New National Parks and New Bridge Walking Experiences at the New River Gorge

After missing a year of vacations due to the pandemic, it was past time for a trip with my friends Jerry, Jason, Jim, John, and my fellow outlier in this J-name crew, Dave. In the past, we had limited our trips to the Outer Banks, where staying for free in the beach house owned by Jason’s parents was a huge draw. Now that we were older, we had become more adventurous, and more susceptible to government marketing campaigns, which is how we ended up choosing the nation’s newest national park as our destination – the New River Gorge. We would add to the spirit of adventure by going on the Bridge Walk across a catwalk under the New River Gorge Bridge.

Prior to our visit, the ceiling of our adventurousness was combining four sauces we had never tried before on one meal at Mezeh. It was a walk on the wild side

On the way to West Virginia for our end-of-October vacation, we stopped in Charlottesville for some more conventional entertainment. The members of this group had seen and read virtually every iteration of Dune, so we caught the newest movie adaption of the first book in IMAX. The movie was good but relentlessly depressing, which was fitting, because the weather forecast for the weekend was also depressing. A line of storms was supposed to drop heavy rain most of Friday, then bring frequent showers, followed by more steady rain on Saturday, followed by more showers. We lucked out, though, because by late morning on Friday:

Argh!!! The sun! My EYES!

Before the weather could change its mind and bring the promised storms, we assembled the troops and headed toward the universally well-regarded Endless Wall hike.

Sunlight is exciting!

Not only had the weather cooperated, but the fall leaves were pretty much at peak color; since we were visiting during the last week of October, we normally would have missed that by about two weeks. Thanks, Global Warming!

And suck it, melting glaciers and soon-to-flood coastal plains!

Even with frequent stops to take in the wall, we finished the hike, which was right around three miles over mostly level terrain, by 2pm, and the weather was still fantastic. We had time for another nearby three mile hike, the Long Point Trail.

A hike that was also over mostly level terrain.

Level terrain: the only way THIS group could hike 6 miles in one afternoon.

Toward the end of the trail, we began to wind downward over a 200 foot descent to the feature the Long Point Trail is famous for: views of the New River Gorge Bridge and the river gorge.

It’s mostly visible behind my giant head. Mostly.

We stayed on the overlook for a bit to for some narcissistic selfies and to enjoy the past-peak still-peak leaves.

Having satisfied a small portion of our narcissism and/or burned out our retinas on this surprisingly sunny day, we headed back to the car. It was now around 4pm, and the weather was still close to perfect. Clearly, our ritual sacrifice of some of the cows taken from the farm neighboring our rental house to the weather gods was paying dividends. We decided to tack on one more hike, the Beauty Mountain trail. The trail was about as flat as the Endless Wall trail but a little more rugged in spots.

I had to bend my back and walk at the same time.

Less than a mile later, the trail opened at a fantastic overlook.

The spot is famous for the sunsets over the mountains. We didn’t manage to time that correctly thanks to the lies of lying meteorologists, but the views were still pretty amazing.

And the sun filtering through clouds created the perfect light for…

Even more narcissism. Or a profile picture for the site a former boss called “Spacebook.”

The next day, the main event for four of us was the Bridge Walk, which would take us across the gorge on a catwalk underneath the New River Bridge. The reservation for that was at 1pm, and, after our good hiking luck the day before, we figured we could knock out a shorter hike before our reservation at the bridge. Jason and I both found a hike to an old mining town, but I fatefully overruled his choice for this hike:

Unlike the previous day’s hikes, the Kaymoor Miners Trail was not level. We navigated down some stairs and switchbacks before coming out at a clearing near the top of the old mining community.

Just in time to use some local signage to send a passive aggressive message to Generation Y.

The previous day’s hikes had been fairly well-researched, but since we were expecting it to rain for much of the weekend, no one really bothered to look beyond the three shorter hikes we had completed the day before. Consequently, I chose this hike based on intensive research based mainly on the picture of a waterfall along the trail. Since we had not yet hit a waterfall on our hike, we just kept going.

This could be considered a “Lost Time Accident.”

At the sign, we could head in two directions. One was along the side of the hill, parallel with the river, with very little elevation change. The other was down 821 stairs.

We chose… poorly.

Having pounded whatever knee cartilage was left in our middle-aged legs to jello, we found a cascade of…

…Moss. However, no watery cascade was in sight.

Exactly why I led us down to a river flood plain in search of a waterfall is impossible to reconstruct, but it did not take us long to figure out that the two hours we had until the Bridge Walk might evaporate during our climb out of the river plain.

It was at this point that Jason belatedly calculated that 821 stairs was roughly comparable to walking up a 60 floor building. That could have been useful information for us to disregard when we were making poor choices about which path to take.

While hauling ourselves out of the pit of despair, we did manage to avoid rain and make it back to the car. The only condensation to be found nearby was the fog that filled the car from sweaty men who climbed a week’s worth of stairs in 30 minutes. Since our next stop was the Bridge Walk in the shade under a bridge over a chilly river gorge, and we had made unexpectedly good time evacuating Kaymoor Mines speedily, we had time to make an emergency stop at the local Walmart to swap out some of our wet clothes.

There is no joy like the joy of changing into dry underwear.

The Bridge Walk would take us 3,000 feet across the gorge via a 2-foot-wide catwalk under the bridge, almost 900 feet above the New River.

To put it in terms we could understand, the distance between the bridge and the river was a Kaymoor Mines down-and-back trip.

After a short shuttle ride from the Bridge Walk HQ, we were ready to enter the bowels of the bridge.

As Jason noted after hearing details about how the bridge was anchored, the supports for the bridge were “overengineered.”

To be clear, I always support overengineering of bridges. Or of any structure suspending me above an 800-foot plummet to my death.

To walk across the causeway under the bridge, we wore a heavy harness strapped to a steel cable that ran the length of the bridge.

Yay! More overengineering!

Finally, we were ready for the trip across.

During the tour, we stopped frequently to hear about the bridge, ask questions, and do things like this:

Some of you may be thinking, “that’s crazy.” But what’s really crazy is that our guide climbed up to a higher platform to take this picture without being tethered to my favorite overengineered steel safety cable.

Thanks for not dying when you took this picture, guide lady!

3,000 feet later, we had finished our tour under the bridge. Because we are not crazy people, then and only then did we untether.

After the Bridge Walk we had time for one more short hike, so we headed to the Nuttalburg Coal Tipple Trail, a trail near another old mining community, which was the hike that Jason had chosen for that morning. I had vetoed Jason’s option because it looked less appealing than the hike I found with the waterfall we never saw. I formally retract my contention that Jason’s hike, or almost any hike, would be less appealing than the one I selected. My arguments amounted to a slanderous misrepresentation of the merits of a hike that did not involve 821 stairs.

Jason’s hike was automatically better because we drove down to River level. I didn’t even have to change underwear.

And even if there hadn’t been a road, there was a faster and easier way to the bottom than taking 60 flights worth of stairs.

And then it started raining. Since we were going home the next day and it was almost time for dinner, this was perfect timing by the weather gods. So, basically, this whole post is about the efficacy of sacrificing cattle. You are welcome!

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