We left Friday evening around 5pm after getting supplies at the storage center (sleeping pads/bags, headlamps, food, tents, etc.). Before we left, we played an icebreaker game to get to know everyone that was actually fun! Everyone stands in a circle. Someone steps into the center of the circle and says their name followed by random pieces of personal information (e.g. "My name is Lisa and I like taking pictures of mushrooms"). If the person says something that applies to someone standing around the circle, that individual steps into the center of the circle with the person and says "ME!" followed by the name of the person that was sharing previously (e.g. "Me! My name is John and this is Lisa - we both like taking pictures of mushrooms". Then the second person starts sharing. And so on and so forth. We rode in two cars and the ride was really fun. We listened to great music (dubstep!) and talked a lot.
It ended up taking about 7 hours to get to Dolly Sods because we got lost on the way. The plan had been to night hike to our first campsite. When we arrived at 1am (yikes!), we were all pretty tired but we decided to go for it. Will, the trip leader, said that we should only have to hike about .75 miles. After a beautiful .5-mile stretch, Will said that we could stop at any point to camp. However, right after that announcement, the terrain turned to bog and the trail turned to mud and water. The next two miles consisted of jumping from patches of grass to rocks and intermittently sinking ankle- to waist- deep in mud. The trail was lit by moonlight and there was heavy fog all around us. The effect was totally eerie and wonderful. It was awesome! We couldn't stop to camp for two more miles because it was too wet and muddy everywhere. Even though everyone was soaked and incredibly messy... everyone still had a great attitude. We finally found somewhere to camp - I ended up sleeping alone in a tent. The trip leaders all had hammocks - I definitely need to invest in one of those!
The next day was amazing - it was absolutely gorgeous out! We hiked about 6 or 7 miles. Dolly Sods is incredible because there are so many different, interesting types of terrain and foliage. The Fall colors were fantastic! We set up camp next to a river with numerous waterfalls for Saturday night. It was so beautiful (and LOUD)! The water was freezing but I took off my clothes, except for my bra and underwear, and jumped in! We had a campfire and made s'mores that night. Instead of Hershey's chocolate, I used a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup - yum! I decided not to sleep in a tent that night - instead, I set up my sleeping pad and bag next to the river. It was the first time I ever slept outside without a tent. We camped in a valley so it was significantly colder than the night before - probably between 35 and 40 degrees. I was FREEZING the whole night but it was an unforgettable experience. At one point I thought a raccoon was chewing on my leg, but I'm pretty sure that was just a dream. I slept with my sleeping bag completely over my head and sealed - but I still couldn't feel my feet when I woke up in the middle of the night. Before everyone went to bed, the moon was so bright that the stars weren't very visible - in the middle of the night, though, I woke up and peeked out from my sleeping bag and the stars were breathtaking! I think there was a meteor shower that night but it wasn't supposed to be very visible in the USA. I saw a shooting star!
We got a late start Sunday morning. My ankle was hurting really badly for most of the day but it was still such a fantastic day! We had to hike out of the valley so there was some intense elevation change - I kept up with the group with no problem. I had been really worried about that before the trip so it was a relief to know I had no problem. We had to cross over Red Creek at one point. We all took off our shoes and waded across but we had our packs and we were carrying our boots. The water was incredibly cold and the rocks were slippery and painful. The combination of those things and my clumsiness made me fall! My whole lower body got soaked! I probably should have just kept my shoes on and waded across like that. I was shaking so badly by the time I got across. The vista we saw that day was incredible - I can't express how beautiful it was in words (check out more pictures, here: http://goo.gl/QBhLz).
We finished the hike on Sunday around five pm. Everyone was exhausted but in good spirits. On the way out of the forest, we saw a black bear - first time I've ever seen one outside of the zoo! We drove home and ended up getting a flat tire ten miles out of town!
This trip was unforgettable. I haven't had adventures like that for a long, long time. I can't wait to go on another trip!