The Enterprise Car Rental facility opened at 9:00 am and after filling the car up with gas, I was there a few minutes late. There were already a couple of people ahead of me to check out cars, so I asked the lady if I could just drop the keys and get a ride to the ATC Headquarters. She told me that I could drop the keys but that it would be about an hour wait for the ride since she was the only one there. What? So I sat outside and sulked while I ate the southwestern salad I had left over from my Walmart run. About 15 minutes later another guy shows up, walks inside for a minute, then comes back out and asks me if I’m ready to go. Win!
At the ATC Headquarters, I suit up and head down the blue blazed trail past Storer College to rejoin the A.T where I left off. After a short distance I arrived at Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson stood in 1783 and said, “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” Just past that, the trail enters Lower Town and passes the Paymasters House as it descends via a long series of stone steps. Have I mentioned before how much I enjoy steps?
Back at John Brown’s Fort, I climbed up the hill and started across the Potomac River on the Byron Memorial Footbridge and I soon entered Maryland. Five states down and nine to go! At this point I realized that I made a serious error. I had forgotten to fill my water bottle at the ATC Headquarters as intended. The heat was already ratcheting up, the next water source was six miles away on the A.T., and I intended to hike a six mile side trail before I continued further down the A.T. I considered walking back to town but quickly dismissed the idea.
I had wanted to hike to the top of Maryland Heights long before I arrived in Harpers Ferry. Not only is it the location from which to take the iconic picture of Lower Town between the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, but it also played a significant part in Civil War history. On September 15th, 1862, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had the town of Harpers Ferry surrounded and at 8:00 am opened fire on the Union garrison stationed there with an artillery bombardment from over 50 cannons located on Maryland Heights and at the base of Loudon Heights. The garrison of over 12,000 soldiers surrendered within hours in what still remains the single largest surrender of US forces in history. Gen. Jackson then filled his wagons with arms and ammunition from the captured armory and rushed to Sharpsburg, MD, to join Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Virginia in the Battle of Antietam.
After crossing the Potomac River, I turned left on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath towards the trail to Maryland Heights. A couple of hikers pointed out to me that I was going the wrong way, but I left them shaking their heads when I told them that it was intentional on my part. Within a half mile, you cross the canal on a small bridge and enter the woods to start the climb. At the trailhead kiosk I noticed an abandoned trail leading in the opposite direction, so I climbed that trail for a short distance and hid my pack out of view.
Most of the climb to Maryland Heights is along a dirt road and it was a hot and sometimes steep climb. The road was crowded with throngs of tourists struggling to make their way up and, surprisingly, a large percentage of them were foreign visitors. I could just imagine the soldiers getting those cannons up that road with 200 men manning the ropes.
Eventually, the road ends above Maryland Heights and a short trail leads you down to the cliffs. Suddenly I arrived at the cliffs and the view was spectacular! It is easy to see how having control of this high ground would make the defense of Harpers Ferry futile.
After taking a few pictures and enjoying the view with 100 other people, it was time to leave and get back to the A.T. The hike back down was much faster and easier than going up, and I soon retrieved my backpack and was on my way. Once I was back to the bridge, I was officially back on the A.T. which follows the towpath of the C&O Canal for several miles.
The C&O Canal was constructed between 1828 and 1850 to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington DC. For you trivia buffs, milepost 0 of the Canal is directly across from the Watergate complex in DC where the large wooden gate sits in the Potomac River. The canal was closed in 1924 when trains could do the coal hauling chores faster and cheaper, and the 184.5 mile long canal and towpath is now administered by the National Park Service.
The small section of the C&O canal that is part of the A.T. is the only section of the A.T. which is open to cyclists, and the bikes were out in droves today. I soon caught up with another hiker who introduced himself as Many Names from Tallahassee, FL. He had started his thru-hike a few days before I did, but had been off the trail for several days while recovering from shin splints. Today was his first day back on the trail and he was taking it easy to avoid reinjury. We chatted for quite a while but it was difficult to walk side-by-side due to all the bicycle traffic.
By now I was starting to get really thirsty. I had stagnant green canal water on my left and the presumably polluted Potomac River on my right, but not a drop anywhere to drink. The next water was less than three miles away, but to get there was going to require an 800 foot climb with full pack. So I ate a Snickers Bar and started climbing.
The Ed Garvey Shelter is a really nice two story shelter that today was packed with campers. When I entered the shelter area, I heard someone shout, “OnthegO!” Looking around I was amazed to see Fake News and Priestess on the second story deck. I waved, quickly explained my water situation, and headed for the spring.
At this particular shelter the spring is located 0.4 miles down a very steep trail. Ordinarily I wouldn’t make that trip for water but these were not ordinary circumstances. When I reached the spring, I sat down and carefully filtered, methodically mixed, and purposefully drank two liters of Gatorade. It was so refreshing! Having decided that this shelter was as far as I was going to walk for today, I gathered three more liters of water and started climbing back up the hill.
I joined Fake News and Priestess on the second floor balcony of what they were calling the Honeymoon Suite, and we ate supper and got caught up on what had transpired since we last saw each other. As the sun started to set, I looked out at the beautiful forest surrounding our tree house and reflected that a little over 24 hours ago I was surrounded by thousands of tourists at Gettysburg, and now everything was so serene. I was happy to be back in the woods.