My friend, Jamie aka Commander Plodder, and I were back on the Appalachian Trail again from July 16-18, 2018 in order to complete the northern Virginia sections heading into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia which we had to postpone due to flooding in May and to complete the last three sections of Maryland which would get us to the Pennsylvania border. We accomplished our mission, met a lot of both thru and section hikers, got to stay two nights again at the Tea Horse Hostel and had miles of smiles.
After parking one of our cars at the Tea Horse Hostel in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, we drove south to park at the Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, Virginia to begin a northbound hike in Virginia Section #2 and Virginia Section #1 which crosses into West Virginia just before Harpers Ferry. Our goal was to do the 11.9 miles to reach the side trail to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ and then go to the hostel.
We parked a short way before the Blackburn TC visitor center, which appeared closed due to the early time we arrived, and noticed there was a solar shower building nearby. To the right of the steps leading to the front door of the visitor center was a water source which was activated by pushing down on a hinge hasp which was the valve. There is a nearby privy off a side trail. We had a short hike up the connector trail which was marked by signs before we reached the junction to the AT northbound.
We were at 1650′ above sea level (asl) already which would be the highest elevation for this day. We crossed a small section of puncheon called the Laurel Springs Boardwalk after 1.7 miles and then reached the Buzzard Rocks view after another mile.
The trail footing was a mixture of some rock hopping along with easy, soft and smooth dirt which comforted our feet.
Commander Plodder noticed one of the AT survey markers. I walked right past this without seeing it. I have photographed many from other parts of the trail. Good eyes Plodder. This one is marked VA 18 and the year is 1978. We checked and the AT logo points to compass point north. These are similar to many survey markers which are placed to mark the center of the AT or are placed at the boundaries of the easements/property lines which include where the AT passes through.
Just a half mile later we reached the David Lesser Memorial Shelter which had a swing hung from the nearby pavilion. Commander Plodder tested it out. It is the only swing I have ever seen at a shelter so far.
After our short break we were back on the trail and noticed many fallen trees which had been cut to clear the AT path. Inserted in the end of one cross section of tree was this frog.
Around 11:30am after 6.2 miles of hiking we reached the road crossing of West Virginia Rt. 9 in Keys Gap. The AT must be right on the West Virginia/Virginia border here because when I looked both ways before crossing the highway, I noticed the Welcome to West Virginia sign on my left and the Welcome to Virginia sign on my right. According to my AT map, this crossing marks the northern end of Northern Virginia Map Section #2 and the southern beginning of Section #1.
There is a trail head parking area there and a nice shaded area with a log bench which called out to us to take a break after a little under four hours of hiking in the increasingly more humid and hotter conditions.
While resting we met a male and female pair of northbound thru hikers who stopped to take a break as well. I borrowed the female’s cell phone to take a couple pictures for them. It appeared the female hiker wanted the photos more than the male hiker did. We would see these hikers again on another day as we leap frogged around to complete our three day hiking plan.
Back on the trail we crossed under a Powerline, went past a campsite and reached the intersection of the Loudoun Heights Trail crossing which also has a VA/WV border sign which Commander Plodder posed with for a photo. The AT follows along much of the WV/V state border which appears to run along the ridge line of the mountain in this area leading up to the Shenandoah River before Harpers Ferry.
We began a fairly steep descent of about 600′ in only .6 miles and entered the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park marked by this sign.
We passed another road crossing, this for WV Rt. 32 (Chestnut Hill Road) before being directed to make a left hand turn toward the ATC Visitor’s Center (same as the ATC HQ) which was 1.9 miles away at that point.
We continued almost 300′ of additional descent until we reached the US Rt. 340 Bridge over the Shenandoah River. Hikers walk up a small ramp and then a winding stairs to get to the opposite side of the bridge where the pedestrian walkway is located. As it was now about 3pm and we had no shade for the walk along the bridge, we were feeling the heat and humidity. After crossing the bridge, hikers cross Shenandoah Road where the trail climbs about .3 miles to reach the side trail to the ATC HQ. We had already reached that same side trail intersection from the opposite direction in May. My legs were feeling pretty tired so I asked Commander Plodder if we could detour onto Union Street, just one block away, and check in at the Tea Horse Hostel. Commander Plodder encouraged me up the steep Union Street hill and then we turned left onto W. Washington Street for the last bit of walking to the hostel. I had originally wanted to stop back at the ATC HQ to check out some things I missed during our trip in May. I figured we could try to make up this little bit of the trail after tomorrow’s hike in Maryland and stop in at the ATC HQ. Which we did.
My Iphone health app said we had walked 13.4 miles, took 38,802 steps and climbed 29 floors. We had some sideways miles in that total which do not count on our AT log but we can credit us with another 11.6 miles of AT distance.
We drove back to pick up our car at the Blackburn TC and then enjoyed a wonderful, hot shower at the Tea Horse. We were the only guests for the night so we both got primo bottom bunks with electric outlets next to our bunk. We spoke to Benjamin, the friendly Tea Horse Hostel owner, who remembered us from May. We explained we would be leaving for our second day hike before the 7am complimentary waffle breakfast. So he left some bananas and yogurts with us for breakfast the next morning.
We arose before 5am, had our breakfast and finished repacking our backpacks. Commander Plodder had supplied milk so I could also have my usual bowl of cereal as well. All the comforts of home. After arranging our cars to do a two section, southbound hike starting from the Mason Dixon Line above the Pen Mar Park, Cascade, Maryland, we hiked Maryland Section #1 (5.9 miles) and Section #2 (4.1 miles) for a total of 10 miles which ended at the Wolfsville Road (MD Rt. 17) trail head parking area in Smithsburg, Maryland.
After arriving at the Pen Mark Park which, according to Wikipedia use to be a popular amusement park from 1877-1943, we walked across the park toward the scenic view toward Pennsylvania. We followed this directional sign
for about a .3 mile hike northbound, across a nearby set of railroad tracks and into a wooded area where we saw the Mason Dixon Line sign on our left.
According to David “AWOL” Miller’s 2016 AT Guidebook, this 244 mile border was defined by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in a survey that lasted four years and ended a boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Mason and Dixon were commissioned to set the northern Maryland border on a line of latitude 15 miles south of the southernmost home in Philadelphia at the time of the survey (which according to a Google search occurred between 1763-1767). Exactly how they were able to do it I do not know.
I signed the trail register which was inside the mailbox in the masonry column above and we documented Commander Plodder starting another state (Pennsylvania) on the AT as he made sure he stood on the Pennsylvania side of the boundary. He took my photo as well and I then attempted my usual poor attempt at a selfie with Plodder and I.
We then began our southbound hike before 7am by repeating the same .3 miles back across the railroad tracks. This is Commander Plodder emerging from the woods and climbing a small embankment to the railroad tracks.
We returned to Pen Mar Park and then continued southbound along the AT which skirts on the outer edge of the park. We began climbing about 600′ during the first three miles and met two women long distance section hikers heading northbound to Carlisle, PA. Their trail names were “Poohdie” on the left in the below photo and “FU” on the right.
They took our photo as well as we wished them safe hiking into PA. We continued the climb up to the High Rock Loop Trail intersection on Quirauk Mountain which at about 1880′ asl is the highest trail location in Maryland. We had covered 3.1 uphill miles in just over two hours.
There are two signs that mark the High Rock Overlook junctions for the .2 mile long loop side trail.
The trail descended a little for the next hour and we arrived at the Raven Rock Shelter. As we arrived at the side trail access for the shelter, I took this photo of all these back packs sitting at the trail junction.
Apparently a large group of an Explorer or Boy Scout troop had camped in the area last night and were walking the .3 miles to the water source before heading out for their hike. They left their packs back at the trail to lighten their load down and back.
The Raven Rock Shelter was clean and neat. It had a nearby privy using wood shavings to help decompose the waste material. There were some instructional signs located inside the privy.
The picnic table had four separate metal plates fastened to make it easier for hikers to use multiple camp stoves.
We finished our break and descended nearly 600′ in a mile during which we passed the Raven Rock Cliff and Raven Rock Road (MD Rt. 491) which marked the end of Section #1.
After crossing the road, we turned to the left around some guardrail before turning right back into the woods where we crossed the Antietam Creek. We filtered some water to increase our fluid supply and then began another ascent. We passed Warner Gap Hollow, Warner Gap Road which is a gravel road, a Powerline and paved Foxville Road (MD Rt. 77) where we had climbed to about 1600′ asl again. Next, we had the enjoyment of walking across some open farm fields. Although the sun was out at this point, our feet enjoyed the respite. Here is Commander Plodder cruising along.
After another Powerline crossing we arrived at the Ensign Phillip Cowall Shelter where about five other hikers were taking a break. There was no trail register found so we talked with the other hikers for a while. One was nice enough to take our photo before we headed out.
We hiked the last .2 mile to Wolfsville Road and then covered a surprisingly long and winding marked side trail to the Wolfsville trail head parking area where our car was located. Just as I was getting the car keys out of my back pack, a torrential downpour began. We jumped into our car and just missed the sheets of rain pouring down. Perfect timing. We had to drive very slowly to retrieve our other car at Pen Mark Park due to the heavy rain but the rain storm ended in about twenty minutes and mostly blue skies reappeared.
We drove back to Harpers Ferry and arranged our cars so that we could finish off the .3 mile section leading to the ATC HQ side trail coming off the Rt. 340 bridge. We did it without any problem and spent a while visiting the ATC HQ looking at the relief map of the entire AT which is displayed as the roof of a miniature three sided shelter. Next to the three dimensional map, is a replica of the plaque placed at the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia. It describes the AT as “A Footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.”
We then picked up our cars and returned to the Tea Horse Hostel for our last night. We were the only guests again. We ate dinner at the Almost Heaven Bar & Grill (recommended by Benjamin at the Tea Horse) on Potomac Street in the historic section of Harpers Ferry just across from the train station. We sat at an outside table on the upper deck.
We drove back to the hostel and as we were organizing our gear for our last day of hiking, another thunderstorm blew in and dumped sheets of rain which we admired from the dry confines of the hostel. We had dodged a second thunderstorm in one day.
My Iphone health app recorded that we had walked 12.3 miles, taken 34,480 steps and climbed 72 floors. We officially added another 10.3 miles to our AT resume. The other two miles were sideways. We are looking forward to Day Three when we will finish the State of Maryland.
We rose early and packed up in order to get another early start. The weather seemed noticeably cooler in the morning. After breakfast we arranged our cars in order to do our last AT section in Maryland, Section #5 which is a 7.5 mile section between Gathland State Park and the trail head parking area at the Alt. 40 road crossing in Boonsboro, Maryland. We planned to hike northbound so we could drive our northern car back to retrieve our southern end parked car and return to Virginia to rejoin our very supportive wives, Sandy and Bernadette.
We got started a little before 7am again. Northbound hikers walking past the War Correspondents Memorial at the center of the park look ahead to a grassy field and where the trail passes to the right of the remains of a stone, two story barn of George Alfred Townsend who was the motivation behind the War Correspondents Memorial. A cornerstone in the barn’s remains bears the year 1887.
We began a gradual ascent as we passed the side trail for the Crampton Gap Shelter.
Since we would be stopping at a shelter later and we were so close to the start of our hike, we kept on going. After three miles of hiking which we did in about an hour and twenty minutes, we came to the side trail for the Bear Spring Cabin which is locked and is operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There was a spring about .5 miles east of the trail according to the sign.
In about .6 miles we came to the White Rock Cliff view where the couple of hikers we saw from our first day were sitting on the rocks and enjoying the view. The same hiker asked me to use her camera and take a photo of their backs as they looked out over the valley below. I took the photo and then we kept hiking north. We climbed another two hundred feet, reaching over 1700′ asl as we passed Lambs Knoll. We began a fairly steep descent toward the Lambs Knoll tower road which is a paved road we reached 4.9 miles into our hike.
Commander Plodder and I were very appreciative that the trail in this section is frequently very easy on the feet and the places where you have to delicately scramble or tiptoe over rocks are not frequent nor lengthy.
Our next landmark was the Rocky Run Shelter which was just .5 miles away which involved almost 400′ of descent. We reached the shelter at 10:07am.
I signed the trail register and drank some more Gatorade. Commander Plodder pointed out some type of metal cart with detached wheels that was partially under the picnic table. It looked like someone tried devising a pull behind type cart which was abandoned at the shelter.
After putting our packs back on, we headed out the small side trail to return to hiking on the AT. I turned right which meant I would be heading south over trail I had already just walked. Commander Plodder, using his navigational skills well, called this to my attention and got me turned around to head northbound again. Thanks Plodder.
During the next mile, we stopped and chatted with a volunteer from the Potomac Trail Conservancy who was hiking southbound. We told him about the abandoned cart contraption and showed him what we could on the photo from my phone. He said he would check it out. We wished him well and we continued our separate ways.
We reached Fox Gap at the paved road crossing of Reno Monument Road. A northbound thru hiker was resting there and I offered her a few extra Pay Day candy bars which she took gladly. We only had 1.1 miles to go and the trail was mostly very smooth and soft on our feet with very little up or down. We passed the Dahlgren Backpack Campground on our left and saw some other hikers there. This campground did appear to have better amenities which included indoor bathroom facilities for men and women. After another .3 miles and a slight uphill, we arrived at the Alt. 40 road crossing in Turners Gap. I tagged the guardrail with my trekking pole and we followed the short side trail to the trail head parking area next to the South Mountain Inn. We arrived at 11:25am and officially had completed the AT miles in another state. Maryland was now in the bank.
My Iphone health app registered we hiked 7.9 miles, taken 22,522 steps and climbed 27 floors. Our three day total according to the Health app was 33.6 miles hiked; 95,804 steps taken; and, 128 floors climbed. Our official AT miles for the three days was 29.4 miles which included parts in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.
Thanks very much to Commander Plodder who is a wonderful hiking partner and friend for helping me finish another state and begin a new one. Thanks to our wives, Sandy and Bernadette, for being so encouraging for our hiking adventures.
I have now hiked a total of 379.6 miles of the AT [89.8 in New York(completed), 71.9 in New Jersey(completed), 50.4 in Connecticut(completed), 41.0 in Maryland(completed), 108.7 in Pennsylvania, 5.0 in Massachusetts, 2.7 in West Virginia and 10.1 in Virginia. I have now hiked in eight of the fourteen states along the AT. I never thought I would be this lucky and would have the enjoyment of meeting so many people when I hiked my first section in June of 2016.
I only have 1,809.5 miles left to go. More hikes to plan.