Saturday morning seemed to be off to a troubling start. With stop and go beltway traffic due to two different accidents, and texts going back and forth about the delays due to weekend track work on the metro, I was wondering what would happen next. In spite of these various traveling adversities, by 8:30 or so everyone had gotten to Vienna, so we loaded up and headed out to WV.
The drive to WV was fortunately uneventful. We reached the southern trailhead, dropped everyone off, and spent the next hour having to set up the shuttle. The extra hour was a bit of a nuisance, but as we only had 2 cars, one of them being a rental, it was a requirement. When did everyone in DC stop owning cars? After dropping the car off at the northern end, we got back to the radio tower start and were on the trail around 1:30. Temps were a bit cooler than expected, not getting above 50* for the day. Added to that, the wind was blowing with gusto, and the cloudy skies never really cleared enough to let through any warming rays of sunshine. It encouraged everyone to keep moving, and while we stopped at several of the overlooks in the southern half, no one seemed too anxious to linger for much more than a quick peak and some quick photos.
Whether it was the fairly easy terrain or the cooler temps, the group seemed to cover the miles much more quickly than it felt like we were moving. We hit forest road 79 well before 6, and covered the 2 miles of road walking to the night's camp by 6:30. With the wind still blowing strongly, the group decided to camp down by the road rather than the more exposed area a little further up the trail. Shelters were erected quickly, layers were added, and a few quick trips were made into the surrounding area for some firewood. The strong wind made lighting the fire require a second match, but it excelled at fanning the flames, so in short order there was a nice blaze going and a good start on the coals that were going to be needed for the evening's treat - I was going to try baking some brownies using a modification of EZ Bake's technique, since my last effort had resulted in a slightly burnt bottom.
Half the crew started cooking dinner, some more successfully than others, as the wind made heating pots with unshielded canister stoves a bit of a challenge. The other half of the crew made due with their no-cook meals. After eating, folks crowded the fire, seeking what warmth they could while the wind whipped at backs. I prepped the brownies, set them on the coals and started hoping for the best. Wei continued to feed the fire - seems there may be a good candidate for an apprentice to Blue Blazes! Baking can take some practice to get things right, and in this case, after a bit more time than should have been required, we needed to polish off the brownies using our spoons. No one complained though. Seriously, who would with fresh brownies on the trail? And at least the edges and bottom were fairly solid.
The wind continued rushing over the ridge for the rest of the night, finally settling down a bit sometime around 6, with the temps hovering in the mid- to upper-30*s. With a North Fork Mountain DC UL wakeup call, the crew packed up and did a quick breakfast, getting back on the trail about 8:20. There was still a bit of wind for the first half of the morning, making us thankful that the trail hung to the lee side of the ridge. The skies were much clearer than the previous afternoon, leaving us with a better opportunity to take in the views and fall colors. The wind finally dropped to light breeze level, allowing us to soak in the sun when we had the chance. We did a bit of a photo shoot around the first opening of the cliffs leading up to Chimney Top. It turned out to be fortunate we took a break there, as the main portion of the cliffs were still closed due to the peregrine breeding. Whether they were still there this late in the season or not was a bit up for debate, but the potential $20,000 fine for disturbing them left us not wanting to rival Assateague as most expense DC UL trip ever.
We finished up the long decent to the northern trailhead, then Amy and I took off to do the reverse shuttle, dropping Aileen off at Smoke Hole Caverns to take in the cave tour while we did the shuttle. Having finished in the mid-afternoon, the crew was willing to hold out for food until we got to Lost River Brewing Co in Wardensville. We ordered a round and entered into good and lively conversation, which was a saving grace as it took an 1:20 until our food finally came out. Talking all but ceased at that point as everyone dedicated themselves to devouring their food, with those who ordered the burgers stretching their jaws to the limit to take a bite.
With our appetites sated, we paid the bill, said our goodbyes, and headed off back to the city. Kudos to everyone for being such great company and adding to the enjoyment of great early fall trip.