Appalachian Trail in Maryland, August 24 – 26, 2018 — In spite of the horrible heat, smothering humidity and the drenching rains we’ve enjoyed all summer, autumn is skulking on the next calendar page and that signals the time when the clock expires for all but one of our ridgerunners.
The last man standing remains on duty in Maryland until Halloween hoarfrost beards the pumpkin patch.
Still, the season’s not over until it’s over. We made time to celebrate the season’s finale with a final jaunt across Maryland’s 42 AT miles.
Kiki and I cinched up our hip belts and headed southward from the Mason-Dixon line, to Harpers Ferry. I always forget this route is a little more challenging than hiking the other way around. People say the trail in Maryland isn’t rocky. Not so, as my blistered boots will gladly attest. Best of all, hiking southbound front loads the best of the abrasive boulder fields.
Kiki carried a hoe to clear clogged waterbars (drains) on what proved to be a waterlogged trail.
Initially we didn’t set a goal for the day because we got a late start which was the result of stashing my car in Harpers Ferry. We decided to see how the day would unfold.
Of note, Maryland is one of the most hiked portions of the AT with millions of people from the greater metro areas between Philadelphia and Washington living within a two-hour drive. Consequently, no dispersed camping is allowed to help protect the environment. To compensate, there are shelters and campgrounds conveniently spaced along the way. We suffered no worries about finding a place to camp.
We made excellent time in spite of finding several gallons of trash. We measure trash by estimated volume rather rather than estimated weight for closer accuracy. Occasionally, we stopped to enjoy the views after breaking up an illegal fire ring or two.
Penultimately we thought we’d drop anchor at Pogo campground. (Yes, it’s that “the enemy is us” Pogo.) But, long before we reached Pogo, we remembered Annapolis Rock is just a couple of miles further, and there our colleague Harry would be in residence as caretaker.
At our pace, we’d arrive slightly at the end of evening nautical twilight, but having the company and hanging out at the caretaker’s picnic table was worth the energy expenditure.
As it happened, we literally stumbled in, tripping over stones because we weren’t using our headlamps with the intent of pranking Harry. In the gloom, Harry didn’t recognize us as we pretended to be thoughtless hikers intent on breaking all the Annapolis Rock rules like building a fire and camping on the overlook. Ya had to have been there to appreciate the dialog before we ended the charade.
Two years ago, in a one in a million tragedy, a dead tree fell and killed a camper at Maryland’s Ed Garvey shelter. Since then trees of concern are quickly removed. Recently, we traded safety for aesthetics in the caretaker’s area.
Insects had invaded the wounded area and hollowing was present in the trunk.
From Annapolis Rock, a reasonably strong hiker can comfortably reach Harper’s Ferry the next day. However there was a risk of arriving too late to catch the shuttle to the National Park Service’s remote lot and my car.
So, expecting unusually good weather for this sopping wet year, and therefore a busy Saturday, we decided to hike to the Crampton Gap shelter. That would leave an easy 10 miles for Sunday morning. It proved to be a solid decision when we coached a large group of young men on how to party without ruining the evening for everyone else.
On the way to Crampton, we stopped to inspect and clean up the shelter at Rocky
Run. We found a supermarket bag with a week’s worth of hiker food hanging on the bear pole.
Why would someone leave that much food where it was? We checked with some campers. It wasn’t theirs. It was there when they came.
The food could have been leftover from an individual hiker or one of the many college freshman orientation groups currently on the trail. It also might have been a misguided attempt by a trail angel. Regardless, it’s irresponsible behavior to leave food anywhere in the woods. The good news: Kiki didn’t have to buy supplies for his final week on trail.
Speaking of college freshman orientation groups, we met students from Loyola University of Maryland (Baltimore) on the trail and stopped briefly to chat. They seemed like an agreeable group. Only at Ed Garvey, where they’d camped the previous evening, did we discover the present they’d left for us in the privy’s wood chip barrel.
Thanks Loyola for more trash then we could pack out. Then we wonder why the number of problem bears is increasing. I’ll be sending a letter to the university with an offer of free Leave No Trace education this spring when they train rising seniors to be student leaders.
But, there’s more …
Survivalists and preppers are among the many subcultures on the trail. They are sometimes called camosexuals, a label that is a twist on the Hipster lumbersexual subculture. Unfortunately, if everyone strip mined live vegetation like this, the shelter and camping areas would look like moonscapes. This was within sight of the shelter.
This makeshift shelter would have been worthless in wet weather. Moreover, nowhere on the Appalachian trail is this appropriate. If you really want to do this, the national forests and some state forests are happy to oblige.
We found this fire ring and grill half way between Ed Garvey and Harpers Ferry. Not a bad field expedient attempt at making a grill from green wood and wire. Again, fires and dispersed camping are verboten in Maryland. But if you are willing to risk an expensive ticket, why not clean up your mess? Please! Leave No Trace.