Scarred for life. Or at least for the next few days. I'm just beginning to recover from one of the roughest hikes I've ever done. On Sunday, we decided to do a snow hike. Where to go? We debated between Mt. Rogers and the Uhwarries. The Uhwarries had gotten 2 feet of snow, and the kids were still out of school. We figured there would still be some left from the storm, so we decided to head that way.

We had just turned off the paved road when we encountered a deadfall blocking our way. Beyond, several more fallen trees were across the road. A bad omen? Indeed. We bailed on our original plan and headed for the southern access to the Uwharrie trail.

After a bizarre trailhead scene involving 3 dogs, 5 hikers, and an anonymous branch of the U.S. military service, we were on the trail. It started innocently enough. There was still several inches of old snow, though the ground was bare in places. We had to dodge some fallen limbs, but it was good to be out breathing some fresh air.

After a mile or 2, the hike turned ugly. We were hiking alongside a small stream, constantly searching for the trail. The "trail" was actually a continuous stretch of fallen trees. Eventually, we gave up on the trail altogether, hiking cross country in roughly the same direction. Occasionally we'd get back on the path, only to leave it again. After a couple of miles of bushwhacking, we reached the top of Dennis Mountain for lunch. It was during our break that I discovered that I left the map in the car. A bad omen? Indeed.

Since we were all too stubborn to turn around, we pressed on. Surely it will get better? Actually, for a while it did. There were a few bad stretches, but nothing compared to the return hike on the Dutchman's Creek trail. We occasionally lost the path, only to return to it eventually. However, during one descent, Christy and I lost it for good. If we had had the map, we might've noticed that the trail took a bizarre swing to the north. As it was, our search to the west, south and east didn't help. It was past 4pm, and Myron and Dorcas were some distance behind us. Would they be able to stay on the trail? We called for them, but got no response.

At this point, I wasn't very interested in spending the rest of our daylight looking for the so-called trail. I remembered from my trip planning that the area was bordered on the south by a major road. I fished out my compass, and we continued our cross country hike, heading south. (Does this sound like the Blair Witch project??) We were forced to avoid the streams, since they seemed to have the worst of the deadfalls. Nevertheless, the compass was reliable, and we soon heard the sound of traffic. For once, it was very welcome. We arrived at the roadside around 5pm.

I just knew that Myron and Dorcas would be at the parking lot, wondering what happened to us. After a mile and a half walk, we arrived at the trailhead. No Myron and Dorcas. It was 30 minutes until dark, and there was no sign of them. Christy drove back down the road, in case they bailed out the same way we did. I hiked back down the trail, hoping to intercept them. Did they get off the trail like we did? Or were they still fighting they're way through the deadfalls. 10 minutes later I found them. Somehow they had stayed on the trail and were still headed in the right direction. Their pace had been slowed by the trail conditions.

We all got back just before dark. The 11 1/2 mile loop (more like 13 or 14 with all the detours) had taken 7 1/2 hours. The last time I had hiked it, it took barely 5.

The moral of this story is:

A. If fallen trees are covering the road to the trailhead, it might be a good day for shopping.

B. Don't leave the map in the car.

C. If you hike the Uhwarries anytime soon, bring a chainsaw.

D. Even a "tame" place like the Uhwarries can be a challenge.

E. All of the above.

Thanks to Christy, Myron, Dorcas, and of course Saucony and Izzak, for keeping their cool (and sense of humor) and surviving this one with me. May the next one be better.

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