Stranded on Spruce Knob West Virginia


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My alarm went off at 5 a.m., I put on my clothes that I had laid out the night before (making sure I had organized them by layer), packed my hiking bag, threw on my boots and beanie, and headed out into a sub-freezing, starry morning. It was January 22, 2021, and I was attempting to summit three state high points in one day.

A few years back I had summited Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, but did not realize then that reaching the top of each state in the US would become a goal of mine.  I had climbed it over the summer, a humid summer, a summer when it rained for 15 straight days, including a period of 8 straight 100+oF days.  Flash forward, and there I was, driving from Baltimore to pick up my friend in D.C. before starting our day in the snowy mountains out in West Virginia with winds up 50 mph and temperatures below 20oF.

Stranded on Spruce Knob West Virginia

Adam at the highest point in MD - Hoye-Crest, elevation 3360'

The first mountain of the day, Spruce Knob, elevation 4,862’.  As we drove into the Allegheny Mountains, the bare tree branches gave us views of the snow-covered mountain tops, although down on the road, most of it seemed to have melted away.  We had decided ahead of time to drive up most of Spruce Knob and hike the ridge-line before finally reach the summit.  With no GPS signal, we just followed the road signs, confident that we were going the right way since we began to drive uphill.  The higher we went, the more snow and ice were on the ground, until eventually the roads were no longer plowed.

Should we have turned around at the sign that warned “Roads not maintained beyond this point”?We had drove over four hours to get here, we had to keep pushing.  In a front-wheel drive hatchback, we slipped our way up and through the snow, until finally getting stuck. Thick sheets of ice beneath 6-8 inches of unplowed snow combined into a stall.  Beyond insufficient horsepower to get the car up the mountain, we could not just turn around, as we were on a Cliffside road no wider than two small cars.  I hopped out and guided my friend as we began to reverse down the mountain.  But we worried.  This road was a switchback up to the ridgeline, which we had definitely given up on at this point.  Reversing down the sharp turns in these conditions could definitely be our worst decisions to date.

After about 5 minutes, the road widened for just a moment, so we attempted to K-turn and regain control of the situation.  What an awful idea.  He backed into a pile of untouched snow, turned the wheel to face the road perpendicularly, and thrusted forward.  Except, the car didn’t move forward. It wouldn’t move backward.  We were stuck again, only this time in all directions, blocking the entire road, with no GPS and no phone service.

We spent the next hour digging through the snow with our hands, clipping the ice with boot heels, pushing the car from all angles while also flooring the gas, and trying any way we could to melt the ice under the tires.  All for naught.  We had to find help. We had to abandon the car.  There was a cabin rental office, way at the base of the mountain (which we were now ¾ of the way up), so we began our descent on foot leaving the car behind, blocking what seemed to be the most useless road in existence.

Monongahela National Forest

Views from the WV-MD border of a clearing in the Monongahela National Forest

By my estimation, we had trekked about a mile back down before we saw a black Jeep Wrangler storming up the same road we had struggled on.  We waved down the driver and explained to him the situation.  We said we were looking for help, that our car was stuck and blocking the road, that two sets of hands were not enough. 

What I always loved about hiking in the community you find when out on an adventure.  The driver, whose name was also Adam, and his friend offered to give us a hand and even drive us back up to the car.  The problem: the entire back row of the truck was overstuffed with all sorts of gear and junk.  Our solution: hang of the back of the jeep, gripping the frame, and standing on the bumper while this machine shreds up an unplowed mountain road.  When I was a toddler, I always watched the garbage truck come by, the men would hop off and on every few seconds.  I had no career aspirations to be a garbage man, but maybe at this moment, I lived out a bit of the dream that many other kids have had, too.

The fortuitous rescue vehicle

The fortuitous rescue vehicle

As we arrived back at our stuck car, which we had now not seen for nearly an hour, two other vehicles were blocked off while trying to come back down the mountain.  According to those individuals, the snow pile-up reaches up to mounds of 3-4 feet just a bit further up the road, and they too had to turn back.  Now with the strength of 5 men, we were able to dislodge our car from the snow trap and led the caravan of unsuspecting victims of winter weather back down Spruce Knob. 

It was now 11 a.m. and I headed with my friend to Hoye-Crest, Maryland, elevation 3360’.  The rest of the trip ran smoothly.  We reached the MD high point with a comfortable 2-mile hike in around 3-4 inches of powdery snow before continuing our journey to Elk Lick, PA, the home of Mt. Davis, elevation 3213’.

Summit of Mt Davis

Adam at the summit of Mt. Davis, PA, elevation 3213'

I arrived back in Baltimore around 9:30 pm, a 16.5-hour day from start to finish, and was able to achieve additional two-state high points to my growing list.  The beautiful thing about high pointing, and hiking in general for that matter, is that it does not care about your plans.  I had laid out my clothes, gave myself a start-time, and expected to be home eventually.  What happens in between those times is the adventure and mystery that makes the experience meaningful.

Author Bio:

Adam Freesman Contributor


Adam Freesman

About author: "Adam Freesman has always been one to challenge himself and a naturally competitive person. He competed at the DI level in collegiate track and field, and even found a love for hiking while in college. His off-seasons meant frequent trips to the mountains to take on new climbs. Since graduating in May, 2020, Adam has taking on a new challenge of reaching the highest point in all of the united states. To him, it is the perfect way to mix his love of adventure, mountains, hiking and competitive attitude."

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