Backpacking The Dolly Sods Wilderness
Over Memorial Day weekend in 2013, my husband and I joined my sister, her boyfriend (now husband) and a couple other friends for a backpacking trip to the Monongahela National Forest, into the Dolly Sods Wilderness to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday.
And when I say “wilderness,” I certainly do mean it. The landscape in this West Virginia national park is akin to what you’d find in the Canadian wilderness — it’s a vast landscape with all kinds of vegetation that differs from one ridge to the next.
The trees were stunning, and I found two things most fascinating: The soft, fluffy moss all throughout the forest and the endless wild, native blueberry bushes. We weren’t there in time to actually try the blueberries; they were just starting to bloom. But I’ve heard they’re sweet and tart, and I can only imagine how stunning the landscape will become once all the deep blue pops!
We spent our three days working a fifteen-mile loop around the Dolly Sods Wilderness. This means we parked the cars on the first day at the south end, started hiking northeast and looped back around westward until we hit the road within a mile of our parked cars on the third day.
It was both exhilarating and exhausting, and my legs and feet are definitely giving me grief the day after. I’ve explained the feeling as training for a 5K and then going out and running a half-marathon. The mix of thin and rocky trails, LOTS of uphill paths, the weather (cold and very windy), and my thirty-five-year-old body sleeping on the hard forest floor, really packed a punch.
Funny thing is, I didn’t really notice just how much of an impact the trip had until after we finished. I think part of that is survival — there’s no giving up when you’re over ten miles into the wilderness and stubborn-as-all-get-out! The other part is that we had really great company, and our little backpacking group laughed a lot. A LOT. Even when things got frustrating.
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Like on day one when there were no available campsites to be found, and we looked … and looked … and finally made do with a spot that had room for us, but wasn’t really ideal. We got the tents half-way up, started gathering firewood, and low and behold one of our group found a hidden site about fifty feet off the trail, with enough space to perfectly hold our three tents and one bivy sack.
And the unrelenting winds during the first two days, about thirty miles per hour. Not just gusting, but nearly constant. And cold. So, so cold. It was actually frosty on the morning of the third day. FROST. IN TENTS. Cold. You know what’s not fun in frosty cold weather? Lots of things, but that morning it was near painful putting contact lenses back in my eyes…
Also bogs. A trail that actually contained bogs, which meant walking through swampy, muddy paths where there’s just no chance of coming out with dry, warm feet. (Remember I said cold, frosty nights? Yep.)
And the quirky water filters we had to use in order to drink fresh water. Temperamental and necessary … it makes you value how easy it is to get fresh water at home, that’s for sure. Here’s my husband making our first batch of potable water:
But you know what? It’ll be a trip we’ll all never forget. The good, bad and the ugly. And really, there wasn’t much in the way of bad or ugly … unless you count the awful hat-head, wind burn and sore leg limps. Ha!
My sister took the photos in this last collage — all of me!
Wondering where all the food shots are? Well, I can tell you what we brought: granola, apples, peanut butter, hot dogs, protein bars and rice — and s’mores, with dark chocolate!
But I can’t show you any photos because my camera’s memory card in 2013 only held thirty-eight photos, and I used them all up on day one as we hiked five miles into our campsite. SO DUMB. But also not the end of the world. The focus of this trip was certainly more about the company and surroundings than it was the food.
I’d go back.
Last Updated on August 27, 2020 by Liza Hawkins
Looks like an awesome time of year to go! I am a veteran backpacker and love to solo any chance I can get.
It is a great time of year, but the weather can be so unpredictable! My sister went on the same Dolly Sods loop the year (or maybe two years) before, and it was unrelentingly HOT. Crazy! I will say this – definitely tested me. Also gave me deeper perspective while watching the movie “Into the Wild.”
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