When the first group home opened in 1999, a tradition was started that has prevailed to this day. At the end of each summer, prior to school starting and our boys being subjected to the uphill battle of lugging books and binders through the halls of education, we strap backpacks on their backs and seek a trail in the Monongahela National Forest for peace, meditation and stress management practice.
Previous years have taken us to the Dolly Sods Wilderness area, Otter Creek Wilderness area, Greenbrier Trail, the Allegheny Trail and various other remote trails throughout the forest. This year we expanded our repertoire and tackled the Cranberry Glades Wilderness.
As is customary, we mapped out about 25 miles of terrain that would be covered for the five-day trip.
The Cranberry presented numerous challenges for both staff and residents. Aside from the fact that the Cranberry is one of the most remote wildernesses on the East Coast, we would be trekking through dense forest on rarely used trails with novice backpackers and charting unknown territory, at least for us. Additionally this would be a trip with two full group homes and only three staff.
Day one, setting up our master station, was camp at Summit lake. Chelsey brought a small racing canoe and all the kids got to paddle around the lake. Surprisingly there was only one capsize, even though Damon nearly sank the back half when he was sitting in it. He needs to lose some weight!
We also stretched our legs on a 5.5 mile day hike to Lick Branch and back. After gaining our bearings and some practice pitching tents and packing backpacks, it was into the wild.
We started our march at the Forks of the Cranberry trail head, a 7.5 mile hike along a beautiful rocky ridge overlooking the Williams River valley to the west and then plunging nearly 1,000 feet down the east slope in a short quarter mile span to the junction of the North Fork and South Fork of the Cranberry River.
Everyone was glad to see that rushing water and eager for a dip. Backpacks hit the ground, shoes flew off and we hit the water. Screams filled the air and within two seconds, we were out. That water was cold! It had just left the earth at a chilling 57 degrees near the head waters — which is where we were. (Pool water is usually around 84 degrees in the summer.)
Oh well! None of us had bathed in two days and after that hike we were filthy, stinky people. So back in for a brisk and speedy wash with our camp soap. A couple of the boys actually “warmed up” to it and floated around in the rapids for almost an hour.
Meals were cooked. Jokes were played. Stunts were performed. Then it was dark. Having seen several piles of black bear scat along the way, sleeping was a bit tenuous.
Next day, we’d hike another 5.5 miles back up the South Fork to our shuttle location. The original plan to hike out on an 8.2 mile, more northerly route, was scratched. We’d pushed our luck enough and played it safe.
Four hours later we were being shuttled to our next camp site on the east side of the wilderness, not far from Richwood.
Joe and Damon, sitting around the camp fire, were bragging about their luck with the trip and the great weather. An hour later all the tents were being flooded by a torrential downpour that lasted about 40 minutes. The next morning, the drive home was in a slightly saturated state of damp, hungry and stinky bliss.
You should join us next time!