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Skiing and Frozen Waterfalls

posted Feb 5, 2015, 6:28 AM by Justin P   [ updated Feb 16, 2015, 1:49 PM ]
This past weekend, we headed up to Snowshoe, WV for a long weekend of skiing, snowstorms, and frozen waterfalls. In past years, we had driven up on Friday and skiied Saturday and Sunday and returned on Monday. Saturday’s the busiest skiing day, so this year, we drove up Saturday, skiied Sunday and Monday, and then drove back Tuesday, hoping to encounter fewer people on the slopes. We left early Saturday morning as we planned to hit some waterfalls on the way up (of course!). Given the cold weather recently, there was good chance some might be frozen! In Virginia, we headed north on US-220 through Roanoke and Covington. About 9 miles north of Covington, we stopped at the pull-off on the side of the highway for Falling Spring Falls. This beautiful 80-foot waterfall is visible roadside so we first got some pictures from the overlook.


The source of the water is a naturally heated spring, so this waterfall was not frozen. However, there were some nice icicles hanging from the cliff face and some snow and ice around the rocks at the base. We then headed down to the base following a faint path from the picnic area. Near the top of the waterfall, there was a rope swing - I guess people swim in the pool near the top when the weather is warmer. It was way too cold today to even think about swimming, though this water is warmer than other creeks. The path heading down to the base was quite steep and the snow-covered rocks made the going a little treacherous. But we made it safely down to the base and got some gorgeous pictures from here.


As we started making our way back up, we saw some people at the overlook. By the time we made it back to the parking area, they were heading back to their car and commented that we were very brave to head down there (or very stupid). Leaving the waterfall, we continued driving north on US-220 and stopped for lunch at Cucci’s at the Varsity between Hot Springs and Warm Springs. There isn’t a whole lot of restaurant choices so we stopped at the first place we saw. This restaurant is located inside a gas station so we weren’t expecting much. Sandy and I split a Buffalo Chicken Pizza and it was surprisingly good for gas station food. After lunch, we got on VA-39 and headed west into West Virginia. In Marlinton, we turned onto US-219 south and then right onto WV-55 west into Monongahela National Forest. Upon entering the forest, we finally started seeing snow accumulation on the ground. The road had been plowed, but was still a little slushy. In about 11 miles, we turned into the entrance for Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area. The short forest road to the parking area had not been plowed, but enough other vehicles had driven through the snow that we were able to make it about a half-mile to the parking at the trailhead. From the parking area, we started hiking the short trail to see the three waterfalls along this stretch of creek. Like the forest road, the trail was completely covered in snow and we had to follow footprints to stay on the trail.


Many of the rhododendrons and other trees were heavily weighed down with snow and ice and were leaning over the trail, so we had to duck down or go around in many places. Despite the challenges in hiking this easy trail (that is handicapped-accessible for the first portion), it was a beautiful snowy scene. Soon we came out at the overlook for Upper Falls on Hills Creek. This 25-foot waterfall was completely frozen, but there was no good spot to view it from.


We continued on the trail from here and began descending via steps and switchbacks. The steps were rather slippery with ice, so we used the handrails to keep our footing. Next, we stopped to see Middle Falls on Hills Creek, a 45-foot waterfall that was also completely frozen. At this overlook, we had a nice view of the frozen waterfall.


Then we continued down to the lower waterfall. This waterfall is over 60 feet and the most impressive of the three and the only one that was not completely frozen.


However, there was an amazing cone of ice at the base of the waterfall. It was about half the total height of the waterfall and I thought it resembled a giant blue pineapple.


We spent a little while down here enjoying the view and then started making our way back up to the parking lot. On the way back up, Sandy peeled a layer of ice of the leaf of a rhododendron. It looked just like the leaf, but transparent.


Leaving the forest, we headed back to Marlinton and checked into our home for the evening - the Old Clark Inn, a cute little bed-and-breakfast. After getting settled into our room, we were getting ready to head out for dinner when we saw Steve and Loye checking in, along with their friends Luis, Mary, and Phil. We knew they were going to Snowshoe the same weekend as us, but we didn’t realize they’d be staying at the same hotel. After they got settled in, we all headed for dinner in Marlinton. After dinner, we socialized for a bit in the common area and then headed to bed.  In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and then started making our way to Snowshoe. We stopped at the Ski Barn to pick up our rental skis and then stopped by the Inn at the base of the mountain. It was too early to check in to our room, but we got our lift tickets here. We left our car in the parking lot and took the shuttle up to the Silver Creek area. Steve and the others were staying at a condo at Top of the World and we were going to try to meet them on the slopes. All bundled up in cold-weather gear for skiing, however, everybody looks about the same, so I expected that finding our friends would be difficult. Sandy and I started on the easiest Skill Builder and Cubb Run trails. After a couple of runs to warm up, we happened to run into our friends and started skiing all together. We skied a few more times on the Greenhorn trail and then headed to the Silver Creek lodge for lunch. After lunch, we stayed in the Silver Creek area, but moved onto the slightly more difficult blue Cascade and Fox Chase Trails. Using my GPS, I clocked my maximum speed as hitting 35 miles per hour. As the afternoon progressed, we split up and Sandy and I headed down to the Inn on the 4 o’clock shuttle down the mountain. We checked into our room, then headed back up the mountain for a little night skiing. This evening, we had a really nice shuttle driver and enjoyed talking with him. He had worked as a driver for Snowshoe for some thirty years and just loved driving school buses. He described them as tanks that were so much better under bad weather conditions than other buses and vehicles. I don’t think I’ll ever look at school buses the same! Up at the top, we never found the rest of our friends; I don’t think they ended up doing any night skiing, but it was a great time.


Given the weather forecast, Sunday night was our best opportunity for night skiing as the temperatures would be about 20 degrees warmer than the following night. Also, with the Super Bowl going on, we pretty much had the slopes to ourselves. Sandy and I skied for an hour or so and then took the 7 o’clock shuttle back down. By this time, we were sufficiently chilled and wanted to thaw out in the hot tub. Again, likely due to the Super Bowl, we had the whole pool area to ourselves and greatly enjoyed warming up in the hot tub.  Monday morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. In years past, the breakfast at the Inn was great. They had eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes and a variety of hot food, along with muffins, bagels, cereal and various cold items. Breakfast was served in the big restaurant area. To our disappointment, the breakfast at the Inn had been significantly downgraded since our last visit. They had biscuits and gravy as the only hot item, a couple muffins and cereal, and coffee and juice. Moreover, they moved the breakfast to a really small room so we had to eat standing up. And we weren’t the only people disappointed. Later in the day talking to Steve and Luis, they both expressed excitement about staying at the Inn in a couple weeks for the great breakfast. I hated to disappoint them, but figured they’d want to know in advance. We also talked to some people in the hot tub this evening who were upset about the breakfast change.  Oh well, we had come for the skiing, not the food. After breakfast, we got our gear together and took the shuttle up the mountain. Today, we got off at the Village to ski the main area of Snowshoe. Sandy and I again started off on the easier green trails skiing down Heisler Way to Log Slide and Greenway.


We took the Powderidge lift up the mountain and found our friends right at the top. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever find them as this area is a bit bigger than Silver Creek, so we were surprised to find them right away. We stuck mostly to green trails initially, eventually progressing up to the blues. I really enjoy skiing this area as its possible to criss-cross the mountain with different trails and lifts. The short but steep Moonshine Trail was a bit challenging and most people fell on this one. I managed to stay upright, though not so gracefully. As lunch time approached, we made our way south, eventually taking the Upper and Lower Hootenanny Trails to the Soaring Eagle lift up to Top of the World. Sandy and I got lunch to-go from Hoots and brought it up to the condo to have lunch with everybody. Then we headed back out to hit the slopes some more. Steve is a good skier and enjoyed showing off - at one point, we was skiing in circles going down the hill. 

YouTube Video


It had been snowing pretty good all morning, but after lunch, the snow was getting harder. Additionally, it was very cold and extremely windy, especially at the top of the mountain. Coming up on the ski lifts, I thought we were going to be blown out a couple times. At one point, the wind was so strong that it literally blew me uphill! The strong winds blowing snow around made visibility very poor and the loud winds made it hard to talk without screaming. Sandy and I ended up losing the others after a couple of runs and we ended up doing a few more runs on our own, then decided to call it quits around 4. We took the shuttle back down the mountain and once out of our ski clothes, hit the hot tub to warm up. Brandi’s Restaurant at the Inn was closed so we walked across the street to the Route 66 restaurant and got some dinner to take back to the hotel.  Tuesday morning, we woke up to very cold temperatures, but at least the snow had stopped. We checked out of the hotel and returned our ski gear to Ski Barn and then started making our way home. But we didn’t head straight home; with all the recent snow, we were going to see some more frozen waterfalls! Once in Virginia, we continued heading east, eventually getting on I-81 and taking VA-56 east into George Washington National Forest to Crabtree Falls Day Use Area. The waterfall consists of several distinct drops, altogether totaling around 1000 feet, the highest waterfall in the eastern United States. However, you can’t see the entire thing from any point unless you’re in an airplane. We had stopped for Subway along the way and had lunch at the picnic area by the South Fork Tye River.


Then we started our hike up along the waterfall. The first section of trail is paved and handicapped-accessible and leads to an overlook at the lowest section of the waterfall. Although there was no snow on the ground, the temperature was cold enough that much of the waterfall was frozen, though some liquid water was still flowing.


We got some pictures from here and then began heading up through a long series of switchbacks and stairs along the waterfall. The trail never got far from the waterfall, heading away for a short distance then cutting straight back. Overall, the waterfall has at least five distinct cascades that are significant and would be considered a waterfall on their own. Slowly, we made our way up along the waterfall. The going was slow because there was a lot of stops to view the waterfall, but also the going was treacherous in some places. A thick layer of ice covered the trail in spots, including a few places on stairs. This made the hiking a little tricky.


A combination of careful footing and a little butt-sliding allowed us to safely cross the many icy spots. At one point near the middle of the waterfall, we came out to a view where the water and ice appeared to be going into a hole in the cliff face.


Unfortunately, some fallen trees partially obscured the scene. As we approached the top, we could tell we were almost done as there was no more waterfall to be seen higher up. The very top portion of the waterfall was perhaps the most scenic. The water and ice cascaded down a high cliff more than 100 feet and was quite beautiful.


We finished up the trail at very top of the waterfall. We couldn’t see the waterfall itself from here, but the views of the surrounding mountains were beautiful. Highway VA-56 was visible in the distance far below. We sat here for a few minutes enjoying the view and then started making our way back down.


The icy spots were a little tricky, but other than that, it was an easy hike downhill. Back at the car, we started making our way home after a great winter weekend.