Shout it out loud
Another round of props
We went and hiked the WOT!
I've been looking forward to doing this loop since checking it out in Michael's book. Maybe the name just really struck me, but that area of George Washington Forest is fantastic too. Either way, with a long weekend, a warmer than typical winter forecast, and a great crew signed up for the trip, it was time to tackle it.
In spite of some last mile navigation issues, we found the trail head, did a quick run down to do our water cache (which it turns out isn't necessary), and were on the trail by 12:30. The initial climb is a long one, but it rewards with plenty of fabulous views and varied terrain, including some rhododendron tunnels that the flyer calls out as particularly nice in the summer when they're in bloom. But with good weather and views, we enjoyed the climb. Several false summit later, we reached the high point of the trail, Little Bald Knob at 4731'. From there it was down to Camp Todd, where some opted for the sure thing of no water crossing by using the road and bridge, while others of us took our chances with the stream crossing. The latter lucked out and were able to keep dry feet with a rock hop.
The sun was setting on the climb up to Hiner Spring Trail, setting off the horizon with a fantastic orange glow. It was pretty much dark by the time we reached Hiner Spring Trail, so with headlamps on, we started on to camp. Next thing we know, there is a voice coming out of the darkness saying he didn't want to startle us. Three day-hikers who had gotten themselves lost during the day and were without lights were making their way back to there car. Haley's Mom and Eeyore were ahead and had given them some directions, so they were moving pretty well in the dark when those of us in the back saw them. There was some discussion afterwards that maybe we should have done something more to help them out, but the trail crew we came upon the next day hadn't seen them or their car, so apparently they made it out safe. But a good life lesson to always care the key essentials, even when just out on a day hike.
We got a small fire going at Hiner Spring. It was pretty much just a positive psychological thing as the wind was blowing well and keeping the fire from giving off too much warmth. With some of us having planned optimistically for temperatures based on the forecast, folks found their way back to sleeping bags and tents rather early.
Sunday we were up and out early, prepared for almost 20 stream crossings that morning. The temps had gone up a bit, and the hike down Ramsey'e Draft was pleasant. Apparently the water level had dropped quite a bit in the past week, because all the fords that the ladies had to do the weekend before were simple rock hops for us (sorry ladies!).
We filled up water at the last crossing (what we thought would have been our last water before our cache) and climbed up the sun warmed lee side of Bald Ridge Trail. Lunch was taken at a campsite along the trail with one of the best views of the trip. At the wildlife pond at the intersection with the Dividing Trail, we bumped into a crew of trail maintainers and chatted with them for a while. About a half mile down MikeVW pointed out a short trail that lead to a strongly flowing stream that would be a reliable source for the south-eastern stretch of the WOT.
The climb up Hankey Mountain is a doozy. Almost 1200' pretty much straight up without any switchbacks. At least there are some rewarding views along the way up and at the top. As it was approaching dusk, we started looking for possible camping along the fairly level backside of Hankey Mountain. We found a great spot sheltered from the wind by a bunch of rhododendron, but without an established fire ring and with the wind whipping across the top of the ridge, everyone retreated to cooking from their vestibule and attempting to yell at one another to communicate. As it was, everyone pretty much called it after they were finished with dinner, so all was quiet after 6:30.
For those of us that had to wake up in the middle of the night, we already knew it was there, but morning brought a 1/2"-1" of freshly fallen snow. Up and out of camp by 8:00, the snow made the next few miles of forest road walking in the sunshine quite pleasant. Eventually the trail started to descend and we knew the trip was approaching a close. Down to the river, across the bridge, and back up a bit to the parking lot. Most everyone changed into some clean clothes left in the car. A small navigational challenge again on the way out (don't use Google Maps directions to get to and from the northern trailhead, they're very confusing) and we arrived at the Capitol Alehouse for some fine beverages and food. Yes, deep fried cheese curds were definitely consumed.
All in all it was a fantastic trip. The Wild Oak Trail is truly deserving as a National Recreation Trail. Itís a real shame we've gotten down to do that loop so few times as a group so far. Something I hope gets remedied quickly and as more folks get exposed to it and want to repeat it. Thanks to everyone who made it such and enjoyable time!