Now that the work day was over, the four of us, Marika, Em, Carrie (GIG), and I met up at the Vienna metro. After watching the ever changing weather predictions for a week and a half, it was time to roll the dice and finally head off to Dolly Sods! Making a quick pit stop at the Moorefield Sheetz for dinner, we continued on the road, and before we knew it, the ominous drive up Forrest Service Road 75 to the Bear Rocks trail head had begun.
Note: This road has forever traumatized me in the fact that a couple years before, I had gone through an 8 hour ordeal of freeing my Xterra from a 3 foot ditch 3 miles up the ridge. Now, knowing I had to re do this in the dark with wet conditions, I didn’t feel so “at-ease”. So at this point in the drive, I became very silent as I was completely focused on the task at hand: get everyone, including the car safely to the top. Phew, mission successful!
I guess I missed a portal we entered (with me being so fixated on the road conditions), because when we hit the top of the ridge, we were in Canada. Weird! Anyways, we continued along and soon met JD waiting for us at the trail head. We then parked and at this point, I must admit, I was having this feeling of “what did I just sign up to do?!” With winds blowing hard(20-30mph gusts), temps being in the upper 30’s and knowing that we would be walking in ankle deep water, it was truly daunting. I then looked around at everyone else also observed this feeling in the rest of the group as it was very blatantly written all over their faces. No matter my feelings, I had felt as the trip leader I had to stay strong and show no signs of weakness… success!?
As we were all wrapping up putting our gear on, I made the decision to bring an extra sleeping bag just as an added insurance for anyone who might need it later on (no one used it in the end). Head lamps on, we started our night hike in towards Upper Red Creek where we would set up for the night. After about a mile of walking through a very flooded trail, we reached Red Creek. Normally, one would cross this by rock hopping along the laid rocks, but due to the recent rains, the creek was flowing pretty well and the water was about 5 inches above the rocks. However, slowly and carefully, we all made it across! Soon thereafter, we pitched our respective shelters and called it a night.
The next morning, as we were breaking camp, GIG mentioned that she heard something walking around in the middle of the night. I told her it was probably me, but when I ask what time she had heard it, it wasn’t the same time that I was walking around. (Odd animal/thing encounter #1) Hmmm…. I think GIG was hearing things… After eating breakfast, we got back to the trail and I was quickly reminded of how beautiful Dolly Sods is. However, the weather was not so beautiful this morning. The temps were cold and the winds were just relentless. During a couple points in our morning hike, we saw precipitation that was not in the form of a liquid (snow in May??)!
After about an hour of hiking, we found ourselves on Rocky Ridge trail. The terrain here offered some great views of Canaan Valley to the west. After rock hoping along the ridge and some lunch, we arrived at the start of the Big Stonecoal trail. I pulled out the map and reviewed this with everyone to point out the planned route to camp and the final big water crossing for the day. We headed off, and throughout the day, I got the feeling that Marika wasn’t a big fan of cold water crossings as she kept asking me “is this it?” prior to every creek we crossed wondering if it was the big crossing I had mentioned. [:)]
After crossing the last major creek, we followed the trail toward a nice set a waterfalls. This was the site where we all cached up on water for the night as the camp area we would head into would be dry. We filled up and after another half mile, we climbed the steep spur trail leading up to Lion’s Head. Camping here a couple times before in the same sort of windy conditions, I knew of a spot where it was well protected and offered a nice flat area. We set up camp and once everyone got settled in, we hiked off towards the rocky ledges of Lion’s Head.
At this point in the afternoon, the clouds started to diminish making for some amazing views of the valley around us. We took it all in, had some good conversations, and took some group photos. We headed back to camp and started our campsite chores including getting dinner ready and gathering firewood. I quickly got a good fire going and with everyone’s help gathering wood, we had a nice big fire to get us through the night nice and warm. While cooking and eating dinner, we had some interesting conversation topics that included JD’s crazy international travel in his earlier days and backpacking bathroom aides for women… oh boy. Tired from all this fun, soon after it got dark, we all settled in for the night.
The next morning, at 6:30, I yelled out a wakeup call to the group. Soon everyone was breaking camp and while having breakfast, GIG had mentioned that a creature had rubbed up against her tent (Odd animal/thing encounter #2) in the middle of the night. As a defensive reaction, she quickly yelled “BOO” and it supposedly went away. None of us seem to have heard this though… hmm. GIG, what do you eat for dinner?? [:)]
7:30 now hit, and it was time to hit the trail back to the cars. We descended down into the valley, crossed Red Creek, and made our ascent back up towards the northern portion of Dolly Sods. At the trail intersection of Upper Red Creek and Blackbird Knob I briefed every one of the upcoming muddy wet trail conditions. Bring on the MUD!
After 3 miles of trudging through this deep mud, we made it back to Bear Rocks! I’ve never been so happy to see dry trail (relative)!! Just under a mile later we were back at the cars. At this point my car turned into a changing room for the girls. After a little while later… [:)]they were in dry clean clothes, as was I, and we then made a plan to head into Moorefield to get lunch. As we pulled into town, we stopped at the Blues Smoke Pit, and stuffed ourselves with good food and drinks!
Thanks again to you guys for coming as I highly enjoyed your company. I got so much from this trip including the motivation I found to get myself into outdoor photography!
Jimmy Jin (GQ)
Great write up, GQ!
I too have periodically seen faces looking at me with those "OMG ... What have I gotten myself into?!" expressions. Glad everyone stuck it out!
We had such mild weather on the Tuscarora Trail ... but then the sods are up much, higher.
Thanks!! Its always such a memorable experience whenever I go to the Sods, especially up that FS 75!
Yeah, I prefer the Red Creek trailhead, honestly, with my car. Pavement.