After a few changes in plans throughout the week, the three of us settled on a rough plan to wind our way around Dolly Sods. We met up mid-afternoon Friday and beat the rush out of town, leaving enough time for a couple stops at Sheetz and a short trek down the trail to find camp. When we drove by the parking area at Bear Rocks, we noticed the density of cars, and we took the last available space in the small lot at the Blackbird Knob trailhead.
It was a little too early to stop at the closest campsite, so we ventured in, planning to go anywhere from 1 to 4 miles. When we got to the campsite 1 mile in, someone had a fire going and said there were other flat spots available. We contemplated briefly and decided to join them. Turns out it was a boy scout “troop” from Harpers Ferry. I use the term troop loosely because there were two leaders and the one kid who didn’t bail when the weather forecast called for overnight lows around 20 degrees. The kid was rocking his Chewbacca pajamas as insulation. We sat around the fire and shared stories for a while before calling it a night.
According to my cheap thermometer, the temperature at sunrise was about 15 degrees F. Regardless, we were all toasty warm in our sleeping bags. The scouts had a fire going again in the morning, so we happily joined them while we made breakfast. One of us (ahem) neglected to put her water bottle inside her sleeping bag, so the small amount of water in it froze overnight. She set the bottle near the fire and diverted her attention long enough to light her stove, but that was enough time for someone to blow on the fire, sending the flames toward the bottle. You know how that ends.
After MacGyver-ing the Nalgene bottle ;-) and packing up, our fingers and toes needed some extra circulation, so we bid farewell to our new friends and set off four a beautiful trek around the Sods. I had never been on most of the trails north of Blackbird Knob, so we opted to head north on Upper Red Creek Trail, slosh northeast on Dobbin Grade, and then trek along the northern boundary via Bear Rocks Trail and Raven Ridge Trail. The view from the west side, along Rocky Ridge Trail, was fantastic, as was Lion’s Head in the mid-afternoon sun. We opted to stay on west side of Red Creek to avoid having to walk barefoot through icy cold water. All of our stream crossings were relatively easy rock hops. The two of us wearing boots kept dry feet. The one in trail runners got wet feet a couple times, but they dried quickly.
We camped near the intersection of Red Creek Trail and Breathed Mountain Trail. We all commented on how many people were on the trail, so we were a little worried about finding a good, unoccupied campsite. It turns out there are many more campsites there than we realized. We set up camp near the intersection of two streams, so the sound of running water made for a very relaxing night. It did require something to cover the eyes, because at only one night before the supermoon, the moon was so bright, it was like someone was shining a headlamp toward your tent from 15 feet away.
The Sunday morning temperature was around 20 degrees F, which made it a little easier to pack up. We all opted to get a few extra miles in, so we took Breathed Mountain Trail, then Rocky Ridge all the way up to Dobbin Grade, hiking the part of the trail that we didn’t cover on Saturday. Dobbin Grade was wet and sloshy, and the Upper Red Creek trail was slippery with mud. Thankfully, there was enough dry path along Blackbird Knob Trail to work off the caked-on mud before returning to the car.
The mileage splits were roughly 1 + 18 + 10 = 29 miles. Lunch at the Lost River Brewing Company was yummy, and the drive back seemed shorter than the drive out. We made it back in plenty of time for dinner at home.
It is now retired to the shelf of humorously useless backpacking gear.