Day One | Day Two
Some people love autumn because of the fall colors, the lack of mosquitos, and the crisp, clean air. I, however, see autumn as a time of sorrow. The days are shorter, the air is colder, the water is colder, and it is only going to get worse. Hence, I have never been a winter backpacker or winter kayaker. I hate to see the warm weather leave but if it must, then I will do my best to get in one last good backpacking trip before the new year.
Day One: Saturday, November 3, 2007
In August, Norma purchased a Gregory Maven backpack. In October, I purchased a Gregory Makalu Pro...not the amateur but the pro! She recently acquired some REI Peak Ultra Light Carbon Trekking Poles and I bought the REI Quarter Dome Ultra Light Tent and the REI Sahara +30 Degree Sleeping Bag. With all our new gear, we were eager to go backpacking.
Norma and I signed up for a November 3, 2007 backpacking trip to Big Schloss in George Washington National Forest. This trip caught my eye for two reasons. First, because of the name. Many hiking/backpacking places and rivers in the area have Native American names. "Schloss" hardly sounds Indian. The second reason is because this trip had an easier rating than most of Mike J.'s trips. Hence, I thought it would be a good trip for Norma, who hasn't done a great deal of backpacking.
Big Schloss is described as "a towering outcrop of sandstone on Mill Mountain" (from a now broken link that was once part of Trails.com). It is also the German word for "castle." I first heard of it last year when a friend led a similar trip. I had no idea what I would see and I made no effort to find out. Sometimes the nicest trips are the ones where I expect the least.
Norma and I met Mike of the Howard County Sierra Club at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride. Marty, Ellen, Betty, Mike, Norma, and I loaded up in Ken's "Big Red Goose" (what Mike calls Ken's ginormous van). We were off at 0900. Marty entertained us with his stories of bad fortune and ringing up a HUGE bill at a McDonald's in Guatemala.
At the trailhead, we met Molly, Craig, Michael, Kris, and Vicky. By 1220, we were on the move.
It was deer bowhunting season and quite a few hunters were out. We were greeted by their hounds. Beware that when setting your pack down, a dog may sniff it and choose to mark it as his territory so be on the alert for canines with one leg in the air near your pack. No, it didn't happen to any of us but it almost did. Some of the dogs escorted us for about a mile up the trail. Mike warned us well in advance that it was hunting season so at least half of us wore blaze orange. Norma and I made sure we wore orange hats and had the bright vests on our packs. I wasn't ready to re-live our November 25, 2006 adventure.
We walked for 3.9 miles up a steady 1500 foot climb heading north by northeast on Little Stoney Creek Trail. Next, we took a break at Sugar Knob Cabin. See Norma at the cabin in the first photo at left. Apparently, people can rent this little stone building near Sugar Knob by calling 703-242-0315. There was a nice fire pit nearby. See second photo at left.
Venturing onward, we headed north by northwest on the Tuscarora Trail, on the Virginia/West Virginia border. We followed this for a half mile.
Mike showed us a spur off the main trail that led to a metal shack that can be used as emergency shelter. It used to be an airway beacon station.
The climbing leveled off on Mill Mountain Trail at the top of Mill Mountain. It then headed downward in a southwestern direction.
Craig spotted a Common Buckeye butterfly. See third photo at left.
Eventually we came to our campsite just on the other side of Deep Gutter Run. Doesn't exactly sound like the nicest little stream and it wasn't. In fact, we crossed it and I didn't even know it. It wasn't running. The run was just a boggy area with a few puddles but it was enough to collect and pass through our water purifiers to give us as much drinking water as we needed. Looking at the map, there really isn't much out there when it comes to getting water so I was glad to find whatever was available.
Our campsite had a nice fire ring but unfortunately, we were not allowed to use it. With the dry leaves all around, there was a fire ban in the forest. See fourth photo at left.
I was familiar with everyone in our group except Kris, who I later found out was a Third Division machine gunner in the Marines. Ooh rah!
We set up our tents then ate. As it got colder, I worked with Norma on her boxing skills. She did her jab, cross, hook combination punches against some Therma-Seats I brought along. Her right cross is becoming devastating. Mike later gave Norma the trail name "Rocky." I guess someday Norma will have to see that movie.
Once the sun set, we sat around an enclosed candle. It was our mini-campfire.
Rocky...I mean Norma and I were off to bed at 1900. I heard the others stayed up and listened to Ken tell entertaining stories of the constellations.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Two: November 4, 2007
The wind was really kicking during the night.
We expected the temperature to get below freezing but I don't think it did. I put one canteen and my contact lense case in my tent but left my water bladder outside. It wasn't the least bit frozen when I awoke.
Norma and I got around 12 hours of sleep. Yes, a ridiculous amount but without a campfire, there wasn't much reason to stay up.
For breakfast, Norma and I ate tortillas with turkey pepperoni and cheese...the same thing we ate last night. I packed in a hurry and that's what I grabbed. Easy, convenient, and it does't require any cooking. I felt bad because I didn't provide a nice hot meal like the others had but Norma was a good sport and didn't complain. I think she was just glad I didn't bring Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs). Improving my campground culinary skills will be my goal for 2008.
We were on the march just after 0800, continuing southwest on Mill Mountain Trail, along the Virginia/West Virginia border. Keep in mind that daylight savings time just ended so while it felt like 0900, it was really an hour earlier.
The group took a short break at an overlook where we could see Big Schloss to the southwest. See first photo at left. The trees in the valley below were scenic but the overcast weather kept us from achieving ideal visibility...which we had yesterday. As I stood at the vista, Craig showed me the size of the fish he caught last week. See second photo at left. Just across from me, Norma posed for a picture while modeling her Cabela's hat. See third photo at left.
After eyeballing the area, we geared up (fourth photo at left), then were back on the move (fifth photo at left).
At the intersection of Mill Mountain Trail and Big Schloss Connector Trail, we dropped our packs and posed for a group photo. See sixth photo at left. From left to right in the back are Vicky, Craig, Ellen, Kris, Mike, Molly, Betty, Ken, and Michael. In the front are me and Norma. The ever-so-elusive Marty took the photo.
Next, we walked a little over a mile to Big Schloss. See seventh and eighth photos at left.
Where the trail makes a sharp turn to head northeast, Norma identified a witch hazel plant. See ninth photo at left.
There was some rock scrambling near the top but otherwise, the trail was fairly easy.
We had almost a 360 degree view at the 2964 foot peak but unfortunately, the visibility was still not so great. But it was a nicer view than I expected so I was pleased. See photos ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen at left. In the fourteenth photo at left, I caught a glimpse of the trail on which we hiked to the peak. Betty took a nice photo of Craig and me which appears at the top left corner of this page.
A shrub was spotted with a large number of blue berries though we weren't sure if they were blueberries or just blue berries. Someone later identified them as probably being wild grapes. See fifteenth photo at left.
I spotted a fascinating twisty tree. See sixteenth photo at left.
Back at the intersection, we donned our packs then headed south on the Big Schloss Connector Trail.
The hike reminded me a bit of the fall colors I saw on the October 21-23, 2006 Quehanna Trail hike. See Vicky in the seventeenth photo at left. This hike didn't have as bright of colors as the Quehanna trip but it did have a nicer vista.
We did a short road walk (see Michael in the eighteenth photo at left) where I soon realized that my trekking pole broke near the tip.
By 1145, we were done. Mike said we walked 12.3 miles over the two days and did 2400 feet of total elevation gain.
It was an easy hike at an easy pace with nice scenery. A good way to end the year.
On the trip back, Marty kept us just as entertained as on the drive up.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Regarding the gear, I think Norma liked her backpack though she seemed to feel 3200 cubic inches wasn't enough. In contrast, my 4200 cubic inches was plenty though I would have liked more pockets or access to the main compartment other than the top. Her Maven has two entries whereas my Makalu Pro only has one. My tent was fine since neither Norma or me are big people but if you or your mate are average sized, then you might be a little claustrophic. Also, if there is a chance of rain or heavy dew, then the tent might just be best for one person since with two people, it is likely at least one person will be touching the side. No vestibule or room inside the tent for large gear. My sleeping bag was just right if I didn't keep it zipped up. No problem keeping warm but I wouldn't want to use this bag on anything but a cold night. Regarding my poles, ironically they are the same kind I bought Norma. At least since they are the REI brand, I should have no problem taking them back. My Montrail boots are falling apart after only 2 years. I'll see if I can get at least a partial refund on that...or at least a free tube of shoe glue.
Despite all the money spent on gear, it is important to remember that the equipment is secondary. Spending time in the outdoors with good people comes first.
A few days later, I took both the trekking poles and my Montrail boots back to REI. They gave me new trekking poles and refunded me the full cost for the boots, even though they were two years old! I wish other stores had the same level of customer service as REI.