Monday, June 04, 2012

Appalachian Trail Walk - Part 1

Stile along the Appalachian Trail across the Cumberland valley
After a stormy start to the weekend (tornado warning but no tornado!), Sunday morning dawned clear and perfect. I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for some time—walk a section of the Appalachian Trail through the Cumberland valley. This part of the trail used to be—and still was the last time I walked it—the road-walking section of the AT, as it’s usually abbreviated.

Hikers walking the 2,175 mile trail need to cross the miles-wide valley to get from one mountain range to the next. The valley is rich with farmlands, and for many years the trail association couldn’t get permission for the trail to cross the privately-owned farms. Happily, those days are now in the past, the trail is finally routed off the roads. Today, this section is easy walking across fields and through woods.

I’ve passed the trail sign along the road I don’t know how many times, each time reminding myself that I want to hike this section and then promptly forgetting about it until the next time I drove past the trail sign. But this time, I didn’t forget and the weather was perfect.

After some deliberation, I brought along Baby Dog as my companion for the walk. I was tempted to bring the now-elderly Dog since I knew the walk was an easy one and that I wasn’t going to walk for but a few hours. In the end, Dog was sleeping and Baby Dog needed some exercise, so I brought her instead. I’m glad I did. Dog doesn’t do open stairs where he can see through them. He never has. If he’d encountered the stile that would have been the end of my walk, as I couldn’t lift him over and I know he would refuse.

I must also report that I’m incapable of walking 100 yards without taking a photograph. My walk on the trail was only about 2 miles long (with another 2 miles of road walking to return to my car). When I did the math, I discovered I’d taken a photo every 197 feet of my walk. No, I won’t force them all on readers of Roundtop Ruminations. However, you’ll see the better ones over today and tomorrow.

I started my walk along Rt. 74 near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and headed north. I soon came to the aforementioned stile, crossed the field and climbed over a second stile on the far side of the field. I saw barns and houses in the distance but the trail stayed well away from them. After the stiles, the trail entered a narrow band of woods and stayed there throughout my walk. The AT is marked with white blazes about every 100 yards. A double blaze means the hiker is nearing a turn.  Except in a few sections, this would be a tough trail to get lost on. The footpath is well-traveled, and the blazes are always freshly painted. 

The woods were teeming with birds—orioles, pewees, mockingbirds, robins and towhees—to name but a few. Baby Dog proved an eager companion, though couldn’t resist barking at another dog we encountered and two through hikers—those trying to finish the trail in a single season—we encountered.

Hikers most commonly head north along the trail.  It starts at Spring Mountain, Georgia, and ends on Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  Some hike in the southbound direction, but most prefer to follow the spring northward. A man local to my area was the first ever to hike the Appalachian Trail in a single season.  I met him several times before his death.  He re-hiked the trail a couple of times after the first trip, the last when he was 80.  He found the Maine section pretty tough going that last time.

From now through early July, the hikers who started their trips back in March or early April are reaching this point of the trail.  This area is the halfway point of the trail.  A marker not far away used to mark the spot, but the trail keeps getting rerouted, and the precise halfway point keeps changing, too.  Yesterday I met one NOBO (northbound) through hiker and one SOBO (southbound) through hiker.  They were both intent on keeping moving, so we said our "good mornings" and each of us went on our way. 

I’ll have more photos from this short walk tomorrow.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Enjoyed coming along for the walk but those through walkers must be crazy - certainly by the time they finish it if not when they start out!

Scott said...

Good post, Catolyn! I've always wondered what this section of the trail is like.