Monday afternoon I ventured out to the Chopawamsic Backcounty Area of Prince William Forest National Park to break in my lightweight camping gear and Northwoods hammock. The Chopawamsic Backcounty Area is 1500 acres of backcountry with 8 camping sites. To access the backcountry you need a camping permit and key that you can obtain at the park visitor center for free (you still need to pay for your park entrance). The backcountry is separate from the park proper (find it on Google Maps). To get there you leave the park and drive a few miles west on Joplin Road then turn on to a dirt road and drive another mile or so until you reach the gate that takes you to the backcountry parking (which unlocks with the key you get at the visitor center). Access to the 8 camping sites is from a two mile loop that starts and ends in a small parking lot with an ancient port-a-potty.
When you check in at the visitor center they will ask you which one of the 8 sites you plan on camping at and put that down on your permit so you should read the descriptions of the sites before you or ask the staff which they recommend. I originally picked site number 2 because the description suggested a great view. When I hiked up to site 2 (and I mean up, the side trail to site 2 is pretty steep) I discovered that there wasn’t really much of a view and the trees weren’t really ideal for hanging a hammock so I headed back on down the hill and on to site number 3 which was pretty much perfect. Since I was the only person in the backcountry that evening I was able to call the visitor center and let them know I was changing sites (important information in case of emergency so they know where to find your body).
This was my first time spending the night in a hammock so I took my time setting things up and playing around with the rigging. I paid extra attention to the tarp because the the weather forecast was telling that there was a 65% chance of a thunderstorm in the evening so I wanted to be sure I had some place to hunker down. Fortunately, although it was very humid, the thunderstorms missed me.
Sleeping in the hammock went pretty much about as well as I would have expected for a first time. There were definitely some lessons learned. For example, it turns out the my sleeping back zips on the left side while the hammock zips on the right side. This slightly complicates the process of getting in and out. Next time I buy a sleeping bag…
Otherwise I slept fairly well. I woke up at one point in the middle of the night with a hyperextended knee. I’m not sure how to avoid that happening since I tend to move around a bit in my sleep. I also discovered that a pillow would make a great addition to my kit. Physically I felt great when I got out of the hammock in the morning. Better actually than most mornings when I roll out of bed. I could definitely get used to sleeping in a hammock.
Overall I am really happy with the outcome of this trip. My goal was to try out a whole bunch of new hiking/camping gear that I had never used before and build the confidence I need to take it out on to the Appalachian Trail. On top of a successful test run I got to enjoy a night in the woods without having to travel far from home. The Chopawamsic Backcounty Area is beautiful and well worth a visit.
Here is a link to all 14 images I shot on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/craigvitter/sets/72157633568100134/