Brokeback Mountain Weekend Dec 4-6 2020
April 1, 2021 § 1 Comment
The planning of this weekend has somewhat been discussed, as here for example, already, and perhaps there is some humor and purpose to scribing some of what the weekend actually entailed. There was at least one first for any of these “Weekend Warrior” type trips, and perhaps, to some degree, maybe another, though the former is much more notable, than the latter.
I call it a weekend, but really it’s a three day weekend. The average age of the crew, brought down somewhat by the recent addition of a one Dan G… (name protected to protect the innocent), hovers in the very high 50’s if not almost low 60’s, so, looking back (as I am at the moment) to all the weekends that have come before (and there were many), the trend (some would say not a great trend) has been towards less backpacking, and more hiking. That is to say, backpack in, establish a basecamp (I think one word works fine here), consume beers the rest of Friday which could (not always, but has) include a late night hike (but this weekend did not), and then a hike (sometimes challenging, sometimes not) on Saturday, leaving plenty of time to harvest more trapped CO2 in form of downed timber, followed by more beer consumption, and finally a backpack out. On occasion, there has been a late night hike as well, however, the few times that has occurred has been within the “late night hike rich” confines of Dolly Sods in West Virginia.
Let’s get back to this weekend, and leave historical events to history. THIS was the shortest ever, in-bound Friday hike. In fact, it was so short, that Mr. Retriever (Terry One), not only packed his chain saw, but actually made a couple of trips and packed said chain saw in to camp. I am going to let that set in for a bit. … Alright maybe it doesn’t have to set in all that long. Trail maintenance crews will pack in a chainsaw to handle the big stuff that blocks a trail, so maybe it isn’t that unordinary. For US, it was far from ordinary. Ordinary for us, was one or two Sven saws, Larry’s Sawvivor (though I think he has moved on to something like this), and a Buck saw that Bruce found somewhere. Between all that we are able to harvest enough wood to draw the ire of boy scout troop leaders everywhere, and maybe even Smoky the Bear. Having a chain saw though, raises to a new level the speed with which we can harvest, as well as the size of wood being harvested.
How short was the hike in? If it was a mile, I think that could be overstating it. I think it maybe sounds better to say it was almost two kilometers. And it was flat. Perhaps not completely flat, as the trail moved against the flow of the creek, however it was flat enough to not notice what little elevation gain there was. I don’t believe much effort was exerted (speaking for myself) to get from the car to the camp. Want to judge for yourself? Check out this map, and we grabbed either the second, or third camp site listed. I seem to recall there being more than four sites long that creek, so the accuracy of said statements is highly judgmental.
This is our second Covid adventure in the woods adventure together as a group. Five of us met late last May in Dolly Sods, where we had a great weekend, and at five, it was pretty easy to maintain protocols. Like that trip, we didn’t meet anywhere before hand for breakfast, so we all showed up at our own times, and hiked in. Terry One actually hiked in on Thursday, and had an extra day on us, so technically there was already a fire going when the rest of us started to arrive on Friday. That also got us the first really decent sized campsite along the creek, because this destination is popular, as witnessed by the number of other folks that were out for a long weekend the first weekend in December. I think the Covid has a lot of people just wanting to get out of their homes, and a late fall trip into the Virginia backcountry is just the ticket. As I write this two months after the event, it is with the knowledge that Winter Sports gear flew off the shelves this year. Cross Country skis sales boomed, as did the sale of snow shoes. Out-Of-Stock was written across many online pages for gear.
Andy and I arrived around 1 in the afternoon. We stopped at a tobacco shop in Woodstock so I could grab some loose cigarette tobacco, and I guess while I was inside, Andy started in on a sub-sandwich he had brought with him. When I got back in his car, he shoved the sandwich into his pocket where it remained until we dropped our packs in camp. After the initial greetings, we were instructed to take advantage of the light rain to setup our tents, but that is when Andy let’s us know that he needed to eat first, and then pulled this giant unwrapped sub sandwich out of his pocket and proceeded to make it disappear right before our amazed eyes. First belly ache laugh of the trip achieved.
We had been watching the forecast all week, which changed from a pretty shitty Saturday, to rain starting early Friday afternoon, getting heavy later, and more than likely finished before morning. So, after Andy finished his meal, which didn’t take long, we picked our tent sites and erected them. Bruce and Terry had two tarps erected already, but that wasn’t going to be enough for all of us, so I dug out my Tyvek, and found a perfect spot between two trees to set that up. A feather in my cap is that after using this Tyvek reliably for some 7 years now, I have it configured so that it was actually quite easy to string up between the two trees, high at the front, and sloping back to where I supported the rear by my hiking poles. I had it up in less than 10 minutes, and soon had a comfy dry spot close enough to the fire to feel it’s warmth, and I sat down to draw in that warmth.
The afternoon and evening of the first day played out pretty much how we agreed it would play out. We all had our own tents set up, Bruce’s and Dan’s on the other side of the creek, and we weren’t sitting on top of each other, but with the rain falling, we were cozy under the tarps. When it came time to cook, we all pretty much cooked our own stuff. There were some things to share, but those were put out with minimal handling, and people were invited to come over and take what they wanted, minimizing their own contact with the food. I brought some sour dough, and shared that as well, but after toasting it first. When it came to the beers, we all drank out of cups, and therefore poured beer into the cups, thus allowing us to share those as well, one of which was an IPA I brought down from Vermont, in which one of the brewery owners is related to my wife and her brother Walt. So I wanted to share that with Walt, and the rest of the crew, as it was a very tasty IPA. Another share I brought with me was my new favorite IPA, and that is Carton’s Whaler, a truly exceptional NE IPA that, to me, tastes more like a West Coast IPA. That is my go to when it comes to beer now. The final share, in all the sharing, was also poured. That would be the stronger beverages, such as the Bulleit Rye Whiskey I brought. Walt brought Oban, of course, and there was an assortment of other Bourbons, and not to be left out, Bruce’s Gin which went into all of his martinis.
Was rain mentioned? The forecast kept changing as the weekend approached. Early on it seemed like Friday would be a good day, while Saturday would be a crappy day, which kind of sucked. It would be better to endure a crappy day on Friday, and then still have the day hike ahead of us, and we already did a crappy Saturday trip with a crappy Friday lead in the year prior which you can read about here and maybe more here. So, the closer we got to Friday, the closer the start of the rain got to early Friday afternoon, and the more it looked like it would rain most of the night, but we would have a clear day on Saturday. By clear, I meant not raining. Not clear as in clear sunny skies. So, as we sat there around the camp fire, the rest of the afternoon, the rain picked up in its volume, and we stayed pretty dry beneath our tarps. We were able to converse as we always conversed. We were able to laugh as we have always laughed. We were having a jolly old time of it. If there were any issues, maybe, that some peoples chairs lacked a “groundsheet” and thusly sank into the soft wet earth via the weakest softest leg support. Having witnessed Jim Kirby sink on a previous trip, when it came time to purchasing my newest backpacking camp chair, I went all in on the groundsheet, and thus, I sat upright the entire weekend. Others also were groundsheet equipped, and thus sat upright. At this point in my recollection, I am not sure that everyone even had chairs. I think Terry One sat on a log, and Malt stood most of the time, though Malt was guilty of putting Dan’s chair, not groundsheeted, to the test when he stuck his immense frame, which though not equal to Dan’s frame doubled, was considerably more than Dan’s frame, and where the ground tolerated Dan’s frame, it did not tolerate Malt’s frame, and so, Dan lost the foot of his chair deep into the muck when the ground declared “Uncle” and let Malt fall over backwards. To say that we laughed, is no lie, and is not disgraceful to my brother in law, because it was funny, and we saw it as funny, and we expressed what we saw, and we laughed. Poor Dan.
At some point Terry One brought out the Venison that he brought along, that had been marinating for a few days, and kicked away a section of the far, and built out a little cooking area which could support a grill grate, which apparently someone packed in, and soon Terry One was grilling up some Venison Tenderloin to share. There was room for other’s food, and the other’s food was laid down, and the other’s food was cooked, and those other’s laid into their other’s food until it was no more. Most of the other’s laughed at my simple meal of ramen noodles, but it was quick to make, it was savory in taste, and it was easy to eat, and it warmed my tummy, and though I had been eating Vegan the last 3 months of my life, I told everyone that didn’t make me a Vegan, and so when the Venison Tenderloin was ready, and Terry One removed it from the grill, and sliced into it, and took all that Terry One wanted to take, thus offering up to others, what was left, I gladly partook of some game. Look, I am eating Vegan, because when I eat Vegan, my blood values are normal, or at least that is what the Dr. told me, and when my diet is not vegan, and includes butter, and cheese, and occasional hamburgers, my blood cholesterol is not filled with the good cholesterol, so I am eating vegan, but I am not a Vegan, and I enjoyed Terry One’s offering with great satisfaction.
By the time Friday evening came to an end, it was raining pretty consistently, and when I retired to my tent, I wasn’t surprised to find that a puddle of water had formed down at the bottom right corner, the low point, and I was very careful to try and keep my stuff away from that. I got through the night with only having to get up twice to relieve myself, and was never very cold. I packed in my 0 degree polarguard Northface bag that I have had for some time. It’s a tight fit in the backpack, but it is a good bag for these conditions, and even if it got a little wet, polarguard stays warm.
By morning, the rain was over. I looked at the end of my tent where my feet lay and there was a puddle that looked like a small lake. The bottom of my bag was a wee bit wet, but I had rested, the day was anew, the rain was gone, and someone had gotten up and gotten the fire going already, so score on all counts. I arose, and found company around the fire. It was still early, so while I wasn’t the last up, it turned out, I was one of the first up. It wasn’t all that cold out, but the wind had kicked up a little bit, and that made it feel colder. The fire, as a fire should, took care of that, and I found my seat and took stock of camp. It seemed that I was lazy the previous evening, and instead of find a proper place to hang my food bag, I simply strung it up on one of the guy lines supporting my tarp. Well, the wind had other ideas while I was sleeping, and I found my tarp on the ground, along with my food bag, and all the guy lines were tangled up like a knot of spaghetti strands. Since the rain was done, so was our need for the tarp, so before doing anything else I set about untangling the mess, and putting the tarp away. It was too windy to hang it out to dry, so I packed it wet, and it would require drying when I got home on Sunday.
Breakfast was going to be toast and marmalade with Starbucks Via dark roast coffee. A double. While Terry had graciously filled my camp bladder with filtered water, I simply took my pot down to the creek and filled it was fresh water, and would simply boil it a wee bit longer for to kill anything that was alive in it. The rule is to boil it for a few minutes, which always seems to work out. So far so good! I sliced some sourdough, and toasted it up while my water heated, being careful to flip the bread to keep it from burning (an easy thing to do when toasting on an open fire). I even packed some vegan butter, so it was butter and marmalade for me. Super simple, and supah dupah delicious. No clean-up.
The others finally straggled out of their tents, and took care of their own needs, and then we got to assessing our plans for the day. There were a number of ways to get to Little Schloss. There was a long loop, simply continuing up the Little Stoney Creek to a junction, hang a right, and then hike back along the ridge. We also could have returned to the cars, and back tracked along the road for a mile or so, and picked up another access trail. Or, we could simply cross the creek, and angle up against the grain of the climb, until we intersected the ridge trail. The latter would cut 5-6 miles off the hike, and substitute a somewhat steep climb, bushwhacking as we go. There wasn’t any danger of getting lost, as we had our bearings. The creek was downhill, and the trail was uphill. You can’t get lost in that. The trick, when bushwhacking is simply to find the cleanest path that doesn’t lead you into a rock wall that you can’t climb anymore. Boulder scramble is still okay, but no free climbing. Terry, and Andy decided to forgo the elevation hike, and decided to hang around camp, and hike up Little Stoney with Reilly and explore the other campsites. Have I mentioned Reilly? Reilly is Terry’s retriever, and is the greatest camping dog to have along. Well behaved, and always welcomes attention. Reilly wanted to bushwhack. He’d already been back and forth across the creek numerous times, so getting wet is just what dogs love to do. What Reilly wants is not necessarily what Terry wants, and what Terry wants is what Reilly will do, so we didn’t even bother to ask if we could take Reilly with us. Once the decisions were locked in, across the creek we went and up the hill we climbed.
It’s the first week of December, long after all the leaves have fallen, so when it comes to looking up the mountain, it doesn’t get much clearer than this time of year. That is a trick when ascending, to keep your eyes planted at the base of the trees, and when light begins to shine through you are about to reach either a shelf, or the top. We had about 1000′ to gain, so when I saw the light between the trees, my first thought was “Well that went pretty fast” until we leveled out and I could see that we still had a long climb ahead. Larry, Walt, Bruce, Dan were right behind me, (Actually I lie, I was letting Bruce lead, so he got to the shelf first), and we all caught our collective breaths for a moment. While we couldn’t see our camp, the shelf offered a semi open view to the West of the border ridge with West Virginia. There are some very nice rock formations along that ridge, including Big Schloss.
We didn’t linger long, and a quick assessment had us continuing our angled assault on the ridge. There sections of exposed rock, nothing to difficult to overcome, but easier enough to by-pass. A few more breath catchers and we emerged upon a woods road that seemed like a fire road. It cut against the grain of our direction, so we simply crossed it, but we noted that it probably hooked up with the ridge trail, and might be a nice descent option when we need to return. Less than 5 minutes later we intersected the ridge trail, and headed South towards the rocks of Little Schloss. The wind was a blowing, and a swirling, but we still had tree protection, so it didn’t feel all that bad. We walked through a rather large opening where clearly many had camped before. It actually appeared to be accessible to 4WD vehicles, because there is no water up there anywhere, and the camp sites were too large for backpackers.
The trail narrowed, descended all twisty like, and the rocks of Little Schloss lay before us. Also the din of barking dogs lay before us. The dogs heard us coming, and their masters were well aware of our arrival. They may have been done with Little Schloss themselves, because we passed each other on our way up. I think they yielded the rocks to us so we could have them without the yapping dogs. Now, if you have ever been in the woods on a windy day, you can see the trees sway, and you can hear the wind, but at ground level, it isn’t all that bad. However, when you climb above the trees, as in ascend Little Schloss, then you expose yourself to the full hammer head of the wind’s wrath. We didn’t actually spend all that much time out in the wind, because, cold, and we found a lee side of some rocks that offered plenty of shelter. There we sat, protected and enjoyed the lunch snacks we brought with us, as well as a few beers that had found their way into our bags. We all had our cups, so no sharing from the can, and we maintain our social distance. It was an overcast day, with little pockets here and there where the sun could shine down upon the valley below. What valley? The Shenendoah Valley that would be. Little Schloss offers up a gorgeous view of the West Valley, as well as a peek into Fort Valley, a little Shangri-la hamlet of isolation between the East and West Shen Valleys, and then way in the distance, the Shenendoah Mountains where Skyline Drive winds its way. What we were looking at was a section of Virginia that some of my biking friends and I had come down to ride some fall day quite a few years ago. Cliff, Alex, Meredith and myself, logged a century on day one that included Fort Valley, and then on day 2 we took in a southern loop of 70-80 miles. Anyway, it was nostalgic for me to look out upon that landscape.
We returned as planned by walking the ridge trail North until we intersected the fire road, and as we guessed, that brought us down the mountain in the direction of an intersection with the main road where the cars were parked, so at some point we splintered off and bushwhacked straight down until we came to Little Stony Creek, crossed, and our day hike came to an end. We meandered back into camp to find the non-bushwhackers huddled by the newly reignited fire. Tales tall were told on both sides of miles walked, and sights seen. Our vista tales were countered by flowing water tales, and small waterfalls, and apparently a cabin. We both saw other people, and soon we focused our collection attentions toward the task of gathering enough firewood for the night that lay ahead. The sky had cleared during our descent, and now the only obstruction to direct sunlight were the leafless branches, but the sun was going down, and wood we needed. Terry grabbed his chain saw and set off up the trail, and we followed. When there is a chainsaw, who needs to carry backpacking bow saws? Simply follow the chainsaw, and as hunks of tree get cut off, lift, and carry back to camp. An hour of effort, and our wood supply cup runneth over, and we were set for some hard core sitting and fire warmth absorption.
Dinner was much the same for every one. Terry’s Venison was consumed the night prior, and if there was anything major being cooked up this night maybe Bruce had packed a giant sirloin with some onions and peppers to sauté. The rest of us simply repeated. I had two different ramen brands, the first night was all contained in a large paper bowl, while for the second night I needed a pot to heat the water, which heated and hydrated the noodles. Night two was a significant improvement to night one, and after returning I found the company that makes it and ordered a case for general lunch consumption the rest of the winter. The main benefit of the ramen is it is easy to maintain covid protocols, because it isn’t an easy thing to share. Bruce had more steak than he was going to eat, so the last bits he cut into separate pieces, and then anyone who wanted a piece could simply lift it off the plate. Much the same as Terry and his Venison.
Don’t forget that we still had plenty of beer as well, and just as we did the night before, each opened can was offered for a pour into receptive cups for personal usage. Here I sit more than two months later recalling all this, and no one turned up positive as a result of our super-spreader event, so I think all the precautions we took worked out. Now, of course, if none of us were infected, then there was nothing to transmit, and therefore of course we came away in the clear. But we didn’t know that then. So, we got to enjoy some delicious beers, which right now, I wish I had written down what all we had. I know that I brought some Carton Whalers, a delicious NE IPA that is one of my new go-to IPAs; a couple of Red Clover IPAs from Brandon Vermont; Jug Handle Time and Space, a West Coast IPA; and I might have had a couple of Bradley Beach Project IPAs as well. Walt packed in some Brau from downtown DC, and from there my memory fades quickly to zero. I should note, that we did not drain our stronger liquids, or maybe it is safer to say that not all of us drained our stronger spirits. I am pretty sure that Terry drove home much lighter, in liquid content, than when he arrived, however as I unpacked, I found my bottle of bourbon only half consumed. Perhaps I was wary of having to get up too many times in the night, or maybe I simply forgot about it. Maybe we lost track of it. The night played out with stories being told, the fire being stoked, and eventually exhausting our beer supply to the point where it was time for some to hit the hay. One man in particular, Terry, needed a weeeeee bit of help with that. It took a couple of us to help him, but once we reached the tent, there was only so much we could do. There just isn’t room for anyone to crawl in and make sure he gets himself all settled, so once he eventually retired his bulk past the zipper, we were done and returned to the fire where we found Dan Grubb munching on a bag of Fritos Corn Chips. Now, I cannot remember the last time I ate those, but as soon as that salt hit my tongue, the seasoning flavor exploded, and a smile ripped across my face. “Oh My God, Those are soooo good!” Larry saw my reaction, and asked to get in on that action. Then Andy. After a couple of minutes, that was the end of the corn chips. Little known is that corn chips are an excellent fire starter. I think you can literally light a chip with the application of direct flame, and so if you can’t find any tinder, then a few corn chips down low in the twig pile is just the thing to get camp fire going.
With our beer supply exhausted and under a clear sky, the rest of us eventually all retired to our tents until the next morning. I think I was pretty lucky that night and got away with only having to get up once, and when dawn came and I dragged myself out for good, I was shocked to see Terry sitting by the fire. I thought there was no way that man was waking up in the morning without a doozie of a hangover, but there he was looking refreshed. He wasn’t 100%, but he was certainly in the 90s, and the fire was stoked and going again, and he was heating some water for coffee drinks. Of course his humor was awake as well and we immediately started in on how we got him to bed the night prior, and how he remembered most of it, and popped back out of his tent to take care of some business. Laughs were laughed, and chuckles chuckled, and soon the rest of the crew crawled out and joined in. We coffee drank, and breakfasted on the food we had left. As usual, Ed always found room in his pack for Drakes cakes, and even though we would never buy that shit at any other time of year, we all had our hands out to catch a cake thrown in our direction, and then tore into the wrapper, thus revealing the granular sugared treat. Quickly devoured, they disappeared as fast as the corn chips.
Andy and I had a long drive home, so we didn’t waste any time getting our camping shit together, and packed into our packs. Walt had a pretty early flight, and relied on Larry to get him to the airport, so those two had left earlier, and by the time we were ready to hike out, Bruce joined us for the walk out. We left Dan and Terry together, but had offered to carry some of Terry’s load out to his vehicle, but since he wasn’t ready to make his first trip, because he would need two trips, he just waved us off, and said he had plenty of time, and would take care of it all. Socially distance hugs were exchanged, and we hiked the short hike back to the cars. More distant hugs, and we were on the road for the many miles needed to get back to Jersey.
Another successful and fun long weekend in the woods with friends. When we started these back in the 80’s I don’t think anyone thought we would be carrying it on this long, but not have we, but I don’t see any inclination to stop any time soon. As long as we can walk, we can camp, so many more long weekends lie in our collective futures.