Monday, May 16, 2016

Weverton Cliffs, MD

I was sick as a dog.

And we had been planning to hike to Weverton Cliffs all week. Little, restless sleep. Racking cough. Runny nose. Sore throat. General lethargy and malaise.

In short, my morning sucked. But as I told Ann the day before, she would have to handcuff me to something big enough to hold me in place, because I was going hiking on Sunday, come hell or high water. Well, hell didn't come, but the water sure was high, as high as I have seen the rivers in a long, long time, after nearly two straight weeks of rain.

Weverton Cliffs, MD
I downed some Ibuprofen, cough syrup, and some breakfast all while making turkey and hummus wraps for our lunch. Ann joined me downstairs and tried her best to talk me out of going. I've hiked thousands and thousands of miles in my life and I know that sometimes when you're sick, especially with a dumbass head cold like I had, the best medicine is often some sunshine and a trail through the woods.

I finally broke down and bought myself a new daypack. At 33 liters, it's plenty big enough to carry anything I might need, even for a weekend in the woods, though it might be a bit overkill for a civilized day hike. My old Mountainsmith lumbar pack at maybe 7 liters was OK for a quick solo hike, but now that there are two of us, 7 liters just doesn't cut it. I spent a few minutes familiarizing myself with the new pack and getting the gear transferred from the lumbar pack while Ann got her stuff together. We were out the door at 9:30 and arrived at Harper's Ferry National Historical Park about 10.

Fringe Tree in Harpers Ferry NHP Parking Lot
In the parking lot, we pulled up right next to a Fringe Tree in full bloom. I never noticed them before I ran across them at Chimney Rock, NC a couple of weeks ago and now to see another one so close to home. Go figure. We took the NPS shuttle bus into town and set to walking to the point and crossing the river on the AT.

Walking into Harper's Ferry, St. Peter's
Although the true halfway point of the Appalachian Trail is 76 miles further north in southern PA, most hikers think of Harper's Ferry, home of ATC Headquarters, and crossing the Potomac River as the psychological midpoint. We continued across the Potomac River on foot and turned right (due east) on the C&O Canal towpath as it follows the merged Potomac and Shenandoah rivers down to Washington DC. The AT follows the towpath for about three miles before climbing and heading north through the Maryland hills.

Harper's Ferry, Almost Halfway

High Water, Looking at Loudoun Heights, VA
About this point, across from the eastern end of Loudoun Heights VA, we'd been walking for 30-45 minutes and though I hadn't noticed until Ann said something, I was feeling so much better just being outside and doing something.

Taking in the Potomac

Great Blue Heron, Potomac River

Lots of Indigo Buntings along the C&O Canal

Eastern Painted Turtle, C&O Canal

How Many Turtles? I See Eleven

Canada Geese Feeding on Duckweed

Goose in a Sea of Green

Dame's Rocket Everywhere

Four-Petaled Dame's Rocket Detail
I ran across this yellow salsify on the side of the tow path. I really like the triangular nature of the bloom and I especially love the elaborate seedheads in the fall. Speaking of tall yellow flowers, I saw lots of rattlesnake weed, but it was so windy that I couldn't get a decent picture of the small single yellow flowers swinging high above the rosette of deeply purple-veined green leaves.

A Yellow Salsify/Goatsbeard

Wild Sage, Salvia lyrata
All along the towpath and anywhere there was a little sunlight, we saw big trellises and cascades of wild roses. I don't know enough to about them to know if they are escaped Rosa multiflora or native Rosa virginiana, but they were beautiful in their five-petaled simplicity.

Wild Rose

Another, Yellower Rose

Beautiful Blush Pink Rose

Annie Smells a Bunch of Dame's Rocket
We saw this honeysuckle which is very different from our bush honeysuckles. Ours bloom before the leaves bud out. This one clearly is blooming after leafing out.

A Tall Honeysuckle
I saw this beefy plant with a seven-inch diameter umbel of white flowers and several others more or less like it. They seem to be parsnips, perhaps escaped common garden parsnips, but the jury is still out. Many have commented that it is cow parsnip, but I'm not sure. In any case, I gave it a wide berth and didn't touch it. I didn't want to find out the hard way.

Unidentified Parsnip

Teasel From Last Year

Sweet Pea
I found real Solomon's Seal blooming right alongside False Solomon's seal and without seeing them in bloom, they're really hard to tell apart. Unfortunately, it was too windy to get the Solomon's Seal to hold still long enough to stay in focus in the gloomy light of the forest floor.

False Solomon's Seal

I was really confused to come across this beautiful white flowering shrub in the woods. It looked so hauntingly familiar and yet it was so out of context that it took me a minute to recognize it as a Philadelphus, a Mock Orange. Had I been in a garden, it would have been in perfect context for me. There are so many species of this shrub that I am not even going to try to hazard a guess.

Mock Orange

White Phlox
I should have bought a garbage bag and some gloves for the stinging nettles are just out now and still tender enough to harvest. The trail was so wet and muddy in places that we had to move over to the margins and at one point, I brushed up against a nettle. No fun!

Stinging Nettle
And in the wild edible category, here is one of two giant pheasant back mushrooms that we saw. This mushroom has a very tough skin (and is still chewy even after skinning) and has a light watermelon rind/cucumber smell when it is freshly cut. It's not a highly desirable culinary mushroom, but it is edible enough.

Pheasant Back Mushroom
About four miles into our hike, we got to our goal, Weverton Cliffs, which besides being a good place to take a lunch break, also offers stunning views looking west up the Potomac towards Harper's Ferry. Our sunny 55- to 60-degree day turned chilly out on the rocks where the trees offered absolutely no protection from the constant 20-knot winds. Needless to say, we admired the view, played with a couple of pitbulls belonging to another group of hikers, shot our obligatory photos, gobbled our lunch (with help from said pitbulls), and headed back to the relative warmth of the trees for the return trip to Harper's Ferry.

We Left the AT Here

Spectacular View from Weverton Cliffs
After our return hike, we were about 8.5 miles in and Ann was beat. I didn't realize how beat until I saw her trying to climb the steep stairs to St. Peters Catholic Church. I left her there to rest on the grass by the church while I walked the AT up to Jefferson Rock and into Harper Cemetery for the view back down the valley where the Potomac and the Shenandoah merge and head southeast into DC.

Downtown Harper's Ferry

Rooftops in Harpers Ferry

Odd Sight in a Trail Town, Not!
Jefferson Rock is an interesting formation just feet off the AT in Harper's Ferry above the Shenandoah River and is where Thomas Jefferson in 1783 saw the view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers that caused him to write subsequently in his book Notes on the State of Virginia that "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." And indeed, he was very right though the view is better at the top of Harper's Cemetery a little bit further upstream along the Shenandoah.

Jefferson Rock
You can't tell right now for all the leaves on the trees, but this spot in Harper's Cemetery may be my favorite view in all North America.

Best Viewed in the Winter, Best View in Harpers Ferry
Another good, long hike in the books. And not a bad day at all for one that started off being so crappy.

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