Trip Report: Caledonia to Pen Mar (AT)

After I sent Michael a text with my handwritten carpool notes, I realized that–perhaps–I had let my carpool obsession go a little overboard. We started with a veritable flotilla of cars and were now down to the bare minimum to make a shuttle work. If you were confused at any point about the state of our shuttle, rest assured that we all were confused at various points about where cars were and who was going into them. Spoiler alert: we made it to the pub so all turned out well. 

I had been looking around for an easy route to ease back into backpacking. In early August, I slipped on a patch of dew-covered grass and wound up with a sprained ankle and stress fracture in my foot. Fortunately, all healed well but it meant I was out of commission of most of the summer and all of the fall. For this trip, I landed on the stretch of the Appalachian Trail between Caledonia and Pen Mar. It had the benefit of mild climbs and descents, plus it was a section that I hadn’t hiked in full. At roughly 18 / 19 miles, it would give decent mileage for each day–about 9.5 miles. Add in the promise of what was touted to be one of the best shelter areas (specifically privy) at Tumbling Run and the plan was on.

I was pleasantly surprised at the trail. While nothing too noteworthy, it made for nice walking–with all the mountain laurel surrounding the path, it would be lovely to visit in spring when it is blooming. Less lovely was the band of Boy Scouts blaring Red Hot Chili Peppers on the initial climb up to the ridge–most of us were lucky to out-hike them, while I just gave up and let them pass so they (and their speakers) could get far ahead of me. Fortunately, I was also able to pass them when they stopped for a break.

We were also lucky with the weather. The threat of rain during the day had changed to rain overnight, although we were still wondering about the forecasted temperature drop. Saturday’s hiking temperatures were probably in the mid to high 60s, while Sunday was forecasted to be in the 40s. 

The Tumbling Run Shelters made for an excellent stopping point, although perhaps a little early for our standards. A side note in that I was glad that I did not suggest pressing onto the next shelter. I recalled reading that something had happened with the Antietam Shelter–it was moved to Cowans Gap. Sunset was 4:45 p.m. so we had ample time to set up in the light. We also had time to investigate saw alternatives for cutting wood. (Note that we actually did have a saw.)

Dark fell early and we all thought it was midnight when it was only 6 p.m. (Or maybe that was just me.) I encouraged people to bring treats to share and many delivered. Oreos, gluhwein, and hot toddies made an appearance. The fire crackled merrily. We outlined plans for DC UL’s first reality show and bestowed a rating of 9 to Tumbling Run’s shelter with the newly established DC UL Privy Rating. (A functioning doorbell would have pushed it to 10.) Michael jokingly asked who was going to be the first to bed. With that comment, he summoned the weather as it grew windy and started to rain heavily. We were all first to bed as we scurried to our respective shelters to take cover. 

The storm was short-lived but most had settled into their tents for the evening. Marika, Wesal, Beks, Dmitri, and I chatted for a while in the shelter before retiring for the evening. The temperatures started to drop–down to the low 50s as we nestled into our sleeping bags. 

It was chilly when we woke up on Sunday. Beks’ thermometer had it in the low 30s as we headed out of camp. Again, the walking was pleasant although I took one leaf-covered descent rather slowly–no falling! Then, Pen Mar. We reversed the shuttle and made our way to the Appalachian Brewing Company where we were briefly stymied by the ordering system. We persevered and beers + food arrived as promised. Cheers!

All in all, this was a good weekend and a welcome return to the trail for me. I found Saturday a bit hard, perhaps more mentally, as I was frustrated with my pace. My ankle, unused to the motion of rough terrain, also occasionally barked at me. Stopping for lunch, however, put me in better spirits for the final few miles on Saturday (maybe just hangry?) and I felt much better on Sunday as I hiked along. I was also happy with the route. I felt as though I could have hiked more, but I was glad to stop at the shelter. I’d put this route on the list for those looking for mild stretches.

Thanks to those who joined for the weekend and I hope to see you all on the trails soon!

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