Men’s Journal – March 1994

Cheat Mountain: Lonesome Trout

By: Will Bourne

In early March, 1862, a Union soldier described the late-winter pleasures of Cheat Mountain: "There is nobody lives here and it is very lonesome. It rains or snows about seven or eight days of a week and the balance of the time it is cloudy."

Nobody still lives on Cheat. And we’re not about to deceive you: Inclemency is still a possibility as March turns into April, even if things are on the thaw. If you want guaranteed tanning, stay away; but quiet hills, old coal mines and runnable river – these are here in abundance.

Cheat was built in 1887 as a private club for fancy railroad and lumber types to get tight and shoot things, mostly bear. In 1918, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone stumped through these big-treed, foggy draws on a camping tour (they stayed out back, but Edison rigged up light from the lodge). Cheat now sits lost in the 900,000-acre Monongahela National Forest: three small floors, hand-hewn spruce timbers, dinners on the original china, good wine and a huge stone fireplace to stave of vagaries of climate.

Out the back door, the quiet flow of Shavers Fork holds both stocked and native trout. There are canoes for floating the Greenbrier, mountain bikes to get you up Spruce Knob, West Virginia’s highest point at 4,861 feet. Trails through thick birch, maple and pine forest do winter duty for cross-country skiers. You could even jump onto the Allegheny Trail, especially as the season progresses. Beyond that, Cheat will set you up with everything from a barn dance to a bear hunt.

It’s a simple place – no focaccia or fleurs-de-lis. (Rooms with common bath are $69-$89. For the fastidious there is one suite with private bath for $125-$150 per person per night). The best feature at Cheat is the fire pit by the Shavers Fork where, even in April, you’ll stay up far too late, robbing bottles from the honor-system bar and singing like a hillbilly till your chair collapses.

"We are not just a bunch of people with no teeth, no brains and no shoes," protests Dave Arnold, who runs Class VI River Runners outside Fayetteville, a couple of hours away. Arnold and Class VI hold out the option of combining Cheat with a rollicking binge down the New and Gauley Rivers. The Gauley, he says, "has more concentrated Class IV and V white water than any commercially run river in the U.S." (And both run through gorgeous limestone gorges with world-class climbing). Finally, don’t fail to find "Five Dollar" Frank. For the eponymous fin, he’ll take you up in his derelict Cessna for scenic river tour.

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