Monday, April 9, 2012

Tar Jacket Ridge- George Washington National Forest

In an effort to keep the adventure buzz humming for spring break we loaded up the truck and headed to Amherst County and the GeorgeWashington National Forest for a weekend backpacking trip.

We have made Easter weekend a traditional jump off point for trips because of the elongated break it afforded us and this trip was no different in that it was designed around the idea of “getting away” from the hustle and bustle of normal work related stressors with the exception that this time our trip would have to be abbreviated due to prior work related responsibilities on my end. 

That being said, Ash had pre-planned and scouted a 15 mile “lollipop” route known as the “Tar Jacket Ridge” loop which is across the way from Mount Pleasant where we had previously backpacked in 2009.
The route map has specific detailed information about the hike & points of interest
~ Thanks Ash~
So once the logistics of packing and food prep were done in between work schedules, we were on our way.
Ramsey shows her enthusiasm for the hike  
The beginning of the hike starts off mellow enough in a vast green meadow at the foot of the first real climb just off of the forest road that you park on.  
Several primitive campsites dot the area and are readily accessible to car camping and backpackers alike with the Appalachian Trail meandering through the open field.
It didn’t take us log to be reminded that we were backpacking in the mountains as a short climb opened up to a panoramic view of the surrounding peaks; Mount Pleasant, Cardinal, Friar, and Little Friar to name a few.    

The trail then snaked it’s way back down hill switch backing into the forest and across one of several forest development/ fire roads that we would crisscross along the way.
This particular section was a mix of large rocks & boulders interspersed with thickets of thorns, so we identified few camp sites along the way.

The trail then opened up into large areas of mixed hardwoods and pine forests with little to no underbrush again with limited sites for camping because of the significant pitch of the land.
After 6 miles of steady hiking we came across a beautiful camp site nestled between two small creeks.

The site had a small fire ring in a flat area adjacent to a massive rock with a huge decayed tree growing from it making for a prominent focal point. 

A few hours later we were drinking Horton Eclipse red wine near a crackling camp fire as the sun slowly dipped behind the wooded hills.

The forecast called for seasonable temps and clear skies with a pronounced dip in the mercury at night, and I would suspect that it got into the 30’s but as anyone who has backpacked can attest to; the answer to the most common question of; “How can you stand to be out there in the cold”, is explained by the fact that a two person tent when paired with quality down sleeping bags can create a rather pleasant interior environment of 50 to 60 degrees for world class sleeping arrangements( sans the fact that our two pups haven’t quite grown accustomed to sleeping outside with  the cacophony of unusual sounds that go along with the backcountry in the stillness of the night).    

Once the dogs settled in our K-9 wrestle-fest turned into snoozing and we “slept in” to allow the morning chill to subside.
After several cups of Starbucks instant coffee packs (backpacking godsend) and some filtered water from the stream we were on our way towards the “Seeley Woodworth” shelter and our turn around point to head back.
Up one ridge and down the other we went, on & on through the woods.

We covered 6 miles on the first day and decided to press on for the second covering just over 9 miles to complete the circuit.   
Solitude abounded on this hike, granted we saw several backpackers and hikers along the way, but we would go for hours at a time without crossing into another human’s path.   
The jingling of the dog’s leashes kept wildlife at bay as we saw limited animals on our trek; although we did receive a serenade by what we believe was a winter wren at our campsite by the boulder & stream.       
To get away, to get in your car and just go, to make a plan and stick to that plan, to put perceived obligations on the shelf if only for a while, to go somewhere that manages to transport you even further, to places that make you feel further away than you actual are, the search continues…