With five children and four adults, our party numbered nine -- 10 is the maximum allowed in one group in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, although no entrance permits are required.
This wilderness area is not beset with rules, but as the number of backpackers increases every year, low-impact camping is essential to preserve the very qualities that attract hikers. Keeping a few basic rules minimizes the effects of the human invasion: Fires are permitted, using dead and down wood only, but they must be doused with water before you break camp. Camp at least 100 feet from streams and trails. Use a cooking stove to save the diminishing supply of firewood for campfires. Bury all human wastes at least six inches deep and 200 feet from trails, streams and camps. Pack out trash that can't be burned.
The Forest Service does not consider water from streams and springs safe for drinking or cooking; it should be purified with tablets or boiled for five minutes before use.
PREPARATION: Assembling the equipment needed for backpacking seems daunting and costly. But like most skills it gets much easier with just a little practice. We pack from a basic list saved from trip to trip, to prevent our forgetting such essentials as a flashlight each, bug repellent and foam sleeping pads. We borrow equipment from friends, though we have gradually acquired a few pieces, and rent the rest.
Most equipment can be rented. Both Appalachian Outfitters and Hudson Trail Outfitters charge between $15 and $18 for a two-person tent and $9 to $11 for a backpack for a three-day period.
A planning session is fun and necessary. Division of labor helps the trip take shape. My husband was put in charge of food -- not an easy task when everything must be both nonperishable and lightweight. The freeze-dried specialty foods sold in backpacking stores are a costly luxury, so we cruised the supermarket for packets of dehydrated noodles, instant soups, dried meats, drink mixes and powdered spaghetti sauce.
Randy took care of the snakebite kit, maps, bear bags -- the hard core of backpacking equipment. His wife, Judy, assembled the nine bags of trail snack (peanuts, raisins, M & Ms, sunflower seeds, etc.), crucial to keeping up one's energy and to the morale of the children. (They're all amazingly skilled at dipping a hand into the bag and coming up with a handful of just M & Ms.)
It's a good idea to take along some topographic maps. The United States Geological Survey "topo" maps that cover the area are Blackbird Knob, Blackwater Falls, Laneville and Hopeville.
INFORMATION: Forest Supervisor, Monongahela National Forest, Sycamore Street, Elkins, W.Va. 26241, (304) 636-1800, or District Ranger, Potomac Ranger District, U.S. Forest Service, Petersburg, W.Va. 26847, (304) 257-4488.