Appalachian Trail: Gathland State Park to Harpers Ferry

On Sunday, Tod and I hiked Maryland sections 6 and 7 of the Appalachian Trail, from Gathland State Park to Harpers Ferry. We parked one car at the visitor’s parking area of Harpers Ferry (a little over a mile from the trailhead) then drove to Gathland State Park to begin our hike.


The trail going south was really wonderful. Compared to our recent hike, we found the trail to be wide and relatively free of rocks. We could actually look up every once in a while without losing our balance! I found myself zipping along with wide strides. Before we knew it, we had reached the Ed Garvey Shelter, named in honor of someone who was a devotee of the AT. Along the way, we found areas where we could veer off to look over a vista. However, this is best done in fall and winter when the trees have no leaves. A sign of the ease of the trail was the fact that we saw quite a few dogs on the trail. This section is very do-able for four-legged friends.

The trail is pretty flat, except for an area about halfway to our destination (about five miles in) that had some rocks and some elevation. Before long we were going downhill. We then reached the Weverton Cliffs, a beautiful place to sit for lunch while enjoying the view of the Potomac River and three states (Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia). IMG_2834After that, the trail makes a steep turn down, zigging and zagging until we got to the bottom, crossed a road, and met up with a train. We were soon able to cross the railroad tracks and were on the C&O Canal.

Bikers flew by as we enjoyed the view of the canal to our right and the river to our left. After about 3 miles we were back to Harper’s Ferry. We crossed a bridge going over the river. It was kind of amusing to see so many tourists since this was still, technically, part of the AT.

Overall, we went 10.4 miles on the AT and then another +1 mile just to get back to the car. This was a fast-paced hike, even though it was one of our longer ones. Now we can say that we have hiked the entire Maryland portion of the AT. On to our next challenge!



Appalachian Trail: Pen Mar to Greenbrier State Park

Saturday morning Karen and I got off to a late start, arriving at the Alt. 40 trailhead too late to find a parking space. We had to park nearly a mile away, in Greenbrier S.P., before proceeding with our second car to Pen Mar, PA. There we parked in a gravel lot, a short distance from the A.T. By the time we got onto the trail it was 10:30. A group of 17 members of the 4H Club had started their hike just before us. We passed them on our ascent up Quirauk Mountain, the highest peak on the A.T. in Maryland.

There really isn’t any trail up Quirauk Mountain, which is covered by large rocks and trees. What one does is climb, as best one can, from one swatch of white paint to the next. The path is, therefore, roughly laid out. Hikers are left to make their choice as to where they wish to make their climb, so long as they wind up at some approximation to the trail that reappears at the top of Quirauk. It was a relief to have this peak out of the way, but the A.T. wouldn’t let us put the rocks behind us. By the end of the day’s hike my toes were complaining loudly of the abuse.

Somewhere between the power lines and Foxville Rd., in Section 2 of the A.T. in Maryland, we ran into Clare A., the PATC ridgerunner whom we had met at Dahlgren Back Pack Campground on the A.T. nearly a month ago. She let us know that we were not to expect a running spring at Cowall Shelter, to which we were headed. That news changed our situation significantly, for it meant that we were suddenly faced with conserving our water. It meant that the four cups of water that we were carrying to rehydrate our dinner would have to be saved for drinking, and that our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we packed for lunch would have to be our dinner instead.

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Karen and I were so exhausted by the time that we arrived at the shelter, that we hit the sack before dark. Fortunately, we arrived before the 4H group, as there were only six tent pads at Cowall. I awoke Sunday still feeling depleted of energy, having sweated out about as much water as I had taken in and having had a most unsatisfying meal the night before. We had a little cereal for breakfast and were back on the trail by 8:30.

The northern part of Section 3 of the trail was as rocky as almost the worst of what we had walked over the day before, but soon we found, interspersed with the rocks, smooth stretches over which we were able to pick up our pace, and by the time we got to Pogo Memorial Campsite we had left behind our complaints. In fact, the most popular section of the A.T. in Maryland, between Alt. 40 and Annapolis Rock, was broad and, for the most part, smooth.

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Over these 18.6 miles Karen and I learned again what we had first been taught by the Cedar Run–Whiteoak Canyon loop, that it would be better to carry too much water than to have to conserve. We have also decided not to bring dehydrated dinners with us except to sites where we are absolutely certain to have a replenishing supply of water.

Sugarloaf-Keyser Run Fire Road – Hogback Mountain Lariat

Our final hike of the week was farther up on Skyland Drive, just off of mile 21. This hike starts on the Sugarloaf trail. The forest is newer here, with fewer trees and more bushes, such as rhodendeandrum. Although we didn’t get started until 11 am, we were clearly the first on the trail. Talk about spider webs! I must have looked like a mad women as I used my trekking poles to try to get the spider webs before they got me!

The gentle descent brought us to a T junction with the PineyBranch Trail. After going left we quickly ran into the Keyser Fire Road. This, quite frankly, was a bit boring. However, it was an easy trek back up to Skyline Drive. From here, we crossed the road to go on the A.T. The ascent to the summit of Little Hogback Mountain offered a very nice few.

We then continued on until we started zigging and zagging up to Hogback Mountain. After all our big ascents and descents, it was nice to have one more opportunity to huff and puff up a hill! Luckily, we seem to be getting better at this and we didn’t complain the entire way. It was fun to be on the A.T. in Virginia. We’re getting a real sense of the trail and I’m really enjoying it.

We completed the 4.9 mile hike in about 2 1/2 hours. Not bad! I’m happy we had a chance to do this trail and experience a different part of the Park.

President Hoover’s Rapidan Camp

On Thursday, August 7, Karen and I took on the 7.4 mile trek identified in Hiking Shenandoah National Park as “Rapidan Camp–Laurel Prong–Hazeltop Loop.” The 2.1 jaunt down the gentle descent of the Mill Prong Trail to Rapidan Camp, Herbert Hoover’s old retreat, was really quite easy. Several times the path crossed a creek, the Mill Prong, but even these crossings occasioned no anxiety.

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At the bottom of the trail lay Rapidan Camp, the three buildings that remain of the old presidential establishment. Evan, a student from American University who was finishing his internship at Shenandoah, gave Karen and me the tour of the Brown House and then cheerfully agreed to take our photo.

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The hike along the Laurel Prong Trail up to the Appalachian Trail, and then the short distance along the A.T. up to the peak of Hazeltop was more challenging, but I certainly wouldn’t say, as the Falcon Guide book says, that the difficulty level was “strenuous.” At least, it wasn’t in the same category as the Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon loop.

Hazeltop offered a panoramic view, and Karen and I took a short break there, on the rocks, before proceeding down the easy incline of the A.T. All-in-all, the hike was very pleasant and serene. We met no one on the trail until we got upon the A.T. As Karen observed, even the birds seemed unusually quiet.

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A “Beary” Good Hike: Rose River Loop and Dark Hallow Falls

The Rose River Loop is a wonder to hike, with all the beauty of the Cedar Run hike, but with less of the physical exertion. Tod and I started  from, mile 49.4 on Skyline Drive and took the trail down, about one mile before seeing the stream. We followed the small cascades of water until we came to a large falls. Several young women were hanging over the tree trunks taking pictures. Tod, not much for idleness, said “Let’s get out of here before one of them falls and needs to be rescued!” We left them behind to continue the hike.IMG_2779

The first big falls was one of many spectacular water features. If this had been the good ‘ol film days, my I would need big bucks to process the film. I took a million pictures! How could I not? It was beautiful.

All this time, I had been wondering about bears. Fortunately, I guess, we had not seen any. Then, a hiker stoped as as we approached, warning us that a bear was on the trail ahead. Of course, Tod wanted to move forward. I was more cautious. All of us watched as the bear meandered up the hill.

Not long after, I was engrossed in taking pictures of a waterfall when Tod shouted, “Look over there!” Sure enough, a bear was on the other side of the stream. I took pictures (of course!) and we moved on.IMG_2787

The second part of the hike was pretty much uphill, hugging the water as we ascended up with the river. Eventually, we got to a bridge that led to the turn off for Dark Hallow Falls. Since it was only 1/4 mile up, we decided to go.

Dark Hallow can be approached from above as well, and since it is a short but steep hike, there were a ton of people there. The Falls are stunning, but I wish there were fewer people. On our way down we ran into the women who had been hanging from the tree trunks so, luckily, it appears that they didn’t need any assistance. IMG_2799

Just to add a bit more excitement to the hike, we saw another young bear while walking the fire road back to the car. (Three bears in one hike!) Overall, this 4.5 mile loop was well worth the trip.

Hawksbill Summit and Bearfence Mountain

This past Tuesday, August 5, Karen and I hiked two paths, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Our first was a jaunt up to Hawksbill Summit, part of a loop comprised of the Salamander Trail and doubling-back upon the Appalachian Trail. All-in-all, the hike was three miles long.


I noted before that I would let you know if I ever went “the wrong way” or in a direction contrary to my intent. Well, I sort of did that. Falcon Guides’ Hiking Shenandoah National Park says that “the trail begins at the north end of the Hawksbill Gap parking lot” and that “a level spur trail about 100 yards long leads to the Appalachian Trail.” Well, there was such an obvious trail leading from the middle of the parking lot that it never occurred to either Karen or myself to look north or south for another trail. The 100-yards-long spur just seemed to have no end to it. On and on we climbed till eventually we had ascended 600 feet. One would think that that would have more than covered the length of the spur, but still we did not reach the A.T. Instead, we found ourselves at the three-walled shelter of the Bird’s Nest, near to the summit of Hawksbill. Here, a look at the map told us what we had done—that we had ascended the section of trail that was supposed to be our final descent and that we were walking in the direction opposite to that suggested in the book. In other words, we went “the wrong way.” Now that I’ve made a full confession, I hope that it is helpful.

Hawksbill Summit offers a nice view of the Shenandoan valley and, in the other direction, of Rag Top.


Surprisingly, the A.T. was the narrowest of the three trails comprising this loop. It was also the rockiest, with sections being only rock. I kept expecting a descent as we approached the spur trail, but there was no descent at all resembling the ascent by which we began our hike:— a good reason, I should say, to follow the suggested directions in the guide book.


After a restful lunch, we hiked the 1.2 mile loop of Bearfence Mountain. In doing this, we were especially careful to follow the directions in our guidebook. Even so, we were hardly prepared for the amount of scrambling over rocks that this jaunt called for. In fact, it was more of a rock climbing venture than a hike and demanded some dexterity and a little courage. What wasn’t needed was our trekking poles, particularly since our two hands—not to mention our knees and our rear ends—were needed in maneuvering ourselves up and down piles of jagged boulders. Well, as they say, Shenandoah rocks!


Breathtaking: Cedar Run-White Oak Canyon Loop in Shenandoah National Park

After weeks of hiking in Maryland, Tod and I planned a week of vacation in Shenandoah National Park. We set up camp in Big Meadows Campground on Sunday.

On Monday morning we took off hiking the Cedar Run-While Oak Canyon Loop, described in one guidebook as “a very strenuous loop hike through two gorges” that “passes nine beautiful waterfalls.” It is located at mile 45.6 on Skyline Drive.

Our hike began on Cedar Run, a bath that descends along a staircase of smooth rocks. The light was almost surreal, reminding me of a filtered camera lens designed to soften the picture. Before long we heard the roar of water, a sound that would accompany us on much of the hike. To my delight I saw cascading water, gently falling over rocks. We were alone on the path, and the solitude of the moment was wonderful.

As we continued to descend, I couldn’t believe how we continued to see water, bubbling over rocks, falling over small overhangs, cascading through the canyon. Breathtaking! A hiker’s version of paradise.IMG_2667

The trail crosses the water several times. We stopped near one watesfall to rest and, while there, a friendly butterfly decided to keep Tod company. She hung out on this back, arm, hand and knee until it was time for us to leave. On our way, we were  lucky to come across a team from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club working to install rock stairs along the path. What an amazing group! (Thank you!)


After lunch by a stream we began our ascent back. We took the White Oak Canyon Trail, ascending a very step path that zigged and zagged up. Way up! although the guidebook says that the path goes “straight up” for 2.5 miles it felt like 10. “2.5 miles?!?! 2.5 miles?!?  No way! No way!” I kept shouting. Tod was too breathless to respond but I could tell he agreed. We were very thirsty and all the way up, all we could talk about was what we would drink when we got back. Diet Pepsi? Lemonade? Gatorade? Our bottles of water were not cutting it.

Finally, got to a cement marker. Tod read from the guidebook about what to do next but, in our stupor, it was hard to understand. My glasses were too foggy from all the sweat to read the book myself! Eventually, we turned onto the White Oak Fire Road for the last two miles of our hike. It was a gentle, steady, uphill trip back to the car.

In all, we went approximately 9 miles over a 6 1/2 hour period, descending and ascending about 2000 ft. “Never again!” we said at first. Of course, by the next day we had a different opinion.