Summer on the Appalachian Trail

PenMar to US-30 (southernmost Pennsylvania)

July 22-23, 2000

Gettysburg, PA, is an annoying, kitschy town. Well, that isn’t quite fair; it’s more all the tackiness and tourist trap acreage that surrounds this seat of American History. Perhaps had Abe Lincoln seen the Miniature Horse Petting Zoos and Civil War Wax Museums, he would never have called it a “Great Nation”. Though I suppose it has nothing on Gatlinburg, TN….

Let’s just say that I wasn’t in a terribly cheritable mood after driving for what seemed like hours through rural PA and MD to leave a car at the northern end of our planned (short) hike. We dropped Rufus, my fearless Honda, at more or less the intersection of the AT and US-30 and headed south in Cleo (Amy’s somewhat less fearless Ford) toward PenMar. The day was beautiful and the weather perfect for hiking. The view from PenMar is spectacular and a better jumping on spot for the trail can’t be imagined. Still, I was champing at the bit by the time we hit the trail at 1pm.

Ample blackberries kept me munching and energized as we wound through the woods crossing from familiar Maryland into the unknown wilds of Pennsylvania. As most of my AT hiking is in the spring, the woods in the height of summer was a leafy green paradise flush with mushrooms, birds and other signs of life. The weather was hot and we were soon sweating up a storm as we trudged up the slopes of Mt. Dunlop. Amy’s backpacking experience is very minimal and a previous experience has poisoned her view of hills and inclines in general. However, this time she was wearing a comfortable pack and good boots and had little trouble.  The day wore on with two breif showers and rising humidity. The trail winds through the enchanting Michaux State Forest and is refreshingly devoid of civilization. Also, the frequent conifers and rocky terrain made me nostalgic of the woods I grew up in.

The most impressive sighting of the day was a 6′ long, fat black snake, possibly a Black or Rat snake. It was lying across the trail and looked quite a lot like a root. Exhibitting no fear of the two clunky humans in backpacks, it finally slithered off through the leaves in boredom. Definitely the largest snake I’ve ever seen in the wild.

After a pleasent 7.5 miles, we came upon the beautiful Antietem Creek Shelter. From the lovely log-shelter a grassy lawn swept down to the shore of the wide, burbling creek. A bridge and picnic table in the afternoon sun completed the scene. But alas, our goal was a mile farther at Tumbling Run Shelter… which turned out to be equally nice although rather startlingly crowded with people. For some reason, the local custom is to have two small shelters instead of one large one. Both were full and there were a number of tents pitched besides. Seeking seclusion, we pitched our tarp between two trees near the rushing water of the brook, cooked up a sumptuous beans and rice and were soon asleep.

Day 2 After a full, though not exactly restful, ten hours of sleep, we arrose and headed out. First order of business was a one mile, 800 foot climb up the south slopes of Buzzard Peak which Amy was viewing with some trepidation. The sun was bright and the woods gorgeous and we trooped up with no trouble to the rocky summit. A nice view to the east from atop a chasmous mass of rocks awarded our efforts. From then on it was a pleasent ramble through gorgeous forest for several miles seeing not a soul along the way. Lunches one and two were consumed marking the first time in my life that we’ve actually eaten every scrap of food we brought along (barring powerbars and other such iron rations). Our packs were light and we decended Snowy Mountain through a charming swamp full of hemlock trees and colorful mushrooms.

Then it was up across the end of Rocky Mountain and along it just to the west of what seems to be a very common feature in these parts; a low ridge along the east side of a mountaintop of large, loose rocks almost like some sort of crumbled, giant, stone wall. A few times the trail wound up and through these rocks and we were hard-pressed not to climb around on them. But we pressed on and were soon standing, footweary and hungry on the side of the unpleasent US-30 a few hundred feet from Rufus. Unfortunately, crossing the road turned out to be the most difficult proposition of the day as one direction would clear, and then the other.

After a few choice words on the nature of auto-bound America, we hopped in the car, headed about a quarter mile to a pizza place and then home for showers and bed. A good trip.

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