Thursday, February 24, 2011

Update: Volunteer Vacation

January 11, 2011

I just signed up for my first (official) volunteer vacation through American Hiking Society. I assisted in building and maintaining trails since I was a kid. I helped build a trail on a hill over looking the Susquehanna River for one of the Eagle Scout projects in scouts. Later I went on an Order of the Arrow work trip to Philmont, and while that trip showed me a lot of things about myself at the time and how weak I could be if I let myself, the work was great fun, I should have been in a better place to enjoy the trip more.

The trip is in Washington state. I have wanted to go there for a very long time, but one thing or another always seemed to stand in the way. This year had looked like it was also going to be a bust, as most of my days off had been planned for other adventures. But then a miraculous thing happened and my calendar is my own again, to be filled with other adventures; though the companionship will be missed.

Going on the volunteer vacation will do several things for me. The trip will get me out to Washington, give me a destination and a reason for going also since I'm paying now I won't back out. I will not need to depend on coercing anyone from the east to go with me, to align our schedules and hope we'd still be friends. I enjoy having things planned, it's impossible to plan things with people that you can not depend on for anything.

The trip is difficult, in the back country of the Cascades. Looking at the map I want to plan to fly into Seattle and rent a car a few days before the trip, drive around see the area, maybe Couch Surf or hostel around. From there take a bus to the pickup location do the trip and spend the weekend after backpacking close by. I am very excited for this opportunity! Also it will be nice to meet some new people. It is still several months away, but it gives me something to look forward to!

Update 2/24/2011:
So I am looking at the map of where the Company Creek Complex Trail lies... apparently from Wenatchee it's not far north to another town, Chelan, and from there 50 miles of a dammed river or float plane are the only means of accessing the Trail. There is a resort at the end of the lake where the dam is, close to where our trail work will be done, with rates of $200+ with min of 5 day reservation. And I'll be in the, it seems like, very wild mountains that surround this end of the lake for practically free!

From Wikipedia:
"There is no road access to Stehekin, though several miles of road exist there. It is reachable by passenger ferry, by foot over the Cascade Pass, the Lady of the Lake, or private boat from Chelan, or by floatplane. The vehicles in Stehekin have been barged there on Lake Chelan."

I am very excited! Even more so than before.
So once we get to Stehekin there is a 5 mile hike to where we will be going. I know it's on Company Creek Complex Trail, which is visible on the NPS website, though I will need to get a better map with some topo. Google Earth allows me to see a bit better detail, it looks like a creek runs up through a valley towards Bonanza Peak, the elevations looks easy, actually. We'll be at 3600' while the peaks surrounding us will loom to 9200' (WOW that's huge!!!) I cannot wait! this actually may change things, depending on expense of using the ferry and timing, I may opt to stay up there afterwards and do some exploring, or even hike out over the Sierras, hmmm.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dolly Sods in feet of snow

Saturday February 12th

There was a Meetup group that had been setup for Dolly Sods this weekend, to include around 10 people. Midway through the week after everyone had looked at the forecast and heard about the amount of snow on the ground, people started dropping or worrying about conditions. Thursday, after speaking with Newman, he decided to split the group - those that wanted to rent or buy snow shoes and do the hardcore trip, and those others that would opt for a less intense trip. Of course Jim and I don't back down from any challenge, we firmly stated that no matter what we'd get to Dolly Sods. Turns out everyone else that didn't completely drop out, opted to go to North Fork Mountain with Newman.
This was fortunate in a way, as I ended up working until after 7pm on Friday night and hadn't packed yet - I was also dragging all day from a fantastic late Thursday night. So we decided to go up Saturday morning after a good nights rest. I came home and we both packed, figured out food and got to sleep at a reasonable time.
We woke up around 5 and hit the road not soon after, going out 70 to 68 to Cumberland, coming into Dolly Sods from the other side of the mountain to access Laneville, WV without having to go over unmaintained forest roads. What wasn't accounted for was the very elevated high plateau we would traverse coming in from the north. Once we hit 220 we steadily started climbing, little snow resided on the ground, but soon the wind picked up and the snow got deeper, drifts covered the roads at some points, and the sky darkened and began snowing more. Two things of note, a liquor store called, "O'beery McLiquor Store" and a coffee shop with the name "Hypno Coffee" - AWESOME to both! Most of the gas stations were closed, with no fuel, fortunately we had plenty to get us in and out.
We were stopped by a train right by a coal power plant on the plateau, a traffic jam in a snow storm in the middle of no-where West Virginia.
We turned on to the secondary road to get to Laneville, it was mostly covered in snow a bit treacherous on the very tight corners as it wound down into a valley and alongside a river. We made it to the trail head and threw on some layers, and gaiters. We strapped the snow shoes to our packs because it didn't look too deep. After a couple hundred yards away from the car we decided to use our snow shoes, I had bought a set online and Jim had rented a pair from the REI in Columbia. We wanted to try them out regardless. Flurries were still flying, and the temperature was below freezing, the wind making it colder still. Clad in our snow shoes we hiked up Red Creek, crossing over several streams. In a sheltered valley a dozen or so deer bounded easily through the snow ahead of us.

The trail follows the creek, but briefly goes up the valley wall in a bend in the river, the snow shoes did an excellent job of us not breaking through the deeper snow in the bottom, and gave us great spiky grip into the hillside and where drifts covered the trail. I feel we could have done the hiking without the snow shoes, but they were really fun and the snow depth was right on the verge of needing them, so I have to say I'm glad we had them.
After coming back down level with the creek, we decided to follow Big Stone Coal Trail across the creek, up to Rocky Summit and around back to where we wanted to camp - that way we'd get some elevation, go on trails we hadn't been on and get us to a really nice camping spot. The crossing of Red Creek proved tricky. Mostly it was ice covered, and the ice seemed flaky and prone to breaking through. Jim spied a downed tree across to an island, and immediately went to it and shimmied his way across. I threw my snow shoes across the creek and followed suit.

We had been following some rather old, and mostly hidden snow shoe tracks from a previous adventure, but they hadn't gone over the creek. All the snow was fresh and pure, trail blazing was difficult, we searched for small deviations on the hillside and a slight clearing of brush, mostly guessing we were headed on the correct path - occasionally a cairn was placed to confirm our suspicions of there being a trail. We quickly ascended the hill in a long slope, hitting a couple switch backs towards the top. We had the right amount of layers on to balance heat and cold, though stopping for breaks the wind whipping snow particulates in our faces, quickly chilled me. The sun came out as we made our way, making for beautiful sights down into the valley and of the mountain above us.

At the top of the hill we hit an intersecting trail and followed it around to the right, staying fairly level as we went around the mountain. The drifts were the deepest yet, occasionally getting probably close to 3 feet deep. The top layer of snow was light and soft, but somewhere about 4 inches below a crust had formed that we would rarely break through. The trail began sloping down again and re-intersected with Red Creek Trail (514), we headed to the right and back level with the creek we came to a known great campsite. This was the campsite that we'd first discovered on our first trip here with a larger group - we hadn't stayed, but went and had lunch and swam in the river. Also this was the site that I'd stayed with Goose and a friend later in the year. Now covered in snow, the fire pit only discernible by a slight lump.
We dropped our gear and began preparing the site. I began digging into the fire pit, hoping to hit rock to build a fire on, Jim went and collected trees for firewood, wanting to give a try to his new saw. I was hitting pay-dirt about the time he brought the first wood back. We went up the hill and cut a monster that was downed and then carried and threw it down the hills into camp. Very soon we had enough to try our hand at starting a fire in these conditions, I was speculating the fire would make a mud puddle under the rocks I'd set as a base and kill it.We had gathered birch bark on our journey to camp and laid that out along with the driest sticks and a big ball of vaseline covered cotton balls. We both put flame to kindling from different sides. After some coaxing the fire gathered itself and started doing well. We were both VERY pleased to have some merry warmth!

We named the fire Calcifer 

We chose a tent site close by, I began by matting down the snow by walking in circles, then laying down a tarp. Jim had purchased 6 snow stakes, which were absolutely needed, we also used a rock and a tree to help keep the tent up and stable. Our home setup, and a rope strung up to keep our packs off the snow, I began dinner. I brought a cheesy noodle thing, since we were sharing and adding ingredients, I cooked it in the pot instead of right in the pouch. We'd lightly cooked up a pound of bacon, so some of that was added, as well as snacked on, as Jim roasted it over the fire, we also added oil salt and pepper, more bacon bits, and mashed potatoes as thickener. It turned out really well! Sometimes those pouch noodles are bland... but bacon makes everything better!
We sat up talking into the night, snacking on beef jerky and sour patch kids. Very happy the fire was there to keep us warm. The temp was around 20 degrees when we called it a night - around 9:30 or so. We had warmed rocks by the fire and tossed one in each sleeping bag 30 min before going in ourselves, bringing another with us. Mine was hot to the touch, but wrapped in a cotton bandanna was fine sleeping with.


Both of us slept very poorly. My tonsils felt sore and swollen, I felt like I didn't sleep at all or that I was trying to sleep on a stimulant, my mind would not stop, even though I know I dozed and dreamed it was not deep. I had a dream that I was dreaming that I had to pee. So, it was an Inception dream within a dream. In reality I had to get up and use a tree. My snoring or any little sound snapped me back to awareness. Jim's night was similar.
We climbed out of our sleeping bags around 8 and packed up. Jim got a fire re-started while I boiled water for our oatmeal breakfast. We packed the tent and our gear quickly and headed back down the trail, just as the warm sun seeped into our valley floor campsite. First we had to recross the creek, the time with no log, after looking for a spot we both made our separate ways across and joined back as the trail climbed the far hillside. The trail was surprisingly steep in places, though we've both been this way before.
The temperature was 25 when we woke, but quickly rose to the low 40's. Making the snow rather sticky. My snow shoes were more and more prevalent to begin weighing very heavy on my feet, making me stop and knock clumps off, I eventually got good at doing a stutter step and get the snow to come off. After re-joining our old tracks from yesterday we knew we only had one incline and about a mile of trail left. We both opted to take our snow shoes off to see how that went. While in the valley where we'd seen the deer, be broke through a bit, but still made better time without the snow shoes. We made very good time back to the car, and the extra heat cleared the road. We, feeling accomplished for 'braving' the rigorous perils of Dolly Sods when so many others had fled, climbed into the car and made our way back to Baltimore via 55 going passed Seneca Rocks - looks gorgeous - and by now familiar  landmarks to 81 and 66.
A great weekend. I've learned I really like snow shoeing and will be looking forward to next winter where maybe I can go somewhere that has lake effect snow and seeing what they can really handle.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sugar Knob Cabin

Friday February 4th
I rented a PATC cabin south of Great North Mountain, near Big and Little Schloss Mountains.
Jim and I left from Baltimore to meet Steve at the Park and Ride at the end of 195. We pulled up right at 5:30 and Steve was already there. He threw his gear in the back seat and we headed out. I stopped south of Laurel for gas and we joined the stream of traffic, most everyone else heading home - us heading for the mountains.
The traffic was not at all bad. Once we got into Virginia and onto 66 it slowed down, as is typical of the area. In short order we found a Chicfilla and the end of the traffic after that stop. We rode into the darkness toward 81.
Fortunately Steve was familiar with both the roads getting to the trail head as well as the trails themselves, so we didn't need to rely on directions to get where we were gong. After going south on 81 for a few miles, we headed west on 42 and then took a few side roads to get to the forest road to the parking area. Too bad the forest road was gated closed! We parked the car, knowing our hike just got 4 miles longer. We suited up, tossed on our packs to head out. My pack was very lite, as I had no tent and less warm clothing, knowing we were to be staying in the cabin with a wood stove.
The road walk was very easy, we stayed to the areas where tires had beaten the snow down so the walking was easy. We did the miles in around an hour, getting to the parking lot just after 9pm. The trail leading from the parking lot followed a stream for the first mile and a half, gradually gaining elevation. We didn't use our head lights very much and there was no moon out, making for a very dark, dream-like passage through the forest; the sound of the river to our rights, the sigh of the wind through the trees, the crunch of our feet in the snow. The areas that had no snow, under pines, were darker than dark, pools of inky blackness. Many times we stumbled and tripped over roots and rocks that were hiding in the pitch. Walking on the snow was generally ok, though we slid around a few times on patches of ice. The crunching noise of our footsteps lead to little conversation, without a lot of "what did you say?" so mostly I just walked in the ephemeral darkness, lost in thoughts of dreamlike quality. For a long ways the tracks of a cross country skier snaked through the darkness, leading us up the path. One of us mentioned how much more difficult the path would be to find without the tracks, and they abruptly ended  The trail lead away from the stream, steeper now, ascending the side of the valley. Some bear tracks meandered onto and up the trail for a bit. The cabin lay in a low spot between two mountains ahead of us. We climbed further up, the trail getting steeper, the snow getting deeper, and the tracks from other hikers becoming frozen and treacherous. Finally the spring for the cabin showed up on the right and we were close. We got to the cabin and I pulled out the key.

Inside the cabin was cramped but very well equipped. A bunch of axes, saws, pots and pans, chairs, blankets were out or in bins. A bin full of wood was prepared next to the little stove in the corner. We situated our gear and pulled down the fold up bunks. We decided not to light the fire and just hit the sleeping bags. I went to bed after 1 am.


The day was fog shrouded, with occasional rain showers and sleet. Hovering around freezing, the snow was slightly melty.

I slept well on the mattress, pad that I brought and provided wool blanket. We all got up at generally the same time. I was the first out of bed, and very ungracefully slid off the top bunk. We got up and moving and I made a fire as Steve and Jim got some more wood. Jim, grabbing the huge, and largely ineffectual splitting axe. After I got the fire going with some of Jim's fire starter, I put the perkalator on the stove - I eventually got tired of waiting for the stove and used Steve's stove outside to get it perking. After eating our breakfasts we looked at the map and decided to go to Half Moon Mountain as a day hike with our small packs. We tossed lunches and water and some other layers of clothing into our day packs and set off up the trail. At the intersection of the Tuscarora, we turned onto that and followed the trail around to another intersection. On the next part we started seeing bear tracks - first one set on the trail going one way, then another pair  and a third set. We pondered aloud if it was the same bear going in circles or a series of them - some pairs looked smaller or larger. It was really cool to be in the snow and see the tracks - with no snow we would have no evidence of an animal that large wandering around (well, except some scat).

We crossed over a bridge at the bottom of a hill, after a few miles, to a campsite an odd barbed wire enclosure to one side around a wetland. The Tuscarora went right, Half Moon went straight, still 1.7 distant. We continued on after a short break, making good time. The trail at the base of the final Half Moon summit rose for about .7 of a mile, not too steep, as it went all the way across the mountain side. Towards the top the trail switched back and got steep up to an old foundation of a fire tower. The wind was whipping over the mountain, making it very chilly. The woods were engulfed in fog and dripping. There were supposed to be some very good views, all that was viewed was a wall of swirling gray fog. We stayed for a short time, eating a snack, before heading off the peak and out of the wind. On the way down, we passed two guys that looked to be tent camping with full packs, we spoke briefly before heading on our separate ways. The trail ascend back by everything we had came down by earlier, as we were doing an out and back. The melty snow making it difficult going up the hills, as with a full length stride you would slip back a little bit with each step. Our strides shortened and I got very warm. I slowed my pace so I wouldn't be drenched in sweet at the top of the hill. There was an intersection that went steeply up to the right, or back the way we came straight on - for a varied view and to see where it went we opted for the other way - while it was substantially steeper, it was also shorter. At the top of the hill we followed the Tuscarora back to camp on an old wagon trail or fire road.

We were back in the cabin by 4-something. I got the fire going, Steve and Jim cut firewood enough for what we were going to use plus a bit more. The wind picked up even more than when we were up on Half Moon, a freight train running over the mountain in the distance, though the cabin seemed sheltered. We opened the cupboard in the cabin to find a small library and candles and other various sundries.I took a short nap on the lower bunk, enjoying the warmth of the stove. After waking, I walked down to the spring and pumped 2 liters of water. Right after I came back the sky opened up, a few minutes of heavy rain, loud on the tin roof, then it changed over to a silent snow fall. A while later, right at dusk, the clouds blew away and cleared, the moon and stars popping into view, a brief respite from the clouds, the temp dropped as the clouds dissipated, dropping to the high 20's. The wind still howled and an occasional puff dark cloud hurried to catch up with the large mass that already had gone on it's way. We started on dinner and the coffee finally perked on the stove top - I was patient this time. Dinner was a stew with fresh carrots, potatoes, beef cubes, celery, and onion. It took a long while to cook up, but well after dark when it was finished, it went down so good.
We sat around for awhile, listening to NPR on Steve's little HAM radio, sipping whiskey and beer - Jim abstaining from drinking. I got tired in short order and climbed into my bunk. After an hour of sleep I was sweltering, the temp near the ceiling had to be in the 80s, I ripped off a layer or two and unzipped the bag a little to get some air flow and went back to sleep, sleeping through Steve's (and apparently my own) snoring.


The day was nearly cloud free, the temperature above freezing. We packed up and ate cold breakfasts. I slammed a 5-Hour Energy rather than brew coffee. We swept the cabin, refilled the fire wood bin, emptied the ashes, and re-latched all the windows. We locked up and headed down the hill. The ice was the worst directly in front of the cabin and the re-froze tracks for a few hundred yards.
We hit our tracks coming up and made great time down the hill, seeing all the sights that were hid by darkness on Friday evening. The sun shone through the trees, eventually we heard the creek as we took the trails only switch back. We followed the path by the river, the snow having melted quite a bit, the trail muddy in some places. We made it to the road and began the road walk. We hadn't noticed, but the road walk was now all uphill - no wonder we made such great time Friday night! We made our way up the shallow grade with a very fast pace, knowing that a car with a stop at Arby's was close at hand. We saw the clear cuts, and the mountains in the distance that were shrouded before. The sun beat down, making the day very pleasant. It only took just over an hour to get back to the car. The gate was still closed, and the car was still there. We tossed the gear in the car, changed our muddy boots, and headed back to Baltimore.

I really enjoyed the trip, especially the cabin. Next time I know that the cabins are well stocked I can bring a day pack with food clothing and a summer sleeping bag, I figure pack weight could be in the teens. We came over prepared as it was, even though I hardly felt like I was carrying anything. Steve Jim and myself got along great, plenty of inappropriate jokes and laughter. We hiked nearly 30 miles, all told - it really adds up quick! Especially on roads and with day packs.

Edit: I talked to Steve last night and he did some research about the area we were hiking through. On a tree by the stream we saw 'LS' spray painted, turns out that is where the forestry folks start dumping lime so the pH of the creek will allow for fish to live in the water, then they stock the creek for people to trout fish. I haven't heard a mention of Acid Rain in a decade or more, for all I knew it was a resolved issue as much as the media covers it, when it used to be all the rage. That is a failure on the environmental groups. Obviously it's a problem, why has it been swept under for the global warming cause? Seems acid rain is a bit more... immediate and uncontested.
Other signs nailed to the trees said something like 'S25'. Steve looked that up and these are birding stations for certain times of the year.
The cabin was built in the 1920's, as a relaxation, recovery, and resupply base for the folks that would man the fire towers in the area. Apparently, it used to be tent based until one day a bear came in and stole a huge slab of bacon - the next day the cabin started getting built!
Lastly, the path by the creek we followed was an old wagon road that lead to places in the woods that made charcoal; a campsite we passed still had evidence of the pits and mounds from the 1860's.