Appalachian Adventure – Part One

On Monday, 5/23/11, Karen and I completed our backpacking adventure on the AT. We climbed through rolling mountains, traversed long scenic ridges with expansive views, scrambled over rocks and boulders, trudged up slopes that made sweat run down our backs, and descended knee jarring switchbacks into lush valleys. We met a lot of nice people and a few that were a bit odd. We mixed in with hikers that were decidedly grubby, a little bit smelly, and always hungry. We were transported into a place where nature decides your every comfort level and the world moves at a simple pace. 

Our path traversed the whole width of Maryland along the South Mountain range. For forty miles, high above the Cumberland Valley, from Harpers Ferry to the Mason Dixon Line, the AT visits historic sites of the Civil War. This area was alive with skirmishes and battles leading up to the major conflicts of Antietam and Gettysburg. We enjoyed mixing in a little history lesson, now and then, as we hiked through State Parks and Monuments. 

On our first day, we hiked about 9 miles to a dreary looking place called Ensign Cowall Shelter. When we got there we found it already occupied by two hikers. One young fellow sat outside making a pair of gaiters out of an abandoned garment someone had given him. We later learned that he was from Germany, and had the urge to travel to America and thru-hike the AT before he started his career. He turned out to be a delightful, friendly, intelligent guy and both Karen and I enjoyed his company. The other character was a piece of work. He lay in the shelter wrapped in his sleeping bag, sick from exhaustion and drugs. This was the first time he had ever been in the woods in his life, and he was so ill prepared for backpacking that he was a danger to himself. It was hard getting a story out of him that any of us could believe, but we gathered that he had come on the train to Harpers Ferry with a pack that weighed 150 pounds, and had walked for 10 days to get to this shelter that should normally be only two days hike. Besides being  way out of shape and grossly overweight, he had nothing even practical for backpacking. What little clothes he had were soaked from walking in the rain, and he was living on some kind of Army rations. We heard stories of fishing in the river for catfish and building lean-tos for shelter. It didn’t take much thought for Karen and I to move to the area behind the shelter and pitch our tent for the night. 

No sooner than we had settled in to our campsite, along came a troop of fifteen Boy Scouts. They pitched their tents in every available space in the area, surrounding us with their noise and chatter well onto the night. At one point, Karen even spoke to them, asking them to be quiet. They finally settled down and we got a few hours of restless sleep. 

In the morning, we packed up early and planned a 14 mile hike that would put us well beyond the range of the Scout Troop. 

To be continued…

4 Responses to “Appalachian Adventure – Part One”

  1. Karen says:

    I had such a good time hiking with you. The AT is a social backpacking trail unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Dad…you’ve definately got the “white blaze fever” and I’m just waiting for the text that says…I’m going for it, see you in 5 months 🙂

  2. Mom says:

    And I was tired because I rode my scooter to the grocery store this morning, before it got hot.

  3. Heather says:

    Wow! Sounds like fun already! Looking forward to ready more. At least we know it ends well and you both make it safely back to civilization! 😉

  4. Donna says:

    My foot feels better just dreaming about joining you two on the trail. I’m going to be ready to do it by late summer or early fall.

    I just read a book that took place during the Civil War, and those sites really tug at my heart for all that our nation went through to remain united.

    Can’t wait to read part 2.

Leave a Reply