Picking up from where I left off in the last post…
Day Four: Tentsite – 5.5 mi
Since we were way ahead of schedule, we decided to dial the miles back a bit this day. The short climb out of Caledonia was stiff but the rest of the way to Quarry Gap Shelters was easy going. Once again, there was plenty of Mountain Laurel to entice us to stop for a look while catching our breath. The climbing subsided for a bit and we were treated to some beautiful trail.
Quarry Gap Shelters were over the top! And not just the beautiful shelters and tent platforms. There was a gate with a welcome sign, swing, bench, potted plants, sun dial, board games and cards, and a spring just steps away. More tent sites were tucked away in the woods nearby. This place was awesome! I had never run into anything quite like it. We enjoyed the swing for a bit, grabbed a bite to eat, took some pics and reluctantly moved on.
The remainder of the day’s walk was a gentle ascent through the woods and across a couple of power line cuts. We had been seeing large swaths of ferns and small patches of tiny white azaleas over the course of the last few days. More of the same this day. After a total of just 5-1/2 miles, we pulled off at a nice, large spot just off trail, setup camp and relaxed for the rest of the day. With the temp climbing, the bugs were starting to become an issue. A small, smoky fire put them at bay. We kicked back, ate our dinner, drank some tea and watched the sun set before retreating to the tent.
Day Five: Toms Run Shelter – 10.3 mi
This day proved to be much more of a challenge than intended. We had made a vow to crawl our way back to Pine Grove Furnace and putting in a ten mile day was certainly not part of that plan. The forecast for the day after next was really starting to look bad. Like severe thunderstorms and high winds bad. We were already a day ahead of schedule but would still have some walking to do when all hell was supposed to break loose. So, the decision was made to wrap up the hike two days early.
We set off early with the intent of getting to Birch Run Shelter, 4.1 mi up the trail, take a break, and figure out how much farther we would go from there. The 1.7 mi to Milesburn Cabin flew by. Here we met Waldo, a young NoBo thru hiker. Due to the challenges of obtaining supplies these days, he was running short on food. Since we would be finishing two days early, we laid out a smorgasbord from our supply for him to choose from. He was like a kid in a candy store and kept asking if this was all a joke. We assured him it wasn’t and that it was a small way for us to pay it forward.
With water bottles topped off, we said our goodbyes and moved on. The beautiful forest walking continued. The highlight of the 2.4 mi trek to Birch Run Shelter was a rattlesnake that the two of us nearly stepped on. Loonie had been walking closely behind and to my right and stopped me just in time to prevent me from planting a big, fat foot on him. Very cool! With some pics and video out of the way, we continued on, getting to Birch Run shortly thereafter. We dropped the packs and decided to take a short nap. Thru hiker Michigan Millie rolled in and we spent some time talking to her.
Looking at Guthook, it appeared there was an intermittent stream just 1.9 mi ahead and a campsite just 1 mi beyond that. A comment on Guthook from a week prior said the stream was running. Stopping for the day at the campsite 1 mi further would leave us just 7 mi to get to Pine Grove Furnace the next day. We moved on with a liter of water each and knocked out the 1.9 mi to the stream. Or more correctly, dry stream bed. Ok, AWOL’s guide said there was water at the PATC’s Michener Cabin, 0.3 mi down a side trail near Dead Woman’s Hollow Road. The road itself was a half mile ahead so we hiked on.
At the road, a sign was posted stating that, due to prescribed burning, we had a short, road-walk detour. Crap! Ok, so we take the detour only to discover that we can see the AT through the trees right next to us! Alrighty then. Detour out of the way and back on the AT, we came to the turnoff to the Michener Cabin. We could do the more than 1/2 mi round trip to get water, assuming its running, and continue on to the next campsite or we could continue on the AT for 3.2 mi to Toms Run, the next reliable source. We opted to move on. In the end, it was a good decision. Had we gone to the cabin, filled up and come back to the AT, the next mile or so was especially stark from the prescribed burns. Not much cover to be had and the sun was beating down pretty hard.
A couple of important items of note that we encountered through this section were the 2020 and 2018 Halfway Markers. Since the length of the trail varies year to year due to reroutes, detours and maintenance, the halfway point naturally moves. The trail would be littered with markers denoting this point if one were to be placed each year. 2020’s marker is unique. Atop the post is a nicely carved bear complete with face mask.
Once out of the blighted area and back in some healthy shade, we began making our way down to Toms Run. Soon, we could hear the sound of running water. And then we were right on top of it. Awesome. Guthook showed a site to pitch here. We saw absolutely nothing and had come better than 9.5 mi. If I could coax 0.6 mi more out of Loonie we would be at Toms Run Shelter where she could finally get off her feet. On we went.
We arrived at the shelter to discover Michigan Millie who was calling it a day here as well. She was over the top happy to have us join her since trail company had been hard to come by as of late. We spent the evening enjoying dinner and conversation over a small fire. Nice way to end a long day.
Day Six: Pine Grove Furnace State Park – 3.7 mi
You would think we would be chomping at the bit to hit the trail, complete the hike and gorge on ice cream at Pine Grove. Instead, we farted around, taking way too much time talking to Millie, eating breakfast and gathering up our crap. Not that we didn’t enjoy Millie’s company. She was great. Just seemed as though neither Loonie nor I were ready to end our time out here. Millie started coaxing us along and eventually the three of us got moving. Not long after we started, we reached yet another halfway marker, though I don’t recall what year this was from. This one was a bit more elaborate and we spent a few minutes getting one another’s pic next to it before moving along once more.
More easy walking followed and soon we were at PA 233. Hanging a left, we proceed another 0.1 mi, turned off into the park, passed the Ironmasters Mansion Hostel and dropped the packs on the porch of the Pine Grove Furnace State Park General Store. Its tradition that once a thru hiker reaches this point, they can attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream to celebrate their accomplishment. Three thru hikers arrived a bit before us and were now in the middle of this feat. We watched the spectacle, witnessing one of them finish in 24 minutes. I’m not certain if the other two were able to pull it off. Both looked as though they would puke at any moment.
Each of us grabbed a drink and pint…yes, just a pint…of ice cream and devoured those. We then knocked off some cheeseburgers, fries and more drinks. I followed that with an ice cream bar. For me, the half gallon challenge would have to wait until I actually made it halfway. I still have quite a bit of Virginia to knock off yet.
From there, we made our way back to the backpacker’s parking lot, cleaned up and drove over to the campground where we stayed the next two nights. Millie took a zero, opting to hang out with us before moving on up the trail. It was a good thing we put in the extra miles and finished early. The next day we drove to Biglerville to pick up a few things and grab a bite to eat. While waiting for our food, storm sirens began to wail. It had been raining intermittently but now it looked as though all hell was about to break loose. Fortunately, things calmed down and we were spared of any crazy weather.
Millie headed back to the trail the following day while we packed up the car and hit the road. First, we headed up to Boiling Springs to see what lies ahead for us and find out if the ATC regional office was open yet. Closed naturally. Next we turned south, stopping in Harpers Ferry for dinner and a bit of sightseeing. The ATC office there was closed as well. We then made our way through the Shenandoah’s before turning for home.
I’ll put up another post soon laying out our plans for the Fall. Assuming we all don’t have to return to “shelter in-place”, we intend to knock out some miles before the year is up.
More to come…