Spring Hiking (Part 1)

I already wrote a spring hiking post, but I’ve been fortunate enough to go twice this spring. Here’s what I did for my first trip, which I took with my friend Easter weekend. We were both pretty busy at that point (my friend was in the final stretch of law school, and I was in Budget season), so we decided to make it easy by going to the AT in Maryland. The AT goes through a pretty narrow section of Maryland, has a lot of entry points, and is only an hour or so from both DC and Baltimore, so it’s easy to get to and requires little planning.


***Quick aside: I generally spend a lot of time planning these trips. That was true when we lived in Atlanta (and similarly would plan at least one trip each spring and fall), and it’s true here. I think my criteria are fairly simple:

  • Within max 3 hours drive (here in Maryland, we sometimes stretch this a bit since most of the VA and WVA hiking is juuuust a little further)
  • Reasonable length for two at-least-partial days of hiking (so… anywhere from 8-20ish miles)
  • Has backcountry camp sites

In addition to those essentials, I have some additional preferences:

  • Loop. But out and back is fine
  • Elevation change
  • Water source
  • Campground or other car camping available near trailhead for Friday night
  • Haven’t done before

I have a hard time finding ideal candidates, and then it takes a long time to find ones that meet some of the criteria, to compare them to each other, to find nearby car camping spots, to make sure there are backcountry camping spots, to figure out permits if necessary, etc. If you have suggestions for resources, let me know! I frequently use midatlantichikes.com and backpacker.com.

In any case, I hope this blog can be a resource for you for hikes that generally meet those criteria. Aside over.***


Needless to say, I did not put a lot of time or effort into planning this trip. And you get what you plan for. While the AT in Maryland is nice and convenient, it is not the most memorable nor scenic part of the AT. And the easy access means that it’s easily accessible to lots of people. I wouldn’t say the trail was crowded exactly, but it wasn’t very remote. We were never very far from a road, and our campsite (near the Crampton Gap shelter at mile 1029.4 of the AT, according to cnyhiking.com) was only 0.5 miles from Gathland State Park and its access road – which allowed for our nearby campers (we were one of maybe six groups in this camping area near the shelter) to haul in beer their friends brought for them and have a pizza delivered by one of their mothers.

Still, lovely to be in the out of doors, as always, and to spend quality time with my good friend and dog.

We hiked from South Mountain Inn to the Crampton Gap shelter (with an additional short addition to Gathland State Park), which was a little over 7 miles, and hiked back the following day – we essentially did this hike backwards.

On Saturday, we took a break (after only 2 miles) at the recently renovated Rocky Run shelter. We met a volunteer there who was hiking out from another shelter further down the path that he said was used more by locals for partying and therefore had a lot of crap. We took the same break on Sunday on our way back, this time going further to check out that other shelter (and let Clio run in the water that was down there to cool off – it was over 90 degrees that Sunday!). It was definitely much more rundown. No pictures of that one.

The trail itself was largely on a ridge. There wasn’t a ton of elevation change. It was pleasant and walkable.

The main points of interest were Lamb’s Knoll and White Rock Cliffs. We stopped at White Rock Cliffs both ways for pictures.

After arriving at the shelter and claiming our campsite, we continued on without our packs to Gathland State Park. The land used to belong to a Civil War journalist named George Alfred Townsend, who for some reason was nicknamed Gath. It has a monument to Civil War correspondents. It had a few other buildings and nice open spaces as well. There were some people in costume and filming (I think) in one of the ruins. Or maybe just taking photos. I only got a picture of the monument.

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After that, we relaxed at our campsite. We had a fire in the evening, watched the sunset, and I enjoyed early morning coffee and relaxing by myself before others started to get up.

On Sunday, we hiked back to the Old South Mountain Inn. It was hot. I got sunburned. After the hike was over, we stopped for lunch at Brew’d Pub on our drive home. I had a saison and a local wild boar kielbasa (sans bun). Clio rested her overheated and weary body on the patio. Mm mmm.

Dan and I are booked pretty solid this summer. We’re already talking about when to go in the Fall, but we have been invited to four weddings in five weeks between September and October (prime fall hiking months). At this particular moment in time, I’m feeling way too busy and reluctant to give up weekends at home. Plus, Dan will have just started a new job in August and won’t be able to get so many weekends off. So. We’ll see. Maybe it’s a really good thing I went twice this spring.

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Spring Hiking

I want to tell you about two hiking trips I’ve been on recently, but first, a few updates, mostly about my general state of mind:

  • My job is to assist in developing the President’s Budget (or rather, the small portions of it that fall into my portfolio area, which are all health policy related). The FY 2018 President’s Budget (which is a proposal to Congress for how to fund the government and a grand statement of the White House’s priorities) will be released soon. So I have been working more than usual. This time of year is usually in January, but because this is a new administration, it’s now.
  • I ran the Sole of the City 10K (pace: 8:09, although the last five miles were 7:51 – the first was so crowded) and the North Face Endurance Challenge trail half marathon (pace: 9:34) in April. They were both so fun!

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  • I am tired. Not physically so much (though a few weeks ago, I was that too – sleeping better now). But mentally. Emotionally. I haven’t had a lot of recharge time over the past month, month and a half, and I’m feeling it. I’ve been working a lot, busy on the weekends, around people a lot a lot, and just going going going. I haven’t meal prepped since I wrote about meal prepping, and I’ve run out of pre-made meals in the freezer, so this week I’ve been eating lunch out (hallelujah for sweetgreen order-ahead-and-pickup). This week feels a little better, even though I’ve had something every evening which has meant that I’ve had only around an hour at home each night before trying to get to bed. We have guests coming into town for the weekend tomorrow. Next weekend I’ll be in Denver (BolderBoulder and sister visit!) and the following weekend I’ll be in Grand Rapids (family trip and fishing!). The weekend after that is already super-packed. It’s just a lot. I’m trying to figure out strategies to recharge as I go, instead of needing a whole day (or even a whole evening, because those are rare too) with nothing planned and little human interaction.
  • Last week might have been less stressful and busy in the evenings had we not bought a new car! Mine broke the previous Friday night. On that Saturday, we made the decision to get a new car instead of fixing it. And we planned to shop on Sunday… but dealerships (and things like CarMax) are closed on Sundays in Maryland! ARGH. So we spent five hours on Tuesday and four hours on Thursday night dealing with that. And now. New car!! Hooray!

Hiking Trip 1 (most recent)

Despite feeling very tempted last weekend to stay home (see above), I joined Dan and another couple for a short (9-mile) backpacking adventure on the AT outside of Harrisburg, PA to Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle. We originally planned to drive up Friday night, but due to stress of car shopping (and not being able to pack on Thursday night), we decided to go early Saturday. Our friends were driving down from Rochester, NY and had spent Friday night further north in Pennsylvania. Saturday’s weather forecast was for steady rain, but we met up at the trailhead around 11am anyway. We decided to give the weather a chance to resolve itself, and headed first to Hijinx Brewery then Taqueria Los Amigos in Allentown followed by Funk Brewery in Emmaus, PA.

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We made it back to the trailhead by 4 (still raining), made a plan to hike only to the AT shelter about a mile away and hang out there till Sunday morning, and set out.

Unfortunately, the shelter was super-crowded. So we continued on, hoping the rain would let up soon.

We made it to Pulpit Rock, enjoyed the almost-view, and continued on….

The rain never let up, so around 7pm and maybe 4.5 or 5 miles in, we finally called it quits and set up camp. My sleeping bag and pad had gotten a little wet around the edges (note to self – buy a rain cover for my backpack), but they were fine. It was lovely to take off all my wet clothes. Dan and I ate a sad dinner in our tent (sandwiches he’d made for himself, trail mix and a Larabar for me) and were asleep by 9. The rain ended sometime overnight. I of course work up early and was out of the tent before 6. It was chilly, but nice to just sit and enjoy the surroundings (and coffee with hot chocolate). By the time my fellow campers were up, it had become overcast again. We stopped at The Pinnacle further along our way and again enjoyed almost-views. But as we hiked on, the sun finally came out. We stopped to enjoy a mid-morning coffee (spiked with fireball that our friends brought) in a field before finishing the hike.

So that was that! As tired as I was (and annoyed at the rain), I’m still of course glad I went. This got long, so I’ll write about my other spring hike in another post :-).

Virginia Backpacking – AT-Mau-Har Trail

Guys, I’ve been busy. And haven’t had much to write about. But you know what’s great? My weekends have been busy, but I’ve been home for most of them! Last Fall, I was gone almost every weekend, and this year, I’m here! What’s been keeping me busy, then? I don’t know really. The half marathon was three weekends ago (and so fun!). We had several friends over (both runners and non) for brunch afterwards. I made breakfast tacos: scrambled eggs, black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, tortillas, shredded cheese, cilantro, etc. Plus coffee and mimosas. And tomorrow, I’m taking my Project Management Professional certification exam. Studying for that has kept me busy. Will I be less busy now? Who knows. The election is tomorrow, and I expect work to get very busy after that (now I’m finishing this post days later, and the election is over. Ugh).

In mid-October, Dan and I did a two-night backpacking trip with a friend of mine that lives in DC. It was a three-day weekend for me, so I was willing to drive a little further and wanted to get two nights in. We ruled out Shenandoah due to no campfires and picked a loop with the Mau-Har Trail (also called the Three Ridges hike) in the George Washington National Forest. It was a little short for two nights, but we made it work. The total hike length was 14.4 miles, but a significant portion of it did not have water access, so we planned our camping accordingly.

Last Fall, our hiking plans were foiled by intense rain due to Hurricane Joaquin. This year, Hurricane Nicole and other meteorological activity threatened us – but we powered through.

We didn’t get started until about 5pm on Saturday and hiked only 1.6 miles to the Maupin shelter – in the pouring rain. My friend was smart and had brought a waterproof cover for her backpack. Dan and I don’t have them, so hoped for the best, which turned out just fine. There were plenty of campsites around the shelter. Some people were already there, but they weren’t planning to sleep in the shelter. Dan and I also decided to sleep in our tent, but my friend did not have a footprint for her tent so decided to sleep in the shelter. Before we went to sleep, all the campers hung out in the shelter to keep dry, which was nice. Overnight, the rain stopped but it was SUPER windy. Thank god no trees fell on us!

 

The next morning was chilly but sunny. And windy. The higher we hiked, the harder the wind blew, and it was a little crazy at times. There were some really great views.

We finally were sheltered from the wind on the other side of the mountain. We hiked about 8 miles total, turning onto the Mau Har Trail and camping about at the Campbell Creek camping area. This section of the Mau Har Trail (~1.5 miles) was almost entirely steep downhill. Kinda rough.

We were the only ones at Campbell Creek that night. We set up our tents on land between two running creeks. It was pretty loud from the running water, but really pretty and nicely sheltered from wind. We had a little trouble getting and keeping a fire going because all the wood was wet. Thank goodness my friend brought some small firestarter things :-).

On Monday, we hiked the 1.8ish miles back to the Maupin Shelter and AT on the Mau Har Trail. This trail was HARD. Campbell Creek where we camped was the bottom, and the rest was uphill back to the AT, a lot of it VERY steep. It was as if the trail blazers decided to use the shortest distance between two points instead of working with the mountain at all. That’s not true, of course, but it felt like it. I took a picture of the shelter in the sunshine instead of the dark and rain, as well as the start/end of the trail at Reeds Gap. Then we hiked the 1.6ish miles back to the car at Reeds Gap the way we’d come on the AT. We drove a few miles to Devil’s Backbone Brewery for lunch before heading back to DC and Baltimore.

Overall, it was a very nice hike that definitely provided a workout and great views. I think the weather kept some people away. According to reviews, it can be very crowded. The parking lot at Reeds Gap was full when we got there on Saturday. We got the last spot. We saw a lot of people on the trail, but it didn’t feel too crowded.

Also, I think we went one week early for great Fall colors. There were some, but the next couple of weeks would probably have been incredible.

Michaux State Forest, PA

Two weekends ago, we went hiking in Michaux State Forest, which is a long and narrow state park in Pennsylvania, just over the state border from Maryland. The Appalachian Trail runs through it’s entire north-south length, 37 miles. It’s great because you can backcountry camp anywhere in the state forest, and dogs are allowed. Also, there is a campground roughly in the middle. For our twice-yearly weekend backpacking trips, we like to camp at a campground on Friday night after we all drive up after work and then hike and do an overnight Saturday to Sunday. This destination also nice because it’s two hours or under from both DC and Baltimore, where most folks were coming from, and provides a lot of flexibility in terms of the amount of hiking people want to do, which we fully took advantage of on this trip.

Dan and I did a similar trip two summers ago. It was the only camping trip we’ve ever done just the two of us. That trip was more about getting out of the city, getting into nature, and relaxing than it was about hiking a lot. We actually drove up Saturday morning and didn’t start hiking until about noon or one. I think we hiked a max of four miles (maybe two hours?) before setting up camp and just hanging out for the remainder of the afternoon. We then hiked four more miles Sunday morning to finish the 8-mile loop, and were finished in time to have lunch in Gettysburg (~20 minutes outside the state park, on the way back to Baltimore) and walk around there a bit.

This time, we arrived in Caledonia State Park late on Friday night. I drove with a friend from DC, Dan drove with our dog and another dog we were dog-sitting at the time from Baltimore, two other friends also drove from DC, and another person drove (all the way!) from Rochester, NY. We all arrived between 9 and 10 pm. It was raining, unfortunately, but we still hung out around a campfire. The next morning was still wet, but it had stopped raining. The rest of the weekend was beautiful weather – which turned out to be the last nice weather we saw in the DC/Baltimore region until now!

Three other friends, including Dan’s sister, met us at the campsite Saturday morning from DC and Silver Spring for some day hiking. So, six people (and two dogs!) camped Friday night, and nine of us set off hiking on Saturday. We started on the AT in the campground (lower left hand part of the map below, the blue line) and all hiked together into the afternoon, stopping for lunch at the Quarry Gap AT shelter.

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When we arrived at the intersection with Stillhouse Hollow Road, we all split off. The three that had arrived that morning did, I would guess, a full 10-mile loop by continuing on Stillhouse Hollow Road and looping back ultimately on Greenwood Road (an old fire road that’s more of a trail) back to the AT (hopefully getting to see Long Pine Run Reservoir!) and then drove back to DC that evening; a couple turned around and went back on the AT (for maybe a full 8-mile hike) and stayed another night at the campground; and four of us continued on for what was about 10 full miles on Saturday before finding a lovely camping spot a short ways after splitting off from the AT onto the Rocky Knob Trail (orange line below) and beginning the return loop.

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After splitting off, the four of us that were backpacking stopped for a leisurely mid-afternoon coffee break in the middle of the trail.

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While we were chilling, a group of about 15 boy scouts caught up to us, and we started to fear that they’d beat us to whatever perfect campsite lay ahead of us. So we packed up and continued on our way. It turns out that I think the boy scouts continued on the AT past the turnoff to Rocky Knob to get to the next AT shelter. However, in our haste to stay ahead of them, we passed quickly by the only water source that we’d seen all day. After setting up camp, Dan and I went in search of some more water, but to no avail. We were fine (and ultimately weren’t THAT far from the water source we’d seen had we been really concerned), but definitely had to ration our water between the four of us and the dogs.

The campsite we found was lovely and allowed for plenty of hammock, campfire, and dog play time.

On Sunday, we continued down the Rocky Knob to the Beaver Trail, Greenwood Road, and back to the AT, for roughly 8 miles – a total of 18 between the two days. Along the way, we found and filled up on water (and promptly stopped and had late morning hot chocolate and coffee). We walked along the edge of the lovely Long Pine Run Reservoir. And we stopped again for early afternoon coffee and snacks. When we were finished, the dogs were hot and beat.

We finished around 1 or 2pm. Our friend from Rochester drove home, and the remaining three of us had burgers and beers at The Pub & Restaurant in Gettysburg before going our separate ways to DC and Baltimore.

All in all, a very good trip. It’s a pretty good location all around: convenient, dog friendly, flexible, etc. I think if we go back again soon, maybe we’ll try hiking south from Caledonia State Park instead of north. But other than that, I’m not sure what the options are for changing it up much. I wish there were more things like this in and around Maryland. There’s more in Virginia and West Virginia, for sure, but that’s harder for us to get to for a weekend trip. Alas. I’ll keep looking :-).