Backpacking at Dolly Sods WV in the Picturesque Allegheny Mountains of the Monongahela National Forest
The 17,371 acre Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest. It is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System located in Grant, Randolph and Tucker Counties of West Virginia. The Dolly Sods Wilderness has much of the Red Creek drainage and has bog and heath eco-types, more commonly typical to southern Canada. Elevations range from 2,500 to over 4,700 feet. If you are a hiker or backpacker, this is a must do. We learned of this location from the sales folks at REI when we started buying our gear.
What we thought was the trailhead and where we hiked out for 1.5 miles round trip when the trail suddenly ended
This was lush and gorgeous, but took us to a dead-end
Heading into the wilderness in all it's wet, sloppy beauty
We arrived at the trailhead (or so we thought) around 4:00 p.m. on Friday, following a 6-hour drive from home. We headed down the trail, of what we thought was the first leg of our mapped-out hike, to get to our anticipated campsite.
After about an hour of wandering around and snagging these awesome photos, the trail abruptly ended and we found ourselves in the midst of the open wilderness with nothing but property boundary signs and no other signs of the trail. We stumbled upon this cool campsite nestled in some pines so of course, we kept looking for the rest of the trail. Clearly other people had messed this up too and decided to just camp here!
The real trailhead called “Bear Rocks” where we meant to begin
We trekked back to the car, before we ended up lost for sure, and drove up the road a bit to see if there were any other signs of life...or a trailhead. Within a mere 1/8 of a mile, we found it! The REAL start, so off we went. The trail was mostly rocks and thanks to the recent rain, a bit muddy in some spots. The scenery was magnificent and these pink flowers bountiful.
While this appears like someone's personal gardens, there are many miles of ferns and pink rhodedendron-lined, rocky trails
As we neared the end of our first five miles, we started encountering these amazing rock formations. We found the perfect campsite nestled in the pines with an existing fire pit made by other hikers.
five miles in on Bear Rocks Trail with many rock formations
there are many existing campsites randomly nestled under the pines
We pitched the tent and tried to gather some dry sticks and leaves to build a fire, but everything was terribly wet and we had to forego a fire. It's a good thing, because as soon as we finished eating our packs of tuna fish and protein bars, the rain started. It rained non-stop the entire night and all the next day. It was another no-sleep camping night as the drops pummeled the rain fly of the tent. We had placed our food up in a tree to keep it away from bear and other wild-life, so I was already keeping one eye and ear open. Every time I would drift off, the rain would come down harder or the thunder and lightning grumble to remind me to resume being scared!
We tried to "sleep in" a bit once the rain did let up, but it was futile, so we packed our wet gear and opted for the 6-mile route back to our car vs. the planned 10-mile trek to the next campground for night #2 since the forecast was for rain the entire day. The trail was a creek bed the entire route back, ranging from ankle to sometimes waist-deep water and lots of swampy areas and mud that felt like quicksand. As much as I'd like to complain about this, I must say, it was kind of fun since it was a comfortable 65 degrees despite the persistent rain.
We had three raging, rapid creek crossings that were dicey and made me ask what we were doing out here and wishing we could turn back and head to the car the way we came, but we overcame the challenge, teamed up and toughed it out. The third crossing I was able to use a flexible tree to hold onto all the way across. The first was one, I had to meet Jamison part way and give him my pack as he risked himself to come out and help me. I'm not going to lie, it was scary and the next trip there, we’ll be more mindful of the weather forecast!
Right off the bat, the trails became actively flowing creek beds!
More flooded trails
One of the three creeks we had to cross
Each trip we learn a bit more. This time we learned if the water in a creek crossing is over your boots and you can see, hiking sandals on and boots off are a good option. Secondly, a pair of shoe gaiters would be helpful to ward off the splashing and debris in boot height conditions, which we experienced on the first day. Day #2, all bets were off. The feet were getting soaked and there was no way to avoid that. We also forgot to bring rope to hoist our food up into a tree to keep the bears from getting it. We placed our food bag up in the fork of a tree as high, as we could reach, and hoped that was be good enough, and it was. Lastly, it's important to carry fuel to get a fire going in wet conditions.