So on Tuesday, we set off from the shelter . We passed through Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia which was pretty neat. We even had a decent view at one point in time. Suffice it to say that there are not very many views on this hike. We rolled into the shelter (the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter?) at 9:15 pm and everyone else had already gone to bed! I felt bad about making noise while setting up the tent and cooking dinner, but I was hungry!
The next morning Jenica, my hiking partner, wasn’t feeling too well, so she slept and slept and slept and we finally left the shelter a little after lunch time. I wasn’t very happy about this, but have to have a healthy partner. This was also the day that we started the Roller Coaster – a series of hills over a 13ish mile span. It definitely wasn’t easy, but we went for the challenge, right?
Well, we made it over 2 hills and Jenica decided she had had enough for the day. It was only 3pm. I said “I don’t think so, we’re going over at least one more hill.” She didn’t really like that idea, but went with me anyway. We crossed the next hill (only 1.5 miles further) and ended up with a pretty cool campsite – there was a river (the water was FREEZING), a small waterfall, and someone else had built a fire ring there, so we got to make a fire! (According to the “Leave no Trace Policy,” you really shouldn’t build fires when you’re hiking because the idea is to leave nature as undisturbed as you can and fires are an obvious sign that someone had been there.) We relaxed for a bit, cooked dinner over the fire, played some card games and went to bed.
The next morning, we set off fairly early, but we were pretty slow-going through the mountains. I had high hopes of hiking farther than we did the previous day. There were a bunch more ups and downs and eventually we had an amazing view at Bear’s Den Rocks! We relaxed there for a bit, then hiked a little farther and camped off of the trail on the top of the hill. I wanted to go farther so we had a more reliable source of water, but Jenica refused. Luckily I still had plenty of water from the Bear’s Den (a hostel), so I let her drink the water out of the stream which had waaaaayy too many floaty things in it for my taste, though we did boil some of that to make spaghetti for dinner. We hiked a total of 6.8 miles that day.
Friday we got off to a slow start and headed on through the roller coaster. At the top of the first hill, we met Red Dog (everyone on the trail uses nicknames and not their real names). Red Dog reminded me of Uncle Jim – you couldn’t tell which stories were true and which were figments of his imagination. He decided he would hike with us that day. In some ways this freaked me out and in some ways it was cool – we heard lots of interesting stories and had some company. He also piled a bunch of logs on top of a copperhead for us so that we could pass. (I did feel bad for the copperhead, though…he really just should have killed it!) One way or the other, it pushed Jenica to keep walking. We did have a good view along the way, here, too. We hiked 8 miles that day in a shorter amount of time than we hiked the 6.8 the previous day. We arrived at Blackburn Trail Center at 4 pm or so, maybe, and decided to stay. The Trail Center is pretty amazing. You can stay there for free, they give you dinner, and they have a solar-powered shelter. It was nice. We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon with Dreamcatcher – an amazing 60 year old woman from Texas who is hiking the whole trail and Red Dog.
I had thought that we would have made it into Harper’s Ferry either late Friday night or early on Saturday. I realized on Wednesday that we weren’t going to make it. I wanted to go white-water rafting in HF and we were hoping that Christy would be able to join us. We decided we had 2 choices. 1) Call someone to pick us up at the Trail Center (there’s a road that leads there) or 2) keep hiking and give up the idea of rafting. I wanted to make it to Harper’s Ferry since that was our original goal and I probably would have thought that anything less was a failure, but I decided to leave it up to Jenica as to what we should do. She (reluctantly, I think) decided that we should hike the rest of the way into HF. So then the question became do we 1) hike all 12 miles in 1 day (something we hadn’t done since Day #2) or 2) hike most of the way and then go the rest of the way in on Sunday morning. According to the information at the Trail Center, the only trains back to DC were super early in the morning, so if we were to hike the rest of the way in on Sunday, we would have had to wait until Monday to take the train back to DC, so we decided to go all 12 miles in one day. We were now off of the roller coaster, so we assumed it wouldn’t be nearly as difficult.
We started off a little later than I would have hoped to and made it to the David Lesser Shelter (3.2 miles) by 11ish. After a snack break, I was ready to continue, but Jenica was in need of water. The spring was .5 miles from the shelter (not on the trail) down a steep path. It took us 1 hour to get going again (meaning we were averaging 1 mile per hour…and we still had 9 miles to go!). The good part about this was that we met 2 women from Harpers Ferry who later met up with us on the trail again and offered for us to go to their home and spend the night (think soft bed, warm shower, home cooked meal). They had never done something like this before, so that was pretty cool. Around 3pm, we still had 4ish miles to go and the thunder started. Luckily for us, this was the worst weather we had all week. We decided to keep going until the heavens let loose at which point we quickly set up the tent in an attempt to stay dry. The rain only lasted about 30 minutes, however, and we were soon back on the trail. The last 2 miles of the trail were NOT ANY FUN AT ALL! It was a whole bunch of steep downhill which was torture for my knees. They were hurting very badly by the time we reached the Shenendoah River. After crossing the river, however, it was a very steep uphill (we saw a buck at this point in time) for a mile maybe before we reached the town of Harper’s Ferry. But we made it! After some phone calls to family, Sherri (the woman we met earlier that day) came to pick us up and we went to their house to hang out for the evening. We had a lot of fun there with them and in the morning, took the train back into DC.
All in all, it was a great learning experience and something I’d like to try again. We’ll see when or if that happens, though!