Follow me and my friends on our adventures outside.

Fire and ice in the dolly sods.

I decided I wanted to be in the woods for my birthday this year, as usual. So I recruited my buddy Frank to plan a return trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area for the beginning of November. Nate would be joining us and we looped Loren in to the email chain, even though he wasn't going to be making the trip - he was heading for California that weekend. We watched the weather closely, ready to make a last minute change if there was a chance of getting snowed in. Aside from some seriously cold temps, the forecast was looking much better than it did when we made this trip last year - it rained for 3 days straight. Frank, Nate and myself set out from Baltimore the evening of Nov. 9th. We rented a SUV incase it did snow on the plateau, we figured that would give us a better chance of getting back down to civilization.

We arrived at our dinner spot, El Jinete, in Cumberland, MD pretty much right on schedule with Frank's itinerary. We sat down, ordered some drinks and prepared to be amazed by the local talent - it was of course karaoke night. As we waited for our food to show up, someone that looked oddly familiar walked quickly up to our table and took a seat in the booth next to Nate. It was an El Jinete miracle - Loren Clapp. No one knew he was coming - we had all of course told him to change his flight and come on the trip, but he said it would be too costly and shut us down. He had been texting us, a somewhat annoying amount, on our journey to Cumberland - now we understood why. With our bellies full of delicious Mexican vittles, and our ears surrounded by the sweet melodies of Cumberland's best voices, we made a plan to leave Loren's vehicle at a park and ride a few miles away, and then head to the trailhead from there. We encountered two more bits of excitement before the trip started : a sobriety checkpoint along the highway, which we were happily waved through, and a close encounter with a car chasing dog at the base of the mountain - in which I found out the Nissan Pathfinder has a great antilock brake system. We arrived around 1030 at the top of the plateau, and since we hadn't wanted to be in long underwear the entire 4 hour drive, had to change into our adventure gear at the trailhead. This turned out to be a bad decision. The car thermometer read 36 degrees, and the wind was whipping - it was a miserable place to prep, but we all powered through and were hiking by 11ish.

Taking a quick look at the map.

The moon was rising as we began our hike, it was beautiful, but way too late and cold to mess around with tripods so you get no visuals of it. We hurriedly made our way to a section of trail that was in a small valley and much less exposed to the wind, 36 degrees never felt so pleasant. We hiked for just over a mile, to a campsite I had been wanting to stay at since my first trip to the Sods. A pretty little spot right along Red Creek, with just enough room for 3 hammocks and a tent. We had to cross a creek to get to the site, but it was a piece of cake, with the water being much lower than it had been on our last visit. 

Frank making his way across red creek.

We went right to work setting up our sleeping quarters, enjoying the few beers that we had hiked in for the night. Once were were all set up it was around 1230 or so, and we debated just going to sleep, but why would we do that when there was more beer and plenty of wood to burn? After a few unsuccessful attempts at starting a fire, a mishap with the hatchet (by me), some blood and skin glue, we finally prevailed and reveled in the small amount of heat it provided us. I'm not sure what time we turned in, but I'd say we closed the bar down for sure.

I was quite warm, surrounded by a cocoon of down - but I had to take a leak, so I was forced out of my hammock around 730 AM. It was shockingly cold out side of my down barrier, but I managed to slip on my frozen boots and find a good tree to lean on.

The mercury had definitely dipped below 32.

The mercury had definitely dipped below 32.

I was up, so I set about the chore of getting the bear bags down, which turned out to be more of a task than normal. The ropes had actually cut into the bark of the branch they were thrown over and froze in place. When I untied our fancy knots, the bags stayed exactly where they had been all night, about 15 feet in the air. I've never encountered this issue before, so it took me a while to figure out what to do. I ended up procuring a very long stick to lift and then dropped each bag so that the weight of the food pulled the rope loose.

From left to right. Loren, Frank, Tom. Nate was on the ground as usual, behind my giant tarp.

From left to right. Loren, Frank, Tom. Nate was on the ground as usual, behind my giant tarp.

After getting our food down, I grabbed my camera and took some shots of our site before I decided it was time to wake the rest of the crew - they hate when I do that, but they would sleep all day if I let them. We all made ourselves hot breakfast, and began the chore of packing up camp. Frank busted out his fancy technology, and confirmed that yes, it was indeed cold enough to freeze standing water. We witnessed about 20 people hike right past our campsite that morning, which was something we hadn't expected. Given the chilling forecast, we thought we would be close to alone out here.

Frank brought along his little weather station, so we were able to track the temperature through out the whole trip. 

As we were finishing our load out, it started to snow. We all got a bit worried, we had heard some pretty crazy stories about feet of snow falling in the Sods, when it wasn't predicted anywhere else.

Snow fall.

Snow and ice on the trail.

We were on the trail by 10ish, with a plan of hiking about 8 miles and choosing a campsite from a mile long stretch of them. The wind was once again blowing hard, and we stopped on top of the plateau to add some extra warmth to our layers before continuing on.

Looking back from where we just came from. Bear Rocks Trail.

The sun popped out intermittently through the morning, and it felt glorious.

We made our way across the frozen plateau, stopping every once in a while in the outcroppings of pines to check out new campsites and get a break from the brutal wind.

Marking a new campsite and hiding from the wind.

We marched on, with the sun dramatically popping out for seconds at a time, then quickly disappearing. The clouds were whipping across the sky, the arctic blast that the weather people had been chatting about was definitely to blame.

We scared up a few sleeping deer on our way to Rocky Ridge.

As usual, the trail was wet and muddy, and this time it was also icy. We spent a large amount of time dodging giant icy mud puddles, but sometimes there was no choice but to stomp right through them. Below is Loren's example of how not to jump a mud puddle in the Sods.

A good start.

But a bad finish.

We got lucky, and Loren didn't injure himself. His overstuffed pack had even saved him the embarrassment of hiking with skid marks on his pants the rest of the day. We discovered quickly that when you get muddy in 20 degree weather, it freezes almost immediately and you can simply scrape it off. After Loren's misstep, we all were slightly more cautious when hopping over puddles.

More frozen puddles to avoid.

By 11:30 we had made our way to Rocky Ridge trail, which is mostly exposed with incredible views to the west into the canaan valley. Last time we were here it was rainy, foggy and windy and we couldn't see squat. Although it was a few degrees colder this time - we were able to see it in all its glory.

Taking a quick break on the ridge, and dealing with the vicious wind.

The crew with Canaan Valley in the back.

We stopped for a group photo at one of the outcroppings. I forced them to stand here for the longest 2 minutes of our lives in the freezing cold and howling wind while I waited for break in the clouds and a little peak of sunshine. Not sure it actually paid off, but those don't shoot me orange hats look great.

Frank and the valley view.

We hung around long enough for that awesome group picture and got back on the trail to find some shelter from the relentless wind.

Hiking along the Rocky Ridge trail.

Hiking along the Rocky Ridge trail.

The sun disappeared again quickly as we made our way for the safety of the trees.

The Rocky Ridge trail is one of those hard to follow ones - we were quite happy the ground wasn't covered in snow yet. There are cairns every once in a while that aid in following the trail, but other than that, its just a blind stumble through rocks and pine trees. We definitely lost the trail for a solid half mile, and just bushwhacked our way through. We used Frank's GPS to orient ourselves and head the proper direction to finally stumble back upon the proper trail.

Following the "trail"

Checking out another view of the valley.

Kind of, sort of lost, but still going the right direction.

Towards the end of the Rocky Ridge trail, after about 6 miles of hiking we thought about eating lunch, but with only a few miles to go we decided upon a quick trail snack and continued hiking. We figured tonight was going to be the coldest night, so we would get to camp early with plenty of daylight to collect firewood and get set up.  The temperature did not rise above 25 while we were hiking, even in the full sun on the ridge. Our water supply suffered - we had to punch through frozen over openings every time we wanted to take a sip. At one point Loren and I decided to put our water bottles inside of our jackets to attempt thawing them with body heat while hiking - it barely worked. My water bladder, stored inside my pack did not freeze which was great - I ended up never tapping the reservoir with the drinking tube, since I assumed that would freeze immediately. I just dumped water from it into our water bottles to replenish the drinking supplies.

Frozen water bottles.

Nearing the end of Rocky Ridge Trail.

The fella's discussing options.

We began our decent on the Stone Coal trail, and said goodbye to the false sense of warmth that sun the provided. We passed up quite a few nice looking campsites as we made our way down the valley, but found a gem in the pines right beside a small creek. There were two other decent looking spots here, but we collectively decided this one was best since it was heavily guarded by pines on all sides, just incase the wind was going to pick up again.

the beginnings of a camp

We figured out who was hanging where, finally ate some lunch and set about gathering fuel for what promised to be a long cold night.

Lorenzo breathing life into our heat source for the next 8 hours.

After our last experience in Dolly Sods - where every downed log was completely saturated and near impossible to get burning - and given we knew it was going to be colder this time, we brought along a hatchet and a folding saw to help. We spent the next three hours setting up our sleeping quarters, searching for dead standing or downed trees that were not rotten, dragging them back to camp and processing them into much smaller pieces fit for burning. It made the time fly. Before we knew it, the sun had disappeared and we were well on our way to the coldest night any of us had ever experienced while backpacking.

Frank's wood burning stove doing work and making the creek water safe to drink.

After a lot of grief and frustration, we finally got the fire to a point where it could sustain itself. Building a fire out here never seems to be easy. This time we had chosen a tree that looked and felt fantastic, but apparently it had a bunch of moisture frozen in it, every time we had the fire going and added some some of the suspect wood, the fire quickly died down. We identified the culprit wood and banished it back to the forest from whence it came. We boiled up some water for MRE's and got busy stuffing our faces with calories for the long cold sleep ahead. The plan was to turn in early, no one wanted to stay up to see how cold it was going to get plus we could be up early and back on the trail.

Keeping the fire burning was the main goal, we succeeded until about midnight.

That plan was ruined when the whiskey began to flow freely from our flasks, and the fire continued to burn much longer than we had expected. We sipped ice cold whiskey of varying degrees of deliciousnesses and the time flew by. Loren was the big winner of the night, some how killing three hot cocoas spiked with whiskey while the rest of us had only enjoyed one. It was soon apparent that we were going to have to tuck our good friend in that night, to make sure he didn't lose any digits to the cold. Loren completely disagreed with the fact that he may have been over served, and began offering up hand and foot warmers, as though he were making commission on them. Not one to turn down warm hands or feet, I took him up on his offer and we coerced him into his hammock. After a solid 15 minutes of wrestling with his quilts, he finally said one last good night - and we immediately came over to make sure he was snug as a bug in a rug. Luckily he has good friends. I quickly realized his feet were not covered by his under quilt and remedied the issue, and he was soon sawing logs of his own. We continued to add logs to the fire and quickly found ourselves ready to turn in as well. We gathered all the food items and hung them in our bear bag, which we had strung earlier in the night. The temperature was in the teens and we all wondered just how cold it was going to get. I climbed into my hammock, put on some dry socks, busted out those foot warmers and put on my full face balaclava to prepare for the long chill. I was woken a few times, once by Loren's incessant snoring, and another by Frank climbing out to take a leak, otherwise I slept like a log - a really warm log surrounded by fluffy goose down and a warm pocket of air.

Sun rises on our frozen camp. It looks so inviting for 10 degrees.

As usual I was the first one up, it was about 8 AM and I of course couldn't pinch the bladder any longer. I swung my legs out of the warm cocoon and struggled with my frozen boots. As far as I could tell we had all survived the night. I grabbed my camera and wondered around the campsite, snapping photos to serve as evidence of the extreme cold we had dealt with the night before (Franks thermometer showed a low of 10 degrees).

A frozen tundra 

Ice had formed everywhere that was close to the water.

Some frozen rhodedendrons .

Really cool ice crystals on the creekside vegetation.

After thirty minutes or so of photographing the cold, I decided to see if anyone else was up yet. They were not. I grabbed a stick and stirred the ash pile in the fire ring. Surprisingly it was still full of hot coals, a wonderful thing to find on such a cold morning. I set about getting some small sticks and prepping some larger ones, excited to have some heat while I waited for the rest of the gang to get up. The fire quickly sprung back to life, and oddly enough we hadn't burnt all of our cut wood from the night before, so I was able to get a good fire burning with very minimal effort, for once. I boiled some water for a hot breakfast, and got the bear bag down from the trees. I finally got folks moving with the promise of hot beverages and a fire, probably around 9 AM.

The first of the water crossings, on Stone Coal Run was a breeze.

The morning fire ended up being a time suck. We were enjoying the warmth so much that we slacked off on the morning chores. I finally dumped the final pot of water on the fire around the crack of 11:30, and we were ready to hit the trail. After a quick chat about our route, and given the time of day, we decided to cut out a few miles - which ended up being a great idea. We had six creek crossings ahead of us, possibly seven. Three of the crossings we figured would be quite simple, since we had seen them before and the water was much lower than when we had seen them, the others we were unsure about.

The big waterfall on Stone Coal Run, if you look closely you can see the crew at the top.

Our first two crossings were simple rock hops across stone coal run, and we made it over with no issues either time. Our third crossing of the day was the first of two on Red Creek, and much more challenging. Red Creek was low, as most of the water ways were, but it is a much wider and deeper creek than any of the others we would encounter. The suggested crossing required wading, and looked like it would be up to our knees or beyond. Although the temps were on the rise, it was still hovering just below freezing and the thought of having wet boots was something none of us were willing to entertain. We decided to bushwhack our way upstream and look for better options. We found an area where the creek widened out a bit, and was split into two sections by a dry island. Everyone slowly picked their own route across the first section on exposed rocks. After 20 minutes or so of delicate boulder hopping, we were all now in the middle of the creek, on the island with dry boots. We quickly explored our options of leaving the island to finish our crossing. After a few minutes Loren decided a fallen tree, that was 4-5 feet off the surface of the water was the best option. Before we knew it, he was carefully inching his way across. He made it safely and the rest of us followed suit. I found a large 10' stick I was going to use as a wading staff to help my balance, but Frank was already on top of the log when I showed up with it, so I reluctantly handed him my prized stick. He made it quickly across, and tossed the stick back over to me, when I picked it up, it broke right in half. I didn't want to waste anymore time searching for a new one, so I climbed onto the tree and nervously inched my way across. With plenty of not-so-helpful coaching from my teammates on the dry side, I made it safe and sound. Nate was the last one to cross, and was able to find a large stick to aid his crossing. He made it safely as well, and we all decided it was time to eat some lunch, and fuel up for the second half of our day.

Nate on our first crossing of Red Creek.

It was about 2pm, and we still had some serious miles to cover before we arrived at our planned destination for the night. We quickly ate our lunches, and were back to hiking by 215. We had expected the next part of the trail to stay at the same elevation and follow the creek, instead we found our selves on a serious ascent, up 600 ft or so from the creek below. We put our heads down and hiked quickly, not really enjoying the views as much as we could have, had we managed our time better. There were two more small creeks to cross on this section, and thankfully we skipped right over them on exposed rocks. After 1.5 miles of hiking "along" Red creek, we descended again to its' banks for our 6th crossing of the day and second crossing of Red Creek. It was again a little deeper than we wanted to see at the suggested crossing. We continued up stream to find a better option, and finally we found what we thought were enough dry rocks to make it across safely and dry. With my camera safely tucked into a dry bag, I slowly picked my way across the rocks, the crew watching safely from the shore. After some trial and error, I made it across with dry feet, dropped my pack on the bank and made my way halfway back across to coach the rest of the team.  Loren is the shortest of the group and smartly decided his legs were not going to be able to cover the distances between rocks that mine had, so he painstakingly found his own route across while I guided Frank and Nate on my route. After another long crossing, we all thankfully still had dry feet and again began an ascent out of Red Creek Canyon to find ourselves a campsite. It was about 4 o'clock and the sun had disappeared behind the mountains. After another mile and half and 600 vertical feet, we were out of the canyon and on basically flat land. We found a quick pace and powered through, darkness was setting in as we came to our 7th water crossing of the day. We quickly picked our way across a tributary of Red Creek, and began exploring the campsites to find a place to call home for the night. After a scan of the 6 or so campsites, the ones that were not occupied did not have enough room for our group of four, so I decided to cross the creek again to back track and check out some sites we had passed before our last crossing. I ended up making the decision to stay at a campsite we had used on our previous trip. I dropped my pack in the darkness, found my headlamp and jogged back to the creek crossing to tell the rest of the guys to join me. They reluctantly picked up their heavy packs one more time to cross the creek.

Late night creek crossings.

We were happy to find a few large dead trees in a neighboring campsite and quickly drug them to ours, to begin processing them for warmth. We had a fire going by 630 or so and spirits were high as we set up our sleeping quarters for the night. We had hiked close to 7 long miles, the night was going to be much warmer than the previous, and we still had a good amount of whiskey between the four of us to get a little buzz going. We prepped our meals while cutting and chopping more wood for the fire. We filled our bellies with delicious re-hydrated meals and sipped ice cold whiskey watching the fire as it quickly turned solid wood into ash. After a few hours, the booze was gone, and we were ready for sleep. We hung the bear bags, and climbed into our beds. I was pretty excited it was going to be twice as warm as the previous night and even left my balaclava and gloves off this time. The low was only 25 degrees!

Late night light painting by the fire.

We hatched plans to get up early the following day, so we could make it back to the car at a decent hour for our long journey home. I slowly climbed out of my hammock around 730, and was surprised to see Loren already up cooking water for breakfast. We methodically went through our morning rituals of boiling water, eating, breaking down camp, packing our bags and filtering water for the day ahead. We were able to resurrect a very small fire from night before but the temps were pushing to climb above freezing for the first time since we had arrived, so we weren't to invested in it. We were on the trail by 930, a much better departure time than the day before. We had 6.5 muddy miles ahead of us, but the sun was shinning and temps were on the rise, so spirits were high as we set out. 

Colorful moss on the plateau.

We had 3 stream crossings on our last day, which we had all seen before on our previous trip, so we knew they wouldn't slow us down. The only large obstacle of the day was our initial 400 foot ascent out of the red creek canyon. We took plenty of breaks, mostly to shed layers as our blood began to flow. Back up on the plateau there was plenty of sunshine, we spent the rest of our morning soaking it in and dodging giant sections of mud, crossing from one side of the trail to the next to keep from falling down. We were making good time and stopped for a nice long lunch at the top of a small hill climb - we of course discussed our next meal - which would be prepared for us, and consist of wayyy more calories than we should probably consume in one sitting. With somewhat full bellies and the lightest loads of the trip, we made quick time back to the car.

Loren and Nate escaping the shade of the pines.

The sun was suddenly swallowed up by clouds during our last few miles, but the temperature was nearing 50 degrees, so it wasn't missed all that much.  

Looking into Dolly Sods from the bear rocks trail.

Lichens and moss.

We were back to the car by 130 I believe - I changed into some non muddy clothing, others opted to skip the formality and keep rocking 3 day old clothing. We loaded the car and were on our way to pizza and wings in no time. 

The beginning, or end in this case.

We again stopped in Cumberland for a victory meal - this time at a pizza place that took way to long to feed our smelly asses, but at least the Steeler game was on the T.V. After our drawn out meal we dropped Loren off at his car, said our farewells, and pointed the car back east to Baltimore. It was a great trip, and we certainly tested our limits of cold weather camping. The biggest issue we encountered was freezing water filters, and water bottles, which we remedied by always staying near a water source and opting to boil rather than filter our water until the very last day, when the temps were above freezing. Lesson learned, now onto the next adventure!

Our route

OuterBanks, how I have missed you.

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OBX                     

 

 

                     

 

 

 

                                         

Bodie Lighthouse pictured above.

I haven't been to the OuterBanks since I was in college, over 10 years ago. My family, like many from western PA, spent a lot of our summer vacations in this beautifully wild, yet over developed area. We always headed for the area around Cape Hatteras, where there was a lot less development and people, and more wide open beaches. This year my parents, with the help of my brother and sister-in-law, planned a late September vacation with my father's side of the family, who would usually join us on these summer trips.
When you visit the OuterBanks in late August and September you gamble with Hurricanes, and this time we lost to Maria, oddly similar to past vacations. This time instead of leaving the OuterBanks all together, we found a house in the north end of the islands, near Corolla, a place none of us had spent any time at before. My parents and brother's family had just settled into the house in Cape Hatteras when the call was made to evactuate any non-residents from the island, so they packed it all back up and drove the slow crawl up the only road that would take them north, along with everyone else being forced to leave the island. I was lucky enough to have missed this whole ordeal since I came midweek, once the evacuation was over. Unfortunately our house no longer had an elevator, so my Grandfather who had made it all the way to Virginia beach from Pittsburgh, along with my Uncle, turned around and went home after they learned the news of evacuation, a cousin from Florida also decided not to make the trek, since he had just been through a hurricane a few weeks earlier in Orlando.

Despite the loss of family members on the trip, we still had a full house, and a good time. It was nice to be back in the OuterBanks, even if it was an unfamiliar part of them.

When I got to the Outer Banks, instead of driving north to the family house, I took a drive south, to the Bodie Island lighthouse, for a sunset photo safari. The sky was dark and moody, with the outer bands of Maria quickly passing over head and the wind was howling, but it made for a spectacular sunset.

The sun dropping over the horizon.

Moody clouds quickly moving through.

Windswept sea grass as Maria sits offshore.

An angry ocean.

I couldn't bring myself to leave the beach, the scenery was changing by the minute and I ran back to the car to grab a beer while I took in the last light of the day. As I sat in between two dunes, drinking my beer, hiding from the wind, and enjoying the fact I had finally made it back to the OBX, one of the dark clouds above me suddenly exploded with rain, and I had to make a hasty retreat back to the car. I drove for about an hour an a half north to Corolla and made it safely to the beach house to have some dinner and enjoy some family time.

We spent the next few days driving onto the beach, and hiding behind the cars from the wind. It was relentless, but thankfully the sun was out to help keep us warm. We were visited by some of the island's wild horses the first day I was there, and the girls were pretty excited to see them, and to be honest, so were the adults.

Brenna and the ponies.

Sisters.

The abbreviated family.

Mom and Dad with their grand babies.

Our evenings were spent at the house visiting, drinking, eating, and sitting in the hot tub. It was fantastic. On our last full day at beach, the weather finally called for calm winds and seas in the morning, so I took a stroll out to the water. It was eerily calm, with zero wind.

First light on our last day.

Sunrise over the Atlantic, Maria had finally left the area.

Our neighborhood had this awesome little lake, and a trail that went around it. It had white caps on it the previous days, but this morning it was like glass.

I got back to the house to find my amazing Aunt making her famous biscuits and gravy - which we all love so much, but for some reason don't have the ability to make on our own. Breakfast was eaten, sandwiches were made, coolers were packed. We made our way to the beach, excited to have a day without wind. Unfortunately, by the time we made it there, the wind had once again picked up. Oddly enough, it ended up being the windiest day of the trip.

My lovely niece's cheesing for the camera.

My lovely niece's cheesing for the camera.

Dragging their mom back into the chilly water, which was made even colder by the wind.

We called it an early day on Saturday, it was just too windy to hang out anymore. We enjoyed the hot tub at the house, ate as much of the leftover food and we could, and began packing for our trip home the following day. Corolla was great, and I'm really glad we still got to spend time together in the OBX given the fact a hurricane was sitting off shore almost the entire time. It was a somewhat triumphant return to the OuterBanks. Next time, hopefully we can hang out in Cape Hatteras.

A Campfire Feast Prepared in the Pine Barrens.

Cowboy cooking peppers over open flame.

My buddy Matteo and I have been talking about getting together in the woods and cooking some serious food for quite a while now. Last month, on an oddly warm late October weekend, we finally made it happen.

Sunset from our lake side campsite in the Pine Barrens.

We decided on Wharton State Forest, as usual, since it is halfway for both of us, and since the weather was so fair we were able to convince our significant others to join the party as well. I showed up first, around 4pm and began setting up everyones sleeping quarters. Sloane and I were in our hammocks, and Mateo and Nicole slept in my tent.

I got a fire going and cracked a beer waiting for the rest of the crew to show up - Sloane had to work late, so we drove separately - which worked out, since my car was full to the brim with all our camping supplies and a ton of gear from the studio.

While I sat silently, watching the fire, I noticed some dark figures lurking around my neighbors campsite, who were being a bit on the loud side, and were in general, pretty obnoxious. It was the state police, in full out swat gear. All of a sudden flashlights were everywhere, and the police poked around their campsite for illegal activities. After 20 minutes or so of hassling, the police left and I approached the neighbors, who I had met when I pulled in, announcing I was not a policeman. They said that they had been told to take all their alcohol and other party supplies for a ride, but they most certainly did not, as they were up until 2 AM that night, and good and drunk when I went back over for a quick visit before I turned in. 

Matteo and Nicole arrived around 730, and after our brief hellos we got to work cooking dinner. When I say we, I mean Matteo. I boiled the water for the pasta, and got drinks for everyone.

King Trumpet Mushrooms and scallops cooking over the coals.

While we cooked, Sloane arrived and there were more hellos. Everyone was good and hungry, and Mateo did not disappoint with his first dish of the trip. Pasta with scallops and and king trumpet mushrooms. A sauce was quickly made in the pan and it was time to eat!

We finished up dinner, washed the dishes and sat down in front of the fire to catch up and drink some more booze.

Matteo and Nicole were up first the following morning and got a fire burning. Matteo quickly requested I set up the tripod cooking device I had built with his instruction, and I happily obliged. I had figured we would cook breakfast on my camp stove, but he was committed to the campfire cooking, which made for some good early morning images. I again boiled water (my specialty this trip) to make coffee for everyone and grabbed the camera to document what Matteo was preparing. 

One dish breakfast in the works

Morning fireside chat with some warm coffee.

Warm hands and good food.

Time to eat.

Matteo working hard.

Getting some insta images for Gotham Greens.

CPC. Clean Plate Crew. Breakfast was so good we ate the whole thing.

After breakfast we slowly cleaned up the mess that was made, and got ready for a quick hike. We drove to the park office to register our site and hop onto the Mullica river trail. We had a leisurely walk in the pines, and after an hour or so, turned around so we could get back to camp with enough light to cook and photograph the feast that Mateo had come up with for us. Sloane and Nicole prepared us this beautiful cheese plate for lunch, which we picked at as our chef prepared the main meal.

Fireside cheese plate.

All the cheeses.

We had the fire burning by 2:30 and Mateo prepped the chicken and ribs to slowly cook on the highest tiers of the tripod.

The meat stacking begins.

Prepping the chicken suspension, we used wire coat hangers, since I didn't have meathooks.

Fennel and eggplant were cooked and charred over the fire

Egg plant and fennel roasting.

Egg plant

Chef action shot. Bird was moved closer to the fire for quicker cooking.

Matteo found these incredibly beautiful Corbacci peppers at his local market in Brooklyn. They were the star of the cooking show as he tossed them with olive oil over the open flames. He also added in a couple sliced zucchini squash in a cast iron skillet, directly on the flames. Then some incredible little enokitake mushrooms that he later added to the salad.

Corbaci peppers, they look hot, but they are sweet and delicious.

Open flames and olive oil make for awesome photos.

Corbacci close up.

Chicken, corbacci peppers, enokitake mushrooms and squash.

Grilling some fresh Gotham Green's romaine for the salad, and you can see the butternut squash that he roasted for about 3 hours, which was part of our desert.

Smoking hot corbaccis. 

Pieces of monkfish were added to the peppers, along with some wine. 

Monkfish and corbaccis

Monkfish and corbaccis

The set, I had to add in some dappled sunlight, it was disappearing fast.

Matteo in his "kitchen"

The chicken looking handsome.

Shrimp added to the squash.

Tuna steaks on the grill.

Tuna steaks.

Nicole in her instagram mode.

Finishing off the ribs on some direct flame.

All the meats.

Flank steak was the last item to be put on the fire, and we were all getting pretty excited to stuff our faces.

Keeping the food warm while Mateo prepped the salad, and quartered the chicken.

Everyone had to get in on the staging of the food.

Discussing food placement.

The final feast all laid out and ready to go. From left to right : Romaine salad with enokitake mushrooms, pork ribs, a full chicken on top of roasted eggplant and fennel, fresh tuna steak, shrimp and squash in a tomato sauce, flank steak, monkfish with corbacci peppers cooked in white wine.

Time to dig in!

This was hands down the best meal I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying in the woods. Many thanks to Mateo and Nicole for sourcing all the food and coming up with the menu for the weekend. Gotham Greens for all the, well, greens - their packaging also makes great storage containers for leftovers we found out. There was no way we ate all this food in one sitting! We finished up with our meal as the darkness settled in around us. The fire was stoked, wine was poured, pots, pans and utensils were washed, and dessert was served. The final dish of the evening was yogurt with honey and the butternut squash that Mateo had been roasting all afternoon, it was ridiculously good. We drank wine and ate s'mores (with Nutella instead of chocolate bars!) late into the evening, and turned in quite happy with our fireside feast. The following morning I was up early with the sunrise, I'll leave you with some foggy morning views from our last day at Wharton State Forest.

Autumn in the pine barrens.

There were some pretty amazing dew covered spiderwebs along the water.

Fog burning off the lake.

Spiderwebs and fog.

Dew drops and spiderwebs.