Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 6

July 5, 2018

We finished the last section of our A.T. hiking in Shenandoah National Park this morning. We had a few curveballs thrown at us along the way.  But we adapted and we endured and I think made a lot of prudent decisions that we had the luxury to make as section hikers. I wish we had done the overnight but seeing our third bear in the park on skyline drive near the hut we would have stayed at helped me feel a little better about not doing that! We also saw another bear right behind the lodge (photo below).

We did our biggest number of hikes in a single week so far and that’s another milestone.  This will help us prepare for 4-5 day overnights as well which is another reason we wanted to stay all week and do multiple hikes. 

After we got off trail and finished our A.T. section, we headed for the Lewis Spring falls lot so I could go back and finally see the real view of the falls (photo below). It was another 1,000ft descent and ascent but this route was only 1.8 miles round trip vs the 3.4 mile route I took from the lodge last time. It was a tough climb down and up but worth it. And now it won’t bother me for the next year. Fielden Stream and her dad were waiting for me at the lot with a blackberry milkshake from the wayside, which sure hit the spot and helped revive me after the climb. They saw more bears at the wayside while getting me the milkshake — a mom and her two cubs in a tree.

Rain has finally come and the heatwave is breaking. I thought about running back up to the park (we’re in Luray now) and hitting Mary’s rock from Thornton Gap as its so close. However if its raining on that steep trail, and there’s no view because of the rain, I’m not sure I’m going to do it. I’d like to visit the outfitter in Luray and explore the town a bit. I’m proud of what we’ve done this week.

A.T. miles with Fielden Stream: 3.2

Lewis Spring falls trail miles (out and back): 1.8

– Linus

More bears!

More bears!

Lewis Falls

 

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Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 5

July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday we went up to Skyland for dinner with the family, and saw another bear, this time grazing on the side of skyline drive at dusk.

Today as planned, Fielden Stream and I did another A.T. section in Shenandoah National Park from South River Falls Picnic Area (with A.T. access .1 down the South River Falls trail) to the Lewis Mountain Campground Picnic Area where we left off on Sunday. This was a 6 mile section. We decided on splitting the 9 miles left that we planned to do due to the high temps and humidity.  We will do the last 3 tomorrow before we leave the park. While we haven’t done as many miles as we hoped, we feel taking these precautions was the right move. Bites and poison ivy can quickly become open infected wounds in the woods, especially if you’re scratching them a lot. Add the risk of dehydration and heat stroke in a week of solid 90+ temps and you’re looking at even more risk. The trail isn’t going anywhere. At the end of this trip we will have done about a quarter of the A.T in the park and that’s awesome!

We got an early start and while it was already heating up, we were in the green tunnel by 10am where the temps were much more bearable than anywhere exposed to the sun. Walking along the ridge lines we had many cool breezes and it was not a bad hike at all! We only had 2 climbs – one up Baldface mountain and one up Lewis mountain (I did the extra .3 mile spur up to the summit but the view was not much to write home about!). Neither were more than 700ft and both were the usual gradual nice climbs and descents we’ve experienced for the majority of the trail through here. Besides one steeper switchbacked descent, it was flat easy trail the rest of the way. We passed the Picosin cabin which is one of the ones you can rent from the PATC, and the Lewis Mountain campground as we reached the end of the hike.  We also had one bit where the A.T. and Skyline drive followed right next to each other.

We had a large raven swoop down over us at the campground, and also saw a large male and female deer as well as a family of turkeys crossing the trail. A small bit of rain moved in just after we got to our car at the end of the hike but it wasn’t long before the heat came back and burned everything dry. If we were still hiking I’m sure that dousing would have been welcome and refreshing.

I am considering a jaunt down to Dark Hollow falls or another walk down to Lewis Spring falls later to get that view finally, but we will see.

Miles: 6

Linus Miles (including out and back on summit spur trail): 6.6

– Linus

SNP Wayside blackberry milkshake

SNP Wayside blackberry milkshake

Black bear on Skyline drive

Black bear on Skyline drive

Wildflower #2

Wildflower #2

Wildflower #1

Wildflower #1

Nice trail work coming down a steep hillside

Nice trail work coming down a steep hillside

Fielden Stream descending Baldface mtn

Fielden Stream descending Baldface mtn

View from Lewis Mtn summit

View from Lewis Mtn summit

Shenandoah National Park – Days 3 and 4

July 2&3 2018

You’re probably worried I saw another bear and got eaten, and that’s why you haven’t heard from me for 2 days… Well not to worry! While some of the hiking plans were sidelined by poison ivy and insect attacks resulting in some fun swelling and a run to town for Benadryl and bandaids, we are alive and we have done some more hikes though a bit shorter these last two days. We took Fielden’s parents and sister up to the stunning view on Blackrock Summit (the one at Big Meadows not the mountain of that name farther south) yesterday and then had our postponed picnic at the Big Meadows picnic ground. We also visited the Byrd visitor center to get our A.T. passport stamped and do the museum exhibit, as well as doing all of our laundry at the campground. We stopped at the wayside to check out the shop and get some charcoal for the BBQ. How did I forget to get a blackberry milkshake there! Not to worry, that will happen before we leave.

Today Fielden and I made the painful choice to skip the backpacking overnight on this trip to let the wounds heal and stay as sterile as possible to avoid infection. However we will be doing two more A.T. section day hikes tomorrow and Thursday.  Today she went to a museum down in the valley with her family and I did the A.T./Lewis Spring Falls loop from the lodge as I was going stir crazy and came here to hike! This loop is right behind the lodge and had a 1,000ft descent and climb back up. It started and ended with the great views at Black Rock summit as that trail leads down to the A.T. From there I followed the A.T. about .3 miles north before the turnoff and a 1.2 mile descent along the ridgeline on the Lewis Spring trail.

There is a viewing area of part of the falls, but I am a little annoyed with myself because I missed the farther viewing trail that showed the falls cascading off the ledge and instead I was just at the top of the drop-off where they had a waterfall safety sign. I had thought this was the viewing area and wasn’t very impressed. Well I’m gonna blame the trail posts there as they were very hard to read and it was not at all clear I was supposed to continue along across the brook to see this view! I figured there had to be more to it than what I saw, and now that I’m looking it up, well, I feel pretty dumb. I was supposed to go further to a viewing platform, and I never did because I thought that was the end of the path. Bummer. After that it was a long tough 1.4-mile climb up including the last mile of the A.T section we did on Sunday,,,  

But it was a beautiful hike nonetheless… next time I will go the extra distance. Heck I might just have to go back and see it before I leave if there’s time. But just in case there’s not, Google it if you want to see what I was supposed to see.

Time for a beer and a snack. Tomorrow we will fill in the gap from Swift Run gap to Lewis Mountain Campground and Thursday morning we plan to do from the lodge up to Hawksbill Gap.

Miles: 3.4

– Linus

Hiker humor, Blackrock, Big Meadows

Hiker humor, Blackrock, Big Meadows

Lewis Spring Trail

Lewis Spring Trail

Wild rose

Wild rose

Lewis Spring upper falls (I missed the lower!)

Lewis Spring upper falls (I missed the lower!)

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 2

Sunday, July 1, 2018

As the day ends with another perfect sunset from the lodge, we are nursing some new wounds and continuing to re-arrange a few things.  Yesterday we got a late start and so we skipped ahead to the next section from Swift Run Gap. We will fill that gap on Thursday morning.

Our shuttle got delayed by another client, so rather than a 1030 pickup it ended up being around noon. We had 8.3 miles approximately to do on each of those sections, so it wasn’t really about the miles but the terrain and the pickup / rendezvous later in the day.  We had a reservation at the campsite made months ago and we were all planning to go and have a picnic dinner there before Fielden Stream and I camped there for the night.  This wasn’t a backpacking overnight anymore, just a cookout and campout to keep logistics easy for the rest of the family who are non-hikers/campers.  This was still the plan for most of the day.  So we were trying to get back to Big Meadows by 5 so we could throw everything for the overnight in a car or our packs and head down to the campsite.

We’re pretty confident in our ability to cover around 2 miles an hour except in very difficult terrain so even though we got a late start, we figured if we did this section next we could also eliminate the time it would take for the pickup and shuttle back. There were two (and later we would discover -3- ) significant climbs on this hike but a long stretch of gentle downhill and flat in the middle.  We planned on a 5pm return to the lodge. During our hike the rest of the family would pick up food for the BBQ.

Our wonderful friend and shuttle driver Rhonda from Harpers Ferry got us down to Lewis Mountain campground quickly and told us about the many many bears she’d seen driving up her previous client from Front Royal. While some might have been repeats, she saw over 20 that morning. It was some kind of sign…

The climb up Bearfence was full of switchbacks, and a bunch of bell flowers. It was not a tough climb except for the fact that the sun was shining down on that southern slope so we got heated up quickly. Luckily there was some relief at the top, and while FIelden took a break at the summit loop trail, I ran up to bag the summit and take in the view from a rocky outcropping. This one was slightly blocked by foliage but it was still a great view. They do also have a half mile long rock scramble hike along the ridge up there, but as we were limited on time and it was very hot, rocky ridge walks with a lot of hand and foot negotiation wasn’t going to work.

From here the trail was gentle and green and followed Skyline drive for a few miles before reaching the climb up Hazeltop. This was a larger climb, about 700ft.  It was completely shaded which helped with the long switchbacked climb over a mile long. We were definitely trying to remain quiet so we might see some bears, though I admit I was my regular chatty self for the first few miles.

If not for the fact that I was concentrating on powering up this climb and had little breath to talk much, I probably would have startled the bear away much earlier! As I came around a switchback I heard a loud crash and saw a bear run up the hill about 100ft.  It was a very large male, about the size of a smart car. While this was my first bear encounter (finally!) I at least had many years to think about this moment and prepare. He stopped up the hill a bit and stared at me, curious – even posing a bit. I called down to Fielden Stream to let her know, and the bear and I stared at each other curiously while I took a photo (and a funny video with me clearly in a small panic). I put the phone away so I could keep alert and waited for Fielden to come up and have a good look at him, and so our combined presence would discourage him from any aggression.

We waited a few while he made up his mind to saunter off and we picked up our pace up that hill. It definitely helped us up the climb quicker! We told a group of hikers we saw at the next trail intersection about it and as we leapfrogged with them up to the summit and took a lunch break at a side trail to a rock outcropping view, they were ahead of us on the descent and had the next bear encounter. This was also a large male and he was sitting clear in the middle of the trail until one of the wives yelled “oh my god” in surprise, and off he went. When we caught up they told us all about it. Its possible it was the same bear but we don’t know.

The walk down Hazeltop to Milam gap was gentle, and following the gap was almost completely flat until we reached the Lewis Falls trail. It was shady and cool and easy hiking here, and we got used to it. We knew there was a good climb up to Big Meadows but we were unprepared for the hot climb of almost a mile. While there was a breeze by Lewis Spring, the western slope of the mountain we ascended to the lodge was being baked in the sun, and was rocky and relentless at the end of a long hike. We struggled up it, but there were some very rewarding views that we didn’t even know existed when at the lodge last time. We got lots of nasty bites along the way too. Not sure what kind of bugs they are but they are at least as big and painful as black flies and we have welts everywhere!

Still I was glad to have that section complete.  My GPS tracker decided to drop the first 3 miles of the hike data when we lost signal completely. This annoyed me heavily but its not like its hard to follow the trail here, especially with all the road crossings… you’re never really lost … maybe only until you come to the next road crossing!

By the time we all re-convened at the lodge, it was getting late and the picnic BBQ and campout was much less desirable.  It would have been very rushed, and we were all tired, and FIelden and I were sweaty and hot and covered in these bites. We decided to postpone the BBQ and skip the camping as we would be doing a backpacking overnight Tuesday night.

We showered, had a nice outdoor dinner at the lodge, and retired to bed by 10.

Day 3 will be a zero day where we can wash our stinky clothes, check out the visitor center, do some short walks with the family, have our picnic, and heal. Plus its going to be even hotter today… Day 4+5 will be an overnight from Big Meadows to Stony Man cliffs, with a stay at Rock Spring hut in between. Thursday morning (day 6) we will do our fill-in hike from Swift Run Gap to Lewis Mountain campground, and then we will be done with hiking for the trip, and going down to Luray for a day or two to enjoy the local scene there before heading home.

Animal encounters in short:

5 deer (2 at lodge – all very tame and used to humans)

1 bear ( our first one, just missed a second)

1 barred owl

2 mice (in our cabin again)

Linus’s Miles: 9.6

Linus and FIelden’s miles: 9.1

Temperature: 90’s

– Linus

With our trail shuttle/angel Rhonda

With our trail shuttle/angel Rhonda

Bell flower?

Bell flower?

View from Bearfence summit

View from Bearfence summit

Big bear! First sighting!

Big bear! First sighting!

View from Hazeltop Summit

View from Hazeltop Summit

View from Big Meadows Summit

View from Big Meadows Summit

Another incredible sunset from the lodge

Another incredible sunset from the lodge

 

Appalachian Trail. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 1

Saturday June 30, 2018, 9pm EST

I’m sitting in our great little cabin room at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park writing this just past hiker midnight.

We just got back from viewing a stunning sunset over the valley below, Massanutten Mountain beyond and the ever expanding Chicopeechee. We had a great family catchup and dinner (including a delicious blackberry cobbler and blackberry ice cream) at the Big Meadows Lodge and the spectacular sunset began to evolve quickly as smoke from the fire pit just below the dining area sent aromatic summer scents our way, enhancing the moment.

Fielden Stream and I arrived at the trailhead at Smith Roach Gap around 130. We drove 5 hours last night and 3 hours today to get here from Connecticut. This was a section we hiked part of last year with the kids. They were missed today. I wanted to complete this bit as a first, warm-up hike of the trip. It was about 4.6 miles and with the side jaunt to the Hightop hut and back, it clocked in around 5 miles. We also reunited a thru hiker there with his croc which was dropped on the trail and we found on the hike up.

We were silent for much of the hike, hoping for a bear sighting and making the 1,000ft climb and ascent at our own paces with some nice shared moments and vistas in between.

Tomorrow we’re camping at Big Meadows campground after an 8.3 mile hike, though we are not hiking into the campground as originally planned. We hope the family can join us for a picnic or BBQ at the campsite tonight.  Lets hope the weather is as great!

Miles: 4.9

– Linus

Columbine on Hightop Mountain

Columbine on Hightop Mountain

Linus and Fielden Stream on Hightop Mountain

Linus and Fielden Stream on Hightop Mountain

Shenandoah Trail signs

Shenandoah Trail signs

An incredible sunset

An incredible sunset

 

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!