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Roaring Plans Wilderness Trip Report

Roaring Plans West Wilderness, Monongahela NF, WV 17-19 Oct 2014 Trip Report

Photo credits to Pyro, Gunny, and Jen.

After our Winds hike last August I came up with a new rule that I would stay home if the rain forecast was greater than or equal to 50%, this is especially true if the daytime temps are predicted to be in the 50F’s or below.  Not that I’m that big of a pussy…it’s just that I’ve had more than my fair share of backpacking trips that become gruesome slogs in wet cold rain.  And a wet cold rain in a tree tunnel just doesn’t do it for me anymore.  I’m not talking about the trips where it rains unexpectedly or the big trips away from home, just those ‘routine’ hikes that are in the class of what I call ‘training hikes.’

So it was on 17 Oct that Buff and Pyro arrived at my house and we loaded up the truck with a 60% chance of rain and 40F temps hovering over our heads for the next day.  But…being ever the optimists and having plenty of sunshine as we loaded up, we once again decided to go for it.  Jen and Cartman linked up with us and we were on our way to pick up Gunny in Verona.


We set up our camp just off Forest Road 19 and followed the trail, an old gravel road, about 1/4 mile to the crossing of Red Creek.  We didn’t see any campsites so we ended up camping on the road and forgot about making a fire.

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One33 great thing that happened was that the leaves in this area had just peaked and the colors were absolutely FANTASTIC!  We had thought we may have missed out, but we were very-very pleased!



Next morning we awoke to partly cloudy skies and temps pretty mellow, probably in the low 60F’s or upper 50F’s.  Immediately upon starting off we had to take off our boots and make an uneventful ford of the creek where as luck would have it, found a great campsite just on the other side.  For next time.

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The trip description we were using was pretty easy to follow at first.  Our first section had us following blue blazed trail winding up to the plateau that Roaring Plains is known for.

But wouldn’t you know it, about 10am it started to drizzle.  About an hour later the drizzle got a little harder and the temps dropped into the forties.  And for extra fun, the breeze started to pick up.

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More creek crossings.  Bear prints in the mud on the trail.

So on we slogged.  I will say that the drizzle did stop for a while, at times, and the sun would start to peek out.  And our morale would rise.  But then just to mock us, the skies would laugh and cloud back over and the drizzle would begin anew.

We followed the South Prong Trail up to the plateau but then marched past the right turn onto the Lost Passage Trail.  Once we discovered our mistake, after about a quarter mile, we backtracked and got on Lost Passage.  Here’s where things got a bit tough.  There were several trails headed in more or less the general direction we wanted to go.  Some seemed more obvious than others. We followed a well worn path just to have it die out in the brush. We crossed a creek and tried to follow a few others, just to see those come to a dead end.  Gunny went back across the creek to check out a faint path that had seemed to die out in the bushes.  He followed it for a bit and determined it was probably the main trail. A check on the GPS after a few yards confirmed it was headed in the right direction.

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By the time we got to the Pipe Line Trail, it was raining pretty good.  And cold.  And Windy.  Time for winter hats and gloves.  The clouds had settled in at our altitude so no valley views and no views of anything more than a half mile or so.

We noticed that the Pipe Line Trail is a huge right of way, maybe a hundred feet wide with a dirt maintenance road and a good foot trail, and it was running both south (our direction) and north.  What’s more, earlier in the day, when the South Prong trail crossed what appeared to be just another old dirt road on the USGS topo map, that road was actually WV Forest Road 70, a very well maintained gravel road with quite a few trucks running up and down it carrying hunting dogs.  We had been listening to the distant howling of the dogs for several hours and had even had a few pass us on the trail.

It appeared on the map that we could bail out now and follow the Pipe Line Trail north to where it intersected FR70, then take FR70 east for a few miles to where it intersected FR19 a few miles below from where we were parked. This would bypass the Canyon Rim Trail (which we couldn’t see) and allow us to skip a muddy 1500′ descent on the Boar’s Nest Trail to the trail head.

The descent to FR70 on the Pipe Line Trail was a bit sloggy in the rain but once we hit the gravel road we were able to make good time.  So about 3 hrs after we made our decision to bail we were back at the cars.

We stopped at our favorite local restaurant for dinner and some peanut butter pie and  coconut pie and it was great!

We convoyed back to Verona, stopping to pick up groceries, and stayed at Gunny’s new house.  With plenty of craft beers and chips and salsa we had a great time swapping lies late into the evening.

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How To Put NatGeo “Trails Illustrated” Maps On Your Smart Phone

Hey everyone!  I want to share an exciting discovery I recently made.

As I was preparing for our next Grayson Highlands trip I was wishing that I could have the same trails of the (National Geographic) Trails Illustrated Map of Mount Rogers in a format I could use on my phone.

Downloading maps to your phone allows you to have the map when your phone doesn’t have a data connection.

After a little research I discovered that does this for both the iphone and android.

The alltrails app is free, but if you want access to the trails illustrated maps (and their other maps), that runs $29.99 a year.

Hard-copy TI (Trails Illustrated) maps run about $13 each plus shipping, so if you only down load 2 you break even.

You can down load the dozens and dozens that are available.  Once you’ve downloaded them, they’re yours to keep.

I recommend a separate micro SD card for your maps.  The Mount Rogers map is huge, covering the East boundary of the Recreation Area all the way to Damascus,  a straight line distance of over 57 miles(!) and is about 700 MB, but is the EXACT same map you purchase at the store!

The app (with membership) also allows you to down load a variety of topo maps, forest service maps, satellite maps, road maps, international maps.

If you’re going to do this, go online, get the membership, then install the app, else the app won’t know that you’ve paid up and you’ll spend hours trying to figure it out.

My “go to” app on my phone (Android) is the Back Country Navigator Pro, around $11 from the app store.  Topo maps are free to download, it’s fast, reliable, and easy to read and use.  There are also a huge variety of fee maps to download for your hike or city trip.

I create or draw my routes and points of interests such as campsites, parking, water,  over at (free) or ($30/yr), then send that data via a .gpx file to my phone.  Back Country Pro opens the file and overlays it over the topo maps I’ve downloaded and voila! I’m navigating in the trees.

The primary drawback to the smartphone map app is battery use.  I put my phone in airplane mode for the entire trip and turn it off completely, only turning it on if I want to check the maps.

I offer a map class on the meetup I’m a member of (OC Backpackers) to teach how to get, create, and use, all this for FREE, but sadly, not special maps like the TI maps.  The paper TI maps are done by National Geographic, but they sold the digital mapping to alltrails, who now sell them.


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More Thoughts On “Rain Management”

More thoughts on Rain/Cold weather management while backpacking

Here’s my perspective and frame of reference;

I’m not a thru hiker of anything. I just like to backpack. I am primarily able to get out and hike at least once a month, sometimes twice, and when I say hike I mean backpacking. I try to get out west once or twice per year for a week long backpack. My normal hiking range is the Virginia-West Virginia National Forests and Wilderness areas along the Appalachian Mountains (AKA Blue Ridge Mountains).

I used to climb but am retired from that now. I lived in Europe for 14 years and did quite a lot of ‘stealth’ backpacking along the German-Austrian frontier, especially in the winter (less chances of being caught).

So on with Rain Management.

As I reflect on the Spring/Summer of 2014 here in good old VA, it was pretty lousy, lots of rain, lots of cold windy days.

But what didn’t kill us made us stronger (Friedrich Nietzsche) and wiser and better able to deal with the weather.

Last week in the Bridger Wilderness we had cold and windy and sometimes rainy conditions for most of the trip. But guess what, it didn’t seem to matter, we were prepared and dealt with it. We had been doing it all summer.

Good tents.

The tents went up easily in the rain. We had experience putting them up in rain. We knew how to put them up while keeping the inside nice and dry.

All our tents had some sort of vestibule, most had two vestibules. You threw your wet stuff in a pile in one vestibule and cooked under the other.

A canister stove with an attached pot, like a jet boil, works great under a vestibule, no flare ups. No way to cook under a vestibule with a white gas stove, you’d burn down your tent for sure.

We were automatically conditioned to keep our stuff dry in our packs while walking in the rain. We had lots of down clothing/bags and it was imperative to keep that stuff dry to avoid hypothermia. Everyone had some sort of layered waterproofing both inside and outside of the pack. I use, in addition to the stuff sacks, a thick black industrial garbage bag for everything inside my pack and a good, tested pack rain cover. It seems however, no matter what I do, wind-blown water will creep in around your neck and shoulder strap area and make its way into the pack. That’s why you need to wrap everything up inside the pack.

Every night’s camp requires water to be drawn and filtered, so you just have to suck it up and do it, wait for the filtering, then take your water to your vestibule.

You can’t hike in your rain gear, you just get all your layers totally soaked, and if there was a chance for a little air drying, it won’t happen. While you’re walking you only need to wear something light enough to keep you warm. But whatever you’re wearing, it’s sacrificed to the rain gods and you need to change out of the wet stuff and into something warm and dry when you get to camp. You can put your wet stuff back on tomorrow and dry it out while you walk in the sunshine!

If it is still raining and you changed into your dry and warm stuff once you got to camp and before you got your water, you absolutely must keep that stuff dry!! But now you’ve got a rain layer wet along with your walking sacrificial clothing. Sometimes it’s best to stay in your wet walking clothes until you can finish your camp chores, getting water, hanging bear bag, and then you can finally dive into your tent for the final change into your warm stuff.

If it’s raining when you set up camp, get your tent up, get the dry stuff in your pack into the tent. Put your food under one of your vestibules. Get your water and start filtering. Hang your bear bag rope. Now that your water is filtered take it to your tent. Get in as best you can, take off the wet stuff and place inside the vestibule, dry off the inside of the tent with your bandana, then change into your warm stuff.

Now that you have warm clothes on and your food and water under the vestibule, go ahead and eat.

Now one of the bitch things. Now that you’ve eaten, you need to get back out in the rain and hang your food. That means putting your wet socks back on and grabbing your parka and hat or something to keep your head dry (hood?) and making a dash into the trees to hang the bag and then back to the tent. Keep the wet socks and parka outside the dry part of the tent and under the vestibule. Dry the inside once again with your bandana.

I keep my backpack under one vestibule and eat under the opposite side. I’ve learned to place my pack on top of my pack rain cover so the bottom doesn’t get any wetter while on the saturated ground during a good soaking rain.

Next morning, you’re going to need to put back on those wet socks and pants and shirt and walk them warm. Your boots are still wet from yesterday’s walk in the rain and if you put on your last or next to last dry pair of socks, well, you’re going to have a second pair of wet socks. Better to keep one pair dry for inside the tents.

When you got in your tent where your pants wet? Get them off quick, not to avoid hypothermia, but to minimize dripping inside your dry cocoon. How to keep your legs warm then? I carry a spare set of thermal bottoms, but you could carry an extra set of pants to keep dry, or just push your sleeping bag around you.

Next morning you need to be able to pack your stuff up and tear down your tent in a rain. If it’s not still raining, your tent is probably soaked on the outside. Pack up your stuff into your backpack while inside the tent, be wearing whatever you’re going to walk in that day, probably yesterday’s wet stuff, as you exit the tent. Take down your tent in such a manner that keeps the rain fly over the inside and folds up nice and neat, keeping the inside dry.

Your probably should practice this in the back yard.

Because you’re probably walking in wet socks, little irritations on the feet and small hot spots are magnified, so best to tape them up before hand.

If the sun is shining, you’re going to dry out and everything will be alright! If it’s raining, chug on, take photos of your ‘ordeal’ and just remember you’ll have great bragging stories around the next campfire!

And remember what Friedrich Nietzsche said, if the weather doesn’t drown you, you’ll have great stories…or something like that.

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Backpacking the Sky Pilot Loop, Bridger Wilderness August 2014

Sky Pilot Loop, Jim Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range, Pinedale, Wy


23-29 August 2014.

Phil, Gunny, Buff, Pyro, Biscuit

Click here to see my favorite pix from this trip.

“Let me explain, no, there is too much, let me sum up” (Inigo Montoya)

Another great trip to the “Winds”. Very long drive. Cold wet weather. Great photos. Took longer to acclimatize to the altitude.

So, let’s get started.

Buff and Pyro drove up from VA Beach and met me at my house in Hampton on Wednesday 20 August. We then drove up to Verona, VA to Gunny’s new house where we stayed for the night. Gunny and Nancy were perfect hosts preparing fresh chicken enchiladas and salsa and supplying us with plenty of iced cold craft beers!

We then sat around in Gunny’s study and watched him finish packing getting to bed around 10 or 11. Which isn’t anything to talk about until I tell you wake up was planned for 3a.m. with departure set for 3:30 yikes! But, happily, but not much, since we were already in Northern VA, we moved back departure to around 4 a.m.

So there we were at 4 a.m. pulling out of Verona and heading to St Louis, Mo our destination for day 1 (day 2?).

From St Louis (departing at 0330 hrs) we were off to Cheyenne. Going through St Louis and then Kansas City at this time of day is a piece of cake, if you can keep awake! Fortunately our plan of switching drivers every 2 hours worked out very well.

We got to Cheyenne, in the rain, around 1900hrs. We could tell we were at higher altitude already (6000′) as we huffed and puffed just going up stairs to our rooms.

Saturday, 23 August.

We departed Cheyenne again at 0330 hrs arriving in Pinedale, Wy around 1000 hrs, later than planned due to quite a bit of highway construction.

We linked up with Biscuit at the outfitters in Pinedale then grabbed some early lunch at the micro-brew next door to the outfitters.

We then dropped into the outfitters for last minute supplies and fishing licenses. It was getting ready to rain and getting cold, like it wanted to snow, so Buff decided on purchasing some more layering.

It was then off to the trail head, but not before a detour into the grocery/hardware store and a stop into the Museum Of The Mountain Man. This is great museum and I highly recommend it if you ever make it to Pinedale.


It started to drizzle slightly on the way to Elkhart Trail Head. It was cloudy and dreary and there were remnants of an earlier snowfall in the trees. When we were able to make out distant peaks through the clouds you could clearly see the snow cover at the upper elevations. Temps were in the upper 40’s to lower 50’s at this point.

We got the parking lot about 1400 hrs and were headed down the trail by around 1500 hrs. The sun was trying to peak thru the clouds, which helped our morale quite a bit.

The trail down to Long Lake was maintained and in pretty good shape. We arrived on the shores of the lake about 1700 hrs.

We found a super campsite and since we had dropped down about 1800′ it had warmed up a bit. We got the tents up and Pyro and Gunny got a good fire going in spite of the very wet conditions from the day prior’s rains.

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Sunday, 24 August.

After breakfast and photos on the beautiful shores of Long Lake we started walking at 0930hrs.

At this point I had started to get an ass kicking cold, sore throat, headache, dripping sinus, not fun. To add to my fun, the grass/vegetation around the trail was sopping wet and the water proofing of my normally reliable boots immediately failed soaking my left sock, great.

This year, in order to complete the Sky Pilot Loop we needed to drop down almost 2000′ from the trail head, to Long Lake and then back up to Glimpse Lake where the rest of the trip would be more or less between 10,600′ and 11,060′.

Well, the trip up to Glimpse Lake was harder than we hoped, a 2000′ climb over 4 miles, The trail wasn’t too bad, but adjusting to the altitude was a bitch. The altitude was affecting everyone differently. We didn’t arrive until about 1530 hrs. To be fair, we walked really slow, stopped for quite a few breaks, and took a ton of photos. A long day for such a short walk.

Once at Glimpse, we had the pick of several great campsites. Pyro and Gunny once again got a great fire going under very damp circumstances. Gunny, ever the fisherman, found some reserve strength and went fishing for a little while.

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Monday, 25 August.

We departed Glimpse Lake around 0900 hrs headed for that day’s goal of Summit Lake. The going was still pretty slow as we were still not acclimatized and at 1500 hrs we had only reached Borum Lake. We were all dragging, Borum was beautiful, so we decided to camp. I was only too happy not to continue the 1.6 short miles to Summit Lake for several reasons, I still had my sore throat and was still feeling weak, and, Summit lake is above the tree line so there’s no campfire there. Borum turned out to be a very beautiful place to camp indeed! We had 2 short thunder/rain storms which negated a campfire and I was so tired I sacked out early, eating only snacks in my tent.

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The next morning was clear skies and beautiful. We had terrific reflections on the still lake waters.

Tuesday, 26 August.

I’m feeling better, but still not much of an appetite.

We depart Borum Lake about 0900 hrs. headed for Upper Jean Lake, arriving about 1630 hrs. This is our best day so far, clearing skies, a bit warmer, above tree line.

We hike on past Summit Lake, cross the bridge on upper Pine Creek, over to Elbow Creek to Pass Lake and Twins Lakes following the creek above tree line, in a moonscape environment, past countless stream crossings and unnamed small lakes/tarns. We spot the tip of Elbow Lake in the distance. As we get closer, the Lake is enormous and the walk around it very long. We’re on the Highline trail headed for the junction of Shannon Pass Trail, where we’ll turn south, go over our high point at 11,060′ and drop on down to Upper Jean Lake.

We arrive at Upper Jean Lake around 1630 hrs and go on with the business of setting up tents before any rains can move in, get water for filtering, getting stuff unpacked so it can air out/dry out/fluff out, getting ready for another night in the 30’s.

No trees so no campfire. Gunny goes fishing. My appetite is getting better, but I have trouble finishing my one hot meal.

When you’re above tree line and in mixed company, going to do your ‘business’ can be a little tricky. A small ridge behind out tents along with some huge boulders provided a small bit of privacy. The obvious little piles of rocks meant to conceal made me coin the term for the area “monument valley.”

This area was the only area on the entire trip where we were bothered by mosquitoes and used head-nets. Except for Gunny, who had some repellent in this clothing, which also, I guess, deterred the critters from bothering his exposed face.

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Wednesday, 27 August.

We depart Upper Jean Lake around 0915 hrs headed for Freemont (Creek) Crossing, then down an un-maintained trail to the big “Water Slide”, then off to Lost Lake.

After a short lunch at the “water slide”, we decide to bushwhack, more or less, from the water slide, follow “game” trails down to Lost Lake, like we did last year.

Gunny leads on following very feint trails, but after about 20 minutes the trail disappears so we have to thrash about a bit to find what we hope is the trail from last year. Well, after several dead ends over cliff tops or around impassible corners, I resort to the GPS. The “trail” we’re looking for is not on the map, of course, so we are left to head in a generalized direction over contours that we hope aren’t cliffs. After a few more false leads we miraculously find the path and finally meet the primary trail at the series of two fords where Freemont Creek pours into Lost Lake.

It starts to rain. Nothing to do but take off our boots and march across the series of fords. As luck would have it, the fabulous and only campsite is taken so we’re forced to set up in a series of clearings just off the trail.

So in the rain we set up tents, get water, hang bear bags, etc.. Pyro tries to get a fire going and succeeds for a bit. Gunny goes fishing and brings back 4 or 5 good sized trout. He’s had wade out into the area where Freemont Creek enters the lake and fish in the intermittent drizzle and fog.

Nevertheless, due to the constant drizzle, they can’t get enough fire and coals to cook the fish. I retired to dinner in my tent to avoid a slow soak.

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Thursday, 28 August.

The morning is glorious and clear. Lots of sunshine. However, due to the mountains surrounding the lake, the sun can’t quite reach our tents to dry them off before it’s time to leave. So yet another day of packing wet tents, oh well, no problem, the sun is glorious! My cold is finally gone.

We depart between 0900 and 1000 hrs and have a good walk up to Seneca Lake for a nice lunch in the sun. We arrive at Barbara Lake, I think about 1500 hrs. I discover the top of my fishing pole has slid out of my pack, oh well. We set up and Gunny goes fishing but doesn’t have much luck. Pyro makes the fire and we do our set-up chores and hang bear bags, which is very tricky with these lodge-pole pines and their short branches.

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Friday, 29 August.

My tent is on a sort of angled hump and I wake with little bit of a back ache which loosens up when we start walking.

We depart about 0900 arriving a short time later at Photographer’s Point for the obligatory scenic photos. A man with 4 or 5 very little girls is camped right on the point in the area people go for photos. I’m sure this isn’t allowed. Very bad manners to camp there.

We arrive back at the trail head around noon, hiking all day under very blue skies and warmer temps. My back starts to tighten up again and stays tight for the next 4 or 5 days.

We head on down the micro brewery for our traditional after hike feast. After a few short stops to look for souveniers, Pyro, Buff, Gunny and I are back in the truck around 1400 hrs and headed for Cheyenne.  Biscuit heads on back to Jackson Hole to catch his flight to Salt Lake City then on back to VA.

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Sunday Morning, Waiting For the Winds To Blow

Sitting here on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee, checking the weather in Pinedale, Wy for what seems like the ten-thousandth time.

In just three days Gunny, Buff, Pyro and myself will get in my truck and start the 2.5 day trip to Pinedale.  Biscuit, the smart one, is flying up to Jackson (Hole), Wy and driving down to meet us Saturday around noon in Pinedale.

The current plan is to meet Biscuit at noon at the brew pub next door to Pinedale’s primary outfitter.  In no particular order, we’ll eat, drink some beer, check gear, purchase some more stuff for our packs.  Get some fishing licenses, check lures and try to avoid adding more weight to packs already loaded with 6 days of breakfasts and dinners.

But first, back here in good ole Hampton, Va….Buff and Pyro will drive up from the Beach to my place, then we’ll all go together in my truck up to Verona, Va where we’ll stay overnight at Gunny’s new place.  Gunny has promised us fresh salsa and chicken enchiladas – YES!

Next morning we’ll leave Verona and head off towards an overnight in St Louis.  Should be about 14hrs of driving.

From St Louis, it’s off to Cheyenne, Wy, where we’ll overnight on the historic Warren AFB.

(Warren AFB is the oldest continuously active military installation within the Air Force, established in 1867 by the United States Army as Fort David Allen Russell. The facility came under United States Army Air Forces control on 1 June 1947, and United States Air Force (USAF) respectively on 18 September 1947 until now….Wikipedia).

Gunny and I stayed there on our way to the Winds last year.  The old part of the base is like going back in time.  We had a suite in a preserved barracks, which meant no AC, but luckily the elevation in Cheyenne meant cool nights, so we didn’t suffer.  I did note that the check in for the base lodging was also in an historic building, and they had AC, hmmm.

Anyway, we should be leaving Cheyenne about 3:30 a.m. and get to Pinedale around 9 or so.

So after linking up with Biscuit and doing whatever chores still need doing, we may hit the “museum of the mountain man”, an excellent museum if you ever make to Pinedale.

There shouldn’t be a lot of chores, we’ve been planning this hike ever since last years hike there ended and we’re carrying our packs in the truck, not like we’re putting them on a plane.   But we’ll still probably stop at the big grocery store on the main road leading to the Elkhart trail head.

I’ve got some pre-cooked pork sausage links in my garage fridge right now, so if I can’t keep them chilled on the drive up, I might just get some more in Pinedale, still need to figure that part out.

So, once we’ve sorted out our chores in Pinedale, we’ll head off to the trail head (~9300′ elev).  The plan is to park and go ahead and hike the 3 or so miles down the Pine Creek Canyon trail and camp some where below Long Lake and Freemont Creek (~ 7858′ elev).

That plan gives us a head start on the next days hump up back to the top of the “plateau” and Glimpse Lake (9373′ elev) and onto however far we can get that day.  It would be nice to reach Summit Lake, but I don’t think we’ll make it that far.

Ok, that’s the plan so far, time to check the weather!



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Dolly Sods Wilderness 4th Of July Weekend, Map Reading, and more…

Hey there! Long time no post!

We, Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers ( had our 2nd annual 4th of July trip to Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV. a few weeks ago.

(Link to all photos –


We had about 20 signed up, most bailed out at the last minute, 13 showed up, and I heard that 3 folks coming in late couldn’t find us.  This led me to start thinking once again about map reading skills and the dearth (lack) of map reading training available to the general public.

I was fortunate that I received a healthy dose of map reading classes early on, primarily thanks to some sort of military training.  Three years worth at Highland Park High School (Dallas) JR ROTC, some in Basic training, some in Infantry AIT at Ft Jackson, some in MP AIT at Ft Gordon, some more in ROTC at Texas A&M and ROTC summer camp at Ft Sill, still more at Engineer Officer’s Basic at Ft Belvoir.  Three years of ‘practical’ use at Ft Bragg, then 3 yrs driving around the woods of the Germany/Czech border with a map on my lap for the entire time!

But other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen map skills training available to the general public.  I don’t even know if you can take a class at a local college.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of adults who want to backpack really don’t know how to read a map.  Here in Virginia a lot of our hikes are on the A.T. and there are hundreds of generalized topo maps to help keep you on the trail, but you are on a marked trail, not much of a chance of getting ‘lost’.

I’ve also noticed that a great majority of people showing up for the hikes don’t carry a map and are putting their trust in the hike organizer, hoping he/or she knows where the hell they’re going and will keep them from getting lost.

This really bothers me because most of the people I backpack with are incredibly smart folks out for a good time for a weekend.

Funny, but I’m always volunteering to give ad hoc map training on the trail and very few will opt in; not sure if it’s a lack of interest or not wanting to reveal a blind-spot, or my wonderful, humble personality.

I’ve started to think, hmm, people don’t want map training, or at least for free, maybe they perceive that things that are free have little value, so I listed a series of map classes for $25 a pop, and lo and behold, the first class of 4 has maxed out, with a waiting list!  Interesting.  But, we’ll see if anyone shows up.

Anyway, back to the Sods.

Dolly Sods Wilderness sits on a plateau in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest.  There is a portion over 4000′ so it’s a little cooler than the lower lands and the weather can change pretty quickly.

Story goes that there was a huge fire that cleared out the upper elevations creating the great  360 degree views everywhere.  There is a super stream network so plenty of water and fantastic swimming opportunities where the streams combine.  Also, apparently the fire did little to damage the giant trees along the vast stream network, creating these oasis of camping after walking among the vast fields and meadows.  The place is a great hiking/camping mecca.

At the Seneca Rocks Visitor Center DSC05697 you can pick up a free map brochure detailing the vast trail network.  The trails are marked and well defined which has made it very easy for anyone to wander in and stand a pretty good chance of not getting lost, again, no map skills really necessary.

The area didn’t seem to be very crowded when we arrived on Thursday, but by Friday, more and more people were on the trail, especially day hikers.  When we got to Friday’s camp site area, we found a good spot, but the entire area started filling in with backpackers camping for the night.

We had a great camp fire Friday night, temps dropped into about the 40’s.  DSC05606When I left Hampton, the temps had been in the upper 90’s all week, what I call ‘Africa Hot’.  I find it hard to wrap my head around the drastic temperature changes between here in Hampton at sea level and 4000′ in the mountains when backpacking.  It’s hard to think about which down sleeping bag to bring, or should I bring my down coat, when it’s baking hot outside!

I can’t remember for sure, but I think Friday night it got down to an incredible 38F, all I can say is WOW!  However, it warmed up enough that it was in the 70’s by the time we dropped down a 1000 or so feet to our next camp, warm enough to go swimming!

That was about the only thing noteworthy about this trip.

I cooked pancakes and sausages every morning on my pocket rocket and my new skillet, an $8 dollar purchase at the grocery store.  I chopped the handle off and the thing weighs in at 8.2oz., not bad.

DSC05620 DSC05622 DSC05623 DSC05624 DSC05628 DSC05634 DSC05637 DSC05638 DSC05654 DSC05679 DSC05682Also hauled my bake-packer and extra fuel.  So between Juice and I we baked, cornbread muffins,biscuits, banana muffins and a delicious chocolate chip muffin.  Some butter would have been nice.  It was nice, but carrying the extra weight wasn’t so nice, but not as bad as I expected.  I only haul this crap out once or twice a year.

Trisha carried about a gallon+ of wine/sangria and berries soaked in triple-sec and treated everyone, especially Friday night!  Thanks Trish!!  That stuff must have weighed more than her pack!  What a trooper!

I’m sure not everyone was prepared for the cold night temps, but no one complained.  Pretty good group.

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Grayson Highlands (State Park) to Damascus (VA) 14-18 May 2014 Trip Report

Just a quick re-cap of the trip.  Additional photos here:

Attending: me, buff, pyro, biscuit, Justin, Jen, Jim.

Hard to believe this was our 3rd annual trip doing this, might be our last time trying to do this in May.

Two years ago, May 2012, the first trip, the weather was great. The main thing I remember is that when we got to our camp on the VCT (Virginia Creeper Trail) it was pretty warm so I was able to go swimming in the creek.

I also remember that I didn’t bring any water shoes and the rocks were killing my feet as I waded out into the middle of the stream next to one of the VCT’s many bridges.

That’s the trip where Biscuit caught a fish and I was able to get a pretty good photo of his DSC02870Ccheese-eatin grin when holding up the small thing.

I believe this was the year I went to get water after setting up my tent at the Lost Mountain Shelter, leaving my flaps open of course, ran down to the spring, and it starts raining like a son-of-a-bitch, so I had to high tail it back to close up my tent. Of course I didn’t have a rain jacket on, what an idiot. Lesson learned.

The second year (last year, May 2013), it rained our second night when we were camped up in the meadow just east of the Thomas Knob shelter on the AT, beautiful site. But it was horribly windy and foggy and cold when we got up. Ice had also formed on the trees and bushes from the wind chill, which broke off and pelted us as we walked above 5000′.

That trip, my jet boil broke down, the fuel canister wouldn’t engage the pin or screw in completely, that sucked. It also sucked that I had to borrow gunny’s stove, but not until waiting for him to finish breakfast (come on Gunny, hurry up already!) But I did get some great photos of him eating in his tent vestibule in a reclining position no less).DSC00267






Also, Biscuit’s dog, Shadeaux, gets attacked by one of the wild pony’s roaming around up there and Biscuit has to fight him off with his hiking poles, great drama for about 15 seconds.

This is also the trip where it rained like crazy once we hit the VCT and marched onto the restaurant stop in Taylor’s Valley and on towards VA HWY 58.  DSC00389It was raining so hard that once we got to the campsite, the same place we fished and swam in the sun the year before, that we wimped out and sent the drivers, sans packs, the 5 miles into Damascus to pick up the cars so we could bail.



So now this is where we pick up this year’s little trek, May 2014.

Buff and Pyro drive up from VA Beach and pick me up in Hampton.

Seven hours later we arrive in Damascus and park next to Mount Rogers Outfitters. We meet Biscuit and his son, Justin, and a little later Jim arrives with Jen. I check in with the outfitters, pay for the shuttle and collect the cash from everyone and off we go, taking the shuttle to the fox creek trail head on the AT.DSC05217

This is the same piece of shit 12 pax van that we’ve ridden in for our other shuttles, and I’m sure I’m bitten twice on the arm by a spider or fleas or whatever while riding in this crapped out vehicle.

It’s about a mile and a half from the trail head to Old Orchard shelter and we arrive between 4-5pm.

Absolutely gorgeous day, blue sky, very warm temps, early spring blossoms everywhere, nice grass to put up the tents. Worked up a nice little sweat humping up the 600′ elevation gain to the shelter. That would be the last sweat worked up that weekend!

We scrounged for wood and pyro made a nice campfire. The campsite area around the shelter started to fill up with arriving AT thru-hikers as it got later, about 8 or so between tents, hammocks and the shelter, plus our 7. Jen was using her hammock.

The weather forecast for the next day, Thursday, was for 100% rain, and the weather guys were 100% correct this time (the bastards). About 2am it started raining and was still raining when we got up.DSC05227

I had prearranged with everyone, that in the event of heavy rain, with people eating in their tents or not eating at all, and no way to communicate effectively, that we should plan on having tents down and the walk started at 0830, trying to minimize anyone standing around getting soaked.

So at 0830, in a steady but light rain, we were off.

It’s about 1.7 miles and 1000′ elev gain from the shelter to the AT/Pine Mountain/Crest Trail junctions at 5000′.

When we got to the junction (not petticoat junction) it was basically pouring and the winds had picked up. At that point we had some decisions to make, either take the AT down from the ridge, thru Grayson state park and back up Wilburn ridge to the shelter, about 8.5 miles or take a shortcut on the Crest trail, about 5 miles.

Biscuit, Justin, and Jen opted for the short cut and headed to the shelter. The plan was to camp in the same meadow as last year, just before reaching the shelter.

Jim wanted to hike the AT section, I wanted to just hike down 1 mile to the ‘scales’ and see if there were any photo ops of horses or the Texas Longhorn herd that grazes up there.

So Jim, I, Buff and Pyro hike on down to ‘scales’ in the now blasting wind and rain and fog.

Unfortunately, no animals so we take a short break on the park service latrine porch to get out of the wind for a bit.DSC05244 DSC05248 DSC05253 DSC05258 DSC05262

Then Buff, Pyro and I head back to the ridge and Jim continues on the AT.

The 3 of us arrive at the meadow by the shelter about 1330, no tents, so we march up to the shelter and find Jen, Biscuit and Justin and 17 others crammed into a cozy little situation.

We double back in the blasting rain/fog and set up in a very small clearing just off the trail in a nice grassy spot.






We had a technique where we were able to take down the tarp tents and put them back up in such as way as to keep in the inside under the rain fly and stay dry, more or less.

DSC05265Getting into the tent while drenched became my big problem.

But prior to dealing with that, after we got the tents up, Buff and I had to trudge back to the shelter and down a small ridge to the spring and fill up. Then back to the tents and setting up our gravity fed filter systems on the handiest brush. I stood out in the rain waiting for the water to finish filtering because once I got in the tent and got everything dried out, more or less, I didn’t want to have to get out again to get the water as the forecast was for rain until the next morning, it was now only 2pm in the afternoon.

Now, how to get in the tent while I’m dripping wet?  I opened up the rain fly vestibule, with my torso hovering over the threshold and my butt in the rain, took off my dripping jacket and shirt, piling them under the vestibule, then tried as hard as I could to flip the fly over my rear end, then pirouetted my butt into the tent and quickly removed my dripping rain paints adding them to the pile outside the tent, under the vestibule. I only had shorts on under the rain paints but my legs were cold and seemed to be wet. I dried off with the hand towel I had the foresight to bring the quickly put on every layer of clothing I still had dry, including my down parka and stocking cap. Semi success.

We could talk between tents and Pyro told me she was able to completely change clothes under their tarp tent vestibule (arggggh!)

Jim arrived a few hours after us and set up in the same clearing. Unfortunately, for him, he can’t cook under a vestibule, as his tent had none.

Next morning there was still another tent set up next to ours!

So we settled in for the next 18 hrs! The hard rain continued, temps in the 40’s, getting as low as 38f in the morning. It did stop raining before dawn and the winds were killer. I wondered why the tent was not dry on the outside from the winds as I could see drops thru the material. Reaching out and around to feel the water, it turned out to be ice, from the wind chill!

Both tents stood up well, I have the tarp tent ‘notch’, buff and pyro have the stratospire 2, which is freaking huge, but under 3lbs!!! They did have one of their pegs pull out of the saturated ground in the middle of the night, but that was about it.

DSC05276We were more than ready to get going in the morning and were off by 0730, it was misting and really cold.

We had to put back on our wet clothing from the day before so we didn’t feel like waiting around for the others when we blew by the shelter. Jen was outside brushing her teeth and we told her we needed to keep walking to generate some much needed heat and that they would have to catch up, or else we’d see then at the next shelter.

I tried to wear my wet nylon gloves to help with the wind, but that only made things worse, my fingers almost numb in the wind and my toes freezing. It took probably over an hour for us to start warming up a bit.

Fortunately, as we went on, the sky cleared, just a bit, and the winds died down, just a bit,DSC05297 DSC05287 in the tree tunnels. And, as luck would have it, when we went down across Elk Garden and then up and over White Top, the winds lessened, and it wasn’t as bad as last year.

We made it to the Lost Mountain Shelter about 4pm. We actually had some brief periods of sun and warmth during the last half of the walk.

During the day, Buff’s left knee started to hurt, really bad, and he was starting to be in a lot of pain.


DSC05327We set up camp in nice spot and hung our stuff out to dry a bit in the slight breeze.

We collected firewood and pyro once again made a nice fire.

Biscuit, Justin, and Jen arrived around 5pm. Jim had caught up and passed us about 2 miles from the shelter and had set up in the shelter.DSC05326

At the end of dinner, under patchy blue skies it started raining. Buff and I called this ‘Immaculate Precipitation’, pretty clever, if I do say so myself ;-).

So it was back inside the tent, about 6 or 7pm until the next morning, now we’re really starting to get cabin fever.

Saturday morning was pretty nice. Breakfast #3 under my vestibule, Buff and pyro eating under theirs.

DSC05356 DSC05368

The morning walk on the VCT into Taylor’s Valley was pretty nice but it was starting to look like rain again when we arrived and Buff’s knee was hurting pretty bad.

The clouds were closing in once again when we got to the next campsite on the VCT, just about 300yrs or so from the HWY 58 pull off.

At this point, with Buff’s knee and no one desiring to spend all afternoon in the tents, we decided to once again send the drivers up the trail to Damascus for the cars.  We were hoisting the white flag, again.







– there were hundreds of bikers on the VCT which made walking suck as we had to keep running back to single file on the sides of the trail. This was on a Saturday, so we should have known.

– Trail Days were taking place in Damascus, but after we got to the cars in town, we just wanted to get the long drive over with. I got home at 1130pm, Buff and Pyro had another 40min.

– As far as I’m concerned, I’m packing for winter trips until June first!

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