My guiding season starts this Friday in West Virginia, where Alan Dixon, Joseph “Stringbean” McConaughy, Ron Bell, Matthew Bright, and I will be leading two consecutive intro-level 3-day trips (May 10-12 and 13-15).
Seneca Creek National Recreation Area encompasses Spruce Knob, the state’s high point, and is not far from other popular backcountry areas like Dolly Sods and the Cranberry Wilderness. If you have hiked elsewhere in the southern Appalachian or Allegheny Mountains, it will feel familiar: lush hardwood forests at lower elevations, thick guard spruce at the highest, and occasional open meadows.
Gear selection should be driven primarily by:
For planning purposes, we assumed normal springtime conditions for this location. When an accurate short-term forecast becomes available, we will tweak our kits.
- Temperatures. For the month of May, a nearby weather station at Canaan Valley reports average high and low temperatures of 68 F and 42 F. Our location is a little bit higher (3,000 to 4,800 feet), and therefore cooler.
- Precipitation. The same weather station reports 6.1 inches of rain in May, and Spruce Knob should receive a little bit more.
- Daylight. We’ll have ample daylight, since we’re just 6 weeks away from the longest day of the year.
- Footing. The dirt trails can become muddy.
- Vegetation. At the lower elevations, we’ll be shaded by a thick hardwood canopy. At high elevations, we’ll find guard spruce. The understory is not prohibitively dense.
- Navigational aids. Trails will be primitively signed, at least in the higher use corridors. Visibility will be very limited, besides for the occasional meadow.
- Sun exposure. Between the tree canopy and likely rainfall, sun exposure is a low concern.
- Water availability. Topographic maps depict regular and perennial streams and springs, except atop ridgelines.
- Problematic wildlife. We found no reports of bear/human food conflicts. Rodents may be an issue at high-use campsites.
- Biting insects. It’s peak tick season, which is a serious matter. Mosquitoes will be out but manageable.
- Remoteness. A road is never more than a few miles away, but this is a lightly inhabited area — we will not have cell service, and we’re several hours from the nearest medical facilities.
- Natural hazards. In heavy rains, Seneca Creek can swell.
Backpacking gear list: West Virginia in May
The applicability of this gear list goes well beyond 3-day trips in Seneca Creek. It could be replicated successfully for any springtime trip in the southern Appalachians (e.g. Appalachian Trail, Smokies, Blue Ridge, Shenandoah, etc.), possibly with small tweaks to comply with local regulations or conditions.
Here’s a big picture look:
The weight and cumulative cost are both on the high side:
- These should be physically easy trips for me, and intentionally I’m packing luxuries like sleeping clothes, a bridge hammock, and a decent camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if my pack weighs more when I leave the trailhead — if it’s rainy, I’m going to bring an 8-oz umbrella and 1.5-lb group tarp; and for role-modeling purposes I may keep my food in an Ursack.
- Keep in mind that I get a lot of gear for free. If I had to pay for everything, I’d shop the sales and I’d seek out more economical substitutes.
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Questions about my selections? Leave a comment.
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