Archive for the ‘Locks & Lock Houses’ Category

Cohill Station (Mile 130.7 of the C&O Canal)

This is the Cohill Station parking lot.  There is a large gravel pile at the end and room for several cars.

This is the Cohill Station parking lot. There is a large gravel pile at the end and room for several cars.

This is the first thing you see after crossing a footbridge over the canal

This sign is the first thing you see after crossing a footbridge over the canal

Cohill Station is one of those places that I’ve passed on a bike a dozen times, but today’s hike marked the first time I have ever parked in the lot and started anything from this location.  The 23 miles of towpath that nearly parallels the Western Maryland Rail Trail is quieter than much of the C&O because of the alternative paved route, so it’s not surprising that the only person Candee and I saw was a long distance rider, presumably on his way upstream to Cumberland.

A month ago, everything was green.  The lack of leaves does make for some great long distance views!

A month ago, everything was green. The lack of leaves does make for some great long distance views!

We started the hike with a 7.5 mile down-and-back to the Devils Eyebrow in mind, but we stopped at mile marker 128 instead.  Candee has been battling with bronchitis for about five weeks, and on this day, there was something in the air that caused me to have a two hour, nonstop sneezing fit.  Maybe that’s because we haven’t had a “hard” frost up this point.   We’ve had a number of excellent hikes this year, but few of them have been recent because we both haven’t been healthy at the same time since…  I really don’t remember!

Lock 53, the Irishman's Lock

Lock 53, the Irishman’s Lock.  The port-a-john at Leopards Mill is visible in the distance.

Lockhouse 53 ruins

Lockhouse 53 ruins

I’m not sure how a website called “C&O Canal Adventures” has led us to so many other places.  The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP is where our passion for hiking and biking began, so it’s always great to get back to the towpath.  Places like the Leopards Mill hiker/biker campsite and MM 128 offer magnificent views of the river, and the Lockhouse 53 ruins and two culverts along the way throw a bit of history into the mix.  Likewise, the solitude gave us an opportunity to reflect upon our veterans and how much we owe them.  I would first like to thank them for the day off and the opportunity to take a hike, but, more importantly, thanks for our freedom.

Leopards Mill hiker/biker offers a great view of the river.

Leopards Mill hiker/biker offers a great view of the river.

Hopefully, the nagging affects of congestion and allergies will soon be things of the past.  There are still several weeks of autumn remaining, and afterward there’s something about a long winter’s walk in the woods that is exciting from the 7am cup of coffee through to cranking up the Jeep’s heater at the end of the day.  Cohill Station was a good place to kick off the season of leafless trees and nearly wide-open vistas.  After our recent lull, I think many interesting hikes are just around the corner.

This is a nice view of the Potomac from mm 128.  This was a great place to turn around and head back.

This is a nice view of the Potomac from mm 128. This was a great place to turn around and head back.

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!

Creosote Tank at Lock 66

Creosote Tank at Lock 66.  As usual, I defer to Thomas Hahn for my information.

Creosote Tank at Lock 66. As usual, I defer to Thomas Hahn for my information.

According to Thomas Hahn (Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal), a carpentry shop once stood on site near Lock 66.  It burned sometime in the early 1960s, but a “creosote tank into which lumber was dipped” still remains.  Over thirty years have passed since Hahn’s original observation, but the vat is still in remarkably good condition.  He doesn’t give any indication as to the actual age of the tank, but it has seen ninety years and three-hundred sixty seasonal changes since the C&O ceased operations.  I’m guessing that if creosote tanks are still being made, they don’t build ’em like that anymore!  A similar tank exists across from Lock 44 on the berm side.  Without some sort of resource, the casual park visitor would have a difficult time making sense of many of the ruins along the canal.  In this case the tank seems to have outlasted most–if not all–of the lumber dipped into it.

Lock 68

Lockhouse 68

Lockhouse 68

Lock 68 is often referred to as Crabtree’s Lock, based upon the name of the last lock tender.  It’s located at mile 164.82, which is about 2.5 miles upstream from the access road into the Town Creek Aqueduct.  The lock is a unique spot for a number of reasons: it is also the site of the Potomac Forks hiker/biker campsite; the canal is watered here and is actually popular with local fishermen (Battie Mixon’s fishing hole); and the two branches of the Potomac meet approximately 200 yards downstream, as the South Branch can be seen merging with the North Branch while passing beneath a railroad trestle.  The actual time of  our hike was in late February as the last vestiges of 15″ of snow continued to re-freeze and thaw until the towpath became a sometimes icy, sometimes muddy mess.

Lock 68

Lock 68

The highlight of the day was seeing six very brave deer run across the “iffy” ice on the canal near mile marker 164.  There were several spots where small streams entered the canal, and the slightly warmer water melted large sections that had previously been frozen.  The area also had plenty of beaver sign, including a small dam just below the towpath in a large field.  Indeed, the theme for the day seemed to be “water, water everywhere.”

On the subject of water, the confluence of the North and South Branches is of particular interest.  The sources of the Potomac begin at the Fairfax Stone in West Virginia (North Branch) and in the mountains of Highland County Virginia (South Branch).  Many of the locals refer to the North Branch as “the Potomac” above their confluence, but others give the South Branch equal billing.  Which branch is biggest depends mainly on what area has received the most rain at any given time.  When the border was originally surveyed, it was decided that it should run along the main stem of the Potomac, and at the time the North Branch was flooding.  Had it been the other way around, present day Maryland, West Virginia, and perhaps even Virginia would look completely different on a map.  As a native West Virginian, I’m one of those people who gives the South Branch its due and insist that the “real” Potomac starts a couple of hundred yards below Lockhouse 68.  Feel free to agree or disagree.  I would love to add any comments on the subject.

Looking across at the South Branch.  The blasted sun was NOT cooperating!

Looking across at the South Branch. The blasted sun was NOT cooperating!