|Just Before Bear Rocks Parking on FR 75|
The decision to backpack Dolly Sods made, we needed to equip ourselves, so we spent about five months slowly accumulating the gear that we would need. Subsequently, Ann decided when we were hiking the AT this spring in Damascus VA that we should thru hike the AT and so this trip became a trial run of sorts to see if she really wanted to carry through on that. She really does as it turns out.
Sunday July 2 started early enough for us, about 6:45 when the brown dog got me up. On the way to take the dogs out, I turned on the oven and put a grits casserole with tomatoes, basil, sausage, and goat cheese in the oven. By the time the dogs were fed, the coffee brewed, and our gear assembled, breakfast was ready. I'm not a big breakfast eater, but when I am headed out for a long hike, a good breakfast really helps. This stuck by me until 1:00 in the afternoon.
|Grits Casserole with Tomatoes, Basil, Sausage, and Goat Cheese|
After packing our gear and the Jeep, we set out about 8:45am for the 2-hour drive basically straight out 55/US48/Corridor H, whatever name you want to give to the new four-lane between Wardensville and Davis. And soon enough, we found ourselves bouncing up the dirt Forest Road 75 at about 15 miles an hour towards Dolly Sods and the Bear Rocks Trail parking area.
When we arrived, I expected it to be fairly crowded because of the holiday weekend, but I did not expect the 60-car lot to be full and cars jammed in along the roadside anywhere they could park. This was not going to be a weekend of solitude. In fact, we ran into the same people over and over all three days, with almost everyone following the same Hiking Upward track that we were.
|Looking East from Bear Rocks|
|The Obligatory Bomb Sign Photo|
|She Can't Wait to Get Started!|
|A Hop Clover, Trifolium spp. on Trail 522|
|Looking South from 522, Pink Mountain Laurel Everywhere|
|Bowman's Root, Gillenia trifoliata|
|Sibbaldiopsis tridentata, Three-toothed Cinquefoil|
|Apocynum androsaemifolium, Spreading Dogbane|
If you're used to nicely blazed trails, Dolly Sods is going to be an eye opener. The trails are signed at the junctions but are rarely marked elsewhere. In many places the trails split (or game trails fan out) and can go many different directions leaving you to ponder which might be the correct way. In areas, cairns usually mark the correct way to go, but we found a couple places where they warned of the wrong way. Go figure.
In the northern half of the area, you will see a very few fiberglass posts with numbers on them (such as the one in the photo below) in totally random places and never where you need them. When the track was dead obvious was when we would encounter one of these markers. When the track was a total guess was when the markers were not to be found. And there are no trail markers in the southern half of Dolly Sods at all. Not helpful, Forest Service, not at all helpful.
So if you go, take a map, know where you are headed, be prepared for an adventure, keep smiling, keep pressing in the correct direction, and you will do just fine. Just don't plan to get from point A to point B directly in all cases and don't panic when you don't. It's a roughly 5-mile by 10-mile area and while you might not always know exactly where you are, it would be really tough to get truly lost.
|Useless Trail Marker|
|Boardwalk Headed Towards Red Creek on 522|
|Crossing Red Creek on 522|
|Ox-eye Daisy, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, with Beetle|
|Pushing on Towards 521 Junction|
|Mating Pink-edged Sulfurs, Colias interior|
|Pink Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia|
|Steam Plume from Mt. Storm|
|Lots of Club Mosses Everywhere|
|Timberline Ski Resort|
|Annie Played Too Hard on the Rocks|
|Sandstone Rocks Overlooking Canaan Valley|
|Blueberries and Huckleberries, Vaccinium spp., are Everywhere|
|A Sandstone Formation|
|And Yet Another|
There is a wall of rock on your right obstructing your view of the valley to the west. Then you come to an opening in that wall where the trail appears to head left with a minor trail going right to the overlook that you see Ann exploring below. The trail is not to the left! We spent about an hour exploring all permutations of trails beyond that point with no joy, collecting a few other hikers along the way. We finally started backtracking and got back to the rock above where we met several other people. We just had to be in the right place: a dozen or fifteen people didn't all arrive at this point by being in the wrong place.
We let a newly arrived couple take the lead going back south down the trail so as to have fresh eyes on things. Arriving at the spot where the trail appears to go left and to the right is a path to an overlook, the husband went left, the way that we had come, but the wife was certain the trail was to the right where we had also been but failed to spot the trail. And she was right. At the very far left of this area, stepping off of a rock, she spied a cairn down another 40 or 50 feet that we had all missed.
At this point, we were very happy because we had been searching for the trail for about 90 minutes in the blazing sun and our water supply was getting tight, given the distance to the next creek.
|Overlooking Canaan Valley|
|When You're Low on Water, This is a Tease|
At 526, we jogged right to stay on 524 and then passed 525 and 511 in quick order, staying to the right each time until we came to the 4-way intersection. There is a signboard at this intersection with a map. The trail we wanted, 513, Big Stonecoal Trail, veers left off of 524 in front of this sign. Speaking of maps, when I was bushwhacking earlier, my map must have got ripped out of my belt and I found myself without a map. I was able to take a photo of another hiker's map and I found out later that a group behind us picked up my map, but I was never able to hook up with them to get it back. Lesson learned (and I almost always do this, but not this time): take a photo of your map before you leave so that if you lose it, you still have the photo on your phone.
Here, over Harman Mountain now in the southern half of Dolly Sods, the landscape changes and you go from open moors to deep dense rhododendron thickets with a lot more moisture. I had decided that we would stop at the first reasonable looking campsite near a water source earlier in the day, aiming to be short of the campsite recommended on the Hiking Upward itinerary. That would give us a little extra distance on our second day and help even out the hikes on the first two days.
We passed an occupied site by a small creek and then a couple more as we crossed Stonecoal Creek proper. We stopped at an intermediary creek to refill our water for the evening, not knowing how far we would camp from a water source. Just over Stonecoal Creek, we found a beautiful site in a grove of pines right next to a small marshy area and a water source. There were surprisingly no bugs and the ground blanketed deeply in pine needles was a great place to set up our tent.
|I Must Have Said Something About Blowing|
Our cooking set up is a bit unusual. For the two of us, I am carrying a single 1.1-liter GSI aluminum boiler in which I nest a small gas canister wrapped in my PackTowl, a folding tripod base, an MSR Microrocket stove, and a mini Bic lighter. The GSI boiler set up is really nice with the insulated folding handle locking the lid down when not in use. I debated about whether to discard the mesh bag in which the boiler arrived, but brought it along. And I found it invaluable for corralling my towel and the lighter while the stove was in use, preventing them from getting lost. I got an aluminum pot versus a titanium pot because the cost of aluminum is a fraction of titanium at a very modest weight penalty.
Because we only have one pot between the two of us and we decided not to share out of the same pot (because we might be eating different dinners), we both have SnowPeak Ti double-walled coffee mugs for our morning coffee (and evening wine!) and two 1-oz disposable pho bowls with lids in which to rehydrate our dinners before eating them from the bowls. Contrast this to people who rehydrate and eat from their cook pot. Where does the coffee go?!?!
We are carrying about the same weight as carrying two pots, but our set up is definitely bulkier. We are carrying the coffee mugs in our side pockets and slipping a SmartWater bottle down into them, solving that problem. But the bowls are still bulky. With a full summer gear load and a three-day food supply, we both still had oodles of room in our packs, mine an Exos 58 and Ann's an Exos 48. So far, the bowls are not an issue and I really like eating out of a bowl versus a cooking pot. It's an aesthetic thing.
|Annie and Her Hiker Trash Duct Tape Bandage|
|Annie Insisted on This Photo|
We got into camp about 6:00 pm and by the time we had filtered water, set up the tent and sleeping pads, cooked and cleaned up from dinner, and got the bear bag hung, it was 8:00pm. Annie said, "It's 8:00. Is it too early to go to sleep?" and promptly passed out. This is the woman that when we were looking at tents caused me to laugh when she said that the tent we ultimately picked was her preference because it was roomy enough so that we could play cards or whatever inside before going to sleep. I do believe she was incredulous when I told her that once you hit the sleeping bag, it is over for the night. Now she knows.
I lay there for a few minutes listening to the haunting flute-like notes of a Wood Thrush before dozing off for the night.