AT Roller Coaster: Enjoy the Ride

I can't say we weren't warned:


On New Year’s Day, Candee vowed to walk all of the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia and Maryland.  The Maryland part is pretty straight forward, but the West Virginia section is kind of tricky.  Very little of the AT is in the Mountain State, but between Snickers Gap (Rt. 7) and Keys Gap (Rt. 9), the trail zigzags across the West Virginia/Virginia border, and this 13.8 mile section has to be traversed in order to truly reach the goal.

A cairn in the making

A cairn in the making

Heading north from Route 7, it’s actually the first four  miles (or so) of the trail that is specifically known as the Roller Coaster–although very little of it is flat all the way to Route 9.  I don’t have any specific data at hand (that’s Candee’s forte), but I would guestimate that the first four miles are like going up and down from the C&O to Weverton Cliffs and back three times.  Thankfully, there is a nice view at Raven Rock that breaks up the monotony a bit.

A rocky stretch of trail

A rocky stretch of trail

There’s a sign in the ATC building in Harpers Ferry stating that our local area is the easiest part of the AT.  I can understand that.  Anybody thru-hiking the trail and crossing the Smokies and Whites isn’t likely to remember much about Weverton or Loudon Heights.  However, I have read a few hiker memoirs, and the Roller Coaster is mentioned in more than one of them.  We can take some pride in that, but the climbs weren’t what made the hike difficult–it was the rocks!


Lots of ups and downs!

Jane, watch your step!

Watch your step, Jane!!!

For what little it matters, I’m a mailman, and my route is on the side of a hill.  There are 1500+ stairs along the way, and it’s a bit over ten miles in length.  That’s a big help on most hikes, but it doesn’t do me much good on the Appalachian Trail.  The only preparation for walking over pointed rocks is…more walking over rocks.  My handy, dandy LL Bean hiking staff saved me from at least five face plants, and I think Candee and Jane had similar experiences.  Nevertheless, most trail journals don’t have a lot to say about the terrain in Virginia or West Virginia.  Apparently, the rockiest part of the AT is in Pennsylvania.  It gets rockier?  That’s pretty scary!

View from Raven Rocks

View from Raven Rocks

After leaving the “official” Roller Coaster, much of the hike is up-and-down, but it dips along the top of a high ridge.  Summer is still hanging tough, and the leaves were green and intact.  Nevertheless, we were afforded a couple of views of the valleys below.  This was definitely a great hike, but it would be spectacular with either the colors of Autumn or the long-distance views of Winter.

Another view

Another view

One of the more impressive parts of the trail is a man-made staircase that leads up and down a small rise somewhere around the ten mile mark.  It’s an outstanding reminder of all of the work that goes into maintaining the most popular hiking trail in the eastern United States.  I commend the trail volunteers for this fine piece of work, as well as lugging chain saws over miles of the AT in order to remove fallen trees, etc.

Heading down the steps.  Honestly, we were about ten miles in at this point, and I was hoping for an elevator.

Heading down the steps. Honestly, we were about ten miles in at this point, and I was hoping for an elevator.

I think the most important thing I got out of this hike is that we did about as much as the average thru-hiker does in a day.  What you have  to remember is that they do it 150 times, and a lot of the terrain is considerably tougher than what we crossed.  However, Candee and I do dream of walking the entire trail someday, and although we haven’t passed the test yet, we did do pretty well on this pop quiz (and Jane gets an A+).  While we did our thing, many thru-hikers are nearing Katahdin, and some have probably already made it to the top.  Congratulations!  We hope to join the club someday.

Uh-oh!  This looks too good to be true!  There has to be a boulder garden somewhere close!

Uh-oh! This looks too good to be true! There has to be a boulder garden somewhere close!

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by LevelWalker on September 17, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks, Candee. Your map and profile add a lot to the post. It has its ups-and-downs, for sure, but the rocks are the icing on the cake. It was a great workout.


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