Trip Report: Dolly Sods Wilderness – A Series of Unfortunate Events

Location: Dolly Sods Wilderness

State: West Virginia

Miles: 9

Days: 2

Type: Loop

Last weekend I went on a backpack trip with another group. It was a trip we had been planning for a few months and was supposed to consist of 3 days of backpacking. Our plan was to do a 15 mile loop in the northern section of the Dolly Sods Widlerness.

So, we meet up at Seven’s house at the butt crack of dawn (5am to you leiman) and head on down the road. Our destination would be the Dolly Sods Wilderness of WV in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest. This was all of our first time’s there with the exception of Steve that had gone on 2 other occassions. This would be his first time in the northern section of the wilderness area, however. We were playing phone tag with Eric from Cinci who had gotten a late start. I told him we’d leave an estimate of where we would be setting up camp the first night on Seven’s vehicle.

Now, let me just say, we were all aware that it had snowed about 6 or 7 inches earlier in the week, but figured a majority of it would’ve melted by the time we got there. As we get into the higher elevations of WV, we soon realize that that isn’t the case. Houses still have a good 5 inches of snow on their roofs and the snow hadn’t melted off the ground yet. Plus, we started to run into intermittant snow showers. This is going to make things very interesting…

We arrive at the trail head of Bear Rocks at around 1pm and it was just as we suspected. It was pretty darn cold, windy and snowy. We all can’t wait to get out on the trail and start getting warmed up.

Somehow…I end up at the head of the pack breaking trail in areas. About 10 minutes into the hike, the cluts in me breaks free, I lose my footing and just miss a pretty jagged rock. Thankfully, the snow was soft… After that, I relinquished my powers at the head of the pack and fell somewhere in the middle.

The scenery was spectacular with the snow covered pines and plains. The clouds looked extremely ominous and took on a life of their own. We knew we’d be hiking in flying snow soon.

I noted how extremely wet this place was and mentioned it to a friend when we returned. She said that it’s always wet, but the cold would definitely play a huge factor in this story.

At our first stream crossing of Red Creek, Cathy decided she would go first. She’d never done a stream crossing before and made a mistake of trying to do it quickly. She lost her footing and balance and fell in. The rest of us made our way across and quickly got up into tree cover to get her changed into dry clothing. Thankfully, nothing inside her pack had gotten wet. After she was changed, we headed on up the trail.

Everyone was starting to get a bit tired. The cold and wind really does a number on you. But, the views were unsurmountable…

We get to the sign stating we had come to Blackbird Knob trail and decide which was to go. If we went East, there was a campsite about a 1/4 mile up. West and we’d hike another mile and a half. We decided to go east and got to our campsite about 10 minutes later.

We started setting up camp and then attempting to collect firewood. Surprisingly, we found an ample supply. About an hour after arriving at camp, our 6th member of the group arrived. He had hiked in an easy 1 1/2 miles to camp to find us busy making home and starting the fire to dry out our boots and such.

Oddly, I didn’t have much of an appetite that evening and only ate about 3 handfulls of trail mix. Seven mentioned he was hungry, just not for any of the food he had brought. So, we sat around the warm fire and chatted and Eric had brougth a little Elmer T. Lee to share.

Around 9:30, Steve decided to go to bed. Our first thought was, “but the firewood isn’t gone yet!” About an hour later, the rest of us followed suit leaving quite a bit of wood for the morning.

I fell asleep with my hot water bottle at the foot of my sleeping bag keeping my feet nice and toasty. At about 12am I was awakend by a ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ crunch’ in the snow and heavy breathing. My first thought was, “is that a bear?” and then, “what the heck am I gonna do?” The next thing I know, I hear someone cry out “Can somebody help me?” “I’m lost!” “I fell in the creek about 4 hours ago, I’m wet and I need some dry clothes!” Again, I thought to myself, “What the heck am I gonna do?” He went over to Cathy’s tent and tried to unzip it at which she left a near blood curdling scream. We yelled for Steve and Bill to get up and check out the situation.

They got up and walked out to check the guy out. Bill searched his daypack and found he only had food, a flashlight and a soaked map with him. They guy was completely drenched. When they asked him what he was doing, he explained that he had gone for a day hike that morning at 5am. He was about 1.5 miles from his car when he made a mistake and fell into the creek just before the sun went down. He got disoriented and lost the trail so decided to start walking up river to the next trail crossing. When he missed that, he kept going. Somehow he ended up on the trail that took him to our camp.

We scrounged up dry clothes, made some hot cocoa for him and draped him in a couple of space blankets. We got the campfire going again and start drying out his clothes. The plan was for Bill and Steve to take shifts so the guy could get some rest. The guys told us girls to go back to bad, that we had done all we could do. We were all reluctant.

The next part of the story I didn’t find out about until the next morning. At around 2:30 am, our midnight visitor said he was going to get more firewood. Bill told him not to worry about it, that there was enough there to get them through till the morning with a small fire. He insisted and left camp in search of more wood. Bill waited up for an hour and he never came back. At around 4:30am I heard ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ again, then the rustle of the space blankets. I figured he had just gone to the restroom.

So, at around 7:30am I wake up. I’m the first one up and I decided to go out and tell our visitor to craw into my tent and attempt to get warmed up. By now, I’m scared to death to walk out and find what I might find. I shook him and he woke up. He went and layed down in my tent and sleeping bag until I woke him up about 2 hours later to start tearing down camp.

Based on everything that had happened and the fact noone got a very good night’s rest, we all decided to bail out and hike out with our visitor and Eric (who was only there for the night anyway).

It’s a story I don’t think any of us will soon forget. The most surreal thing I think I’ve ever experienced. The guys completely kept their heads which in turn helped me. Hypothermia had already started to set in on our visitor when he found us. He was very disoriented and stumbling around. Thankfully there was a happy ending and we got him back to his car which was parked at the Picnic area at the very southern section of the wilderness area.

I left our visitor’s name out in case he lurks here as he mentioned that he does backpack. I’m just glad he made it out safely.

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