Gail by the lake
Lake Sherwood loop trail. 10.9 miles.
This is a terrific hike, in a remote and beautiful part of the Monongahela National Forest. The walk begins near the southern end of Lake Sherwood, which on this cool, clear day was as blue as a lake gets. The trail parallels the shore for a quarter mile or so and then quickly deflates the hope that it is a natural water body when you cross the wide and sun-warmed earthen dam, which provides great views across the water. The trail then makes its way up the mountainside to the Allegheny Mountain Trail, which straddles the Virginia/West Virginia border and follows the undulation pattern of so many Virginia ridgelines. There are winter views into both states, with the Virginia one defined by an ability to keep your eye on Lake Moomaw – from several different perspectives – for more than an hour.
Our pace was so much slower than the day before that we began to wonder, soon before we found it, if we'd missed the end of the Allegheny Trail. With a coldish breeze from the west, we made our way back up the mountain a short distance to a point where we could perch ourselves on the east side and in full sunshine for lunch. We ate without gloves and with a great view onto Moomaw.
The return part of the loop, along the Meadow Creek Trail, provides a completely different milieu than the windy, open ridgeline of the mountain. Rhododendron and mountain laurel crowd the trail even in winter as the pathway snakes along the creek, making 10 rock-hop crossings on its gentle descent to the northern end of the lake. Along this section, The Day Hiker, with little else to command her attention on the ground, became fascinated with the great number of plastic blue-diamond trail blazes that had been detached from trees and laid in the trail. Some appeared to have teeth marks, leading her to wonder if an animal had pulled them out. Some showed no marks, as if the two nails had simply been pried out. Simple vandalism seemed most likely to me, though why would most have been placed so carefully at the base of the tree from which they'd been removed? Eco-vandalism? we wondered.
The last two-plus miles of this walk are along the eastern edge of the lake – yet another new environment. The Day Hiker paused to listen to the sound of water lapping over a rock, and asserted that that noise, with its links to her childhood experiences at a lake in Michigan, was perhaps her favorite in the world. Which made me wonder why, with my own set of childhood adventures in living on a tiny finger of the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, the sound doesn't have any particular magic for me. I told Gail it might rank in the 80s for me, but maybe that's a bit exaggerated. Let's see: The sound of a baseball coming off the bat in your hands is a good one; or the sound of the same ball stopping with a slap against the glove on your hand. The opening double-organ power of Procol Harum's "Repent Walpurgis"... oh wait, maybe it's only fair to stay with natural, outside sounds. Well, that moves the water-lap up quite a bit – up there near (but not all the way to) that faint, is-it-really-there ring in the air when a good strong snowfall is taking hold.
Our hikes are almost always augmented by a map and narrative information about the route and the area. For these two, as with many others in the past, the presence of the terrific work of Leonard Adkins provided us with rich and deep contexts for the day. Leonard's precision with the turn-by-turn details of the walks is keenly valuable in areas such as these where there are multiple trails and sometimes minimal signs. His observations on the natural world and of the history of the area combine with that practical information to provide an invaluably wise and trusty companion-in-absentia in the woods.