My son & granddaughter live in Hagerstown.
“Where’s that?” everyone always asks.
If you drew a triangle, with Baltimore and Washington, DC, at two of the corners, Hagerstown would be the third. All roughly equidistant from each other. A lot of folks actually commute from Washington County to Baltimore and Washington, DC. I wouldn’t: Too much traffic. So, my wife & I visit for Easter.
And, since it is my goal to hike everywhere I visit, I always plan a hike while we are visiting Hagerstown. Four of my hikes have been on Maryland segments of the Appalachian Trail, while the other was the Antietam National Battlefield. (Still the single bloodiest day in American history.)
Today, I planned to complete Maryland’s ~40 miles of the Appalachian Trail by hiking from Wolfsville Road, southeast of Smithsburg, to Pen Mar, just inside Pennsylvania. Thanx again to my patient wife, I would be able to do it as a shuttle hike, rather than turning around and hiking another ten miles back. I’m too old for that.
Also, because I never fly my pack or poles, I would again be hiking gearless. We planned for my wife to meet me about halfway, where the AT crosses MD-491 / Raven Rock Rd. so I could grab another bottle of water, then meet again at High Rock, before she picked me up in Pen Mar.
Starting at Wolfsville Rd., head west along the trail which parallels the paved road. Do not head up the dirt road at the back of the parking area: That leads to private property. Less than half a mile up the AT is the Ensign Cowall Shelter. According to WikiTrail.org, Ensign Cowall is a new shelter, intended to replace the “dismantled” Raven Rock Shelter. I would have checked Ensign Cowall more thoroughly than I did, but a couple of thru-hikers were kibbitzing, so I settled for saying howdy, then moving along.
There follows the first of four climbs on this Appalachian Trail segment, 350 ft. in a half mile to the summit of Hill 1713. The climb crosses a power line right-of-way. After reaching the summit, the AT turns north, crossing an open field and skirting a wooded housing area. I started noticing several species of flowers, which was cool as I had never seen flowers on the AT before. (My hike’s tending to come before western Maryland fully embraces Sprinng.) I also noticed the first of several plastic Easter eggs tied to trees by trail angels. I left them for the thru-hikers. 😉
Back in the woods, just a few hundred yards north of MD-77 / Foxville Rd. was a trailside junk yard. It did not look like hiker junk, and would have been hard to access for locals’ illegal dumping, so I’m not sure how it came to be. You see a lot of that kind of thing hiking in Arizona, but thankfully it was the only time I’ve seen it on the Appalachian Trail.
Between late fall and early spring, when there are few leaves on the trees, if you look east four miles, you may be able to see Catoctin Mountain, home of the presidential retreat at Camp David. (Frankly, I am surprised it is even noted on the topo map.) If you hear shooting, it is probably not attacking jihadis, but rather the gun club just west on MD-77.
About halfway down the descent to Warner Gap Hollow, on the left of the trail, is a piece of equipment. I’m guessing some sort of farm equipment, as very old stone walls along the trail seem to indicate it was once cleared and farmed.
The unnamed creek through Warner Gap Hollow was flowing quite heavy. It would make a great filtering point for thru-hikers. With care, and maybe hiking poles, it can be crossed dry.
This segment’s second climb begins after crossing dirt Warner Gap Hollow Rd.: 225 AEG in a third of a mile to a saddle below rocky Buzzard Knob. On the descent to Raven Rock Hollow, the Appalachian Trail crosses another segment of stone wall.
Little Antietam Creek is parallel to MD-491 between Buzzard Knob and Raven Rock. It can also be crossed dry with care, and maybe hiking poles. I, however, managed to slip and fall into the water. Though I did not notice it at the time, I must have also wrenched my back, as turning the wrong has been uncomfortable ever since. (A particular issue tonight, as I unsuccessfully tried to chase a baby squirrel around my laundry room.) My feet were soaked, but I soldiered on. Blisters threat or not, no way I was stopping.
After getting my water resupplied by my wife, I headed up this segment’s third and steepest climb: 600 AEG in 0.6 miles. There are switchbacks, but it still felt quite steep. I took a photo break about halfway up at a water seep “falls” where some thru-hikers were getting ready to head out. Raven Rock is the hill at the top of the climb, but from the AT, which passes just below the summit, it is not nearly as obvious as Buzzard Knob.
From Raven Rock, the Appalachian Trail continue to to climb to High Rock, but the angle is barely noticeable. The Raven Rock Shelter is on Raven Rock’s shallow north slope, about 100 yds. to the west of the trail, hidden by trees. (Even when the trees are leafless.) Despite internet rumors to the contrary, Raven Rock Shelter has not been dismantled. In fact, it is in great shape! It has an outhouse, bear box, picnic table, benches, fire ring and the shelter itself is clean.
From Raven Rock Shelter, it is about 1.75 miles to High Rock. There is a signed intersection, and if you miss the first intersection, there is another about 150 yds. west on the AT. About a quarter mile south of the first intersection, I started noticed rocks that had been spray painted with people’s names. At first I thought, “They left much trace”. The next one “Assholes”. The third one “Okay, this is getting old”.
I thought it was hikers committing the vandalism. When I saw High Rock, I realized it was locals.
High Rock was covered with Dutch levels of graffiti. Thousands and thousands of tags. On all sides. Even in tricky heaven spots. Most of it was just “Cletus loves Betty Jo” no skill crap. I guess if you have to tag, it kind of makes sense to do it where everyone else does, and not fuck up the rest of nature. High Rock was crowded even mid-day on Friday, and is a popular “parking” and hang-gliding spot. (With a death toll to match.)
I did not realize it at the time, but there appears to be a trail from the north side of High Rock back down to the Appalachian Trail.
After taking a lunch break, I headed south back to the AT. After the second intersection, the trail begins a steep, rocky descent. The path is so indistinct at times, and white blazes either missing or so faint, that the trail totally disappears. I resorted to following orange ground flags, which seemed to indicate a possible future AT rerouting. It was slow going for the next mile.
The fourth & final “climb” is 200 AEG in .80 miles, over trail that, again, often disappears in the rocky path. Thankfully, the final 1.5 miles from top of the climb into Pen Mar is slightly downhill on clear trail. Even though I was on the outskirts of Pen Mar, I could not see anything until I reached Pen Mar Park, which was quite elaborate. (Though much less so than the major amusement park it was in the late 19th century.)
The AT follows the park road towards the railroad tracks. After crossing the tracks, you are in Pennsylvania, as indicated by the Mason-Dixon Line sign. I hadn’t even thought about that, so it was a cool surprise, requiring selfies. I signed the trail log, wishing thru-hikers good luck. From the Mason-Dixon Line marker, it was only a hundred yards to where my wife was waiting for me, where the Appalachian Trail crosses PA-550. Frankly, Pen Mar Park would have been a much better waiting spot.
With Maryland complete, I’m not sure what I will do for our next visit. Maybe hike the AT segment north into Harpers Ferry, maybe the AT segment north from Pen Mar, maybe another battlefield or Greenbrier State Park. Who knows? 🙂
GPS File: AT_Wolfsville_Rd_to_Pen_Mar
Distance: 10.01 miles
AEG: 1,820 ft.
Time: 4h 29m