Monthly Archives: July 2014

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.