I decided I couldn’t let the Fall totally slip by me this year without getting in a backpacking trip, no matter how sleep deprived I might be. I talked GQ into coming out of retirement, and we assembled a crack team of veterans and DCUL newcomers.
To make things a little more interesting, Mother Nature sent us a taste of winter backpacking in the form of a sudden cold front. The wind was already howling as Kyle, Maggie, Madelyn, Trip, Sophie, Jimmy, Hayden (Jimmy’s lab), and myself assembled at the Vienna Metro. We made our way to a parking area at Little Stoney Creek where we met Gen, Loay, Melissa, and Luca.
We hit the short half-mile road walk mid-morning with temps already approaching freezing. But had the opportunity to warm up on the steep climb to the ridge via Big Schloss Cut-off Trail. We reassembled at the top, then turned left on Mill Mountain Trail for a quick out-and back to Big Schloss itself. There were quite a few people at the summit, but the constant frigid wind seemed to keep the major crowds at bay. After a quick snack while taking in the views, we were headed back north.
It was mostly level walking as we made our way along the ridge. That didn’t stop me from hitting the turf after a leaf-hidden rock rolled out from underfoot. That left me with a temporarily numb left leg. It never pays to be careless! I went back to using my poles and paying attention as Hayden ran around me like a lunatic, chasing whatever smell caught her fancy.
More than a mile from the Tuscarora intersection, we came upon an impossible curiosity: A Toyota Tacoma pickup, embedded in the single track trail. It had several injuries: missing mirrors, busted tires – but was in surprisingly good shape considering the only viable way I could see it getting there was by parachute. It appeared someone had made an attempt to replace one of those tires but had instead abandoned all hope and made what must have been a depressing walk home.
Beyond the stricken vehicle we eventually reached the double-tracked Tuscarora where we hung a right. We started to encounter muddy and water filled sections of trail, and did our best to keep our feet dry. Next we hung a right to turn south on Little Sluice Mountain Trail. Those who needed it gathered some water at the first clear source, then began the gradual climb up towards Little Schloss.
We dodged more muddy holes, more or less successfully as the temperature really started to drop. It seemed everyone was getting tired and hungry after a cold 12 miles (that could have just been me) and we were grateful as we pulled into the wide clearing that would be camp for the night.
Shelters were rapidly assembled, and firewood gathered (we elected to leave the very orderly pile of logs already there mostly alone). Loay’s chainsaw blade was put into service. It took some persistence with all the damp fuel, but eventually the fire was roaring nicely as we ate and took in the very clear stars. Most of us even stopped shivering while we danced around avoiding smoke and sparks.
But backpacker midnight comes extremely early when it’s windy and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so not long after dinner we began drifting off to our warm sleeping bags. I was asleep mere minutes after my head hit my hammock, Hydroflask full of hot water clutched in my arms.
I shot awake from a deep sleep at one point thinking I had overslept, but it was only 12:40 am! Ah, winter backpacking. I woke back up at 5 am and starting snacking to kill time until I had to give the wake-up call. Headlamps slowly flickered to life and faces emerged from shelters as the sky turned red in the east.
Jimmy had had a rough night, as Hayden had gotten sick a few times – vomiting inside his shelter. Good times! But everyone had survived maintaining our record at zero fatalities.
Thankfully the wind was much calmer this morning and we headed for the summit in staggered groups. It was a short walk followed by a short scramble to the top. The lighting was great for photography, but sadly we were missing the previous days puffy clouds to make it truly spectacular.
It was all downhill from there, as we made a quick descent back down to route 92’s gravelly surface. A quick road march later we were back at our cars and headed for Cracker Barrel where breakfast was devoured with gusto.
Thanks everyone for joining me on this short but sweet adventure! Our applicants (Madelyn, Maggie, Melissa, and Luca) made a fine debut in W1 conditions. We logged roughly 15 miles for the weekend. Sadly, no trail-names were claimed.
Will (Savage) Fink