Jun 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm #1237001
Our scout troop culminated its annual hiking and backpacking merit badge campaign with a 50 mile trek through the Dolly Sods wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. This was my seventh year as a leader on these campaigns, and my first year as a true "light-weighter". We had done several weekend treks over the spring in preparation for the 50 miler.
We generally do our weekend hikes locally in central Pennsylvania. We have hiked all corners of the state on our previous 50 milers. We were looking for something different this year and decided on the Dolly Sods in West Virginia. The Dolly Sods is a high plateau bisected by Red Creek. The landscape in the northern Sods is different from what you would ordinarily find in the Appalachians in the Mid-Atlantic region. It consists of rolling open plains with patches of coniferous forests and sort of resembles a Canadian wilderness. We began our trek at the northeast corner of the Sods and hiked a figure 8 loop in order to tour practically all regions of the plateau. The trip was 5 days and 4 nights, with daily mileage ranging from 8 to 14 miles. We only had 1 scout and 3 adults complete the entire 50 miles. For the first two days, 5 scouts, 3 dads, and one dog tagged along for the most scenic portions of the hike.
My light-weight gear list for this trip came in around 13 pounds for the base weight of my pack and consisted of the following:
Gregory Z55 backpack – great pack that comfortably carried my initial 25 pound total pack weight. I think the weight of a framed pack is worth it when carrying more than just a weekend load. I loved having hipbelt pockets.
Mont-Bell SS #5 sleeping bag – Rated to 40*, but with my current hammock system it is really only comfortable down to the high 40s. The super-stretch is nice in a hammock. I use it like a quilt as the overnight temps get around 60*.
Hennessy Hyperlight hammock – Simple lightweight hammock with bug protection.
MLD cuben fiber hex hammock tarp – Super light, yet seems plenty durable. We were extremely lucky to have nearly zero rain on this trip, so I didn't get a chance to put the tarp through a serious test. The cuben fiber allows for a nice tight pitch.
MLD refective guyline (60 ft) – Not the lightest guyline cord, but it's what fits the line tensioners that Ron provides on the tarp. The small specks of reflective material really light up at night as well.
MLD titanium stakes (8) – Light, durable, and easy to find on the ground.
ULA Relay back pad – I cannibalized the back pad from my ULA Relay pack (purchased from a fellow BPLer). I use it as a sit pad as well as torso insulation in my hammock.
Mont-Bell Peak Shell rain jacket and pants – I've used the jacket several times before and it is quite functional. Light with good breathability and ventilation. Only wore the jacket for about 30 minutes this entire trip. I could've left both of these items at home, but then we probably would've gotten poured on for 3 days.
Spare Smartwool hiking socks and liners – Standard weight stuff. I'll discuss my footwear setup in detail later.
Mont-Bell Ex Light down jacket – Great jacket. Super light and warm with no durability issues noted. A few times I was rubbing up against pine tree branches forgetting I was wearing such a "delicate" piece with no rips or signs of abrasion. I think Mont-Bell's new 7 denier fabric is durable enough for the UL community.
Mont-Bell Thermawrap vest – I went overkill on insulating layers, thinking it would get colder during the nights (probably never got below 50*). I may even end up selling this thing, since the Ex Light is warmer and weighs about the same.
Photon Freedom LED light – Great little light. I started with fresh batteries to make sure it didn't get dim during this trip. Plenty bright for around camp and could even be used for a short night hike when necessary. I wear a baseball cap while hiking so it's a great choice for simply clipping the little thing to my hat. Unfortunately I think I lost this at our final campsite (I even had the Doug Ritter bright yellow version).
Fenix LD01 LED light – I brought this a backup in case we found ourselves in a night-hiking situation. Great little light, when it works. I couldn't keep the light at a single brightness level. It kept switching from one level to the next without me doing anything. I will try to return/exchange this thing, as a $50 flashlight shouldn't have this problem right out of the box.
ULA Amigo Pro water filter – Great easy to use filter system. Since I typically do most of my hiking with our scout troop, I'm usually filtering for multiple people, therefore the filter and not Aquamira. This thing is really easy to use, especially with the direct connect valve for our Platypus bladders. Though I don't agree with ULA's 1 liter per minute flow rate claim, it is still fast enough.
Caldera Keg alcohol stove and pot – Very efficient lightweight system. I stored it in the caddy that came with it and used one half of the caddy as a cup and the other as a place to wrap my duct tape around. I'm not too confident in the durability of the cone though. After each use, the cone was more bent out of shape than before, and the connection became more difficult. I can still make the connection, but I'm not sure if it will hold up forever.
Pastic 8 oz fuel bottle – Simple 8 oz water bottle. I carry a spare cap that I punched a hole in the center of. I use this cap to dispense the fuel into the measuring cup. It pours similarly to a contact solution bottle and helps prevent any fuel spills. I took a full 8 oz of denatured alcohol, but the stove proved to be more efficient in the field than my home testing. I only used about 4-5 oz of alcohol for 9 boils.
Sprint Aquatics stream/camp shoes – Super light mesh shoes for fording streams and around camp. Comfy and more durable than I expected.
BSA comprehensive first aid kit – Way heavy first aid kit, probably a full pound. I would never carry this for myself, but I probably couldn't convince many parents that duct tape and Ibuprofen is a sufficient first aid kit.
MLD silnylon pack rain cover – Lightweight, easy to use pack cover. I used it one afternoon where we took on a brief light rain, but it proved not to be necessary on this trip.
Victorinox Classic pocket knife – Lightweight knife with a blade and scissors.
HandiWipe pack towel – Used as drying towel, pot grabber, handkerchief, wash cloth, etc.
Platypus Hoser 3 hydration bladder – Not UL, but I like the convenience of the hose. I used plastic water bottles in the mesh pockets of my Relay for our weekend trips. No outside mesh pockets on the Gregory pack, just a kangaroo pouch.
Small child toothbrush – Even cut off the handle, just because it's the UL thing to do, right?
Travel size toothpaste – Only about half full.
1 oz Purell hand sanitizer – Only about half full.
Single ply toilet paper – About a handful of TP.
iPhone – Never used it, as I don't care for cell phones in the wilderness. Just a safety precaution we take when taking other peoples' kids into the wilderness.
Lexan spoon – I might invest in a long-handled titanium spoon to keep my hands cleaner for freezer bag cooking/eating.
6 ft duct tape on Caldera Keg case – I used most of this on Day 2 to tape up Lilly's paws. She was getting torn up on the wet and rocky terrain.
BSA issue fire steel – Similar to what's sold here at BPL. Used this for lighting the stove.
Mini Bic lighter – Sustained flame for lighting campfires.
Dryer lint fire starter – Small handful of lint to help start the campfires.
Trash compactor bag liners (2) – Kept my sleeping bag and clothing nice and dry inside my pack, safe from my constantly wet water filter. Probably only needed one.
Canon SD1100 camera – Pocket sized digital camera. I'm no pro at photography, so it's good enough for me.
MLD cuben stuff sacks (2) – One for all of my small items. I didn't have a real use for the other, so I ended up storing my dirty socks in it.
My footwear system is the one area that is by no means lightweight. I hiked in a pair of full grain leather waterproof Asolo boots and full length Gore-Tex gaiters. After years of wet and uncomfortable feet, I spent big $$$ on this system last year. I feel obligated to use them until they wear out, so I will. I wore my regular running shoes for the ride down to WV, and for a second I considered just leaving the boots in the vehicle. I think I may test the waters with trail runners on some weekend hikes in the future. I didn't take any pictures that show this, but the trails in the Dolly Sods are generally rocky or muddy. Had I been hiking in trail runners, my feet would have been wet and muddy the entire 50 miles. I don't think I would have been too happy about this. I think trail runners make more sense when there are predictably good trail conditions and weather. Also, I could probably handle wet feed for a weekend, but 5 days? I'll just have to wait and see about this.
My food was primarily dehydrated meals repackaged in freezer bags, along with some high calorie density snacks. I currently don't own a dehydrator, so I went with store-bought freeze dried. High sodium and ultimately not the healthiest of food. But I managed to get over 3,000 calories per day at a weight of about 22-24 ounces per day.
Below are some of the pictures I snapped throughout the trip, the first of many long distance light weight adventures:
Bear Rocks, where we started and finished the hike
View to the east from Bear Rocks
Kyle on the edge of a great vista
Wind farm to the north
Hiking west into the Dolly Sods on Day 1
First of several stream crossings
Typical view from Dolly Sods North
A place to rest along the western escarpment
Southwestern view of Canaan Valley
Northwestern view of Canaan Valley
Bob and Rick taking in the view
I'm just taking it easy
My MLD hex hamock tarp at Camp 1
It was a tough day for Lilly
My Mont-Bell SS Down Hugger #5 airing out in the sun
Breakfast while wearing a Mont-Bell Ex Light jacket
ULA Amigo in action
Red Creek on Day 2
The cold water felt good on a warm sunny day
View down Red Creek gorge
Watch out for those live bombs!
My Hennessy Hyperlight hammock and Gregory Z55 pack at Camp 2
Water break on Day 3
Looking north along a pipeline
More great views
My pack was about half the size of the others
Mountain stream in a deciduous forest
There was around 2,000 ft of altitude difference between the high and low points of the trek
Camp 3 along Red Creek
It finally rained a little bit. I stayed dry even though my hammock wasn't centered under the tarp
We crossed Red Creek yet again on Day 4
It was a long climb back to the top of the plateau
Rick hanging out along a small waterfall
We were looking back at an area we had hiked 2 days ago
Re-entering the unique scenery of Dolly Sods North
We could see for miles and miles, a rare sight on the trails I'm used to in PA
Rick starts on the campfire at Camp 4
Along a calm stream in a coniferous forest
More camping available across the stream
My reflective guylines really light up in the flash of a camera
Relaxing around the campfire on our final day in the Dolly Sods
Bob's Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD
My pack kept shrinking as the days passed
Gentle hill climb on Day 5
View to the north
Most of the trees tended to lean to the east, due to the strong prevailing westerly winds
Our destination was in sight
Still a few more rolling hills
Rick walking up towards the clouds
Boardwalk across a bog. Unfortunately, we had to walk through the muck at many points on the trail
The finish! Over 50 miles through the Dolly Sods
Jun 11, 2009 at 1:27 pm #1507570
@kamperdaveLocale: VA, DC, MD
Christopher – Looks like you all had an awesome time. Great pictures! It's funny, my first "backpacking" trip was to Dolly Sods and my friend and I learned quite a bit about what "potential for extreme weather" can mean while up there. It probably wasn't a good idea to go in late March either. If you're interested in reading about some newbies check it out: http://davesdoingsblog.blogspot.com/
It's amazing how different it looks!
-DaveJun 11, 2009 at 1:56 pm #1507577
Bummer about your trip to the Sods. It looks like you experienced the kind of weather I had heard about up there. We really got lucky with 5 beautiful days in a row.
Your pictures do a much better job of illustrating the general muddiness of the trail. I tried to take only "happy" pictures. Red Creek must have been freezing in March, as it was still pretty darn cold in early June.Jun 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm #1507594
@valsharLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
That was a great trip report with great narrative and tons of photos, just the way that I like it.
How did your companions like your gear setup?
Must have blown their minds about how small your pack was.
Z55 is a great/comfortable pack- looks half empty in your photos.
Thanks again for taking the time and effort to post them up and type up the commentary for all of us to enjoy.
Gives me a bit of joy to read this while I am at work to remind me that there is life outside the Cube! :)
-TonyJun 11, 2009 at 5:52 pm #1507646
Thanks for the comments. It was actually your detailed trip reports that inspired me to attempt to do the same. Your photos of the Sierras are amazing and I daydream of the day I finally get out west to see it in person.
I was labeled "The Minimalist" by my fellow hikers. Generally, they liked the hammock, the Caldera Keg system, and the gravity filter, as these are all systems they had not seen before. They also got to see that these lighter items worked just as well as their heavier items. I never really took much time to discuss the whole Ultralight philosophy with the group, but many of them definitely saw the benefits of a lightweight pack. Hopefully some of the ideas will set in and be utilized by others in our troop.
I think the earliest photo I took of my pack was on Day 3, so it was a little bit more full at the onset of the hike. But it was never really stuffed to capacity. I agree that it's a very comfortable pack.Jun 11, 2009 at 6:13 pm #1507655
Dolly Sods is a fun area!
I went last year, early Sep, and the blue berry bushes were everywhere and all blaze red- but the berries were pretty much all gone…
I think early to mid Aug would be prime for berries and the end of Aug first week of Sep for foliage views.
Here's a pic showing the BB bushes.Jun 12, 2009 at 10:13 am #1507820
Looks like a great trip. You didn't need to spend any time talking UL philosophy with them – you led be example. It's great that these kids are getting exposed to a different way of doing things.
While it's fun being part of an 'exclusive' club, the more people that adopt UL, the better; more products, more innovation, better availability.Aug 7, 2009 at 6:57 pm #1519463
I love the Sods! Thanks for the trip report. I'm taking some Boy Scouts there later this month. You said you started and finished at Bear Rocks. We're coming in on a Fri evening/night and I'd like to camp somewhere along the Bear Rocks or Raven's Ridge trails, before the Rocky Ridge trail. IIRC those trails don't have any established campsites. Any suggestions?
Thanks.Aug 10, 2009 at 4:01 pm #1519902
Great to hear you are taking a group of scouts there. You will have a great time in the sods!
I would offer two suggestions for camping on the first night:
1. If you hike west on the Bear Rocks Trail, you will come to a small campsite within a 1.5 mile walk of Bear Rocks. This campsite is along Red Creek, just past the intersection with the Dobbin Grade Trail. The stream crossing is shown in the 6th picture in my original post. I remember it was a rather small but very nice camp site. Below is a picture of the fire ring.
2. The other option would be to camp at the Dolly Sods Picnic area along the road that runs the eastern edge of the plateau. You could then drive back up to Bear Rocks the next morning to begin the hike.
Below are two links to helpful maps. The first is a detailed topo map of the entire Dolly Sods Wilderness. The second is an interactive map with photos of certain areas.
Hope this helps!
note: edited for interactive linkAug 10, 2009 at 7:23 pm #1519955
Chris, I like both options; leaning toward #1. This is just what I was looking for.
Thanks for the advance "scouting".
..MikeAug 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm #1521258
@trtlrockLocale: Blue Ridge
Chris, did you have a consistent cell signal on your iPhone throughout the trip?
How did you keep the battery going? Even turning mine off I lose my battery within a day or two…Aug 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm #1521282
I never used the iPhone in the Dolly Sods. I brought it just in case, but I really don't like using cell phones in the wilderness. I doubt you would have a signal much of the time anyway.
ChrisAug 16, 2009 at 4:42 pm #1521286
I can attest that VirginMobile/Sprint doesn't. It's quite remote.Sep 4, 2009 at 6:36 am #1525019
Your 50-miler was completely within DS and DSN? I didn't realize it was even possible to hike 50 miles in that small area. I once did a 24 mile hike with my father and felt like I hiked just about every trail. Did you drop down into Roaring plans?
FWIW, my father's Verizon phone didn't have too many problems with signal, but I know my ATT phone did.Sep 4, 2009 at 10:36 am #1525066
@vdealLocale: West Virginia
I can't speak for the OP but I will say that from the pics posted that they crossed over into Roaring Plains. That pipeline shot is from RP. I'm not sure but bet they took the South Prong Tr. part of the way, maybe the whole way, crossed the SP and back down the road to Red Creek and back up the Red Creek Tr. Of course, they could have taken the Hidden Passage and/or used Boar's Nest Tr. I'll wait to hear from Chris.Sep 4, 2009 at 12:49 pm #1525099
That pipeline shot is from RP
Yeah, I didn't recognize that photo from any trail I've been on in DS, but I know there are few I haven't walked.
Using DS, DSN and RP ought to make for a really nice 50-miler.Sep 12, 2009 at 8:55 pm #1527245
Yes we did hike through the Roaring Plains region. I referred to the entire region we hiked through as the Dolly Sods, although we technically hiked the Dolly Sods North, the Dolly Sods Wilderness, and Roaring Plains.
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