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

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!

Maryland Heights and Stone Fort Trail

Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River from Maryland Heights

Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River from Maryland Heights

I’ve lived in the Martinsburg, WV area for a number of years, but this is only my second trip to the top of Maryland Heights.  The first time was roughly 25 years ago, and at the time I was residing in Morgantown.  I rode over with a friend on a day trip, and we saw people on the cliff and decided to go up and have a look.  The trouble is that I was in grad school at the time, and my exercise regimen consisted of heavy reading and lifting 12 oz. weights.  Needless to say, I was gasping for breath and cursing all the way to the top.  Thankfully, times do change!

A look toward Harpers Ferry

A look toward Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah

The trail begins next to the C&O Canal, along Sandy Hook Road, and it immediately heads straight up the hill.  Statistically, the up-and-back trip to the overlook is approximately 3.3 miles, with an ascent of 1200′.  The Stone Fort Trail circuit adds an additional 2 miles and 400′ of elevation gain.

Potomac River

Potomac River

The lower end of the Stone Fort Trail appears as a left turn about tw0-thirds of the way up the hill.  It is a difficult climb that ends in a flat stretch of woods before continuing up a flight of log steps near the fort ruins.  Along the way, there are numerous interpretive signs.  Without causing a spoiler alert, the gist is that in 1862, Confederate troops captured the heights and forced the surrender of 12,000 troops in the town below.  It’s easy to see why: from this vantage point, it would be easy to shell anything or anybody that came into view down below.

Stone Fort Ruins

Stone Fort Ruins with interpretive sign

The fort was never completed, but it is an impressive sight with a view of its own.  Also, the stones are a sign of things to come.  From here, the Stone Fort Trail follows a sharp, boulder-strewn ridgeline before descending steeply toward the overlook trail.  It reminded us a lot of the difficult rocky stretch we encountered last week on the AT’s Roller Coaster section.  In fact, Maryland Heights has a number of similarities with a few of our other local hiking trails.

Trail sign

Trail sign…up, up, up!

For starters, the ascent was reminiscent of the long climb from Spruce Pine Hollow to the Devil’s Nose on the Tuscarora Trail, and the crowded trail was similar to the C&O Canal below Seneca Creek.  I guess you could say that the hike had its ups and downs in both the literal and figurative sense, and the limited parking along the road probably makes Maryland Heights a trip best taken on a weekday or during the off-season.  Nevertheless, the workout and view were worth the trip, and including the Stone Fort Trail made it all worthwhile.

Candee really loves her new LL Bean Continental Rucksack

Candee really loves her new LL Bean Continental Rucksack

AT Roller Coaster: Enjoy the Ride

I can't say we weren't warned:

I can’t say we weren’t warned: HIKER WARNING.  YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER THE ROLLER COASTER. BUILT AND MAINTAINED BY THE TRAILBOSS AND HIS CREW OF VOLUNTEERS.  HAVE A GREAT RIDE!!!  Yes, it’s all caps.

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!

Rt._7_to_Rt._9

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!

Appalachian Trail: Turner’s Gap to Gathland State Park

Profile for the AT from Turner's Gap to Gathland State Park

Profile for the AT from Turner’s Gap to Gathland State Park

Recently, Candee has been charting some of our hikes along the Appalachian and Tuscarora Trails, and the accompanying graph reveal some interesting details that we have encountered along the way.  This particular hike looked pretty easy at the onset, but the hot, muggy weather was combined with a 6.1% grade that began about two miles into the hike, and the result was a fairly challenging excursion.

Heading south from Turner's Gap.  As usual, the AT had some surprises just around the corned

Heading south from Turner’s Gap. As usual, the AT had some surprises just around the corned

Heading south from Turner’s Gap, the AT looked like a smooth superhighway through the woods.  I should have known that it was too good to be true.  I do love the Appalachian Trail, but a few recent excursions on the C&O Canal had me spoiled.  Big difference! The graph above is a pretty nice outline of the trail, but it doesn’t tell the full story:  we passed a large, open field, a Civil War Monument, and a split-rail fence before the path took an uphill swing that lasted approximately 1.8 miles.  What else?  Of course there were plenty of rocks, and the long descent into Gathland required watching nearly every step.  In other words, typical AT.

About a mile into the hike, we saw this split-rail fence

About a mile into the hike, we saw this split-rail fence

In general, this hike lacked in stream crossings, overlooks, etc., but there were a few sights that kept things pretty interesting.  For starters, the sign leading into the Crampton Gap Shelter informs thru-hikers that there is a sporadic spring near the site.  We’ve hiked most of the trail locally, but I can’t pretend to know a whole lot about the water dilemma that often faces long-distance hikers.  AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, by David Miller, is a great depiction of the trials and tribulations of hiking from Georgia to Maine–particularly finding water.  In the case of Crampton Gap, it would be a good idea not to depend upon the spring.  Luckily, there is a water source close to US 40 (about 7 miles north), just down the hill from the South Mountain Inn.

Crampton Gap.  Do you know where your next drink is coming from?

Crampton Gap. Do you know where your next drink is coming from?

Probably the most interesting sign along the way was a small, wooden block nailed to a tree and emblazoned with the AT logo.  They may exist elsewhere on the trail, but this is the first we’ve seen locally (see below).  We had to get a picture of it, so I suppose the rocks weren’t the only things that stopped us in our tracks.  At the end of the day, in spite of our sweat-stained shirts and sore feet, the Appalachian Trail keeps offering up something new and unusual around every turn (or ascent!).  I think it’s the challenge that keeps us coming back for more.

This isn't your typical white blaze

This isn’t your typical white blaze