Sunday, January 24, 2010

Snickers Gap to Keys Gap--14 miles on the VA/WV Appalachian Trail

Yesterday, we hiked 14 miles, mostly on the Appalachian Trail (AT), near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  The weather forecast for the day was sunny and 40 degrees - perfect for winter hiking.  Although snow had been forecast on Thursday, on the drive up to Keys Gap, it didn't look like the area received more than a dusting.  At Key's Gap, though, the trees and the parking lot were covered in ice.  We met our friend there just after nine, climbed in her car and headed south to Snickers Gap, where we met up with another friend.  The Snickers Gap parking lot condition was similar, giving me the opportunity to take a few pictures before we even got started on the trail.

We had to walk a short way down highway seven to get to the Appalachian Trail.  We made a right turn onto the trail and started walking towards our car, 13.5 miles north.  The trail was covered in about an inch of ice and old snow, making my microspikes useful once again.  The trees were all coated in a few millimeters of ice, making them shine in the bright sun. The first part of the hike is somewhat hilly, with a couple of quick up and downs.  We crossed a couple of old rock slides that had streams running under them.  It is pretty neat to stand on what appears to be a dry pile of rocks and hear a fairly large stream flowing under your feet.  We took a break for lunch at Crescent Rocks, where we met a Boy Scout troop hiking in preparation for Philmont.  It was warm enough in the sun to sit without putting on an extra jacket.  Looking out over the valley, the forest shone silver from the ice.  

After lunch, we picked up the pace a little and made our way along the ridgeline to the junction with the trail to the Blackburn Trail Center, 7.5 miles from where we started.  On our way we ran into a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) trail maintainer out to clear blowdowns. We took the time to thank him for the hard work that he does.  Around 1:30 p.m., we arrived at the Trail Center, a hostel, shelter, and campground all rolled into one a quarter of a mile below the AT.  There were some younger boy scouts at the shelter who offered to cook us lunch and seemed rather disappointed when we said we had already eaten.  Apparently, they were working on their cooking badges.

Back on the AT, we had six more miles to go.  The ice had melted off most of the trees and the snow was melting on the south-facing slopes of the hills, but the north slopes were still covered in solid ice.  We took another quick break at David Lesser Shelter, which is one of the nicer trail shelters that I have seen.  We ran into two more PATC volunteers who were the maintainers for that shelter.  Again, many thanks to the volunteers that do the hard work to keep trails and facilities open.

We made it back to our car in 6 hours and 45 minutes.  Considering the ice and the distance, not a bad day at all.

Ice-covered branches in the Snickers Gap parking lot.
Grass coated with ice.
Mountain Laurel leaves coated with ice.
Ice covered trees in an old rock slide.
Crossing into West Virginia.
The ice makes the forest look like it is made out of crystal.  Crescent Rocks.
A frozen twig.
The Appalachian Trail.
A frozen pond near Route 9.


  1. Thanks for your blog entry. I'm attempting my first trek hiking between Blackburn and Snicker's Gap. You answered my question about how long it might take.

  2. Thanks for the intel! I'll be doing this section in reverse next month.