Trip Report: Dolly Sods Walk-Around and West Rim Shuttle

Posted by Michael Martin on

A pretty crazy weekend for me! Let me divy it up into two sections.

[u]Dolly Sods[/u]

So, Carolyn and Lulu pulled up in front of my place in their massive hiker relocation machine Wednesday evening, and we were soon rolling for the Sods. Despite a few warnings that the Red Creek area was in bad shape due to blowdowns from Sandy, I was determined to start the trip from there, for book purposes. Carolyn planned to sleep in her car, and I was going to walk in and camp. We'd meet up in the morning, then walk around the wilderness.

It was about 10pm by the time we pulled into the trailhead. I admit I was a little concerned about crossing Red Creek, alone and in the dark, so Carolyn convinced me to take a high water trail that was shown on the map. It was there, all right, but it dead-ended short of Little Stonecoal Trail. At about 11pm, I gave up on my plan to reach Lions Head that night and camped in a river bottom full of deer scat. I set my alarm for 5am, figuring that Carolyn would have the same problem with the trail and end up in the same spot.

Sure enough, 5am comes around, and so does Carolyn and Lulu. We get moving, bushwack along the river to Little Stone Coal, and get started climbing. And there are a lot of blowdowns, especially on Dunkenbarger Trail, especially as you crest the rim of the plateau. At points, navigation becomes a real challenge, and one is often just bushwacking along, trying to keepthe trail in the corners of one's eye. After reaching Big Stonecoal Trail, though, things become easier, and we walk north, enjoying lovely weather, good walking, and big views as we reach the far NW corner of the wilderness at about 11am or so. We head east, round the northern side of the area, then head south for some predictably boggy walking on Dobbin Grade and the Upper Red Creek Trail.

When we reach Blackbird Knob, Lulu looks beat, so Carolyn (who has somehow acquired the trail name Virtual Slug--ask her) heads for 75 along TR 511. She's seen the parts of the Sods that make the Sods the Sods anyway. I proceed south to rejoin the Battle Wagon and complete my loop. I pass the Forks--what a beautiful camping spot that is--then visit Lions Head using the Rocky Point Trail, and descend to Red Creek along the Big Stonecoal Trail. The crossing is no big thing, but the last stretch of the Red Creek Trail is plagued by downed trees.

I reach the Battlewagon at 5:30pm. GPS reads about 25 miles for the day. Carolyn and Lulu have hitched back and are enjoying a nap. We saddle up and drive home, having done a weekend's worth of backpacking in a day. A little perfunctory? Yes, but sometimes you just gotta get 'er done. I get home at about 9pm, in bed by 11pm.

[u]West Rim Trail, PA[/u]

Friday morning, I'm at Grosvenor, where I'm expecting a fine crew of DC ULers to join me for a beautiful, relaxing weekend on the West Rim Trail, along Pine Creek in north-central PA. Katie, Mark, Christine, Anna, Chris, Will, and Reid all join me, so we have a good-sized group. You just know that some of these folks are going to have trail names by the end of the weekend, don't you?

Quickly enough, we're on our way north for the long drive, stopping at the occasional gas station and skipping the roadside vendors of "meat pot pies." You kill it: we cook it. We arrive at Pine Creek Outfitters in Ansonia, PA, and avail ourselves of their shuttle service to head to the south terminus of the trail. For $12, this is a great way to do a shuttle. On the way, we see Amish shoolchildren playing in the yard, listen to a little death metal, and Anna gets a trail name--Pancakes--after a long past culinary misadventure.

We're hiking by 2pm, and knock out the trail's toughest climb up Lloyd Run to gain the plateau. (Here, we have a bit of a contretemps, as Pancakes, who is getting over being sick, has trouble breathing on the climb. She returns to the trailhead and calls the outfitter. We make plans for her to spend the weekend camping, and I let her have my car keys. Thank goodness she can drive a manual! I know this wasn't how Pancakes envisioned her weekend going, but she did a great job of bowing out in good order and helping the group. I know she'll be back to her usual form by the Grayson Highlands.)

I'm not at the top of Lloyds Run again till about 4pm, and the rest of the group, I estimate, is about 4 miles ahead of me. After pausing at the first view to photograph a giant rattlesnake, I'm walking along after the others. It's a beautiful evening for walking, and I stroll along through the late afternoon and early evening, eventually catching up with everyone else at about mile 11, around 7:30pm. Mark already has a fire going, and we settle in for a pleasant evening campfire.

Here we learn that Christine is carrying a camp chair, which makes us consider giving her the trailname of Princess. She will have none of it! It's a chilly night, and a cricket invades Christine's inner sanctum. There is much screaming and Will is called in for back up. She tries to get us to call her Cricket, but it just doesn't stick.

The next morning, we're off walking at 8am, enjoying one big view after another as we reach the picnic area around the trail's mid-point. At that point, the WRT starts to get crowded. We see something on the order of 5-6 groups of backpackers; one especially large group is rather clueless. At two intersections where I pause to make sure that everyone makes the turns, we watch, wryly, as the members of the group obliviously walk by the turns. Of course, we help them. Some of them are so worn out that they seem dazed. Although we had been walking deliberately slowly (after 11 miles Friday evening, we're worried that we're going to run out of trail), and even took *two* breaks long enough for naps, we do get worried about the competition for campsites. We had planned to camp about 6 miles from the northern terminus, but in the late afternon, we press on, leaving the other groups behind, and reach a beautiful camping spot in a clearing at about 4.3 miles from the end. Curiously, we really see no other hikers at the beginning and end of the trail, yet the middle is crowded.

Michael Martin posted on

We have a great relaxing evening around the fire. I learn that Mark has a fondness for the band Slayer, so he becomes "Mountain Slayer." Chris whittles a spoon from a stick. When Christine discovers that she has left her spoon behind, she uses it. Somehow, she becomes "Her Majesty" and that name sticks, and how. We amuse ourselves the rest of the trip speaking of Her Majesty in the third person: "Her Majesty prefers brunch."

Early the next morning, we pass the final viewpoints along the trail (lots of great photos) and descend to the northern terminus, reaching the trailhead at 9:30am. Pancakes is there, right on time, in my car, and we have a happy reunion. Then, we're off to Wellsboro, where, thanks to Max's recommendation, we enjoy a marvelous all-you-can-eat brunch at the Penn Wells Hotel. Just what we need for the long drive home.

Overall, we had a splendid group to enjoy this beautiful trail in good DC UL style. The trail wasn't difficult: we had brilliant weather: and we just had a fun bunch of people. I think everyone could have easily gotten to 20 miles on Saturday--I spent most of the day holding them back! Special shout outs to Reid and Chris, who became members of DC UL on this trip.

In the end, our splits looked like 11-15-4. I'll get the Google Earth data up here soon. And photos!


Dan posted on

Sounds like a good time on the WRT. I'll have to find 2 days this summer to knock it out in warmer weather. I already have a fall and winter trip on this trail. Might as well get all 4 seasons! Thanks for the report!

Joffrey Peters posted on

It sounds like the Red Creek area is just as fun as it was right after Sandy. I was there postholing in 3+ft of snow getting snowshoes caught on buried rhododendrons last Nov. right after the storm. We spent hours trying to follow/find the trail before calling it quits after only 4mi on the trail. I think you probably enjoyed some of the same fun, but without the lovely added weight of winter gear, or added fun of postholing!

Michael Martin posted on

Yeah, it wasn't that bad, for me, but, as you say, I didn't have any snow or winter gear. The trail is a bit messy, though. Hopefully, they clean it up soon. I could imagine it causing folks problems. I wasn't going to be able to reach Lions Head in the middle of the night, with trail conditions like that, certainly.

Here is the Google Earth file for Dolly Sods.

It shows me at 24.6 miles with 3,793 feet of gain.

Michael Martin posted on

And here is the Google Earth file for the West Rim Trail.

30 miles. 5,499 feet of gain, 5,167 feet of loss.

Kinda interesting to look at!


Joffrey Peters posted on

Yeah, I couldn't actually follow the trail almost at all. Everything was just a jumbled mess of downed trees and rhododendrons, and bush whacking was both appropriately named and just about the only thing possible.