Appalachian Trail Project in VA – VA/WV Border Southbound to Morgan Mill Stream - 5/24/14 – 10 Miles
How many reasons do we need to go back- packing on Memorial Day Weekend?
(1) Just two more weeks until Cathy and I leave for Peru and intense training is needed
(2) Cathy is missing a mere 17-mile stretch in Virginia to claim completing the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, GA to Pine Furnace State Park, PA
(3) Good weather window
(4) We feel like it!
Cathy and I and a hiker whom we'll call "Anonymous" left Charlotte at 5:30 a.m. for a six-hour, no-room-for-detours rendezvous with our shuttle driver at noon. Some background in the “isn’t that interesting” category: Our shuttle driver, Tom Johnson, is very talkative and informative, old enough for retirement but still works for a contractor on jobs for the CIA (so he can’t name his employer). Earlier in his career he worked directly for the CIA and wrote a report in several volumes about the NSA’s Cold War spying (American Cryptology during the Cold War, 1945-1989, partially released about six years ago). Even better, Tom is an avid hiker, the current secretary for American Hiking Society and maintains a 3.5-mile section of the AT. He knew right where I wanted to start our hike, as close as possible to the WV-VA state line, and took us there via beautiful country roads, entertaining us with tales of spying and hiking. What a combination! We hadn’t walked one step and it was already an awesome day.
Tom dropped us off at the American communication tower, a .25-mile side trail intersecting the AT. Judging from the number of cars parked helter-skelter along the road, we knew we were in the right place. Although 99% of the people would walk no further than Raven Rocks, we were ready to hop on the famous Roller Coaster of the AT, a 13.5-mile section of non-stop ascents and descents. Each one separately is not strenuous, 300 feet up, 200 feet down, 500 feet up, 300 feet down, but strung together relentlessly for 13.5 miles adds up to a lot of elevation change and makes for tired hikers.
First stop, Raven Rocks, a dozen+ people sitting, standing and avoiding the edge. A great first photo, then moving on.
Oops, walked right past the VA/WV State Line. Cathy had to point it out or I would have missed it
Cathy and Anonymous stepping carefully over one of many streams
At Snickers Gap, three miles into our hike, we crossed busy roads VA 7 and VA 679 - not too much wilderness here in Northern VA. A half-mile further we passed the side trail to Bears Den Hostel, a popular thru-hiker stop. A furry bearded backpacker was leaning on the sign at the intersection and as I passed him he said, “You’re the best thing I’ve seen all day!” I said, “Well, you must have just started out!” Nope, he had completed 18 miles and was looking forward to a big meal and a soft dry bunk.
At Bears Den Rocks we stopped for a quick lunch. We had only hiked 4 miles but we had left home 9 hours ago, so our food intake timing was a little off. We chatted with a 40-something mom cringing as she watched these two young fellows playing in the rocks. Did I wince when my kids jumped off things and got scraped knees? The world seems different now, parents are more risk-averse. It is well documented that children spend less time outside now and their playtime is more closely supervised than in generations past. What are the consequences of that? Read Last Child In The Woods by Richard Louv.
Weaving in and out of boulders as we go up and down the Roller Coaster – ten peaks in ten miles.
A lesson in poison ivy and Virginia creeper: poison ivy has 3 leaves and will give you an itchy rash. Virginia creeper has 5 leaves and is harmless. They love to grow together and climb trees. They both turn a lovely red-orange color in the fall.
Testing, testing: which is which?
Although seemingly plentiful, good camping spots and shelters are not always where you want them to be on the AT. Our stopping point for the day was at a campsite near Morgan Mill Stream designated in The A.T. Guide about 10 miles from our start. Ten miles may not seem like much of a hike, but after a seven-hour car ride I knew that would be my limit. We reached our campsite at about 7:00 p.m. and I was not agreeable to hiking another 3+ miles to a shelter. As we looked over the site, it appeared to be seldom used and sloping toward the creek. After a lot of searching and moving fallen branches and debris, we each found a sliver of almost-level ground to put up our tents.
Anonymous got the best spot
During our cooking and eating and house- keeping chores a pair of young back- packers arrived and set up camp. As dusk descended, I called it a day and retired to my pink fortress to practice sliding sideways down the slope throughout the night. As I drifted off, I heard Cathy laughing as she and Mike played cards…Tomorrow is going to be a BIG day.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” ~Nelson Mandela