Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 14:58:22 -1000 From: Patrick Rorie (firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Appalachian Trail Megawalk
Just got back from the mainland where I spent a couple of weeks on the east coast (specifically, Maryland and Virginia) visiting my parents, brother and his family. Although the priority was to do things with them, I found a free day to log some mileage on the fabled Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a public footpath across 2,155 miles of Appalachian Mountain ridgelines from Maine to Georgia. Roads that cross it for all but its northernmost 100 miles give ready access. The Trail is protected along more than 97 percent of its course by federal or state ownership of the land itself or by rights-of-way. It was designed, constructed, and marked in the 1920s and 1930s by volunteer hiking clubs joined together by the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC). Formed in 1925 and now a nonprofit organization based in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., the ATC had the National Park Service, Forest Service, states, and local communities as active partners in the trail project from the beginning. The Forest Service and states acquired much of its land and administer 850 and 420 trail miles, respectively.
A "super trail" was much talked about in turn-of-the-century hiking circles of New England. "The A.T." evolved from the 1921 proposals of Massachusetts regional planner Benton MacKaye to preserve the Appalachian crests as an accessible, multipurpose wilderness belt - a retreat from Eastern urban life. (Two-thirds of the Nation's population lives within 550 miles of it). The old clubs that united behind MacKaye, plus the new clubs formed specifically to advance the A.T. idea, concentrated on the hiking aspects of his vision, under the leadership of Myron H. Avery, ATC chairman from 1931 to 1952. The clubs, the two federal agencies, states, and the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps combined forces to open a continuous trail by August 1937. Hurricanes, highway construction, and the demands of World War II undid those efforts until 1951 saw all sections finally relocated, opened, and marked for hikers and nature lovers. The 1968 National Trails System Act made the A.T. a linear national park and authorized funds to surround the entire route with public lands, either federal or state, protected from incompatible uses.
The goal is to maintain the entire Trail environment as a place for everyone to hike, backpack, or otherwise enjoy the Appalachian mountains and wildlands, while at the same time conserving the natural, scenic, historical, and cultural resources of this one-of-a-kind park.
A few days before the proposed day hike, I contacted Wilson Riley, a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trial Club (PATC - check out their web site at http://patc.simplenet.com). He suggested I do the 14.1 mile section between Ashby Gap and Snickers Gap 52 miles west of Washington, D.C. So off I went with my oldest nephew Mike (a college student at Duke University) on a beautiful but steamy day (lots of blue sky, very humid with temps in the upper 80s/low 90s) departing McLean, Va at 9:19 a.m. heading west on interstate 66. From 66 we took US-50 all the way to Sky Meadows State Park, a 1,842-acre scenic historic area. During the trip the two of us enjoyed the relaxing drive through some of the prettiest countryside in Virginia featuring acres and acres of rolling hills, an occasional pond with ducks on the surface or nearby and in the distance straight ahead, the main ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We pulled into the state park at 10:33 a.m. and six minutes later my nephew and I parted company. From the parking lot I went west following a gravel walkway which became a gravel road. Turned right at a junction onto North Ridge Trail, a 1.7 mile side footpath marked with 2-inch by 6-inch vertical blue paint blazes on the trees along the route and connected to the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Ascended steadily on a hillside meadow which had an outstanding eastward view. Passed a family of five including two keiki resting near/on a bench under a hickory tree. Continued the gradual climb into open woods on a three foot graded dirt path. The trail undulated through tall red oak, hickory and American basswood trees which provided shade and formed a nice canopy. I felt a slight breeze and the sound of insects chattering filled the air. Also, nats got in my face every once in a while creating a nusiance. Spotted a young lone deer (bambi?) a short distance away and we stared at each other before I decided to move on.
Next, I descended briefly before crossing a creek located on a rock causeway then the gradual ascent resumed until I reached the junction with the AT (elev. 1,700 ft) at 11:15 a.m. I sat down on a wooden bench for a few minutes to rest.
White paint blazes replaced the blue ones I had followed earlier as I commenced the 2.9 mile descent north to US-50 and Ashby Gap. Just as I got going I noticed stuff falling out of the day pack my sister-in-law had lent me for the journey. Upon careful inspection, a large hole had developed thanks to the two liter plastic bottle containing tang I had brought along. As a result, I was forced to do some reorganizing including the carrying of the bottle under one arm for the duration of the trip.
On the way down to Ashby Gap I encountered an elderly man and we hiked together a short distance beyond the gap. He pointed out the various trees which made up the surrounding forest. They included locust, birch, white oak, hickory (produce nuts which squirrels consume), poplar, maple, elm, gum, dogwood, and wild cherry most of which were 35 to 40 feet tall. A few 50 foot poplars 36 inches in diameter could be seen as well and the man estimated that they were 50 to 75 years old. He also told me that during the Civil War Colonel Mosby (aka "The Grey Ghost") of the Confederate Army recruited volunteers in the area to join him in harassing Union troops along supply lines toward Fredericksburg.
This segment of the trail was rather pleasant due to cooler temperatures brought on by the ever present shade. The clear blue sky above was visible through the canopy of green leaves extending from the trees. Had to watch out for poison ivy (five leaves) and poison oak (three leaves on a vine). The two of us noticed bright orange lichen growing from a large fallen tree branch and as we neared Ashby Gap (elev. 1,000 ft) the traffic noise became very apparent. The man and I tramped over several wooden boardwalks shortly before emerging from the woods at the edge of US-50. On more than one occasion the man had to hold me back from crossing the four lane divided highway lest I become road kill because of the rapidly moving traffic coming up a blind curve.
At 12:42 p.m. the two of us successfully traversed the road and reentered the forest on the other side. We went our separate ways ten minutes later following a brief ascent away from Ashby Gap through dense undergrowth, elms and lots of dogwood. I thanked the man for the info and his company before we bid each other farewell.
The AT leveled off and contoured on the western side of the ridge. During this stretch I startled two deer and spider webs hanging across the trail replaced the nats as a periodic nuisance. Arrived at a junction with a blue-blazed footpath leading to Myron Glaser Cabin at 1:28 p.m. but kept going straight. With the exception of a short segment where plants "joined hands" across the trail, the graded footpath was clear of flora and in great shape - a pleasure to travel on. However, the hike became somewhat tedious until I gained the ridge crest.
At 2 p.m. I reached Fishers Hill Loop, a scenic side trail, and saw another deer. Once again I didn't stop to check out the footpath because Snickers Gap was still many miles away and there were no mileage markers to measure my progress. I estimated myself to be moving at 2.5 miles per hour so the leg from Ashby Gap to Snickers Gap would take approximately 6 hours to complete.
Ascended gradually passing through rock outcrops to the top of the ridge where I took pleasure from the terrific views of the surrounding valleys and heavily vegetated ridges. Crossed over to the eastern side of the ridge and lost elevation via switchbacks. At this point I began to experience the classic roller coaster pattern - descend into a hollow, ford an intermittent stream or creek sometimes with a campsite nearby, ascend to the ridge crest, enjoy the vista, walk on a level stretch. Sure enough, upon completing the descent I crossed a creek and achieved a respectable climb to the crest of Piney Ridge.
Dropped down through pine and chesnut oak. While descending I met a man and his dog heading south along the AT and asked him the distance to Snickers Gap. He said about 5 miles which surprised me because I thought I had a lot further to go. During the ensuing ascent I passed through more rock outcrops and paused to take a photo from a nice rocky lookout area. Crossed a wooden bridge 25 feet in length over a gently flowing creek near an obvious campsite subsequent to a descent, climbed gradually and crossed Va-605. A truck was parked on the side of the one lane paved road and I assumed it belonged to the man with the dog.
Reentered the woods ascending to a sign at 3:57 p.m. which indicated that Bears Den was 6.25 miles away. "Was Bears Den close to Snickers Gap?" I asked myself. The roller coaster action persisted and I heard planes in the sky high overhead periodically which took away from the experience. Followed a side trail to a pleasant overlook of a series of ridges in the distance, a haze slightly concealing them. Later, I turned right departing the AT at Lookout Point (an excellent view spot of the mountains to the south) to call my sister-in-law using my brother's cell phone. She told me that he was already on his way to Snickers Gap via route 7.
Further on I encountered a highlander (a bearded shirtless man wearing a red kilt, a tatoo on his left bicep with a ski pole in each hand). We exchanged greetings and went in opposite directions. Observed two wild turkeys to the right of the footpath as well as a robin red breast and a squirrel. As I approached Snickers Gap I could perceive the vehicular traffic of route 7. Instead of maintaining a northerly direction, the AT curved east and I endured the tough final climb through pine trees. The trail made a u-turn toward the west before reaching Bears Den Rocks (an outstanding overlook of Shenandoah Valley atop several huge boulders). I paused for a few minutes to take in the superb panorama.
Realizing that my brother was probably waiting or searching for me, I reluctantly descended generally, through oak, laurel, sassafras, yellow poplar, and dogwood. Startled another deer prior to emerging from the forest at Snickers Gap (elev. 1,070 ft) along the shoulder of the east bound lanes of Va-7 at 7:16 p.m.
Attempted to call my brother but without success. I noticed the sun sinking lower and lower on the horizon but before it had a chance to set my brother pulled up in his jeep. I jumped in and he transported us back to McLean.
Appalachian Trail, National Scenic Trail/Maine to Georgia, National Park Service/U.S. Department of the Interior
APPALACHIAN TRAIL GUIDE TO Maryland and Northern Virginia With Side Trails Thirteenth Edition - 1989 Vol. 6 in the Appalachian Trail Guide Series edited by Michael T. Shoemaker