Trip Report: Winter Backpacking in Dolly Sods

Posted by Jimmy on

With the arrival of a new year, it was time to get things going in 2015 with a great winter backpacking trip. Why not at one of my favorite places, Dolly Sods, WV!

After days and days, trying to read and anticipate forecasts for the weekend, the day of departure finally came. So did a final forecast. A wintery mix of rain and snow were to hit the area Friday before turning in to all snow on Saturday morning. We were all excited as this meant for a true winter experience in the Sods; however, I was also nervous as this meant for tricky driving conditions as well. I had just hoped that the snow and ice would hold off just until after we had parked our car at the trail head.

All together at the Vienna kiss and ride, the 4 of us (Myself, Iru, Matt T. and Peter) headed off for the Sods at around 5:30. At this time, the driving was a bit dicey as it was all freezing rain and wet snow. Taking it slow, we arrived, without any complications, at the Red Creek trail head at around 9:30 or so. We were all very surprised that the wintery mix didn’t all covert to all snow at this point and were a bit discouraged to walk half a mile into our intended camp area. Pitching our shelters in 33 degree temps with rain was not gonna be fun. Not only was it raining, it was a full on downpour. At this point Peter had suggested that we set up right under the porch area at the Laneville Cabin as to which I immediately agreed. As we all started to unload the car, I suddenly thought “Wait, why am I unloading? I could just sleep in the car!” This was a great idea as my car seats fold down completely flat allowing me to set up my sleeping pad. “Sweet!!” Coincidentally, the porch area only could fit 3 people and not a soul more! After our quick set up, we were all out by about 10.

Waking up to some light snow the next morning, we quickly regrouped and then hovered over the map. My intended trip was to hike up Red Creek which meant for several wet creek crossing. A couple days prior, Michael Martin had suggested going across the bridge by Laneville Rd and to follow the old roadway that leads towards the Little Stonecoal trail. Interestingly enough, when we were going over the map, Peter had also suggested this idea. As we were all really not in the mood to ford a cold icy creek, we decided for the bridge.

After some steep climbs and some bushwhacking, we were on our ascent up Little Stonecoal. The snow had stopped, but the weather then opened up to heavy fog and humid air. I was nervous that we would be in the clouds all day. However, the higher we got, the fog started to clear as the temps started to fall. Also, instead of walking on slushy snow, we were now starting to walk into some decent depths of 3-6 inches of crunchy snow. This was about the time where I felt the proper winter atmosphere. It was great! Anyways, after a couple more miles and several crafty creek crossings later, we were at the base of Lion’s Head. We trekked off trail up to the top and right before we got to the little trail that leads to Lion’s Head itself, we stopped to layer up as the winds were quite gusty.

After layering up we soon found ourselves hiking along the cliffs of Lion’s Head. The views were quite stunning as I have never seen it here during the winter. We all lingered here for 15 or so minutes taking pictures and soaking up the views. Soon, we headed back down and stopped for a quick lunch.

We doubled back up to the Big Stonecoal Trail and arrived at the junction of the Blackbird Knob trail. Looking just west, you could see the top of Timberline and you can see people whooshing by on their skis! This made Iru and I very excited for the next weekend’s Skication!!! We continued on along Blackbird Knob for another mile and a half and set up camp just before the left fork of Red Creek. I think we arrived at around 3:30, but we had a good amount of daylight left to set up camp and gather firewood.

Speaking of gathering firewood… Dolly Sods, due to it’s popular backpacking destination, downed dead wood is a scarcity around most camp sites. I feel like we all hiked another 3 miles just by gathering firewood! After about an hour or so of collecting wood, we tried our attempt at making the camp fire. Key word: Tried! Everything was so wet, icy, cold, damp…etc. The wood just would not stay lit. I even brought my giant knife for splitting wood (to make dry kindling), but nothing would work.

Note: Hua, I concede, you are the best at making a campfire given any condition… sad face. Lol.

After about an hour or so of trying to get a flame going, we slowly gave up as we were all tired and very hungry. This was a first for me. A failed fire making attempt. A bit dejected, all of us heated up our meals and one by one retired into our shelters. It was about 7pm. Speaking for myself here, I was quickly over the fire making trouble woes as I was nicely snuggled in my sleeping bag and reflected on how beautiful the day was! I think the others felt this as well.

The next morning we woke to about an inch of new snow! Also, as this was Iru’s first winter backpacking trip I read off the low temp of 22 degrees. I think she accepted that it was her threshold for cold weather camping! After eating and breaking camp, we all huddled once more over the map. The options were to head back via Red Creek or to double back via Big and Little Stonecoal. The decision was made unanimously to double back to the car! Turns out this was a good decision as most of Red Creek contained a thin wide icy shelf which would have made fording quite dangerous.

Snapping lots of photos, carefully crossing creeks, and trudging through the crusty snow, we were all back to the car by around 12:40. All and all, this was a great first trip of the year! Dolly Sods in the winter is truly amazing and quite beautiful! Also, hiking up there this time of year, you get to experience true solitude. I’m quite certain, there were only 4 people up there this weekend! Thanks Iru, Matt, and Peter for the great company and conversations! See you all next time!

Hua Davis posted on

Hey, Jimmy, thanks for the Vivid trip report. [:D] Love all the beautiful photos you guys took in DS!!