Last week I completed a 13-mile backpacking trip on the Great North Mountain in the George Washington National Forest. The trip covered parts of Virginia and West Virginia. The snow-covered forest was magical, the views endless, and the night bitterly cold. Fortunately, we were well-prepared to spend a night in the woods in twenty-degree winter weather.
As we ascended the Great North Mountain, more and more snowfall appeared. First some frost and a dusting on scattered rocks along the trail. Then more of the trail and trees were covered, until finally the entire trail had a couple inches of the crunchy white stuff and all of the trees and branches were blanketed. It was nothing short of a wintery wonderland.
In fact, the snow was so heavy it weighed down tangled branches of thick mountain laurel, which obstructed much of the trail along the ridge of the Great North Mountain. Our hike slowed to a crawl at times. Fortunately, we built in plenty of time to reach our intended campsite, so the delay didn’t cause too much concern.
The payoff was an amazing view overlooking the Trout Run Valley of West Virginia and the distant peaks of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians. After gathering firewood and setting up camp, I couldn’t help but spend some time photographing a beautiful winter sunset.
The next morning we were packed up and back to the car just before a major snowstorm approached the area. I never thought of myself as a “fourth season” camper, but this trip really showed me that it is possible to spend a comfortable night in the woods at temperatures well below freezing without a whole lot of expensive gear. The key for me was some extra planning, having a well-insulated sleeping bag and pad, extra gloves and socks, plenty of food and water, and great company. I can’t wait to get back.
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