Monday, August 30, 2010

Camp Fuel: Harpers Ferry

We note considerable interest by visitors wanting information on obtaining camp fuel along the Appalachian Trail. So, we start a series of posts on camp fuel availability with information on obtaining fuel at Harpers Ferry.

Alcohol Fuel

As we used a SuperCat alcohol stove for our section hike from Harpers Ferry, we located several sources for alcohol camp fuel. One source is the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) office in Harpers Ferry itself. Alcohol fuel is stored outside on the front porch in a box. Fuel is by "donation". Denatured alcohol is $6/quart from the Walmart in Martinsburg some distance away, so be fair, if not generous.

Alcohol fuel for your camp stove is also available from the Outfitter at Harpers Ferry. Just go inside and up the stairs to the register and ask for fuel. You provide the container. Fuel is $.50 per ounce and we had several ounces of leftover fuel at Boiling Springs from our 20 ounce pop bottle. The only problem with using the Outfitter for camp fuel is they are usually closed by the time you arrive in Harpers Ferry by train.

Alcohol fuel is sometimes available at the hostel located about 2 miles north of Harpers Ferry. The hostel is just off the Appalachian Trail making a quick stop for NOBOs a possibility. Call ahead to confirm alcohol fuel is available.

Butane Fuel

Butane fuel cartridges are available from the Outfitter at Harpers Ferry. Several varieties were available the day we stopped.

Butane fuel cartridges are also available at Walmart in Martinsburg, as are small lightweight, folding butane stoves.

Propane Fuel

We can't imagine anyone carrying a steel bottle of propane up the trail, but if you need propane camp fuel, you'll find some at the KOA store just outside Harpers Ferry. Propane is also available at Walmart in Martinsburg.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Appalachian Trail MD: PennMar Park

The last sightseeing stop in Maryland along the Appalachian Trail is PennMar Park. PennMar is a popular starting point for those wanting to do a short 3-4 day section of the Appalachian Trail. Numerous regional Boy Scout troops and patrols use the PennMar to Harpers Ferry section of the AT for the basis of their 50-mile hiking badge program. Our section hike over the Memorial Day weekend proved the norm. We met three southbound scout groups in less than 24 hours of the weekend beginning and several smaller groups of three somes and five some starting south from PennMar.

PennMar has an interesting history as a recreation center for the Baltimore and Washington region for over a hundred years. Gone are the old hotels, ice cream parlors, dance floors and other favorite pursuits of yesteryear. Today stands a large city park looking above and towards Pennsylvania.

North bound hikers will arrive at PennMar after first descending from High Rock down a boulder field. The trail opens wider into a worn gravel road. One starts to see homes and hear vehicles off to their left. Minutes later one hears children and sees playgrounds on the right through the trees. At the end of the gravel road, the trail makes a sharp right and you are in PennMar Park proper. There's a large pavilion ahead with some picnic tables between it and the turn into the park. If you can resist the urge to stop at this first set of tables, wander a bit further around to the other side of the pavilion.

On the opposite side of the first pavilion one finds the smaller famous pavilion which overlooks Pennsylvania. Just further and up a slight rise one finds the restrooms and water. Here's a secret that many AT hikers never discover when passing through. The first sink in the men's room has a large goose neck spigot for filing water bottles and hydration bladders. (Guys, offer to fill the ladies water containers!)

If you've read my log entries, you'll know that I had been unsuccessful trying to get a cold soda at every opportunity in Maryland. Fortune smiles upon hikers at PennMar. There are two working soda machines just south of the restrooms and pavilions. Just look up the rise to that other brick building and you'll spot the machines on the north trail-side end. We bought two. One for lunch and one that we stuffed inside our foam pad for later up the trail. (Our foam pad road flat atop our pack. Shove the bottle in and then stuff the ends with your pack cover and a spare trash bag.)

From PennMar the trail continues north behind the restrooms by the pavilions. You start descending a gravel road bed with telephone poles along the right side. You are hiking down the old trolley car line. At the bottom of the gravel road, you'll make left turn, cross a paved road, and then cross some railroad tracks. Someone has removed the famed Mason Dixon Line sign, so remember the train tracks are the roughly boundary. Cross the tracks and you're in Pennsylvania.

The trail will continue down a bit to a beautiful wooden footbridge and then begin a steep climb back up. There are two boxed spring along the road crossing about halfway up the hill. Bailey Spring is the next water hole after the boxed springs, then a series of double shelters built along springs.

On our section hike, we got a late start (9 a.m.) off raven Rock and then dawdled too long at PennMar and thus made it only to deer Lick Shelters that evening. Get moving sooner and try to get up the trail to either Antietam or, even better, Tumbling Run Shelters. Tenting is also better at Antietam and Tumbling Run shelters.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Appalachian Trail MD: I-70 Footbridge

While not as popular as the Washington Monument, the I-70 footbridge is nonetheless one of the more photographed sights along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. However, finding the trail to footbridge for north bound hikers is somewhat confusing, as is finding the trail north on the other side of the foot bridge.

North bounders (NOBOs) will exit the woods at a residential road with two houses across the street. The day we hiked this section of the trail, an older gentleman on a riding lawnmower was riding back and forth cutting the lawns of both homes. We were a bit befuddled as, surely the trail wouldn't pass through someone's yard. The Appalachian Trail is a national foot trail after all. We looked both directions on the road and nary a white blaze was to be found. No blazes were on trees nor on the pavement. Hmm... Let's back up and check that last blaze. Perhaps we missed the turn signal. Nope. Single white blaze - the trail continues straight. Finally, peering across the road we spotted the white blaze on a large tree between the two houses.

The Appalachian Trail does indeed pass between two homes in Maryland. There are two low rock gradens with plants and the trail is a well worn path down the middle of the garden beds. Passing a home, a rail fence appears on your left and then the trail seems to end at an overgrown chain link fence. The freeway lies beyond.

Looking down to our left we found brown wooden railroad ties fashioned into steps leading down. Gingerly, we stepped down and at the bottom found ourselves looking through the chain link tunnel that is the I-70 foot bridge.

Not being a thru-hiker, we hadn't yet experience crossing some of the earlier freeways further south, so this was a new experience. Walking across the foot bridge we recalled our travels with our young family when we drove our little Ford Escort station wagon underneath this very bridge and noting the green sign proclaiming "Appalachian Trail." Someday we thought - someday. Someday was today!

Standing astride the north/west bound lanes we fished out our camera and took a quick photo for posterity. As we turned to leave, a car sounded its horn to signal both approval and encouragement. We realized that they probably thought we were a thru-hiker and felt that the "toot" was not fully deserved. However, for a first time long distance hiker still struggling on the third day, the sound was encouraging. Especially since we had just decided earlier to end our day not at the shelter on the other side of I-70, but several miles further at Annapolis Rock, MD.

Coming off the bridge we noted the well worn trail leading up the hill through the overgrown brush. Following the well worn path we arrived at an old section of asphalt road and noted the trail seemed to turn right and then crossed over a dirt hump. We dutifully turned and headed up and over the hump into a parking area. Moments later we realized that we had once again lost the trail. How was that possible?

When exiting the foot bridge north, we were so enamored with the traffic below that we missed the double blazes indicating a right turn and descent down below the footbridge. The Appalachian Trail actually parallels I-70 for about a quarter of a mile, passing underneath the next bridge to the west and then turning right and up a steep incline. We doubled back, found the trail along the fence, and continued west and then up. (The AT is actually visible in the photo, between the lower green sign and thing fence line to its left.)

So, for NOBOs, remember: Go between the two houses, down the wooden steps, across the bridge, right turn down the embankment, and west to the next bridge. SOBOs seem to have no confusing turns in this section of the MD trail.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Appalachian Trail Map: Blog Visitor States

We were looking through our site analytics and noted this map depicting visitor locations clearly shows the rough course of the Appalachian Trail.

The largest concentrations of visitors to the Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail. blog hail from Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Judging from the map, we need to section hike around the Smokey Mountains National Park to attract visitors from TN and NC. Also, a section hike in New England would also enable us to write articles of interest to hikers and backpackers in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Just thought you might like a peek under the hood here at Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail. We do analyze visitors and topics of interest and try our best to provide you the reader with the information you are seeking.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Appalachian Trail Maryland: Washington Monument

One of the most popular and memorable sights along Appalachian Trail in Maryland is the Washington Monument. You don't have to worry about missing it, as the Appalachian Trail goes right up to it, if you're following the white blazes.

Northbound Appalachian Trail hikers will reach a road crossing with Washington Monument State Park across the road. Follow the gravel path on the opposite side up towards your right. You'll first find a bulletin board with a map of the park and the usual rules for hiking the trail in Maryland. Continue on up the trail as it goes uphill and across a grassy open area.

You'll make a left turn on the main park entrance road and continue uphill past building on your left to a parking area with a low gray stone wall. Resist the urge to doff your pack and sit on the wall. Those fir trees will embed tiny pricklies in your shirt and backpack pad. Instead, take a few more steps up the short stairs and take a break at the small pavilion just on the left side of the now gravel trail. The water spigot is just across the trail from the pavilion.

If you need restroom facilities, then go back down the steps and turn right. Follow the sidewalk past the museum and you'll find the restrooms in a brick building just down the hill.

Once you've topped off your water, then continue on up hill on the gravel path from the pavilion. The trail will wind up and towards your left as you ascend. At the top, the Washington Monument will be directly in front of you. Glance to your right as you enter the clearing and you'll see the white blazes indicating the trail continuing north.

The monument has a spiral iron staircase inside that you can climb to the wonderful view from the top. You can drop your pack just below the monument where you'll find a small rock bench and a rock walled area. If you arrive before noon, then there's probably shade.

When you're ready to leave the area, then head back to the side of the clearing you entered, but steer left onto the northbound trail. The trail north from the monument is steep downhill with large railroad tie water bars. Southbound hikers should follow the gray gravel trail back down to the pavilion and top off water for the hike south to Rocky Run where a piped spring awaits.

Also, if you're northbound out of Washington Monument SP, then you should consider stopping for the night at Annapolis Rock. Yes, there is camping and a piped spring to be found there as well as a magical sunset dinner.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Appalachian Trail Maryland: Gathland State Park

Hiking north on the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry, the first Maryland state park one encounters is Gathland State Park.

Gathland SP is memorable due to the unusual looking War Correspondents Memorial which is easily visible from along the trail.

North bound hikers will be descending as they enter Gathland SP. You'll see an opening to your left with steps going down towards a clearing. As you exit the woods and enter the park proper, you'll see a building and a large tree with wrap around benches. Head for the bench and take a load off your back.

Unless you made the 4/10ths mile trek downhill and back at the Ed Garvey shelter, you're probably thirsty and looking for water. Pure water is available from the red faucet located between the tree bench and the restrooms. If you're looking for a cold soda, you're likely out of luck, unless offered trail magic. There were two soda machines at the end of the restrooms facing the tree bench, but neither worked and both were scheduled to be removed at the end of May 2010.

Refreshed and re-hydrated, this is a good time to wander along the rock wall and read the various plaques detailing the civil war history of this area. Remember, you'll not likely pass this way again unless you're a local hiker. Don't forget to get out your camera and take a photo of the War Correspondents Memorial.

If this is a planned meal stop, then after getting water, head across the road where you'll find a pavilion with picnic tables.

For everyone continuing northbound along the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail, the trail continues north from the intersection in front of the memorial, up the grassy hill to the right of the picnic pavilion. Shortly after re-entering the woods at the top of the hill, watch for the blue blaze trail on your right to Crampton Gap shelter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Appalachian Trail Maryland: Annapolis Rock

Annapolis Rock was my favorite stop along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. I am incredibly indebted to the two PATC Trail Patrol members that recommended to Redwing, Lil Dipper and myself to spend the night at Annapolis Rock. Mind you that I had just visited Maryland's Washington Monument State Park earlier in the day. The Washington Monument section of the Appalachian Trail is well maintained and the view of Boonesboro, Maryland from the top of the monument is not to be missed. But, Annapolis Rock is a definite must stay.

Getting to Annapolis Rock

NOBOs will first make a moderately steep climb up from I-70. After leveling out, watch for the blue blaze trail on your left. If you reach the Pogo camp site, you've overshot quite a bit.

Day hikers should head north on the Appalachian Trail from South Mountain State Park. There's a parking area on US Highway 40 (Baltimore National Pike) just north of the I-70 footbridge. From the south end of the parking area, walk over the hump towards the sound of the freeway. Continue down the paved section to the footbridge. You'll see a trail on your left. Don't cross the footbridge, but continue down the left side of the footbridge, hike along the I-70 fence line, and back up just past the next overpass (US 40). Follow the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail about 2.2 miles to the blue blaze trail to Annapolis Rock.

SOBOs should watch for the blue blaze trail on their right about a mile after the Pogo camp site. The trail from Pogo is relatively flat and mostly dirt. You'll be able to make up some of the time you lost coming through the 3 miles of rocks.


First, there's considerable camping available at Annapolis Rock. The guidebooks all make clear that while hiking the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail, one must stay at shelters or in the immediate area around a shelter. Like many newbies, I wasn't aware that camping at Annapolis Rock was an option. Coming down the trail, one first sees a large bulletin board with a map of the Annapolis Rock area and the various camping areas. Even with a third of the tent camping areas closed for reforestation, we had a selection of many very nice camping areas.

Taking an immediate left at the sign, we wandered through dense mountain laurel and examined site after site looking for the ideal spot. About halfway down on the left, we found a nice clear area with an ideal set of trees and a convenient log.


Second, Annapolis Rock offers nice amenities for its type of location. Sure, there's the showers at Dahlgren Camp that the kind folks of Maryland offer as a gift to hikers and the clean restrooms and machines with cold sodas at PennMar park. But, considering this is a primitive camp site by national park service standards, Annapolis Rock features two privies and a piped spring. The piped spring was gushing so much water that it looked like a broken water main. (I'm still not convinced that much water can come from the a spring at the top of a hill for as long as it did and not be man made.)

Dinner and a Sunset

Third, the actual Annapolis Rock formation and its vista is truly worth the extra effort to hike down the blue blaze. The PATC Trail Patrol mentioned we should first make camp and then take our mess gear down to the rocks for dinner and a sunset. Annapolis Rock accomodates a lot of backpackers with room for all to enjoy the sunset. Rather than another meal at another generic wood picnic table, we had the fun challenge of selecting a dinner spot and the reward of "dinner and a show."

So, whether North bound or South bound along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, give serious consideration to remaining overnight at Annapolis Rock. Get there well before sunset, select a campsite, and head on down to Annapolis Rock for a memorable sunset with your fellow hikers.