We went here in March for our 5th wedding anniversary to hike, relax, and enjoy the local wineries and the civil war history everywhere. We are also fascinated by that subject, and this is where the famous revolt of John Brown and his abolitionists occurred, eventually leading to the civil war. We didn’t backpack this time as we were staying in a lovely B&B to celebrate the anniversary right!
We were treated to snow one day, and late-spring/early summer temps the next day. It’s evident in the photos that the lower elevations were snow-free, while the mountaintops were not!
For this trail adventure, we decided to hike down the Lower Town Trail to the A.T. from the Park headquarters, across the Shenandoah up to a snowy Loudoun Heights on the West Virginia/Virginia border, and then back down to the other side of town and over the Potomac to the Maryland border. All in all, about 6 miles and change.
As you may or may not know, Harpers Ferry is also where the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located. Just about .2 miles from the trail in the upper town, it is also known as the ‘psychological halfway point’ of the trail, though the real halfway point is about 30 miles away, just north of the Pennsylvania border. It is here that all thru- and section-hikers can register with the ATC and get a photo in their book, with their trail names and start dates. We weren’t sure this was something we could do as we can only get out in small sections several times a year. However, they were more than accommodating and it was a thrill. It is also the site of ‘Jefferson Rock’ – a balanced stone along the Shenandoah with views of the confluence of both rivers where Thomas Jefferson exclaimed “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
At the headquarters, we also got to enjoy the hiker’s lounge, look through the hiker boxes (boxes where hikers leave things they don’t need for other hikers) and get some great new books, A.T. swag and rest our feet for a bit. There’s also a great topographic map of the whole trail I loved, since I am a map geek as well. I don’t mind spending a bunch here because it all goes to support the conservancy, who take care of the trail. To that end, I am a card carrying member of the ATC, as well as the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). We also got me a cool A.T. earring, which has gotten a very enthusiastic response from other thru and section-hikers on the trail. And A.T. happens to be the first two initials of my name — convenient!
On a side-note we also made a nice donation to the ATC to have an engraved brick on the new walkway in Damascus, Virginia. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was just yesterday morning at the annual ‘Trail Days’ event, where thousands of past and current hikers come together in this trail community to meet other hikers and ‘trail angels’ and meet representatives of top gear companies who are educating everyone on their latest advances for hiker gear. A goal for all hikers, and manufacturers alike, is to get the lightest gear with the strongest most durable materials. Every ounce counts, especially to ‘gram weenies’, aka ‘ultralighters’. I don’t have the best back either, so this is worth the extra investment these products will cost, and to anyone hiking hundreds or thousands of miles with it all on their back. When I think back to how heavy my external frame scouting pack weighed when it was fully-loaded in the early 80’s, I’m amazed at what 20 years of tech has resulted in. I am much happier with my lighter gear, even if my wallet is empty. Thank god too for my REI membership — my dividends pay me back in more of the light gear I want.
Some terms here to explain for the non-savvy:
Trail angels are people who are either former thru-hikers or just hiker-friendly and will set up along the trail and provide free food, rides to the nearest town to resupply and catch a night off (a ‘zero’), or will leave it out along the trail like the cooler you saw in my first entry. And a Trail community is a town that is along the trail where the businesses are friendly and cater to hikers. These usually include shops and residents who run hostels or cabins or allow hikers to camp in their yard, use their showers and bathrooms, and will give you rides back and forth to the trail for minimal fees. We have really enjoyed those services so far in Kent, Falls Village, and Salisbury, Connecticut, as well as Pawling, NY. Damascus, Virginia, where they hold trail days is one of the most famous.