Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Eve at Canaan Mountain

Several of us have been talking about doing a winter snowshoe backpacking trip and this weekend it finally worked out, although we learned quite a bit in the process.  We met The Wandering Virginian in Front Royal and piled into his car for the long drive to Canaan Mountain.  As we approached the high country in West Virginia, there appeared to be no more snow on the ground than in Shenandoah, so we weren't sure we were actually going to get to use the snowshoes.  When we left Harman, WV and climbed into Canaan Valley, all of a sudden, snow appeared. 

We registered with the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park around 11:30 on Friday and packed up the sled that SSW Spouse modified for snowshoeing.  We planned to go seven miles and camp near Table Rock.  Given how fast we normally hike, we thought we were being conservative about what we could do.  It was after 12:30 by the time we left the lodge and headed for the trailheaad.  Once on trail, the sled worked like a charm.  The trail was pretty well packed, so we made reasonably good time for being on snowshoes.  We passed the cross country ski area and hiked up the un-plowed Public Road 13 towards Table Rock.  We met a few skiers along the way.  Snowshoeing on the road was easy since the snow was well packed. After a mile on the road, we encountered our first stream crossing.  Fortunately, we were able to rock hop and carry the sled across.

We were looking for the Lindy Run Trail.  We didn't find it and after looking for a while and consulting the map, we decided to stay on the road since it wrapped around the ridge and would lead us to the Table Rock trailhead.  Staying on the road would also mean a slightly shorter hike on a wider path.  After the stream, only one set of cross country ski tracks remained ahead of us that were several days old.  The hike along the road was beautiful, with green rhododendrons contrasting with the white snow.  The weather was pleasantly warm and overcast.  The snow was very wet and heavy.  With each step, it would stick to my hiking poles unless I shook them as I pulled them out of the snow.  At some point, I realized my right boot was leaking a little bit. 

Around 4 pm, we realized that we would not be able to make Table Rock before nightfall.  The Wandering Virginian noticed a nice flat spot.  After considering how much daylight was left and how far we had to go, we decided to make camp.  A small stream flowed nearby, so we could get water without melting snow.  After setting up camp, we cooked dinner in the dark, glad that we had decided to stop hiking when we did.  We relaxed around the campfire for a long time, but none of us were able to stay up to ring in the New Year.

The forecast for Saturday was a bit dicier and included rain, so we planned to camp in one of the shelters in the Canaan Mountain area.  Another navigation mistake took us up the wrong trail.  We realized what happened, but not before hiking a mile in the wrong direction.  We stopped at a meadow to consider our options and it started to rain.  SSW Spouse pitched a tarp so we could eat lunch out of the rain.  We collectively decided to hike out.  Given our pace, we were not going to be able to make it to a shelter, and camping in cold rain did not appeal to anyone.  We backtracked to the road and made our way back to the car.  It was amazing how much snow had melted in 24 hours.  All in all, it took us six hours to hike about that many miles.

Backpacking in the winter and snow was a first for all of us on this trip (I have car camped in the winter before).  We learned a number of things:
1.  We are SLOW on snowshoes, even slower than I thought we would be.  

2.  The sled take a while to pack up.  It isn't a big problem, but it meant a later start each day, which further reduced the distance we were able to cover.

3.  Navigation is more challenging and requires much more constant attention in the snow.  Everything looks different when it is covered in snow.  Our very slow pace contributed to the challenge of navigation because we weren't where we expected to be and then spent time trying to work out the navigation challenges, which further contributed to our slow pace.

4.  We are pretty good at adapting and making good decisions as a team when it becomes clear that the original plan isn't going to work. 

5.  I need new boots (they are ordered).

6.  A fire is really nice at the end of a cold day of hiking.

7.  We can backpack in the winter, stay warm, and have fun.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

SSW Spouse packing up the sled.

Snowshoeing on Public Road 13.

Looking back at the crossing of Lindy Run.

Mounds of snow on rocks in Lindy Run.

Sunset near our campsite.

Rhododendrons along the road on Saturday.

A pond in the meadow where we turned around.

A small waterfall along the road.

An ice formation along the road.

The Wandering Virginian and SSW Spouse (towing the sled) on the way out.

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