The Subarctic Tundra Is Just Out of Reach

Got back from winter backpacking in the WV mountains (Dolly Sods Wilderness) in the middle of the night. I lost a day of the trip packing due to my winter gear being scattered all over the place after the move in September. I hiked in on Sunday, hauling all of my gear on a sled. I packed snowshoes, but the snow was only about 3-4 inches deep here at this lower elevation (16+ inches up higher were I hoped to go). Setup camp in the dark as soon as I encountered a 30 yard section of deadfall blocking the trail (no fun trying to get through that while pulling a sled!). It was 12 F (-11 C), chill factor below 0 F, and I was plenty warm with the just a t-shirt, light fleece shirt, and a cotton anorak shell (Swedish army surplus) while hiking and setting up camp. I added a fleece and a down jacket for just sitting around.

I sat down and took in the scenery, ate dinner, listened to some unidentified bird chatter, and watched the constant light snow. I thought about how much fun the snow and cold are as it gets below 20 F or so. Snow transforms from mere precipitation into a magical substance which, instead of melting and soaking things, sublimates into the cold, dry air. I amused myself for a few moments watching it do this on my jacket. Snow also allows travel by gliding, and makes water available everywhere. Once it gets this cold, life is actually easier in the snow than in warmer temperatures.

Despite the peaceful and relaxing setting, I then realized that I was alone and thoroughly bored! My intended destination was the subarctic tundra of the high plateau northern region. With the many deadfalls on the trail due to Sandy last fall, and not much time the next day before having to head back home, I doubted that I'd make it to my goal with much time to hike there the next day. At a little before 10pm, I packed up and hiked back to the car.

It was a very fun trip overall. It was my first winter trip to the Sods, and my first experiment with using a sled. I learned and experienced so much in just that short time. I did miss the colder than predicted lows of around -6 F (-21 C) (maybe even -10F or colder at the top). Next time, I'll organize a group trip. And, maybe the winds will be lower, allowing me to ride the ski lift straight to the top! :)

For photos and a description of the area, see the amazing work of Joseph Henry:

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