Published by Serge Stuart,
It’s been 6 months since our last trip to Appalachian Trail and the mountains were calling our names.
Read about our last AT trip here:
So we decided to do about 40 miles going Northbound from Pen Mar to Pine Grove in 4 days. Easy, right? Read on to find out!
Due to various factors Dan, Jason, and Victor couldn’t make the trip, so only Alex (Chili) and I (LongLegs) ended up going, however Buddy (from "Hiking and Backpacking Maryland" Facebook group) joined us part of the trip and we had a great time traveling NB for 4 days and 3 nights on the trail.
Next, let me talk a little bit about our gear and pack weight.
Buddy was the lightest in the group with 22 lbs initial pack weight. My pack was about 30 lbs with 4 days worth of food and 1 liter of water. Alex had the heaviest pack weighing in at approximately 38 lbs.
While I enjoy going lighter, I am more of a traditional backpacker, so my pack weight empty is not UL, however I do have some light gear in my kit so I feel that I strike a good balance between weight and comfort on the trail.
Here’s my loadout for the trip:
Here’s our Day 1 track map in GaiaGPS:
We met up at Pine Grove and left 1 car there, so we’d have a ride at the end of our trip. Then we drove to our starting point - Pen Mar and left a car there.
Buddy met us up at Pen Mar and we set out on the hike.
While it was very hot and humid, we managed to maintain a good 2.5 miles per hour pace that day. It was great to be back in the mountains enjoying nature and walking. We talked about gear and and tips and tricks to make the weight lighter. During this conversation we didn’t notice that we got off the trail and went up another trail for .5 miles before realizing that we were no longer on AT. So we had to backtrack adding a mile to our daily mileage. So what? We were having a good time!
Our plan was to do the easy 5 miles to Deer Lick shelter and setup camp for the night. Buddy kept going north for he had a plan to photograph a passing comet the next day at a lookout spot on AT.
At Deer Lick we met a gentleman who was day hiking, who told us some tips about water sources on this section and general stuff about the trail. After he left, a thru hiker with a name Tomea (trail name Demona) joined our camp. She was a slim and lean Hungarian woman who started her thru hike of AT on May 2nd, and was almost at the mid point. Demona ended up talking to her family on the phone for couple of hours while Alex and I were talking about our plan for the next day and making dinner.
Here’s my food plan for the trip:
Later in the evening, Demona joined us in conversation and we talked about why she was on a thru hike. She said that she wanted to do this for herself; she is a mom of 3 and felt that she needed to get away and do this as her accomplishment. Very cool! She also mentioned that it was little difficult in the beginning of her thru hike, since lots of trail towns were closed for business due to COVID-19.
Later in the evening Demona showed us how to do a PCT bear hang, which was new to me. I usually just do a regular bear hang.
An interesting point in conversation came up when Demona told us that her pack was 30 lbs. As small as she was we were surprised she had a 30 lb pack.
For dinner Alex had his homemade beef jerky and barley which he cooked on the fire. I had my Backpackers Pantry Mac and Cheese.
It rained most of the night, but not hard.
Our total miles for this day were 6.
Here’s our Day 2 track map In GaiaGPS:
We woke up around 6am. Demona promptly packed up and went on. She wanted to get on the trail and put some miles in before it got hot. I understand that thru hikers have a strict schedule that doesn’t allow much time in camp in the morning. Not sure that I would like that if I was doing a thru hike.
We took our time with breakfast, packing up and also having a conversation about world problems. I enjoyed this time without the need to rush and we finally were on our way around 9am.
We were supposed to link back up with Buddy a few miles up the trail. Coordinating this randevouz would prove difficult since cell phone reception was bad in this area.
We had lunch near Buzzard Peak and had another long conversation about solving world problems. For lunch I usually do potato and leak soup with some snacks and Alex does his canned chili. That’s how he got his trail name. Carrying all those heavy cans of chili. Oh my!
We pressed on to our Day 2 camp at Rocky Mountan. Total miles for Day 2 were 10.
At Rocky Mountain we met up Buddy who already had his camp setup. We got water, setup, and had a great dinner around fire while talking about various topics, such as our shared love of hiking and backpacking. Buddy told us that he was not able to make a photo of the comet due to weather conditions.
At night we had a fox come around camp and make fox noises. Other than that the night was quiet and uneventful.
Here’s our Day 3 track map in GaiaGPS:
We woke up at 6am, had a light breakfast, and packed up camp. Buddy left to hike SB back to Pen Mar.
We had 13 miles to do today and if it was going to be as hot as yesterday, we wanted to get going so that at least part of the day would be spent hiking in cooler temperatures.
The terrain was mild and we were maintaining 2.4 miles per hour pace. Our goal was to stop for lunch at Quarry Gap, since it’s supposed to be a really nice shelter.
We made our way to the lunch point without much effort other than the climb out of Calenonia State Park.
Quarry Gap was awesome! The shelter area is so well maintained with flowers around, a swing, couple of tent pads, a privy, and a deep spring a stone throw away. Thank you Glenn from the "Hiking and Backpacking Maryland" Facebook group for the tip to pop in this shelter.
We enjoyed lunch and laid down to take a nap only to be woken up by loud day hikers who talked about non-sensical things as I was in and out of my nap. I was hoping that they would see us and maybe talk little quieter, but they didn’t. So we got on with our hike.
The rest of Day 3 was hard for some reason. Maybe because we relaxed too much at our lunch point, not sure...
I almost stepped on a black snake (non-venomous, I think) on the trail. She was decent size and moved away as I approached. It startled me though.
We made our way to our camp at Birch Run around 5pm and setup our tents. Not a bad spot. There were a group of young guys at the shelter. Later on, a thru hiker female came up and set up her HMG tent. Didn’t speak much to us.
I made my dinner and just as I finished, the rain opened up. It didn't stop until well into the night, so with nothing to do outside and us being tired, we retired for the night.
Here’s our Day 4 track map in GaiaGPS:
We woke up to a damp morning, since it rained on and off all night. With it being our last day, we wasted no time packing up our wet gear and setting out.
We had 10 miles to go to our final destination at Pine Grove.
On the way there we talked about getting pizza and beer when we get done with the hike.
About half way through today’s miles we stopped for lunch at Tom’s Run.
This was a quick lunch to get us powered up to do a few more miles to Pine Grove.
It was at that location we encountered a decent size timber rattle snake. It was chilling near a rocky path leading up to stream crossing with her head perked up as if she was waiting for somebody to cross the path... we walked around her not wanting to take a chance.
We pushed on the last few miles to Pine Grove, and were happy to see the parking lot where we left one of our cars.
We did it! Another trip in the books. Another adventure was complete.
We felt, as we always do at the end of these trips, a sense of accomplishment, but also some sadness, for we were done with our adventure until next time.
I love the trail and all of what it brings. I enjoy spending time walking through the woods in the mountains and don’t rush, taking everything in. This uncomplicated, connected experience is what brings me back to the trails.
We had an awesome trip, and it is now time to plan our next adventure.
Our next big adventure is going to be Rim to Rim at Grand Canyon in October 2020, but I am sure we will do several short trips to our favorite trails before that.
Hope you found this story fun and interesting to read. Until next time, see you on the trails!