This post was a long time coming. I really should have written something down after the trip to recall to the degree of clarity I would even like to re-read when I’m in one of my reminiscing sort of moods. Anyway, this hike occurred Memorial Day weekend, March 23 – March 25, 2020, which is generally the shortest time I would prefer a backpacking trip, otherwise it just feels like a camping trip. Ideally, you want at least one solid day of just backpacking from morning to night. Also, make the effort to live in the present. Distract yourself with the woods. You will thank yourself later for the societal detox.

Day 1 – 7.4 Miles

Beautiful drive on the way through West Virginia. I would say the drive alone was worth the trip. That drive being about 5 hours each way! To our surprise as we made our way into Cranberry Wilderness, the foliage in the mountains in late May was still budding.

As we started the trail, Conor and Dan got some Dolly Sod vibes as we walked through firs, unavoidable mud, poorly marked trails, and some fording. For the most part the beginning was flat. The Dolly Sod vibes were likely tied to just 20% of our trek, thus all the easy going photos.

We were a little worried the unavoidable mud would be the entirety of the trail, though luckily the mud only sucked the first day.

In addition, this I trail particularly looked as if it recently had some sort of storm. There were a lot of down trees and branches throughout the trail, which were oddly only by the trail, which gave Dan the dialogue to blame all of our tripping, mud, and obstacle course of down trees on Goblins.

All of the trails were really wide and it took me some time to realize that all of these trails did not originate as foot trails, but were first logging trails. Which would explain the foundation of a bridge that seemed as if it was in the middle of nowhere.

After fording Cranberry River, the rest of our day was a walk in the park.

The camp site was what you would envision an ideal camp site to look like: Plenty of flat spots, near a body of water with a fire ring, and makeshift seating made out of rocks and logs.

After packing the bare minimum on food on our last backpacking trip, I realized I was still eating like a long distance backpacker and thus not really enjoying our trip out into the woods to the fullest, so this trip, I decided to mix things up and try a couple snacks I’ve never had before, such as:

Maple Glazed Smoked Salmon

I’m not normally a jerky person, I do not have the acquired taste for most jerky, so trust me when I say that this is the most desirable jerky I have ever put in my mouth.

I also tried this dried mix of strawberries and pear blend without sugar added. Super hard to find dried fruit with out sugar. I honestly cannot connect the dots on that market move. Why would you want to add sugar to an already naturally sugary product? Anyhow, I don’t recommend the product. While dried strawberries and pears are in the title, the ingredients include apples as well and as one could imagine, the majority of the bag contained apple pieces.

Strawberry and Pear Dried Fruit Blend

Day 2 – 9.6 Miles

Waking up was not that great. Waking up to the ground in the morning, I found myself blowing back up my air pad for an extra hour of sleep (The leak was pinpoint small). The pad I had used on my thru-hike and several years after on a variety of other trips was starting to fail on me. This wasn’t too much of a surprise. I knew about the leak and patched it up prior to this trip. I guess I assumed that the patch would have held a little longer. In attempts to secure a good nights rest for our next night, used some super glue to hold the patch in place.

To my surprise, Hope’s sleep wasn’t that great either. The pad I recently bought her wasn’t keeping it’s air. After this experience, Hope decided she is going to carry a foam pad for her through hike, which I can understand. Later after this trip, I just returned the air pad I bought Hope and got myself another Thermarest to replace my previous one. The comfort in my opinion is worth the risk.

This day was the bulk of our hiking I where we will have, not only some trek down like all of yesterday, but some trek up. The first mile or two was just a continuation of yesterday’s road walking. Then we started to trek up our steepest climbs of the hike, which was nothing crazy, but still something with the varied experience levels of backpackers on this trip.

When we reached the top around 11 AM, we hoped to use one of the camp sites there to eat, but they were still surprisingly filled with people who I assumed were all separately having a late start so we started trekking down the mountain until we found a stealth site to break out our lunches.

Just as we finished our lunches it began to rain and then down pour. During this down pour, I was starting to have second thoughts about bringing a windbreaker in place of my raincoat for this hike because this rain was freezing, which was miserable. Briefly my mind raced as I realized I was losing my body warmth and listing out all of the possible ways I could restore it. Increasing our pace seemed like the only way for us to maintain our body heat, but a part of me realized we wouldn’t be able to do it for long if the terrain were to get more difficult. Fortunately, this downpour only lasted about 10 minutes and the sun came out moments later.

For summer weather I usually bring just a windbreaker to maintain body heat and a raincoat for winter rain to stay dry. The lesson here, I would say is if your expecting rain, your trip is during the Spring, the foliage on the top of the mountain hasn’t bloomed yet, and you can’t necessarily control your pace, go with a raincoat.

Maybe an hour later we needed to forge another river. Everyone just went as they were. I mean we were already soaked. It was certainly easier to cross the river in our hiking shoes. Ironically, it began to rain again after we finished crossing.

I’m kind of glad we were already soaked. This reality gave us a closer relationship to our surrounds as if we were apart of it and move through it without second thought. This said, shortly up the trail we saw an unmarked waterfall across the river, dropped out packs, and crossed the river to see the falls up close. Going through the motions, felt as if I was a little kid again, embracing nature on it’s own terms.

Right when we were in front of the falls, the clouds separated, and for a brief moment the sun peaked out blanketing our surroundings in gold as if we just cleared a level or won an award. Conor was convinced this was the water temple.

After exploring the waterfall to our hearts content, I was trying to convince Dan that we had to stay here for the night. The waterfall was beautiful and the river we had crossed to get to the waterfall was deep enough to to swim in. Dan said with the heavier rain earlier that there wasn’t any dry flat spots to camp and that it’s a little too cold for our experience to be enjoyable. He was right the flat spots were currently flooded and we were likely riding our adrenaline. So we left, I marked my map, I talked about planning trip a swimming/camping trip with more people to come back here when it’s warmer out.

A little over 2 miles up the trail, we found a spot to camp. I wanted to go up the trail a little further to see if the next camp site 0.5 miles marked on my map so I left my pack with the group and trekked further. The camping spot on the map 0.5 miles further involved crossing the river twice, so I came back and helped set up camp. I also found that 0.5 mile stretch to had I more down trees than the entirety of trail behind us.

Setting up camp at 3:30 PM gave us an incredible amount of time to chillax. I personally set up my hammock and took a 45 minute nap, which then cycled through everyone, as we took turns maintaining the fire. In maintaining the fire we were also maintaining a dialog within the group, touching on a variety of subjects, such as our opinions on the state of the world and our goals moving forward in our lives.

Day 3 – 5.9 Miles

The super glue did not hold up as well as I thought it would so for the majority of the night, Hope and I were sleeping on the cold ground.

The trail on the way back went along the river almost the entirety of the way. We saw what was a large river, get smaller and smaller until we eventually reached a point where the water was coming from the ground as a spring.

Along the way, I managed to take hard fall. My feet got stuck and while trying to get unstuck I tripped again and I think Dan said something along the lines those pesky goblins, resorting to cheap tricks. 😂

The last stretch I was getting kind of impatient though I tried my best to conceal it. Conor, leading the way was a tad slow for me, though after talking about it with Hope afterward she had felt it was a good pace, to take in as much nature as possible before we had to leave.

Overall this backpacking trip really hit the spot which was a much needed retreat with the current state of the world into the dense forest of West Virginia for some nature.

Afterward before we split, we made it back to our cars and hit up this one burger and shakes place in the middle of West Virginia, called “Sarah’s Burgers” to my surprise, open. It was so good, we went through the drive through for seconds.

NameCranberry Wilderness
LocationHillsboro, WV
Parking/Trailhead38.276584, -80.237862
Trail NameNorth-South Trail – 0.4 Miles
North Fork Trail – 8.7 Miles
Birchlog Trail – 2.4 Miles
North-South Trail – 0.9 Miles
Laurelly Branch Trail – 3.3 Miles
Middle Fork Trail – 6.1 Miles
North Fork Trail – 1.1 Miles
North-South Trail – 0.4 Miles
Hike Length23.3 Miles (Loop)

Side Notes:
– This is the trail we followed: North Fork to Middle Fork Loop Trail
– Not a single soul wore a mask in West Virginia
– Plenty of water sources

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