Monday, December 20, 2010

Maryland AT - year end adventure

12/20/2010
The year is quickly winding down! And what a good year for travel and adventure. A year ago I was getting back from Hawaii. In January I went snowboarding for the first time, and climbed Old Rag in the ice. February drove to Florida on a whim. March I went to Brazil for 10 days. April I went to Seneca Creek backpacking and the Bahamas at the end of the month. In May I went Dolly Sods and to Trail Days. July I went back to Dolly Sods and to NY. August I went to the Outer Banks. September saw me back in Dolly Sods, solo. October I went to Utah to see Zion and Bryce Canyon. November back to Old Rag and NY. And December I hiked most of the Maryland AT in the snow. 
The latest trip went like this:
Friday 17th
Jim and I had discussed doing the AT in Maryland, seeing how much we could do and where we thought we could end. After some back and forth we decided we wanted to end in Harper’s Ferry. It was left to me to decide where we could begin and finish comfortably. After perusing the map I picked a drop off point about 9 miles north of the Pine Knob Shelter at MD 17 Wolfsville Road.
We got to the parking area after dropping my car off at Heather’s in Frederick and Jim driving to the starting location. Night had already fallen, so we climbed out into the chilly night, headlamps on as we threw on layer after layer of clothing. Packs loaded and heavy with water (I had 5.5L of liquid including water, wine, juice). The road where we parked was the bottom of a fairly large hill. Soon puffing our way up the hillside after finding the trail. We turned off the headlamps, the snow on the ground reflecting the ¾ moon strong enough for us to cast shadows. We quickly became warm. I pulled off my wool hat and stuffed it in my jacket, several hundred yards up we stopped to put our outer-most layer in our packs. At this point I fumbled for my headlamp, that was no longer on my head... or in my pocket where I’d stuffed my hat. Shoot! Already losing things! We dropped our packs and headed back down the hill, looking for my head lamp. I was ready to give it up and call it lost but Jim insisted we go a bit further down the hill. And there is lay on the trail, little bugger. I put it around my neck as a necklace the rest of the trip so I wouldn’t lose it.
We put our packs back on and ascended the hill once more, going up a few switch backs. Finally we crested the hill, while the valley behind us was small and dark the valley on the other side of the mountain stretched to the horizon and contained a multitude of lights. Hagarstown lay in that valley, as well as Route 70 and 81. The night was crisp and the air sharp, allowing a long view of the bright valley.
Now that we were on top, we would follow this ridge for 8 miles to the campsite. No large elevation gain or lose was to be had. The trail looked like only a few people had traversed it since the snow had fallen a day before. Wide and easy, Jim and I walked side by side talking about many things, joking, laughing, and sometimes yelling or howling at the moon. The world lay at our feet, the night around us ours. No wind stirred the barren limbs, walking kept us warm. The miles unwound from our boot heels. We hiked down past Pogo campsite and over a still flowing creek, unlike the water in our platypus and camel back bladder hoses. The temperature in the low 20’s had long since made the water sluggish and slushy in our water bottles. We ascended a small hill to pass Annapolis Rocks and quickly made our way to the shelter.
We arrived at the shelter at around 11pm, hoping it would be empty so we wouldn’t disturb anyone. There, shrouded in the darkness of the shelter, lay three prone forms, their packs hanging from pegs in the shelter. Jim and I opted to let them sleep undisturbed and go setup his tent on the tent pads close by. We threw the tent up, and tossed our stuff inside, one final snack and we hung out packs on the bear hanger and crawled in. We put our bottles up next to the outside of our sleeping bags to keep them unfrozen. Each of us had 2 ground pads, closed cell foam pad and children's Thermarest. Sleeping bags and liners to keep us warm to 0 or 5 degrees. I slept soundly, but apparently, according to Jim I snored and kept him awake.
Saturday 18th






I woke up at first light and rolled over for awhile longer. Finally I got up and crawled from the tent. I got my pack down and was preparing to start cooking on a snow covered rock close by the tent. The three guys that were happily snoozing from the night before were up and packing. One guy saw what I was doing and offered to share the picnic table. I gathered my things and went over to the shelter. I talked to them for awhile. One of the guys had recently joined Washington Backpackers Meetup group, so there is a good chance I will see or hear more from him. They all seemed like decent guys, going for a three day jaunt, about 8 miles a day. Today they would be stopping before our halfway mark and finishing on Sunday several miles short of where we planned to spend the night. My fuel canister was still a bit chiily so they let me borrow some hot water to soak it in for a minute or two, then the JetBoil did it’s trick and got our 2 cups of water rolling.
Jim walked up and talked just as the guys were packing it up. I had coffee and oatmeal mixed, Jim had hot chocolate but declined the oatmeal for a bar of some kind. After breakfast we packed up the tent and our gear and set off, going down the hill towards the crossing of 70. On the way down there were two hunters coming back from getting their feet cold that morning. The older gentleman pointed out bear tracks in the snow - sure enough, within ¼ mile of the trail a bear had wandered through! Very cool. Talking to the hunters, we found that it was black powder season and archery, both requiring a shorter shot, thus safer for us to be in the woods.






We crossed over 70 and over several roads in the three miles to Washington Monument. As we were arriving the guys from the shelter were just leaving. We stopped for lunch for about 25 or 30 minutes, looking at the view and snacking heavily. After getting chilly standing still we put the tack back on and headed down off the hill.
The next several miles went quickly, a few more road crossings and we caught up and passed one of the guys, the other guys had already made it to their camp for the evening by the time we went by the blue blaze for it. We began the ascent of the hardest hill yet. For 2 ½ miles we steadily gained elevation, nothing terribly steep, just constant. After trudging and stopping for me to get in touch with Heather briefly we reached the halfway for the day mark. The first part of the next 8 miles, a continuation of the hill. At the top we reached a ridge and cruised steadily for a couple miles.
In Gathland State Park we passed the Civil War Memorial to the War Correspondents and climbed back up from the gap to our final ridge walk as the sun was setting.






Across the valley to the west lay Gobblers Knob, a source of constant amusement. We were dragging by this point, stopping frequently, hoping this last push would happen quicker than it was, we talked about food often. The temperature dropping to the high teens. The last three elevation gains were brutal, though not long or steep, we were weary and drug our selves up each one, hoping the shelter was on the down slope of the next hill. Finally we saw the dark silhouette looming to the left, suddenly our energy level notched up and we strode defiantly into camp, heads held high, Jim laughing maniacally, as he does. The Ed Garvey shelter, 16.5 miles from where we began our day! The shelter stands with a view into the valley east facing, two stories, the top floor having plexglass windows and a door, though still open the chill.







I went about getting food out and ready while Jim went about fire making, our old comfortable roles, done without speaking or telling each what to do. I put the fuel canister in my jacket while cutting up the sausage and getting stuff out. By the time I’m ready to heat water for the Couscous Jim has a nice fire blazing away, melting the snow off the logs placed by the fire. We fry the sausage on sticks over the fire, starring enamoured into the warmth, drinking the wine sharing the couscous from the same bowl. Jim breaks out some gingerbread cookies that were just divine. We climb the ladder stairs and lay out the sleeping gear, I toss my water bottles and fuel canister in the bottom of the bag, then clothing I’m not wearing. Lastly, I put on sock liners, hot hands, then wool socks over that. My feet will be toasty tonight! I go to sleep quickly. Apparently I snored again.
Sunday 19th
I wake with dreams that people are downstairs. I hear Jim thrashing around and assume he is getting up to pee. I hear birds chirping and fluttering downstairs. I finally get the gumption to get dressed and get out of my sleeping bag. Apparently Jim’s thrashing had more to do with him waking up in a puddle of water. His camel back nozzle got rolled on to, leaking water, he rolled again to get off of it some how making it gush. Some of his clothing was wet, pants and shirts, as well as his liner. For the last hour he had been very cold, curled into a ball. We got up and moving quickly, that being the best for being chilled. Hot chocolate coffee and oatmeals later we headed out of the very nice shelter. We had enough water still to get us to Harper’s Ferry so we didn’t have to go down the Steep! ½ trail to the spring. Just as we were about to leave 3 kids camp up, they may have been around 20, two boys and a girl, doing the 4 state challenge from VA to PA. They had started at 3am and planned on finishing by 3am. They mentioned that there was another group ahead of them, maybe I had heard real voices and not dream voices?






After leaving the shelter we went up a small incline, enough to get the blood flowing and the extremities warmed, feeling coming back to my fingers and toes. We quickly made it to the top of Weaverton Cliffs. We dropped our packs and went down to the over look, viewing the Potomac River and seeing where we were heading off in the distance. The trail down the cliffs was very quick, over a secondary road and under Route 340 we made it to the C&O Canal. I called Heather and let her know our where abouts and started heading the 5 miles to Harper’s Ferry. Our pace on the towpath gobbling up the miles very quickly. We made it the railroad bridge into town after seeing three trains on the busy tracks we paralleled. Harper’s Ferry stood out in beautiful relief, as always, with the added beauty of snow clad hills and icy rivers forking around it. As we walked into town I called Heather and she was very close by, Jim and I made our way to a very nice place to eat and she soon joined.








After stopping at the Outfitters and the ATC we headed back to Jim’s car and dropped him off.
This trip was a pleasure, it was also a very good test, as neither Jim nor I have done much cold weather camping recently, with the gear we now posses, and we hadn’t done that distance in a long while either. We are both sufficiently up to the task of handling it and enjoying ourselves doing it too!