my research into Martinsburg native David Hunter Strother, the famous 19th century travel writer and illustrator whose work under his ‘Porte Crayon’ nom de plume introduced the country to the mountains of Central Appalachia well before the hillbilly stereotype took hold in the popular imagination.
Unfortunately, friends are like herding cats. We could never settle on a good time to go that worked for everyone, but then Gary appeared out of nowhere.
Gary, as it turns out, is a Porte Crayon devotee. We met online. He got in touch after running across a blog post I had written about Porte and before I knew it, we happily made plans for the hike that threatened to leave me impaled on a sharp stick.
Mount Porte Crayon was dedicated with Strother’s pen name in the 1940s. It’s in Randolph County adjacent to Dolly Sods, a more popular West Virginia hiking destination because it’s, well …more accessible. Mount PC, on the other hand, lives up to its billing as one of the most inaccessible and wildest places in the state, rising up 4,770 feet, making it the sixth highest point in West Virginia. The mountain nurtures a spectacular red spruce forest and is home to the endangered Cheat Mountain salamander and West Virginia northern flying squirrel, hence the military barricades, I suppose. All that was missing was barbed wire.
Like I say, that mountain has secrets.
The hike to the summit is roughly six miles, about twelve round trip. And take it from me — the voice of experience — wear sturdy waterproof boots.
I should know after hiking an ankle-twisting rocky trail and sinking in the wet quicksand of more than one cranberry bog. Wet feet equals painful blisters.
Just wish I had offered the same sage advice to my wife. Before we left, she asked whether I thought she should wear the sturdy boots she was bright enough to bring along instead of the lighter pair she was wearing. I said something like, “Well, it’s gonna be a long day and those boots look heavy to me.”
We’re still together, by the way.
Anyway, the trail eventually peters out and that’s where the bushwhacking begins. After wandering around in what thankfully turned out to be the general direction of the summit, trailblazer Barb came across pink ribbons tied to trees.
We didn’t have any better ideas and since they appeared to be heading in the right direction, we decided to follow them. They turned out to be breadcrumbs dropped, I assume, by thoughtful previous hikers and eventually Barb the trailblazer found our goal, Mount Porte Crayon’s summit marker.
The marker appears to have been placed there by the government in 1956. That’s the year stamped on it, anyway. And alongside it, there’s a glass jar that contains a small notebook or two in which hikers write messages and let others know they’ve been there.
After basking in the glory of finding the marker, we found an open spot beneath the towering spruce trees, stretched out on a bed of spongy moss that seems to cover everything on Mount PC and had a bite to eat.
I tucked into a PB&J and a banana and eventually pulled out the flask I had carried to the summit in my backpack. Using four Spiderman-themed paper cups left over from my daughter’s birthday, we inaugurated the Porte Crayon Applejack Society.
Smoooooooooth … (cough cough).
It was a long way back to Gary’s car. Six miles of rocky trails, wet cranberry bogs and painful blisters. Plus, my lower back started to protest.
But you know what?
It’s been a week and while I may still be having trouble getting out of my chair, I get a goofy grin on my face every time I think about that hike.
It was worth every step.