When I read the above quote before running this section of Trail, I was
thinking, "Yeah, yeah. Gimme back my mountains with scenic grandeur!"
But I was very pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the AT along South
Mountain, which stretches a looooong way from MD to PA, and by the number of
historical sites along the relatively short (22+ miles) section of trail that I
Let's begin at the beginning.
After we waited for a train to pass Jim accompanied me across the Potomac
River from Harpers Ferry, WV on the Goodloe Byron Memorial Footbridge to the C
& O Towpath on the Maryland side of the river. We read several informational
boards about the canal that used to operate here but was discontinued in 1924
after severe flooding.
The towpath runs between the wide Potomac River and the former canal. The
canal was empty near the bridge. We were impressed with the high stacked stone
walls on either side of it. Then we noticed green scum covering shallow water in
the canal for most of the rest of the two miles we ran along the towpath before
the AT turned left, went over the railroad tracks, and began snaking up South
I'm glad the river and towpath were scenic because the first hour and a half
that I was running and walking this morning was filled with the noise of trains
and traffic from busy Hwy. 340, which I crossed under twice before climbing
1,100 feet up South Mountain.
I crossed the first of two private yards in today's segment just before the
rocky ascent on South Mountain. I'd read about them in the AT guidebook and
knew to stay on the Trail. The second one was at the end of the section just
before crossing I-70. The owners put out a sign asking hikers to please sign
their register, which was in a very nice wooden stand with a Plexiglas lid. I'm
so appreciative of folks who are not only willing to share their property with
the hikers but also make them feel very welcome.
After reaching the ridge on South Mountain I caught up with Pumpkin, the
delightful young lady I met three days ago near Bears Den Hostel. She had camped
out partway up the mountain and was just getting started on a 19-mile day. I
figured Pumpkin was just out of college but learned that she's 31 and taking a six-month
leave of absence from her job in Burlington, VT.
We talked about how she got interested in hiking the AT (meeting AT
thru-hikers on the Long Trail in Vermont), about the 100-miler near Woodstock
that Jim and I are doing in a couple weeks, and about her marriage in August.
August? Won't she still be hiking then?
Yes. Pumpkin explained that it makes it easy to keep the wedding really
siimple! She'll return to the Trail and her new husband will accompany her the
last one hundred miles in Maine.
I left Pumpkin when she turned on the blue-blazed trail to the first shelter.
All three of today's shelters were far enough off the Trail to discourage me
from signing their registers. The only one I signed was the one in the people's
yard mentioned above.
In addition to the land the Park Service owns along the South Mountain
ridge top I followed today there are several Maryland state parks along the way.
The first I came to was Gathland.
I should note that this morning I forgot to wear my Cool-Off bandana, which
is handy for wiping sweat out of my eyes. I meant to do laundry yesterday but
time slipped by and Jim said he'd do it today. My bandana was in the dirty
It was a warm, muggy morning and I was sweating buckets within minutes. Jim
knew how uncomfortable I was. When he turned around after three miles to return
to Harpers Ferry he decided to take my bandana to me (dirty, but needed). The
laundry baskets were in the truck. He headed about ten miles up the road to Gathland State Park and put the bandana, newly wetted down, in a bag with a cold
bottle of apple juice and left the bag and a note to me on the Trail just as I
got to the Park.
Didn't I tell you he was the world's best crew person?? Ten miles into my run
I was already very hot and both the bandana and apple juice were the perfect
antidote. I was able to reach him by phone to thank him for his generous act.
Back to Gathland . . . "Gath" was the nom de plume of the most prolific Civil War
correspondent, George Alfred Townsend. According to the AT guide he constructed
several stone buildings at Cramptom Gap after the war: "a home, a house
for his wife, a hall, a library, a lodge, a guesthouse, servants' houses, stable
and a tomb for himself, where he was not buried. He called his estate 'Gathland'."
Now I've got a question: why would a wealthy man have a separate house
constructed for his wife?? Is this some kind of 19th Century status symbol
thing? A sign of a lousy marriage? What??
After Townsend's death, most of the buildings were vandalized. A wing of the
house has been restored and is currently a museum in the park:
There is also an elaborate arch at the entrance to the park that was dedicated
in 1896 as a memorial to Civil War correspondents and artists:
"STEADY EDDIE" AND "THRIFTY"
On the gentle 800-foot climb to Lamb's Knoll I ran across Steady Eddie going
south again. This time I got his photo (still need to get photos of his two
partners-in-crime, Little John and Charlie Brown). Jim mentioned on the phone
that he met John this morning on the way back to the truck; he liked him a lot,
too. I thought Charlie might catch up to me but he's gone home to NJ to get his
van so the group will have two vehicles to use as shuttles each day, saving time
Eddie and I talked about the beauty of Minnesota. I've been to the Duluth
area three times for Grandma's Marathon and am impressed by the cleanliness and
scenery. Eddie encouraged us to run or hike the rugged Superior Trail someday soon;
it's where he trained for his AT hike.
The only other thru-hiker I talked with today was "Thrifty," a young man from
South Carolina who got his trail name because, as he said, "I'm cheap!"
We had just starting
talking when he saw his buddies at the nice Dahlgren Backpackers' Campground
(with real bathrooms) just before US Alt. 40. He left to have lunch with them
and I carried on.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
More Civil War history was evident sixteen miles into my run at Fox Gap and
Reno Monument Road. There were several more informational boards and a headstone
commemorating the death of Major General Reno (Union), who died nearby in an
attack on the Confederate army in 1862. Brigadier General Garland (Confederate)
also died in the battle and future president Rutherford Hayes was wounded here.
A couple miles farther at Turners Gap (US Atl. 40) were many more reminders
of the Civil War. The very old South Mountain Inn, pictured at the beginning of
this entry, was the Confederate command post for the Battle of South Mountain in
1862, the curtain-raiser for the Battle of Antietam. Three days of fighting in
this area resulted in the highest casualty rate of the entire war.
Old South Mountain Inn, used by several presidents and other prominent
citizens, was a popular stop in the 1700s and 1800s for travelers on the
National Road. The tavern is one of the oldest public houses along the
Appalachian Trail. The present Inn was built in 1732. It still serves meals and
drinks but no longer offers lodging.
Also located at Turner's Gap are a Gothic stone chapel, built by the widow of
Admiral Dahlgren, and the entrance to George Washington State Park.
The Trail winds around about a mile past Turners Gap before reaching the
first monument to George Washington, which was built in 1827. It stands on Monument
Knob, appropriately. The observatory, thirty feet tall and constructed of native
stone, is shaped like an old-fashioned cream bottle. The tower was open
so of course I went to the top to see the view into the valley to the west (very
Jim's more of a history buff than me so someday I want him to do this
section himself. The informational boards were all out in the hot sun and I had
an agenda (getting done before the predicted thunderstorms hit the area) so I
didn't read them all. It would be fun to dawdle along this section someday and
let the history "soak in" more fully. I'd also like to return to eat at the Old
South Mountain Inn.
Meanwhile I enjoyed the beautiful woods along the ridges, the numerous
stacked stone walls, and the interesting architecture from centuries past. This
section had more rocks, especially from miles ten to fifteen, than I expected so
it took me about an hour longer than planned. But even with all the stops I made
to read information, take photos, and talk with hikers my pace was still a
respectable 18:45 minutes/mile.
More history-on-the-run tomorrow and I'll also be in my 7th state,
Pennsylvania! Gotta get an early start because I'm doing almost 32 miles. That's
more than is comfortable for me at this point but road access is more limited