Well hello friends! 3 weeks ago the hubby and I embarked on the 41.5 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the entire state of Maryland… It was an absolutely amazing experience and my only regret is that I didn’t write this blog sooner. Life has been a bit on the chaotic side and TheFermentedSole suffers a bit on the priority list when that happens. I have some great ideas to write in the next few months, and some amazing races this fall to prep for and recap throughout.
But back to the MD section. We had a lot of fun prepping for it and packing, and honestly after all was said and done, I think we prepped and packed perfectly. It helped that I had just come off marathon training for Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota, so I felt like I was in optimal shape for some long distance and time on my feet. Food wise we planned to bring only foods that you just had to add water to to have less dishes and mess. Our breakfasts were a cup of dry oatmeal and craisins each day… Lunch was instant potatoes and tuna packets… For dinner, we had purchased pre-made meals from Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House and then we had plenty of Clif bars and Lara bars, nuun tablets and Starbucks instant coffee packets. Chad’s pack came in around 23 pounds, mine rang in at 17 and Barley carried his own food at around 4 pounds.
Our plan was to leave a car in Harper’s Ferry, drive our other vehicle to Pen Mar Park and hike our way back. We left on a Thursday night, watched the sun set at Pen Mar Park and then hiked to the Mason Dixon/PA-MD state line to set up camp at our starting line.
We made our own plan, which was to not have a plan, but loosely followed the Hiking Upward site for milestones and what to expect along the way…Our first landmark was High Rock overlook and it definitely did not disappoint. I know the PATC does a lot of work to clean up the graffiti, which is probably a never-ending project, but I thought it added character. This is 3.1 miles into the hike from the Mason Dixon line and the hike was rather strenuous with rocky technical sections and a slow climb.
We refilled water at mile 6 at a creek crossing. We invested in Sawyer mini water filters and this was their first time being used other than testing them at home to make sure I knew what I was doing. Super convenient, user friendly and they worked so well. Barley was happy to drink from the creek and take a dip to cool off. We really lucked out with weather the weekend we hiked, and ended up with mid-70’s, overcast or cloudy most of the time and a light breeze.
We pushed on to mile 10 and arrived at the Ensign Cowall Shelter for a lunch break right as rain moved in. We had been leap frogging two younger guys hiking to Annapolis Rock and they stopped in for lunch as well. It was perfect timing to rest our feet, take a quick nap and refuel. As we waited out the rain, we had the opportunity to chat with a northbound (NOBO) thru hiker named Moose. Moose had a few fun stories about having to give up his breakfast to a bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, and accidentally finding himself between a mama bear and her babies in Shenandoah (and lived to tell about it!)… His goal was to make it to Maine and see a moose, hence his trail name.
The rain let up and we went back on our way… and this is where we made our first mistake. We missed the spring at Ensign Cowall shelter thinking we had seen so many creeks and streams along the way, that we would definitely be able to restock water soon. Wrong. As we continued to leapfrog our two friends from the morning, we were getting more and more parched. The sun was out, the humidity was up due to the bit of rain, and we were thirsty. Each time we passed a hiker from the other direction we inquired about water, and they all reassured us there was a spring a ways up… but a ways up seemed to get further and further away. It ended up being about 6 miles worth, which was around 2 hours of hiking before we found the spring right before Annapolis Rock. We drank and drank, and drank some more, Chad dipped his toes, Barley slurped and guzzled and dipped his paws as well. We rested for a while, and filled all of our bottles of water with enough to get us through dinner and through the night if there wasn’t a spring at our campsite.
We made our way to Annapolis Rock, which would be our second camp 16.6 miles in. Overall with spur trails, we were sitting around 18 miles when we got there. The view was spectacular, and we had been traveling for about 10 hours to arrive. We cooked dinner at the top of Annapolis Rock with the Maryland countryside as our “wide screen TV.” Dinner was Mountain House turkey tetrazzini and it hit the spot! Gobbled that right up and soaked in more of the views for dessert.
Check out the overlook:
After dinner I scouted a campsite, as Annapolis Rock is actually a backpackers campground. They did have a spring, so my strategy was to find a site as close to the spring as possible so breakfast and coffee was easy, and we could refill our waters before heading out in the morning as well. Barley was such a trooper, curled up at the bottom of the tent next to our feet and didn’t make a sound all night! He loves the hike, the fresh air and the spring water…
I should also note, though we didn’t have a bear bag, we did compile our food into one bag, tied it off with parachord and suspended it high up in a tree. You would have never known we were rookies!
Saturday morning we went off from Annapolis Rock with stiff shoulders but feeling strong and rested. Annapolis Rock is a very popular day hike, and being a holiday weekend (4th of July), we certain ran into a fair amount of characters. Perhaps my favorite, looking back was the well-intoxicated singing man we leap frogged for part of the morning – although at the time I was happy to keep my distance.
We had heard that the bulk of the morning trail would be quick and easy, and then there would be a section that resembled our first few miles of rocky, technical trail that would wear on us and slow us down. We planned to have a solid lunch at the Washington Monument (mile 22), where we caught up with a pair doing the 4-state challenge (hike 45 miles, crossing 4 state lines in under 24 hours). The one named Hick had done it the previous year and gave us a heads up that the water situation was bleak after the monument for about 10 miles so we refilled what we could after making sure we had taken in a lot and were well hydrated with lunch – Barley, too…
We would leap frog these two for a few miles, while also tag teaming a guy we’ll call Ohio and a female trail runner. Our goal for the afternoon was to tread on through – drudging at times – until we reached our landmark of White Rock Cliffs (mile 28). This is the turning point in the terrain from treacherous to tolerable.
We were making relatively good pace, but the climb and trail conditions were frustrating at times. I guess it was nice to know when we could expect reprieve. We reached White Rock Cliffs at around 2:30pm and it was good timing for a break and a snack. Barley was happy to rest, and Chad’s expression is a little more valid than my own.
Heading off from White Rock Cliffs after a good break and refuel, Ohio told us there would be a water supply at a sporadic spring at the Crampton Gap Shelter. Though we didn’t have a plan necessarily, we had a couple of options for setting up camp for the night, and Crampton Gap (mile 30.7) was just a little too early for our preference. We would stop for a water resupply with Ohio and learn the spring was certainly sporadic to say the least… In fact, for future reference, if you’re hiking through MD SOBO, please skip this shelter and the mile round trip haul down there and get water at the state park less than half a mile onward instead. Lesson learned.
Sure enough, there’s a well pump at Gathland State Park at mile 31, with a congregation of hikers going NOBO and SOBO as well as our challenge friends with Hick battling some pretty rough feet after 31 miles, and 14 to go before midnight.
Gathland was beautiful, but we had our sights set on the Ed Garvey shelter (mile 35) and were eager to be off our feet for the day. We heard there was a spring and after the convenience of Annapolis Rock having a spring for dinner and breakfast, as well as refueling before we set off on our final day would be optimal.
We arrived at the Ed Garvey shelter around 6pm after an 18.5 mile day of hiking… around 10 hours worth. Back to back double digit mileage and back to back ten hour days were so rewarding and setting up camp felt like the most amazing trophy! I started in on dinner and setting up while Chad trekked down to the spring for water supply. Here’s another fun note about water: the spring at Ed Garvey does not come easy… She makes you work for it, and in the worst way after a long day with heavy packs and battered feet. Chad survived, but I’ll have a hard time forgetting the look on his face when he came up the last of the hill and I turned my phone toward him as I was FaceTiming Landon. I think we can look back and laugh on it now, but at the time there were some colorful words expressed!
Saturday night’s dinner was a combo… We knew we would finish the section on Sunday so we opted out of splitting our MRE’s and ate one each to ourselves, we earned it afterall! Chad had the Backpacker Pantry pad thai meal and I had the Mountain House beef stroganoff.
There were a few interesting groups at this shelter. An “intro to backpacking” trip was taking place, where a Harper’s Ferry outfitter takes a bunch of newbs out into the woods, sets up camp and then hikes out the next day. We also had a through hiker who was happy to share Chad’s sentiments about the water situation, and also happy to share a few of his experiences thus far on the trail. His name was Three Times, and he was taking a hiatus from the restaurant industry in Wisconsin. He had great stories of bears and snakes, people and planning, and we were excited to listen to anything he would share.
On a side note, as we were heading to our camp a couple came in close to dark and opted to sleep in the shelter. We didn’t notice until morning that they made the place their home a little too much to our comfort with garbage, food and leftovers (literally, styrofoam leftover containers with food in them) strewn throughout the camp and shelter. Riddle me this: What’s a great way to get 20-30 people really pissed off at you? Leave your food out overnight for a bear to smell, enter camp and endanger said 20-30 people. Luck would have it that this wasn’t the case, but why risk it? Also, why make such a beautiful community site in the middle of the woods your personal trash can? (end rant.)
With a pep in our step, we forged on after coffee and breakfast and a bittersweet note on our backs. We would be finished with our adventure after today. By dinner time we would be showered, and back to convenience. Though it was a joyful thought, it was also melancholy in the same right and for that reason I can see why people have such a romantic idea of thru-hiking or backpacking in general. There’s a camaraderie that is met when you acknowledge those on the trail that isn’t rivaled on the street.
It would be an easy hike back to Harper’s Ferry: 2 miles to the Weaverton Clifs, a mile and a half from there to the C&O Towpath and then 3 flat (almost boring) miles to our car.
Weaverton Clifs was a stunning overlook of the Potomac and we set out early enough that, even though it was a popular day hike from HF, it wasn’t busy at all. It made for some stunning panoramas.
As we edged closer and closer to town, more people were using the paths and trails, and we could feel ourselves creeping back into civilization. Bikes whizzing past, with or without manners… There was nothing technical about our travels anymore, we were just covering distance. We crossed the bridge from Maryland into Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and just like that, the adventure of 41.5 miles (plus spur trails probably made it 45) was over.
Back to life, we changed into fresh shoes (flip flops), and rewarded ourselves with Doner Bistro. (For some reason I had been dreaming of an Arnold Palmer tea for 35 miles, too so I didn’t leave that out!)
Each time I reflect on the photos we took, a fire within is kindled for more adventure.
In a very brief recap:
Rough list of supplies:
- Sleeping pad (1 each)
- Sleeping bag liner (1 each, warm enough without full sleeping bag)
- Water filter system (1 each)
- Cooking supplies: Pot, utensils, 2 bowls, stove, lighter, coffee cup
- Solar charger
- Water bottle (1 each)
- Bug spray, 1 bottle for the body, 1 bottle for gear
- Sunscreen (never used it)
- Castile soap, peppermint Dr. Bronners
- Mini first aid kit: neosporin, ibuprofen, benadryl, bandaids, blister pads, face/body wipes
- Bear bag (hefty trash bag)
- Breakfast x 3: 1c oats with freeze dried berries or craisins
- Starbucks instant coffee packets
- Lunch x 3: Idahoan instant mashed potatoes (1 packet split for 2 people), 2 tuna packets each (we could have just packed for 2 lunches)
- Clif bars and Luna bars roughly 2-3 per person per day
- Dinners x 4, though we only used 3: Mountain House and Backpacker Pantry MRE’s
- nuun tablets for electrolytes
- Coffee creamer – and Chad will make fun of me until I die for it.
Thursday night: car drop @ Harper’s Ferry, shuttle up to Pen Mark Park
Mile 0: Mason Dixon line, PA/MD State line
Mile 3.1: Blue blazes spur trail to High Rock overlook
Mile 4-5: Blue blaze spur trail to spring for water
Mile 10: Lunch at Ensign Cowall Shelter (NOTE: should have also refilled water here!)
Mile 14-15: There was water before Annapolis Rock at a spring off a blue blaze trail
Mile 16.5: Annapolis Rock overlook, camp for Friday night and spring
Mile 19: Highway 70 overpass
Mile 22: Lunch at Washington Monument, also refill on water and stock up as there’s little water for a distance after this!
Mile 24: Dahlgren backpacker campground: showers and real bathroom (didn’t use the showers, but they were available!)
Mile 28: White Rock Cliffs
Mile 30.7: Crampton Gap Shelter – skip this water and go for the State Park
Mile 31.1: Gathland State Park
Mile 35: Ed Garvey Shelter, camp for Saturday night and spring- but be prepared to work for it.
Mile 37: Weaverton Cliffs and overlook
Mile 38.4: Railroad crossing to C&O Towpath, turn right onto towpath
Mile 41.2: Footbridge out of MD into Harper’s Ferry, WV
Mile 41.5: Harper’s Ferry Train Station