Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Maryland's Best Viewpoint

Wednesday, October 24, 2012:

This is Black Rock Cliffs.  It may not have the best view in Maryland.  The best view, in my opinion, is of the Potomac River at Weverton Rocks.  But here, much like at McAfee Knob, the viewpoint is as much a part of the attraction as the distant scene.  Here the rocks have character on their own - photogenic appeal like no other place in Maryland.

Today I revisited this spot and explored the three main viewpoints in more depth.  Then it was on north, all the way to Raven Rocks Hollow at MD 491.  On the way I was treated to another Maryland best, and my other most favorite place in the state.  Here a significant trail reroute done about a decade ago allows you a peaceful pasture walk alongside Pleasant Valley Road:

It was a warm, almost summer-like day, and although it meant a bit of sweaty hiking on the climbs, I thoroughly enjoyed it because there may not be another day this warm the rest of the year.

As you can see, the hillsides have gone from predominantly green to brown and yellow in less than a week.  Peak leaf color has come and gone and the trail is littered with new leaves now, hiding rocks, even making the treadway itself hard to locate in a few places.  And each step brings the distinctive shuffle and crunch of fresh fallen leaves.  There's even a distinctive smell - brings back fond childhood memories from southeast PA of leaf raking and frolicking in the accumulated piles.  A special time of year.


Here's the map of today's hike and a link to more photos:

AT Day 266 - Black Rock Cliffs at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maryland

Washington's original Monument

Tuesday, October 23, 2012:

Built in 1826, this venerable old monument, resembling a silo/furnace stack was the first, far predating the famous obelisk on the DC mall.  And this one suffered no damage from last year's 5.6 earthquake.

The view from the top on this mild fall day wasn't bad, either:

It was a 20 mile day, lots of easy trail, and I crossed over I-70 on the AT-dedicated footbridge - probably the best example of the AT in a steel cage/tunnel:

As you see, fall color was resplendent even on this cloudy day.  But it's waning fast - such ephemeral beauty just once a year - ahhh, how the long absence 'makes the heart grow fonder' ...


Here's the map of today's hiking route, and a link to more photos:

AT Day 265 - Washington Monument at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maryland

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why so sad?

Monday, October 22, 2012:

Ran into this 'Dilbert-style' character today on the trail.  He looked so crestfallen (especially after I made a few minor enhancements [*wink, wink*]).

Why so sad, little white blaze?

Is it because I'll soon be leaving the trail?  Looks like only about 5 or 6 more day-hikes will wrap up my ten month journey - 4368.4 miles in all, and after today I have only 87.4 of them left to hike.

Or is it because the trail seemed to have so little that was noteworthy to show me today.  I hiked 9.1 miles of new trail between Ed Garvey Shelter and the Rocky Run Shelters (old and new), and had only this limited view from White Rocks on Lambs Knoll

and the various old stone foundations and this monument to War Correspondents at Gathland State Park:

But I don't think the trail should be sad for either of those reasons.  I may be gone from the AT soon, but my relationship with it has never been stronger, and will not fade away.  For one thing, I'm going to work on that book I've been talking about, probably some sort of day hiking guide.  And although today's hike didn't offer the spectacular photo-ops of some recent days, I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it.  The weather was nearly ideal, almost too warm in early afternoon, but clear and bright.  The leaves are putting on a magnificent display, so I was bathed in a kaleidoscope of color, not just the greens and browns of summer or the grays and browns of winter.

So ... no, little white blaze.  You should not be sad ... not on my account anyway.  Maybe you're thinking about all the folks pent up in offices today, not able to get out and enjoy your trail.  Maybe you're sad for all the many people who don't even realize you exist, or understand how much you have to offer them along your 2184.2 mile treadway.  Yeah, that must be it.  So maybe that's what my book ought to try to do - open the doors to the trail, open the eyes of the uninitiated.  Invite people to "Come Walk this Famous Trail".


Here's today's hiking route plotted on a map, with a link to more photos:

AT Day 264 - White Rocks at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maryland

Monday, October 29, 2012

Harpers Ferry check-in day

Sunday, October 22, 2012:

Here's my official AT thru-hiker mug shot.

... and then ... they gave me TWO mug shots, because I will have completed two thru-hikes.  The first one is my SoBo shot, the other is NoBo.  (Normal yo-yo hikers pass through here on two separate days and get two mug shots also.  I'm just unique in that my two shots are taken the same day, one as I arrive from the north, the other as I depart, returning to the north - does that make sense?)

It was a glorious day, so I almost begrudged my time indoors visiting with staff, volunteers and other visitors.  Besides getting my mug shots taken, I had to check all the photos of other 2012 hikers.  Here's just one that I want to share - Corky and I hiked together for about an hour one day up in Massachusetts.  Here she is finishing at Katahdin -- in her Crocs! (as always).  And she's posing the way I wanted to pose but didn't have the guts to - or the balance.  Way to go, Corky!!  (She sent in this photo after completing her hike and they posted it on the bulletin board in the hiker room.)

I got a chance to meet with Laurie Potteiger for a free-ranging discussion on what kind of book I'd like to write to share my experience.  Options include a story of my personal adventure (perhaps a bit bland compared to some of the stories already written), a coffee table book featuring photos (ATC already has an excellent one), or a guide for day hikers - experienced and novice.  I like this last option best ... a chance to attract people to the trail, just to hike it once - one little piece - experience the magic of this famous trail, and maybe get inspired to do more, to join a local hiking club, to do some maintaining ... whatever.

Tentative title and subtitles are now:  "Come Walk this Famous Trail:  50 Best Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail, Maine to Georgia"

Outside again, I hiked through town, with fall color resplendent, St. Peters church glowing in the morning sun.

Then I headed into Maryland, my long-time home state, and where I first fell in love with the AT.  I hiked up to the Ed Garvey Shelter and visited Weverton Cliffs, taking in the great view on this crystal clear fall day.

And I found the single most rustic trail marker yet, on a telephone pole - far-and-away the best anywhere on the trail:

Weather for the coming week looks spectacular, if not too warm.  I'm hoping to get in most of the remaining miles (just 53 left!) hiked (both ways, of course) before a serious weather change moves in next weekend.


Here's the map showing today's hike route, and a link to a bunch of additional photos:

AT Day 263 - Weverton Cliffs at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maryland

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The technicolor tunnel

Saturday, October 20, 2012:

The leaves continue to put on a super display of color along the trail.  I finally got the 'yellow tunnel' shot that I was looking for, of the hickory trees all changing color.  (I've shown some good red maple trail scenes in previous posts.) Hickory trees put on a spectacular show for just a few days, all leaves on a tree change color simultaneously and quickly, then they turn brown and drop just as quickly.  The red maples are now at peak or almost past - beginning to drop leaves.  Same for the sassafras, with their yellow to salmon-pink palette.  Black Gums can turn a spectacular deep red color, but in the woods they tend to do so early, one leaf at a time.  Their show is almost finished.  White ash and many Chestnut Oaks have dropped most of their leaves already.  The other Oaks, for the most part, are still green.  Many varieties are just turning brown this year without much color, and then dropping their leaves.  Tulip poplars are still green, but will turn yellow one leaf at a time, not as consistently as the hickory trees.  Because of the green oaks and tulip trees, both of which are very common in the mid-Atlantic woods, the impression of some mountain slopes from a distance can be of a still mostly-green landscape.

I hiked the 9.2 miles of trail between Buzzard Rocks just south of the David Lesser Shelter, north to Harper's Ferry and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy office.  Other than the endless color variety in the woods, the good views I had today were from these two end points.  Buzzard Rocks view is limited.  Here's the view of the Shenandoah River, looking north toward the confluence with the Potomac, taken from the US 340 bridge:

I got to spend about 45 minutes in the ATC office, chatting with Laurie Potteiger (ATC information services), thru-hiker 'Hersch' who's doing a charity hike, and Denny-'Katahdin Kid', an office regular.  Tomorrow I'll hike back there from the north (I'll be entering Maryland!), and will spend more time there.  Today I had to cut the visit short in order to get back to my parking spot at Keys Gap before dark.

As the photos show, it was a bright, clear fall day.  Temperatures were perfect for hiking - in the low 60's - the kind of weather you'd like to bottle and have ready to uncork on those hazy, sweaty mid-summer days of malaise, or on a dreary frigid winter day.


Here's the map of today's hiking route, and a link to more photos:

AT Day 262 - Keys Gap, Harpers Ferry at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Saturday, October 27, 2012

West Virginia!

Friday, October 19, 2012:

A quarter of the Appalachian Trail is in Virginia, and today I finished that and moved into West Virginia.  It's the home stretch - just 70 trail miles to go now.

Today was a Jekyll-Hyde sort of day.  Thick fog filled the woods all morning, then it broke up and the sun came out in the afternoon.

But despite the lack of views, or really because of that, the fog was magical - a soothing, mild, calm cocoon of serenity that followed me around wherever I went.  Funny how it does that.

Fall color in the fog is a special sight.  Here are a couple of views, including the "viewpoint" at Crescent Rocks - a very popular local day-hike destination:

And here's the "money-shot" from Crescent Rocks in the late afternoon sans fog:

I covered 9.9 miles of new trail today, finished the "Roller Coaster" and then hiked a lot of easy trail along the ridge that straddles the WV-VA state line, passing the significant milestone (or mile-tree) marking 1000 miles from Springer (The actual 1000 mile point for 2012 precisely coincides with the WV-VA boundary sign shown up top).  Tomorrow I'll do the rest of that ridge walk and will be ready to drop down to the Shenandoah River and hit Harper's Ferry.


Here's today's hike map and photo link:

AT Day 261 - Crescent Rocks at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall color

Thursday, October 18, 2012:

More hiking in the 'Roller Coaster' and taking time to enjoy the near-peak display of fall color meant fewer miles today - just 6.8 new trail miles.  Here's a full description from my personal journal:


Today’s drive was 80 miles to the trail head at Ashby Gap. I prepared and was ready to hit the trail at 8:15 when two hikers came by going northbound, both of whom I’d met separately on previous days. We struck up a conversation that ended up lasting at least 15 minutes. ‘Shaky’ is 55 and hiking a section to Harpers Ferry, and ‘LA’, who looks Hispanic/native American is hiking from Rockfish Gap to New York City (Bear Mountain Park). This is his first AT hike, but he's also done 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.  These two met because they both stayed at Bears Den hostel last night.

Finally we headed our separate ways around 8:30 or so. I climbed up to Bears Den rocks and absorbed the only view of the day. The rest of the walking was in the woods with no good views, and I really wish I had some views of the intense fall color on adjacent slopes, which I had scant tantalizing glimpses of.

Anyhow, I visited Bears Den, but it seemed all dark, and the backpacker hostel was locked up, as usual (day hikers not welcome). This place gave me the impression of being a dark, unfriendly fortress both two years ago when I visited in the middle of the day, and this morning.

The rest of the day was hiking the ups and downs and often very rocky and eroded trail through the ‘Roller Coaster’ to VA 605 and back. I was not hurrying, taking in as much of the ambiance of fall color as I could.

Fall color is so fleeting, I want to soak it up and savor it. It will be gone in a week. And this year’s display seems particularly good – enough moisture to keep the trees from shutting down prematurely.

The only distraction from the woods walking was a stop at the Sam Moore Shelter where the log book had entries from Iceman, Samus, and Achilles all together (plus lots of others that I'd met), but none from Parkside.

I was back at the Ashby Gap trailhead at 5:15, and the forecast afternoon storms were nowhere in sight yet, so after changing, I decided to take advantage of the hour of light and drive to Blackburn Trail Center. This is an official AT shelter that is (theoretically) easier to get to by vehicle rather than from the trail, since there’s a major drop in elevation to get from the AT on the ridge to Blackburn, which is down on the lower slopes. But those slopes are still steep, and the road up to it has not been maintained for over a year. According to the caretaker, the guy who was doing it with a road grader has quit and they can’t afford a replacement. I suggested they acquire a cheap road grading implement, much like a heavy rake, towed behind an ordinary pickup truck. I saw this very successfully being used on private roads up in Maine.

It was getting dark and beginning to rain when I finally left Blackburn Trail Center and inched my way back down to the flatland.

Here's the map of today's hike and a link to more photos:

AT Day 260 - Bears Den Rocks at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Roller Coaster

Wednesday, October 17, 2012:

Today I started my ride through 'The Roller Coaster' - an infamous stretch of trail with about seven short but steep hill climbs and descents in quick succession on sometimes rocky trail, taking you to near the West Virginia border.

Of course, the way I do my daily hikes (both ways over a piece of trail every day), I got to stop the ride in the middle, put the roller coaster in reverse, and ride back to the beginning (the south end).

The hills and rocks slowed me down, and I got a late start on this beautiful day, so only covered 7.4 miles of new trail between Ashby Gap and VA 605 - the road that takes you up to Mt. Weather where there's the super-secure government base and huge deep underground bomb shelter facility to which the president and congress would be whisked in time of a nuclear war.

But I digress.  The hike itself was just through the woods, no glimpse of Mt. Weather, no views or open areas at all - nothing to take a picture of except the fall color.  The show is getting spectacular now as the leaves approach peak.

What a drab world this would be without 'Acer rubrum', the common red maple, which actually takes on all shades from yellow through orange to pink and, of course, brilliant red.  And the hickory trees are starting to do their thing - they all turn brilliant yellow quickly and then drop their leaves in just a few days.  Being in a woods full of hickories this time of year is like bathing in liquid sunshine!  It seems bright and cheery even on a cloudy day.  What a great time of year to finish this long adventure.


Here's the map and photo link for today's hike:

AT Day 259 - Rod Hollow and 'the roller coaster' at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Ghosts from the past

Tuesday, October 16, 2012:

Paul 'Parkside' Bernhardt (the thru-hiker who passed away at Pierce Pond, ME on 6/15/12) laughingly said of me when he took my picture posing with one hiking stick: "whoa, shades of John Muir!"

Today, Paul's memory and my past mingled once again - quite unexpectedly.  Please indulge me as I unfold this personal story:

On September 7, 2010 I visited Manassas Gap Shelter and found no log book, but a single sheet of paper left by photographer-artist 'Mark', who was hiking with 'Someday', both headed south (both would complete the entire trail, and 'Someday' received her 2000 miler patch from ATC).  I signed Mark's paper, lamenting the lack of a register book, and then went home for the night.

At home I got to thinking - I had an old hard-bound Record Book -  500 pages thick - that I had kept among my books for 30 years or more and had barely used.  Hey - why not donate it to PATC, take it to the shelter.  I was going back tomorrow anyway, to take up the trail where I had left off.  So I labeled the cover, wrote an introductory entry on page 1, and left the book at Manassas Gap Shelter on 9-8-2010.  Here's how it looked, with my page 1 entry and the page 2 addition, with Mark's single page inserted at right:

Well, today I returned to Manassas Gap Shelter for the first time since that day.  OMG!  Look at this:

It's still there!!!  I had been thinking about that book - I gave it ZERO chance of still being there!  Shelter log books rarely last six months, except in places with caretakers.  Wow!  Sadly, pages 1 and 2 were missing.  The first surviving entry (using the pen I left), appears on page 3, part of which you can see at right:

What was originally a 500 page book, had been whittled down to about 320 pages, thanks to the typical practice of people 'borrowing' blank pages from the back.

But what's most special to me is that Paul signed 'my' book, as he apparently stopped in for water on 4-15-2012, exactly two months before his tragic drowning at Pierce Pond, and just 20 days before he and I met for the second time near High Point State Park in NJ and he took my pic and made the 'Muir' comment.

A lot of memories flooded back as I sat there at the picnic table gazing at that log book.  I lingered there, paging through it.  Lots of other familiar names in those pages as well:  'Bomber', 'Patches', 'Pretzel' ... I could go on and on ...

But I need to go on!  On to describing the rest of today's wonderful hike.  Manassas Gap Shelter was the southern end of the 9.5 miles of trail I covered today.  Ashby Gap (US 50) was the north end.  In between I traversed the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area and was hiking mostly in woods.  I got to visit the peculiar little structure known as Dick's Dome shelter:

And in the afternoon I strolled Sky Meadows State Park, where the ghostly image up top was taken.  The high meadows and open woodlands, all kept mowed by the park, were a real pleasure to walk on this crystal clear day:

So it was a special day, and one that materially connects this year's AT hiking adventure with the section hiking I did in 2010.  I think if I ever come back to hike one piece of trail in the future, this will be it.


Here's the map and photo link for today's hike:

AT Day 258 - Sky Meadows St Park at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A rainy 20-mile day

Monday, October 15, 2012:

Hiked the section between US 522 north to Manassas Gap Shelter on a mostly cloudy mild day and got rained on for a few hours.  It was pretty walking, but mostly through woods.  On the gentle climb up to the trail high point on the slopes of High Knob (the AT never got above 2000 feet in all my hiking today), the woods is my favorite kind - very tall trees with little undergrowth.  The high canopy and tree 'columns' make the space feel like a cathedral.  But its not something that photographs well - too vast a space.  It's the kind of thing one has to experience in person to appreciate.

The section around Linden, VA, where the trail climbs an unnamed hill between VA 638 and VA 55/I-66 was the other special spot.  The high ground is an open summit, with an old apple tree and bench right on the trail at the high point.  Here are two views.

It rained hard as I was making the return walk through the cathedral woods, but that only made it feel more special.  Then it rained hard again soon after I passed the apple tree for the second time.  This shower turned into a nasty thunderstorm that I could hear off to the south and east after the rain had ended where I was hiking.

So I went through two pairs of shoes today, and will need to dry them out before tomorrow - that's one big advantage of having a nice dry 'home' base to return to every night.  I'll be totally dry tomorrow.


Below is today's map showing the route of the hike, and a link to more photos:

AT Day 257 - Linden, VA at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Monday, October 22, 2012

Finished with Shenandoah Park

Sunday, October 14, 2012:

The Park was a zoo today.  Then I hiked alongside a Zoological Park.

Explanation:  The leaves are changing.  The weather was mild and sunny, and it was a Sunday.  So Shenandoah National Park was the place to be if you're a 'leaf-peeper'.  Skyline Drive was bumper-to-bumper.  All the overlooks were packed.  There was a line hundreds of vehicles long waiting to pay their $15 to get in the northern entrance station at Front Royal.

I beat the crowds, mostly, and hiked the last piece of AT in the morning and was out of the park by noon.

Vast grounds of the National Zoological Park
North of Shenandoah Park, after descending to VA 602 and going past the overgrown Possums Rest overlook (no significant view) and passing the very cute Tom Floyd Wayside shelter, the AT comes alongside the chain link fence that marks the boundary of the National Zoological Park and Research Center.  The trail follows this fence for miles - on both sides of US 522.

I got a late start today because of yesterday's family get-together in Delaware.  So I ended my hike at US 522 and covered just 6.6 miles of new trail today.  But that leaves only about 112 miles of trail left to cover.  I've definitely got "trails-end fever" now.


Here's the map and photo link for today's hike:

AT Day 256 - Front Royal vicinity at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Back home for a family celebration

Saturday, October 13, 2012:

It was a day off the trail.  The family all got together to celebrate some birthdays at my brother's house in Delaware.  Good fun and conversation.

Here's my Mom and Dad.  They're pushing 90 (will turn 90 this February and April, respectively), and still doing well.  I'm hoping to hike the final short piece of Appalachian Trail with them at my side in a few weeks.  It's a blessing to have them around, period ... so to have them there, walking with me as I finish my 4368.4 mile odyssey will be an honor.  It will mean more to me than they know, and more than I can ever adequately express :-)

(Photo credit goes to my dear daughter Ellen)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Viewing Variety - and some commentary

Friday, October 12, 2012:

Today I hiked over Hogback Mountain, Little Hogback Mountain, South Marshall, North Marshall, Hogwallow Flats, and Compton Peak.  Had crystal clear views of the Shenandoah Valley from any number of viewpoints.

When you're viewing basically the same thing over and over (really it's been the same kind of view throughout SNP), you begin to look for variety in the foreground - something to lend uniqueness to the view from the particular viewpoint.

So today's presentation of views highlights that variety.  There were views with bright red berries:

There were views with witch hazel blooms:

There were views with rocks:

And there were views with grass (the hang-glider launch site atop Hogback):

It was a chilly fall day - almost a sense of winter in the strong dry west wind.  The temperature never made it above the low 50's.  And the warmly clad Wollybears were out hiking, helping me predict the coming winter.  But what am I to make of their predictions?  These two guys need to get together and decide who's right!

9.9 miles of new trail covered today plus a 0.2 mile piece of mandatory side trail to Gravel Springs Hut.  I've reached to within a mile of Compton Gap, the last place the AT crosses Skyline Drive before plunging down to US 522 at Front Royal.  I only have 120 miles of trail left to cover and I'm done!  Somehow, it's all happening too fast!  I'm not sure I want it to end.  Where will I hike next?

The most important thing that I seem to be taking away from my 4000 mile hiking adventure is that walking provides a HUGE benefit to the human body.  Despite the daily little aches and pains, I feel younger and healthier today than I have in years. My chronic back pain, that plagued me for a decade, is entirely gone.

Growing old is about dealing with aches and pains.  But would you rather have them sitting in an armchair staring at the boob-tube and trying to suppress them with all sorts of medication, or have them while you're out walking in a trail or park or neighborhood full of interesting things to see and people to talk to?  For me, the answer is a no-brainer.

For me, the aches and pains actually go away when I'm not walking (maybe it's all relative - think of the joke about the guy who bangs his head against a brick wall because it feels so good when he stops).  But that didn't happen when I was a 'couch potato'.  The lesson seems clear.  There's only one real medication that works - exercise, and PLENTY of it, and especially walking.

So ... no ... I will not stop walking when I finish the trail.  I'll walk the beach - that's a given.  And I'll get back to hiking my "Personal Continuous Footpath" connecting every place I've ever lived.  That gives me an excuse to hike the American Discovery Trail to Colorado, some spur trails to Wisconsin, the Mountains-to-Sea trail in NC, and the Tuscarora and Mid-State trails from the AT up to Penn State.

I've never been comfortable calling myself a "thru-hiker" because of the way I'm doing my 'double thru-hike'  (walking every little piece of the AT in both directions on the same day, never spending a night on the trail).  As I think of the kind of hiking I have planned after this adventure, I guess I'd rather call myself a "Cross-Country Hiker".  Sound good?


Here's the plot of today's hiking route and a link to more photos:

AT Day 255 - Northern Shenandoah NP at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia