Archive for the ‘Appalachian Trail’ Category

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.

Appalachian Trail: Old South Mountain Inn to Washington Monument State Park

I hear the food is good, but I think we were under-dressed!

I hear the food is good, but I think we were under-dressed!

During our series of AT day hikes, we somehow missed two miles of trail between the Old South Mountain Inn (Boonsboro, Md.) and Washington Monument State Park.  It seemed like it would be a pretty mundane stretch of trail, but we ran into plenty of interesting architecture, history, and folklore while barely getting out of the shadow of the inn.

Dahlgren Chapel

Dahlgren Chapel

For starters, the Dahlgren Chapel (circa 1881) is just down the road from the inn.  It was built by Madeline Vinton Dahlgren, the widow of Admiral John A. Dahlgren.  The Admiral invented the Dahlgren Gun, which was used aboard the USS Monitor during its famous sea battle against the CSS Virginia (aka the Merrimack).

"Pregnant Triangle" logo and white blaze

“Pregnant Triangle” logo and white blaze

And then there’s the Snarly Yow!  This beast is a large, black dog seemingly right out of Conan-Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.  The “Yow” allegedly prowls in the vicinity of the inn and is reputed to have had a well-aimed bullet pass through it without affect.  Another pedestrian traveler armed with a club reputedly had “hand-to-fang” combat with the creature.  Neither man nor beast was harmed in the conflict.  Even so, I didn’t have much faith in myself while facing such a monster with a hiking pole and Swiss Army knife.

AT heading uphill on South Mountain

AT heading uphill on South Mountain

After reading about the Snarly Yow, I had some reservations about this hike, but after a fairly sharp climb in the beginning, the dirt (not rock!) path evened out before dropping down the other side at a moderate rate.  I looked over my shoulder for the first mile or so, but there was no sign of the ghost dog.  Convinced of our safety (he typed sarcastically), we pressed on to Washington Monument before heading  back.   Occasionally, we’re fortunate enough to meet some interesting people during our hikes, and today we hit the jackpot with southbound thru-hikers “Rooster” and Alice (she hasn’t picked up a trail name).  The pair expects to reach Georgia in February (BRRRR!!!!!), and they gave us some great information on cold weather camping and both preparing and mailing dehydrated food.  In fact, they have a box waiting for them at the Boonsboro Post Office.  If Rooster and Alice even see this post, it won’t be any time soon, but we’re rooting for them the rest of the way! I’ll feel sorry for them tonight, but–big picture–I’m totally jealous!

Smokey says be careful!

Smokey says be careful!

AT in Maryland Between Routes 40 & 77

Trail Profile

Trail Profile

The section of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland between Routes 40 and 77 is roughly 10.3 miles in length, and it’s probably the easiest (AT) hiking in this part of the country.  There are two overlooks (Annapolis Rocks and Black Rocks Cliff), and the hike ends with a beautiful stretch through rolling farmland.

The famous AT symbol on the site of a trailside watering hole

The famous AT symbol on the site of a trailside watering hole

With that said, the wind howled with gusto this past Sunday, and Jane and I took a wrong turn at the 4.5 mile mark, while Candee finished the last half of the hike walking with a complete stranger.  I was pretty upset with how the trail was marked during parts of the hike, but how can you stay mad at a volunteer who carried a hefty amount of white paint out into the middle-of-nowhere?  I guess one could say that the gray setting was a bit film noir, and suddenly it seemed like Rod Serling stepped out from behind a tree to tell us we were in the Twilight Zone.  Nevertheless, in the words of Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well.  I think I’ve met my daily quota of film and literary puns now!

At hikers love their cairns

AT hikers love their cairns

Generally, people give up on New Year’s resolutions, and Candee and I had three this year: do all of the AT between Va. Rt. 7 and the Pennsylvania line (hers); hike all of the trails in Green Ridge State Forest (mine); and walk all of the Tuscarora Trail in West Virginia (mine again).  We should finish the first two sometime during Thanksgiving week, but it looks like the Tuscarora will have to wait.

Campsite on AT--privy included!

Campsite on AT–privy included!

Okay, back to Sunday’s hike.  Like many other places on the AT, the trail is smooth between the big parking area on Route 40 and the “touristy” Annapolis Rocks overlook, but much of the middle ground is rocky.  Surprisingly, the last big descent went off pretty well as we dropped toward Wolfesville Road in a series of switchbacks, and in spite of getting off track for thirty minutes, we finished with plenty of daylight to spare–even with the first day of “daylight wasting time” looming large.

View from Black Rocks Cliff

View from Black Rocks Cliff

Candee wrote extensively on Facebook about her conversation with her new friend, while Jane and I merrily walked along.  He came east from San Francisco to hike and camp on the Maryland section of the AT, which is pretty cool considering that he’s a veteran of the John Muir Trail.  Who says we don’t have great trails and vistas here in the east!  Unfortunately, he dined on his last bit of rice during his final night in the woods.  That doesn’t sound all that appetizing.

Side view at Black Rocks.  These were the most difficult pictures I have ever taken.  The wind literally tried to take my camera for a ride!

Side view at Black Rocks. These were the most difficult pictures I have ever taken. The wind literally tried to take my camera for a ride!

We’ve done a number of day hikes while trying to polish off the AT in Maryland, and I’m reminded that a few of the hardened thru-hikers do something called the Maryland Challenge every year.  The challenge is to hike all 41+ miles in Maryland in 24 hours.  To put it in modern terms, that sounds totally cray cray, but anybody tough enough to walk from Georgia (or Maine) to Maryland might see things differently.

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks.  I was beginning to think that I have rocks in  my head!

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. I was beginning to think that I have rocks in my head!

Anyway, these rising amateur hikers are ten miles closer to knocking off one of our resolutions, and whatever lies between Route 77 and Pen Mar Park is the last leg of the journey.  Then there’s a seven mile stretch of Long Pond Trail that’ll finish off Green Ridge.  Either should make for a great hike!

Getting really close to Rt. 77.  I could

Getting really close to Rt. 77. I could almost see the car!