Middle of January and it’s pretty cold. It’s even colder (and snowier) in the mountains. But we have cabin fever. What to do, what to do? Naturally, this would be the time to hit up a cozy mountain chalet or ski resort for some Winter fun as it is surely too cold/slick/whatever to offroad and camp. Nonsense.
Becca and I both had MLK day off work (a definite perk of working for a bank and the government) and we wanted to make the most of our long weekend. Knowing the forecast was mostly in the 30’s and dipping into the 20’s statewide in VA, we originally wrote off camping and were looking at alternatives for some fun (like most normal people). But the bug wouldn’t go away. We had the gear, the experience (read our take on couples camping), and enough cabin fever to take an overnight trip to one of our “usual” spots, George Washington National Forest.
Greetings from George Washington National Forest!
Specifically, we drove “Little Dry River Run”, turning from Brocks Gap Rd. north of Harrisonburg (all of this is searchable on Google Maps) until it intersected “Long Run Rd.”, and continued on Long Run Rd. until it intersected with Hopkins Gap Rd. (back on pavement). This trail can be run either way, and we chose to start on the “North” side to change things up. The drive takes a couple of hours (depending on conditions and pace) and is friendly to stock 4×4 vehicles. I always recommend recovery gear, communication, and at least all-terrain tires no matter what you’re driving.
Usually, the trails aren’t difficult, but the conditions were mixed with much of the trail covered in snow, and in some places, solid ice, so the going was much slower. These conditions also required a much higher level of concentration. Even so, I nearly ruined the run in one slippery spot about an hour into the trail — a combination of ~6” to ~10” deep ruts frozen solid with ice and just a little too much speed (and by that, we’re only talking ~10 mph here), and the truck kicked instantaneously into a 45-degree angle slide directly toward a small tree.
Evidence of the Hit
The Now-Infamous Tree
With a combination of countersteering, regained traction, and luck, I almost missed that tree. The headlight protector hoop on my Shrockworks front bumper administered a hard but glancing blow to that poor tree as my truck regained traction and re-directed me away from it. The only evidence it ever happened is a small scuff on the bumper powdercoat and a patch of missing bark on the tree (sorry tree!). Without that bumper hoop, I would’ve been down one headlight and fender (and not a happy camper).
Lesson learned. We continued–slowly–on to our camp spot for the night. We had stayed at the spot about 3 years ago and I was betting it’d be sheltered from the wind (somewhat) and have an amazing view. I’m not going to tell you exactly where it is, but will say there are several really good spots along the path.
Shots from the Trail
When we got to the spot, things were already in the making for an awesome sunset and a great night of camping. I did most of the camp setup while Becca got some amazing photos. Camp setup is pretty simple for us with an OzTent that sets up literally in minutes, combined with some comfy cots (also by Oztent) and our warm Wiggys 0-degree sleeping bags (mine=green, hers=purple, although I think I ended up sleeping in the purple one…).
Setting up Camp!
I will call out that one of the things that makes winter camping work for us is using a tent heater. We’ve been using the same $35 coleman tent heater for a few years now and it probably bumps up the inside tent temperature 20-30 degrees vs. outside. This was huge for us at it was probably 15 degrees on the mountain. There are several other tent heaters less than $100 as well, but I haven’t personally used them. My thinking is that getting one can be the difference between camping now, and having to wait until Spring.
Back to the campsite … the lighting was optimal and the scenery was so breathtaking that we spent the better part of an hour just walking around taking pictures and playing with camera lenses (we’ve been teaching ourselves the ins and outs of our Canon t3i and various lenses over the past 2 years). We ended the evening with a roaring fire + a few adult ciders with a splash of cinnamon whiskey + grilled cheese and tomato soup … a perfect way to relax and take in the nature and solitude around us.
Enjoying the View
And then we started the Fire. It was January after all…
In the morning it was time to pack up and finish out the last ~45 minutes of the trail back to civilization.
Around the Campsite