Maryland Dames Hike…..SNP

Awesome hike report from our Maryland Dames…..
Four of us set out on Wednesday, July 27th, for Shenandoah National Park to take on the 7 1/2 mile Rapidan-Laurel Prong -Hazel Top hike. We all went in my van and left Frederick at noon so that we could arrive at our lodge shortly after check-in time. We had reservations for two rooms, 2 queen beds in each room, at Big Meadows Lodge in the central district of SNP, mile marker 51. The drive went well and we had a wonderful time just chatting as we enjoyed the scenery along the way. We were at the lodge by 3:15 pm. We had hoped for, or actually assumed really, adjoined rooms but that was not to be. Barb K and I shared a room on the first floor of the Rapidan building and Barb M and Katrinka shared a room on the far end of the second floor. We did try to get the rooms changed but the lodge was already booked up and there was no way to manage it.

We settled our bags, checked out our rooms and the lovely views they had, and went to the lodge’s New Market Tap Room for drinks and appetizers. Not a bad way to start a hiking trip, aye? Winking smile We enjoyed cocktails, spinach dip and quesadillas while carrying on a nice long discussion about the books that we enjoyed and the possibility of a Dames book group in the future. Then it was upstairs to the lodge dining room for dinner and wine. Lovely! Afterward Barb K went to our room to relax and read while I went up to the other room to join Barb M and Katrinka on their balcony and watched the sun set. We watched deer silently stroll out of the woods to begin their evening browsing and we think we may have caught a glimpse of a black bear cub, still quite small, as it waddled out of the woods and into the safety of some heavy ground cover. It was a gorgeous evening of peace, towering pink edged clouds, and companionship. Off to bed as we had an early morning start planned.

Always an early riser, I was up first around 5 am, showered and sitting on the patio of our room drinking coffee as the sky lightened up. Birds called and sang, deer wandered out, and soft breezes rose along with the sun. We met for breakfast at 7:30 am, again eating in the lodge dining room, and then drove the 2 miles south to the trail head at Milam Gap parking lot. There was a short-lived panic attack on my part when I thought I had left my wallet in the lodge’s restroom. I raced back, searched around, found no one had turned it in, went back out to the van and searched again….to find it in the glove compartment. HUGE relief, but sorry that I had delayed our hike start.

We set off across the road and into the woods, hitting the Mill Prong Trail first. This part of the hike descends gently deeper and deeper into the woods toward Mill Prong Creek. The creek eventually joins Laurel Prong Creek and these two cold, rushing streams form Rapidan River, which drew President Herbert Hoover to the area with the dream of building a fishing camp as Presidential retreat – the first of it’s kind. Two miles in from the start of the hike, Rapidan Camp is the predecessor to Roosevelt’s Shangri-La in Thurmont MD, eventually renamed Camp David by President Eisenhower. We crossed the creek and picked up the trail again as it paralleled the water until we reached Rapidan Camp. The original Brown House (designed by Mrs Hoover as the residence) is still there and is often open for tours. There is usually a caretaker there to answer questions and explain the camp’s history. One other building, the Prime Minister’s cabin, is also open to the public and contains self-guided displays from the era. We spent about half an hour exploring the camp and chatting with the caretaker before picking up our poles and packs and setting off once more. The day was warming up but still much cooler than the heat we knew would be building in the Frederick area by then.

We hiked along about another mile or so on easy terrain, crossing creeks, and eventually reaching the beginning of a 3 mile ascent that would take us up to Hazel Top, the 3rd highest point in SNP. The first mile of the ascent is a long, steep, switchback. It tops out on a ridge line, takes a hard right turn, and continues up and up and up the side of the ridge. Enormous, ancient rock formations form a wall on your right and the steep descending hillside and valleys are on your left. The trail grows quite rocky and narrow as it takes you the 2 miles to it’s junction with the AT. We identified wildflowers along the way – native red columbine, turk’s cap lily, joe-pye weed, trumpet vine. There were many others that we could not identify in spite of the book I was carrying – “Wildflowers of Shenandoah National Park.” For a few seconds we found ourselves frozen in place as the unmistakable whine-roar of low flying fighter jets approached. We caught a glimpse of them through the tree cover and they were gone in a flash.

I had done this hike with my husband in May 2010 and I truly did not recall the long steep slog from the junction of the AT to Hazel Top! From the start of the ascent on the switchback to Hazel Top we gained 1000 feet of elevation. That’s a lot of continuous gain. The day was definitely getting hotter and more humid. We found some rocks to sit on (before reaching Hazel Top) and sat down to rest and eat our lunches. Huge flies clung and bit, no doubt feasting on our salty sweaty selves. We swatted, ate, cursed, ate, swatted, cursed…….pretty much any typical lunch stop on any summer time hike in the northeast! We finished up, stood up on sore, tight leg muscles, and continued on to our goal of Hazel Top summit.

There is a short side trail leading to the left off of the AT to the rock formations that give the best panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. As each person climbed up onto the rocks “Oh my, look at that.” “Oh my God” “Wow, just wow.” could be heard. Ridge after ridge after ridge of mountains dipped, rose, and dipped and rose again in the distance in multi-colors of greens, blues, grays. We took it all in, deeply grateful for the opportunity to be out there. With deep sighs, it was time to move on. From this point the AT is described as taking an “incredibly delightful descent”, and delightful it is. The trail heads down and down in a very gentle slope, through trees, grasses, huge stands of turk’s cap lilies, ferns that were 3 – 4 feet tall. We encountered a pair of deer on the trail and stood still and silent. They did the same and gazed back at us. As we slowly moved forward they would also move away from us, but never very far nor very fast. They stepped into the woods and grass and let us get within about 30 feet. We took pictures, thanked them for their cooperation and patience with us, and continued on back to Milam Gap and the van.

We made a stop at Big Meadows Wayside to use the restrooms, buy some cold drinks and blackberry ice cream, piled back into the van and took off for home. It was agreed all around that our time in SNP was perfection and that we definitely want to do it again. It is well worth the time and expense to get there the day before a long hike and spend the night. We also realized that it would have been very well worth the cost to stay one more night after the hike, rather than make a 3 – 4 hour drive back. The lodges feature live music in the evenings and it would have been heaven to go back to our rooms, shower, change into non-hiking clothes, and enjoy another night of cocktails, dinner, and some good ol’ mountain music.

The photos of this hike can be found on the Meetup site. Enjoy!


We needed this hike…..

Today the Maryland Trail Dames did a short day hike in Gambrill State Park.  It was previously scheduled for last week but a big rain storm canceled that so I rescheduled it for today.  Not so many could come but nonetheless we had such a wonderful day.  Gambrill State Park is very close to our house. We are very fortunate.  I’m sorry for the blurry spot on the pics. Apparently I need to clean the lens.

The hike was meant to be 7.9 miles but a wrong turn (well…we were chatting and laughing and hiking….and I (yes, I take full responsibility) missed a turn, so we did a 6 mile hike. Truth be told, no one was terribly disappointed.  Before we had set off, while gathered in the parking lot, it seems that we’d all had some very stressful days and sleepless nights for a variety of reasons. We all agreed that we didn’t just want to do this hike, we needed to do this hike.  We were all stretched taut, twisted hard and tight, and like a string on a violin, we needed this hike to loosen the tension before we snapped.  It worked.  It always does.

The weather simply could not have been better. After yesterday’s windy cold spell, today was glorious. It was still, warm, clear.  We’ve lived in 10 states and 2 other countries and in none of those places is the air as clean and clear and sweet as it is here.  In spite of the heavy rains we’ve had, the ground and trail bed were well drained. The air was sweet scented with pine needles, new leaves, watered soil.  We had decided at the start that we were in no hurry….a pace of 1 1/2  – 2 miles per hour was enough.  We passed wild mountain azaleas in full bloom, dogwood still adorned in floating white blossoms, newly sprouted ferns so green they are almost painful to look upon, and mountain laurels exploding with new growth and the promise of showers of pink and white blossoms in another month.  There were tiny exquisite bright purple wild violets.  Our Spring may come a little later than in milder climates, but it lasts longer and is an heavenly joy to behold.  When it turns green here it stays green well into Fall.

We found a spread of flat rocks and sat down for lunch.  It was at least 70 degrees, sunny, still, so beautiful.  We moved on and in 3 1/2 hours we completed the 6 miles.  We had taken short breaks to just catch our breath, drink water, chat.  When we returned to the Middletown Valley Overlook, where we had set out from, we took some time to just soak in the views and take more photos.  Then we all turned to one another and in almost the same breath said “We live in such a beautiful place.”  Yes, we do. We are well and truly blessed to be here.  And ladies, you are the best.

Linda, aka Mrs. Baggins

Maryland in the Snow

Maryland 1.11
The hike on Saturday went very well! 28 of the 35 RSVPs braved the cold and snow, and there were many first timers with the group.

Temperature was around 26 when we stepped off at 9:30 am and the sun was shining. We found the snow on the trail to be pretty tramped down by other hikers with some areas still around 6″ deep and fluffy, but not difficult to get through. There were slick areas, mostly on the rocks, but otherwise the trail was not treacherous. It was, as another person noted, a bit like hiking in sand – – it was harder to pick up your feet and really move along and that made for a good workout. Everyone quickly found their own best pace and the group spread out up and down the trail. It’s pretty much impossible to hold a group that size together, to one pace. I realize it makes it harder for everyone to get a chance to meet and talk with everyone else, but I won’t put a leash on the fast hikers and I won’t push the ones that need to move slower.

Along the way we ran into at least a dozen backpackers and at least that many day hikers. I heard that one young man, upon finding out that we were an all-female group, said “Oh! Cougars!” 😉 We also had one young man approach us in the parking lot and ask to join the hike. Turned out he was looking for another group that was going to meet there. Whew!

We were all at the shelter by around noon and my goodness the food! The picnic table was covered in a feast of homemade cookies, bars, breads, baklava, muffins. There was chocolates, granola mixes, nuts, berries and cheese. We fired up the stoves and soon had everyone sipping their hot drinks. After our tea time, we started back to the parking lot.

I want to let you know that we have two ladies who are going to start their thru-hikes of the AT on the same day, March 16th! Rose Clack and Rebecca Berbert, we are so proud of you! We must keep up with their progress along the trail so that we can be there for them with lots of trail magic when they get into our area.

Speaking of trail magic….the Georgia Dames will be doing their annual trail magic at Mountain Crossings in GA the last weekend of March. They rent cabins for the weekend for themselves and spend the weekend providing burgers, hot dogs, and other treats to the hikers that are coming thru Neels Gap at Mountain Crossings. That is the 32 mile mark where many hikers decided a thru-hike is not for them and something like 10% drop off the trail. A hot meal and friendly faces could make all the difference in getting them to keep going. I’m hoping to have the time to go down there and help out. If you think you’d like to go along let me know and I’ll get the accommodations worked out with Anna.

The link is to the photos I took of the hike.  I wish I had taken so many more!  There are more than 40 of them posted by other members on the website and probably more to come.


Gambrill State Park- Maryland Dames

Gambrill maryland
Hike Report from the Maryland Dames….

Wow, what a wonderful hike! I am an admitted fair weather hiker and hadn’t hiked in the snow and ice (other than to hike up Fox Glacier in New Zealand 7 years ago), and I loved this. There was 13 of us and many first timers. Brave souls all to make this their first time out with us. It was about 27 degrees when we set out at 10 am, but not at all windy or even breezy. It actually felt just fine. It took 2 hours to cover the 3.3 miles as some of it was treacherous and slow going with icy slippery rocks and leaves, especially the descents.

The sun came out, more or less, after the first hour and started melting off the snow. The woods were beautiful – the white sugar dusting of snow, the brown of the ground, the green ferns still peaking out, the fallen leaves…..just breathtaking. And so calm and quiet. We will definitely do another winter hike. More snow would actually be better – a thicker, packed base to walk on rather than the thin coating of snow and ice on everything. I’ve asked my hubby for snowshoes for my birthday, so I’ll have them by January and our next winter wonderland hike!


Backpacking with the Maryland Dames!!

Oct 2010 MD Trail Dames Backpacking Trip 012
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!