Hiking Dugger Trail at Blue Ridge Mountain Club

My brother David and I backpacked the Dugger Trail at Blue Ridge Mountain Club (BRMC) recently, and it was a great experience.

We began our three-day adventure at the Watson Gap pavilion. Our plan called for embarking Friday around noon, spending two nights on the trail and returning on Sunday before lunch. Weight being an important consideration for backpackers, we were determined that our packs would not weigh more than 33 pounds. We began the trip just under that weight. I will say to anyone considering backpacking "The Dugger", trekking poles were an essential piece of gear for us. This trail has approximately 25 water crossings (one way, not round trip) and there are plenty of opportunities to take one or more unpleasant spill(s). Trekking poles added an important safety element that helped us avoid getting wet and bruised. Casual hikers would benefit as well, come to think of it.

It took us about three and a half hours to get to the Boy Scout camp which was our first night’s destination. For all of you who have hiked the trail, three and a half hours may sound woefully slow to you but just remember that extra 30 pounds makes those water crossings a bit more challenging…..unless you feel a soaked backpack isn’t going to be a problem. As we neared the valley floor (this took about 20 minutes) we saw the trickle of a stream which, as we progressed along our way, seemed to grow ever wider and swifter with each passing step. This soothing sound was our constant companion. I must say,
from the initial trickle to the glorious cascades nearer the Boy Scout camp, the water aspect of this adventure made the Dugger Trail a special hike. That beautiful sound was nature at its best…..but I digress.

Approximately 30 minutes into the trek we found one of the few flat spots we would see all day. We marked it as our second night’s campsite and marched on toward the Boy Scout camp. Did I mention those 25 water crossings? They were a factor to be sure. The further we went the wider and more interesting they became. As an aside, the word "interesting" I am told, is what we Americans say when we do not know exactly how best to describe something.

The BSA camp was right where the BRMC staff said it would be. It was in plain sight. What they failed to mention is that one can’t get to it without wading across a small river (12 yards wide and 18+ inches deep). Thankfully both of us could swim. By the way, for those of you who have not yet been to the Boy Scout camp, I have bad news….there are no Boy Scouts to be found; just a 60 x 30 foot covered structure with no walls. There are two picnic tables nestled below and one movable fire pit……and plenty of water. Once there we promptly pitched the tent, gathered the night’s firewood and bathed before
dark. We feasted on sumptuous freeze-dried dishes and followed dinner with a nice warm fire, a couple of fine cigars and a little sour mash. The moon was full that night and the sleeping was easy. We got a little rain during the night but nothing of consequence.

The next morning, after Starbucks coffee and oatmeal we broke camp, then played with the ATV you BRMC gents were nice enough to drop off at the camp for us. Around midday it was off to point B, that flat spot about five miles back….assuming we could find it again. By the way, "flat spot" is a relative term when one is in the mountains. I won’t bore you with the details of day two’s hike but will say we found the spot without much trouble. This site, while beautiful, took a little more preparation than the BSA campsite before it could be properly called a "camp" site. Most importantly we had to construct a safe, functional fire pit. We gathered the rocks and got her built to field specifications….. flat, small stones laid in such a fashion as to become the pit’s floor, surrounded by a 10" high wall of larger stones placed so that the logs, once burning, could be contained easily. It’s in plain view now. You will see it on the right side heading toward the BSA camp about 25 to 30 minutes from the pavilion. Think of it as our gift to all the backpackers who follow.

I would add that there is plenty of water nearby which made it easier for cooking, bathing, etc. When you expect to be in the wilderness for an extended period of time you soon realize that you aren’t going to be able to take with you sufficient amounts of water to supply all of your needs. Your pack would be far too heavy. Thus the availability of water sources during your hike becomes a critical consideration. To be clear for those who may read this story, we did not drink and cook with the water we found along the trail without first purifying it. We most certainly purified it. Today’s purification systems are light weight marvels (thank you, US military) and easy to operate. We had packed such a system, thankfully.

Well, by now you can imagine how day two ended….tasty, freeze-dried food, cigars and well, some of that sour mash. Did I mention that superb fire pit we constructed? It performed just fine.

Sunday morning (day three) we broke camp after breakfast and headed out….and up toward the Watson Gap pavilion. In truth, day three was really all about that "and up" part. For those readers who may have been a little weak in physics and the natural sciences in college, allow me to affirm for you that gravity is not your friend when climbing a mountain with a 30-pound pack on your back. We did make it back up I am proud to report. Bottom line: We had a great time. As BRMC owners, all of us are really quite blessed. This is beautiful land!

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