Ditching one winter expedition for another

The plan was to go backpacking at Mount Rogers, a plan that was ultimate done in by it’s inspiration

A winter trip to the highest, most exposed part of Virginia during one of the snowiest winters in recent memory? Epic! But then the area got an additional foot of snow last week on top of an existing foot (sending drifts up over six feet from their original four, according to an advisory posted on the Web site for Grayson Highlands State Park, which adjoins Rogers). Even more snow was forecast overnight. Then a backpacking colleague pointed out that what blazes there are at Mount Rogers (mostly on rocks, since trees are scarce in spots) would likely be covered. Finally, my partner for the trip backed out.

Solo? In two feet of snow? In a moonscape? I haven’t been to the Davidson River/Shining Rock area in a while, I suddenly realized.

One of my original motivations for this trip was to winter-test some equipment. I’d just bought a new 0 degree sleeping bag and was curious to see whether one could actually sleep snugly in frigid cold. I was also curious about my year-old Jetboil camp stove. It’s a canister stove, and canister stoves generally don’t perform well in the cold. This one, though, was getting good cold weather reviews online. Plus, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d hiked in snow, let alone backpacked in it. I was overdue.

I’ve also been resmitten of late by an old flame, cross-country skiing. Twenty-five years ago I had a brief fling with Nordic skiing in Colorado. Ten years ago it was rekindled on a trip to the White Grass ski touring center in West Virginia. I rented skis, then bought them, then didn’t use them again until December, when a rare 8-inch snowfall was enough to get me to make the 12-minute drive to Umstead. That was enough to make me take the three-hour drive a week later to North Carolina’s high country, which lately have seen snowfall more on the order of the Sierra Nevadas than the Southern Appalachians. And that was enough to make me wonder about the Nordic possibilities near Davidson River, which happens to have one of the National Forest Service’s few year-round campgrounds. Davidson River is rich with trails, with hiking, mountain biking and in this case perhaps most tantalizingly, equestrian trails. Horse trails tend to be wider, letting more snowfall in, and have less severe turns and climbs. Surely, Davidson River was buzzing with cross-country activity.

If it was, it turned out, that was news to the two outfitters at the gateway to the region. “Wow, I don’t know,” said the sales associate at The Hub. “Except for the past two winters, we just haven’t gotten enough snow up here.” The response was similar at Looking Glass Outfitters. “There’s always the Blue Ridge Parkway.” Fifteen miles of occasionally icy, sometimes snowpacked US 276 later, I was clipping into my Rossignals and ducking under the gate barring motorized access to the snowpacked westbound (souhthbond officially, if not geographically) BRP.

With that, my words end and the photos begin.

5 thoughts on “Ditching one winter expedition for another”

    1. Hey Craig,
      Well … I’m not as hardy as the photo may suggest, because if you look closely you may be able to tell I was in a campground, Davidson River. Great campground in the winter because in five minutes I’m in Brevard, in a cozy coffee shop getting some work done — No 13-hour nights in a sleeping bag, which worked great, btw, as did the Jetboil. I’ll write about that part of the experience in the next few days.

    1. Hey Jeff,
      I’m scouting around for a good deal on snowshoes. Even if I only get to use them once every five years, definitely worth it. It was a nearly full moon on that trip, the sky was clear that night, and a night snowshoe on the parkway would have been a trip to remember.

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