Five of us went and we left my home at 7 am. Many thanks to my son Adam for riding along so that he could drive the van back home. We were at the trail head by 8 am and on the trail at 8:10 am. The day was windy and cool but once we got moving we all warmed up. The wind in the trees made them seem to be speaking to us as we passed – the creaking, groaning, sighing sounds that trees make when brushing against one another made the forest come quite alive around us. The trail was carpeted in multi-colored leaves. We hiked along chatting, laughing, and feeling wonderful. At one point the wind drove a cloud up over the mountain and into the woods around us, surrounding us in a faint swirling mist. We were hiking on the last 3.5 miles of the 13 mile long “roller coaster” on that northbound stretch of the AT, a long stretch of constant ups and downs – more ups than downs – so it took us about 2 1/2 hours to make our first goal – the gorgeous vista from Raven Rocks. We took that chance to drop our packs, have some snacks, and take lots of photos. We were feeling great! A gentleman came up the trail behind us with just a fanny pack. He was on his way to the Blackburn Trail Center (7 miles from Snickers Gap). We chatted and he went on his way.
I really wanted to make the David Lesser shelter by 4 pm so that there would be ample time to set up camp, change clothes, get water, cook dinner and relax before going to sleep. We were making excellent time. We hiked at our own paces, so more often than not the two Sues and Mylynh were several minutes ahead while Audrey and I brought up the rear. We’d all catch up now and then for lunch and rest breaks. At Blackburn Trail Center Sue V. went down the side trail to see the center while the rest of us waiting on the trail and rested. We all moved out when we were ready to go and we all were at the shelter by 4 pm – the two Sues arriving ahead of us. What a fabulous feeling to know you’re done for the day! We had done 10.5 miles in about 8 hours. Some of the ups were pretty steep, there were rocks, rocks, and more rocks often making it hard to distinguish the trail bed from the woods.
We were the first ones into the shelter (a hiker was tented below in the campground) and made the decision to just spend the night in it rather than in our tents. Two middle-aged men came in a short while after us. By the time the sun had set there were 14 hikers stopped for the night. We laid out our places on the upper platform, changed clothes, grabbed our water filters and fetch bags and headed down the steep 1/4 mile trail to the spring. Ugh! So far away! It wasn’t the trip down so much – – it was hauling all of that extra water back up! Once we were back we set about cooking our dinners, chatting about the day, and watching the other hikers arrive. The two men who had come in after us decided to sleep in the shelter as well, on the deck just below the platform. They cooked their dinners at the picnic table near the shelter and started up a nice fire. We all went to sit by the fire as the sun went down. Very peaceful. By 7:30 pm I’d had enough, having been up since 4 am and being somewhat beaten down by the “ups” of the day, so I went off to bed. I never heard the others come in to sleep but I gather everyone was in bed by 9:30 pm. Fortunately, I had brought my ear plugs along……one of the men had laid out his mat and bag on the deck right up against the sleeping platform. His head was about two feet from mine….and he snored..and snored…and snored!! I could dampen it well enough with the plugs, but the others weren’t so lucky and had to listen to that horrid noise all night! He truly had no idea how close he came to being whapped upside the head with a hiking boot! It was the general consensus that he surely must have been aware that he snored like that (he said he was married, so his wife must have told him!) and therefore should have been considerate enough to set up a tent in the campground area! We were clearly there first and had our mats and bags laid out long before he did.
Everyone was up by sunup and fixing breakfast at the picnic table. We were somewhat sore and stiff but nothing terrible, and we were packed up and back on the trail by 8:20 am, with 10 miles to go to Harpers Ferry. Sunday’s miles would be easier in terms of the ups and downs as it was mostly flat and down but the trail bed was far rockier than the stretch we’d already covered. I’d done this stretch before and lost my big toenails because of the beating my feet took on the rocks. It wasn’t any different this time.
We were at Keys Gap before 10 am – a good place to drop the packs and sit at the picnic table there for a rest. Just 3/10s of a mile down the road west of there is a mini-mart, so Sue and I walked down for a snack and a cold soda. When we got back to the others a small car had pulled into the parking area and a man got out wearing a fanny packed that I recognized. It was the guy from the vista point that we’d met the day before! He came over to chat a moment. He was going to hike from Keys Gap to Blackburn Trail Center and back to finish up the last bit of trail that he needed to complete everything from Georgia to Pennsylvania. We wished him well and off he went, and so did we. From there to the border of Harpers Ferry National Park the rocks once again beat me up both physically and mentally. I find that I can’t relax for a second because every step has to be thought out in advance – step here, step there, go around that rock, step on top of that one, etc. Soon I was left in the dust by the others but that was okay. I could feel my toes getting chewed up in my boots and the bottoms of my feet getting bruised. I caught up with everyone now and then for a rest break. By noon or a little after, we were at the sign pointing the way down down down to the Hwy 340 Bridge and the end of the hike! We made our way down, some of us with legs of jello and sore joints, slowly. It’s a very steep down, and long, switch back trail and in some places it quite narrowly hugs one side of the mountain, with a long drop down on the other side, with rocks for stairs now and then. Once on the bridge, we marched along happy and proud. There was a long line of slow traffic going the other way and the looks on the faces of some of the people as they watched 5 women stride along with loaded packs……priceless! We decided to end it at the parking lot at the end of the bridge, and Sue V’s husband was kind enough to come pick us up. We had made it across the bridge and to the lot by 1:20 pm.
I admit to being quite sore and stiff but I was also very happy. It’s a grand feeling of accomplishment. I hope that everyone else felt the same way. I am quite eager to do it again! Well, not that section again! I’ve done it twice now – that’s enough. Today, Wednesday, I am completely recovered physically (though my big toe nails have darkened so I’ll have to wait and see how that goes), unpacked, and everything is put away until the next adventure!