I had never hiked North Fork Mountain and the end of March seemed like a good time to do it. As the trip approached, it was clear that although spring had officially sprung, it was still winter in the mountains of West Virginia. With that in mind and all of the trip participants forewarned, Scott, Alexander, Bryan, and I gathered at the University Blvd park & ride and then caravanned down to the southern trailhead.
We had planned to meet Jason there to set up the shuttle, but traffic and the road conditions conspired against him and he was running behind. Luckily, the four of us from the D.C. area were able to set up the shuttle ourselves and set out hiking shortly before 1pm. Jason had said he was about half an hour behind us and would catch up.
Although it was in the 30s when we started, it felt pretty warm — especially with a 2,000 ft+ climb ahead of us. We were all loaded up with 4-5 liters of water and warm winter gear. I, for one, definitely felt it. As we neared the top of the climb the wind picked up, sending me scrambling for my layers again. We also started to get some views. At this point, it was snowing on and off, but mostly on, and it remained that way for the rest of the day. Sometimes it snowed while the sun was out. While I deemed this “happy snow,” Alexander recounted that his grandmother had a particular phrase she used to describe sunshowers that he thought she would also apply to this weather pattern. The phrase translates to, “The devil is beating his wife.” I prefer “happy snow.”
We turned off on the steep side trail up to Chimney Rocks. We had a view there, although it was partially obscured by the snow. We took a bit of a break and then kept on. About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the next view and it was totally clear!
Although we had done the biggest climb and the trail leveled out, it was still conspicuously trending uphill. We also were now consistently walking through a small amount of snow. It had accumulated on the bushy plants along the trail too, creating a bit of that “carwash” phenomenon we love so much.
Before the trip, I had been a little worried about the wind, which was supposed to be pretty strong both Saturday and Sunday. Luckily, even though we were hiking along a ridge, we were actually well-protected most of the day. The main exception was our planned campsite for the night. The wind there was non-stop and I knew if we stayed, there was no chance we’d be spending any time outside of our tents, so I decided we should push on. There was another campsite just up ahead directly next to the road. It had some upper sites that were still windy, but less so than the first site, and some lower spots that were more out of the wind.
Everyone made quick work of getting their shelters set up and hopping inside to get warm. Jason arrived about 15 minutes after us. Luckily, the lower sites were sheltered enough that we could gather outside for dinner even without a fire. As soon as everyone’s hunger was satiated, it was back into the tents for the night.
The wind howled all night and snow continued to fall. Everyone managed to stay warm in temperatures that likely dipped down to somewhere between 10-15 degrees. The next morning, everyone packed up and hit the trail right away — there was no waiting around.
We walked a few miles along a gravel road before turning off onto the trail again. This is the conditions got interesting. We were now exposed to the western ridge where the wind was coming from. The wind managed to create deep snow drifts out of what I guess was about 2 inches of snow — some were knee-deep! Now, we were breaking trail which is always slower and more tiring than one would think. At some point along the way, the drifts gave way to a more even snow coverage and we continued to truck along.
I think all of us were pretty happy to emerge from the woods on Sunday after 12.5 snowy and cold miles. The thermometer on my car read 21 degrees around noon, proof that we weren’t imagining the cold!
We reversed the shuttle and stopped at Sue’s Country Cafe for our celebratory meal. Congrats to our newest member, Scott, who truly earned his member status on this one!
Google photos album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/VUYLQtwKpt7WPHoN8
Meetup trip description: https://www.meetup.com/DC-UL-Backpacking/events/284590924/