The routing on this trip was an odd one, I’ll admit. At only 27 miles, Trout Run is usually a nice overnight trip that you could split into two decent days. I wanted to get a 20 mile day in the mix, however, and the campsites at Tibbet Knob and Big Schloss are good ones. A plan came together.
We had a late start on Friday thanks to DC area traffic. Merritt patiently waited for us at the trailhead, and we got started close to 8 p.m. for our roughly two mile (probably closer to 1.6 mile) jaunt to Tibbet Knob. Despite new batteries, my headlamp was lighting the way rather poorly. I found myself searching for the trail markers, and at one point almost walked into a tree (which was marked) while looking in the other direction for one. Yes, I try to inspire confidence in my leadership. Merritt had keener eyes than me, and between the two of us, we managed to get up to the campsite by Tibbet Knob in short order. Tents were set up, whiskey was shared, and we all popped into our tents by 10 p.m.
I gave the wake-up call at 6 a.m. so we could enjoy the sunrise and morning light from Tibbet Knob. It really is one of the nicest views in the area, and even more so in the morning. We were moving just after 7 a.m.
Now while it is not rifle season in West Virginia, it is rifle season in Virginia. Most of the trail is in West Virginia or at least straddles the border, but the stretch from Tibbet Knob is still on the Virginia side. We quickly encountered a hunter with his rifle along the trail, and a large party was camped at the site that borders the road up Devils Hole Mountain. We realized that Logan had dressed like a deer in brown and black so I gave him my yellow windshirt to attach to the back of his pack. Thus arrayed, we headed up the road and made our way to Long Mountain Trail.
Overall, the route was nice, but the Long Mountain Trail was one of the better stretches. We made our way, and stopped by the bridge just before the Bucktail Trail. Merritt, Logan, and I made ourselves comfortable at campsite and dug into our lunch. We kept an eye out for Marika but started to get a little worried as time passed. She came into view: apparently, Marika experienced her first bonus miles having missed a turn! Fortunately, she quickly adjusted once realizing she got off course.
We got started on the next bit of trail which weaves alongside Halfmoon Mountain. At the next intersection, Merritt and Logan jogged ahead so they could do the sidetrip to Halfmoon Mountain. Marika and I made our way uphill, and met them near the intersection. (We also ran into Andrew and a crew from Mid-Atlantic Backpackers who were out of the weekend.)
With just over an hour of daylight remaining, we decided to go with the buddy system. Logan and Merritt would take up the lead and head to the campsite at Big Schloss, with Marika and I at the back. We were hoping to rendezvous with Kingsley at Big Schloss, who mentioned he would be out for an overnight trip. And off we went.
I remembered the Mill Mountain Trail as more of a forest road. While it is probably easy walking during the day, it didn’t make for great night hiking. It was much rockier than I remembered, and the blazes were spread far apart. At one point, I changed batteries in hope that it would improve my headlamp range but it was still emitting a rather weak light. Night hiking, especially when the days get shorter, can play some tricks. At one point, I thought we’d been walking for hours but had to remind myself that it only was 6:30 — not midnight! When we reached the overlook, I realized we were making better time than I thought. Soon after, the silhouette of Big Schloss came into view. It was a cold night, though, and the wind was picking up. Both Marika and I were done with the night hiking, done with the rocks, and done with the cold. As we passed under and around Big Schloss, I focused all my energy on making sure we didn’t miss the turn-off to Big Schloss. I found the trail marker and checked the frontside to confirm. We had arrived!
At the first fire, I saw three men and shouted out for Merritt. “What?” shouted back of them. “Merritt. Is that you,” I yelled back. “I’m doing fine. How about you?” said a guy. “No. Who are you?” I shouted again. This went on for a bit but obviously this was not our site. I headed to the next fire. Not our crew. They asked who we were looking for, and I mentioned Logan, Merritt, and Kingsley. They remembered two guys who had come through, also looking for Kingsley, but that they had headed down the trail.
At this point, I realized that Logan and Merritt were camping somewhere — we had passed them or somehow missed them or they went ahead — but we were cold and done. We needed a campsite, and set about muscling our way into one. The crew at the second campsite, just before the last scramble to the Big Schloss bridge, noted that we could squeeze into the little cave area that’s just above the fire ring. Marika investigated and concluded that we could both cowboy camp there. We wedged ourselves in for Marika’s first try at cowboy camping. Despite the occasional drop of water from the rocks above, it was a cozy and well-sheltered spot.
The following morning, I waited for it to get light and then set out to see if I could find Logan and Merritt. I suspected that I missed something so headed back down the spur trail. Sure enough, there was a note attached to the trail marker that I somehow managed to miss last night. “No Kingsley. Campsite full. Moving forward.”
I returned to Marika and we quickly set about packing up so we could make our way down and meet up with them. Just as we were close to done, I looked up and saw Logan making his way up to Big Schloss. In short, they arrived at the campsite to find all the spots full and none of the occupants too keen on having two guys wedge in. (Marika and I had much better luck later in the evening but I think being female and also a bit persistent probably helped. The guys at that campsite probably realized I wasn’t going away.) Short on options, they made a good call to leave a note and head down the trail — actually back down to Wolf Gap. Since Big Schloss was our meeting point, Logan made his way back up the trail.
We caught the views from Big Schloss, and then made our way down the trail, also running into Merritt who was making his way back up. We were at Cracker Barrel by 9:30 a.m. All in all, a good morning and a good weekend. Despite our campsite issues on Saturday night, everyone made the right decision — having a clear meeting point and a buddy system definitely helped.
Also, a big congratulations to both Marika and Logan for hiking their longest days and for becoming veteran members!