Thursday, July 5, 2012

Escaping the Heat: A Quick (Possibly Insane) Trip to Dolly Sods

With the Fourth of July falling midweek, we did not plan a backpacking trip this year.  We sort of had vague plans to go hiking, but the forecast, high 90s and high humidity, wasn't very inviting for anything in our usual hiking places:  Shenandoah, the Appalachian Trail, the George Washington National Forest, etc.  On Tuesday, a friend of ours suggested a dayhike in Dolly Sods.  Although it is quite a bit further away, the forecast high of 81 degrees sold us on it immediately.  I love Dolly Sods.  Nowhere else in the mid-Atlantic is quite like it.  Like many other amazing places, it can get crowded on holidays (see: Old Rag), but nothing like Shenandoah.  

We left at 5:15 in the morning, clutching our coffee, wondering whose idea this was, anyway.  At the trailhead almost four hours later, the temperature was 67 degrees, erasing all doubt about the wisdom of making the trip.  We started at the Blackbird Knob trailhead at Red Creek Campground.  The trail begins with a short boardwalk and then enters a beautiful, healthy hemlock forest.  When we broke out into one of Dolly Sods's famous meadows, we were immediately slowed by blueberries everywhere.  The next 1.5 miles took us almost 1.5 hours because we paused to eat a few so often.  There were also great views to the west and a pretty spot on upper Red Creek that slowed us down.  By the time we stopped for lunch, I think we had only covered 3 miles.  It had warmed up considerably in the sun, probably into the low 80s.

After lunch, we realized we had to pick up the pace or we would simply have to live in Dolly Sods.  We passed many, many bushes laiden with blueberries.  It hurt, but we had miles to cover.  Near the western side of the wildnerness, the trail re-enters the woods and gets really rocky.  In some places, the trail has clearly become the streambed.  After hiking up and over Breathed Mountain, we emerged onto the Red Creek Trail and were shortly at the Forks of Red Creek.  We kicked off our shoes and waded out into the cool water.  We spent about an hour splashing around, enjoying the break from the warm afternoon.

Finally, it was time to continue back to the car.  We made much better time on the final three miles of the hike than on our first three miles.  We did, after all, have to work the next day and we had a long drive home.  We hiked a total of 10.6 miles in eight, yes, eight hours.  It is one of the slower hikes I've done without snowshoes, but we had a lot of fun.  We saw a total of five other people:  two hikers and three guys on mountain bikes (which, if you were wondering, are not actually allowed in Wilderness Areas).  We also had amazing weather.  At the end of the hike, the wind was cool enough that it was starting to feel a little chilly at almost 4,000 feet.  About 10 miles away and 3,000 feet lower in Petersburg, WV, it was 95 degrees at 7 p.m!  We had a great day and escaped the heat wave for a few hours.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Chamerion platyphyllum (Fireweed).  These were growing along Forest Road 75.
Looking west over a meadow full of Symphocarpus albus (Snowberries).  They were in full bloom.  The tiny white dots in the meadow are the flowers.
Two Damselflies on the leaves of Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)
 Another Damselfly.  I don't know insects to the species, so I am not sure if these three are different variations of the same species or are actually three different species.
 Dicentra eximia (Wild Bleeding Heart)
 Blueberries!  Many of the meadows were full of them.
 A tannin-filled creek in western Dolly Sods.
 Rhododendron maximum (Rosebay Rhododenron)
 The petals of R. maximum on Red Creek
 One of the waterfalls on Red Creek.
 Michael skipping rocks.
 Sammie the waterfall dog.
Looking east from the Bear Rocks area at a classic thunderhead.  Click to enlarge to see the anvil-shaped top of the cumulonimbus cloud.
Looking east from Forest Road 19 on the way down from Dolly Sods.

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