i knew i wanted to do an overnight trip, i just wasn't sure where - i had to be home Sunday by 3pm to attend a friend of my wife's art gallery reception. Friday night my sons helped me get my gear together and then we looked at maps. i decided to push my mileage a little and retrace my steps from last year - northbound from US 40 to the new Raven Rock shelter and return. the trip last year was tough - it was Labor Day weekend, hot, and the springs were dry - i found water at several road crossings in sealed gallon jugs (thank you trail faerie)
i figured it would take me 6 hours to cover the 14 miles since it took about that the previous trip. i didn't want to get to the shelter before 4pm so i planned to be at the trail head at 11am. i figured this would work well since i would be passing Black Rock Cliffs around noon and it would be a great spot for lunch.
unfortunately i got a late start and didn't get out of the house until 10am, had to hit the store and then got stuck in traffic. it should have taken an hour to get to the trail head, but i got there at 11:50, nearly an hour behind schedule. i had stopped and grabbed a bite before i got on the highway so i wasn't hungry and decided i wouldn't stop for lunch, just eat snacks.
i made great time up to Black Rock Cliffs, just over an hour, but my right knee was starting to ache. i had passed only one SOBO since getting on the trail and a handful of day hikers heading home from Annapolis Rocks. i stopped for water at the Pogo campsite and a pack of scouts rolled in for lunch as i was leaving. they looked like they were having fun, but they had a TON of gear. two very heavy looking 5 quart pots, iron skillets, and an insane amount of water. that made me nervous since they had come from Cowell Shelter... was the spring there dry?
between Pogo and Cowell i passed several small groups and a large Outward Bound group struggling to make the climb up South Mountain from Cowell. i arrived at Cowell around 3:30 and had covered 8.9 miles and had enough water to get to the stream at Warner's Gap. not bad, but my knee was hurting and i had 5 miles to go, the final mile being the toughest, the ascent to Raven Rock. but first i had to climb out of the hollow at Cowell and then get over the hump at Warner's Gap.
the next 5 miles were very tough. the climb from Cowell starts as large rocks, then crosses a power line clearing, then climbs up more rocks, then climbs some more before having to cross two fields, a road, and then another field and then another power line crossing before dropping down to Warner's gap. it's a tough section after the mostly easy ridge hiking atop South Mountain.
it took nearly two hours to get to Warner's Gap and i stayed there for about 15 minutes to load up on water and clean myself up. since the Raven Rock shelter is on top of the ridge and the spring is a 0.6 mile trip down the side of the ridge i figured i only wanted to do it once and filled up with enough water to get me back to the stream in the morning.
from Warner's Gap i had to climb up and around and then back down Buzzard Knob and then cross Raven Rock Road and climb up Raven Rock to the shelter. from the road crossing, the shelter is just under 1 mile and i knew it was going to be tough, esp. with the extra 2 liters of water and my tired legs. it was a struggle and the crest couldn't come soon enough - i was spent and should have eaten at Cowell instead of just nibbling on some gorp.
i pulled into the shelter at 6:30 exhausted and hungry. there were four people at the shelter, two pairs of hikers. one of them offered me a meatball sandwich but i declined determined to eat the sandwich i had brought for lunch but never ate. i hate carrying extra weight :)
the night was great and i had a great conversation with one of the guys until 11:30 when i drifted off to sleep.
i was back on the trail at 8am after getting some coffee and a quick breakfast. i was at the stream at Warner's gap in 45 minutes and at Cowell in another 50 minutes. i felt good and had to make good time back to the car since i had promised my wife i would be home by 3pm. time was ticking so i pressed on noticing that Cowell had half a dozen or so people still breaking camp. i was glad i didn't cut my hike short and stay there, too many people.
i was at the top of the climb at 10:30 and was greeted by two young ladies on a SOBO from PA to Harper's Ferry. they stayed the night at the hostel down the road from Cowell. they needed to recover from getting soaked the other night and needed to dry their gear.
at Pogo there was a PATC trail crew working and i managed to skin my knee as i passed them. why do you only fall when someone is watching? i dressed my knee and ate a quick lunch of tuna and combos and looked at the time. gotta get going, it was already 12:30 and i needed to be at my car before 1:45 if i was gonna stay out of the dog house!
i passed the side trail to Annapolis Rocks at 12:50 and knew i was gonna be at the car as planned. i dropped down from Pine Knob and made it to my car at 1:40. my legs were fried and after a quick clean up i was on the road heading home. i didn't like that i had to hammer across the trail to get to my car so make it home by 3pm, but i was glad i got out and did the trip. i'm even happier that my wife asked if i had a good time since she knows how much i miss getting out as often as i did before our second son was born in 2007.
this weekend is a scout camping trip with my oldest son and then next weekend i'm heading to Dolly Sods with a buddy who has never been there. wait until i tell my wife about my plans for this winter :)