Dolly Sods, WV 5/4-5/6/2012
We assembled separately from all directions. USMCStang and others pioneered the west approach via FR 80, fighting the bureaucratic jungle. Well done!
I started from the Wildlife Cabin at Lanesville on Friday about 1 pm, taking the alternate route on the West side of Red Creek. At Vdeal's suggestion I chose the upper path and climbed to a bench about 200 ft above the creek and headed North. Maybe I climbed too far, because I was soon following game trails and bushwhacking, but you can't go too far wrong, and it's only half a mile to little Stonecoal run. Took me an hour and a half, though, and crossing Little Stonecoal required tip-toeing carefully across a mossy log because the churning brown mass of water rushing under it didn't look inviting. Then I took the Little Stonecoal Trail up to the Dunkenbarger Trail. This should have taken me to the Big Stonecoal Trail, but there was so much water running in and around the trail, that the many side-routes hikers had taken to skirt the floods spread out into a delta of false trails, and I soon stopped seeing cairns (which had been infrequent to start with).
However, while lost I found some nice chaga on a birch tree. Then I used compass, map, and altimeter to plot a route in the general direction of Big Stonecoal. Without much altitude change once that 4000 ft. plateau is reached, it became mostly map and compass, and I guess I headed more North than NNE, so I spent several happy hours exploring new terrain. Eventually I found an old logging road that ran N-S, so I followed it, and try as I might I couldn't will it to bend to the East. There were a few side trails and old logging roads which descended to the East, and I tried a couple of them, but they petered out in swamps and/or laurel hells before they went very far. When it started to rain I retraced my steps to the road and continued North, figuring that I would eventually run into FR 80 and approach from the West, which I did. Also, the sun came out. Then it was just a mile to the trail junction and 1.25 miles to the Friday campsite. I was grateful for USMCStang's giant arrow pointing the way.
On Friday, I joined Ferret on a hike down the Breathed Mountain Trail to the Forks (with a stop to collect some dry stovewood from a dead spruce tree - the only dry wood I saw the whole time). The climb up to the Blackbird Knob Trail, so much reviled, actually seems easier each time I do it. It's nice to hear the wood thrushes that live along that stretch and higher up on Blackbird Knob.. We got to the Saturday campsite at the Left Fork in plenty of time to get set up before it rained. Thanks to Ferret, who is a great non-nonsense hiking companion. He also provided one of the things I'd missed the day before - the friend who says, "Hey, I think the trail goes this way."
Saturday evening's gathering with many old friends and some new was nice. Bearchaser's snazzy footwear, Momo's warm greetings, and meeting Country Roads (who probably knows the Sods better than the rest of us) were a few of the standouts.
Sunday, I headed down Red Creek solo, and the sun came out in earnest just after I made the crossing at the Forks, which was pretty exciting. Water was moving fast and crotch-deep. It was also impressively loud. I was glad to get across without a mis-step. Afterwards I sat in the sun and had a wonderful sandwich of cheese and sprouts on crackers. Alfalfa sprouts will be on all future hikes, I've decided.
Sorry, no photos. I figured if I was going lightweight and testing out a one-pound insulated hammock hammock, it made sense to leave my 6 oz. camera & gorillapod at home. :)