The stars aligned, and for the third time in the last 30 days we were able to do an out-of-state hike. We decided to go back to Dolly Sods for two reasons:
- Our first hike was cut short due to rain.
- I managed to convince a couple of co-workers to check it out.
Due to various schedules amongst the 4 of us, we decided to go Wednesday through Friday. An added bonus would be having the trail mostly to ourselves. The route this time was the same as what we intended to do last time, 3 days / 2 nights starting at the Bear Rocks Trail. Daily mileage around 5.5, 10.5, and 5.
My friends SB and JG arrived at my house between 8 and 9 am. After weighing our packs for fun and prizes, we loaded the car and took off. For the record, the pack weights were:
- JG: 36 pounds
- SB: 34 pounds
- Me (Jamison): 28 pounds
- Deb: 25 pounds
JG ended up taking out his 6+ pound sleeping bag and packing a quilt type blanket he had in his car. I believe by our second night out he had some regrets about that decision.
The drive went largely without issue. In fact I believe it went completely without issue, and we arrived at the Bear Rocks trailhead around 3:30pm. We were hiking by 3:45, heading west on Bear Rocks trail.
After a mile and a half, we entered the open fields on the Bear Rocks plateau. The temperature was great, mid 70s, the sun was shining, and the sky was pretty. A picture was taken.
Continuing on to the end of Bear Rocks at its intersection with Raven Ridge Trail, I took another picture. The colors surrounding me seemed so bold and full of life that I couldn’t help it.
We were having a nice time and completed the last half of Raven Ridge Trail without incident. We then turned south onto Rocky Ridge Trail, with all its wind-swept rock glory. After a time, maybe a mile, you come to some pretty big rocks right off to the west side of the trail. If you’ve ever been there, you know which ones I’m talking about. We took a break there and had a snack. Deb and I climbed onto the rocks and took some pictures.
One thing I should note is that for most of the first day the trails were lined with wild blueberry bushes. We stopped to pick some several times and I must say they were delicious! I have no idea how long they stay like this, I suspect not so long.
Shortly after starting our hike again, we reached the spot where we intended to camp, but alas, someone had beaten us to it. It was the same spot that we had stayed in the last time. I wasn’t worried however, as I knew from looking at other maps that there were another couple of campsites further down Rocky Ridge Trail. We started hiking and going up hill. About half a mile later I found an even better campsite. JG and Deb set up camp and got a fire started while SB and I went to go get water.
I made a mistake getting water. We knew that there was a small and relatively clear pool of water only a half mile from the campsite, back to the north on Rocky Ridge trail. However I remembered the creek crossings on Dobbin’s Grade, so I suggested we go down there because it “wasn’t that far.” Well after 20 minutes or more of hiking, we decided to stop and turn around. So we hiked another 25 minutes back up the hill to Rocky Ridge, then went to the water source we knew existed. All told I think SB and I did another 2+ miles of hiking on the day. By time we got back, Deb and JG were about to go hunting for us as we had been gone 90 minutes! Oops! Lesson learned.
For day 1, SB and I did about 7.5 miles while Deb and JG did 5.5 miles.
Deb and I got up around 8:30 am, and JG was already up. SB got up shortly thereafter. We all moved rather slowly while tearing down, packing up, and eating breakfast. By time we were ready to go, it was 11am and the sun was shining. But again, we had great weather, mid 70s and low humidity.
We started immediately going up hill, but in very short order the hill flattened out to a ridge with awesome views. Right as we crested the hill, there were a series of cairns built. It was pretty cool against the azure blue of the sky, and a picture was needed.
We hiked down the trail making good time. We got to the Blackbird Knob trailhead with the intention of going down the Big Stonecoal trail. It is here that I made another mistake. Deb wanted me to go one way, and I thought the trail was another. We went my way and began hiking a good pace again. After 20 minutes or so, we came to a sign that said something about Caanan Valley recreation area. We looked at my map. Oops. Went the wrong way, so we had to backtrack again to the Blackbird Knob Trailhead. Deb was right originally, and we went down the original trail she had pointed out. My little mistake cost SB and I another 2 miles, and this time Deb and JG also got to have some extra distance added on!
Big Stonecoal trail is very rocky and very narrow. It makes for slow going. There were a couple of decent campsites along the way. At some point we stopped at one and took a break, then continued on. After what seemed like forever, we came upon a very lush green pine forest. The trees were very tall, there were green fern like plants all around. It was very pretty. After walking through it, there was a very short clearing, perhaps just 50 meters across. On the other side was another pine forest, only this was the complete opposite. Everything was dark, dead and looked to have been burned years ago. A tale of two forests if you will.
Shortly after that we heard rushing water, and came upon a water fall.
Eventually we managed to find Rocky Point trail, and continued on that. If anything, the terrain got even rockier. It was here that we started to feel a little pressed for time, so we quickly hiked and took a couple of attempts to find Lion’s Head. Shortly after starting the trail, we spotted a very large cairn and a path going up a very steep hill. Deb, JG, and I opted to go explore and see if it was Lion’s Head. SB sat back and took a break. The three of us quickly climbed the hill and entered a plateau with a very nice pine forest on top.
In this forest was at least 5 very nice campsites (note to self, stay here next time!). We explored the area and found a small cairn on the far side, but didn’t go any further. We didn’t find Lion’s Head, but later talked to another hiker that the cairn probably marked the small trail that led to it. Oh well.
At one of the campsites the three of us ate lunch.
After eating lunch we went back down, and SB was ready to go and had a second wind. SB and I started hiking at a very strong pace and soon a gap between us and JG and Deb was formed. The going was rocky and the trail seemed to go on forever, but we eventually managed to get to the intersection with Red Creek trail. We waited for Deb and JG, and they came along just a few minutes later, but apparently they were close to turning around because they thought they missed a turn since they couldn’t see or keep up with us. Another learning lesson to not hike for long periods without regrouping.
Looking at the top map, we knew that Red Creek trail was going to be up hill, and it was. We all were also ready to set up camp, so we pushed on. A plan was discussed in which after we passed the intersection with the Breathed Mountain trail that we would start to look for campsites. Thankfully we made good time and before we knew it we were at the crossing of Left Fork Creek and Red Creek Trail. There was a large family at the best campsite, so we kept going north, and within a quarter-mile we found another great site right along the creek.
I was feeling a bit sweaty and dirty, and there was a creek right beside us. JG had some soap. I decided to give it a go and take a quick bath. The water was cold. Very cold. But it was worth it. I felt like a million bucks. After my success, SB then JG both went and did the same. We tried for a fire, and had a little one, but eventually gave up due to the dearth of firewood in the area. Sleepy time came.
With my little “detour” we ended up hiking between 10 and 11 miles. It actually wasn’t too far off what I had intended due to the fact that we stopped short of the original place we wanted to end up at.
The intent was to get up and be hiking before 8, but again I failed and we didn’t get packed and hiking until 9 or so. We knew we had less than 6 miles back to the car so it was not a big deal.
The last part of Red Creek trail leading to Blackbird Knob was uphill. Quite a way to start the day. I didn’t mind too much, as once I get warmed up I feel like a champ. We made it quickly and went down hill just a short time on Blackbird Knob before hitting the trailhead for Upper Red Creek trail.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as most of the last 10 miles was rocky and wooded. After a short climb we were on a high open plateau with field grass surrounding us. I really loved the feel of the trail, and at some point I want to make camp up there as I wager the stargazing would be phenomenal up there.
We had a nice leisurely hike along this trail, with the occasional mud patches when we passed through short wooded areas. The trail finishes along a gradual downhill before a small creek crossing and then ending at Dobbin’s Grade Trail.
A break was in order so we could fill our water bottles. I warned JG and SB that the last time Deb and I were there, the next part of Dobbin’s Grade was swamp-like, and in fact had a reputation for being a swamp. First though, I knew we’d have to cross another decent sized creek. During our last visit this crossing was mid-thigh in depth.
We reached the crossing quickly and today it was very tame and barely boot deep. A big change from the last time.
Right after crossing Red Creek we started to hit the swamp. At first it’s a fun little “game” to find the path through the muck. Eventually though you will come to spots where there is no path through it, and you just have to find the spots that aren’t deep enough to go over your boot. Deb and I moved through pretty quickly as we had done it on a previous trip. SB and JG went slower as it was their first time and they also had on hiking shoes as opposed to boots.
We kept putting one foot in front of the other and eventually made it through, and continued on the path which went ever so slightly upward. Every time we hit a stand of trees, the trail turned to deep mud. Again, not a super big deal if you have boots on, more of a deal if you have shoes on. SB said he had water sloshing in his shoes and was getting blisters. I knew we didn’t have much more to go, however I knew it would be hilly and also had another creek crossing.
At the Beaver Dam trailhead we did a map check. It was less than a mile up Beaver Dam to the forest service road, or about two more miles of trails to the parking lot. The general consensus was to take Beaver Dam then the forest road back to the car. Deb and I were fine with that because we had seen the rest of Dobbin’s Grade before, and we hadn’t seen Beaver Dam.
Beaver Dam trail from Dobbin’s Grade is entirely uphill. It’s not terribly steep but enough so that you know you’re going up. It was similar to Upper Red Creek in that for the most part the views were open, though not as open, mixed with intermittent short wooded areas. The wooded areas continued to be muddy.
Deb and I had a very good rhythm going and we motored up the trail in short order. Our trail hike was done. Well, it was sort of done. We had built up a decent sized lead, I was feeling good, so I asked Deb to watch my back and I ran back to the car in my hiking boots. By time I drove back the guys were back. We cleaned up then took off for the long drive home.
Our day 3 hiking mileage was around 4.3 miles for everyone save me, and I did a shade over 5 including the run back to the car.