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December 26th-29th, 1999 -- Spruce Knob NRA, West Virginia
1999 Winter Hike
Story by Marty Lamp with photos by Marty Lamp and Don Parks

Check out the 1997 Winter Hike

Spruce Knob
The view from the top of West Virginia
To us, it makes perfect sense...We had been friends since we weighed less than the packs currently strapped to our backs. After graduating high school, and going to different universities, Christmas break between semesters always brought the boys back together. Collectively, our energy has usually bullied away any laziness that may be lurking, and admittedly, sometimes even common sense fell prey to this same energy that only seemed to strengthen when we were outside.

Some may wonder why anyone would want to spend days in below-freezing weather, trudging up and down some of the roughest terrain that West Virginia has to offer. "Is it really enjoyable?" you may ask. Most likely, the response to that question would be a warm stare followed by a contented with most real things in life that help shape your soul, it's always more fun talking about it later, laughing at any pain that was involved, and thinking to yourself that it really wasn't that bad.

Spruce Knob
Greg and Dennis enjoy lunch on the Huckleberry Trail
This year, the plan was to wander around the Spruce Knob area of the Monogahela National Forest for some 40 miles. We would start at the northern most trailhead, the Allegheny Mountain Trail, then head south as far as we could and then loop back to where we started. Of course, while heading south, we would have to walk up to Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia at 4863 feet above sea level.

From the beginning, things were typical. Only minimal plans were made. That always seems the best for this kind of quest. We were out here to escape the structure and constraints of a heavily populated society. Out here, a fat wallet is nothing more than dead weight; you can't eat it, and it won't keep you warm. Out here, the only clock to care about was hanging low across the southern sky during the day, and turning a very cold shoulder to us during the night. Out here, everything is seen in it's proper perspective.

Spruce Knob
Brad and Emory on Swallow Rock Run Trail
Walking up the first uphill of the day, snow starts to fall as if it had been waiting for us. The view provides the fuel for our senses as we walk a narrow ridge while surrounded by huckleberry, rhododendrons, and hardwoods that stand strong. I hear my heart pounding, my deliberate breathing, and the soft static of powdered snow bouncing off of brown leaves covering the ground.

We continue to gain altitude, and the wind gains speed. It bites at any exposed flesh, and it urges the trees to dance in unison, cracking and creaking as they sway. The temperature has dropped 10 degrees in the last 2 hours, but our exertions force us to stop and shed a layer of clothing. For a moment, guilt creeps over me as I think about how easy modern technology has made it for us to cope with Mother Nature, given the advent of Gore-Tex, fleece, and countless other synthetics. The cold forces a short break, and the guilt starts to slowly ebb away with each step, and it is replaced with a stoic respect for all those sojourners of years past who crossed this land with nothing more than a trusty weapon and an unmatched will to live.

Spruce Knob
Mike and Emory preparing the evening meal
After a scant 7 miles of walking, we camp beside Seneca Creek. The creek is flowing beneath a blanket of snow covered ice, except for a gurgling 3 foot wide stream of exposed water that meanders between the rocky banks.

After a restful evening, we awake to single digit temps, and 2 inches of fresh snow. Food is quickly consumed, as our gear is packed with numbed fingers, and our minds are filled with anticipation of getting to Spruce Knob via the Huckleberry Trail. As the sun reached it's summit in the sky, so did we. The wind was howling as it stung our smiling faces. The scenery was incredible. Rolling, snow covered mountains at every direction, sharply defined and visible through leafless trees.

Spruce Knob
The boys on top of it all
There's something uniquely empowering about standing atop a mountain, and gazing for miles in every direction. Words really aren't needed, and probably would just get in the way.

This is it... this is why we are here. We aren't doing anything spectacular, or anything worthy of some kind of special recognition. We aren't gifted athletes. Our motivations are pure. This is where we belong, this is our land. We haven't seen another soul, and right now, this belongs to us. I feel like I have just come home after being thousands of miles away. I breathe deep, and I feel so alive. I have 360 degree tunnel vision.

Spruce Knob
Mike, Emory, and Marty on day three
As the sun starts to descend, so too must we. We walk another 5 miles this day before we set up camp again. The snow is still falling, and the temperature can't seem to get into the double digits, but that doesn't matter, we are where we belong.

We spend the next 2 days walking through and enjoying the snow-covered beauty all around us. Much of the time spent walking is in solitude, but the evening camp is always full of spirited conversations. Everyone takes their turn being the object of ridicule, singled out by the rest of the group like a pack of wolves devouring the weakest among them. It's good for us all, it keeps us honest, it keeps us close. We know that this hike, like the body we reside in, can't last forever, and that we are no match for Mother Nature. It seems great strength can be gained by knowing just how weak and vulnerable we are.

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Marty Lamp

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Emory Rogers

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Greg McCulley

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Dennis Vass

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Don Parks

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Mike Hansrote

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Brad Yurish

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