The W.C. Alt Hike
William Clark Alt: 1861-1958
My Great-Grandfather, William Clark Alt (who commonly wrote his name as W.C. Alt), was a teacher in a one-room school on the other side of the mountain from our farm near Petersburg WV. Born in a log cabin near the school, he later bought over 100 acres of farm land over the mountain near the highway (a dirt path then) just before the Great Depression. While raising a family, he continued to teach at the school, walking nearly 3 miles over 2 small mountains (2,300 ft and 2,800 ft) until he was well into his 80s. He left behind a collection of interesting books, including the following:
Owner’s Manual for his Model “A” Ford --- Elements of Natural Philosophy by Elroy M. Avery
Inside the cover of the Elements of Natural Philosophy book, W.C. Alt had signed it on Jan1, 1902.
One hundred years later, on Jan 1, 2002, Spencer (who was not quite 12 years old) and I signed it.
I told Spencer I will give the book to him for his children and grandchildren to sign it in 2102.
Elements of Civil Government by Peterman – Practical Book-Keeping by Mayhew
Notes inside the covers of Practical Book-Keeping.- signed on May 26, 1891. He kept plenty of notes.
“Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go; keep her, for she is thy life.”
Folded up inside one of his books was a copy of this Edgar Guest poem. I think it defines what kind of man my Great Grand-Father was:
My Dad and I, long years ago were walking down the street when suddenly a little dog came yelping ‘round our feet.
He snapped and snarled so viciously – that angry little pup appeared to me, as though he thought he could eat us up.
I turned and threw some stones at him which always missed their mark, but when I turned to drive him off, the louder he would bark.
“Now, Son,” my father said to me, “just plod along your way. Don’t turn your head for yelping dogs, remember what I say:
You’ll notice if you pay no heed to him and hold your peace, that little dog will soon grow tired and all his noise will cease.
But every time you stomp your feet and shout at him “Begone”, you show that he’s annoying you and keep him following on.”
“It takes a dog to fight a dog.” Post that above your shelf. When canines come and snarl at you, don’t be a dog yourself.
And later when you’re older grown, and petty men attack, don’t stop to pick up stones to throw, don’t try to answer back.
Just walk right on and pay no heed to anything they say, and very soon they’ll give it up and turn and run away.
“It is a very ancient dodge these petty minds employ, they say the gods first angry make the man they would destroy.
And little dogs and little men who snarl behind your back will only snarl the louder if you answer their attack.
And they’ll have done the very thing they started out to do, if, being yellow dogs themselves, they make one out of you.
The Hurricane lantern he used when walking to school in the dark of early morning.
Shook Gap School House – Pansy WV
While visiting my folks at the farm, I awoke one morning at about 5:45 to a still and clear morning. The sun had not come up, but it was getting lighter and lighter outside. It looked like a beautiful day ahead. Since I had finished my chores (mowing grass) the evening before, I decided to hike up the mountain road before the thermometer starting rising. My original plan was to just hike to the summit (about 1-1/2 miles), but along the way I started thinking about my Great Grand-Father W.C. Alt and how many times he walked this road on the way to teach school. I decided to continue over the top ridge and down the other side to Shook Gap (AKA Shook Hollow) to the one-room school house, which is now someone’s private cabin. This doubled the original hike to about 3 miles each way. Let’s go!
Looking out from the farm house, the sun was just peeking above the ridge when I was leaving.
Looking back at the farm house and some of the grass I had mowed the day before.
More freshly-cut grass.
Looking up the “mountain road” as we call it – Shook Gap Road.
From the previous photo, I turned to look back at the farm house.
Entering the first section of woods. Our farm is to the left of this road.
The family cemetery is on the hill to the right. We’ll be stopping there later.
Lots of these cactus growing in the rocky soil. It gets pretty hot and dry around here – perfect for them.
Going up the mountain road, there are ledges along side with crumbling shale.
My grandfather used to find Indian arrowheads in the fields when he was plowing. I could see where the Indians made good use of these thin, sharp rocks.
Getting ready to start up the first mountain.
From the previous photo, looking back towards the highway and the farm.
As I enter the woods, the road starts gaining elevation – slowly at first, then gradually steeper.
The “Big Corner”. This was a landmark with anyone going up or down the mountain.
“I’ll meet you at the big corner.” Or, “I saw a turkey just above the big corner.”
Here’s a better view of the big corner. Notice how steep it’s getting? (I’m holding the camera level.)
An old photo of my Grand-Mother (Mernie Alt) and I at the big corner around 1980.
Lots of good memories.
Continuing up the steep climb from the big corner. The first (smaller) summit is just ahead.
As I approach the first summit, I noticed how many large rocks fill the forest.
At the clearing on top of the first ridge, I sneaked up on 3 deer feeding on the grass in a small field.
The first summit (about 2,300 feet – a gain of about 1,200 feet from the farm’s 1,100-foot elevation)
After the first summit, it’s downhill for a short while before starting up the second (larger) mountain.
This watering trough for cattle has been here along the road for as long as I can remember.
Doesn’t look like anyone is using it now.
The road continues down and turns to the right behind the first ridge.
These flowers (a type of lupine?) were growing at several spots along the road.
Look closely at the bottom of the previous photo and you may have seen this guy on the flower.
The cicadas (7-year locusts) were out this year – very noisy and pesky. They are about an inch long and buzz around your head before landing on you.
Time to start the big uphill section – climbing to the second summit.
At least I’m in the shade where it’s cooler (for now).
Halfway up the mountain, the main road splits and doubles back to the left.
There were two families who lived up here when I was a kid. Both have moved out. This is a new house someone built about 10 years ago.
The state only takes care of the road up to this point. Now we’re on private land.
Zig-Zagging back to the left and up to the second summit. The road gets much rougher here.
Looking back down toward the highway and the farm through a break in the trees.
See that rock outcropping in the middle? That’s the first summit with the deer and water trough we passed earlier.
The “Big Corner” is just on the other side of that ridge.
This gives you an idea of how much clay is in the soil. It’s a wonder anything can grow – dry, hot, rocky clay soil.
Continuing up the long haul to the second summit. Temperature is rising quickly as the sun comes up.
This large rock has apparently kissed the undersides of many vehicles over the years.
Lots of scrape marks. Ouch!!
The second summit – about 2,900 feet. Not much of a view since the trees were full of leaves.
Looking out from the second summit back towards the highway.
Someone built this cabin with walk-around 2nd floor porch along a side ridge. Wonderful views from there!!
Eeny-meeny-miney-moe. I guessed at which one was the main road.
Looks like I picked the correct road. Now we start our final descent down the long and steep path to Shook Gap.
In the next mile or so, the elevation drops from about 2,900 feet down to about 1,500 feet. Did I say “steep”?
Down and down we continue.
And down some more.
For perspective, if you look at the tree branch sticking up into the sky in the middle of the photo, you’re looking straight ahead level.
As I passed these old trees, I wondered how many times they had watched W.C. Alt pass by here nearly a century ago.
Through a clearing in the trees, I could spot a quick view of Castle Rock along the South Branch Potomac River about 2 miles away.
Since we’re on private property, the owners are allowed to fence the road.
WARNING: If you don’t know the owners, this is where you would turn around.
You’ve been warned.
In other words, take your dogs and guns somewhere else.
Continuing down the road, it starts to level off as I approach Shook Gap.
Not too far ahead, I catch my first glimpse of the school house on the right.
There it is – Shook Gap School House, where my Great Grand-Father taught for 30 or 40 years.
Token tourist photo. Hey, I walked this far, I can get into one photo, can’t I?
Another scenic photo of the school house.
A family bought the building and converted it into a weekend cabin. Nice they kept it pretty original (except the metal storm door).
View from the back of the school house, looking back up the road home.
Boys Bathroom and Girls Bathroom – just up the hill about 100 feet.
The old bell tower. Nobody knows what happened to the old bell. Too bad.
This old tree stump was probably a young healthy tree with kids climbing on it years ago. The stories it could tell!!!
This horse-shoe has always been above the door for as long as I can remember.
Probably not original, but still cool – this old Tums thermometer.
The upper side of the school had no windows. Maybe to reduce daydreaming.
The road continues past the school for about a mile or two and comes out on the South Branch Potomac River in Smoke Hole.
Not enough time to hike over there this morning. I’ll save that for another day.
This stream and waterfall is just across the mountain road from the school.
I have to wonder how many boys caught frogs here to put in the girl’s coat pockets???
OK, time to start back. I already know the first mile is a steep uphill climb. Let’s get started.
Just 100 feet up from the school, this young doe was eating.
I apparently didn’t seem too threatening as she looked at me and continued eating.
A new cabin along the road. People from Washington DC are buying up plots of land (10 – 100 acres) and building weekend cabins all over.
Pretty flower along the road.
Steep, and lots of loose rocks. Good luck getting a vehicle in and out of here.
This hunting blind gives the hunters a full view of the openings in the woods on the next ridge, about 100 – 200 yards away.
I stopped for a water break and saw these two pine cones hanging on for dear life.
Some more of the lupine flowers.
Back to the split and now we’re on the state road again heading down to the first summit.
Thistles grow wild here – they’re a weed but have a beautiful bloom.
Another thistle bloom (same plant as previous photo, just a different stage of development)
Beautiful – especially for a “weed”.
Past the Big Corner and almost back to the cemetery.
This little flower is no bigger than a dime.
I took a side-trip to the family cemetery to visit W.C. Alt’s grave.
What a remarkable life he led.
Here’s a view of our farm from the highway.
See the next photo for notes as a visual reference.
You can see parts of the first half of the hike.
After the first summit, the road goes behind the first ridge and up to the right, before turning back and showing up again at the second summit.
Then, it continues to the left and down the back side of the second summit to Shook Gap.
Most of what you see from where I’m standing to about the top of the first mountain on the left is our farm.
Below is an aerial view from MapQuest:
#3 #4 #1 #6 #5 #2 Shook Gap
The farm is located along Rt 220 across from the “Landes” marker on the map. The two main ridges run from the lower middle of the photo up and to the right (through #4 and #6).
#1 - The house is the tiny white speck above the text box.
#2 – Cemetery
#3 – Big Corner
#4 – First Summit
#5 – Road Splits (End of state road)
#6 – Second summit – highest point on hike, appx 2,900 ft.
The Mountain Road continues past Shook Gap and comes out on South Branch Potomac River
TOTAL HIKE – Appx 6 miles round trip. Gravel road – very steep in places. Not much level hiking – you’re either going uphill or downhill.