Sunday, April 3, 2011

Three States in Thirteen Miles on the Appalachian Trail and Flowers

We've been slowly picking up sections of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the area.  Mostly, we've been doing end-to-end dayhikes with friends when we can set up a car shuttle.  Yesterday, we didn't have a car shuttle, so we did an out-and-back to pick up the section from Keys Gap in Virginia to the Maryland border, just past Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.  We also had a friend's dog with us, who helped lead the way.

The easier way to do this hike is to start in Harper's Ferry and hike south.  One gets the climbing out of the way early in the hike.  We wanted to have Harper's Ferry at the mid-point of the hike, though.  We could hike across the Potomac and on our take a break at a coffee shop in town.

At Key's Gap, there was a moderately-sized Boy Scout Troop getting ready for a backpacking trip in the parking lot when we arrived.  We headed north in sprinkling rain and cold wind.  It was definitely still winter on top of the ridge.  There were just a few plants poking up through the leaves.  The trail stays on top of the ridge for four miles.  The only views are at a power line cut about 1.5 miles north of Key's Gap.  After a couple of miles, it started raining hard enough that we had to put on rain gear, but it didn't last long.  We passed another Scout Troop along the way, but other than them, we really didn't see anyone else. At the junction with the Loudon Heights Trail, the AT turns downhill towards the Shenandoah River.  The descent was relatively easy and nicely switchbacked.  On the way down, we saw a few more plants, some with buds on them, but the woods were still mostly dormant.  We crossed a road and descended the rest of the way to the river. 

We had a nice view of the river, the bluffs on the other side, and the ominous oncoming storm clouds from the bridge over US Highway 340.  The pedestrian walkway on one side of the bridge makes it safe to walk across it, but that doesn't mean it is pleasant.  Constant traffic whizzing by isn't the most charming part of the AT, but it is the only way to cross into West Virginia.

We were rewarded on the other side by spring.  Early spring flowers were blooming and the entire bluff was green.  I stopped to take pictures of Dentaria lacinata (Cut-Leaf Toothwort) when the sleet started.  There was definitely rain mixed in, but the quarter-inch pieces of ice got most of our attention.  We got our rain jackets back out and ten minutes later it was sunny again.  We walked through town and crossed the bridge over the Potomac into Maryland so we could say we hiked in three states in one day.  The steps from the bridge down to the trail on the Maryland side are see-through metal grating.  The dog was having none of it.  She tried a few steps, but was terrified by them.  We decided that since we were physically over land in Maryland, that was good enough.  She did a little better on the way back up, but was visibly relieved when we were back on wooden slats.

Back in Harper's Ferry, we stopped for a break and for coffee.  The section of the trail in town from Jefferson Rock to Maryland was the only part of our hike that we could say was crowded. Considering that Harper's Ferry is a tourist town, it wasn't bad at all. The weather held for the rest of the hike.  We made good time on the way, finishing 13.5 miles in just under seven hours.  It was a really nice hike and the weather did not turn out nearly as bad as it was forecast to be. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
The Appalachian Trail on the top of the ridge north of Keys Gap.  It is definitely still winter on the ridge.  It will be at least a couple of more weeks before much is growing up there.
Moss on a log.
The Shenandoah River from the Virginia side.  The highway 340 bridge is to the left.  Note the storm clouds.
Spring has arrived on the Harper's Ferry section of the AT.

Edited:  Cardamine concatenata (formerly: Dentaria lacinata) (Cut-Leaf Toothwort)
Sleet on Sammie's back.
Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)
The G. Byron Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River from the Maryland side.
A sign for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in Harper's Ferry, a less well-known long distance trail that passes through Harper's Ferry.  The trail is over 3,700 miles long and passes through 11 states.
Corydalis flavula (Yellow Corydalis)
 Saxifraga virginiensis (Early Saxifrage).  The leaves are still their winter color on this plant.
Barbarea vulgaris (Winter Cress).  This is an alien, and can be invasive in some places.  In spite of that, it was very pretty against the early green grass.

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