Harpers Ferry to the Cumberland Valley

Harpers Ferry is the official “half way town” of the AT – not quite half way from the start of the trail in Georgia to the finish in Maine, but because it has a railway station, people hiking the AT in two halves usually split it here.

So it seemed like a good place to rest up for a day and see if that helped the bruising on my leg. It didn’t, but it was nice not to be hiking for a day!

Harpers Ferry has a lot of historic buildings dating from the American civil war. It is close to the Mason-Dixon line, south of which were the slave-owning Confederate states, and to the north the abolitionist Union states. It is at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and its strategic importance meant that a lot of battles were fought here, including a famous raid by John Brown on the Confederate armory. So it has a lot of information boards about the various historical sites, but unfortunately they seemed to mostly concentrate on the details of the events that took place there – who did what and who said what – rather than placing the events in a broader context. So although it was pleasant to wander round the old buildings, I’m not sure we came away much the wiser!

The next day we set off in pouring rain; my knee hurt like hell and motivation was low. But after skirting the old town on wooded paths (where we saw our first wild turtle!) we had a few easy miles, crossing the Potomac river on an old steel bridge (crossing from West Virginia into Maryland half way across), then following an old canal towpath between the river and the railway.

Then inevitably we started climbing uphill. The drizzly rain continued for most of the day, so we were very glad to get to Pine Knob shelter, 24 miles further on, and find that there was space for us to sleep in the shelter rather than pitch our tent in the rain.

The following day brought the first of a quick series of milestones, when we crossed from Maryland into Pennsylvania, which is the Mason-Dixon line. Finally we were leaving the South! And the big question was: would we still be able to get breakfast biscuits in the North??!

Neil signing the hiker register at the Mason-Dixon line

The next milestone was the actual halfway point between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. This varies from year to year because of minor diversions and reroutes, so is just a small sign nailed to a tree. For 2024, the midway point is mile 1098.7. The “ceremonial” midway point is about 4 miles further on and dates from 2011, when the AT was shorter, hence the confusing mileages! Time for a newer sign, I reckon.

Actual halfway point
Ceremonial midway point from when the trail was a bit shorter

Other than that, the biggest excitement on trail has been … snakes! We’ve been really excited to see two rattlesnakes in two days! The first was a small brown timber rattlesnake that I had actually passed without noticing before it gave its warning rattle. It continued rattling as Neil and I took photos (from a safe distance!) but didn’t seem interested in striking. The second one was a large black timber rattlesnake, that rattled at Neil before gliding away under a log. It stayed there for a while, watching us and flicking its tongue, but maybe it felt more secure under the log as it stopped rattling. They’re stunning animals, and fine as long as they don’t take you by surprise!

Brown timber rattlesnake – what a beauty!
Black timber rattlesnake

2 Responses

  1. Andy Hall
    | Reply

    Nice. . I remember a bivvi out in the Rockies where we slept on the floor only to wake up next morning to see sign “snakes have been seen here”

  2. Andy Hall
    | Reply

    Nice snakes. I remember a bivvi out in the Rockies where we slept on the floor only to wake up next morning to see sign “snakes have been seen here”

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