Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Most Curious WV Adventure

Spring Break! For some this dredges up images of drunken idiots shedding clothing and inhibitions in direct relation to the number of beers consumed in some vain attempt to prove something, earn a hallowed place in someone else's lexicon of buffoonery, or pretend that they had an 'awesome' time of it all. Those who know me - and at this point, considering the restrictions on PW at the moment, that's anyone reading this - that particular ritual was neither written into Paddy's liturgical calendar nor intrigued me as a pastime. Spring Break 2007 took Paddy and two traveling mates about as far from the hyped beaches of college misery as possible. We had five days set aside for a backpacking adventure, and eschewing the long drive from DC to the Smokey Mountains we headed westward into the mountains, destination Petersburg WV and the Dolly Sodds Wilderness. Keen on tackling a good first day trail, we reluctantly passed up the opportunity to visit Smoke Caverns and ‘West Virginia’s largest souvenir shop and food’ (Paddy was intrigued by the claim to WV’s largest food, but owe drove!). We did, however, stop at an Army surplus shop in Pertersburg with a might fine collection of camies, where we should have paid more attention to the woolen gloves. Shortly after departing Petersburg, home of the Golden Trout and WV’s largest military museum, we left the Potomac Valley and began our ascent. Having made it about halfway up the mountain, we suddenly became aware of the fact that Spring had not yet made it to this part of West Virginia, as the dirt road turned to mud, then slush, and finally to snow-covered track. Onward and upward we climbed in our new-model, mid-range Japanese sedan, sliding round one precipitous corner and up till we simply could get no further; we actually ground to a halt in about 6 inches of wet snow and were lucky to get the thing turned around, still about 3 miles from the parking place, our proposed jump off onto the trail into Dolly Sodds. Not to be thwarted, however, we all agreed to leave the car on the side of the road, don our packs, and hike the rest of the way to the car park. Before setting out we chatted with a couple of local boys and their dog coming down the mountain; they had tried the ascent in their 4x4 but had been forced to turn around as well. A cold, steady sleet began as we began the trek to the top. Now dear reader, you might expect that a three mile hike up a road would prove relatively easy and straightforward. Let’s just say that there were times when one or another of us actually vocalized the phrase, ‘are we crazy.’ A rhetorical question of course, but it perhaps needed saying, if only to reassure ourselves that we weren’t.

We started out at 4:35pm. By 5:30pm we had made it as far as some crazy hunter’s shed, still something like a mile and a half from our destination, at which point we decided we would spend the night camped near the car park and set off down the trail in the morning for a full day’s hiking and three stream crossings. Shortly after the hunter’s shack, all vehicle tracks came to an end on the road and we found ourselves slogging it up the remainder of the mountain in about six to twenty inches of snow. 6:10: we reached the summit but still had a remaining 1.2 miles across the ridge before the jump-off point down the trail. A brief conference ensued as to the feasibility of reaching the trail-head before darkness descended, cut short by a return of the sleet; we headed west into the woods. By 7pm our light was failing, the sleet, made more bone chilling by an cruel wind that whipped across the ridge, was taking it’s toll (I failed to mention that one of us made the ascent without gloves or woolen cap), and we experienced while hastily trying to get the tent up that brief moment when you wonder if this is the point when it all starts to go really, dangerously wrong. I’m not playing at the melodramatic here; there was indeed an instant when the thought passed over me that we should have set up earlier, a mile down the path. Anyway…we managed to get the tent up and passed the night without incident, though our planned dinner of beef stew had to be replaced with handfuls of gorp and cheese consumed within the tent. Oh, Matt did manage to boil enough water to produce a couple mugs of raman. Reassessing our situation in the morning, we decided, with the trail being completely snow-covered and the prospect of even more intense winter-camping ahead of us, to sod Dolly Sodds, and head for greener pastures (and greener mountains if possible).

1 comment:

Nellie said...

Good post.