The decision had been made to return home, recover and take care of some scheduled dental work as well as process what I had experienced. That will be in my next post. Harpers Ferry lay ahead and I was excited to reach this historic town. It also is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I will put a link to their site at the end of this post.
I had up to now left open the possibility of continuing on from Harpers Ferry. The plan was set but I still had 50 miles to go and each day would bring it’s own challenges and surprises including the infamous Roller Coaster 20 miles away. There also would be a stay at the Bear’s Den Hostel which was a wonderful surprise.
First was a 10 mile hike to the Whisky Hollow Shelter. The trail started downhill and passed under some power lines and across some meadows. It again seemed very overgrown with underbrush. Finally a short climb and then down to the John Marshall Highway at Manassas Gap.
This area is filled with history from the Civil War. General Mosby of the Confederate Calvary roamed these woods over 150 years ago. Several stone walls erected from that time are still standing.
At US 55 you cross a railroad track and under Interstate 66 following Tuckers Lane before exiting left and back into the forest.
At this point you are only 800 feet above sea level. Then begins a long climb of 1300 feet. Being so low in elevation everything was mud and mosquitoes. Afterwards it turned into primarily woods with a rocky path. I stopped at Manassas Shelter for lunch three quarters of the way up. This was the third time I had resupplied with summer sausage and cheese. I had been disappointed each time. I’d hoped to benefit from the high fat calories and at home have always relished it. Go figure! It was hot and I gulped down a half liter of water and refilled my bottles. I finished the climb and descended 2.5 miles to the shelter.
There were lots of trees down as I came upon a pretty substantial creek. The side trail to the shelter was suppose to be here but no signage indicated where or what direction. A post which had been in the ground was removed and hanging by a rope but even it had no direction. I checked my phone app and ascertained from some of the comments that a new shelter had been built and the entrance was .3 miles northbound after the creek. I looked around but saw no white blaze indicating a trail or nothing that resembled the trail. After a few minutes of confusion I headed up a hill and found it.
I walked down to the shelter and found several hikers already set up in a pretty large shelter with 2 levels of bunks.
There was quite a few people around and one hiker informed me that a Boy Scout Troop was camped here getting ready for a trip out west. Over the next two days I would pass and be passed by several troops. Most of the camping was taken already and Steak N Shake hadn’t arrived so I set up in the shelter. When he did arrive he investigated an area I hadn’t considered. It was uphill and unknown to me it was an old logging road which had numerous flat sites. I moved all my belongings and set up my tent. Not long after, it started to rain lightly so I went inside to read until the shower passed. It didn’t and each time I thought it might I attempted to cook supper but then it would rain harder. Eventually I cooked from inside my tent with my stove under the vestibule. Afterwards I moved my bear cannister away from my tent 80 feet or so and crawled into my sleeping bag listening to the drops splatter against my tent and the thunder rumbling. It was a nice night of sleep.
The next day was a short hike of only 8.4 miles. It was once again very humid and with all the vines and underbrush (including poison Ivy), it replicated a jungle atmosphere. I needed water and at 1 mile there was a spring. I could hear it but didn’t see it. It took a few minutes but I found water spilling from under a rock amidst the undergrowth. I slipped several times on wet rocks and the muddy trail, each time I caught myself with my hand without even a knee touching the ground. Along the way we skirted around the Sky Meadows State Park.
Looks like a very nice park. Boy Scouts kept coming from both directions. Different troops from different areas of Virginia I wondered how they chose this small area with limited camping for their practice. Turns out Steak N Shake was involved with a Scout troop in the past and he’d been to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico where these boys were headed. I saw another black snake, happily not a rattler and a deer as well.
Rod Hollow Shelter to Bears Den Hostel 10.5 miles.
This was the start of the Roller Coaster. A 14 mile stretch of up’s and down’s without any views. We decided to break it into 2 days and stay at the Bears Den Hostel, doing the last 4 miles on day 2. I was prepared for the climbs but nobody mentioned how rocky it would be.
I woke up to light rain that soon stopped. I had coffee but no breakfast and quickly packed. I think the total climbs were around 3250 ft. and close to that going down. I can hike fast but inevitably that leads to a slip or fall but I do enjoy it and think I will get better. The last climb of the day was 500 feet and extremely rocky. When I reached Bears Den I was in for a surprise. It is an old stone mansion on 66 acres built in the 1930’s. It is only 150 yards off the trail. When I got there the place was closed. There were several hikers camped in tents outside, one a French Canadian woman named Mervel. She said no one could pronounce her name in French. So she changed it to reflect what others could pronounce. She showed me a code to get into the hiker accommodations until the caretaker arrived at 5:00. Inside was a refrigerator with cold drinks for 50 cents. I quickly claimed a bunk and then happily took a needed shower. They also had spare sets of clothes to wear while washing your own. Mine were really in need as it had been almost two weeks since the last wash. Afterward I took to a lounge chair in the garden to write in my journal. Once the caretaker arrived we paid 30 dollars and received a pizza, soda, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. We also had use of the upstairs kitchen, dining room and living area which was loaded with information and pictures of the mansion and it’s history.
In the morning the operators had laid out pancake mix and coffee for anyone who would like to make their own. I had a great stay and felt ready to finish this Roller Coaster! This was not a bad hike because this section of the roller coaster was only 3.5 miles. At first it started to rain and I put on my raincoat but within 30 minutes I was so wet from sweating I just took it off. After that the rain stopped. I completed the 11.2 miles to David Lesser Shelter pretty fast. lt continued to be rocky but we are decreasing in elevation the closer we get to Harpers Ferry. There was also a boardwalk to get us through some muddy areas. The shelter itself was very nice with a nice deck in front and separate cooking area. When I arrived There were 3 people none of which were spending the night. one was a thru hiker named Roo. I believe it is based on the Winnie the Pooh character. She was from the Netherlands and was having a great hike. She had badly sprained her ankle but recovered back in Daleville. She had met the other two day hikers some time back and somehow they ended up on the same overlook earlier this day. It was their third chance meeting. There would be a fourth as I saw them in Harper’s Ferry as well. Roo was headed to a campsite 5 miles ahead though there wasn’t any water to be had at the site. The water at this shelter was a crazy quarter mile down a steep hill. It also had blown down trees forcing you to climb over or go around. I actually got off trail and had to backup to relocate the correct path. She did not want to go back down there and decided she would just make her liter and a half work. I admire her willingness to go on by herself under those conditions. The next day I saw Unicef at the ATC headquarters and he had ended up there as well with 3 other hikers. They had a very good time. I decided to stay in the shelter as this was my last night on trail. Four other people tented and 2 others hammocked on the side trail leading to the shelter. Two others, a married couple from Blairsville Ga. (Spruce Lee and Shitake) stayed in the shelter with us. They were a great couple and had a good approach to the trail. They allotted each of themselves a dollar per mile. They kept track of who had how much and if one wanted to splurge it was ok but then they might have to walk extra miles in order to build their account back up. It seemed like their teamwork was paying off.
David Lesser Shelter to Harpers Ferry 9.3 miles. Today was a bittersweet hike. I knew I’d be leaving the trail for awhile. The hike itself was fairly easy with few climbs. I felt excited though to see Harpers Ferry, go to the ATC for pictures, with enough time to explore the town and it’s history. We had a room reserved at the Quality Inn and the next morning a car to shuttle us back to the 4H camp where Steak N Shakes car was parked. We hustled down the trail to hoping to arrive by lunch. The hike itself was fairly easy with few climbs. It would however have one more rocky section which verified how much my feet needed the rest. I stopped often to look around and take it all in. Although I may have heard it first I was surprised when I first saw the Shenandoah River through the leaves. I waited for Steak N Shake so we could enter the town together. The river was 900 feet below so we carefully negotiated the steep descent. Crossing the bridge over the Shenandoah River was magnificent. It is wide and beautiful. From there you could see the town up on the hill. We stopped at the hotel and inquired and received an early check in. There was time to shower, have lunch and explore the town. First stop was the ATC, have our pictures made for the year book. I would now be classified as a section hiker because my finish date would be After April 13th next year. They have a scale here and I weighed 160 lbs. I started at 187. My waist was 31 inches. They have cold drinks here and we cooled off while reading about the history of the ATC and the Trail itself. Several hikers we had met were here and the place had a great atmosphere. Next we went to get lunch. The town itself is on a big hill and it was very hot outside. The houses along the way were all historic. It seemed every building and house was at least 150 years old. Restoration of other structures was taking place as well. After another high calorie lunch we explored some more. The town was filled with hikers! Finally we walked back to the hotel via the Appalachian Trail which passes through the town. It was a nice ending to a somewhat sad day and even up to the next morning I considered going on, after all Maryland was only .3 miles away!
The journey will continue later this summer. The path or direction not yet decided but I am going to do all I can to experience more of the trail, see more towns and visit all 14 states.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy