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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!