Train to Trail – Harpers Ferry Winter Backpacking Trip – Hiking in Virginia

Join Mike and I for for a “Train to Trail” Winter Camping, Backpacking, Campfire cooking, & Hiking adventure in Harpers Ferry, WV.

We tried something a bit different for fun on this winter camping trip – instead of driving, we decided to take an Amtrak train directly to the trailhead.  This is actually and idea that Mike and I had been kicking around for a while now.  The first challenge was finding an interesting trail that was actually close to a train station, without a need for secondary transportation or an excessive walk.  After a bit of research, we determined that Harpers Ferry, West Virginia fit the criteria quite well.  The train practically dumps you right on the Appalachian Trail.  We booked our tickets, packed our bags, and hit the trail, er, I mean, train station.

With 4 days and 3 nights off, we had a decent amount of time to play with on this trip.  The challenge however, would be that we needed to plan an out and back trip that didn’t put us to far away from the train station on our final morning, rather than doing a loop like we normally prefer.  Fortunately, we quickly realized that to be a perfect excuse to do a a laid back, more camping, less hiking  kind of trip.

The plan?  After leaving the train behind,we would hop on the Appalachian trail for a few miles – just long enough to feel the seclusion of the deep winter woods, and set up a base camp for the duration of the trip.  Other than that, we really had no hard set plans, other than relaxing, having a good time, and brushing up on our campfire cooking skills.  Did we succeed?  I guess you’ll just have to watch and see…

Trailhead:  Harpers Ferry Amtrak Train Station

GPS Data for this trip available on the Trip Data Page.

Harpers Ferry Winter Route Overview Sintax77

Harpers Ferry Winter Route Overview Sintax77

Trails Used
Leave Harpers Ferry via Appalachian Trail South
After around 3 miles, bushwack West to unofficial campsite.
Return via Appalachian Trail North

Notable Gear Used on this Trip by Mike
Gregory Palisade 80 backpack
EMS Down Parka
EMS Ascent Hard shell Jacket
MSR Whisperlite International stove
Dream Hammock Thunderbird Hammock
Hammock Gear Burrow 20 top quilt
Hammock Gear Incubator 20 underquilt
Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp with doors
Portable bluetooth speaker with fancy lightshow
GSI cookset

Notable Gear Used on this Trip by Sintax77
EMS Longtrail 70 backpack (2011 version)
Montbell UL down parka
EMS Ascent Hardshell
MSR Rapidfire stove (see my video on it here) *no longer manufactured – modern equivalent is the MSR Windpro.
MSR Flex Skillet
Dollar Store tongs and turner for cooking
Sea to Summit Alpha Cutlery Set
Fozzils Bowl / Plate
Dream Hammock Darien Hammock
Hammock Gear Burrow 0 top quilt
Hammock Gear Incubator 0 underquilt
Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp (standard model, no doors)
Pocket Chainsaw
SOG Flash I tanto blade pocket knife

Winter Camping the Dolly Sods Wilderness – 3 Day Backpacking Trip

Join the crew for 3 Days of Winter Camping, Backpacking, & Campfire Cooking in Dolly Sods, West Virginia.

For this adventure we decided to revisit the Dolly Sods Wilderness for some early December winter camping and backpacking.  Full GPS track data for this trip is available on the Trip Data page for those who like to follow along at home. Waypoints for campsites and water crossings / sources are included in the GPX file.

List of Trails Used, In order:

Day 1
Park at Red Creek Trailhead, N38° 58.372′ W79° 23.847′
Red Creek Trail TR514
Cross Red Creek at junction with Big Stonecoal Trail
Big Stonecoal Trail TR513
Set up Camp at “Tj’s Moustache Camp”
Here’s how to find it:
Heading north on Big Stonecoal, pass the intersection with Dunkenbarger trail on your left. Not to far ahead, Big Stonecoal will make an abrupt right turn to make a water crossing across Stonecoal Run. Instead of making the turn, continue straight along the banks, towards the woods. The camp should quickly become apparent.

Water is obviously plentiful. Firewood is probably another story, as this looks to be a popular area in warmer weather. We were equipped with hatchets and saws to process down tress, so all was well. However, during a warm weather trip without tools, I doubt we would have found much smaller stuff just laying around.

Dolly Sods Winter 2104 Day 1

Dolly Sods Winter 2104 Day 1

Day 1 Stat Totals
Mileage: 5.85 Miles
Gross Elevation Gain: 1,444′
Gross  Elevation Loss: 453″
Campsite Altitude: 3,613′

Day 2
Backtrack a little bit to previous day’s water crossing.
Continue on Big Stonecoal Trail TR514
Arrive at the junction with Blackbird Knob Trail and Breathed Mountain Trail
Continue on Breathed Mountain Trail TR553
Turn left at junction with Red Creek Trail TR514
**  Shortly after heading out on Red Creek Trail, we found a decent supply of running water on the trail, which was much appreciated, as there would certainly be no water up towards Lion’s Head, where we intended to camp.  As it was running in December, I’m thinking this may be a good option in other months as well. No guarantees though. It’s possible this was just snow melt run-off from up above.  If all else fails, you could bushwack down to Red Creek, as we had actually planned to do, prior to finding this little gem on the trail.
Continue on Red Creek Trail TR514
Bear to the right on Rocky Point Trail TR554
Turn abruptly right at the unofficial spur trail to Lions Head at N38° 59.243′ W79° 22.062′
** This is not an official trail and will not be found on maps, however, it is marked with a cairn (pile of rocks).  Head straight up from the cairn.  There is a false summit a little ways in, but you need to actually bear to the left in order to navigate towards Lion’s Head and the eventual campsite.  If you go straight towards the false summit, you’ll know it, as there is no where else to go but straight down.  No worries, relax, enjoy the view and retreat towards whence you came.  You’ll have to hop down some rocks, but the path should be apparent. 
Head north on the Unofficial Spur Trail Towards Lion’s Head
Pause to “ooooh and ahhhh” at the sights
Continue north towards camp
Setup Camp on the ridge beyond Lion’s Head

Dolly Sods Winter 2104 Day 2

Dolly Sods Winter 2104 Day 2

Day 2 Stat Totals
Mileage: 8.6 Miles
Gross Elevation Gain: 1,083′
Gross  Elevation Loss: 1,099′
Campsite Altitude: 3,678′

Day 3
Bushwack Northwest towards Rocky Point Tr
Continue on Rocky Point Tr TR554
Turn left to head south on Big Stonecoal Trail TR514
Take Red Creek Trail TR514 Back towards Parking lot and vehicle
Find a cheeseburger!

Dolly Sods Winter 2104 Day 3

Dolly Sods Winter 2104 Day 3

Day 3 Stat Totals
Mileage: 3.6 Miles
Gross Elevation Gain: 127′
Gross  Elevation Loss: 1,332′

Trip Totals
Mileage: 14.49 Miles
Gross Elevation Gain: 2,654′
Gross  Elevation Loss: 2,884′

Dolly Sods Trail Map Color Coded

 

Ultralight Backpacking in the Cranberry Wilderness

Come along for 3 days of ultralight backpacking and fall camping in West Virginia’s Cranberry Wilderness.

For this adventure, I’ll be taking my newly refined ultralight backpacking loadout for a three day overnight hiking and camping trip in West Virginia’s Cranberry Wilderness.  After my last couple of vista-packed trips, I’ve had some requests for more footage & discussion once we get to camp – site selection, shelter setup, fire making, cooking, etc.  Well, this video has plenty of all that, and then some.  In fact, this ended up being my longest feature length video so far.

For those of you looking for something a little lighter, there’s a full back catalog of shorter videos that might hit the spot, but if you’re ready to get into the finer details of ultralight backpacking gear and spending time outdoors (from my own warped perspective of course), then this is the video for you.  A little gift for the hardcore fans 😉

Overview of the route I took. Recorded with my Garmin Oregon 650 GPS.

Overview of the route I took. Recorded with my Garmin Oregon 650 GPS.

Parking: North South Trailhead on State Route 150
38.276530, -80.237829

 

Trails Used Day 1
Start at North South Trail Head on West Virginia SR 150
TR 688 North South Trail
TR 267 Laurelly Branch Trail
TR 271 Middle Fork Trail
Setup Camp on Hell for Certain Branch
This is a large campsite across from trail on opposite side of the Middle Fork River with plenty of fresh water available from the nearby river.

Cranberry Wilderness Day 1 Elevation Profile
Day 1 Total Mileage: 13.2 miles
Day 1 Gross Ascent: 1,102′

Trails Used Day 2
Backtrack on TR 271 Middle Fork Trail towards junction from previous day
Continue on TR 271 Middle Fork Trail
TR 207 Big Beechy Trail
Setup Camp just after summit of Sugar Creek Mountain.
This is a medium-small Campsite, in a beautiful mossy area.  Make sure to pack in enough water, as there are no nearby sources.  The elevation was around 4,400 feet and the landscape was somewhat conducive to wind, so be prepared for temps that are possibly quite a bit lower than locally forecasted.

Cranberry Wilderness Day 2 Elevation Profile 
Day 2 Total Mileage: 9.06 miles
Day 2 Gross Ascent: 2,405′

Trails Used Day 3
Continue on TR 207 Big Beechy Trail
TR 272 North Fork Trail
TR 688 North South Trail towards SR 150
Return to North South Trailhead Parking Lot

Cranberry Wilderness Day 3 Elevation Profile
D
ay 3 Total Mileage: 3.17 miles
Day 3 Gross Ascent: 367′

Total Mileage for Trip: 25.39 miles
Total Gross Ascent for Trip: 3,974′

Click Here to Download a PDF Copy of the Gear List used for this Trip
or visit the Gear Lists Page for detailed notes and weights for each item.

Notable Pieces of Gear seen in this Video:
Dream Hammock Darien Hammock
with cinch buck suspension and Dutch Clips
Hammock Gear Cuben Hex Tarp 12’x8.5′
Zing-It Guy lines with Dutch Wasps for tensioning
Osprey Hornet 46 Backpack
Hammock Gear Burrow 40 Top Quilt
Hammock Gear Incubator 40 Underquilt
Frogg Toggs Rain Jacket
Esbit Solid Fuel Cubes
Toaks 750ml Titanium Pot with lid
Vargo Windscreen / Pot stand
Sawyer Mini Water Filter
Montbell UL Parka – 850 fp down
Adidas Terrex Swift-R trail runners

Camping the Dolly Sods Wilderness – Fall Backpacking in West Virginia

3 Days of Fall Camping, Hiking and Backpacking in Dolly Sods, West Virginia. 

For this adventure, we’ll be exploring a very unique area of West Virginia – the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  Being a high altitude plateau sitting at around 4,000 feet (the highest plateau east of the Mississippi river), the Sods offer a stark contrast to the surrounding West Virginian ecosystem. In fact, you may feel more like you’re in Canada than West Virginia.

For an overview and listing of my gear check out my previous Gear List Video, or visit my Gear List Page.

Accompanied by my wife and our two close friends, this was a 3 day, 2 night backpacking adventure. Each day’s track data was recorded to individual GPX data files, available for download on the Trip Data Page for those interested.

Parking: Bear Rocks Trailhead at 39.06352, -79.30326

Trails Used in Order:

Day One (11.5 Miles):

Bear Rocks Trail 522
Raven Ridge Trail 521
Rocky Ridge Trail 524
Blackbird Knob Trail 553 (only for a very short segment)
Big Stone Coal Trail 513
Setup Camp a bit before Little Stone Coal Trail

Day 2 (9.5 Miles):

Dunkenbarger Trail 558
Little Stone Coal Trail 552
Red Creek Trail 514
(Out-n-back excursion on Breathed Mountain Trail 553)
Setup camp along Red Creek Trail between Breathed Mt and Blackbird Knob

Day 3 (6 Miles):

Red Creek Trail 514
Blackbird Knob Trail 511
Upper Red Creek Trail 509
Dobbin Grade Trail 526 – Prepare for mud and thigh-deep sinkholes!
Return to car via Bear Rocks Trail 522