My First Solo Camping Trip

I had planned this forever. And every time the day would come a bad storm would be in the forecast. I have just about decided it’s better to just go on the fly rather than ‘plan’ a camping trip. And, as in every other time, I planned and then a storm changed my plans.

I had decided I would do a two night/three day hiking trip back up to the Grayson Highlands. I would camp two nights in the Mt. Rogers area (remember, no camping in Grayson Highlands State Park).  When I first decided on this I told no one; not even my husband. About a week prior I finally told him and my nephew. I anxiously watched the weather every day and, sure enough, the rain chances increased daily. I decided that if it got up to a better than 50% chance of rain I would try to do something different. While I have hiked/camped in the rain several times with friends, I had no desire to hike alone in what would probably end up being a pretty foggy, dreary hike.

So, now what? I decided on a camping spot I had been to on two previous camp-outs with friends.  Savage Gulf it was and on to the Alum Gap campsites I went.  The rain was still in the forecast. Actually, really bad storms were in the forecast. However, I was so familiar and at ease with the area I just figured to heck with it and just decided I HAD to do this.

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It is a relatively easy 2.9 mile hike in on the Laurel Trail and had rained some just prior to getting on trail so it was pretty muddy in spots. If it had not been around 300% humidity it would have been a pleasant hike. As it was, it was quite buggy and, by the time I got to camp, I was completely drenched. I looked like I had been hiking in the rain for hours.

The camping spots are huge and spaced out nicely. This makes for an excellent beginner camping trip. There are plenty of trees for hammocks..which is what I use and the tent spots are mostly level. Why would you want to tent? I still don’t understand it.

I arrived at campsite #7. Everything was soaking wet so I knew there would be no campfire. I was a little bummed about that, but on the upside I didn’t have to mess with cutting up any wood. I had left my stool at home and I really don’t care to sit on the ground if I can help it. I decided to just go ahead and start setting up my rig so I would have a place to sit and eat dinner.

Up She went. I have a Grand Trunk double hammock that I absolutely love. I recently bought an Eno Junglenest single hammock with built in bug net. It was too tight for me. I am so used to all the extra space in the double that I gave the Eno to my husband.

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The bug net is a Live Infinitely that I got on Amazon for $25 bucks! I LOVE it! It is so easy to set up. It’s easy to get in and out of. The zipper had two pulls that go all the way up and down. I store my hiking shoes in the bottom of it, along with other odds and ends.

Next up is the tarp. I have the ENO Housefly tarp with doors. I cannot say enough good things about this tarp. If you choose to put it in storm mode it really cinches down nicely and gives you, not only protection, but also privacy. For this trip I kept it in porch mode the whole time for maximum airflow. I did angle one corner down when the rain started so it would run off. There was no wind whatsoever, so no need to go full storm mode.

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Excuse the mess. My poor backpack. She’s filthy. The two blue things are a cheap Wal-Mart sleep pad that I cut in half to make sit pads. They work wonderfully and come in handy for other things. The one rolled up in the bottom of the bug net has my hiking shoes in the middle. I thought if a big rain came it would keep them dry. I could hang them from the ridge line, but that would be too much trouble. Before turning in, it would all be tidied up.

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The rest of my system consists of a Nature Hike down sleeping bag. It is around a 40 degree bag. Overkill for the night, but it was a lighter option than my Nemo 22 degree. I also do not have an underquilt yet. It’s next on my list. I use a Big Agnes Air Core Inflatable Sleeping Pad. It is very comfortable and keeps my backside nice and warm so I do not suffer from frozen butt syndrome. There is also a pillow that I HATE. I have yet to find a good camping pillow. I have used inflatable and the ones that are filled with some squishy something. ALL are too small and just irritating.

Dinner was the run of the mill Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings. It was pretty good. I honestly wasn’t all that hungry. I had been while setting up, but the hunger passed the longer I waited. I didn’t even eat half of it.

I would have slept if it had not been so blasted hot and muggy. The air, literally, just sat  there, even with some pretty wild thunder and lightening. I finally dozed off around 3 am just out of shear exhaustion.

I woke up around 6. Heated up some oatmeal that was some fancy steel-cut oats with seeds. I hated it. It tasted like I was eating birdseed. I opted for a breakfast bar while I was tearing down. By 7 I was packed up and ready to go. on the way out I decided to just go ahead and finish up the loop, rather than go back the way I came. I did the 4 mile trek back to the parking lot. I had hoped to have a reprieve from the humidity by leaving early. No such luck. It was just as bad at 7 am as it was at 7 pm.

The part of the trail that I took out is called Big Creek Rim trail (BCR). It skirts along the rim and in and out of the woods. It was a beautiful hike out.

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And, of course, my phone battery went dead not long after this picture was taken.

I survived my first solo camping trip. No bears or bigfoot were seen and there were no serial killers in the vicinity. Now I feel like I can do more. The fear of going solo has been the thing that has kept me from many camping trips. No more. I will always push myself to do what is uncomfortable or even downright scary, for as long as I can at least.

Ice Hiking Greeter and Foster Falls

The crazy low temperatures we have had for the last several days have made for some spectacular Instagram posts for frozen waterfalls and icicles.  And, as I am prone to do, I waited until the very last day that low temperatures were forecasted to go out and find me some frozen water.

I gathered together my closest hiking buddies (for the record, I have the BEST group of gals to hike with) and the four of us headed off into the cold, dreary Saturday morning in search of beauty and fellowship. We found it.

I have to admit I was taken aback by the number of cars that were in Greeter Falls parking lot when we pulled in. I mean, who is crazy enough to get out early with degrees in the teens and go hiking? Oh, wait!!! Nevermind.  I had really hoped that the hoopla was done and that I was the last person to decide to venture out and do this. I was so very wrong.  It was packed.  Packed with lots of people with cameras and equipment far better than mine. I suffer from LE aka. lens envy. I look at everyone else and figure why should I bother.

But I still do…..

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Not sure how I captured a pink sun flare. I did not add that in post.

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We stopped at Upper Greeter Falls first and were blown away.

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After seeing this we couldn’t wait to get down to the lower falls. The spiral staircase was clear of almost all ice. There was a huge frozen ice mass right next to them.

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Down the spiral and then down the long staircase to the base. It was ALL clear.

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treesccThere was even a husky running around. He was thrilled with the cold temperatures. His tag reads ‘Winter’. How cool is that?

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After Greeter we trekked on over to Foster Falls. I have to admit Foster is my favorite waterfall. However, my picutres did not do it justice. Unlike Greeter it was actually flowing quite well. I had accidentally left my neutral density filters at home ( I know, made me sick too). I was not able to catch the soft flowing water without them.

The hike down to Foster is very steep. It is not a long hike at all, just very, very steep. There is a little cave house right at the beginning of the descend and the ice was absolutely beautiful.

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Foster was creating a bowl at the base where the water had frozen when it splashed up.

It really was something to see.

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A little further up on the rock climbers trail there was a huge, frozen fall on the rock face. It was stunning.

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And, just like that, it was time to head back up the hill.

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Did I mention it was steep?

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And now, for the important part. I want to give a shout out to this awesome restaurant.

The post-hike meal. I mean, that IS why we hike isn’t it?

Whenever, and I mean with.out.fail, I am in the Savage Gulf area we stop and eat at Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse. I would describe it as Cracker Barrel’s redneck cousin. Their food is the best. I always get the bbq. They have a buffet as well that usually sports a gigantic iron skillet with bread budding. They have bbq sauce called “Blazin’ Rectum” and also have coffee and peach flavored sauces. You HAVE to stop there.  insert blurry iphone pic.

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That’s it!

Happy Hiking!