Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hiking One of the Most Traveled Sections of the Southern Appalachian Trail - McAfee's Knob Loop

McAfee's Knob

The McAfee's Knob hike begins at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and Route 311, just outside of the city of Roanoke, Virginia. It is approximately 3.9 miles long creating about an 8 mile round trip. An old fire road parallels the first 3 miles of the trail making the trail to the top very accessible by just about everyone. The trail overlooks the valley from Catawba Mountain. It begins at Route 311 and immediately ascends a stone stairwell to a series of switchbacks that reach to the crest of a narrow steep ridge passing by the Boy Scout and Catawba shelters. Water supplies at these shelters and along the trail may be seasonal and cannot be relied upon for drinking water. Therefore hikers should carry their own water for the trip. The mountains here sit on the edge of a giant sandstone out-cropping known as the Pulaski Fault. A series of narrow foot bridges carry the hiker over some of the rock ledges of the fault. Depending on the season the trail is dotted with a wide variety of flowers and trees. This area is known for its mountain laurel and redbud trees. Because of its hanging seedpods, the redbud is considered to be a member of the pea family. It is also called the flowering Judas tree. Some people believe it is the tree Judas Iscariot hanged himself from. At the top of McAfee's Knob are several large outcrops that jut out from the mountain side. Views from the top are breathtaking of nearby Tinker Cliffs and Catawba and Roanoke valleys.

 Hundreds of people hike this trail each year.  Wear and tear from hikers and downed trees from severe weather takes a toll on the trail.The large volume of hikers and the sandy soil causes the trail to require lots of maintenance.


                              Hiking along the ridge of McAfees Knob Trail.

                                    Wooden bridges over sandstone outcrops

Tree falls across the wooden bridge.

A soil replacement trail for the destroyed wooded bridge

View of Catawba Valley from the trail

A sign announcing the end of the trail and top of the mountain

McAfees Knob

Psalms 121:1-2  I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania Northbound from Swatara Gap to the Blue Rocks Family Campground

Hiking History

I have talked with many Appalachian Trail thru hikers, and each of them have told me how hard it  is to hike the rocky areas of the AT in Pennsylvania. In the past I have envisioned hiking the entire AT in sections at my own walking rate. I am over half way finished hiking the entire AT and I have recently come to the realization that at age 70 the vision may not become a reality.  About 20 years ago I was diagnosed with severe knee loss of cartilage due to many years of overuse and abuse running marathons and ultramarathrons. Three doctors told me that I needed immediate knee replacements in both knees and that my long distance outdoor activities of running, bicycling and walking were a thing of the past. I refused to give in to an inactive life of  being a couch potato. I vowed to become even more active than before the doctors' diagnosis. I knew that running was no longer an option, but bicycling and long-distance walking seemed real and viable to me. I began bicycling to and from work and started hiking small sections of the AT. My first real test was to bicycle 470 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I completed the trip in six days and since then I have not looked back.  I have completed many 100 and 50 mile bicycle rides, bicycled to and from work for ten years, as well as  hiked portions of the AT and the Continental Divide Trail. Last summer I hiked Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon. I thought that I would have enough time to finish hiking the AT before I physically would have to quit.  My latest adventure was to hike 75 miles on the AT from Swatara Gap to Lehigh gap in Pennsylvania. I divided the hike into two parts. The first part was from Swatara Gap to Port Clinton and the second from Port Clinton to Lehigh Gap.

Swatara Gap to Port Clinton Hike

At Swatara Gap a hiking friend joined me as an encourager and as a safety precaution against me falling and being left all alone injured on the trail. The AT is a well-maintained trail.  Hikers have a very small chance of becoming lost in the woods. The chance of injury comes from falling while walking long distances on basketball-sized wobbly rocks up and down the mountains with a 35 pound pack. During the month of April in Pennsylvania there are only a few thru hikers on this portion of the trail and an injured solo hiker may lay unattended for hours or even days. We hiked together for three days before he had to quit to attend the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. 

Along the trail we passed groups of young couples trying to find suitable areas to view the meteor showers expected that night.  Our first stop after 11.2 miles was the 501 Shelter. The 501 Shelter is one of the only shelters that are enclosed with a roof and four walls. The shelter is maintained by a caretaker who lives in a house less than 100 yards away. The shelter ceiling is composed of  a skylight covering the entire roof. If we had not been so tired we could have viewed the meteor shower without getting out of our bed. It was great to be able to sleep inside without the worry of bears or other larger animal visitations looking for our food. Of course, one has to worry about mice in the shelter trying to sneak a morsel of food or steal something to line their home from a chewed piece of coat or sleeping bag. It was 29 degrees that morning, making it hard to roll out of our sleeping bags to starte on the new day's hike. I dined on a breakfast cookie and some hot instant coffee. I usually pack only very light items for a long hike, but my pack was much heavier this trip. Although the mountains of this section of the AT in Pennsylvania are only 1500 feet high they are challenging because of the very rocky trails.

The next day we hiked to the Eagles Nest Shelter, approximately 13 miles. This hike was not  very scenic. There were rocks, trees, and shrubs along the entire day's hike. The shelter was three-sided with a roof. Another hiker was already at the shelter nursing a smoky fire. After three washes my jacket and clothes after three washes still smell like campfire smoke. The other hiker was in his late forties and appeared to be an experienced hiker. His destination was some place in New Hamphire, and I hoped we would not be seeing much of him further down the trail because his snore sounded like a wounded bear all night long. My friend and the new hiker hiked a lot together the next day. They hiked at a faster pace than I did, but my friend stopped many times to let me catch up with him. You should never hike solo along the trail in areas that can be very dangerous. We saw very few other hikers along this hike. We never saw the other hiker again. The next day's hike would be nine miles into the town of Port Clinton. This hike was very much like the last day's hike without any exiting views.

At one point my friend missed a turn in the trail, and I managed to get in front of him. It was a pleasant surprise to see him coming up behind me.  We walked together for awhile, and I was in front of him when I heard a large thump. He had fallen on the trail on some rocks, but he jumped up and exclaimed that he was not hurt and limped onward. I wonder while in private that night did he secretly survey his bruises and knots from the fall.  The trail coming into the town was almost straight down without any switchbacks for about a mile. It was very hard to keep our balance while going downhill, stepping over large rocks with a heavy pack.  I stayed in the town at the Port Clinton Hotel. The Port Clinton is an old coal town.  

There were many historic markers documenting the town's history. I believe the hotel was as old as the town. The hotel lobby was also the bar, and the dinning area was just off the bar. My friend decided to have lunch with me before he was shuttled back to his car in Duncannon, PA. He ordered meat loaf and stuffed mashed potatoes. Stuffed mashed potatoes are mashed potatoes with pieces of celery, onions, bread crumbs and other things (who knows what else). I had a cheeseburger and a small french fries. The small french fries were enough for three people. The large fries must have been made from ten large potatoes. The people who ran the hotel were very nice. My room was one of six rooms upstairs. The door was locked by a dead bolt since the door knob lock had been shattered sometime earlier. The bathroom was at the end of the hallway. The bed mattress reminded me of one of those sway-back horses I used to see during a family country drive when I was a child. I did not care about any of these things because it was a chance to sleep in a bed without anybody snoring next to me. 

Port Clinton to Lehigh Gap Hike

I planned to continue solo hiking for four more days to Lehigh Gap. Since I had come down in elevation to Port Clinton that meant I had to go back up the same distance to the trail again. Somehow the breakfast cookie I ate did not have that lasting energy it had the previous morning. There were many great views of the valley below on the way up the mountain.

At the top the rocks became almost unbearable to walk on and I found myself taking many breaks. This trail had more day hikers. They did not have a problem telling me how difficult the trail is since it is lined with softball-sized rocks for miles and miles. The more hikers I encountered the more they stressed how dangerous the rocks were along the trail. The right kind of encouragement goes a long way, and the wrong kind makes a good day turn bad. My day's destination was a family campground a mile off the trail. If the side trail to the campground was  only a sample of what was in store for me the next day I was mortified. At the end of the hike I checked into the Blue Rocks Family Campground. The campground was named Blue Rocks because there was a large rock field stretching from near the top of the mountain to the campground.

The rocks are thought to be deposited from glacier deposition during the ice age. The pictures confirmed to me that more rocks would have to be crossed the next day.

Graphic pictures of the dangerous trail rocks posted on the check-in wall was the straw that broke the camel's back. I made the decision to go no further and made arrangement's for my shuttle pickup for the next day.  I had envisioned starting the hike the next day and only going half way down the trail before falling and having to call for help. I felt that I had reached my limitations for a safe hike and had to call it quits. Part of hiking is making sure you are safe in all that you do along the trail. 

After Thought

I believe that I need to look at each section of the AT that I have not hiked yet and pick the hikes that are the most representative of each state section. I will not rule out slack packing or day hiking some of the more challenging sections.  Let me know your ideas on my plan and post then in the comments section of this blog.

Psalm 40:2.............God set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

High Bridge State Park
Farmville, Virginia

One of the newest state parks in Virginia highlights a trail that contains a long high bridge over the Appomattox River.  The trail is a non-motorized multi-use trail for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Bicycling the trail is a good way to get in shape early in the season.

Description: The trail is approximately 4 feet wide and 31 miles long. It is constructed of packed fine crushed white limestone along an old railroad bed originally belonging to Norfolk Southern Railroad. Mountain, hybrid or road bikes can easily ride the trail. Since it is relatively level and generally flat it is easy for bicyclists of all ages to ride the trail. 

The highlight of the trail is the high bridge that crosses over the Appomattox River.

The bridge is 2,400 feet long and approximately 10 feet wide (steel tower) built in 1853 by Southside Railroad.  The bridge is 160 feet to 125 feet above the Appomattox River.  The wooden deck bridge sides or railings are high and constructed so that you do not have to worry about falling over the edge into the river. There are observation platforms with park benches equally spaced along the bridge.  The bridge trail maintains a historic 6 % grade mimicking the original railroad elevation that makes it easy for bicycling or running.


Bicycle rider riding across the High Bridge

Observation deck with bicycles

The bridge is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia, and one of the longest in the United States.

For your comfort the trail is lined with picnic tables and toilets.  

Bench constructed part of an Eagle Scout project

Toilet facility

Drinking water is not available along the trail. Also along the trail are the original railroad concrete mile markers, and you also can see the remains of telegraph poles erected in the 1900's. 

The trail begins at Pamplin, VA and ends 31 miles just short of Burkesville, VA. Park rangers and local police monitor the trail daily. A small fee is charged at the beginning of the trail.

Park History: The trail was constructed along an old railroad bed that ran from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Petersburg, Virginia. The High Bridge trail now starts along the old railroad train tracks bed in the city of Pamplin, passing over and under roadways and through the cities of Prospect, Farmville, Rice, and ending north of Burkeville. Pamplin was once the largest clay pipe factory in the world. 

The trail crosses over roadways

Roadway crossingwith warning sign for motorists

Cities will often post a sign for the trail.

The High Bridge was originally made of wood with 21 brick piers, a pedestrian walkway, and wagon bridge alongside. The trail and bridge were very important during the Civil War. 

Historic marker at the beginning of the bridge

Old signs of the original pedestrian walkway

Remains of the old wagon crossing

Two very decisive battles were fought here in April, 1865 and lead to General Lee's final days of the war. On April 6 and 7, 1865, one of the final battles occurred that helped to end Lee's campaign 2 days latter in Appomattox. Troops of the armies of the North and South tried to burn the bridge down, but the bridge prevailed, and it was later donated to Virginia by the Norfolk Southern Railroad in the year 2006. The last train traveled over the bridge on October 26, 2004. The park is now part of the Virginia State Park system, a part of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Flora & Fauna:  A turkey was seen along the trail as well as a green snake. 

Green Snake

Many wildflowers were also observed along the edges of the trail. In June you may see the early low bush blueberry, blue ridge blueberry, winter grape, pigeon grape, suckling clover, kidney leaf rosin weed, marsh bristle grass and the bristly fox tail in bloom. While standing on the bridge in the spring you can hear what sounds like hundreds of spring peeper frogs echoing below.

Nearby town: Farmville is one of the largest towns that the trail passes through about halfway into the ride. It has lots of little eating places for you to stop for lunch or to freshen up before traveling further.

Old town Farmville sign

The High Bridge is located due east from the town of Farmville

      Local diner in Farmville for a lunch break before the High Bridge

JOHN 7:38 - Whoever believes in me, as the scriptures has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.

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