Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Scouting Trip from Hell

For quite some time my friend Greg Daily has been trying to get me to go camping with him. While I admit this could have its benefits in regard to being near your sunrise locations, I need the modern creature comforts that I have become accustomed to. So for a couple years every time the subject comes up I say “not interested”.

Last weekend started out quite normally. I got together with friends Greg Daily and Bill Gercken. Greg plans to lead a field trip for the Manassas-Warrenton Camera Club to the George Washington National Forest later this summer. In preparation we decided to spend the day scouting various locations including campsites. It was a beautiful day and the temperature was about 70 degrees. We found 2 promising locations to return to for light painting against the starlit sky before heading home. So far so good…

Then we decided to check out one more spot. We started heading down a forest service road that follows the ridgeline to Reddish Knob. Remember what I said about it being 70 degrees? It turns out this area had 10 feet of snow this past winter. Greg drives a Mountaineer with all wheel drive. We started encountering a little snow on the road about 8 miles in. All told we were about 30 miles from civilization. A little snow soon turned into a significant amount of snow. Seconds after Greg questioned if we should proceed, his Mountaineer stopped dead in its tracks. We lost our ground clearance and the snow pack was icy. We spent the next 4 hours trying to dig the Mountaineer free with the most rudimentary of tools. We were only able to move the vehicle forward a few feet and could not get traction to get back up the mountain. By this time it became very clear we were not going home from our day trip.

I checked my phone and had little to no signal. But I found a nearby tree that seemed to act as a signal booster. As long as I stood next to the tree I was able to place calls, at least for a minute or two before the call would drop. I called home to explain our situation and my wife got busy working the phone. The Forest Service turned her down since we were not officially lost, just stuck in the middle of nowhere. They suggested she call a towing company. Most turned her down because of the distance or amount of snow. She called just about everyone she could find in 4 counties and late Sunday morning found Bowers Towing in Sugar Grove, WV. These guys were the best!!! Once they heard we had been stranded on the mountain overnight they promised to come at once.

Our first choice was to be towed out. Hiking out would have meant leaving lots of gear behind. None of us were in favor of this option, but staying another night was not an option either. If we had to hike out, I had family standing by to pick us up within a couple miles, but there were 4 to 5 foot snow drifts between them and us.

Greg was a lifesaver. When it became clear we were not getting out, he promptly started a campfire, started melting snow for water and had packed a blanket and towels that helped keep us warm. Bill’s positive attitude really helped keep my anxiety level in check. Sleep was minimal for all of us. With 3 guys who snore means that no one really gets to sleep.

The Blog image was taken early in the day. After getting stranded I was in no mood to be creative. So no light painting or star trails on this trip.

The surprising thing is that I’m actually considering going camping sometime, if I plan for it has got to be better than this trip.
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