Appalachian Trail – Annapolis Rocks
January 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
It was mid-October and I was feeling the itch to get back into the woods again. My recent adventures into the Banff Wilderness were still on my mind, and I didn’t want to have to wait until 2017 to hoist a pack onto my back and traipse through the woods. Fortunately I have friends who can be called upon when the woods urge hits, and I think I might have texted Larry, and before long we started one of those long running email chains to pick a date.
It seemed we had a lot of interest in this little weekended. Besides the usual crew, Bruce had a couple of friends interested; Andy was in; My favorite brother-in-law was in; Jim was in, and we were going to get Ed out on the trail as well. We selected the weekend before Thanksgiving and then it was just a matter of the Earth rotating on its axis enough times and that weekend would be upon us.
Our first agreed to selection was the GW state forest. This location had the advantage of offering a decent base camp that was easily accessible on Saturday for Bruce and his friends to join, while offering the rest of us something we could knock out, and then go for a vista day hike. I forget exactly where were planning to go, but as the day of departure appeared on the horizon, I made plans with Andy and Walt that we would pick up Walt on our way. He would rent a decent SUV, and we would transfer to his vehicle in Leesburg.
The first socket wrench was thrown into the works when two days before our event Virginia and West Virginia both banned camp fires in all of their state forests. We COULD live without camp fires, but … why? We camp because we LOVE fire. We live fire.
Jim and Larry worked tirelessly to find a new trail for us that met our needs. A trail that offered 1) Good Vistas, 2) A Saturday hike in route, and 3) wasn’t too damn far away. Maryland quickly found its way onto the radar map. Where the AT crosses Route 70, North has Annapolis Rocks and Black Rocks with vistas West of Hagarstown and The Cumberland Valley. There was also a camp site (POGO) situated where Black Rock Creek intersected the AT, and that would be a perfect camp site, as there was an access trail that came up Black Rock Creek.The hike in from The Baltimore National Pike (Route 40) would start with an ascent, but then it would be a ridge hike until Black Rock where it would descend down to where it crossed the creek. We had a new destination.
With the change in the itinerary, we would no longer be picking up Walt. He would meet others on their way past him to get north. For me, it would just be Andy and myself, and we made arrangements to meet at Exit 109 on the Garden State Parkway early enough to make the breakfast meet in Maryland.
I actually managed to get all my camping shit together the night before. In a perfect world, I would have gotten it all together the previous weekend, but I am not perfect. For this trip I decided to go with my hammock and old LL Bean tarp and to pair that up with my North Face Polar Guard bag. The forecast called for a great day Friday, but cooling off on Saturday with a much cooler Saturday night, so I knew I could get by in the hammock just fine. I also decided to go with my older Kelty external frame Super Tioga pack that I haven’t used since our Grand Canyon trip in 2012. Though I had it wrapped in two garbage bags, 4+ years in the basement took a little toll on the bag. It isn’t too far gone, but it needs some help for sure. For example, all the zippers need some wax or some kind of lubrication. The fabric is still strong, but the zippers only work well when you can get a clean zip line. Otherwise it tends to snag. There was also a mustiness to the bag, but I felt a weekend in the woods would help that.
For food, we get different parameters at play. While it wasn’t going to be a cold weekend, it was going to be cool enough that you can bring anything, and since it was only a long weekend, there is no point in suffering through dehydrated meals. Might as well have real food.So I packed Sausages with onions and peppers for Friday nights meal, and I brought along the remaining Raclette that I bought last January and used at The Mill, and at Colonel Denning SP. The theory behind the Raclette is to share that and in doing so buy favors into other peoples hauled in food. Miscellaneous foods for snacks and lunch and we were set.
The morning started off just fine. I hopped out of bed after a not so great sleep, and since I was all packed, it didn’t take long to load the truck, walk the dogs, and get on my way. I didn’t know it at the time, but I never packed my cup and bowl. Events soon to be described had me thinking I lost them somewhere else.
Andy was waiting for me, and after throwing his shit into my truck we were on the road. Did I mention beer? Because it was a weekend trip, we bring real beer. I bought a 6 pack, but Andy brought a 15 pack of Founders All Day IPA. I wasn’t too worried about it, as we were going to meet everyone, and surely we could help Andy pack all those cans into the woods.
I pulled out of the parking lot, crossed Newman Springs Road, and entered the Parkway. I attained highway speed, and merged out into the lanes of traffic, and settled in around 70 mph. I was just approaching the new exit work at 105 when I heard a loud “POP!” that sounded at first like I had run over something, but there wasn’t anything to have run over, and when I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw all the white steam trailing behind me. I knew right away that this was not good, and immediately pulled over and off the road where I turned off the engine. Raising the hood there was coolant everywhere, and the smell that hits your nose makes all the dirty wet gym socks for an entire team smell like roses. We weren’t going to make breakfast!
We started the ball rolling on getting towed, but before long, a NJ State Trooper drove up and called us in. There is only 1 company that has authorization for that stretch of the parkway, and he said it would be faster for him to call it in. Problem was he didn’t specify what was getting towed, so when the little truck showed, they had to call a bigger truck, so that delayed us further. I lined up my neighbor Elise to help me out. We would get towed to my garage in Little Silver (R&W Auto), where Elise would pick us up and take us back to Andy’s car at 109 where we would try again, this time with Andy at the wheel.
The total delay was 2 hours, but we were still headed for the woods, and it would be a great weekend. Fortunately for us, our mishap starting out was our only mishap, and we navigated to the trail-head via The PA Turnpike and Route 15. There was an RV on 15 that slowed us down, thus causing us to end up behind an Oil delivery vehicle while we ascended one of the ridge lines that stood between us and our destination, but that was a minor inconvenience.
We were about an hour behind our friends, and it was a beautiful day to hike. Warm (too warm for November), and sunny. We both changed into our hiking gear, I had chosen to bring my hiking kilt, and we loaded up the beers. At first I only took two of Andy’s beers thinking he would only pack 6 or 7, but he packed all 13 that were left. About halfway up the climb I relieved him of about 4 or 5 more, which made his trip a little better from there on in.
Our climb started off along Route 70 until it turned away to the North. A group of 3 ultra-marathon women in their 40’s overtook us, and I hiked the ascent with them for a while chatting about their plans to run the RFK 50 the next day, which included segments of the AT South of here, and maybe as far as Annapolis Rocks which is why they were out there walking it. After awhile I had to let them go off ahead and I sat down to wait for Andy, and then we continued on at his pace.
The trail so far had been wide and extremely well used and appeared to be engineered for abuse, so it was no surprise when we got to Annapolis Rocks that we found many many day hikers there. There is an official AT camp site there as well, and because it is so over used, PATC stations a full time care taker there in the summer months to keep an eye on the place and make sure people don’t trample or even camp in recovering areas. The view of the Cumberland Valley was spectacular. You could see for miles and miles and miles. This is actually the same valley that we looked over in May when we spent the weekend in Colonel Denning SP in Pennsylvania just Northeast of the easternmost tunnel on the turnpike.
It was hard to bypass the view even knowing that our friends awaited us. They had bypassed them because they wanted to make sure they got to Pogo early and got the best campsite, but for us, the best campsite had already been secured, so we took in the views. The next, and turns out last, view was Black Rocks. A little less visited because the round trip time as a day hike was a little more than some people will commit to, and also it isn’t as accessible as Annapolis Rocks. At Annapolis, you simply walk out on a huge expanse of exposed mountain rock, where as at Black Rock the rocks protrude out of the ground, and you have utilize some basic rock craft hand holds to get up onto a set. There we met a father and young son out for 3 day trip heading south. They stopped for some lunch and were catching rays. The dad was wearing a Craft base layer top which I pointed out was a great layer. “A gift” from someone he said, and I told him that was a very nice gift. Craft makes extremely decent clothing for active people.
We bade them fare-thee-well and descended the trail down to Pogo where our friends were waiting on us. It was an easy descent, and a little farther than I thought it would be, but at some point I could hear their voices off in the distance. Unbeknownst to me, they had all wagered on the over/under number of times I would say “Fuck” when I arrived, and that explains some of the looks I was getting from everyone as the clock ticked and we made our greetings, and told some shortened only slightly enhanced versions of the mornings vehicular breakdown. Not a single “Fuck” did I utter, and to tell you the truth, I just didn’t end up on that thread. No one picked 0, but clearly whoever chose the lowest number won.
Pogo is a HUGE camp site. In case the reader is unfamiliar with back-country camp sites, they are usually spread out over a large area, and that was true here. We grabbed the best of the sites, that was closest to the outhouse, and the creek (where we would be storing our hiked in beers). Pogo was apparently the site of a turn-of-the-century (20th) hotel that was accessible up Black Creek which had been a road before it was abandoned back to nature. A foundation wall of the old structure lines the AT. Fortunately we arrived early, and we got the best site. Wood was being gathered, and Andy and I set up our respective sleeping arrangements. I found two nice trees that weren’t too far from the fire, and strung my hammock between them. Big Orange (tarp) was then laid down and secured, and I was set. We then had to hike to the creek to dump our beers, while maintaining a few for our day hike back to Black Rocks.
The length of this narrative is getting on, and I feel like I should be wrapping it up soon. I will finish it up by finishing up our first day. With camp set up, we set off for Black Rocks where we arrived with about an hour of daylight left. It was still quite warm, and we enjoyed that last our of the setting sun eating cheese, crackers and salami snacks, while sharing some of our hoppy beverages. The setting sun was fantastically beautiful, with the humid atmosphere giving us that summer haze orange glow. When we were done, we used our head lamps to hike back to camp where we got the fire going, and started our preparations for dinner. We spent that evening into night doing what we usually do when we have a camp fire, beer, and other imbibable beverages. We talk, we tell stories (enhanced beyond imagination), we drink and we smoke, and that always makes a decent foundation for future stories.