Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dolly Sods Wilderness

That time had come again.  The time for me and the family to pack our backpacks and head to the trail.  I wanted to try something a little different this time, and my searching had found an area of wilderness in West Virginia that had lots of trails and a few amazing places to hike to.

Entering Wilderness
We loaded up the truck and were on our way to The Dolly Sods Wilderness which is within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.  It was a Monday morning and rain was threatening.  Brandi had elected to stay home this time, but the five of us, me, Lisa, Shauni, Alex and Ginger were ready to go.

The Hiking Group
We got to the trailhead after almost four hours on the road.  The last few miles were forest service road and rather bumpy.  A sprinkle or two fell as we loaded our backs and headed down the trail.  Right away we found the trail to be challenging.

Ginger: Pack Dog Extraordinaire
If I had to pick two words to describe the trail, those words would be rocks and mud.  If I could have a third word, it would be roots.  It was a muddy, rocky, rooty trail, but we made progress.  I didn't say good progress, just progress.

The Dolly Sods Wilderness has a unique environment for the area.  People describe it as something that would typically be found in southern Canada instead of West Virginia.  There are lots of bogs and heath and when you come to a meadow, the views are very nice of the surrounding mountains.

First Views
The hiking portion of the trip was intentionally made not too long to accommodate the group.  We had 3.1 miles or so to our camping area.  The "Forks" area promised creeks, waterfalls and even a swimming hole.

The hike wasn't too bad at all.  Just a little slow, but we weren't in any hurry, so we made our way down the trail towards the creeks.  As we were crossing one of the high meadows, I had a feeling that I would make a find.  I looked in the low growth and there they were.  The smallest blueberries I have ever seen, but they were tasty and the short break to pick some was a welcome respite.

The last rocky hill we had to hike down ended at the creek and I pulled into the first camping area I saw.  It was right beside one of the branches of Red Creek, had some good ground for tents and trees for my hammock.  It also had a nice fire ring with some stone "chairs" set up around it.  This area is a popular place to camp, so I knew that firewood would be scarce and hard to find, but this looked like the place to set up camp for the next couple of nights.

We all dropped our packs and Ginger and I headed down the trail to check out the other campsites.  After surveying a few, I knew the first one would suit us just fine.  The quest for wood began here.

We set up camp and made our dinners after finding enough wood in the area to make a decent fire.  Dinner was hot dogs cooked over the fire.  We hadn't had more than a couple sprinkles during the hike, but you could tell the area had had some rain recently.  Everything was damp and getting the fire started and the wood dried was a constant effort, but we were successful.

Our Camp View

Lisa disinfecting water

As darkness fell, we all headed to our sleeping areas and got ready for the night.  We could hear coyotes barking in the area and the creek sounds had a soothing effect as we drifted off to sleep.

After my usual first night of dozing, waking, tossing and turning, I got up shortly after daylight around 7 am.  Today we planned to day hike to a place called the Lion's Head.  It was a rock outcropping that looked like a majestic lion looking out over the mountains.  My quick calculations said it was a little over two miles to the area, but I didn't know where the side trail went off the main trail and I also didn't know how rocky this trail would be.  I guess when the trail's name is Rocky Point, I should had at least had an inkling of an idea.

We left the tents and sleeping bags and brought our half empty packs.  I didn't want to head up with nothing at all, so I brought food, some extra clothing, fire kit, first aid, water and an emergency shelter.  You know, the basics.

The hike started out pretty nice.  As we came to the creek crossing, we came upon a group of backpackers.  They were a freshman orientation group from a college in Ohio.  We had some nice conversation, then crossed the creek and headed up the trail.  The trail was pretty nice here and I made the comment that it was so nice, thus dooming us to something not so nice up the trail.

Before long we passed another group.  This one an actual college class in back country hiking and plant identification.  They were from a small college in Garrett County, MD and looked to be having a good time.

Well, the trail continued on and started to get a might rocky.  I don't think we touched dirt for the last half mile or so.  It kept going up, but not too steep.  That is, not until the last trail that took us to the Lion's den itself.  Some of it was rock scramble and a little challenging, but we made it.  Later I would find that the hike was more like three miles, but we would survive the six miles of rocks, heat and elevation with no problems.

Rocky Trail
 Not every climb rewards you with a view, but this one did.  We arrived at the area and the last of it was walking across these huge rocks that all fit together.  Sometimes you had to go down then up and some of it was a little scary, but it was beautiful and the views were spectacular.

West Virginia, Mountain Momma

The Lion's Head

My accomplishment pose
We all scrambled around and took pictures and then ate a good lunch.  I think Ginger got stung by a bee or maybe bit by a fly on her back, because she started jumping around and scratching and then would snap at any bug that came anywhere near her.  It was a little funny to watch.

Alex on the rocks

Shauni and Ginger on the rocks
Soon it was time to head back to camp.  The hike back was more downhill than up, but it seemed to take quite a while to get back.  We gathered wood as we returned as the areas that no one camps near are full of good wood.  I carried a stack of sticks for most of the trip back, but even though I realized we had a long way to go, after carrying those sticks for a half mile or so, I wasn't going to drop them until I was dropping them at the fire ring.  

We had plenty of wood for this night's fire and we got it going and made our dinners again.  Oh, there was a short nap time in there too after our six mile trek of the day.  I was feeling tired and uncomfortable sitting on the rock chairs after dinner, so I decided to go read in my hammock for a while, which turned into another nap.  I got up as darkness fell to get the bear bags up, but the others had already accomplished that feat after some keystone cop antics which would have been fun to watch.  But they got them up and away from any critters that would want to snack on our premium backpacking food.

Morning came once again and we all got started stirring around 0800 and finally hit the trail just before 10 am.  The hike out was a reverse of the first day, starting with the rocky climb out of the valley.  There was even a little sprinkles later in the hike as we made our way out of the wilderness and back to our truck and eventually civilization.  

After driving out of the mountains and hitting the Sheetz (our new favorite place to stop on road trips) near Cumberland, we continued on home and ended another successful stint of being Outsiders.

I had a great time and always feel the most comfortable out in the woods, with a nice fire burning and the promise of floating on air with my hammock set up beside me.  Ginger seems to really love being out there with us.  I can't wait to see what our next adventure will be.


Last break at last stream crossing...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Class of 13 Quick Update

Five of the people that I have been following have finished their Thru Hike.  A few more are closing in on the prize.  Congrats to all, no matter where your hike ends.

Trail Name Start Date Last Entry Location Total Miles Avg/Day Days since Start
Blues Man 16-Feb-13 11-Jul-13 Katahdin, ME 2185.9 15.1 145
Rash 17-Feb-13 19-Aug-13 Katahdin, ME 2185.9 11.9 183
Groundpounder 18-Feb-13 4-Aug-13 Katahdin, ME 2185.9 13.1 167
Boo Boo 21-Feb-13 21-Aug-13 Past Zeta Pass 1877 10.4 181
punkin pie 1-Mar-13 28-Jul-13 Katahdin, ME 2185.9 14.7 149
Apple Butter 8-Mar-13 22-Aug-13 New Hampshire 1887 11.3 167
Karma 7-Mar-13 22-Aug-13 Imp Campsite 1324.7 7.9 168
Clever Girl 7-Mar-13 23-Aug-13 Pinkham Notch, NH 1866.5 11.0 169
Lady Grey 8-Mar-13 28-Jul-13 Katahdin, ME 2185.9 15.4 142
Jacko 21-Mar-13 18-Aug-13 The Cabin Andover 1918.7 12.8 150
Odat 25-Mar-13 22-Aug-13 Little Rock Pond Shelter 823.5 5.5 150
Acorn 30-Mar-13 13-Aug-13 North Adams, MA 1589 11.7 136

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Answers

Since no one seems to want to play I guess I'll just play with myself.

If you think you don't know any of these skills, I bet you do.  Simplify them.  Can you build a fire using matches or a lighter?  Can you erect a tent or a tarp?  Can you follow a trail?  Do you know not to drink water right from a beaver pond?  Can you apply a bandage?  You get the point.

1. Fire Making- 4-3-A
2. Shelter Building- 4-3-B
3. Navigation and map skills- 4-4-A
4. Water gathering and disinfecting- 4-4-A
5. First Aid- 3-2-A
6. Weather Signs- 4-3-B
7. Edible Plants- 3-2-C
8. Snare/Trap Making- 3-2-C
9. Cordage Making- 3-3-C
10. Sharp Object Skills- 4-4-B
11. Positive Attitude- 4-4-A

Sleeping bag and pad
65L pack
1. Food bag
2. Alcohol stove and fuel
3. Knife
4. Cook pot and spork
5. Rain gear
6. Water bottle
7. Map/Compass
8. Fire kit
9. Fleece shirt
10. First Aid Kit

Notice some of these "items" are multiple things.  I make the rules up as I go along and so can you.  Be creative.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


According to my little countdown clock on one of my web pages, I have 24 days until I officially retire.  During the month of August, I'm taking care of those things I need to get done to prepare for being a civilian again, like health care and life insurance.  My beard is full, my hair is long, but I'm still getting paid until the end of the month.  After that, the pension starts.

Earlier this week, Lisa and I headed to St Vincent's College outside of Latrobe, PA to see our beloved Steelers practice.  It was a very cool experience.  Lisa commented as we sat and watched the first team go through some plays, that this is a very stress free way to watch the Steelers.  The only downside to the visit was the crazy, slack jawed, fish eyed autograph hounds.  It is just a scratch on some paper people.

Chuck Noll Field bleachers
We camped out in a somewhat nearby State Park for the night then headed home.  It was nice being that close to the players and seeing them acting natural and having fun.  And we had a nice campfire that night.

When I was getting close to being done at work, I would tell people that when Lisa and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail, I would be looking for my next job.  Well, you may have noticed that I have been spending some time up at the AT Museum up in Pine Grove Furnace, PA.  It is about 20 miles north of Gettysburg and the old grist mill that houses the Museum is chock full of AT history.

I have hinted around about it before in this blog, but the hint has finally become reality.  After a few days volunteering at the Museum and some back and forth with the AT Museum Society President, I was offered the job as AT Museum Manager.  I have accepted the offer and I will be totally entrenching myself in Appalachian Trail history, planning and interaction with hikers and the public.  I have pretty much found my dream job.

The following excerpt is from an email sent by the president of the AT Museum Society, Larry Luxenburg, to his board members and other interested parties.  It made me a little excited.

Museum Board,

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Joseph Harold has accepted the position of Museum Manager. He will succeed Howard on Nov. 1. Joe is an avid hiker and will soon retire from the Coast Guard after an outstanding 30 year career, reaching the highest enlisted rank. He has spent the last month visiting the Museum, volunteering, spending time with Howard, Gwen, Noel and myself and has gotten to know the Museum well. We have been fortunate to have two great managers so far and we anticipate that Joe will also be outstanding. Please give Joe your support and a warm welcome to the position.

In the next few days I will be sending an update to the board covering recent developments.


That pretty much sums it up.  I will be spending more time up at the museum in the coming months learning the job and I'm sure I will be hiking the nearby trails too.  The main part of my job will be to keep the volunteer force fresh and growing, so with that said, I guess I will start my search for new blood to refresh the pool.  If anyone is interested in being a Greeter (called Docent in a museum) or if you have an interest in the trail or a skill that we could use to keep the old grist mill in its best shape, let me know and we will get you set up to help out.

I can't wait to become an integral part of the trail that I have grown to love and obsess about.  I always tell people the trail is a magical place and the people who travel it are a magical bunch.  I can't wait for the magic to continue.

My new workplace.  A grist mill built in the 1700s.
How cool is that?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Search for Survival - A Scenario

Let's play a game...

A Survival game.  I give you some information, and you tell me what you would do.  I will take your information and let you know what has changed.  What were the results of your efforts?  The benefits or consequences of your efforts.  We continue along, back and forth, you, explaining your actions; me, describing the results, which may include random, unexpected events.

My results will be based on good old knowledge, experience and confidence in the actions.  Coincidentally, you will begin this quest, but rating yourself on some different skills of survival.  You will rate your knowledge of the subject, the experience you have had practicing or implementing this skill and your confidence in how you can use this skill in the current scenario.

For the first two traits, you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5.  For the confidence trait you will prioritize each skill as to whether it is a priority A, B or C.  A being essential/very useful, B being useful and C being nice to have.

So, you want to play?

Let's do Skills first.  For each of the following woodcraft skills, assign a knowledge factor, an experience factor and a confidence/priority factor.

Scenario introduction:
It is late July.  The temperature has been in the 80s in the day and dropping to the 60s at night for the last week.  You are heading to the eastern woodlands, the trees are full and the streams are still flowing, but some springs have gone dormant.

The plan is to park at a remote trailhead in a vast wilderness area that has plenty of trails, but the blazing is sporadic at best and nonexistent more than not.  The forecast for the next five days are typical for a summer day.  Daytime temperatures in the 80's with a chance of scattered thunderstorms each day.

You will travel by foot to an area that is perfect for camping and has a nice swimming hole for cooling off and a nice waterfall for atmosphere.  The hike is only about five miles in.  You plan on staying a few days in the area, enjoying the flora and fauna and then you will hike back to the car and head home.  You are hiking alone.

In the section below, rate your skills as to your knowledge, experience and confidence for the above scenario introduction.  Think carefully and try to be honest with yourself.

1. Fire Making

2. Shelter Building

3. Navigation and map skills

4. Water gathering and disinfecting

5. First Aid

6. Weather Signs

7. Edible Plants

8. Snare/Trap Making

9. Cordage Making

10. Sharp Object Skills

11. Positive Attitude

Now we need to select your gear.  For this scenario, since it is a planned multi-overnight trip, we will concede that you have a shelter (tent, tarp or hammock, depending on your preference), sleeping gear, such as a sleeping bag and pad, quilt or wool blanket and a pack to carry everything in.

List up to ten gear items that you wouldn't want to forget.  You may bring more than 10 items and we may flush those out later, but remember that you have to carry everything on your back, but only list ten for now.

First, state your shelter type and sleeping gear choice and then list up to ten other items that you would bring.  The pack also is assumed to be a standard sized pack in the 50 to 70 liter range.  This isn't fantasy.  The pack has a limit and also there is no magic in this realm, except possibly Trail Magic.

If you want to start telling a story of how you rated yourself and the gear choices you made and why you made them, that will just add color to this little... game...

If I get any comments...  This will continue...  or maybe I'm just talking to the Internets and we all know the Internets can't hear...