Backpacking, Hiking, Life

Backpacking to Harpers Ferry on the Appalachian Trail

I told you we are hooked! We sprung for a full weekend backpacking trip instead of just an overnight and we conquered around 17.5 miles mostly on Saturday and Sunday due to a late start on Friday. Ideally we would have hiked from the I-70 AT trailhead but that would have been 7 miles night one and we just didn’t have the daylight to accomplish that. So the plan was to leave at 3:40ish from Brady’s work, drive both cars out to Harpers Ferry, park and then take one car up to Washington Monument State Park and then start the hike from there. That would have gotten us there by at least 5:30 pm and been just under a 4 mile hike to the shelter for our first night. 

That was the plan. 

Hanna, my sister, was going to come with us for her first backpacking adventure and sleep in our tent while Brady and I were going to try hammock camping. We were expecting 2 Amazon packages to arrive that afternoon containing the second hammock, the tarp, and two 64 oz Sawyer squeeze bags for our water filter. Usually it gets delivered between 2:30 and 3:30 but we were still waiting on it to arrive once Brady got off work so we decided to delay for a little while and hope it came before we left. We played a card game and when it still hadn’t come, we decided to just go knowing it would probably get delivered a few minutes after we left. As we were walking to the door with all our stuff, guess what was delivered! 

Finally we were on our way but since we were leaving later, we knew we were going to be dealing with heavier traffic trying to get out there. We arrived in Harpers Ferry around 6:30 but the signage for where to park was very unclear. We ended up parking at the Cavalier Heights Visitor Center but even that was frustrating because signs said we needed to pay and you could only park overnight with a permit… but there was no one there to pay! We ended up finally leaving at 7, without paying, to drive the 30 minutes up to our start point. Since we were only going to have 1 hour til sunset, we parked on Reno Monument Road in a small dirt lot and started the mile hike in towards Rocky Run Shelter.

 

When we got there, all the spots near the new shelter were full so we went down the hill towards the spring where there was a clearing and a great spot for us to set up. Hanna set up the tent and then started making her dinner while we worked on the hammocks. A group of teenage backpacking boy scouts came in and set up in the same area right at sunset which was a bit of a bummer considering it was a nice quiet area we were in. By the time we’d eaten and gotten everything cleaned up, it was already 10:30 so we went to bed. I didn’t sleep amazingly the first night but I slept so much better than I did on the ground when backpacking the weekend before.

I woke up around 6:30 on Saturday morning but Brady wasn’t in the mood to get up so I just creeped on the boy scout conversations from my hammock until 7:30 when I made the family “cooo-eeee” call to my sister. I didn’t think she’d heard me but a few minutes later there she was going, “did you cooo-ee me?” lol. We filtered water from the spring which was right next to us and we finally started to tear down after we’d finished our oatmeal and hot chocolate breakfast. We didn’t leave camp until almost 10:30 and by that point everyone else had already left.

 

 

Leaving rocky run was straight uphill. I think we spent the first 30-45 minutes of the hike just going straight up. The first half of the 750 ft elevation increase felt like walking up a ladder so we had to stop a couple times for water to replace all the water I was sweating out. Yuck. Eventually the trail leveled out and we were mostly hiking along the ridgeline. We reached White Rock about 2 miles into the hike and had a quick snack by the view before trekking on. We passed a number of people who must have been either thru-hiking or backpacking a longer section because there was often a smelly cloud that traveled with them

 

 

 

The last section of trail heading into Gathland State Park was a fairly steep decline and was killer on my knees. Just before we reached the clearing, a loud explosion went off that made me almost jump full off the trail and give me a heart attack. If my knees weren’t shaking before, they were now. It turns out that it was a cannon in the state park near the pavilion where we stopped to have lunch. This was the halfway point of our hike for the day and we knew that most people headed south were stopping at the same shelter area that night. We didn’t want the leftover camping spots that night so to beat out the 2 groups stopped for lunch, we didn’t linger after we ate.

Over the next couple hours we shared stories about family hikes we’d done in the past, stories of silly things we did as kids, and just enjoyed hiking together. A lot of the trail at this point was following along next to a large rocky wall that probably would have been fun to explore if we were on just a day hike. 

 

We reached the Ed Garvey shelter a little after 3 pm for a 9.2 mile hiking time of 4 hours and 45 minutes including breaks. We did some exploring to find the right spot for the night and settled on an area right next the shelter on the north side. It was nice having a large log to act as our chairs and one of the first things I did was take off my shoes! I’d had a blister forming on my left pinky toe for the last hour or two so it was great to have naked feet. All I wanted to do at this point was lay down in the hammock.

We didn’t have much of an issue with bugs the first night but there was an overabundance of them at this shelter. I was getting eaten alive so we also strung up my bug net. 

To get to the spring at this shelter, you basically had to hike down the side of the mountain almost half a mile on a steep trail. We took all our water bottles and all the filter bags and came back with everything full so we wouldn’t have to go down again before leaving the next morning. I sat and filtered almost 6 liters of water next to the spring before we hiked back up and it ended up being an hour long excursion by the time we got back to camp.

 

 

Dinner was a bowlful of steaming hot Spanish rice and then it was time to hang the bear bag. Hanna wanted to watch the sunset from Weverton Cliffs but I had to make a judgment call… As much as I love chasing sunsets, I knew it was at least 4 miles round trip and I really didn’t want to irritate the growing blister on my toe so I had to say no. I mean I’d already taken 32,000 steps! Here are a couple of the photos she took though. <3 <3 <3

 

 

Sunday was going to be a hotter day than Saturday with temperatures well into the 90s so instead of taking the time to cook breakfast, we just packed up quick and ate from our snack reserves knowing we’d probably snack again once we reached Weverton Cliffs. Once we reached the cliffs, I think we spent at least an hour just relaxing and soaking in the views. I think we lingered a little extra knowing we had a steep hike down to the C&O canal below.

 

 

When you reach the canal, it’s almost 4 miles to Harpers Ferry on a flat gravel path that runs between the railroad and the Potomac River. We walked down to the water at one point which was a beautiful temperature, but we were all tired and ready to be off our feet so it was hard to think about enjoying the water though it was extremely tempting. We saw a lot of people out tubing on the river which looks like so much fun and is now on my bucket list for this summer.

All along I was thinking that the flat section would be the easiest and most relieving to hike but boy was I wrong. It’s long and flat so since you’re no longer focused on footing, it becomes dull and even harder on your feet. It was after 1 pm by the time we were crossing the bridge into Harpers Ferry and our focus was getting some ice cream to cool down!

 

 

We grabbed some Turkey Hill ice cream – I got black raspberry and cotton candy – and then walked up to the shuttle that takes you up to the visitor center so you don’t have to walk an extra 2 miles after having already hiked 6 and a half. Most of Harpers Ferry and the surrounding area is a national park and it would be so much fun to spend a day exploring and hiking… just not on tired feet. 

We picked up Brady’s car and while we were driving back to mine, we were looking up at the mountains and realizing… wow, we just hiked all of this! It was a pretty crazy feeling. We picked up my car and on the way back to I-70 I recognized South Mountain Creamery from the weekend before and decided we had to stop for some homemade goodness! Some grasshopper mint and lemon meringue hit the spot.

In the end, we hiked at least 17.5 miles (Hanna an extra 4.5) and came back itchy from mosquito bites, exhausted, and happy from a great weekend in the woods. 

 

 

What did you do this weekend?

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