Magnificence and Mud: A Trek through Dolly Sods

Posted by MikeVW on

It was with a sense of naiveté that I posted the Dolly Sods trip to Meetup: I assumed that there would be little interest, figuring that everyone had seen the sods (this was my 6th trip, after all), or else would be discouraged by the sheer number of twists and turns in the route to hit our mileage totals. But when the waitlist topped out at 9 people, and a 2nd group was discussed, it really hit home the fact that Dolly Sods is a real gem of a location in the Mid-Atlantic. And our weekend backed up every aspect of that characterization.

With just a few drops of rain gracing our windshields on Friday, seven of us (myself, Jimmy, Kylie, Dan, Hua, Katie, and Upasana) set off from the Vienna metro to meet up with Karan and Miles at the trailhead. Mimi was also with us in spirit (you can see her in a few photos), as she had hurt her foot on the weekend prior, and we would add a few new members to the DC UL community by the time the weekend was over. Kylie shared her AT experiences with me, Jimmy, and Dan as we soldiered out through the Friday evening traffic, and a fortuitous bit of timing saw us rendezvous with Miles while on Highway 55. After a quick dinner at Sheetz (Dan surprisingly brought his own food rather than partake of the Sheetz feast), we made our way out to Laneville and spotted Karan at the trailhead.

We crashed through the mass of trails surrounding Red Creek before finding a nice broad campsite by the river. There were quite a few people out for the weekend, including a family (complete with sibling squabbles), and Katie commented on our good fortune to avoid that kind of stress on the trail. A quick fire by Hua, and a short chat around the campfire were all that stood between us and bed, with the promise of a 6 AM wake-up call to get us going.

Saturday dawned cloudy and grey, but otherwise perfectly pleasant, and we made our start up the trail by 7AM. The trail was everything you'd expect from Dolly Sods: it looked alternatively like a flooded basement or the Mud Olympics, and a few of us played a very interesting (and futile) bit of hopscotch to keep our feet dry. This was more than compensated for by the views, pleasant weather, and good company, and we easily cranked out the miles over the day. The trail was also alive with people: scouts, trail runners, families, a slumbering musician, and Alan Dixon all made an appearance. Photography opportunities were abundant, and I'm sure Hua had cracked the triple digits for photos by lunchtime, with myself, Jimmy, and Karan not too far behind.

We rested a little ways south of Blackbird Knob, enjoying the water and shade, but with still half of our mileage to go for the day, continued ever onwards. Karan earned a new B.A. distinction (Barefoot Ambler) as he chose to go without boots for a good five miles. Hua tried to make a case for visiting the Haystack via Roaring Plains on Sunday, and Miles told me all about Charlestown's famous racists and sluts (or was it races and slots?). We took in some gorgeous views (and a truly epic tent) at Rohrbaugh Plains, and a few people practiced their jump shots with varying degrees of success. After a brief stop at the picnic ground, we made our way onto the South Prong trail, reaching camp right around 7PM, and a respectable 22 or 24 miles on the day (I got conflicting reports).

Sunday dawned cold, but quickly warmed up. We were now starting on the newest and roughest stretch of trail, the infamous Roaring Plains circuit. Jimmy's prediction that we would get lost at least three times was quickly confirmed as I led us the wrong way out of camp, but with trail notes and GPS, we never got too far off course. We even picked up two new (temporary) members of DC UL: Brandi and Bubbles (they told me their names), two hunting dogs that were living a life on the run from their owner. Upasana and Hua also tried to make friends with a rattlesnake on the overlook, but it seemed to be a little reluctant to let people get too close. I got pretty beat up by all the branches and underbrush in the forest, but the views and wildness of the area (minus the descent down the Sliding Board) more than made up for it. Once we made it back to the cars, the dogs ran back off into the forest, and we hightailed it to the Lost River Brewing company for a well deserved meal.

All in all, a wonderful weekend, and a perfect capstone to my Mid-Atlantic hiking trips (I'm not heading out again in this part of the country until fall!). Just around 35 miles total, with every one of them worth the sore and muddy feet. Thanks to you all for making it such a memorable time, and I can't wait to visit Dolly Sods for trip #7!

Hua Davis posted on

Thanks Mike for done a such wonderful job of the trip report. It brought a vivid fun [:)]memory back while reading it. Thanks!!

Karan posted on

Great trip report Mike. Sums up the experience very well.

Alan posted on

Yes, Mike a surprise to see you in the Sods at 8:00 Saturday morning. Small dang world! We got there a bit earlier in the day (left DC around 2:00) and waited out the worst of the storm/rain at trailhead (as the submerged trail indicated there was a LOT of rain). We headed up Little Stonecoal in light rain and camped at the junction with the Darkenberger. On Saturday we did the grand tour and headed off trail and out of the northern boundary of the park and had a delightful but wet and boggy time exploring :-) We had probably logged in 20-24 but the time we setup camp for the night on Red Creek in the Wilderness proper. Camp next to huge sun-warmed limestone slabs alongside a small set of falls. It was our outdoor living room and dining room for that evening and for breakfast in the morning. After a 20+ mile day, we cowboy camped under the stars on a night that went down to almost freezing. No sleeping sounder than on a crisp night, under a warm down quilt and snuggled up with you mate. Life doesn't get any better. -a