Archive for the ‘Miles 151-184 1/2’ Category

Hanging out at Lockhouse 75 (Open from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday from May 23–September 27, 2015)

Lockhouse 75 from between the lock and the bypass flume

Lockhouse 75 from between the lock and the bypass flume

I’ve always enjoyed volunteering at Lockhouse 75 once or twice every summer.  There are a number of people who do LH 75 duty who know a lot more about the C&O Canal than I do, but I think that I’ve developed into a fairly decent docent (pun intended).  On this trip, my new copy of Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal got me out of a few close calls with the Stumped Monster, and I would like to thank the Harpers Ferry Historical Association for doing a great job with the updated version (available at visitor centers all along the towpath).  I even pulled a few words and phrases out of the Glossary of Canal Terms and looked a whole lot smarter than I really am!

Lots of water everywhere!  Generally, there's just a trickle going through the lock.

Lots of water everywhere! Generally, there’s just a trickle going through the lock.

Today, however, was mostly about talking to thru-riders who were dealing with the horrendous weather the area has been experiencing for a couple of weeks.  I haven’t been to the renovated Big Slackwater section for a while, but I imagine everybody doing the big ride will be dealing with the dreaded detour for a few more days. The towpath above McMahon’s Mill is very susceptible to high water, but that’s over 80 miles downstream, so they may get lucky.  Most of the riders were going from Cumberland to Georgetown, but I did see two guys “heading upstream,” and their previous day’s saga had them biking 40 miles in a torrential, all-day downpour that spilled upwards to two inches on the region.

Between the flume and lock again and looking toward the West Virginia hills.

Between the flume and lock again and looking toward the West Virginia hills.

With the North Branch of the Potomac looking brown and angry, a handful of fishermen opted to try their luck in the small, watered section of the canal below the lock.  A young boy caught a few smallmouth bass and bluegills in the fresher-than-usual pool, and the waterfall heading into the lock made for a pleasant diversion in between visitors.

This replica canal boat is a model of Joseph Mose's  No. 27.  His son J.P. Mose made this  excellent scale model and dedicated it to the C&O Canal NHP.

This replica canal boat is a model of Joseph Mose’s No. 27. His son J.P. Mose made this excellent scale model and dedicated it to the C&O Canal NHP.

And this is how Mr. Mose's canal boat got through the locks.

And this is how Mr. Mose’s canal boat got through the locks.

In all, 48 people passed the lockhouse and 26 came inside to take a look around.  If I recall correctly, my first LH 75 duty was in 2012, and the displays and information have been greatly improved in that time.  This was my second–and last–trip to the lockhouse for 2015, but it would be great to spend another day or two there next summer.  I’ve enjoyed talking to the people who have walked or ridden down the towpath, and many were a great source of information themselves.

Butterfly weed near the parking lot directly acroess from the lockhouse.  The North Branch parking lot is closed during the railroad bridge construction.

Butterfly weed near the parking lot directly acroess from the lockhouse. The North Branch parking lot is closed during the railroad bridge construction.

Boy Scout Troop 68, Reynoldsburg, Ohio

BSA Troop 68 from Reynoldsburg, Ohio

BSA Troop 68 from Reynoldsburg, Ohio (17 in all)

Taking a break...

Taking a break…

While spending the day at Lockhouse 75, Candee and I were fortunate enough to meet this group of thru-riding scouts (plus a few girls and the troop leaders) from Reynoldsburg, Ohio.  They were about nine miles into their journey down the towpath, with plenty of camping and exploring still to come.  One of the leaders told us that he hiked the entire C&O Canal in his youth and has always wanted to bike it.  I haven’t done the thru-ride in a few years, but I understand their excitement.  The 184.5 mile ride should be something they all remember for a lifetime!

Bats in the Paw Paw Tunnel!

These guys were just above eye-level on the "towpath" side!

These two were just above eye-level on the “towpath” side! (Photo courtesy of Chris Fink)

When talking about bats in tunnels in Allegany County, Maryland, the first place that comes to mind is the abandoned Indigo Tunnel on the old Western Maryland Railway.  However, in the past, I have counted a number of bats in the Paw Paw Tunnel.  Without a flashlight, they are virtually invisible, and with a light, they generally look like dark splotches on the bricks.  The vast majority of them cling to the wall across the canal from the walkway, but I have seen a few hanging “Dracula-style,” straight down, from the middle of the arch.  However, these two were on the walkway side, and they were literally within arm’s reach.  I’m not creeped out by bats–well, not really–but we did stay out of their way and opted to zoom in.  It’s a hard enough life out in the cold, and fortunately they didn’t seem to notice us walking through the tunnel.

C&O Canal Access Into Paw Paw, WV

New Access From the C&O into Paw Paw, WV

New Access From the C&O into Paw Paw, WV

The convenience store in Paw Paw, WV has always been an option for stocking up on supplies while biking or hiking the length of the C&O Canal.  For that matter, a new B&B opened up recently on the West Virginia side (just beyond the store/gas station), and recreational travelers now have the option to go  approximately 28 miles from Cumberland before stopping after a very manageable first day.  The only problem was that biking or walking along Route 51 has always been a bit of a pain.  Things have changed!

New bike route into Paw Paw

New bike route into Paw Paw

As the towpath reaches 51 (heading downstream), a new .6 (approximately) mile bike path leads from the C&O to the Potomac River bridge.  This access route goes underneath of the abandoned WMRR trestle and follows the road at the bottom of a large field.  Several trees have been planted along the way, adding to the relatively pleasant journey.  When reaching the end, there is a well-marked bike lane into town.

More of the bike route

Near the start

In the past, I’ve always been one of those people who never gave any thought to going into Paw Paw while biking on the towpath.  The idea of making a bottle of water last until reaching Bill’s Place in Little Orleans always sounded better than taking my chances on Route 51.  However, this new route makes Paw Paw an easily reached part of the C&O Canal experience and opens up a number of possibilities.

Easy access to Paw Paw!

Easy access to Paw Paw!

From Tunnel Hill Trail to the Top of Paw Paw Tunnel

I've noticed this before, but I've never given it much thought!

I’ve noticed this before, but I’ve never given it much thought!

Candee and I were talking the other day about how many times we’ve been through the Paw Paw Tunnel, and neither of us had much of a guess.  I’m not a math major, so I would probably have to take off a shoe to even count the times we’ve done the Tunnel Hill Trail.  This section of the canal and its environs is beautiful, and I never get tired of it.  Nevertheless, this hike was basically the same-old stuff, and it was obvious that nothing interesting was going to jump out in front of us.  As usual, I was wrong.

We went up the front side of Tunnel Hill and took a side trip to Kessler Tunnel, but as we headed down the other side toward Tunnel Hollow, we ran into a couple of hikers and started talking.  They said that they wandered off of Tunnel Hill Trail and walked a good ways on a well-maintained path before figuring out they were off track.  I was puzzled by this (and Candee was excited!), so we kept our eyes open for the trail as we headed down the hill.

Looking across Tunnel Hollow

Looking across Tunnel Hollow

As we hiked along one of the last switchbacks before coming to the towpath in Tunnel Hollow, we saw it–a “well-maintained path” heading back toward the tunnel.  The trail had a few ups-and-downs as it held to the edge of the hill above the recent rock slide, and eventually it led to a a great view of the boardwalk and a neat downhill vantage point of the downstream portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel.  From there it wound uphill and to the right, leading to a great view of the hollow from directly above the tunnel.

Tunnel Hollow from a higher vantage point

Tunnel Hollow from a higher vantage point

It’s pretty obvious that Tunnel Hill Trail leads from one end of the Paw Paw Tunnel to the other, but at no point does it go directly over it.  With this in mind, I’ve always wondered if there was a way toward the bore holes that were used for blasting rock in the tunnel below.  It’s a hidden piece of C&O Canal history, and this trail happens to lead there!  From above the tunnel, it is also a short hop to the waterfall that helps to feed the canal below.

In his Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal, Thomas Hahn mentions a humorous bit of folklore involving the bore holes.  Apparently, an Irishman and his mule were arguing, and the man gave the animal a swift kick that led to it falling 400′ down the hole.  The mule lived, and the Irishman was forced to lower bales of hay and water to the animal until the canal workers tunneled through.  That sounds even crazier than my last post about Bigfoot on the AT!

This appears to be an old spring along the trail.

This appears to be an old spring along the trail.

Due to waning daylight, we called off our trek at the park boundary.  The trail appears to head toward Malcolm Road, but that’s fodder for another hike.  I’m definitely interested in a walk through the woods directly above the Paw Paw Tunnel.  This is a hidden gem that we found while taking a seemingly mundane hike, but, then again, there’s no such thing as a mundane hike.  There’s a lot to see on the top of that hill.

Why isn't there a sign for this great trail?

The trail is narrow but easily traversed.