Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cruising the Sods (mostly)

Hey east coasters do yourself a favor and check out Dolly Sods Wilderness. It's an easily accessible rocky, high altitude plateau nestled in northeast West Virginia.

I am hoping Erik will make another post soon with maps, gps coordinates, and finer details. Below will be the fun story time post to read by your fireplace...

On this last visit, Erik and I had the off trail bug...our hopes were to sate our constant empty bottle love for adventure as well as hone our navigation skills. The unique landscape of Dolly Sods (the sods from here on out) makes it a great east coast location to go off trail: tons of meadows, mossy bogs, and long distance least on clear days, that is. The sods is a refreshing piece of open country compared to the otherwise dense forests of the eastern US. It's truly a gem. 

As is common for fall in the northeast, our two days were spent wandering in a thick fog with on and off rain and very high humidity.

See above the visibility was pretty low compared to this picture below of the sods on a much more clear day:

We started our two day adventure by taking a compass bearing of a creek near the trail head. Our plan was to follow the creek as long as we could and then make our way up one of the many 3,500' to 4,000' mountains. We soon found our creek and quickly came to an open meadow making for what we thought would be great travel...

It didn't take long for us to realize that off trail excursions are marked by quickly changing highs and lows. One moment we'd be struggling through thick woods trying desperately to keep tree branches from poking our precious eyes; another moment we'd be high fiving and celebrating our discovery of some fast and smooth travel through an open field or game trail. 

The mossy bogs proved to be extremely wet and energy sucking so we decided to swiftly make for higher ground. Although it wasn't part of our originally planned route, this was a great idea as it successfully started our big push of the first day. Once we crossed a swollen creek we excitedly started up a mountain I had pointed to with my usual exclamation of, "that one, let's go up that one, Erik!" 

The colors of the leaves mixed with the ominous fog made for countless scenes of fall eye candy.

Travel during the ascent was mostly fast and extremely easy to keep our bearing. Towards the top though, nearing our destination of a trail intersection, the vegetation did get pretty hairy. My merino wool gloves really came in handy in these sections since all the shrubbery saturated with cold water was rubbing against my hands nonstop. We pushed on in high spirits because it was nearing dinner time. Although we had only about 8 miles under our belt, off trail travel takes plenty of physical/mental energy. Notably in the sods is the super energy sucking sphagnum moss. 

Needless to say we were ready to quickly gobble up a warm meal, find a campsite, and get some rest inside of our dry sleeping bags. Once the noodles were eaten, the pots cleaned, the tent pitched, we quickly fell into a deep sleep (after the usual tent chit chat which solitude seems to always bring out, of course).  

Having camped pretty close to the trail where we finished the previous day, we started our final day walking along the beaten path. As usual, it didn't take much trail walking for me to convince Erik it was time to once again enter the backcountry. 

The characteristic meadows of the sods seen here made for great morning travel on our second day.

Per usual, the terrain was regularly switching between wet meadows and semi dense to very dense forest with occasional game trails to pass through. Eventually though the woods got very thick and almost impassable in some areas, at least without much frustration and stuck limbs between hundreds of pointy, tangled branches. 

As our patience with the slow travel continued to dwindle, we solidified our off trail lesson for the day: when the vegetation gets extremely thick (as in almost impassable in any reasonable amount of time), head down in elevation so long as your route allows for it. Vegetation grows far thicker on these forested plateaus. And sure enough, as soon as we started heading down in elevation, we were elated to see the woods clearing enough to increase speed and boost morale again. 

After finding out target, a creek with a bitchin' waterfall (Erik will tell you the name in his next post), we decided it was about that time to be getting home. We used the established trails to quickly finish our adventure and made our way back to the car. 

It was a great little adventure and left me hungering for my next visit to navigate the lovely sods. 

Quick recap of off trail lessons learned on this trip:

1. UPs and DOWNs are characteristic of off trail travel...and I don't mean just the elevation. It's important to do anything and everything to maintain positive morale! 

2. Gloves are ESSENTIAL, especially in wet and cold conditions.

3. When the going gets hairy, thick, and tough...go down in elevation so long as you can stay on course to your destination. 

Until next time...cheers!

~Vadim Fedorovsky 
Day 1 Maps:

Day 2 (except for that boring trail stuff):

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