I've been looking forward to the fall weather after far too many hot and humid days. My daughter Kaylee had a pretty busy summer and we didn't get out backpacking at all other than the awesome Grayson Highlands trip the day after school ended in May. With Hurricane Matthew on track to veer back to the east the weekend was looking mostly clear. It'd be a rainy drive and a little wet at the trail head then clear up to a gorgeous fall weekend. In theory.
I floated the idea of a combo Kaylee and DC UL trip. Kaylee was all in and I cleared it with the DC UL powers-that-be. I'm not aware of any kids coming on DC UL trips before so this would be something a little new. George S saw my post and asked if he could bring his 12 yr old son Chris. Awesome! A prototype parent-child DC UL trip. History in the making. Several others signed up but we thinned out to 5 adults and 2 kids by game day.
The drive to Hog Camp Gap on Saturday morning was wet as predicted. We all arrived between 11 and 12 in good spirits. The gravel road to Hog Camp Gap was still in very good shape. We hit the trail at 12:30 in the midst of a low lying cloud. It was 60 degrees, some light rain, and lots of mist. All of that was scheduled to clear around 1pm when the front pushing Matthew out to sea blew through so we were in good spirits.
Kaylee led the charge up the initial climb but we soon stepped aside as George's son Chris took point. Chris, George, and Chris T. charged onward, Kaylee and I took the middle position, and Marika and Theo brought up the rear. We regrouped about 4 miles in, and again at the Seely-Woodworth Shelter. We topped off water, though all the creeks were running very well -- better than I've seen them. The weather, however, was not clearing. I got a bit of a cell signal on the ridge and relayed the sad news that the wet weather would continue until 10pm. We hiked the extra mile to camp at Porters Ridge and given the utter lack of visibility we decided to setup camp and skip Spy Rock. I set my alarm for a 6am wakeup to attempt a sunrise day hike.
With tarps, hammocks, and tents erected we attempted to start a fire. George went through 2 esbits but got a nice little blaze going. We strugged to dry out additional firewood but had to refocus on making dinner as it got cooler and the wind picked up. By 8pm we were all snuggled away. The predicted 15mph winds were pushing 25mph. As I lay in my hammock it became clear that my "sheltered hollow" was becoming a wind tunnel. While I applauded myself for setting up the tarp oriented correctly I was getting nervous as acorns and small branches started pinging off the tarp.
At 10pm Makika was up, a bit distressed that a good size chunk of bark had hit her in the back while she lay in her tent. After a brief conference with Maria, Theo, and myself (standing around in my underwear). As I put on some pants Kaylee woke up and the four of us trekked up the hill to see if the other side of the ridge offered some shelter and tent space. Kaylee suggested the Seely-Woodworth shelter as a possible site and Marika agreed quickly. After checking in with George and Chris T who were both cozy and comfortable, the four of us packed up our pads/bags (or our quilts and underquilts) and hiked the mile back to the shelter in the heavy fog and wind. With the heavy fog/cloud combined with the dark our headlamps were almost a hinderance. Our visibility was limited to maybe 10 feet. Kaylee was super excited.
We arrived at the shelter at 10:20pm to find it occupied. There were about 4 folks in there spread about haphazardly. We quietly and apologetically setup, red lights engaged, and were soon settled. For me it was a restless night. I only had 1/3 of a foam pad. Barely enough for hip to shoulder. Kaylee had less. We mostly laid on our hammocks/underquilts with top quilts over us. I was never cold, but definitely not cozy warm. Kaylee managed roll out of her quilt overnight and was getting chilly. I pulled her heavy underquilt over her and held the lines to keep in place while we snuggled together for warmth while the roof of the shelter was bombarded by falling debris. Between the excitement, chainsaw snoring, poor insulation, and general distress I slept poorly if I slept at all. I think I got in about 3 hours total.
I had turned off all my alarms and woke the others at 7am for us to quickly pack and depart back to camp to retrieve are tents and tarps. The morning jaunt to Spy Rock was out. Too bad as I saw a half decent sunrise through the trees at the shelter. The air temp was about 45 deg though and the wind was blowing hard. I used my Jacks R Better quilt as a down poncho for the first time (it has a velcro slit in the middle for such a purpose) and was pretty happy for it as I hadn't packed a down puffy myself. We ran into George and Chris a few meters from camp. They were heading to the shelter for a hot breakfast out of the wind. We told them we'd be there shortly. Chris T was packing up and we joined in, headed to the shelter, regrouped, and headed back to the cars.
Sunday was an entirely different day. The skies were crystal clear, blue and the sun rapidly brought the temps up to the mid 50's. The wind was still strong and was chilling when we were hit by it on the ridge. Most of the day was quite pleasant with (finally) dry air, cool temps, and the smell of fall on the air. The apple trees were in full production and Theo collected a dozen of so of what I can only imagine are rather bitter apples. I had some sharp pangs here -- memories of hiking this exact section with Hua a year or two ago and imagining how gleefully she's pluck an apple and seriously enjoy it. It brought a smile to my face.
George's son Chris lead a full on DC UL pace back to the cars and we arrived a good 30-45 min earlier than I expected. I fully recommend him for at least honorary DC UL "member" status. We headed off to Wild Wolf Brewery for lunch, arriving around 1:45pm. The food was decent and I was starving by the time our burgers arrived. I can't say the service on that day/hour was faster than Devils Backbone, nor the food better. They're equivalent in my opinion with Wild Wolf being on the more casual side of things. Kaylee and I departed and arrived home just before sunset at 7pm to find our house had only regained power 30 min before we arrived. (Apparently the power went out at my place around midnight on Saturday.)
Thanks to everyone that showed up and was truly accepting of our fate. It was not quite the weekend I had imagined but everyone was so gracious. I never heard a complaint. While not perfect, everyone had an interesting night in the woods and I know at least I learned a few new lessons regarding balancing "ultra light" and "just in case". Kaylee had a great time and commented in particular about the camaraderie and how we watched out for each other. She loved the 10pm "escape" and gleefully told BJ about our adventure for a solid hour when we got home. I find my self embarrassingly wiped out from the trip. Given the lack of complete disasters I think the trip solidified my thoughts that a parent-child DC UL trip is a viable thing. Liability issues aside, I think there's real value in kids being exposed to backpacking, independence, self-sufficiency, and small groups. I thank everyone for making this trip a good experience for may daughter! She really enjoyed the group aspect after all the "just dad" trips!
Christopher and I had a great time, weather notwithstanding. Thank you for the kind words about him, I can't wait to share those with him. And Kaylee is a beast of a hiker.
All in I think the parent-child DCUL trip was an unqualified success and I would totally do it again and recommend it to others.
It was also great to meet Theo and Chris, and to see Marika and yourself again!