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