January 8-9, 2000
The weather was exceptionally mild and I was itching to start the new millennium right. Furthermore, Amy had never been on a real backpacking trip before and was dying to try out her new sleeping bag and Thermarest knock-off. My AT wall map has a pesky 20-mile section just south of Harper’s Ferry listed as unhiked, so it seemed logical that we would hike it.
Day 1 After much planning and car shuffling, we got a noon start from the Harper’s Ferry historic district. Hazy sun and temperatures in the 40’s. Nice day for hiking. Down the almost deserted Shenandoah Street, through the bridge construction and over the old bridge. Whizzing cars and trucks challenged our conception of this as a wilderness experience, but soon enough we were huffing and puffing up the mile and a half climb up Loudoun Heights. Amy’s pack, really a large knapsack, was not behaving well and was causing tremendous back pain. With seven miles yet to hike and not so many hours of daylight left, I was becoming concerned.
Fortunately, the ridgeline hiking is surpassingly easy and we trundled along through the pleasently bare, brown and grey forest for several miles uneventfully. It’s been quite a while since I hiked with someone else and I find the miles go both faster and slower having someone to talk to.
We arrived at dusk at the David Lesser shelter which is one of the nicest I’ve seen. Deck, dining pavilion, swing, several fire pits, and no more than 100 yards off the trail. Also deserted. Some kind soul had quite a stock of firewood, so we gathered some kindling and made a merry fire. Cooking ensued with noodles, tomato soup and dried peas and mushrooms. And (some would argue) too much tabasco. Thence to bed for the long winter’s night.
Day 2 Never got too cold during the night, probably not even below freezing. Woke surprisingly late and got up leasurely. With only 11 miles left to go, I wasn’t concerned. Trekked downhill quite a ways to a spring and packed up camp. Left by 10:15.
Again, more ridge walking. I was testing out a new pair of boots (Lowa “hiking sneakers”) and they lacked the sturdy steel shanks of my normal wafflestompers. Furthermore, Amy’s boots (if the term can be applied) were less than great. Thus we were both in an increasing amount of discomfort as the miles wore on. Our pace slowed and the weather turned nastier. Suddenly the temperatures dropped to around freezing and it started to lightly sleet. Morales dropped. A few nice views were half-heartedly appreciated and we slogged on counting the miles yet to go.
The last four miles were taken up by the northern end of the aptly named “Rollercoaster” I had encountered, also at the end of a trip. Up and down fairly steeply three times. Came upon another Devil’s Racecourse–a boulderfield much like the area of the same name in Maryland and the much larger one in Pennsylvania. By the second hump, the sun was lowering, but blue sky was dominating. We crested the hump and came upon the summit of Crescent Rocks, an abandoned climbing area overlooking a recently burned valley. The cold wind was blowing and the view was outstanding. All that was needed were dinosaurs running around to perfect the image. My morale, if not Amy’s improved tremendously. I was cold and hungry and wanted out.
Finally, with dusk falling, we made it out to the other car at 5:30. Packs were ditched, cars reshuffled and large quantities of pizza consumed. Ah. Sore feet and a mixed time, but it could definitely have been worse. And now Amy knows what to put on her birthday wish list. Boots first, then a pack. But definitely the boots.
I was impressed at the scenery and serenity on this section which I expected to be a narrow section of trail wedged between housing developments. Better areas certainly exist, but worse ones do as well. Total milage: 19 miles.