The Keystone - Breaking open
Caledonia State Park PA -
Smithsburg MD, &
Caledonia State Park PA - Pine Grove
We've always intended to hike the nearby
AT sections on the odd weekend here, and couple days off there. With
the holiday season impending, it seems the appropriate time to break open the
Keystone state on a couple of overnight hikes. Though the state is
known for its sharp pointed rocks underfoot ("Pennsylvania - where
boots go to die", says National Geographics), this is mainly a problem on the northern
sections. We're psyched!
10/28 Caledonia State Park - Deer Lick Run Shelters
" The voyage of discovery is not in
seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
|Caledonia State Park is
our launch point, our car parked at the ranger's station about .6
mile from the trail (we're hiking this section southbound).
I drop Coleen and the packs
at the AT road-crossing before parking the car to walk back, on the
way stopping for a pix of a beautiful tree in the park as the sun
starts to break out). At 10:25, with clouds clearing rapidly
we climb for the ridgeline, finding the trail along the right side
of the ridge, with ramparts of stone towering to our left. Soon the
sky has completely cleared, and though most of the trees have shed
their leaves, the few still foliated are gorgeous against the
brilliant blue sky.
At noontime we find a convenient rock
for our sumptuous sandwich lunch (taking advantage of the short trip
and our light packs), topped off with Cadbury's chocolate. Sated
far beyond the AT norm we continue, passing a grand institutional
building off to the east, the South Mt. Restoration Center, which
older maps refer to as a sanitarium. There's quite a crowd here,
with busses waiting outside as if it's a tourist destination. After
some foliage pix here, we continue, arcing eastbound
to flank the center's south border. The woods are full of tall,
mature trees, but we pass several curious areas of massive
blowdowns, all trees uprooted in the same direction as if by some
mighty wind. The trail is full of weekenders,
occasionally stopping to chat, and finally we come on the
blue-blazed trail to the actual Chimney Rocks, where a rowdy group
of boy scouts are just packing up to leave.
||It's a beautiful rock
formation and overlook, and we take some pix here, with me getting
quite adept at setting the camera's timer and getting atop the rocks
within the allowed 12 sec. Our short break has become almost an
hour, so we pick up the pace, bound for Deer Lick Run
shelters for the night. Leaving the ridge we pass the Tumbling Run
shelters (the traditional southern PA double shelters, a
configuration we've not seen, and have yet to understand). The
scouts from Chimney Rocks are encamped all about the
shelters, with the leaders inside, but they quickly offer to vacate
one of them for our benefit. We're just stopping to read the
register, but they clear a place anyway for a lady behind us coming
here for the night (whom we passed at Rocky Mt. shelters).
|Stop and smell the roses?
|The path descends steeply to the
historical Antietam Creek (site of one of the bloodiest, if
inconclusive, battles of the Civil War) Here we find the
next shelter - it's in a small town area, containing a small park,
beautiful view of the creek out front, though it might be a mosquito
breeding pond in the summer (it has a high-water path around, so it
must flood occasionally). |
Dark is fast approaching, so we
promptly climb South Mt towards the shelters, passing
Mother Goose and her two dogs as we do. We cover the 2.4 miles in an
hour exactly, suddenly coming on the privy and the shelters, which
the trail bisects. Unlike the Tumbling Run counterparts, these two
shelters face away from each other and lack the varnished floors,
but they're clean, unclaimed, and more than adequate for our stay.
With the dry leaves around, fire starting is easy, and we pull over the
picnic table close by the fire pit for dinner.
We dine al
fresco in the fading twilight, and as night falls we huddle near the
fire for warmth, listening to Prairie Home Companion on the radio.
The stars are brilliant as we relax over cocoa, and I listen to the
Halloween fare, the station playing music with Halloween title
themes, and some cute comedic bits interspersed. Coleen is
mesmerized by the fire, but gets cold quickly and retreats to her
sleeping bag, where I join her soon, turning in at 9:30.
10/29 Deer Lick Run - Wolfsville Rd MD (14.1
miles)Overnight we gain an hour with
the change to standard time, and it seems a long night even before
this. I'm in an endless rotation of short naps between position
changes, although it sounds as though Coleen's sleeping well. We
finally get up at 06:00 on hearing a hoot owl and seeing first
light. There's a chill in the air, but none of our water bottles are
frozen (her washcloth is, though). After oatmeal and coffee we delay
to get pix of the shelters as the sun creeps over the horizon (it's
the tidiest we've ever occupied a shelter in my memory). It takes
forever in the cold, but finally we get our light and hit the trail,
which unfortunately takes us level or downhill at this time when we
really need to warm up. Worse, the wind, which had calmed last
night, rose again this morning, rotating around to a headwind. We
pass Bailey Spring, with an unusual small, decrepit shelter built
over it, perhaps to keep the snow off.
"But the darkness has passed, and it's
daylight at last, and the night has been long--ditto ditto my
song--and thank goodness they're both of them over!"
& Sullivan - Ilolanthe
|The traditional southern PA "His
& Hers" shelters. Undoubtedly the tidiest we've stayed yet.
|Soon we hop over Dunlop
Mt. - a welcome climb for warmth. On the other side, we enter the
outskirts of town, passing several ramshackle homes before reaching
the Mason-Dixon line, our entry point into MD. Within minutes we
emerge to a beautiful overlook at Penn Mar state park, having made
great time; and we take our am break here, once we find an area out
of the wind. After some pix
(there's a beautiful sunset pavilion and a sign showing the mileage
to Springer and Katahdin) we hit the trail again, here an easily
trodden road, remnant of the tourist complex here that once
hosted 15,000 Lutherans for a picnic.
The trail turns back
into the woods, where we resume the annoyingly loud crunching of the
leaves (hard to believe, but this really grates after a few hours,
preventing all hope of seeing wildlife save the hundreds of
chipmunks around). At the base of Quirauk Mtn a pair of day hikers
are nursing wounds suffered at the hands of the slick leaves in
the steep descent. At the top we find Nightingale and
Gorp-Hater, a pair of section hikers like ourselves, though not
quite so far along. We chat for quite a while, finding they're from
Pittsburgh, with her a nurse like Coleen, but limited to weekend
hikes. We have to be going though (besides, we're getting cold
fast), and we head south on the trail, passing up the blue-blazed
trail to High Rock (a haven for hang-gliders, but not with today's
||After Devil's Racecourse
shelter, a trail relo takes us over the beautiful Raven Rocks.
They're an outcropping overlooking the opposite slope, where the
yellow foliage in the tree tops (just catching the setting sun)
stands in stark contrast to the black forest beneath. Resuming the
steep descent, we cross MD 491, the autumnal solitude split by the
roar of a pickup with huge wheels and no muffler - his din can be
heard for most of the next hour. By now we're counting down the miles
to the car, each landmark spurring us onward.
We soon emerging at the
powerline right of way for a stunning view and our last landmark. It's spectacular, but
our elation is dampened to realize the trail does an
about-face, marching straight up the slope behind us. It's a cruel
joke by the trail-makers, as our destination lies but a short
distance ahead, but we have to forge on up the impossibly steep
slope nonetheless. Once atop, it follows the ridge crest back over
to the next crossing of the powerline, this time returning on course
down a gravel road. It's a short walk through the woods,
past the new shelter, finding the trail to the parking area just ahead.
Our chariot awaits.
11/28 Caledonia State Park - Birch Run Shelters (10
hike, this one we've planned to hike north from Caledonia to Pine
Grove Furnace. As I walk from our parked car to join Coleen at the
trailhead, two deer leap across the road just in front
of her, a quick reminder that it's the 2nd day of deer season here.
We mount up and hit the
trail (11:38), remarking to each other how wonderful it is hiking
through state and national parks. Caledonia is a beautiful park, replete
with conifers and streams, but all too soon we're leaving, with a welcome
opening climb warming us up before the ridge walk. Typical of PA
it's a great trail with minimal elevation change, and we pass large
rhododendron groves followed by thickets of mountain laurel.
Welcome, O life!
I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience
forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
|In an hour we arrive at
the Quarry Gap shelters, the most picturesque shelters I've seen on
the AT yet. They're traditional PA twin shelters, though joined by
an awning covering the dining area between, and each is extremely
clean and well-sealed against the elements. Sitting here is Odin,
about to complete his flip-flop on arrival at Front Royal. After
profuse congratulations we chat a few minutes,
seeing in the register a note from Spike which indicates they're
still on the trail (we later find that we just missed Aimless &
Sirocco heading south, who we met in Erwin, TN).
|The hunters are out en masse and
soon we pass a beautiful pine grove, followed by a burn area equally
beautiful in its simplicity - the understory gone, leaving only the
ground cover and the taller rebuilding trees. During our pm break, I
find we've left the map behind in the car - a setback, though the
trail is well-marked, and we've enough memory of the details to have
a good idea of our progress. Descending off the ridge, we
pass the locked Milesburn Cabin, with a sign indicating we've 2.36
miles to go to the Birch Run shelters, our planned stop. |
We do this in just
under an hour, although the 1st shelter appears occupied by a hunter
huddled in his sleeping bag, his dog aside. He barely waves as we
pass on to the 2nd shelter (far less level, but fine), where my
priority is finding firewood before dark falls. It's a
challenge, but soon we have a modest pile, and I
get a fire going despite the blustery wind (though it frequently
blows smoke into our shelter). As dinner's finishing, our neighbor
drops by, and we find he's Amtrak (with dog Hayden), finishing his
flip-flop in Harper's Ferry. They started Apr 15, having hiked some
with Odin, though he can't recall Spike and Caveman. We chat
around the fire for a bit, and Hayden makes his best attempts at
foraging food, to which we eventually succumb.
back over for his own dinner, and we get cold fast.
Our new Nuptse jackets
keep our torso's warm, but don't help much for legs and hands. We
have some soup, and turn in before its heat wears off, with me
taking journal notes while Coleen tries to adjust her sleeping bags
for warmth. I have more success than she, but when I head back
outdoors to drain the water bag, I'm shivering instantly. I hurry
back to the sleeping bag, with lights out at 8:30.
11/29 Birch Run Shelters - Pine Grove Furnace SP (10
"Have you swept the visioned valley - with
the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for
a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God's sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the
lesson, pay the cost."
Robert Service - The Call of the
||I got some reasonable
sleep during the night (I recall quite a few dreams), though all of
it in short shifts. Coleen never quite got toasty, and my down
jacket over her feet ultimately ended up on the ground outside the
shelter. We're up at 06:45 as it gradually turns light, and I get
the water started promptly (it's not frozen). Just as it boils,
Coleen accidentally kicks over the pot, forcing us to restart, but
soon we're eating. As we do, I see Amtrak and Hayden heading out
stealthily (a disappointment - I wanted a pix), so I yell a
farewell, and with a wave they're gone. The register has an entry
from the 3 Amigos showing that Red Horse is leaving them at Harper's
Ferry, and that they've all just had a good cry over it (we're sorry
to hear it as well). |
|"His & Hers" shelters for couples
in marital distress |
|It's a chilly start, and
we're both glad for the 1st uphill to warm us a bit (there's a light
frosting in the shaded areas). At Shippensburg Road we find a
bulletin board with a map, and as we stand memorizing it, a husky
gent pulls up in an SUV to warn us about the dangers of walking in
anything other than orange (in spite of our bright red bandana's
draped over our packs).
After appropriate remorse, we continue
under cloudless skies, though the trail is featureless save one small,
recovering burn area we pass. There's a few minor PUDS, and soon
we're at the Tom's Run shelters for our am break. As we write in the
register a hunter pulls up, waiting here for his uncle. We chat of
the place's reputation as a POW camp in WWII, and of the shooting of
two lesbians as they consummated their relationship here in 1988.
His uncle arrives soon and joins the conversation, having met Earl
Schaeffer (1st AT thru-hiker) as he hiked through on a repeat hike a
few years ago. We have to pry ourselves away, but we're making good
time, and soon enter a community of summer cottages that marks the
park boundary. From here it's a short walk to a waiting car that
signals the end of our short adventure and our completion of a full
quarter of the trail. Katahdin in 2003!!
|Pine Grove Furnace, a historic
munitions factory near the halfway point on the trail.