Monongahela National Forest, WV
May 15-16, 2010
24 mile loop
I followed the route mapped and described here. Highs were in the low to mid 70's F, with lows around 56 F.
The many river crossings were swift in places, with water mid-thigh deep... if you avoided the deeper pools.
I don't have many photos of this section of trail because I was busy swatting mosquitoes, putting my shoe back on after having it pulled off my foot by the mud multiple times, and hanging on to small saplings above steep river banks as I bushwhacked through the washed out sections where there was once a trail.
I collected 3 quarts of cold, swift water from Birchlog Run into my collapsible water container (Nalgene Cantene) before heading up the mountain to the North South Trail where I would camp for the night. I really needed to stop and boil the water, or at least treat it with Aquamira drops so that they would disinfect it while I was hiking. The sun was setting fast, and I wanted to put some miles behind me and get up higher where things would be a little cooler and there would be less bugs. I didn't even want to take the 5 minutes to mix up the Aquamira drops though. Plus, I was hoping to boil once I setup camp to avoid the chemical taste. I also had 10 Micropur tablets, but I was reserving them for emergency use.
Once I finally made it to the top, it was around 9:45 pm. By the time I pitched the tent, I was thirsty and so tired that I wasn't hungry. I decided to just use the Aquamira drops and wait 45 minutes for them to disinfect. (The time varies 30 min - 4 hours with water temperature, and this was my best guess.)
As soon as I had returned to camp after hanging my food for the night, I spotted the eyes and nearly invisible silhouette of a curious black bear just outside the range of my headlamp. Maybe he was checking to see if I had remembered to hang my food?
Right after I zipped up the tent and crawled into my bag, it started to rain, and it continued all night. I really enjoy being out in rain or snow.
A few quick snacks for breakfast, and I was on my way. Sometimes I wondered if I had made a wrong turn off the trail and into a stream...
The Laurelly Branch trail switchbacked and followed an old logging road downslope here. I stopped to take a photo on this short dry stretch between mudpits.
I stopped because I smelled campfire smoke, but hadn't seen a human all day. I followed the source 30 yards down a short side trail, and discovered a still smoldering campfire in a very nice campsite along Laurelly Branch. I only saw one human in the distance the day before, but now knew someone must not be too far ahead of me.
There are several very scenic campsites along the Middle Fork and near this waterfall where Hell For Certain branch meets the Middle Fork. You can't hear anything except the waterfall and river here.
Along the Middle Fork of the Cranberry River:
Ahead of me, I heard voices mixed with the noise of the river. I encountered two men and a dog who seemed to be making a significant production out of the river crossing. These were the only humans I saw at a close distance the entire trip.
At around 4500 feet elevation, the forest becomes boreal. It was like I had started daydreaming about hiking in Canada or somewhere in Scandinavia.
Things I learned or want to do differently:
1. With all of the slippery mud and water, a pair of trekking poles would have been more useful than my single wooden hiking pole.
2. I don't like having to rely on chemical water treatment due to taste, and boiling takes too long if I want to keep hiking. I decided the weight of a water filter is worth it due to improved taste over chemicals or boiling, and that I would need to carry less water. Carrying less water would actually save me at least a pound or more, compensating for the 1 pound water filter. It's nice to be able to just quickly filter and drink the water right away without feeling like I'm processing it first.
3. I slept much more comfortably in a bugproof tent than I would have with my tarp and a headnet. The Shangri-La 3 with floor and netting I Velcroed in between the two worked ok. I never got the netting to work smoothly with the door, and ended up just using binder clips to close the netting at the door. A bug bivy or the nest sold by Golite for this purpose would have been better. I have since purchased a Tarptent Scarp 2 to try out.
4. The 3/4 length foam pad (Ridgerest, 1/2 lb) was light and fairly comfortable when sleeping on the soft forest ground. It did get snagged and scratched up several times in the many deadfalls blocking the trail. I'd prefer a sleeping mat that goes inside the pack, so I might start taking the heavier (2 lbs) but even more comfortable Exped Downmat 7 I use for winter trips.
5. Don't forget the digital camera memory card and have to rely on taking lower quality photos and saving them in the internal camera memory.
6. Hot food is a luxury. And, since I'm not going to be relying primarily on boiling to purify the water, I don't need a large cookpot. I might start taking a smaller and lighter pot and a light alcohol stove for when I don't really need a fire. I've been experimenting with using a large (24 oz) Heineken beer can pot along with a Penny alcohol stove to cook small meals in freezer bags. I'm able to boil 2 cups of water in 4 minutes with less than an ounce of alcohol with this setup, which weighs around 4 oz (including stove, stand, windscreen, empty fuel bottle, and pot).