Appalachian Trail: RT 94 to RT 74

The Appalachian Trail is addictive. The more miles one completes, the more one wants to do. Tod and I are anxious to move our way farther and farther north in Pennsylvania. We decided to do a one day, 11-mile hike from a spot near Deer Run Campground to Rt. 74, just north of Boiling Springs. DSCN0082

It is amazing how quickly we felt a sense of serenity upon hitting the trail. The first mile was definitely an ascent, but very manageable. Switch backs help! We then came to an area that provided us the opportunity to do a bit of scrambling. The trail goes straight through several rock formations and we climbed up rocks, over and around rocks, through crevices, and between boulders. It was nothing unmanageable, just enough to add some variety to the hike. Isn’t it fun to feel like you’ve accomplished something even though, in reality, your 8-year-old niece DSCN0092could do it in half the time?!?


The first part of this hike is a series of ascents and descents. Very gentle, but enough of a variety to make it interesting. I was going on with a sense of determination. “Let’s get this done!” Fortunately, I was with a hiking partner (Tod!) who had a better understanding of what hiking is all about. He stopped walking at one point and said, “Look at the trees! The leaves are beginning to turn colors!” Sure enough, subtle hints of the coming Fall were throughout the forest. It was a great reminder to look up from the trail and bask in the beauty of one’s surroundings.DSCN0094
After stopping near Alec Kennedy Shelter for lunch, we reached Center Point Knob, where one has a great view of the valley below. This area is maintained by the Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club. From here the trail descends to farm land. The trail actually goes through a corn field. After crossing a road, we got a bit tripped up. Well…lost! We missed a cairn that directed us left and instead went straight, continuing into a corn field until we were sufficiently puzzled that we pulled out the map.

OK. Where the heck are we?

OK. Where the heck are we?

Oops! This was frustrating but also humorous enough that we can laugh at ourselves now.

A highlight of the hike is that it goes straight through Boiling Springs, a beautiful town with a river that attracts a lot of fishing. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has an office there and their store is open and staffed by volunteers on the weekend. (Thanks!)

From Boiling Springs, we had less than two miles to go to get back to the car. All in all, it was a very satisfying hike, full of variety and adventure.cropped-dscn0095.jpg







Appalachian Trail: Snickers Gap to Harpers Ferry

Fall is such a wonderful time of the year to hike! This past weekend Tod and I experienced the West Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail. We began at Snicker’s Gap, at a parking lot just off of Highway 7. The parking lot was packed with “birders” who were doing counts of the number of hawks, eagles, etc. We accessed the Appalachian Trail from the north end of the parking lot and traveled a short way before we crossed the road to continue the trail.

After many miles on rocky trails, this portion of the A.T. is much smoother and relatively flat. It was nice to have an easy beginning to our hike. Before long, we arrived at Crescent Rock, a beautiful overlook and a popular destination for day hikers.IMG_2868IMG_2871

It wasn’t long before we experienced what is known as the “roller coaster”. This is an area of the trail that, as you might guess, goes up and down. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds! It was near this area that I came close to stepping on a rattle snake that was right on the trail. Yikes! I screamed, more from surprise than from being scared. We later learned that the rattle snake is the official reptile of West Virginia. I would have been happy not to run into him.IMG_2876

We camped overnight at Blackburn Trail Center and hiker’s hostel. The hostel is located about 8 miles from Snickers Gap, far from the main trail, WAY down a hill!  It was a beautiful facility but it was not available to us. It turns out that the Center is rented out during the off-season. That wasn’t a problem. We still had ready access to water. We pitched our tent at one of the many tent sites. We enjoyed a delicious Mountain House dinner (a real treat) and chatted with thru-hiker Steven (trail name Maximus) as well as another couple. The comeraderie on the trail is something that I really like about the A.T.IMG_2878

A wonderful group of hikers!The next morning we were off for the long, 13 mile jaunt to Harper’s Ferry. The trail was relatively smooth but, boy, was it long! We stopped several times for snacks and water but Tod’s toes were definitely feeling the effect of the many miles.

The view of the river was a welcome site. Both Tod and I agreed that crossing into Harper’s Ferry from this point is really beautiful. Unfortunately, we were exhausted so the long detour from the trail to the Visitor’s Center seemed like it went on forever. The Visitor Center is well worth the trip. We purchased patches for completing the Maryland and West Virginia part of the A.T. as well as other memorabilia. Who knows what portion of the A.T. we’ll do next!

Finally! The Visitor Center!

Finally! The Visitor Center!

Lower Magruder Trail and Magruder Branch Trail

On September 7th Tod and I ventured over to Damascus Regional Park to hike the Lower Magruder Trail and the Magruder Branch Trail. The trailhead is at is a very populated area, near picnic areas, tennis courts and other outdoor activities. In fact, on the day we went there, a 5K race was just finishing up in the park. It was kind of funny to see a water station at the beginning of the trail!

The Magruder Trail.

The Magruder Trail.

The first part of the trail is asphalt. This is great for folks using wheel chairs. Before long, a path winds up a hill and the blue-blazed dirt trail feels more like one is in the middle of the woods, not a metropolitan area.

I loved the serene nature of the trail.  This seems like a really great trail for those who want an easy hike, with few hills, few rocks, etc. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some ascents. It is just that it offers a great way to ease into hiking if one is a beginner.

Before long, one crosses Log House Road. By going left, we  began hiking the Lower Magruder Trail. The trail follows a creek. This is an out and back trail, so we had the option to turn around any time. We decided to cross Wildcat Road to continue with the trial. This required walking along the road a bit to pick it up on the other side. After going for about another mile we decided that the scenery and mud wasn’t worth it. We turned back.

I guess there are a few advantages to out and back hikes. It was kind of interesting to see the trail from a different perspective. Still, I think my favorite hikes are loops. This was fun and is a great option for those living in Montgomery County. My appreciation for the parks available to us continues to grow!

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!


C & O Canal Towpath, Part I

This morning Karen and I walked the first seven miles of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, beginning in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. and ending at Lock 7, adjacent to the Clara Barton Pkwy. As might be expected, we had plenty of company on our way—mostly joggers and bicyclists. We expect to lose much of this company as we continue on the path, putting more distance between us and Georgetown.

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Our path began next to the Capital Crescent Trail, which connects Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland. Running side-by-side, then, is the C & O Canal, its towpath, the C. C. Trail, and the Potomac River. After a couple of miles, the C. C. Trail verged off northeast and we lost sight of it. At the same time, we found ourselves closer to the Potomac River, separated from it only by some trees and brush.

The canal looked clear and relatively clean until we got to Lock 5, an inlet lock, behind which the canal was perfectly still and full of algae. It was at about this point that we came upon a snake stretched across our path. I stopped suddenly to prevent myself from stepping on it, and it quickly doubled back and disappeared under the brush.

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Karen and I were both surprised how easy it was for us to walk the seven miles to Lock 7 and how quickly we traversed the distance. We have become used to hiking trails, full of rocks and roots, measured in inclines and declines. Walking on the broad, smooth, and essentially flat towpath, we covered the distance in considerably less time and with not half the exertion. In the future, as we return to this path, we’ll have to challenge ourselves a bit more.

Lockhouse 6

Lock House 6


In Cedarville Forest

Yesterday, while encamped at Cedarville State Forest, Karen and I hiked the seven-mile Holly (Orange) Trail. Picking up the path twenty yards behind our camping site, we followed it clockwise through the forest. Predominant among the trees were holly, oak, and pine. In places the ground was covered with a plush carpet of fern.

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A mile or two into our walk we stopped where the creek bed formed a pond and listened, in medias res, to an opera of frogs—although, at first, neither of us were certain of the identity of the mellifluous performers.


The trail is rightly designated by the park service as “easy.” Not to say that it makes seven miles feel like three, but the trail is relatively smooth and gentle on one’s feet. Moreover, there is little altitude change, just a little rolling over the terrain. And one could only try to get lost; what with the wooden directional posts, the quarter-mile spaced iron posts, the colored pieces of cloth affixed to tree branches, and the swatches on tree trunks, one hardly needs a map. Even so, I like to have one with me. There is something comforting about seeing on paper where one is. Why, I’m not sure. I think it makes it easier to trust that the trail goes where one supposes it goes. (Have you ever thought of how much faith is required to go out, into the woods, following a trail that someone else made?)

Holly Trail

Our hike was, for the most part, solitary, quiet, even serene. A few bicyclists crossed our path, a couple of frogs, and several small groups of senior citizens. One elderly gentleman, before inquiring whether he was near to the terminus, suggested that we were walking in the “wrong” direction before instantly correcting himself: the “opposite” direction. Opposite to him? Obviously, but there still seemed something objectively descriptive in his “opposite.” It set me wondering what a wrong direction would be. One contrary to one’s purposes, no doubt, or against one’s best interest. In any case, I’ll be sure to let you know if ever I should hike in the wrong direction. That could be useful information indeed!

Sugarloaf Mtn. Revisited

This morning Karen and I hiked the Saddleback Horse (Yellow) Trail, the seven-mile loop around the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. The trail begins and ends at the farmhouse, near the entrance to the park. We pulled into the already-packed parking lot at around 9 a.m. and were lucky to find someone pulling out. It’s not nearly so difficult to find a parking spot inside the park, further up the mountain, in the lot at the head of the more popular Northern Peaks (Blue) Trail. The Yellow Trail would, perhaps, be as popular if the parking for it was more adequate. As it is, the Yellow Trail is serenely quiet, except for the singing of birds. During the three hours that we were on it, Karen and I met about half a dozen other hikers and crossed paths with one whitetail deer.

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The trail is well marked, both with yellow blazes and with mileposts. The mileposts are marked 1 to 14, each signifying about half a mile. The trail begins and ends on pavement, but in between it is a dirt path, easy to moderate in difficulty, for the most part well worn. It crosses water at several places, but the creeks are narrow and shallow and well-placed rocks make them easy to traverse. The trail was often rather muddy; this is probably half due to the nearness of the creeks and half due to the rain that fell yesterday. Of course, at the end of the day, one can rinse off one’s boots.

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Oh, and did I mention that this is a horse trail?

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Well, as said, one can rinse off one’s boots.

As Karen and I approached the end of our journey, we came across a phantom hand showing us the direction of our path. We appreciate the help.

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