One by one the backpackers arrived at the Vienna Metro Station including trip leaders Fiber One (Peter), C&C (Kevin) and veteran member Tony. The three of us were excited to take five DC UL Applicants on their first adventure to the Dolly Sods, WV. Meeting at 7pm proved advantageous as traffic west on I-66 was not as bad as expected.
The drive to the Monongahela was uneventful and after a leisurely stop and dinner at Sheetz around 9:30pm we made our final push to Bear Rocks. It was only a matter of minutes before we were ready to hit the Bear Rocks Trailhead but first, we completed a voluntary pack weigh-in. Tony was the rock star at around 15 lbs while Theo crushed everyone with a load of 45 lbs. Oh how we can’t wait to share our UL knowledge with Theo.
Hiking down the 1+ mile trail to Upper Red Creek at 11pm was as easy as expected with just a few spots of mud and mush. After all, it is the Dolly Sods so wetness is to be expected. There was concern the campsite would be full since it is mid-summer but with the threat of stormy weather all weekend, we got lucky and managed to squeeze 8 shelters next to the two already setup.
Everyone was making camp and about ready for bed by about midnight and I was just dozing off when I heard Fiber One say he needed to get his latex gloves and Nipuna’s finger was really gushing! Yikes, what happened that we “had a bleeder” at midnight the first night?!?!?! Well, it turns out Nipuna sliced his finger nicely while pulling his knife out of its sheath. FO dressed it like an expert and finally everyone was put to rest. What else could possibly go wrong?
Well, the weather forecast called for a 50% chance of rain on Saturday and around 4am I started hearing the rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning. It was difficult to tell if the storms were coming or going but at 5am the skies opened up. Luckily and just in time, Anna (Switch) converted from Cowboy Camping to her shelter and she was well protected from the 90 minute deluge. It really had me worried for a while because even under good cover we were getting pelted with rain and the thought of packing wet, hiking all day in rain and setting up in rain did not sound pleasing. And anyone who knows my history, I usually get pretty good weather when I backpack. Even on the JMT we had two days of cold temps, driving rain and wind but still, it was all AFTER breaking camp and only lasted part of the day.
The rain did stop and we set off under cloudy skies at 9:20am. Our pace was comfortable and probably averaged about 2 mph given there was no need to rush and we were walking in slop. As it turned out, the Sods were more wet and muddy than I’ve ever seen them and we walked through mud and muck ALL DAY with our feet and lower legs covered. We continued to head west on Bear Rocks Trail until we reached Raven Ridge Trail which heads further west and a little north. Temperatures were comfortable; there was a slight breeze and cloudy skies. It was really nice hiking weather and we settled into a nice pace.
With so many new people there was lots of interesting conversation that ran the spectrum from typical happy-hour conversation to deeper philosophical topics to the classic potty-talk. Given it is prime blueberry season everyone had their turn picking and eating and, well, Julio thoroughly enjoyed his share and then some. Why not, right?
While many of us started out trying not to get too muddy, Justin lead the way straight through the muck in stellar fashion. He had already slipped while retrieving his food bag in the morning and now his legs were completely covered including a beautiful fall to his knees in mud early in the day. I was already beginning to think of trail names such as Pig Pen or Mudslide but it was just too early in his DC UL career.
Having turned onto Cabin Mountain Trail, the group turned south. We took a short photo break atop some boulders, off trail, and then continued on. By 12:30pm we turned east onto Breathed Mountain Trail and FO found a prime lunch location under some pines with the sun peeking through. It was a very casual lunch for at least an hour and given the conversation centered around food and nutrition Julio shared some of the insight he had learned from a professional bodybuilder trainer. Switch and C&C were quite fascinated with this information and were all ears.
We continued on and it wasn’t long before we intersected with Red Creek Trail and the day was heating up with full sun and clear skies. We opted to bypass the primary swimming hole and then took a relaxing 30 minute break when we crossed Red Creek. Most everyone took this opportunity to cool off and clean up before the final afternoon push to Dobbin Grade.
We began the climb away from Red Creek and by late afternoon we were at the trail intersection and in the open expanse of Dobbin Grade and Rave Ridge Trail. Switch scouted out some possible campsites on a knoll but given the scarcity of trees and three people with hammocks, we opted for C&C’s favorite campsite 10 minutes off-trail and west of where Dobbin Grade Trail crosses the knee-deep Upper Red Creek. We made camp by 5:30pm and everyone began drying out for good and taking care of business whether it was getting water, cleaning up or relaxing and snacking.
All of our fun conversations continued through the evening and we had great campfire talk even though there wasn’t enough wood to have a campfire. The mosquitos and evening dew were in full force and after a day of trudging through mud we were all pretty tired for about a 10pm bedtime.
Luckily there were no new storms overnight and even though the morning was cloudy the fog burned off pretty quickly and the sun was out by the time we left exactly at 8am. Back up Raven Ridge Trail and hanging a right back on Bear Rocks Trail we made it back to our cars by about 9:30am and ahead of schedule.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning that was heating up quickly. Everyone cleaned up and packed into their respective cars and we were off to find lunch for the group. We found a hole in the wall pizza place (not Foxes) and stuffed our faces with generous portions. People seemed to really enjoy their sweet tea and sodas and the sugar-rush was fun to watch in action.
We arrived back at the Vienna Metro somewhere around 2-3pm and we said our goodbyes. Fiber One and I agree this was probably the easiest DC UL trip we’ve ever been on and we both enjoyed every minute of it. It’s amazing when like-minded people get together doing something they all love and it made for an incredible weekend in the classically muddy Dolly Sods. This was our first time officially leading a DC UL trip and I know we’re both really excited to lead more LM and other trips for DC UL Backpacking.
Great report guys! A classic DCUL outing that covered all the bases. Injury, rain, mud, and fun.