Setting Sun to Big Schloss

Trout Run Circumnavigation… with a twist

The routing on for this trip was an odd one, I’ll admit. At only 27 miles, Trout Run is usually a nice overnight trip for DC UL Backpacking that can be split into two decent days. I had promised, however, one of our members the chance to try for a 20+ mile day. I also wanted to aim for the campsites at Tibbet Knob and Big Schloss to get some nice sunrise and sunset views. The plan took shape: two miles on Friday night to Tibbet Knob, 22 to 23 miles on Saturday to Big Schloss, and then two miles out on Sunday.

Resources for Planning:

We had a late start on Friday thanks to DC area traffic. Merritt patiently waited for us at the trailhead, and we got started close to 8 p.m. for our jaunt to Tibbet Knob. Despite new batteries, my headlamp was lighting the way rather poorly. I found myself searching for the trail markers, and at one point almost walked into a tree (which was marked) while looking in the other direction for one. Yes, I try to inspire confidence in my leadership. Merritt had keener eyes than me, and between the two of us, we managed to get up to the campsite by Tibbet Knob in short order. Tents were set up, whiskey was shared, and we all popped into our tents by 10 p.m.

Early Morning Tibbet Knob

Early morning from Tibbet Knob.

I gave the wake-up call at 6 a.m. so we could enjoy the sunrise and morning light from Tibbet Knob. It really is one of the nicest views in the area, and even more so in the morning. We were moving just after 7 a.m.

Now while it is not rifle season in West Virginia, it is rifle season in Virginia. Most of the trail is in West Virginia or at least straddles the border, but the stretch from Tibbet Knob is still on the Virginia side. We quickly encountered a hunter with his rifle along the trail, and a large party was camped at the site that borders the road up Devils Hole Mountain. We realized that Logan had dressed like a deer in brown and black so I gave him my yellow windshirt to attach to the back of his pack. Thus arrayed, we headed up the road and made our way to Long Mountain Trail.

Overall, the route was nice, but the Long Mountain Trail was one of the better stretches. We made our way rather quickly, and stopped by the bridge just before the Bucktail Trail. Merritt, Logan, and I made ourselves comfortable at campsite and dug into our lunch. We kept an eye out for Marika but started to get a little worried as time passed. She came into view: apparently, Marika experienced her first bonus miles having missed a turn! Fortunately, she quickly adjusted once realizing she got off course.

We got started on the next bit of trail which weaves alongside Halfmoon Mountain. At the next intersection, Merritt and Logan jogged ahead so they could do the sidetrip to Halfmoon Mountain. Marika and I made our way uphill, and met them near the intersection.

While we were making good time, the short day was not in our favor. We had just over an hour of daylight remaining and roughly six miles to go. Given the hour, we decided to go with the buddy system. Logan and Merritt would take up the lead and head to the campsite at Big Schloss, with Marika and I at the back. And off we went.

Trail to Big Schloss

Well, hello rocks.

I remembered the Mill Mountain Trail as more of a forest road. While it is probably easy walking during the day, it didn’t make for great night hiking. It was much rockier than I remembered, and the blazes were spread far apart. At one point, I changed batteries in hope that it would improve my headlamp range but it was still emitting a rather weak light. Night hiking, especially when the days get shorter, can play some tricks. At one point, I thought we’d been walking for hours but had to remind myself that it only was 6:30 — not midnight! When we reached the overlook, I realized we were making better time than I thought. Soon after, the silhouette of Big Schloss came into view. It was a cold night, though, and the wind was picking up. Both Marika and I were done with the night hiking, done with the rocks, and done with the cold. As we passed under and around Big Schloss, I focused all my energy on making sure we didn’t miss the turn-off to Big Schloss. I found the trail marker and checked the frontside to confirm. We had arrived!

At the first fire, I saw three men and shouted out for Merritt. “What?” shouted back of them. “Merritt. Is that you,” I yelled back. “I’m doing fine. How about you?” said a guy. “No. Who are you?” I shouted again. This went on for a bit but obviously this was not our site. I headed to the next fire. Not our crew.  They remembered two guys who had come through, but that they had headed down the trail.

At this point, I realized that Logan and Merritt were camping somewhere — we had passed them or somehow missed them or they went ahead — but we were cold and done. We needed a campsite, and set about muscling our way into one. The crew at the second campsite, just before the last scramble to the Big Schloss bridge, noted that we could squeeze into the little cave area that’s just above the fire ring. Marika investigated and concluded that we could both cowboy camp there. We wedged ourselves in for Marika’s first try at cowboy camping. Despite the occasional drop of water from the rocks above, it was a cozy and well-sheltered spot.

The following morning, I waited for it to get light and then set out to see if I could find Logan and Merritt. I suspected that I missed something so headed back down the spur trail. Sure enough, there was a note attached to the trail marker that I somehow managed to miss last night. “Campsite full. Moving forward.”

I returned to Marika and we quickly set about packing up so we could make our way down and meet up with them. Just as we were close to done, I looked up and saw Logan making his way up to Big Schloss. In short, they arrived at the campsite to find all the spots full and none of the occupants too keen on having two guys wedge in. (Marika and I had much better luck later in the evening but I think being female and also a bit persistent probably helped. The guys at that campsite probably realized I wasn’t going away.) Short on options, they made a good call to leave a note and head down the trail — actually back down to Wolf Gap. Since Big Schloss was our meeting point, Logan made his way back up the trail.

We caught the views from Big Schloss, and then made our way down the trail, also running into Merritt who was making his way back up.  All in all, a good morning and a good weekend. Despite our campsite issues on Saturday night, everyone made the right decision — having a clear meeting point and a buddy system definitely helped

This trip will definitely stay on the keeper list, although I’d go back to an easier routing.

Gear Review: Ultra Gam Calf Gaiters

Hiking and backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic often means there will be a lot of brush. It’s especially true in Pennsylvania where we’ve been section hiking the Mid-State Trail. Portions of the trail go through state game lands, and can be slightly overgrown

Of course, I should be wearing pants when hiking these trails. I’ve found it to be more comfortable in the humid weather, however to hike in my Purple Rain Skirt and knickers underneath. It helps with the temperatures but does leave my legs exposed.

I was excited to see that Ultra Gam Gaiters was adding calf gaiters to its lineup. This seemed to be an ideal solution: I’d still be able to hike in my skirt and have the ability to protect my legs when navigating tall grass or brambles. I ordered them with an eye on using them for our next MST section that was scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

First impressions: Batman print = awesome. So there’s that. They also fit well so the measurement guide is spot on – at least for me.

Calf gaiters by Ultra Gam.

Out of the box! Calf gaiters by Ultra Gam.

On the trail: It was a hot and humid weekend for hiking. I was downing liters of water. The heat was pretty unbearable. The gaiters performed well: I could pull them up when hitting weedy stretches of trail, and then lower them as needed to cool off. They didn’t stretch out over the course of the day — and we were hiking 21 miles. Again, they did exactly what I needed. Overall, the fabric held up well. There weren’t too many brambles so it will be interesting to see how the material would hold up in those instances.

A stretch of the Mid-State Trail. The gaiters gave good protection against ticks.

You can order calf gaiters, headbands, and more via Ultra Gam’s Etsy shop.

Exploring the Otter Creek Wilderness in West Virginia

A few weekends ago, we headed out to Otter Creek Wilderness for a short trip. I’ve been there a few times. In fact, it was the location of one of my first backpacking trips. I quickly discovered why people used poles, thought the Green Mountain Trail was challenging, and learned just how many stars you could see at night.

We’d been tossing around the idea of posting a low-mileage DC UL trip to Otter Creek for a few weeks. While it is a bit of a drive, it really is a wonderful spot, especially if you time it so you can enjoy the swimming holes in Otter Creek. The loop itself is about 15 miles, give or take. The campsite we had our eye on is very close to one of the deepest swimming holes, but its location calls for an uneven split – 10/11 miles and 4 miles. The weather, however, was looking perfect for swimming hole fun on Saturday: low 80s and a low chance of rain. We opted for the shorter half on Saturday to give people time to enjoy some swimming and explore nearby trails. We had a plan!

Our path for Saturday took us along the Mylius Trail, which goes up and over the ridge before descending to the Otter Creek Trail. The water was flowing nicely in Otter Creek, but was low enough that careful hikers could rockhop their way across. (Of course, we did have the “just wade through it” group.)

We made it to the campsite in good time, arriving around 2 p.m. – quite early by DC UL standards! People quickly got down to business: setting up tents, eating lunch, and enjoying a quick break before it was time to swim. The weather didn’t want to cooperate with our plans, though. Most of our crew had time for a quick dip before a downpour cut short the swimming time.

A few of us decided to explore the Moore’s Run Trail, while others hung back hoping for fairer weather. Moore’s Run is a gentle climb to the top of the ridge – so gentle that you barely feel as though you are climbing. You could continue the loop – in fact, I did this trail on a previous trip – to see the bogs along Moore’s Run and then connect it with the Yellow Creek trail. It’s just one of the many variations you can take in Otter Creek.

Planning Tool: Map for Otter Creek

The next morning found us up bright and early for our 11 mile jaunt out of Otter Creek. The first few miles took us along the Creek, but a series of blowdowns have rerouted the trail up higher. I remembered one from an earlier trip but the other one was new to me – at least, I didn’t recall it. We bobbed along the trail – sometimes along some serious underbrush – and arrived at our last crossing of Otter Creek. Now it was time to climb up the Green Mountain Trail, which most certainly cannot be described as a gentle climb. It also has one of the more dramatic conclusions to Once the top is gained, the trail levels out for the remainder of the hike. The bushwhacking, however, continued. I think we were all getting tired of rhododendron in the face.

I also promised everyone that we’d have an obvious turn from Green Mountain onto Shaver’s Mountain trail, having remembered a “trail abandoned” sign and gate at that intersection. Whether the trail was rerouted or the sign removed, we had no indication that we had actually changed trails. After consulting with the map, we knew we were headed in the right direction. Still, a few may have wondered if they inadvertently signed up for a 20 mile day. We arrived at the intersection with the Mylius Trail and began the happy descent down to the cars. Beer and good food at the Alpine Inn quickly followed.

It is a long drive but Otter Creek is worth it. It certainly offers a wilderness experience and is less crowded than its more popular neighbor, Dolly Sods. In the warmer months, it has one of the best swimming holes you can find.

#Operation46er: Allen. Ow. 

Allen has a reputation. It has a long approach, and essentially climbs a stream to get to the summit. You may ask: don’t a number of Adirondack trails also include some stream walking? I would answer: yes, that is true, but Allen’s stream climb mixes in some wet slab with slippery algae. Lovely.

(I guess the passage of time has not softened my thoughts on Allen. Also, I have no pictures from the day.)

Its reputation wasn’t helped by the fact that a hiker who also was doing the Dix Range (which we had hiked the day before) would beat me to each summit so I could arrive in time to hear his horror stories of hiking Allen the prior weekend. The mystery of Allen was building.

Given the long approach, our goal was to get moving as early as possible. We started at 6 a.m. and found the first four or five miles to relatively flat – some rolling hills but for the most part an easy hike in. The creek crossing didn’t give us much trouble. In fact, I was looking forward to it on the way out!

It’s when you arrive at the base of the climb that things start to get interesting. Some stretches of slab are covered with algae, making them incredibly slippery. I slid a few times on the way up, and was moving very slowly to make sure I had some semeblance of footing. Our hopes of being done by mid-afternoon were quickly slipping away.

Once you complete the slab stretch, the trail then pitches straight uphill until reaching the ridge. A few minutes of ridge walking lead you to the summit. What you don’t hear about Allen is that it does have a great view. You need to go a little bit past the summit to gain it, but it is worth it.

Going down was bit easier until I reached a particularly troublesome stretch of slippery slab. I had difficulty with it on the way up, and prepared to pick my way down. Of course, I slipped and landed on my rear. I hit the slab just right, apparently, and found myself on a fast slide toward a downed tree. I knew my feet would stop the slide but I wasn’t convinced I’d remain unscathed.

And I didn’t! A branch crashed down on my face, causing my lip to split and hitting my nose. My biggest fear was that I broke my nose but I realized it was okay after carefully prodding it. I hiked the rest of the stretch with my lips pressed together to keep it from bleeding.

I was happy to see the river crossing and equally happy to emerge from the herd path. Still, it was a long walk back. 5 p.m. came and went, and with it my hopes of finishing in 11 hours. I got back to the car by 5:50. At least, it took me less than 12 hours!

Allen’s reputation is well earned. It is a tough hike, but it also yields some nice views and the trail is a nice one (when it isn’t algae-covered slab).

#Operation46er: Tackling the Dix Range

The Dix Range has held a special spot for me. It marked my first trip to the Adirondacks, prompting me to fall in love with this place. During that first trip, we aimed to complete the Dix Range in a day but fell short by skipping Macomb. That was July 2012.

Dix Range

During my first trip in 2012, I needed a helping hand to navigate some of the scrambling

Three years later, I was back. Macomb was an outlier for both me and Michael. While we just needed Macomb, polishing off all five peaks was unfinished business. In 2012, I approached the Dix Range from 73, which involves unmarked trails to the East Dix (now Grace) slide. This year, we approached from the Elk Lake side and would climb via the Macomb slide. Of the two approaches, I’d highly recommend the Macomb slide. It looks daunting but I just took my time and navigated my way to the top. That being said, I’d much rather climb up it than down.

Macomb slide

Looking up at the Macomb slide

Our route took us up to Macomb first, then South Dix, East Dix/Grace, back over South Dix to Hough, and then over the Beckhorn to Dix. We descended via the Beckhorn trail, which required some tricky scrambling at the start of the descent but  gradually turned into a typical steep Adirondack trail. (If you’ve been there, you know what I mean!) The Dix Range was conquered.

Beckhorn, Dix Range

Michael perched on top of Beckhorn

I’ve been comparing those two trips over the past week. I’ve always said the Adirondacks make me want to be a better hiker and I can see that I’m getting there. In 2012, I was barely able to hobble out the last four miles to our cars. This year, I was tired but hiked out the same day and did Allen the next day. (More on Allen in another post!) I’m still uncomfortable on slab but I’m walking on it – albeit at a slow pace. I’m getting there. Still, it was a great feeling to have this challenge under my belt.

Catching up on the Mid-State Trail

It’s been a busy few months. I moved from my apartment of 12 years and spent weeks purging all that had accumulated in my apartment. I’ve been able to find everything in the new one – only a few times have I wondered why I got rid of something. 

The other big project (of sorts) has been tackling the Mid-State Trail in sections with DC UL. Section hikes can be logistically challenging at times since you’re striving to have the right number of cars to avoid the dreaded drivers’ only shuttle. 

The Mid-State Trail runs through Pennsylvania from the border of Maryland to the border of New York. It’s got a personality. The trail beers from flat ridges to boulder fields, and throws in a few knee-jarring descents for good measure. It’s a challenging trail. 

The most recent section – Little Flat Mountain to Hairy John – has been the nicest so far, although we may have been swayed by the blooming mountain laurel. (Or most likely, that is followed Section 3 which was described by a fellow hiker as rocksrocksrocksrocks. Ow.)

We’re charting our progress on DC UL’s meetup. 

Gear Review: The New Gossamer Gear Mariposa

I’ve been a long-time fan of Gossamer Gear products. (In full disclosure, I am one of its trail ambassadors.) The Mariposa was the first ultralight backpack that I purchased. It was versatile and sturdy — a bonus for me since I am very hard on gear. I’ve carted this pack along Sweden’s Kungsleden, the John Muir Trail, up and down trails in the Adirondacks, and countless trails in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s held up well but an unfortunate encounter with a branch and wet slab along the Sewards led to a fairly large rip in the side pocket. (Okay… I got stuck on a branch while butt-sliding down a slab, and gravity won.)

It was time to replace the pack, and I stuck with my Mariposa. This year, however, Gossamer Gear has overhauled the look and feel of its pack. Gossamer Gear recently moved from using Dyneema to Robic for its packs. If you’ve seen the new line, you’ll see an immediate difference in the look of the pack.

A side-by-side comparison of the two packs, with the new model to the right.

A side-by-side comparison of the two packs, with the new model to the right.


The other big change is in the shoulder straps, which are narrower and have more padding.


Right off the bat, you can see the difference in padding between the old and new pack.

Right off the bat, you can see the difference in padding between the old and new pack.

The new straps are narrower, as well.

The new straps are narrower, as well.


While the previous shoulder straps didn’t bother me too much, I know many women in my hiking club struggled with the lack of padding on the previous model. But even though I didn’t have issues with the earlier version, the new straps are far more comfortable. It’s a great improvement, and I can feel a difference.

Another bonus is the return of the hydration sleeve within the pack. While I rarely carry a bladder on backpacking trips, I find the hydration sleeve makes a good home for extra maps and my journal. It’s nice to have it back.

Overall, the pack retains the same great features that attracted me in the first place: the long side pocket on one side provides a great home for my shelter, and the lower side pocket on the other side still keeps my water bottle in easy reach.

It also remains a good lightweight option, with the changes only adding an extra two ounces to the overall weight of the pack. My first Mariposa (medium) weighed about 27 ounces, and the new one (medium) clocks in at 29 ounces.

Whether you are new to ultralight backpacking or looking to add to your backpack collection, it is well worth checking out the upgraded Gossamer Gear packs.