CODE PLUM! BATONA (and Roaring Plains) Trip Report, 5/30-6/2

Posted by Michael Martin on

If you think the "mountains" don't have anything new to teach, just peruse the following trip report.

[u]Roaring Plains[/u]

As planned, Booty-Less showed up at my place in Alexandria at around 3pm on Thursday, and we were quickly off to West Virginia for a quick, and all business-like trip to Roaring Plains. I broke her glove box and spilled bleach all over my pants, but otherwise it was an uneventful ride to the Roaring Plains trailhead. We hiked in on the Boars Nest Trail, which gave us a stout little climb, crossed the S. Prong of Red Creek (a beautiful spot), turned right on the forest road there, and then right again on the Roaring Plains Trail. We were strolling along, and at about the right mileage, Booty-Less noticed a cairn. We were looking for the TeePee Trail, which we wanted to follow to a campsite on the canyon rim. We knew, of course, that the navigation was about to get interesting.

We began following the cairned trail. It got boggy fast and petered out in a sea of thickets. We bushwhacked for a time, but found it exceptionally tough going as we would get stopped by thickets that were quite impenetrable. At last, we found another trail that showed signs of maintenance. We followed it for a time, but we knew it was taking us too far east. The light disappeared, and so at last, we put our headlamps on, and I stopped to enter the latitude and longitude of our intended campsite into my GPS. No surprise. We were well east of it.

At this point, one may ask, "Why didn't you have those points loaded into your GPS from the get-go?" I can only lamely say that I wanted to see if I could get there without using the GPS. That bit of machismo did not serve us well.

But no worries. We had a good spot to camp, pitched the Trailstar, ate dinner, drank some whisky, and went to sleep. Up at 5:30am, on the trail at 6:30am, determined to correct our error and complete the trip.

We followed our trail back the way we had come. Lo and Behold, it took us westwards to the Canyon Rim Trail, just shy of where we had wanted to spend the night. I needed the GPS track for the TeePee Trail for my book, and I think Booty-Less and I were just very curious what we had missed. So we located the cairns for the TeePee Trail and walked north. There was a trail there, but it was tough going. We must have spent 20 minutes trying to get over a massive blow-down and find the trail on the other side. We did it, though. And learned that Booty-Less really had made the right call with the cairn on the Roaring Plains Trail, but that there was an entirely unmarked sidepath that we needed to take right after the first turn. We both saw this sidepath the previous night, but walked on, staying on the better trodden trail. We dropped GPS waypoints, and built a cairn that I hope will help others.

Then, we backtracked along the TeePee trail, and at last started walking on the Canyon Rim Trail. Booty-Less did an excellent job of modeling for me, even braving a nest of giant rattlesnakes to get the best shots. A lovely trail overall, with plenty of big views.

Soon, we took a left on the pipeline cut and reached the Hidden Passage. This trail didn't give us much trouble, though we did have to fumble around at a point or two. We met a few traditional backpackers who were base camped at the point where the South Prong Trail meets the Hidden Passage. We had an easy walk down to the car along the S. Prong Trail.

The GPS read 16.5 miles for this little outing, so obviously we did a lot of extra walking for route-finding. I'll be posting the unscrubbed Google Earth file of the trip, if people want to check it out. This was a fun little adventure--perhaps the most serious-route finding challenge I'll be putting in the book. Hiking this loop counter-clockwise made it a lot harder, as it's much easier to find the TeePee Trail using the campsite.

Booty-Less and I reached the car at 1pm. We got a speeding ticket in Moorefield (58 in a 40, which the cop was nice enough to reduce to 45 in a 40), then stopped in Petersburg, WV, for burgers and beer. I took off the legs of my convertible pants, and one of the zippers ripped. This proved to have consequences.

After that, we started on the long drive to New Jersey. Booty-Less said she had a bad feeling about this ... I told that's just what it feels like to enter New Jersey! ;)

Michael Martin posted on


Some might ask ... Why the heck were you leaving West Virginia to go backpacking in New Jersey?! Well ... I needed another New Jersey chapter, and we had heard of this BATONA thing. It sounded like an entirely different eco-system, and the truth is that we have had such great experiences with some of these unusual locations (Delaware Water Gap to High Point) that I think all of us wanted to see what hiking the Pine Barrens was like.

As we got out to the area, all three of the cars had a little trouble finding the trail's end-point in the dark, but we all got there, left the car belonging to the Most Interesting Man in America and Booty-less' SUV there and piled into LaBamba's van for the ride to the campsites at the Bass River Campground. Shuttle did an awesome job of setting up this site for us. There was a party happening in the group site nearby, but everyone settled down, and we fell asleep to the sounds of roaring traffic.

Then the sun rose on what the Most Interesting Man in America would later call, "the weirdest day of backpacking of my life."

We all, but I especially, made the assumption that finding the BATONA trail from this state campground would be cake. We knew that it was blazed pink, so we walked to the entrance of the campground, where there was a rat's nest of trails, with blazes like pink, plum, and purple. One of Shuttle's pictures captures the weirdness of all this. The Most Interesting Man in America remarked that it was some of the worst signage he'd ever seen. We actually debated which one was pink till where saw some where someone had actually written "Pink!" on them ... Some of the pink blazes were faded to white!

BTW, "Code Plum" is now DC UL lingo for "Everybody Panic!"

We settled on trail and started walking, following pink blazes. Easy miles in the coolish morning, lots of chatter. But what's this? The GPS says we've walked in a circle. Sure enough. Map work, combined with GPS. Yep, we just did a 5-mile loop on a little trail that had nothing to do with BATONA. Lots of laughter, and we fumble around to find the real trailhead. A sign there greets us saying that there's a re-route. We promptly lose that trail and have to backtrack to find it again. With the additional mileage added by the re-route, and all of these errors, we've already walked 7 miles, it's 9:30am, and we have 32 miles to reach the Lower Forge Campsite we had reserved. This is not good.

We start off walking gamely enough. It does become rather hot, however, and we are happy to reach the creek at Martha's Bridge, where most of us (LaBamba, U-Turn, Booty-Less, Shuttle, and the Most Interesting Man in America) sit in the tea-colored waters and cool off. We've hiked about 14 miles ... 18 to go. At the next road, LaBamba calls it for himself. His ankle is swollen and bothering him. It looks like an overuse injury of some sort. Shuttle and Booty-Less join him. They are miserably hot, and not having fun. The thermometer reads 94 at one point.

For me, the Most Interesting Man in America, Heavy D, and Steve, the sufferfest goes on. It remains hot, but the trail gets worse. Never have I hiked on such undifferentiated and featureless terrain, not even in the center of Iceland. You have an endless sandy path through a piney brushy wood, and that's it. No features. Nothing to write about. It's like treadmill with ticks and chiggers. As the brush started to grow in around the trail, we all started removing ticks. In my case, bare-legged (which I never usually would do) a few dozen of them.

Late in the afternoon, we're at mile 22 or so. The Most Interesting Man in America was starting to show some signs of dehydration, and I was just not having much fun. I was starting to wonder how this trail could really go in my book ... Even if we made the 32 miles tonight, we'd have to wake up really early the next morning for 24 miles of undifferentiated terrain. I pulled the plug. I said no more: we're quitting. We re-routed to a campsite on a nearby road (23 miles total), and we call LaBamba, Shuttle, and Booty-Less ...

They say, "What? You're quitting? We're in Atlantic City!"

Michael Martin posted on

At this point, Shuttle will tell the story of the Atlantic City trio:

At one point I began to wonder if it was even worth drinking the water I was carrying and if I should just pour it over me. It's fair to say that the sun and I don't mix well. My arms were turning a lovely shade of pink (not plum) underneath the layer of sweat, sunscreen, and DEET that coated my arms. This was no lady-like glistening; it was a full sweat. So when the opportunity arose to cut short the backpack, I had no shame in saying I wanted out as well. Booty-Less, LaBamba, and I found a ride easily enough back to LaBamba's van. But then the question arose: if we needed to entertain ourselves until the next day when U-Turn, Heavy D, Steve, and the Most Interesting Man in America completed the trail, would Tuckerton, the nearby town, provide ample amounts of said entertainment? Wouldn't it make more sense to go to Atlantic City, just a short 40 miles away? And wouldn't it make sense to get a hotel on the beach, perhaps with a rooftop pool? We did have to wait for them to finish, after all. Frankly, Atlantic City was the wise choice.

It being Atlantic City, our packs and apparel didn't attract too much attention as we entered the Chelsea lobby. The cool ocean breeze felt perfect after the relentless sun of the Pine Barrens, and the pool party on the fifth floor was calling our names. But then LaBamba saw he had a message. As did I. The four guys were bailing, and they wanted to know if we could pick them up. Hmmm... how to tell them we were about an hour or so away? LaBamba offered a plan -- let's try to track down a taxi company to pick them up, an option that might be faster than us driving back.

After much back and forth, we swung into full research mode -- googling taxi companies and calling them, with me passing helpful notes. ("Tell the taxi that they need help!") Our search was looking desperate as no taxi company apparently served the area where they were waiting for a ride, and no one really knew where Batsto was (our hiker's maps didn't match up too well with Jersey road maps, and frankly, this seems to be an area of the country where no one knows where anything is).

But then Big Al came on the scene.

"Where's the broad? I'm looking for the broad," says a man to LaBamba. Booty-Less had left her number with a company, as did Labamba. "You with the hikers? Let's get rid of the middle man. Give me their number. Big Al is in the area and can get them."

We pass along Heavy D's number to the taxi savior. LaBamba then quickly calls Heavy D to let him know that Big Al is coming to get them, and to answer the phone if he calls. There may have been a moment of silence as they processed the concept of Big Al. As for us, we were happy to have reached someone and celebrated with several festive drinks at the pool party. (I wonder if Gossamer Gear will use the picture of our packs by the pool on its website.....)

Booty-Less and I then headed down to the firepit (just like a campfire, right?) that was next to another pool (just like the river we would have camped by that night), and set up watch for the rest of our group to arrive. Our joy at seeing them was not all fueled by several margaritas and/or mojitos consumed prior to their arrival, but rather that they had made it safely.

Michael Martin posted on

Meanwhile, back at the campground, U-Turn, Heavy D, Steve, and the Most Interesting Man in America remove ticks from themselves as Big Al zeroes in on their location with all the accuracy of a blind rhinoceros. Perhaps 20 phone calls are exchanged. Big Al is getting pissed off. He says, "I'm a big fat guy in a maroon van." We sit by the roadside looking for big fat guys in maroon vans. We try not to think of our comrades drinking margaritas by the pool!

Soon enough, a big maroon van comes careening on to the shoulder, I grab my gear and scramble to get out of the way. The Most Interesting Man in America utters the line that will live in infamy, "Big Al is coming in hot."

We pile into the van and are treated to a full-bore, shotgun blast of New Jersey local color as Big Al struggles to find our car parked at the trailhead. I wish I had a transcript of the conversation. The Most Interesting Man in America sat in the front seat and egged Big Al on. "Road Rage? I'll show you road rage! This is Jersey!"

At last we reach the Most Interesting Man in America's car, and head to Atlantic City, where Shuttle, Booty-Less, and LaBamba are clean, happy, and rather tipsy. There's a joyful reunion, and we all head out to have dinner, more drinks, and soak up the ambiance of the strip. The seven of us sleep in a single hotel room, but somehow that works out just fine ... I think we're all quite happy with our companions.

The next day, we enjoy breakfast in the hotel diner, and we're back home much earlier than we would have been ...

This has been a lot of writing ... But I'd just like to say thanks to this great group of people. Obviously, the trip didn't go as planned, but we all ended up having so much fun together, even when things looked the most miserable and scattered. We didn't do the trip as we had planned, but we did have an adventure, and no one who woke up Saturday morning to hike BATONA could have guessed where we'd end up that night. Chapeau to a really fun group of friends!

(Obviously, I erred in assuming that BATONA would be easy to find. With that said, I have doubts about the quality of the hiking there. At present, I'm thinking that I'm going to cobble together something from my data as a little beginners trip that has a few miles of walking around the Bass River State Park. In fine weather, before the ticks come out, it would be okay.

How do I feel about pulling the plug on a trip, something I've never done before? Honestly, I feel fine about it. We weren't having fun, and the prospect of endless, tick-infested miles of flat monotony really just didn't appeal to me, either.

Thanks, everyone, for making lemonade from the lemons of this one, and making such a fun trip out of it. Special thanks to LaBamba, Shuttle, and Booty-Less for the *idea* of Atlantic City, for rallying to our help when we needed it, and for calling in Big Al! It's good to be out in the woods with friends like you six!)


Joffrey Peters posted on

Sounds like you lot had a blast in NJ. I'll keep it on my list of places not to hike. I'm amazed that you managed to find a trip less appealing than my 16 miles in heat in Shenandoah with a 60lb pack (training weight!). It is good to hear there are redeeming qualities to Atlantic City though, as I must head there this weekend for a bachelor party. I'll keep my eyes peeled for the camp fires.

/Beast Mode

Daniel posted on

[i]as Big Al zeroes in on their location with all the accuracy of a blind rhinoceros.[/i]

I actually laughed out loud when I read this...perfect image.

Oh, and how's this for a BATONA Trail brochure 'blurb'? [i]It's like treadmill with ticks and chiggers.[/i]

Michael Martin posted on

That little map would have saved us a lot of grief.