I recently moved to the Washington DC area for the summer. Although I live in one of the most crowded metropolitan areas in the US, there are a surprising number of outdoor activities available! I joined a few hiking and backpacking MeetUp groups to find other like-minded people to share weekend trips with. As luck would have it, one of the groups had a trip planned for the first weekend of my summer stay. I signed up and met the group at the Weverton Cliffs parking lot to begin our trek.
The entirety of this short trek is depicted on the PATC #6 map.
Weverton Cliffs to Crampton Gap
May 20, 2017 | 7.12 mi | +1776′ / -994′
The weather today is absolutely perfect for backpacking. Yesterday the temperature topped out at 95 degrees, but evening showers and this morning’s overcast sky are responsible for today’s comfortable 70-degree state. The first section of trail ascends rapidly up Weverton Cliffs to an intersection; one fork leads to an overlook and the other continues along the Appalachian Trail toward Crampton Gap. I and a few others take the short spur trail to check out the views. There are some significant drops (hence “Weverton Cliffs”) and gaps in the trees that reveal the Potomac and the surrounding countryside. Someday I’ll return to the area in autumn when the trees are all changing color. I imagine the sight of miles and miles of red and orange oaks is incredible!
The next six and a half miles prove to be a very pleasant hike along the ridgeline of South Mountain. Sections of the trail are lined with thick carpets of ferns; the sheer amount of green is staggering! Last night’s rain has left the trail damp and soft, but not muddy, and the aromas of several species of flowering plants waft through the air as we stroll northward. Although the trail is mostly soft dirt, you have to watch your step to avoid stumbling over the many protruding rocks and roots.
The miles slip quickly by as I chat with various members of the group. Most of us were strangers this morning and it’s fun to get to know one another while walking. I particularly enjoy learning about the hikes and trips the others have completed. Some of these guys have been backpacking all over the world! We commiserate a bit about the drag of a 9-to-5 job and daydream about the possibility of hiking as often and as frequently as we’d like. In this case, the grass is literally greener!
In no time at all, we arrive at Crampton Gap and Gathland State Park. It’s only a few tenths of a mile further to the Crampton Gap Shelter and nearby tent camping sites. The location is an ideal camping spot with luxuries including a nearby spring and an outhouse! We set up our tents to stake claims to good flat spots and then Josh and I head out for some extra walking – we have at least 7 more hours of daylight and I don’t much fancy sitting around all afternoon.
An Afternoon Stroll to White Rocks
5.96 mi | +/- 1110′
About three miles further down the Appalachian Trail is a scenic outlook called White Rocks. The trail is a little rockier between Crampton Gap and White Rocks, but the grade is shallow and makes for an easy walk. Josh and I crush the miles in a little over than an hour. At the overlook, we meet a few section hikers that are finishing up a thru-hike of the Maryland stretch of the AT. They’re happy to hear that Crampton gap is only a few easy miles down the trail.
We also meet a trail runner, dressed in a florescent yellow shirt and floppy running shorts. After greeting us all with an informal “Asuh?,” he tells us that he’s run about 33 miles today. I’ve done a few full marathons and I cannot image running 33 miles, much less the 50-odd miles this guy is training for (an ultra-marathon). Props to you, dude!
After a resting, Josh and I head back to camp. We smell the campfire before reaching camp and are greeted by a roaring blaze in one of the large stone rings near the tent sites. Several group members brought relatively exotic backpacking foods: Paul has steak for dinner, and Adam cooks two Brats over the fire. After eating, we continue talking and watch “Wilderness TV,” i.e., the campfire until hiker midnight arrives and sleeping bags call.
Return to Weverton Cliffs
May 21, 2017 | 7.12 mi | +994′ / -1776′
It’s not often that I enjoy a restful sleep on the first night of a trip, but I slept very well last night! The early morning air is a tad chilly, which is a nice contrast to the 95+ degree weather we experienced a few days ago. Josh builds up the fire from last night’s coals and the group gradually emerges from tents (and hammocks) to sit around the fire and eat breakfast.
Once everyone has eaten, we tear down camp and begin walking back toward Weverton Cliffs. The cool temperatures persist and make for another day of perfect hiking weather! Before I know it, we’re at the parking lot and I bid farewell to most of the group. I’m looking forward to more weekend adventures with this and other MeetUp groups. This is the first time I’ve every joined a MeetUp, and it has definitely been a positive experience!