Week 11- the Roller Coaster, Harpers Ferry, and Maryland

Day 71

Possibly because of the low mileage day or the coffee I drank yesterday I had a really hard time getting to sleep, and was laying in my quilt wide awake for over four hours until I finally drifted off sometime after midnight. Because of that I was pretty groggy when I woke up at 6, and felt more tired starting this day’s hiking than I had felt at the end of the previous day. It was still steadily raining when I got going, and the temperature had cooled off about ten degrees over night, which meant that the day was going to stay in the 40’s. Amazingly it has taken 950 miles on trail for me to experience more than one day in a row of rain, that must be some sort of AT good luck record. After 7 miles I paused at the Elkwallow wayside for some snacks and a big cup of coffee to try and pep me up. Yes I know that coffee was likely the cause of my sleeplessness and current tiredness, but I was feeling the need for some caffeine to get through the day. In the cold rain I was looking forward to the two climbs of the day, and I powered through them to generate some warmth under my rain gear. Unfortunately, at the top of these climbs the wind was blowing harder than at the lower elevations and would quickly cool me off again, and I felt pretty chilled as I spent most of the afternoon descending off the ridge top. My goal for the day was originally going to be to make it to the first shelter outside of the Shenandoahs, but after my rain gear wetted out and I started to feel cold, I decided to push another three miles to make it into the town of Front Royal for the night. Despite the rain and cold I was in a pretty good mood, which I’ve noticed is the most important factor for how my days go out here. Regardless of the weather or terrain, my mood has definitely been what dictates how my hiking goes and if I look back on the day positively or not. Hopefully I’ll be able to crack the secret and figure out how to only have a positive mindset out here for the rest of the trail… if only that were possible. As I passed the northern boundary of the Shenandoahs I was slightly bummed that I hadn’t managed to see a black bear while in the park. I had read that they were pretty common in the area and some previous thru hikers had told me that I was almost guaranteed to see one while in the park, but hopefully I’ll still be able to spot one in the future. The trail was pretty easy as it continued downhill, with only one small rocky climb immediately after leaving the boundary of the park. Of course it was on this rocky section that my feet slipped and flew out from under me landing me flat on my back faster than I could realize what happened. My pack saved the day, providing a nice soft landing from what would otherwise have been a hard fall right on my back. I picked myself up and continued on, fording a stream that had overflowed its banks from all the rain.

This creek usually has stepping stones that you can cross on, but they were way under water when I splashed through

My shoes were already soaked through so I didn’t care about having to walk through the water. Gradually the forest changed to grass and a neighborhood started to border the trail, and a few minutes later I popped out next to the road. I had just finished a 26.5 mile day, my new record. I’ve always thought that running a marathon sounded awful, but here I was hiking more than a marathon in under 11 hours, a pretty solid accomplishment in my opinion. My ride into Front Royal appeared a couple minutes later and I was very glad to be able to dry off and get warm in town for the night.

Day 72

After a fairly hectic morning of getting a resupply from a gas station and cleaning all my gear, I was back on trail under a gray but much drier sky. The trail was fairly easy, with the exception of the many creeks and springs that were still swollen from the rain, and kept my feet wet all day. I bumped into some trail magic in the early afternoon and paused for a while to talk to the former hikers. While I was sitting there another thru hiker who I hadn’t met before appeared, and we ended up hiking the rest of the day together, which was a nice change from my usually solo hiking days. We came across a note card in the middle of the trail pointing us to a Yellow Lady’s Slipper flower.

Orchids don’t just grow in the tropics!

I’d only ever seen Pink Lady’s Slippers before, so it was cool to grab a couple pictures of the yellow version of the orchid. We pulled into Whiskey Hollow Shelter around 6, and I quickly threw down my sleeping pad and quilt before making dinner and heading to bed.

Day 73

In the morning I started packing up and brought down my closed backpack from where it had been hanging on the wall. When I reached inside I brought out a ball of fluffy bark and damp toilet paper. This gave me a bad hunch that was quickly confirmed as I peered into my bag and saw a mouse hauling itself up the inside of the bag toward me. I quickly went outside the shelter and shook the mouse and it’s nest out before looking at my gear. The mouse had chewed holes in my pack liner and one of my pairs of socks, very uncool! After getting packed up the first part of the morning was mostly easy downhill, but parts off the trail were still covered in water from the recent rains, and my feet got soaked repeatedly. My damp feet started feeling uncomfortable so I paused for an early lunch to let my shoes attempt to dry out. After lunch I started the Roller Coaster, an infamous section of trail that climbs straight up and back down a series of 11 short but sometimes steep and rocky hills. No flat trail in this section!

At the start of the coaster, just getting buckled in for my ride.

I bumped into some former hikers offering trail magic and grabbed a quick soda before continuing on, because a big mile marker was just around the corner. After less than half a mile I passed the 1000 mile marker and stopped for pictures before continuing on.

Wowza, 1000 miles walked!

1000 miles feels like a pretty big accomplishment, but I’m honestly more excited to get to West Virginia than I was for 1000 miles. The last big mile marker was only 100 miles ago, while the last state crossing was over 500, so reaching West Virginia feels more exciting right now. After a few more hills my feet were feeling pretty sore from the non-stop rocks so I set up camp next to a creek and settled in for the night.

Day 74

I woke up with my feet feeling less sore and set out to finish the roller coaster. The final hills of the roller coaster didn’t feel as steep as the ones from the day before, and pretty soon I passed the Virginia/West Virginia state line.

Finally out of Virginia!

After over 500 hundred miles I was done with Virginia! This was a very exciting state line to cross. As I finished another descent and started climbing again I came across the sign showing the start of the roller coaster for southbounders, which meant that my ride was over. The roller coaster isn’t too bad, a little rocky, but the climbs are nothing compared to some others I’ve done on the trail so far. The rest of the day was fairly flat but still frustratingly rocky, and I took more than a few painful steps on rough rocks. I talked with a couple former hikers providing trail magic and met a few south bound flip-floppers who were just getting started on their hikes before I finished the last couple miles and set up camp for the night.

Day 75

I got out of camp at a good time and started the last 3.5 miles into Harpers Ferry. The trail was mostly downhill but the rocks made me go slower than I would’ve liked, especially when thinking about the tasty lunch I was going to get in town. Eventually the Shenandoah River came into view, and then I wound my way down to it and finally over it.

The wide Shenandoah River

The River was very pretty and wide, and tons of cars were zooming over the bridge as I crossed it, enjoying the nice view. I followed the blazes across the bridge and up one final hill before taking a side trail to the Appalachian Trail Headquarters, where I got my picture taken and became nobo number 164 to have made it to Harpers Ferry this year.

Getting your picture taken in front of the ATC headquarters is a thru hiker tradition

I had a good time looking at the the exhibits and the other hiker pictures in the large photo album before heading to a cafe for some food. I enjoyed a sandwich and pastries and then headed to the town outfitter for a quick resupply before I kept walking out of town. The trail out of Harpers Ferry crossed another large bridge over the Potomac River, and even though there wasn’t a sign I celebrated leaving West Virginia and entering Maryland. Another state done, and West Virginia was a short one! The trail turned and merged with the flat and pea gravel covered C&O towpath for four nice and easy miles. The towpath had the Potomac on one side and nice swamp on the other, so there was plenty to look at as I walked along, including lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs. Eventually the trail split from the towpath and headed uphill before reaching a mostly flat ridge top. I paused at Gathland State Park to grab some water and looked at the cool historic building ruins from the civil war before continuing on.

There were some ruins and this interesting memorial in the park

The last climb of the day was fairly gradual before heading down to Rocky Run shelter where I ended my twenty mile day. There were a bunch of new faces there that I chatted with before settling down in the spacious and clean shelter for the night.

Day 76

The morning was lovely and cool as I started out hiking, but it quickly started warming up as the day went on. The trail led upward for a while to the original Washington Monument, which was much shorter and less impressive than the obelisk in DC although it did have a nice view from the top.

The original monument built in 1827, kind of an odd shape

The rest of the day was a little boring to be honest. The trail was still fairly rocky and hurt my feet, but there weren’t any significant climbs or descents to break up the day. I took long lunch at a shelter and watched the squirrels, bees, and hummingbirds explore the shelter while I was there. There were a lot of day hikers and even a couple youth groups out on the trail, and I spent a lot of time leap frogging people as the day went on. Towards the end of the day I slowly made my way up one final climb before reaching Raven Rock Shelter where I enjoyed the light breeze blowing through my tent as I fell asleep.

Day 77

I slept in a little bit this morning knowing that only had 7 miles to do before I’d grab a shuttle back to Harpers Ferry for the weekend while my mom and grandma came to visit. I lounged in my quilt for a little while before packing up and heading out into a drizzly morning. Despite the light rain the temperature was warm enough that I didn’t bother to put on my rain jacket, because it would’ve made me sweatier and stickier than just letting the drizzle land on me. The terrain was pretty easy, and I enjoyed the misty forest views as I wound my way up to Pen-Mar park and the Mason-Dixon Line, where I entered Pennsylvania.

The word “Pennsylvania” is so long and my arms are so short I could barely get my head and the whole sign into the picture

 After spending so long in Virginia, getting through the next two states so quickly feels wild and almost too fast. Good thing I know I’ll be slogging through the rocks of Pennsylvania for at least a couple weeks. I got to my road crossing pretty early, so I decided to do a one mile road walk to a nearby diner. The road walk went across a large wetland preserve that was super cool and different than the forest views I normally get, I wish the actual trail could’ve gone through that area. Lunch at the diner was very tasty, and at the end of my meal the waitress told me my food was covered and didn’t let me pay, which I was surprised and very grateful for. I headed back to the trail and caught my shuttle ride back to Harpers Ferry, where I got into the hotel and took my first shower in six days (which I had really been looking forward to). Once my mom and grandma arrived we headed into town for dinner at the Rabbit Hole restaurant, which was just as delicious as I’d heard it would be. Full and happy to be with some family, I headed back to the nice hotel bed for the night.

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Comments 1

  • Donald Spring : May 14th

    Best of luck on the rest of your journey,
    I hiked from springer to Shenandoah national Park in 1980.
    Hoping to do a complete thru hike within the next 2 years

    Reply

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