“We have a problem” was the subject line of Ben’s email the Wednesday before we were slated to head up to Old Logger’s Path. The road to OLP isn’t the easiest to navigate, but now it was covered in snow. In fact, it seemed, all of Pennsylvania was covered in about two feet of snow. The ranger strongly dissuaded Ben from attempting to bring our cars (mine being a 14 year old Honda) to OLP.
With the short notice, we opted not to send people on a last minute scramble to dig up snowshoes and started to look for the least snow-covered path between D.C. and Lancaster. The 41-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland seemed like the best bet. A staff person in one of the state parks excitedly told me that there were only three inches of snow – and they were melting fast. Plan B was in full effect.
Off we went on Friday morning to set up the shuttle. Doug and Hans headed straight to Harpers Ferry to enjoy some breakfast while Brian, Mimi, and I headed up to Pen Mar to collect Ben, who was leaving his big red van at the end of the shuttle. As we waited, the skies opened in a downpour of rain. Still, we waited for Ben. And Ben was waiting for us… in a different part of Pen Mar. Once we sorted out who was on first, Ben hopped in the car and we made our way down to Harpers Ferry. Our timing may have been off but it wound up being perfect – by the time we met up with Doug and Hans, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out slightly from the clouds.
The first few miles of the AT in Maryland are nice and gentle, running along the C&O Canal. Spirits were merry as we chatted away the three miles, expertly skirted around lingering slush and ice, and found a nice new knife that I was able to claim. The trail then led us up to Weverton Cliffs, giving us a great view of Harpers Ferry below. We continued on our way, the sun starting to shine a little more and the snow under our feet starting to slowly turn to slush.
Now walking through snow can be fun. Nice, fluffy snow like what we had two weeks ago in Bear Run. But we had our choice of either ankle-deep slush to wade through or pockets of crunchy, icy snow to navigate. (Note – I have no idea where the woman said there were only three inches of fast melting snow. I can only assume she laughed manically after hanging up the phone with me.) The footing was a bit unsteady, especially for those who may have neglected to include their microspikes. After a quick break in Gathland, our crew chugged along the ridge and watched a spectacular sunset. With headlamps on, we rounded Lambs Knoll and headed down to the Rocky Run Shelter.
Where was Christy during all this? Work got in the way of her joining us on Friday but, undeterred, she headed out on Friday night and found herself waiting in what we promptly christened a creepy parking spot. (And we saw it in the morning – not in the dark!) Ben diverted from the shelter to meet Christy and hike back with her, and then rescued Brian and Mimi from adding too much extra mileage as they cruised past the turn-off.
The Rocky Run shelter is a lovely one, recently rebuilt with two levels. Perhaps it was because we arrived after dark, but the allure of just sleeping in the shelter sounded much, much better than ascending the ridge to set up camp. All seven of us lined up in a row along the floor of the shelter. For those who sleep soundly, it was a wonderful warm and cozy night. For those more delicate sleepers, the nocturnal sounds of what was called a “buzz saw” kept them awake.
Next morning, we were up and on the trail around 8:15, ready for our next day of adventure and about sixteen more miles of slushy snow. It was a beautiful day, however, with warm temperatures and great views. We stopped for a quick break near the Washington Monument, and then for a windy lunch at Annapolis Rocks. The Cowall Gap shelter was our destination for the evening, and we kept moving.
I’ll be honest: the slush / ice was wearing me down. By the time I got to the shelter, I was tired and cranky. I wandered around with Brian to find a flat spot to set up our shelters – I was trying out his Notch, and Brian was checking out the Trailstar. A huge bonfire was blazing at the shelter below as another group had hiked in from PenMar but left rations in their cars nearby. Heading down, I was quite ready to dig into my chili, have a swig of whiskey, and relax for a bit. I found a feast as our shelter-mates passed along stuffed grape leaves and olives, cured meat, and cheese. Mike, the leader of the other group, had been organizing weekends like this for 11 years with his friends. His son softly played “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and Mike then offered us his extra venison sausages. (He only had six leftover sausages, but Doug had retired for the evening. No sausage for you!) With a bellyful of chili and sausage, I headed up to the Notch in a happier mood.
Day three, we were on the trail by 7:10. Once we hit 77, our group diverted. Brian, Mimi, and Doug elected to stay on the slushy trail, while Ben, Christy, Hans, and I opted to road walk the last nine or so miles back to the car. As road walks go, it was a lovely one as we passed by farms, saw an incredibly large rooster, and chatted away the miles. We found Ben’s big red van and listened to some charming tunes from our youth (Lords of Acid, anyone?) as we waited for the rest to show up, which they did (although they did say that trail did become less slushy as the day progressed).
Off we went in the big red van to Dan’s Restaurant and TapHouse in Boonsboro for the traditional post-backpack meal, and then all the way back to Harpers Ferry to collect our cars.
Thanks to everyone for a great weekend and for rolling with Plan B!
Yes, as Hawkeye and I experienced in the Shenandoah, yesterday, there was a good 3-6" of slush along the AT from Pinnacles to Stony Man. Wet spring conditions.
What did you think of the Notch? And same question to Brian about the Trailstar.
Oh, we're going to have a gear rumble!
[quote]What did you think of the Notch? And same question to Brian about the Trailstar.[/quote]
I liked the Notch. It was a cozy night in it. The pros and cons are slightly related -- First, I like to spread out my gear, and the Trailstar is great for stretching out. I like having the extra room, and I like being able to just toss my bag in there. Plus, I love how quickly I can break it down in the morning.
But I've had a bit of a hard time trying to navigate the snow with the Trailstar -- the extra room doesn't help, and I haven't found a good groundsheet solution. (The polycro is just way too slippery.) While the Notch was cozy, I liked being able to just get my gear in there and not have to deal with the snow.
They are both good picks. If I had both shelters, I'd probably switch to the Notch in snowy conditions but go with the Trailstar for most other conditions.
I agree with you on spreading gear out. You just can't do much in the Notch. I can toss my stuff near my feet/head and that's about it. After the Stratospire2 "castle", the Notch is quite small (but sufficient). The SS1 sits right in the middle of size (and weight).
I do basically agree that dealing with a lot of snow in a tarp is a pain the proverbial keester. I mean, I can do it, and I have done it ... But I could also just carry a tent. One is always evaluating such trade offs.
I probably do have a lighter weight tent in my future ... But I love my tarps for 3-season purposes.
Jen basically summed it up about the difference between the two shelters. On the Bear Run trip two weekends ago I used my Notch without the inner. I would say the same things I didn't like about the Trailstar were the same things I didn't like about just using the Notch fly - basically the dealing with the stuff on the snow bit. I would imagine the same thing would happen on rainy days though too, where it's a bit of a challenge to keep your stuff on a ground cloth, but that would be a problem with any tarp-style shelter.
The Notch doesn't have a lot of space to spread things around, but I kind of like that having to pile most everything at one end and leaving just the essentials to one side or the other keeps things contained.
Both shelters seem to have their individual quirks in terms of setting them up to get a nice taut pitch, but that's probably just a matter of experience and getting familiar with them.
"row along the floor of the shelter. For those who sleep soundly, it was a wonderful warm and cozy night. For those more delicate sleepers, the nocturnal sounds of what was called a “buzz saw” kept them awake."
I should mention that because of this experience, ear plugs are now going to be a consistent part of my gear kit - especially whenever there's the possibility of a shelter being involved!