Disclaimer : This trip was a complete nightmare in terms of photography (and basically everything else imaginable). I managed to not take one picture with my camera and instead opted to only take crappy iPhone pics. I apologize in advance. Although this trip became a complete and total mess, it was also one of the most fun backpacking trips i've ever been on. Prepare yourself for a train wreck of a story.
Flashback to 2017. I was so young and naive. My cousin and I had planned to take a trip to North Fork Mountain late in the year, and everything was ready to go. A few days before we left, we received a call from the guy who was going to shuttle us from one end of the mountain to the other saying there was a fire and we wouldn't be able to go on our trip. We were devastated, but determined to still go somewhere. We settled on Dolly Sods, which is still in the same area, and never really looked back. That was a great trip and I have no regrets.
Jump back to a few weeks ago. Talks of doing North Fork were going strong. We decided to replan that fateful trip, this time with our friend Dave. A date was then set, and backpacks were packed (check out my post about how to pack for a backpacking trip here). We were prepared. Or so we thought...
Okay seriously though, this trip wasn't supposed to be anything too intense. We knew it was about 2900 ft elevation gain, but that was over 24 miles. It didn't seem bad. We also had a full 2 days to do it, which meant 12 miles a day. A figure we've done before, no problem. I'm not sure what happened, or what made this trip different but I'll just say it now. We didn't finish. We only made it about 18 miles. Let me start from the beginning.
Since the entire trail runs straight along a ridge, this ends up being your view for most of the hike (if you're willing to branch off the main trail to check it out) This particular spot offered the best take on the view though, since there were plenty of rocks to sit on. Also featuring Dave.
We had planned to all meet up at the northern end of the mountain, then drive Dave's car over to the southern end where we would leave it and hike back to our car. Since the hike isn't a loop, you either have to do this or find a shuttle service. After we got to the south end, we geared up and got ready for our hike. At this point, I started to have a bad feeling. I normally pack very light, but this trip was different. I brought all my camera gear, which easily added 15 lbs to my pack and shifted the weight. I obviously didn't want to seem like a baby, so I just went with it. After a few miles, I could really feel it. and I was already starting to get blisters on my feet. I normally get a blister after about 16 miles and it only ever happens on my little toe, but these were all over the bottom and sides of my feet. I chalk it up to that heavy bag, or maybe the hiking gods just really didn't want us up on that mountain. I'm not sure. So anyways, while I was struggling to not die, I was also fighting a mental game. My cousin Chris has a tendency to over exaggerate milage. I'm pretty sure we were "5 miles in" for about 10 miles the first day. That, coupled with an insatiable urge to chop my feet off, led to me basically giving up before we even got started.
The weirdest thing was that the entire hike didn't really seem that bad. We've done way worse. It just kicked our asses.
Anyways, after a long day of hiking and complaining, we made it to the area that our camp was supposed to be. The first thing we did before even looking for a spot to set up was run to get water. At the spring we ran into two nice guys who we chatted with a bit while we got water at the only place that had water on the mountain. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. There's literally only one water source on this mountain. Remember how I said last year the mountain was on fire? That's because that ridge is dry as hell. The only water source along the entire 24 point whatever mile long trail is a little spring at mile marker 12ish. So yeah, it was grim.
Anyways, we were talking to these two guys, and they were super friendly. If either of you are reading this, hi, and I'm glad you guys made it out alive. It was nice to meet you.
Most of the trail (or at least the bit we did) looked something like this. On either side there were nice views, but for the most part, you can't see them unless you veer off the trail a bit.
After we finished gathering water, we decided to look around a bit for a camp site. They were scarce. The only decent area to camp at was taken, so we set up at the second best place, which unfortunately for us, happened to also be the worst camp site ever. The only spot I could fit my tent into was on a slight grade, and if you've ever camped before, you know how terrible it is sleeping on any kind of grade. The entire night I was fighting a battle against gravity, which typically ends in gravity winning. I might have gotten an hour or two of sleep that night.
Listen, I realize I'm doing a lot of bitching. And I also recognize that I'm not helping by trying to justify it. The thing is, I wasn't even going to write this, but I thought it would be pretty funny to share such a failure of a story and I like to be super transparent and honest. Also my cousin really wanted me to exemplify how big of a baby I was being. So I hope you're happy Chris. You can't win 'em all.
This was our campsite, and it wasn't great. I think Chris took this picture, so photo credit goes to him.
Anyways, the next day we woke up and basically already decided we didn't want to finish the trail. We knew there was a trail that took you back down to Smokehole Road, and it wasn't too far. I was pretty sleep deprived and barely even remember this part. I just know that I was super far behind everyone else and basically played catch up the entire time. At some point that morning, I also managed to run straight into a tree which was pretty hilarious. I honestly can't emphasize how crappy I was feeling. It was like North Fork wanted me dead.
Once I recovered from my concussion, we did some mindless hiking for a bit, and then made our way down the trail that branched off. Chris and Dave hitched a ride for us, and brought the car back to Brandon and I. That's where i'm going to end this blog. Much like how I didn't finish North Fork Mountain, I'm not going to really finish this blog. There's not much more to tell, except to reiterate that I got my ass kicked. Hopefully you can laugh at my failure and pain and we can all move past this.
Photo credit Chris @traverse_creek
Thanks for all the funny memories North Fork, I'll be back for round two.
Maybe I'll even take a decent picture too, who knows.
You can follow Dave and Chris on Instagram as well
Shameless Instagram plug @evan_nowak_
Shameless Facebook page plug @evannowakphotography