Anne's black labrador, Molly


Laurel Fork Wilderness
September 2007

Last updated September 3, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

I was deeply saddened when I hurt my lower back in July 2007. I was looking forward to Mike J.'s 25 mile circuit backpacking trip on the Black Forest Trail of Pennsylvania. The weather was predicted to be perfect and some folks I hadn't seen in awhile would be there. I took lots of vitamin I (ibuprofen) up to the day of the event. But that morning, I knew I was in no shape for a "strenuous" rated trip. So I bailed.

Shortly after, I let myself heal and signed up for the next Howard County Sierra Club backpacking trip I could fit into my schedule: Laurel Forks Wilderness. I actually backpacked in this area on July 29-31, 2005 with some of my kayaking friends. I had a good time back then and I planned to have another good time over the Labor Day weekend.

Day One: Saturday, September 1, 2007

The weather forecast was on our side.
Saturday: Sunny with a high near 81. Calm wind becoming northeast around 5 mph. At night, mostly clear with a low around 50. Calm wind.
Sunday: Sunny with a high near 84. Calm wind becoming west around 6 mph. At night, partly cloudy with a low around 55. Calm wind.
Labor Day: Mostly sunny with a high near 85.

As I packed my gear the night before, I was so confident of good weather that I didn't even pack my tent. Instead, I brought my sleeping bag with the Gore-tex cover. For food, I brought tortillas, nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, beef jerky, and foil wrapped meat. I brought no tent, no stove, no global positioning system (GPS), no first aid kit, no bear bag, and no raingear. Mike would have the GPS, first aid kit, and bear bag. Still, my pack weighed 45 pounds! Hmmm. It might be time to get rid of the 15 year old gear and buy something a little more modern. My days in the infantry were over and there was no reason for me to carry more than 35 pounds for more than a mile.

I started to compare this trip with the one I missed in July. The people were different but there were a few names I recognized on the attendance list. For the names I didn't recognize, this was my chance to meet some new people.

I arrived at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride. Of course I knew Mike. But I didn't expect to run into Paul who I met at Yvonne's June 23, 2007 kayak trip to Thomas Point Lighthouse. Also joining us was Ray, a freshly retired Boy Scout troop leader.

The four of us loaded our gear in Big Red, Mike's truck, then drove out to West Virginia, leaving a little before 0700.

I didn't get much sleep the night before so I slept for much of the ride west. As we drove into West Virginia, I saw a few places I recognized that reminded me of my walk up Seneca Rocks with Norma, Rotraud, and Annika on October 9, 2007.

Driving deeper into West Virginia, the roads swerved all over the place. We drove through the town of Weimer. I sat in the back and couldn't very well see where we were going so I got a headache. As the roads got worse, I started feeling sick. I rolled down the window. While I didn't bring any snacks, I ended up tossing my cookies out the window and on the outside of the truck. Sorry Big Red. But I felt better.

At the trailhead, we met the rest of our group: Anne, her black labrador Molly, Cavin, Mike B. and Vicky, and Pam. Mike gives people trail names. Ray is the judge, Anne is doc, Cavin is caveman, Mike B. and Vicky are Jack and Jill, and Pam is gadget girl. You'll have to ask them or Mike how they got their names. Trail names are a good thing because it helps break the ice and get to know people better. This was Mike's first time meeting Paul so Paul did not yet have a trail name. I knew Cavin from backpacking on the Quehanna Trail, October 21-23, 2006 and I knew Anne and Molly from backpacking in George Washington National Forest, April 21-23, 2007.

Our group started walking at noon heading south on the orange/yellow blazed West Fork Rail Trail of Monongahela National Forest. See first photo at left. We maintained a pretty good pace.

The weather was spectacular for taking photos. Especially for pretty flowers and scenic farms. See second, third, fourth, and fifth photos at left.

After getting off the sunny rail trail, we walked in the shade on the High Falls Trail.

I could feel a blister start to form so I put athletic tape over the red spots just above my heel. Not a blister yet but you know what they say about an ounce of prevention.

Our group stopped for lunch. I spotted some pigskin puffballs growing in the moss. The inside of them is full of small violet pores. See sixth photo at left.

Usually, I'm pretty good about knowing where I am but I often don't pay attention to this when I'm with Mike since I know he's much better than me when it comes to navigation. Hence, I can't be quite as descriptive in this trip report as I'd like.

After lunch, we walked on a road for a bit then a little later, we started walking on the Beaulah Trail.

With thick tree cover, we remained in the shade. The trail was often narrow and on soft dirt that followed along the side of a hill. Though there wasn't much elevation change, it was a little awkward to hike on a narrow path that had the right side higher than the left.

Our first choice for campsites was taken so we walked a little further and found an area that was suitable. No fire ring so we didn't make one. Leave no trace. There were enough open spaces so we could remain together and there was a stream nearby. That's all we needed. Without a fire, we were off to bed just after dark.

Owls hooted during the night. I heard some small animal run by my area. Judging by the steady bounding noise, I'm guessing it was a chipmunk.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two: September 2, 2007

On Sunday, I was woken at 0700 to the sound of a happy barking dog. It was time to wake up and a good way to be woken up though not quite as good as a rooster crowing. Molly gets pretty anxious to get going and she often urges the rest of us to hurry up and get a moving. She runs back and forth between Anne and whoever is ahead of Anne. I'm guessing Molly travels about three times as far as the rest of us and has energy to spare. But by nightfall, she's just as worn out as the rest of us.

We were walking on the fern-lined Laurel Forks Trail by 0900. See first photo at left. This trail was blazed with blue plastic squares.

Within 20 minutes, we came to a car campground which meant real latrines...though not the flush type. It is here that I recognized my surroundings from 2005.

After a brief walk on a road, we were back on the trail.

There was something about Paul that seemed vaguely familiar and it wasn't until the second day that I figured it out. I thought he resembled Iggy Pop, one of the true madmen of rock and roll.

We were making good time but our luck soon ran out when the trail became obscure. This was the same problem back in 2005. It took awhile before we found it again and this happened at least twice. So much of the trail is underused and overgrown by tall vegetation that it is easy to lose one's way. See second photo at left. An occassional piece of litter or sawed log reassured us we were on the correct path. Back in 2005, we saw nobody outside of our group, and for this trip, it was only the folks at the campsite we wanted that we saw (not counting the car campground).

Molly is almost always on the move, either on the trail or in the water. Thus, it is hard to get a good photo of her. But with a digital camera, I can take tons of photos. One will surely turn out good. See third photo at left.

I saw some unusual looking fungii that reminded me of golf balls. Maybe a long time ago, someone saw them and whacked them with a stick and the sport was born. See fourth photo at left. I was later told they might be gem studded puffballs.

We took plenty of well deserved breaks. See fifth photo at left.

We left the wilderness area and walked through an open grassy area along a buried pipeline. See sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth photos at left.

My Platypus water bladder was leaking. Not enough to be a concern for lack of water but just enough to warrant repair. Every backpacking trip teaches me how I should adjust or fix my gear. Unfortunately, adjusting and fixing can only go so far. My equipment was now very old. The pack on my frame was bent and some of the rings on the bent part would sometimes dig into my skin. My tent, which I left behind, had already broken twice. My sleeping bag was heavy and bulky. It was time to think about buying new gear. That thought kept entering my mind, especially as I noticed that I was the only one with an external frame backpack. But new gear, especially the lightweight stuff, isn't cheap.

We reached a very nice campsite by mid-afternoon. While others set up their tents, I arranged the fire. Feeling deprived from not having a fire last night, I wanted to make sure this fire was a good one. I made sure to use the dryer lint I'd been saving for the last several months. Hopefully, this would give the fire a nice April fresh scent.

A few people took naps. Some of the rest of us, including me, rinsed off in the stream. See tenth photo at left. It never got deeper than 3 feet near our site but that was enough. It was cool and clean and we were hot, sweaty, and least I was. In the water, we found numerous fish, up to about 5 inches long. There were also a few snails (see eleventh photo at left) and a 3 inch long crayfish. Unfortunately, this would be the only wildlife we would see over the weekend except for a few common birds.

The stream near which we camped was quite scenic. See twelfth and thirteenth photos at left.

Around dusk, I started getting bit by mosquitos. I ended up with about 7 bites which is quite a bit less than I usually get when camping.

I got the fire started. We stayed up a little longer than last night but by 2100, we were all off to sleep.

The hooters were active that night. In particular, we heard barred owls which made their distinctive call, "Who cooks for you." Cows were also mooing in the distance though we never saw a farm.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three, September 3, 2007

I was up at 0700 again. The cows were mooing once again.

By 0830, we started our final day of hiking.

After coming to a road and crossing over a bridge, we turned left onto McCray Run Trail. Today there were no problems with losing the trail.

A little later, we were on the yellow blazed Allegheny Trail. The Allegheny Trail is a 330 mile long trail that runs south from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Appalachian Trail in Monroe County, West Virgninia.

At a rocky area, we took a break. As our total mileage was now in the twenties, we were growing more tired. See first photo at left. But we managed to perk up for a nice group photo. See second photo at left. From left to right is Paul (Iggy), Mike B. (kneeling), Anne, Vicky, Pam, Mike J. (our fearless leader), Cavin, and Ray.

We stopped for lunch at Glady Fork.

I found a huge growth on a tree that was about 3 feet long from top to bottom and stuck out from the tree at least 18 inches. Actually, the tree grew over the growth. See third photo at left.

Several mushrooms were passed. See fourth photo at left.

Mike expected a stream crossing but we encountered a fairly recently built bridge instead. See fifth photo at left.

By 1330, we were done. Our total journey took us 27 miles over the three days. Our total ascent was 2678 feet.

We said our farewells then went off our separate ways. I would see Mike J. and Anne in two weeks at the Roaring Plains trip. I am very much looking forward to it.

No heavy holiday traffic was encountered though I bet folks coming back from Ocean City might have had a slow drive.

By 1830, I was back at my car and heading home.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

It is hard to appreciate something unless you go without it for some time. This applies to places, people, and material possessions. It is what makes us thankful for what we have. It helps us enjoy things a little more. I love being outdoors in nature and I also love being at home in my air conditioned, mosquito-free house. By spending time in each, I appreciate the other just a little more.