Ramble On

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dolly Sods Wilderness - a Moderate Day Hike, Part 1

Since an early hike this year, my hiking group has been itching to take on something more aggressive, and possibly to take on something more complex, such as a hike-in backpacking trek. We settled on Dolly Sods, which Tom had heard a lot about, and Chris, Andy and I quickly agreed. We began to think about the logistics involved, including the 3 to 4 hour drive out to West Virginia, the gear we’d need, and other issues.

Wikipedia describes the Dolly Sods Wilderness as a plateau, in fact the highest of its type east of the Mississippi, averaging between 3,500 and 3,800 feet above sea level. There are higher and lower areas, but where we were, this was the typical altitude. The plateau borders the eastern continental divide, so the creek we crossed – Red Creek – eventually makes its way to the Ohio River, the Mississippi, and then the Gulf of Mexico. Dolly Sods is in the Monogahela National Forest.

The Wikipedia article and many other reviews of hikes in this area describe a beautifully remote and challenging terrain (not to mention that unexploded ordnance from past military training is still periodically found here). They refer to the year-round boggy nature of the area, and warn that the trails are unblazed – so we prepared by getting familiar with additional equipment (toying with the idea of bringing a GPS in with us in fact, although we didn’t).

In the end, because of the dire reviews, but also because I haven’t yet bought a lot of the requisite equipment for overnighting (despite plenty of helpful advice from Howard and Gary at AOA), I asked Chris and Tom to reconsider the camping part. The team were good sports about it, and we ended up staying at the Canaan Valley Conference Center and Resort, which is actually a West Virginia state park. Andy wasn’t able to join us, so it was the three of us – Chris, Tom and me. We all arrived separately at the hotel by Friday night, and agreed to meet for breakfast (a buffet) at 7am or so on Saturday morning.

During the preparation, we’d agreed that we would try the Forks of Red Creek hike (link below from Hiking Upward, and first photo above is a shot from the stream crossing) because we were still talking about potentially camping, and this one offered the best proximity to many campsites. This turned out to be an excellent decision because of the wide range of scenery we passed through. Our 10+ mile hike ended up taking about 7 hours – just as the Hiking Upward review suggested; it was a first for us to finish with a similar time to what they specify on that site!

Possibly due to the long spell of dry weather, the bogs didn’t trouble us, although it was clear they could have been more difficult than they were. And there were enough signs, and the trails were worn enough, that we didn’t have a problem with orienteering.

Even so, I kept my Pathfinder alternating between the compass function and the altimeter function for this trip – moving onto that next step of using it as a tool. The compass function proved useful several times as we reached forks in the trails – keeping us from heading off on long detours or worse, dead ends.

I’ll continue this review tomorrow – with some photos of a little side excursion we did, and more photos of the trails. The Hiking Upward reference is below.


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