Dolly Sods 2017

October 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

I believe this became the earliest late Fall backpacking/camping/hiking trip I have ever done with this crowd. Like all of our adventures together this began with a simple email subject line “Autumn Camping”, sent on August 10th by Bruce C. One hundred and ninety six emails later, some that didn’t really move the planning along, we had a date in early October, and we had more people interested in that date, than have ever been interested in a camping date, and we had all agreed fairly quickly that The Dolly Sods Wilderness would be our destination.

Much of the back and forth banter was about a route choice, and where to camp. I felt nostalgic for a low entry similar to my first Dolly Sods adventure where Red Creek crosses the road out of Lanesville. Start low finish high would be a challenge for those who prefer to take full advantage of the short time in the woods, to pack as much feature comfort, both edible, and beverage consumable, into the woods with them. For those folks, starting high, and staying high with a slight downhill grade is just what the Fall backpacking gods had ordered. That group has been characterized as the Old Fat and Lazy (OFAL) crowd, and they were not a minority.

It was clear, very early on that many had signed on for this trip. There was even the possibility of getting Tim M to fly in from The Netherlands, as he had kind of pre-planned something like this by storing all his camping gear with his buddy Bruce C. Tim’s son Jake is expecting his first child around camping time, but pressure was applied for attendance, but the lure of hanging with old saggy nut sack leaky prostate old fat men just wasn’t enough for Jake to forsake his partner duties and be there with his wife for the potential birth of their child.

Drew, on the other hand, brought the average age of the group down a few percentage points and was one of the fifteen participants. Fifteen? Yes, that is quite an environmental assault on a resource as precious as Dolly Sods. Fifteen campers is going put pressure on our chosen site to supply enough wood to burn most of the weekend, as well as tent sites, and waste sites. There are no pit toilets in The Sods. Just have to go into the woods, far enough away, and make sure that you place an upright stick into the spot where you were, so others can avoid that. There had been a joke made about attaching glow sticks, or mini-led lights that we could gaze out upon our environs at night and see where everyone had been. We did not follow through on that.

I have been to Dolly Sods on three previous occasions, and I have to admit, that I have been rather lucky with the weather. The first time was very cold, but rain was done before we got there, and it stayed dry. The second time, we arrived in a driving rain storm, but we knew, or at least read, that it would clear, and even though we headed into horizontal water, it wasn’t long after starting that it began to let up, and soon stopped completely. That trip enjoyed the famous Midnight Full Moon hike to the Western Ridge in which Larry B famously tripped while returning, and gave himself a pretty good knock on the head. My third trip was perfect in every way, so it was hard to imagine that I could be rewarded yet again with ideal conditions.

As soon as I could pull a ten day forecast, I did, and it looked promising. The closer the day approached, the more consistently the forecast called for all rain clearing, and the area remaining misty and moist until the afternoon, and then clearing for the weekend. The ace in the hole bargain never before experienced phenomena was the complete and total lack of wind. Dolly Sods sits atop the Appalachian Plateau, where the wind simply howls all the time. It is just a windy place, and there is plenty of vegetation that attests to this fact, yet there was none. Everyone could sit around the fire all evening till midnight and not have to move to avoid wind-blown smoke. That is almost completely unheard of.

The weekend prior to this weekend, I ran a small 120 mile ride from lower Manhattan to Bear Mountain and back. On that ride was Terry D, to whom I had made an invitation of this weekend’s event. He had his own thing planned for this weekend, but it fell through, and by Tuesday he had committed to joining this crew. It was safe to say that this would be unlike any previous backpacking experiences he had yet to have.

Our plan was pretty simple. My brother-in-law would pick up the main courses for our meals, and some snacks, and we would bring consumption beverages, and any snacks we wanted to eat. We would get a somewhat early start Thursday evening and spend the night taking Bruce C up on his offer to house us in Hyattsville, where we would grab some grub at a local brewpub, and then we would drive out to Wardensville, WV where we would meet almost everyone at the Kac-Ka-Pon diner. Missing would be my Brother-In-Law, who was at the trail-head already, and a couple of others who we would meet up with at the designated camp-site area.

Bruce and his lovely wife Mary welcomed us into their lovely home and greeted us with Martini’s, one Bruce’s specialties. Food was offered, but we didn’t come to be a burden, though I guess in fact 3 strange men sleeping in your house can’t be anything but a burden, so we navigated the 4-way stop sign streets of Hyattsville to Franklin’s on Rt1 downtown, where we enjoyed a few drafts, burgers, and probably the best Onion Rings on the planet. That last statement is not hyperbole.

Bruce got an earlier start because he had two pickups to make, and my crew took advantage of Mary’s company and delicious coffee before heading out on our own into the rush hour traffic that is the greater DC metro area. It could have been worse, but we soon found ourselves on 66W and flying along at 80mph looking at the gloomy skies ahead. Was our weekend going to be like this?

After a country breakfast at the Kac-Ka-Pon, we formed our caravan of vehicles and we headed West to State Route 48. Senator Byrd brought home a lot of federal funds to WV and Rt 48 is one result of some of that highway cash. It is unfortunate that the state of Virginia will not allocate funds to connect through to highway 81, so it is local roadways through Wardensville for now. My first trip to The Sods was ALL local roads, while various sections of 48 were under construction. This was the first trip for me where most of the Western travel was on this road, and it does make a difference. WV is a mountainous state, and nothing makes this evident more than Route 48. From 48 we have to navigate SW towards Cabins and Route 28, an outdoor person’s fishing paradise I am guessing where the South Branch of The Mighty Potomac River provides local and visiting anglers with plenty of Trout fishing opportunities. This is where the first directional signs to Dolly Sods begin to appear along the road, and soon we were climbing the Appalachian Front and into the clouds once again. From the North Fork Highway, a right turn onto Jordan’s Run Rd, you begin a 2500′ ascent that becomes a forest dirt road once you make the left onto Dolly Sods Road, which is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. We were 7 vehicles, so any descenders we ran into yielded to us.

At the trail-head we found my Brother-in-Law patiently awaiting our arrival. Soon the parking area was alive with fat old men changing clothes and readying for the weekend we had all been looking forward to. It was still overcast and misty, but we all knew something special was in the air. A few vehicles passed through with the astonished faces of those who witnessed all these old men readying themselves for what could only be a weekend of suffering under the weight of heavy packs. Some of our packs WERE heavy, but fortunately we didn’t really have far to go, and except for an initial climb, most of the trip would be downhill. In fact, there was a way to avoid that initial climb, and some folks with the heavier packs did avoid it.

An hour or so later we walked out onto the Eastern rim of the Red Creek gorge with a beautiful view of Lion’s Head on the Western rim, and pretty much our hike for the day was over. All we had to do was scout for a campsite that could accommodate all of us, and wasn’t too far from a water supply, and then we would be set for the weekend. That site wasn’t too far up an Eastern branch off the main trail and we soon found ourselves sheltered within a fairly large coniferous grove with a great fire ring. After confirming this was the best site, we set about selecting our own sites. I found a couple of trees that appeared like they would work well for my hammock, though in hindsight I should have kept looking. It was convenient to the main camp and it was good enough.

Wood gatherers gathered wood, and wood cutters cut. Soon we had a supply that would get us through the first night. A nice cool pool was found to deposit all of our packed-in fermented canned beverages, and after a little socializing around the fire ring, not yet with fire, we decided to move the party out to the rocks to enjoy the evening sun. We would hang out there until sunset, and then retreat back to camp to get the fire going, and begin round 1 of the food smorgasbord that we had at our disposal.

On the rocks it was warm and as said prior, windless. Maybe a small breeze, but hardly anything that could be called wind. There was a small puddle in the rocks, and I had started looking for these as a chance to try some reflection shots using the iPhone camera. The iPhone allows you to get right down on the water, and capture a unique perspective. Nobody was paying attention to me, and I snapped a couple of images, one of which is displayed below. The result was beyond comprehension. I immediately started to share the image among my friends, and the reaction was all the same. “Where did you get a picture of that lake?” “You just took that!?” See for yourself. That was the best shot I took all weekend, though I continued to look for other opportunities.

With the fire going, and embers created, it was time for food. These generally become family style dinners. As soon as something is ready to eat, it gets shared around the campfire. Terry O cooked up two large Goose Breasts, then sliced them up and passed them around. Delicious. Walt brought us marinated chicken breasts, which I managed to cook perfectly. Sliced and distributed. Tom cooked up some rice and tenderloin. Scrumptious. Ed had sausage and peppers with Jalapenos. Yum. All the while we are passing various beers, and various whiskey’s, single malts, and of course, Bruce made Martinis. Bruce even had ice!.

This is turning into a long dissertation, and so I will cut it short here with a simple statement that the second day was more of the same, that also included a great day hike to Lion’s Head for those that chose to go. The winds returned Sunday morning, but it was still a gorgeous day as we hiked out the way we all hiked in. We took in an excursion to Bears Rocks at the North end of the Wilderness, and then we headed out for a not-so-welcome retreat meal at Lost River Brewing in Wardensville. It was late when I finally got home Sunday night, and then it was back to work Monday with nothing but a very fond memory of a great weekend. By morning Google had sync’d up my photos, and on Tuesday I had a movie suggestion, which I quickly edited the hell out of and it lies below as the last product of a great weekend.


At Kac-Ka-Pon for traditional breakfast feast


Climbing Dolly Sods Road


Getting Ready


Fall Foliage


Along the trail


Simple Camp Set-Up




Evening on the rocks


A Different Hammock Set-Up


More water level perspective


From the middle of Red Creek


Atop Lion’s Head


A Different take on Red Creek


Back to where we started.


Bear’s Point Panorama


and more


The Eastern View from Bear’s Point


The whole crew.


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