Saturday, November 08, 2008

Women's 'Backpacking' Trip

For 20 years now a group of my women friends has gone a backpacking trip. We hike in the mountains of West Virginia or Virginia. Some years there are only two of us. The largest group we've had is ten. The first trip we took was up the 'Priest' on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. My youngest son was 5 months old at the time and I was still nursing so I had to pump on the trail. All of us were mothers and left the kids behind for a weekend in the woods. We've had some amazing times in those woods. We were in our 30's and 40's then but 20 years later, in our 50's and 60's, we're still out there, hiking up mountains, sleeping in tents and hanging our food so the bears don't get it.

But two weeks ago, things turned out a bit different. We'd planned the trip for Tuesday through Thursday. Monday was nice but looking at the upcoming weather, a cold front was coming through until late Thursday. Great! Cold front meant 24 degrees, but with 24 miles per hour sustained winds, gusting up to 45, which meant that it felt like 15 degrees. Great! Kick in 6-8 inches of snow, and this was becoming a major expedition. We packed our 4-season tents, our warmest sleeping bags and layers of long underwear, fleece and down.

Because of the winter weather, I had looked for a cabin near Seneca Rocks, near our destination of Spruce Knob, the highest peak (4,863') in West Virginia. We would travel to the area and see what the weather was like before making a decision to camp or cabin it. The closer we got, the worse the weather looked near the tops of the peaks. We decided to stay in the cabin for the first night and see what the next day held for us. We hit the jackpot on the cabin.

The cabins that I had seen in this area the many times I had been through were little log boxes lined up along the roadside. We got the key to the cabin and the directions: go across the road, over the bridge (the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River), go 1/4 mile and look up to the left.

All 8 of us went through the 'cabin', marveling at the two wide screen tv's, the hot tub, 8 beds (with mattresses!), 3 bathrooms (with showers!)

Comfort beyond belief!

After high fiving, picking out our beds for the night, and unpacking, we took a short hike, leaving right from our cabin to an overlook nearby.

Instead of being hunkered down at our campsite by 6:00 p.m., three to a tent, with no hope of a fire, we made a nice dinner of pasta, salad and bread, hopped in the hot tub, and drank wine around the fireplace, reminiscing on past backpacking trips. We really are adaptable! Sharon brought out her West Virginian moonshine, which is SO smooth going down.

Mrs. Smith got into the bottle for a nip at the moonshine. Needless to say, she was a bit tipsy. Mrs. Smith has joined us on many backpacking trips. She leaves Mr. Smith, Buddy and Suzie behind to enjoy time with the girls. She's a seasoned traveler, having been all over the world and has had many exciting experiences. She welcomes these with open arms.

After a warm night tucked away under covers in a real bed, we all expected to pack up our packs and head out to our destination, Seneca Creek Trail, Judy Springs, near Spruce Knob. We awoke to snow on our deck and still a whiteout on the mountain peaks. I listened to weather radio and it called for high winds, freezing temps, even a weather warning. So I thought it best to hunker down in the cabin for another night, 'roughing' it. It took awhile to talk the girls into this plan, say 1 minute.

We put on ALL of our clothes and took a hike up to Chimney Rocks, a trail that goes on for 28 miles to Seneca Rocks. We did just 6 miles of it.

It started out in autumn colored woods, with a blanket of leaves on the forest floor.

Mrs. Smith laid down on the moss for a wee nap.

As we hiked up, the leaves became covered in a light dusting of snow.

It was as pretty looking down as it was looking up.

Melanie is a naturlist, leading hikes for the Audobon Society. Luck would have it that she comes on many of our backpacking trips, teaching us about the flora and fauna of the forest.

Chimney Rocks overlooks the narrow valley that meanders along the North Fork River.

I said that if my eyes go over, I could go over, so I backed off.

We had lunch on Chimney Rock, everything tasting really delicious.

After our short day hike, we drove on down to Seneca Rocks area.

We wanted to get in the snow so drove up a the road a bit.

Most of the back roads up here follow rivers, streams and creeks and this one was no exception. Otter Creek had large rock faces, coming right down to the water with rhododendrons cascading over them.

Our first snowfall make for happy smiles.

We probably should have brought another SUV, but wanted to save gas with the Prius. But the Prius just couldn't barrel its way up through the mud, then snow, then ice. We drove as far as we could, then turned around to go back to lower elevations and fall colors.

The next day, we attempted to drive up to Dolly Sods for another day hike but ran into ice so just parked the cars and walked a couple miles up the road.

The weather cleared as the day went on. We went back to the North Fork and had a long, leisurly lunch. We threw rocks into the water, built cairns, laid in the grass, looking up at the azure sky, watching the birds soar overhead, not wanting anyone to tear us away from the idyllic setting.

Most of us bought these shirts at the cabins' lobby. They say "River Dreaming Makes Me Happy".

Unfortunately, Mrs. Smith was held up at gunpoint while attempting to cross the road to get a t-shirt.

Julie was one happy camper! This was her first trip with us seasoned hikers and she fit right in. I hope she can come on all our future trips. She's the youngest so should be able to keep up with us!

1 comment:

willowisp2 said...

Ahhh, happy memories. I'm laughing, too. Poor Mrs. Smith, held up at gun point!