Trip Report: St. Mary's Wilderness, 9/27-9/28

Posted by Michael Martin on

I apologize for being a bit behind on this trip report. The end of the fiscal year is always a busy time, but I wanted to include some notes, as this is a good LM trip for DC UL.

We had rather a large group for this, with 18 people meeting up at Vienna, and two more people meeting us at the trailhead. Although we were a little late getting out of Vienna, we did about as well as could be expected, and arrived at the trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway around noon, not too far off from what I had planned. Tom and Jessica met us there, and we were soon ready to hike.

Initially, I had thought to have us walk about 8 miles to camp, heading east on the Bald Mountain Trail, around to Green Pond, then down the St. Mary's River Trail to camp. In classic U-Turn fashion, I changed my mind at the trailhead. I was concerned about finding a suitable campsite for this many people, and then, also, I wanted us to make it to the swimming hole while the sun was still high. The weather was perfect, but it would get rather chilly when the sun started to drop.

We descended the Mine Bank Creek Trail, which drops down quite gently to the river. At the intersection with the St. Mary's River Trail, we turned right, and after some fumbling, quickly found a brilliantly large site. We took time to pitch our shelters now, and did a good job of dispersing. I should say too that we picked up some trash on the way out, and left the campsite better than we found it.

With camp established, we headed off down the St Mary's Falls Trail. It was very gentle walking, but following the trail did get a little sketchy, especially near the ancient mine. Barbara stopped to do photography in the hollow, but everyone else continued to the falls. The area gets prettier as you go, and indeed there is a deep swimming hole at the falls themselves. LaBamba led the way with a polar bear plunge! Lots of us splashed in the water. Laura discovered some crawdads in the pool.

But soon it started to get chilly, and we headed back to camp. Along the way, Jessica mentioned that it should be possible to bushwhack from the falls to the camp, and that indeed there seemed to be some unmarked tracks doing just that. I wish we had had the opportunity to explore more. Along the way, we were adopted by Griffon, "The World's Worst Hunting Dog," who wanted to join DC UL. We returned to camp at dusk, and we were glad of having pitched camp. A troop of boyscouts had moved in--this is definitely a popular site.

We spent a nice night by the fire. LaBamba regaled us with tales of his international travel, and Turbo drank some strange berry-scented vodka. We retired to bed, though a few stayed up later. The next morning, I was asked, "Isn't it part of your duties, as fearless leader, to tell us when we've had enough to drink and should go to bed?"

Yeah, like that would work.

We were all still able to hike the next morning, and set off at about 8:15am to hike the 8 miles home. We climbing up to the Green Pond area, re-grouped, then set off down Forest Road 162, for some pleasant and easy walking in the sunlight. Griffon's owner drove up to pick him up. Aileen and Barbara chatted with him about the relative merits of turning his dog loose in the woods. He was friendly enough, even with his "anti-liberal" bumper sticker. At one point, he exclaimed, "I'm not sure if I'm making friends or not!"

We were enjoying our walk so much that we--well, most of us--blew right by the Bald Mountain Trail. Oh well, we just turned right on the parkway for a few minutes' walk to the cars.

Susan, Sudip, Rob, and Hawk Eye were better scouts that we were, and found the trail, so they got some extra gain and loss. We looked for them for a bit, and eventually asked Kevin to trailrun back to look for them. In no time at all, he had found them. We dubbed him "Superman" as he ran back and forth.

We were off to celebrate at the Devils Backbone, which is always nice, though I would like to note that there are a few other breweries nearby.

All in all, it was a great trip, and a gentle LM trip, as planned. We had a great group of people, many newcomers, and perfect weather. It'll be good to add St. Mary's into our rotation!

Thanks, everyone!