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.
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.