Archive for the ‘Trails That Meet the C&O’ Category

Sleepy Creek WMA: A 9.4 Mile Circuit Hike Including the Tuscarora Trail

Bear Track on the Tuscarora Trail near High Rock

Bear Track on the Tuscarora Trail near High Rock

Tempting as they usually are, our usual haunts really aren’t all that tempting on a holiday weekend.  Granted, I’m relatively sure the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area was pretty crowded in the vicinity of the lake, but a 9.4 mile circuit that I’ve been wanting to hike near the southern end of the WMA turned out to be a great (and quiet) alternative to fighting crowds in most places.

Great Eastern Trail sign and Tuscarora Trail blue blaze

Great Eastern Trail sign and Tuscarora Trail blue blaze

This hike had a familiar starting point, as I parked on the Hampshire Grade Road across from the Beacon Hill trail head.  From there, Candee and I walked 1.5 miles (on Beacon Hill/Tuscarora) that we’d seen in 2014 before turning left on a forest service road toward Pee Wee Point.  We stayed on the road (Pee Wee Point Trail) for about a mile before taking an abrupt right onto a poorly marked connector trail (.8 miles in length) that displayed one very lonely red blaze on the way to the bottom of the mountain.  The connector proved to be very difficult to follow, but our directions assured us that everything would be okay as long as we kept heading downhill.

Passing a wild turkey habitat area on the next forest service road

Passing a wild turkey habitat area on the next forest service road

The next stage consisted of another mile on a forest service road, as we passed a wildlife clearing before taking a right in the middle of a second clearing onto the white-blazed High Rock Trail.  This trail hosted our hike between the 4.2 and 5.1 mile marks, and after crossing a nearly dry Brush Creek, we headed up a steep hill to majestic High Rock and a sharp right onto the Tuscarora Trail.

Crossing Brush Creek, which was pretty easy  during the dry season

Crossing Brush Creek, which was pretty easy during the dry season

For the next two miles, the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail follows a pair of forest roads, the second of which is a sharp right (leading to Pee Wee Point) that closes the circuit portion of the hike.  At that point, a left turn reunited us with the Beacon Hill/Tuscarora Trail and a 1.5 mile up-and-down back to our roadside parking.

An imaginative blaze on the High Rock Trail

An imaginative blaze on the High Rock Trail

There were a few highlights on the 9.4 mile circuit (with an elevation gain of 1700′).  The first, as mentioned, is a solid, uphill workout on the High Rock Trail.  This was followed by numerous bear signs along the Tuscarora Trail heading away (north) from High Rock.  We met the only two hikers of the day at about the 6.5 mile mark, and as we heard them talking on the ridge above us, a large animal thundered through the woods on our left.  Was it a bear (or possibly bears, as there appeared to be a mother with at least one cub in the area)?  That’s difficult to say, but it’s a definite possibility.

From this vantage point, High Rock Trail drops off to the left and the Tuscarora Trail continues straight  along the ridge

From this vantage point, High Rock Trail drops off to the left and the Tuscarora Trail continues straight along the ridge.  We, however, were heading in the opposite direction.

The Tuscarora Trail and the trails that branch off of it are well-maintained but less crowded than most of our area’s other options.  The Tuscarora itself was created as an alternative route for the Appalachian Trail, and like the AT, it has many rugged stretches.  Unlike the AT, the Tuscarora isn’t a household word, and we were thankful for that over the holiday weekend.

A partial view of High Rock at the 5.1 mile mark.

A partial view of High Rock at the 5.1 mile mark.

Looking for Coal on the Tuscarora Trail

Back on the Tuscarora Trail!

Back on the Tuscarora Trail!

Back on the 16th, we followed the familiar blue blazes of the Tuscarora Trail.  I suppose this one was 100% my idea.  My father was a coal miner, and King Coal handed me a great childhood and the chance to go to college on a silver platter.  After reading about an old mining operation in the Sleepy Creek WMA along the Meadow Branch, I was pretty excited about heading out on the Tuscarora and jumping off for a short trek down the Old Mine Trail.

Looking into the distance at Maryland.  The Potomac is out there somewhere.

Looking into the distance at Maryland. The Potomac is out there somewhere.

We parked at the end of Audubon Road and headed uphill on a logging road before veering off to the left.  The trail meandered toward an overlook of sorts that was kind of lacking because of the barren trees, gray sky, and dead leaves.  The next two miles were mostly downhill, and much of it was over rocks.  It reminded me of the AT near Pen Mar, maybe a little too much.  In fact, the rugged terrain made me wonder about how difficult it must have been getting coal out of these mountains.

"Enough is enough!  I've had it with these monkey-fighting rocks on this Monday-thru-Friday trail!"

“Enough is enough! I’ve had it with these monkey-fighting rocks on this Monday-thru-Friday trail!”  See the blue blaze?

Nevertheless, in 1837, the Berkeley Coal Mining and Railroad Company bought 4,900 acres along the Meadow Branch, and an 1847 map shows three mines operating in the immediate area.  I’m not sure if they were deep or surface mines, but I was expecting to find a neon sign in the woods pointing toward an opening or a shaft.  Such was not the case!  I do a lot of Sunday hiking, but on this day, I kind of wondered why I didn’t stay home and watch football!  I couldn’t stop thinking about football…

Hey, this looks a bit like those old school goalposts!

Hey, this looks a bit like those old school goalposts!

Yeah, that’s when I came across an odd looking tree which was fronted by another tree.  The combination looked like a goalpost, so I did get my football fix in and decided to move on.  We followed the directions in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s trail guide toward the junction of the Tuscarora and Whites Knob Trails, and this led us to the Meadow Branch.  From there we headed back up a slight grade and found coal.  The mining company originally wanted to run railroad tracks to the mines, but the coal deposits weren’t nearly rich enough to justify the expense.  I completely understand; we didn’t find all that much either!  Nonetheless, I do have a thing for coal, and even finding a few sparse lumps made my day.  It kind of reminded me that I have a lot of reasons to be thankful.

There's coal in them thar hills!

There’s coal in them thar hills!

Is That What I Think It Is?

 

Even the big guy loves hiking on the Appalachian Trail

Even the big guy loves hiking on the Appalachian Trail!

Okay, there I was–taking a picture of a trail sign–when the biggest, hairiest hiker I have ever seen suddenly appeared on my camera screen.  The shot was blurry, as most Bigfoot pictures are, but with a little persuasion I was able to get this friendly squatch to pose for an action shot.  We chatted briefly, and I gave him a granola bar and a bottle of water to tide him over until he made it to his next food drop at the local post office.  My advice to everybody is to get out in the woods and take a hike: you never know who you’ll meet on the trail!

AT on the Rocks: Route 77 to Pen Mar County Park

This is just off of Rt. 77.  It looks so innocent--a flat dirt field..

This is just off of Rt. 77. It looks so innocent–a flat dirt field..

We’ve had our share of ups-and-downs on our local stretch of the Appalachian Trail, but by most accounts, the 63 miles between Rt. 7 in Virginia and the Pennsylvania line are considered among the easiest on the entire trail.  My personal experience tells me that “among the easiest” isn’t always synonymous with “easy” when speaking of the AT.  Apparently, it’s all pretty difficult.

Once again, the AT is pulling the wool over our eyes.  This looks like the trail in the county park near our hometown.  Yeah, right!

Once again, the AT is pulling the wool over our eyes. This looks like the trail in the county park near our hometown. Yeah, right!

Our series of day hikes has taken us to a couple of places that have garnered some notoriety in thru-hiker narratives.  A while back, we hiked Virginia’s “Roller Coaster” without much difficulty, but the rocky mile heading off the mountain toward Pen Mar was a bit more ominous.  In David Miller’s AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, the author describes a misstep on these rocks that sidelined him for five days. In fact, he wore an air-cast on his ankle from Pen Mar Park all the way to Maine.

We trail bypassed these rocks about halfway up our big climb.

The trail bypassed these rocks about halfway up our big climb

The day started simply enough, as we traversed a smooth field heading into the woods.  From there, we continued with two relatively easy wooded miles before a moderate descent.  On the Appalachian Trail, what comes down must go up, and the reward for our downhill jaunt was an intimidating climb heading up a very steep mountain.  When Candee is in a dire situation on the trail, she asks her trail god (lower case g) Frank for help, and this time he delivered with a series of switchbacks all the way to the top.  However, this is the AT, and the sunshine and roses seem to always be short lived.

This is a power line a ways beyond our big climb.  The pictures don't quite jibe with the narrative, so bear with me!

This is a power line a ways beyond our big climb. The pictures don’t quite jibe with the narrative, so bear with me, please.

Actually, in spite of Frank delivering the switchbacks, our ascent was wrought with surprises.  For starters, Candee’s brown prescription sunglasses fell into an equally brown glob of dead leaves.  The trail goblins gave the glasses a kick and sent them several feet from where they dropped, and it took a full fifteen minutes to find them.  We pressed on, and further up the mountain we ran into a day hiker who was heading to our starting spot, much like we were bound for his.

I stopped to talk and described our uphill battle as “a bit of a climb,” but he assured us that this was nothing compared to the heart-breaker coming up from the other side.  I was puzzled because the trail profile for this hike showed us going in the tougher direction, but sometimes elevation gain isn’t everything.  The hiker described his boulder scramble as both difficult and depressing, and I suddenly remembered the AWOL story.  Oh, well, we were still three miles away from all of that…

High Rock Overlook

High Rock Overlook

Along the way, we encountered a welcome surprise (thanks, Frank).  For the second straight week, we met a pair of southbound thru-hikers on their way to Georgia.  We forgot to ask them their trail names, but they were familiar with Rooster and Alice from our Old South Mountain Inn hike.  A quick look at the local ten-day forecast shows a series of “highs in the forties and lows in the twenties” in the near future.  Thru-hikers are a tough lot, but I’m still cringing at the thought of the cold nights these people will have to endure.

There is a sign just before climbing up on the overlook asking people not to use spray paint on the rock.  That didn't turn out too well!

There is a sign just before climbing up on the overlook asking people not to use spray paint on the rock. That didn’t turn out too well!

Before the dreaded downhill, we took a side trail to the High Rock Overlook (see above).  There’s a sign that reads something like, “Please don’t spray paint on the rock.”  Naturally, the overlook is covered with graffiti.  I’m not a big fan of the stuff, but the view itself opens up into an amazing one-hundred eighty degree panorama that makes for a postcard view in any direction.  Like Roger Daltrey, one can literally see for miles and miles.

The trail was hell, but near the top Frank gave us something that sort of looked like steps, but he was no match for the rest of the boulder garden

The trail was hell for the next couple of miles, but near the top Frank gave us something that sort of looked like steps.  However,  he was no match for the rest of the boulder garden

When we reached the boulder-strewn descent, our pace fell off to about a mile-an-hour.  Some of the rocks loomed large, and the fallen leaves hid many smaller ones that pivoted sharply as we stepped on them.  Our slow, careful trudge wasn’t a HORRIBLE (more like horrible!)  experience, even though this stretch and our late start made a close call of getting out of the woods before dark.

More rocks!  This IS the trail. I can't make this stuff up!

More rocks! This IS the trail. I can’t make this stuff up!

This nine mile hike finished off our 2014 goal of day hiking our local AT, and the experience made better hikers out of all three of us (Jane, good job!).  We didn’t see quite as much history and wildlife as we do on the C&O Canal, and the AT is a bit more crowded than either Green Ridge or the Tuscarora Trail.  Nevertheless, our hiking appetites have been whetted enough to ponder the possibility of a thru-hike of our own.  That’s a few years away, but hiking the many nearby trails has been an great experience, and the enthusiasm won’t wane anytime soon.

I need a parting picture, but what...  Oh, yeah, more of those blasted rocks!

I need a parting picture, but what… Oh, yeah, more of those blasted rocks!

Pen Mar County Park: A “Sign” of Things to Come

From Georgia to Maine

From Georgia to Maine.

Pen Mar Park is widely known as the place where Appalachian Trail thru-hikers leave Maryland and enter Pennsylvania–or vice versa.  Both Candee and I would like to hike the AT someday, but for now we’re thinking much smaller.  With Rt. 7 to Harpers Ferry done (a small part of Virginia and all of West Virginia), it’s all about finishing off Maryland.

The arrow is pointing at me, AND my backpack matches the sign!

The arrow is pointing at me, AND my backpack matches the sign! I’m generally not all that fashionable!

Our trip to Pen Mar was merely an exploratory mission.  We have one more day hike left in Maryland, and depending on which direction we take, the hike will either begin or end in the park.  Wow!  That’ll be something like 60 miles down and 2000 to go.

Overlook at Pen Mar County Park

Overlook at Pen Mar County Park.  Notice the railroad tracks about a third of the way up the picture.  Hikers cross the tracks just before entering Pennsylvania.

After checking out the overlook and cursing a bit about the locked restroom doors, we dipped our toes into the proverbial kiddie pool and took a short trip into Pennsylvania.  We didn’t learn very much, but we did see a few interesting signs and markers.

Another AT sign

Another AT sign

Upon returning to the car, we looked into the distance in both directions.  The climbs look pretty intimidating each way, but they’re nothing compared to the Whites or Smokies.  However, there was a time when Weverton and Loudoun Heights looked pretty difficult.  Until the time is right to take on the trail as a whole, it’s all about baby steps and being good enough to take on the hikes that lie ahead.  It should be fun.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania.  There's a trail log in the mail box.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania. There’s a trail log in the mail box.