Tales from the Trail: Otter Creek Wilderness


In mid-July some friends and I decided to take a weekend off from the Morgantown heat and go camping in the Otter Creek Wilderness area—located in the northern part of the Monongahela Nation Forest, the area contains roughly 50 miles of trails and is centered around the Otter Creek watershed.
We began our journey at the Dry Fork Trailhead and across a large suspended bridge over the Dry Fork River.
   

  
From there the trail hugged the south side of Otter Creek. Heavy storms had taken their toll. Both the trail and the creek were crisscrossed with fallen trees and debris. One such debris pile held an unpleasant surprise: a yellow-jacket nest that wasn't discovered until one unlucky hiker stepped directly on it.

A swarm of bees, two casualties, and 7 stings later we hobbled on towards our campsite.

Camp was made on an already established site complete with fire ring, fallen log benches, cleared tent sites, and the stream only ten feet away. We set up the necessities: three tents, a hammock, and a clothesline; and then set about gathering firewood and rigging up a system to hang our cooking pots over the fire (this took a few tries and a few spilled pots of water to get right).
  

 The next day, we kept our camp where it was and continued west up the Otter Creek Trail. For an hour or two, we admired the abundant rhododendron blooms, the sound of the nearby creek, and the warm July sun. 
  
About two miles from camp we got the notion to scramble down to the creek and check out some cliffs on the far side of the water. Fate smiled on us, because twenty feet up the face there was a cave to (cautiously) explore. Once we made it up the steep hillside, over fallen limbs and loose slides of leaves and rocks, we came to the lip of the cave. Immediately, we felt the refreshing flow of the cold underground air. From the entrance, the cave floor was 15 feet below: a mixture of chipped rocks and leaves. We scrambled down inside and could hear the sounds of water echoing from deeper within and dripping down from a rock ledge 20 feet overhead. From the entrance area, the cave narrowed back to the left until the passageway wasn’t more than three feet wide. The walls were slick and little shelves here and there held deposits of a grayish mud.  We looked around the entrance area and peered back into the depths as far as the feeble light from our lighter would allow (in the excitement to get into the cave, I couldn’t find the flashlight that I had stowed in my pack).

That night the full moon was the main attraction. We sat out on rocks in the middle of the creek in the night quiet and watched the moon cross over the slim gap in the trees. It got chilly out on the water, but the glow of the moon and the trickle of the creek around me kept the cold from being more than a minor nuisance.

An impromptu moonlight shadow puppet show was then held against a large creek boulder—oddly enough, the cast mainly consisted of dogs and birds…

All in all, we only made it three or four miles into the wilderness at the most. But, everything we experienced (except the bee stings, of course; some of which required medical attention a few days later) promised future treks farther into the wilds that the Otter Creek Wilderness has to offer.
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