Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter Backpack

Hiking in the Dead of the Year

For a few years now, I have been wanting to get out on the trail during the winter months.  Not for anything too long.  Just to experience the challenges that hiking in the colder, darker time of the year present.  

In February of 2016, I went out and spent the night up on the trail.  There was a lot of snow and I used the road to get near my camping spot instead of the trail, since that would have been a lot of post holing, but I had just hurt my back that day shoveling snow at the Museum (which would be the beginning of a months long back issue) and I was hurting some.  I set up a very small backpack tent on about eight inches of packed snow and spent the night.  It was fun, but there was no trail hiking involved and it was only one night.

This year, I decided to head out after the New Year and do a Yo-Yo of the state of Maryland.  After heading out on Jan 2nd in six degree weather, I ended up hiking about 4.6 miles before heading back to the truck.  It just seemed a little more dangerous than I was willing to risk. That plan evolved into a four day, 45.7 mile trip that covered most of MD and let me spend a night in Harpers Ferry.  This is an account of that trip.

20 degrees warmer, but still below zero

1.  Date: Skysday, Afteryule 18
2.  Day 1
3.  Morning temp: 26 (Noon)
4.  Weather: snow, sleet
5.  Time start: 1206
6.  Time stop and miles: 1531/6.8
7.  End point: Rocky Run shelter
After heading back to PA to pay my respects to my Uncle and cousins after the passing of my Aunt, I spent the night at my brother's house up in East Brady, PA. I woke up around 06, even after staying up way too late and drinking way too many beers. After laying around until after 07, I got packed and hit the road before 08. 

I felt good as I made my way down Tom's snowy driveway as snow, mixed with sleet ticked off my windshield.  It was a three and a half hour drive to the trailhead.

The snow stayed with me until I moved over a ridge, then was dry until I pulled into the parking lot. Large flakes were falling still mixed with the sleet.

I grabbed my pack and headed to the trailhead.  I felt cold at first after being in the warm car for over 3 hours and was doubting my decision to start the hike without my base layer on, but realized I had chosen wisely as I warmed up after a few uphills. 

The trail here is really nice and I ambled along at my usual pace.  Before too long I came to the Washington Monument and checked it out. 

Frosty Washington Monument

No water at the pump, which would be the theme of the day. Still too cold for even the frost free faucets. 

Next was the Dahlgren church and Turners Gap.  I entered the area of the civil war battle of South Mountain and checked out some of the info plaques along the way.

The Battle of Fox's Gap

No water at Dahlgren Camp, but I was doing fine with my two liters and still had plenty when I rolled into camp with an armload of firewood.

I set up the hammock, checked the spring, which was flowing nice and gathered some more firewood. 

Rocky Run shelter

I ate dinner and then made a fire as dark settled into the woods  After I burned all the wood I had gathered and processed, I headed to the hammock.  I had put my neo air in between my layers of my hammock, but it wasn't comfortable. It swings out of the way or something. I deflated it, but left it and the space blanket in place. I'm sorta warm, but can feel some cold spots below me. I have most of my clothes on and lots of things in my pockets to keep them from freezing.  We will see how the night goes.

Heading Into Town

1.  Date: Seasday, Afteryule 19
2.  Day 2
3.  Morning temp: 20s
4.  Weather: clear, cold
5.  Time start: 0738
6.  Time stop and miles: 1525/16.6
7.  End point: Harpers Ferry - Towns Inn
I slept pretty warm last night. A few times I recall waking up feeling down right toasty. But, alas, after almost 12 hours in the hammock, it was time to roll out and start the day. I started the day in the dark as I started packing up. There was a nice coating of ice on the rocks and it still felt like it was below freezing.  I was on the trail a little after 0730.  

A cold sunrise

The day started with a climb of course, that warmed me up fine. I made my way past remembered waypoints from past hikes and stopped for lunch at the Garvey shelter. The day had been warming up and it was very pleasant sitting at the shelter.

A woman (Jersey Badger) and her dog Shadow came by and we talked a bit. I was seeing more people today. Mostly day hikers and dog walkers. I met a guy at Weverton Cliffs that is planning a Thru this year. 

Classic view from Weverton Cliffs

I made my way down off the ridge and walked the C & O path for a couple miles before crossing the bridge into town.  

I found the Hostel and secured a bunk. It is an interesting place in an old building. 

Town's Inn Hostel and Cafe

I walked up to the ATC for a visit and talked with Mountain Laurel for a while before coming back to the hostel, showering and then having a good dinner.

I earned a free breakfast by carrying some wood pellets and rock salt up to the second floor for the owner. I am tired and sore from the day, but I did the chore no problem.

After dinner at the Inn's Cafe, I took it easy in the Hostel living area and hit the bunk around 2000.  

Tomorrow I will retrace my steps back to Rocky Run for one more night outside.

Heading Back North

1.  Date: Earthsday, Afteryule 20
2.  Day 3
3.  Morning temp: 26
4.  Weather: cold, overcast
5.  Time start: 0710
6.  Time stop and miles: 1556/17.3
7.  End point: Dahlgren camp
I slept good in the bunk in the Towns Inn Hostel.  It is a unique place amd I enjoyed my stay. Hasmig the cook and Karen the owner were fun to talk to. 

I ate my earned breakfast and then hit the road/trail.  It was a chill morning and the wind coming off of the river was biting cold. I got across and onto the towpath and the wind wasn't so bad. 

After the C & O, the big climb of the day is up to Weverton Cliffs. I made my way up slowly and started along the ridge. I stopped in at the Ed Garvey shelter and met a few hikers. Two I had seen yesterday. Before that I had met a hiker with a small dog who said he had done 3800 miles so far and had no food or money. I had some cheese in my pocket, so I pulled it out and gave it to him. 

Moving along I leapfrogged the other hikers a couple of times and stopped at Crampton gap for lunch. 

War Correspondents Memorial - Crampton Gap

I was making good time and my feet felt ok, so when I got to Rocky Run at 1420 I decided to go to Dahlgren after getting water. 

I arrived with some daylight left and set up. A fire, some good dinner and then to bed.

Dahlgren Campground

Tomorrow I finish.

Winter Backpack Complete (January Edition)

1.  Date: Starsday, Afteryule 21
2.  Day 4
3.  Morning temp: 30s
4.  Weather: calm, overcast
5.  Time start: 0725
6.  Time stop and miles: 1002/5
7.  End point: Rt 70 overpass

I was warm again during the night and was ready to roll out a little after 06. It was going to be a short day.  I took my time breaking up camp as a dim light slowly moved into the campground.  As I sat at the table heating water for my morning coffee, a Red Tailed Hawk screamed and slowly flew past me at the height of the nearby trees.  It was a very peaceful sight.  

I was all packed up, fed and ready to go before 0730 and I continued along the path I had walked a few days before.  The last five miles were nice and easy and I made good progress.

I took a few detours along the way to see things that I had not seen before in my hikes by here, like the miniature Washington Monument that sits at the entrance to the real thing just up the road.  When I checked the pump once again at the Monument area, it was now working.

Small replica of what is up the hill some.

Before I knew it, I was walking up the blue blaze towards the parking lot as the AT continues northward.  I threw my gear into the truck and started it up.  I headed to the nearby McDonald's for a second breakfast, then it was an hour or so until I was home again, putting my gear down in the basement "gear area" as I start thinking about what to do next.

I'm hoping to get out every month this year for at least an overnight.  I need my Outsider time.  It has become very important to my continued sanity and happiness.  

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