Harriman S.P. Solo Overnight Backpack Adventure

Heading up

Heading up

Last weekend our next planned New York section-hike turned out differently than planned. Fielden Stream’s knee swelled up again and we weren’t able to get her up and going quite as easy this time! Crushed about not being able to hike together, but understanding that it’s not a good idea to stress a recent injury if we want to be able to keep hiking together in the future, we decided it would be ok for me to go on what seems to be my annual solo overnight trip.

As you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog, I recently received a replacement rainfly for my solo tent for only the cost of shipping from the manufacturer Easton products. This is because I had packed it away wet in a classic amateur mistake after my first solo trip last October, and it was covered in mildew when I pulled it out for my brother to use earlier on our July 4 weekend trip. They were awesome when I told them what I had done and promptly replaced it for only the cost of shipping. So my solo tent was back in action! Luckily the tent itself did not have any mildew.

View east from West Mountain

First view – south east from West Mountain

I changed the itinerary to facilitate a loop-hike with a single vehicle, yet still one in the same region and with great views. I also still wanted us to do those full A.T. sections together later. And it was an opportunity to challenge myself a bit more than usual since I was on my own. For instance, I’ve been working on my fear of ledges and ridge walks with steep drop-offs. I know there will be a lot of these in my future if I want to complete the whole A.T one day, and so I wanna get through this phobia. Nothing wrong with a little self-preservation especially when you’re a husband and a father, but sometimes it borders on just plain silly the things I will avoid.

For location, I chose to head down the trail a bit to include one of the most beautiful views (if you like a view with a city skyline in the distance, that is) in the area, West Mountain shelter in Harriman State Park. This is a popular one, perched on the ledge almost 1,300 ft up and overlooking the Hudson river, all the way to NYC which is visible on clear days about 40 miles south. It’s about .6 off the A.T. but many thru hikers make the extra trek as its not hard, and its worth it. I had a photo of it on my desktop background for about half a year, planning to make it there by the end of the season on one of our section hikes. Now, although alone this time, I was going to.  That was a silver lining, to be sure.

Descending the first ledges on West Mountain

Descending the first ledges on West Mountain

Harriman is the second largest state park in New York, with over 225 miles of trails, including 18 of the A.T. West Mountain is the next peak southwest of Bear Mountain on the trail. Together, the two are part of the Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks.

Narrowly surviving my drive up the Palisades Parkway to the trail head at Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, I arrived around noon to get on the trail. Notice: the drivers on this road don’t seem to be the considerate or patient type. The fact that the A.T in fact crosses this very road TWICE (north and south lanes) with no sort of bridge whatsoever is terrifying. There’s no stop light, nor much of a warning as a driver as you approach the crossing other than your typical hiker sign.

Please be extremely careful when on trail and having to cross it. I pondered adding a walk up Black Mountain before departing on day 2 of this hike, but the very thought of crossing that road in both directions to get there and back left a lot to be desired. It’s a miracle no one has been killed doing so. Or have they? They should probably put a pedestrian bridge across it, or use the Anthony Wayne rec area overpass as part of the route and re-route it slightly north to do so. The bookstore is in the highway median just north of the trail, which may be why they do it this way, but I nearly got killed in my CAR just trying to make a left into there to get a park map and a Gatorade.

The Timp from West Mountain

The Timp from West Mountain

Anyway, it was a beautiful day and I made it in one piece. The parking lots for the recreation area are MASSIVE.  In its peak season I imagine these to be fairly loaded though the southern lot where I parked has less recreation areas and seems to be more of an overflow lot with overnight and day hikers using the area by the trailhead most. As it was only mid-August I found it a bit odd that it was off-season already and all the facilities were closed. Who knows — maybe it was just closed for this weekend. You can catch the Timp-Torne trail and A.T which share the same path for about a mile and a half farther north at the upper lot, but this was not part of my planned route and I will do that later coming through on the A.T. section.

Where's the trail? Ascending the Timp

Where’s the trail? Ascending the Timp

I had mapped this route out extensively, starting with the NY/NJ Trail conference’s “Trail Walker” newsletter where I got the idea for the new hike.  They had a day hike recommendation up to a spot called “Cat’s Elbow” on West Mountain that included the Shelter as a lunch spot and was about 2/3 of the route I did. I then researched more online to plot the route, adding in one more peak, “The Timp” to make it a bit more of an overnight hike distance. And because I wanted to peak bag it! It turns out the Cat’s Elbow was down a short access trail from one of the ledges I was on at the beginning of the hike, but I did not realize this at the time and just assumed I was on it. Not to fret, I had my fair share of ledge walking and views and challenges on this hike. I imagine that view was just one that would be to my benefit had I not added the extra 1.5 miles over the Timp, which offers those same views.

Holy elevation gains, Batman!

Holy elevation gains, Batman!

The hike started on one of the many mountain bike paths through the park from the lot for about half mile before crossing the A.T. From here I continued on the bike path a bit farther until I picked up the Red-dot-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, heading east. This would take me all the way over the shoulder of West Mountain down to “Timp Pass” between the two peaks and up to the top of the Timp. Immediately I was treated to rock scrambles leading up to many ledges. The views on this hike never ended. At the top of this shoulder of West Mountain I could hear hikers across the valley at the shelter on the peak, and snacked on tiny blueberries as I passed through fire-scarred meadows on the ridgeline. I would recommend long pants because I was not wearing them and the underbrush was knee high through much of this section of the hike and the concern of poison ivy and ticks was very real.

Bones on the timp

Bones on the timp

Over many you-fall-you-die spots, I crawled over ledges on the ridgeline, my heart racing but full of pride for accepting this challenge and conquering it. I descended down the ridge line steeply into the gap, a descent equal to that of Bear Mountain in Connecticut’s north face until I reached Timp Pass. Here I had the chance to venture right up the other ridge of West Mountain to the shelter but decided that was too early to call it a day and continued on to the Timp ascent.

It was a hot day and there is no water at the shelter, and there were no streams with water to count on. I knew this going into it and packed extra water so I had enough for the climbs and for dinner and coffee. But not being able to see my water supply in my bladder while in my pack, I was conserving a bit and definitely getting dehydrated. This is a major fault in the design of an integrated camel bladder sleeve. Many hikers opt to carry their bladder between the brain and the body of their pack to alleviate that, but thats a hack that doesn’t need to be necessary.

Goldenrods on the Timp

Goldenrods on the Timp

Turns out I had enough water but I didn’t know for sure till I got to camp. I could have taken it out and checked and would have if it was a longer hike, but buried behind all my other gear in my loaded pack, I decided not to since I was almost at the summit. I had a full smart water bottle with me as well in case of emergency, and was close enough to the trailhead that I could return to the car in case of severe water shortage. I also knew there would be others up there who would have water in case of emergency. And I was right. One family shared some water with some other hikers who needed it. They used to have pumps at all these shelters but the closeness to the city meant a lot of partiers would come up to these spots and leave messes. So to discourage this, they removed them so that only hikers who carried the right gear and were prepared with filters and such would be able to stay longer times up here. A shame to punish the few because of the masses but it happens all the time. Because, stupid people.

West Mountain and Bear Mountain from the Timp

West Mountain and Bear Mountain from the Timp

The climb up the back of the Timp was another rockfall, but more intense than the first. I had to look for at least 15 minutes for the next blaze up that wall, as it was mostly rocks! I did a good deal of rock climbing up to the summit ledges of the Timp where I took a break and took in the views across the pass to West Mountain, and Bear Mountain in the distance behind it. The shelter on West Mountain was visible as was the Perkins Memorial Tower on Bear. To the south I could also see sweeping views of the Hudson and the small towns along it as well the city in the distance.

Linus on the Timp

Linus on the Timp

I had now left the red trail for the blue-blazed Timp-Torne trail through a ridge line covered in Goldenrod to reach the summit, and I would stay on this until the shelter and until the A.T. the next morning. At the summit there were some day hikers who snapped a photo of me on an outcropping. On the way down the timp I had epic views north of the Bear Mountain bridge, Bear Mountain, Anthony’s nose, and beyond to the Hudson Highlands and West Point.  That was a treat. The descent was rocky and steep but I made it to the pass and it is here that I received my first leg cramp. I’ve read both that these are and are not caused by dehydration but just to be sure I chugged a bunch of water and took a break.  It was also here that my GPS track stopped because I guess my watch wasn’t as fully charged as I had thought. While I was still tracking with my AllTtrails app on my phone, I knew it was only a matter of time until my watch would shut off entirely. I hadn’t brought the watch charger and so the watch was out of commission within a few hours. Had I not had my phone I’d be relying on my horizon tricks to tell the time.

My new Casio Pro Trek watch

My new Casio Pro Trek watch

While not the end of the world, after this and several dropped tracks on recent hikes, I’d come to the end of the relationship with the watch. A great idea as a product with a very robust feature set, online dev community and overall a durable piece of equipment. But one that at the very least should have a backup battery for the timekeeping function. This could be much more of a concern on a longer hike. I don’t need to devices to worry about charging. I would return it when I got back for a watch that did not rely on USB power and stick to my phone and phone charger for that purpose. REI gave me full credit back for the Suunto, and I provided my feedback and experience with the watch. The salesman who helped me find a new watch was wearing the Suunto Core and knew just what I meant. I decided on the latest Casio Pro-Trek. It has an altimeter, compass, barometer, moon phases and tidal data, a tough water-resistant case to a good depth, and an easy back-light button. It’s also an atomic watch so you can rely on the time. And it was $175 less. I will miss many of the Suunto’s features but I need a watch that I can depend on being there for me when I need it. The Pro-Trek also solar charges so I don’t have to worry about battery life for a very long time.

Bear Mountain Bridge from the Timp

Bear Mountain Bridge from the Timp

The final push up to the shelter started with about a half mile of a scree-laden path, until a steep, tough climb up many rocky ledges to the shelter. My poles were basically useless on this and many other parts of the hike and I think at one point on that last ascent when confronted with the last wall of rock ahead of me uttered, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But I heard voices ahead and luckily it wasn’t one of those tricks of the wind and another mile to go. The shelter appeared before me and though completely spent, I had worked hard, climbed three summits and about 1,600 ft of vertical in under 5 miles today, with another 300 on day two to make about 1,900 overall. Even my “Best Hikes Near New York City” book described it as a “Butt-Kicker.” Correctamundo!

West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter

It was a stunning shelter view. I perused all the tent sites and found one near the shelter with its own fire ring. I set up my tent, and unpacked and had some wine. My tent rainfly has two zippers so you can roll up the whole side or, as I imagined, create an awning using extra guy lines and your trekking poles. This worked out perfectly!  I hadn’t tried it yet when I set up the tent the day before to gear check and I was super excited to have an awning. I even used a tautline hitch on the guyline.

My tent with improvised "awning"

My tent with improvised “awning”

I hung my bear bag, using the PCT method and a clove hitch, and then went to chat with some of the other hikers at the site. There was a family from the Philly area with their two kids, 2 couples that were thru-hiking, and 2 solo section hikers with their dogs. I always like when there are dogs there because I feel safer about bears and other critters not coming into camp. We shared stories and took in the views. I retreated to my site to make a small fire. Originally I wasn’t planning to but everyone else had gathered fire wood and had one going so it inspired me. I made one just big enough to enjoy my dinner by, and then as it fizzled out I went to enjoy the sunset and view of the city with the other hikers before bed.

Sunset at West Mountain shelter

Sunset at West Mountain shelter

Most of the other hikers chose to keep the rainfly off, and I was thinking about it too but I was so pleased with my ingenuity and I know how quickly weather can change. I didn’t want it to happen when I was asleep. I kept the awning open though and had a beautiful view of the brightly shining moon over the ridge, as the crickets sung me to sleep. No owls though. What gives? I thought it was supposed to rain and starting around 9am so I was planning on getting going early.

First climb on day 2 to West Mountain summit

First climb on day 2 to West Mountain summit

I had an unexpected charlie horse in the middle of the night trying to get into my summer bag so once the pain subsided I opted to use it as a blanket and sleep in my liner which worked fine. I also have a high R-value on my new BA Air core sleeping pad so I was plenty warm even with the fly up. This was definitely a lack of potassium. I was up at 630 with the sunrise anyway. I hadn’t gotten that much sleep because there’s a CSX train down along the river which was passing through blowing its horn about every 30 minutes. I love trains. But this did not help me sleep. That’s one of the few downsides of camping here, well that and the water. And if you ask others, no privy. As I only had about a liter left and had a fancier feast in mind when I reached the lot, I packed up, had my cliff bar, and headed out by 730 am after taking in the view one last time.

A.T. Junction, West Mountain

A.T. Junction, West Mountain

It was about .5 to the A.T. along the ridge and while it was mostly easy and flat there were a few scrambles, but more endless views to match. There was another campsite atop the actual peak of West Mountain that had an equal view and large fire ring. While there was no shelter or privy or water supply here either, it was quite a nice spot, and one I’d camp at if we didn’t want to make the trip to the shelter when coming through here on the section.  The junction of the A.T and TImp-Torne trail had its own incredible view westward. From here the two continue along side each other for a mile or two northbound while just the A.T. heads south, and this was my route. It was a steep and often rocky descent, and I was glad I was not heading up it. About a mile later as I reached the bottom at the bike path crossing, there was a stream, of course. The water was reliable and clean but I had no need unless I decided to head up Black Mountain, which I didn’t. I probably had time but as I said the road crossing was perilous.  I headed back to my car, happy to have a lighter pack and a successful adventure.

Final view, north from A.T

Final view, north from A.T

I visited the bookstore on the way out, grabbed a coffee and a gatorade and farther up the route home I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and got an egg and cheese and a banana (to help the potassium shortage). I remember a thru-hiker on one of our last sections farther up the trail saying Harriman was one of his favorite spots on his hike so far. I can see why.  A great adventure, and I learned some valuable lessons about what I was capable of, and to listen to my body when it tells me I need more water or rest. And that I am still a boy scout! I took a ton of pictures and videos, and am looking into a nicer digital camera to improve my photography. Recommendations welcome. I don’t need a million pixels, or to spend $1,000 but I would like something with higher resolution and more features, while still being durable.

I am planning a day hike tomorrow somewhere closer to get my trail fix, and Fielden Stream and I are planning when we will hit the trail again soon for the next section hike now that she has the green light from the doctor.

— Linus

 

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Back to Harpers Ferry and Beyond – Part 2

Shenandoah NP Vista

Shenandoah NP Vista

After a brief rest stop in Front Royal for some breakfast we got to the Shenandoah National Park entrance and I was pretty much giddy. One thing about reading all the A.T. guides and stories is that you picture these majestic places and some you never can fully imagine until you see it for yourself. Skyline, and Shenandoah, is one of those. For 109 miles or so Skyline drive follows what was once the original path of the A.T. The trail now parallels the road sometimes closely, sometimes not. The road, like the trail, travels along the winding mountain ridges — climbing, descending and twisting up and down past almost 100 spectacular views to the valley below. Almost every one has a pull over spot to take it in without holding anyone up behind you. I lost count of how many pictures I took, and just reveled in the glorious eye candy before me. Its certainly been hard to pick just one or two of each amazing spot to show you here. We will be back sometime to hike the whole thing!

Skyland

Skyland

We drove through and checked out one of the campsites near Mathews Arm, and then stopped for lunch and a hike at the largest wayside in the park, Skyland. It has numerous cabins you can rent, and a glorious dining hall hanging over the cliff side with views to the valley thousands of feet below. A few thru hikers and section hikers were enjoying a fairly luxurious break as well. Though they worked much harder to get here, for sure.

After lunch we raided the gift shop, and then drove over to the parking lot nearby for the Stony Man trail. I researched many of the overlook hikes in the park, and this one was the best option as it was short enough to do on a break to stretch our legs, and also was physically manageable by everyone in our group. Again this time we had the leisure of being day hikers, walking only about 1.2 miles round trip from the trailhead at about 3,700 feet through Rhododendron and Laurel thickets on a mostly gentle path to the breathtaking views of Stony Man summit. My only regret is not seeing them all in full bloom a month or so ago. The second highest peak in the park, Stony Man summit extends out on a rocky precipice 4,014 feet up, with sweeping views of the park, Skyline drive, the town of Luray, VA and the Washington and Jefferson National forests beyond. Very little work for such reward.

Linus on Stony Man, SNP

Linus on Stony Man, SNP

There is even a horse path that comes up to the summit before the outcrop from the stables at Skyland, and you can park your horse at a hitch (is that what you call it) before walking out to the summit ledges. We shared the first half mile of the walk with the A.T, and then it continues on to the Little Stony Man cliffs below where we stood now. Those cliffs also have famous views and had we more time we would have made a bigger loop of it.  Unfortunately a group of at least 20 teen girls from a sports camp in the area poured out onto the precipice just minutes after we arrived there, now marring the view, and the experience.

Yellow bird, Shenandoah Vista

Yellow bird, Shenandoah Vista

While I fully support and encourage the idea of getting youth to such incredible places, and seeing the joy and appreciation of this place on all their faces, their leader clearly had no idea about how this might impact those around them. He should have led them out in smaller groups, taking turns on the summit ledges, so that the others already there could continue to enjoy it without crowds blurting OMGs while taking selfies. On another day, I might have left a polite note on their van about sharing the space more respectfully, but I was in vacation mode and too busy taking it all in in whatever way I could. And anyway, Fielden Stream found a side trail down to an unspoiled part of the ledges and we had a few minutes to soak it in, take our own photos, and head back.

C&O Rail Museum, Clifton Forge, VA

C&O Rail Museum, Clifton Forge, VA

We wound along another 60 miles of Skyline drive over Big Meadows, Pass Mountain, Loft Mountain, and eventually to the southern end at Rockfish Gap as we came into Waynesboro. I knew from my A.T research that it had a lot of amenities for hikers including a very popular all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. But the town was much more than we expected. We dined at a fusion Asian restaurant with lots of flare, recommended by the hotel — surely the nicest Holiday Inn we had ever been in. They had pancakes till midnight and a 24 hour pool!  Then the next morning we visited the fantastic Rockfish Gap Outfitters and while there Fielden Stream got a new hiking skirt and we left a raincoat found on the A.T in a hiker box. A trail angel had come by looking for hikers who needed rides and said at one point in the peak of the hiker bubble he was shuttling 60 a day to and from the trail a few miles away! The girls found a gas-station-turned-cross-stitch store and Jiffy Pop and I went to Waffle House and had a nice chat with some locals before it was time to head on back to W.V.

New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge Bridge

The drive west was equally lovely, as the mountains continue on the other side of 81 and never really end once you’re in West Virginia. We stopped in a historic little town called Clifton Forge (Virginia), rife with C&O railroad history. They have a rail museum there and much of the town looked to be still somewhere in the 1950’s, including where we ate lunch. It was very quaint and I felt like we stepped into Back to the Future. We then drove on to our lovely cabin on the northern end of the New River Gorge National RIver.

The New river, despite its name, is one of the oldest in the world, older perhaps than the Appalachian Mountains themselves, perhaps older than the Nile. And like the Nile, it flows upstream. The end result, especially here, is 50 or so miles of towering mountains on either side of the river gorge. The incredible bridge across it, when completed in 1977, was the world’s longest steel single-span arch bridge. To give you an idea how deep the gorge is, the height of the lower arch above the river is the equivalent to stacking two Statue of Liberties on top of the Washington Monument!

New River Gorge WV Grand View

New River Gorge WV Grand View

Before the bridge you’d have to drive 40 minutes down winding roads and back up the other side after crossing a smaller bridge over the river at the bottom of the gorge. We stopped at the Bridge overlook and then headed for the “Grand View” visitor center. Many trails line the gorge, of all difficulty levels and all start from different visitors centers along the gorge. There is also rock climbing along “The Endless Wall” at the northern end.

Turkey Spur overlook

Turkey Spur overlook

The gorge is so large, it took us 40 minutes to drive from the bridge up north to the Grand View in the south.  We went to the main overlook and for a short stroll with Jiffy Pop, Fielden’s mom, dad, and sister to the northern overlook and then Fielden Stream and I headed off on our own for Turkey Spur overlook, at the other end of the 1.5-mile Grand View Rim trail. Her mom took the road there later to pick us up after we climbed the 100 or so steep steps and newly constructed boardwalks over massive boulders to rewarding overlooks to the east and west.

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

We spent several days in the beautiful cabin, making trips to local artisan shops, barbecuing, and making down-home country meals. The boys took a ‘zero’ and spent the day in the cabin catching up on reading, work, and rest. I took an early morning short hike before the coming rain on the local trails the owner had carved into the hills behind his cabin. The wildflowers and the views were lovely. All in all we had one rainy day out of nine.

We left for Charleston and the wedding and stopped on the way at the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, an old mine turned-museum where they had re-created much of an original mining town including the mine store, the homes, the church, and owner’s quarters.

Cathedral Falls, WV

Cathedral Falls, WV

There was a ride with a tour guide through the old mine which we also enjoyed. He was quite a character and he had grown up in the West Virginia mines himself. It was what you did here.

They also had brought in original historic Appalachian buildings and recreated an old Appalachian homestead including an old shop, schoolhouse, barn, carriage house, and moonshine still.

And while in Charleston we had the opportunity to check out a few local waterfalls recommended by the family, Kanawha Falls and the majestic Cathedral Falls.

After a beautiful wedding, the next morning it was sadly time to go. But the first half of our 11-hour drive was beautiful and included hundreds of miles of beautiful W.V. mountains, and the Cumberland Gap in Maryland. One doesn’t often think of big mountains when they think of Maryland, but the state’s terrain is far more diverse and after the trip to Harpers Ferry in March, and this one, this fact is certain. And this is a vacation we will never forget.

Next week, Fielden Stream and I are back on the Appalachian Trail in New York. Stay tuned!

— Linus

Back to Harpers Ferry and Beyond – Part 1

LIttle Round top, Gettysburg

LIttle Round top, Gettysburg

Last week, we had a most amazing vacation. We were headed to a family wedding in Charleston, WV at the end of the week — 600 miles away — and so we decided to make a road trip out of it which included all of our favorite things. History – check. Wine – check. New places – check. Hiking – of course! It took everything I had not to be left to hike home. In fact I suggested it many times but no one wanted to take it seriously except me! Some other time…

Historical Plaque on Maryland Heights

Historical Plaque on Maryland Heights

We made our first stop at Gettysburg, as we are civil war and history buffs and coincidentally Jiffy Pop’s summer reading is on Gettysburg. One of the English teachers at his school wrote it and I’m hoping he will have this teacher this year.  We toured Antietam in the spring, and Gettysburg was equally as powerful, if not more. Standing on Little Round Top looking down across the battlefield was sobering. It’s easy to see how the topography was responsible for so much carnage and such an advantage to the side that held the high ground. The new museum and facility for the cyclorama were impressive, and we enjoyed a tour to the Spangler farm with re-enacters who taught us about civil war medicine.

Butterfly on Maryland Heights

Butterfly on Maryland Heights

This was a family farm that was close to the battle and ended up being taken over as a Union field hospital, and also cared for 100 confederate soldiers brought in. General Armisted was treated here but died from his wounds a few days later. The privately funded Gettysburg foundation is responsible for this side excursion and did a fantastic job with it. I think the message hit home with Jiffy Pop — he was able to remember many of the names and places that are forever etched in our nation’s history here.

We went on to Harper’s Ferry in the late afternoon. You can read about our first visit in March and our A.T hike here. I loved driving through Maryland past Cacoctin Mountain (another nice hiking spot and trail system) and then paralleling the A.T. to the east at a short distance as it runs atop the ridges of South Mountain before crossing the trail and the Potomac into Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

We stayed at a hotel I wanted to stay at since I saw it in March. Now it’s just an Econolodge, nothing special. But it sits on Rt 340 just .2 miles north of the trail crossing, and out our window loomed Loudon Heights, and the section we did up to the ridgeline in March. I made more jokes about how if I wasn’t there in the morning, to drive to Keys Gap to pick me up. Last time we were up there it was covered in thick snow. I know we will come back here as a starting point to do a big chunk southbound into Virginia or to end a hike of all of Maryland. Easy on, easy off, easy on the wallet. We saw a few backpackers at the hotel but they were clearly not thrus. It was way too late in the season and their bodies, faces and gear were way too clean!  We had dinner the first night at a nice restaurant in Charles Town that we visited last time. The next morning we did the hike up to Maryland Heights I wanted to also do in March after Loudon Heights, but the snow and my knees were not allowing such things at the time.

Maryland Heights from Below

Maryland Heights from Below

While the path up is wide and graded and easy enough for Union troops to drag cannons up, the vertical incline is severe. You gain 1,000 ft in about a mile to reach the lower shoulder of the mountain, passing one naval battery on the way. That was fascinating to see, and imagine it in the conflict, fully active. It is said Abe Lincoln tried to climb up to visit the troops but turned around halfway. We were feeling the burn on the legs too. Once atop the shoulder at about 1100 ft we veered off to the cliff overlook trail. The stone fort trail continues upward another 1.5 miles to the summit with more naval batteries (these are all just earthworks now), more views, and the remnants of an old stone fort. The overlook trail climbs down via switchbacks and a steep scramble to the grand view of Maryland Heights seen in my photo. This view captures the town below, the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and all three states in one of the area’s most beautiful scenes. A butterfly decided to join Jiffy Pop on his rock perch, and we took a much needed break.

Historic lock along the C&O Canal

Historic lock along the C&O Canal

We ascended back up the 350+ vertical feet to the main trail and then down quickly to the C&O canal towpath and over the Potomac into town via the A.T. where we had an especially satisfying lunch. Fortunately it was 12:55 when we sat down because they don’t serve alcohol till 1pm and I was in need of some refreshment! It was sad to see the major damage done by the fire in town the weekend before, but I am glad that the first responders did such a good job of preventing further damage and no loss of human life occurred.

Jiffy Pop's first ATC visit

Jiffy Pop’s first ATC visit

We toured the historic town museums and shops that afternoon including a visit to the outfitters where my Yankee pronunciation of Loudon was promptly yet politely corrected. We made a donation to the rebuilding fund, and I bought a new ultra-lightweight granite gear food bag. For dinner the second night we went to a winery/restaurant just over the border on the other side of Loudon Heights in Virginia. The state has over 250 of them, and as a wine salesman, and part of a family of wine lovers, we were excited for the meal and wine tasting flights. While the wine was good and the service was great, we unfortunately had a large party of 30 next to us who were quite loud and unruly and made conversation and enjoyment quite difficult. They also ate up a lot of the food and attention of the restaurant, so our overall experience suffered. Hopefully the establishment learned from this experience.

After taking Jiffy Pop to the ATC headquarters for his first visit the next morning, we left for Waynesboro via Shenandoah National Park and the breathtaking Skyline Drive. That will be in part two!