It was time to get away from Indiana, so one evening I opened up Google Maps and scanned the invisible eight-hour-drive circumference for new long-weekend backpacking options. Fortunately, Devin’s Dolly Sods article came to mind:
With a forty mile loop already mapped out, and an additional BPL trip report for further inspiration (http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=21760), all that was left to do was to preset my satellite radio to the bluegrass station for the ride down to hilly and beautiful West Virginia.
A 7:30p start from Indy meant a late night drive down windy back roads. Fortunately, I had recently passed opossum and deer avoidance training, and my trusty but verbose GPS brought us to the trailhead at 3:30a Friday morning. After a quick glance at the trailhead information board, we promptly set up camp and went to bed.
Garter snake who almost accidentally became garter staked.
A 4a bedtime meant a late 10a start Saturday morning, but this wouldn't deter us from putting 19 miles. We quickly packed up and crossed Red Creek, the river that we would often parallel throughout the trip.
Our day would start with two miles of road walking to the western-most Roaring plains trailhead.
We started up the trail, passing through private farm land, and eventually up a steep path that would become yet steeper.
The 1500 foot climb would soon level off, and a landscape of pines, rhododendron and rock would emerge.
This trail was rocky. Pennsylvania-style rocky.
The rhododendron tunnel that was the trail would occasionally open up to open fields of boulder and glimpses of the ridge and hills to the south.
It was at about five miles in that we would see our only real view of the southern landscape. Some research had led us to believe that one could follow the southern ridge, but that getting there would require some heavy-duty rhododendron-whacking; a sport for which we did not have time time. Therefore we were left with just a short peek:
The following miles held more rhododendron and several changes in trail surface. At times, the ground would turn to sand or pebble:
While at other times, the trail would turn to mud. While stomping through the puddles, I almost ruined a honeymoon - fortunately these two jumped out of the way just in time:
Roaring plains is quite beautiful, but feels quite enclosed because of such dense foliage. If I did this section again, I would definitely make the time to bushwhack Long Run Rim to enjoy the views we surely missed.
A handy map of the unofficial Roaring Plains routes:
...and its associated forum:
A great benefit to this new wilderness is that it is much less traveled than the sods. We only saw one group of hikers in the area.
(Obligatory obscene pack shot.)
Our goal was to make it to the southeastern Red Creek area to camp. Thunderstorms and their warning droplets could be felt, so we picked up the pace and made our way up the Rohrbaugh trail, now in the Sods. We made a brief pit stop on the rocky ledges that hugged the west side of the trail to take in the view:
Realizing that we weren't going to make it to our planned campsite, and after having a difficult time following the trail in the dark, with many rocky places marked only by a few sparse cairns, we decided to bivy next to Fisher Spring Run.
The next morning we awoke a bit earlier and made our first crossing of Red Creek:
We continued up the aptly named Red Creek trail and eventually made our way to our first glimpses of the famous Dolly Sods plains.
These open expanses were one of the highlights of the trip.
After passing well-crafted beaver dams we made our way up several clearly marked trails:
Unfortunately my mind was with the birds, which led to a wrong turn that took us farther away from our planned detour to Bear Rocks.
After some contemplation and napping, we decided to backtrack and head to Bear Rocks as we heard the views shouldn't be passed up. We weren't disappointed:
We continued westward:
What followed would be the highlight of the trip - Rocky Ridge Trail. These three miles would contain scrambleable geologic features, sweeping views to the west, and beautiful open plains:
After 17 miles, it was quitting time, so we set up camp just off the ridge in a small grove of pines. We were still close enough to have great views of the sunset.
Sunday morning we followed the ridge on a trail graciously signed by the locals, back to the main trail which led down the hill.
Our four mile travel down the Big Stonecoal trail would remind us of the rocky grade that we happily forgot. Fortunately the scenery made up for sore feet, as we went through a variety of landscapes.
We eventually ended up ankle-deep in a bog after making yet another wrong turn - this time due to poor cairn-age.
After a half-hour of sloshing around, following deer trails, keeping my trail runner laces tight to avoid shoe-loss, we decided to backtrack. One should note that the USGS topos for the sods seldom have accurate forest coloration. With a compass and the open bog clearly defined on the map, we thought it would be easy to find our way back to the trail, but this was not the case, and it was a good thing we backtracked.
Our final miles left us with even more variation in landscape, a beautiful waterfall, steep rocky descents, and the glimpse of a small black bear running off down the trail.