Thanks be to Gravity (9/14/2008)

This is a highly edited version of something I wrote many years ago.  These days, I am also more comfortable with adding pictures and links directly to the narrative.  Ain’t technology da bomb!

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If you take the exit to Keep Tryst Road from US Route 340, (it comes up close to Harpers Ferry, just before you cross the bridge over the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia), and then follow the road all the way to the the bottom of a hill, it ends up next to tracks for the CSX railroad.  At this point the road makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to rejoin Route 340.  This place next to the railroad tracks is where people park their cars to head out on hikes.  The place is called Weverton.  From this location you can follow the Appalachian trail (or the AT as it is fondly known) up to Weverton Cliffs, or you can cross the tracks and head down to the towpath towards either Brunswick or Harpers Ferry.

Weverton used to be real town many years ago.  Very few people live in the area today. Back then an intrepid developer decided that he could harness the power of the waters of the Potomac for energy in order to develop commerce in this area.  The concept did not work and one of the reasons for failure was the regular flooding of the river.  I have read that you can see the remains of the old town of Weverton if you leave the towpath and head towards the river.  I have not been successful in finding these ruins so far.  Weverton is also a switching yard for the railroad, and the location from which a spur line used to branch off towards Hagerstown.  You can still see the remains of the railroad bridge for this spur line under the bridge for Route 340.

I arrived at Weverton early in the morning before the fog had lifted to do a hike to towards Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. My timing for the start of the hike was perfect.  As I walked towards the railroad tracks to cross over to the towpath, I sighted the headlights of the freight train through the fog.  It was heading in my direction. IMG_6132At the point where the path crosses the railroad the tracks curve away from you and as  a result you get a head-on view of the approaching train.  I got a lot of pictures of the train in the fog as it switched tracks and approached rapidly. IMG_6134And before I knew it the engineer was blowing the horn to make sure that I did not step on to the tracks,IMG_6136and the train was rushing by shaking the ground under me.IMG_6137It was moving quite fast and even picking up speed as the freight cars thundered by, with the hundreds of metal wheels screeching like a thousand banshees as the rail cars pushed against the rails and struggled to stay on the tracks as they rounded the curve and accelerated at the same time.IMG_6138I stood by just next to the carriages, which seemed to be much bigger and higher than what I imagined them to be when I had seen them from a distance, and felt a rush.  I was screaming but nobody could hear me.

The objective for this trip was to climb Maryland Heights on the Maryland side of the Potomac river next to Harpers Ferry.  From the lookout point on Maryland Heights one gets a nice view of the town of Harpers Ferry.  This hike turned out  to be an unexpected mental challenge for me.  I began to feel tired even as I started up the steep slope from beside the main road.  Perhaps I was really not in good shape.  The early part of the climb was quite strenuous and the last time I had done this was when family had visited from India, when we had walked halfway up the hill.  I walked up slowly, stopping frequently, and stopping by the meadows along the way to enjoy the sight of the many white butterflies fluttering around.IMG_6174It was a humid morning and pretty soon I was sweating quite profusely.  I did not really feel any pain but I was feeling nervous because this was the first time in a while I had pushed myself in this manner since the big event.  I almost turned back at one point.

But in the end I persevered.  I was going to reach my destination one way or the other, whichever destination it happened to be – the Pearly Gates (being the eternal optimist that I am) or the Scenic Overlook over the river!  I made it to the latter destination feeling a sense of achievement.  I spent some time taking pictures of the river and the valley below.IMG_6175IMG_6176IMG_6192 There was a butterfly sitting in the sun on a rock that did not move even as I approached and took close-up pictures of its eyes!  (There are some wonderful experiences waiting out there for you if you are willing to relax and  pay attention to what is going on around you.)IMG_6199IMG_6206I ran all the way down the hill on my way back to the towpath.  I wanted to sing a song – He’ll be running down the mountain when he comes!  It was a nice outing and I got some pictures of some flowers and creatures that I had not seen before. IMG_6155IMG_6157A woodpecker also obliged me by landing on a tree trunk next to the trail and staying put while I took its picture.IMG_6214I also got some nice pictures of the fog.IMG_6145IMG_6162IMG_6163IMG_6165IMG_6169IMG_6171All in all, another excellent outing to the river!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow

This week’s response to the challenge is a tale of three travels.

We saw a “Close” for the first time during our most recent trip to Edinburgh in Scotland .  Basically, these are narrow passageways between buildings, or small streets that are dead-ended.  A lot of the closes in Edinburgh are found on the Royal Mile.  Here are pictures of a couple of closes.

Last year, my sister, older daughter, and I, hiked the Little Haystack-Lincoln-Lafayette section of the Appalachian Trail in the Franconia Ridge section the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The trail running along the mountain ridge looks narrow enough to be scary, but they are OK to traverse on a day with good weather.  This hike was one for the ages, at least as far as I was concerned, and something that I realistically hope to able to revisit at least a couple of more times while the body is still able.

Finally, these pictures are from a hike in Ditinn during our trip to Guinea in 2012 to meet up with our daughter (who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in that country at that time).  I think every picture in the sequence below talks to the theme of this week’s challenge, perhaps in different ways.

A Study in Visual Perspectives

I had the opportunity to hike the Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire recently.  The 8.8 mile trail that we tackled started in the Lafayette Place parking lot in the Franconia Notch.  It took us up from the valley to the ridge and the mountain tops and back in a loop.  If you do this loop in a counter-clockwise direction, you climb up to the ridge using the aptly named Falling Waters trail.  You break out of the forest near the end of this trail at Little Haystack Mountain.  You then take the Appalachian Trail (AT) along the ridge for a while, proceeding to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette.  This part of the hike is completely above the tree level and feels very different from the climb and the descent which are through the woods.  At Mt. Lafayette, you descend the mountain to the Greenleaf Hut following the Greenleaf Hut trail.  At this point one takes the Old Bridle Path trail back to the parking lot.

This is an amazing hike.  It is quite challenging with the steep slopes and the rough terrain, and it takes a good part of the day to complete the hike.  You have to be well prepared,  and the hiking conditions also change with the seasons.  We did encounter a little bit of snow on the trail even in May.  If the weather is bad, and I have heard that it can turn bad in a hurry even on a good day, you will be completely exposed to the elements as you walk along the ridge.

I took at lot of pictures during the hike, but the ones I have been coming back to look at most often on my computer are the ones taken along the ridge.  Because it is quite open out there above the treeline, you get a good lesson on visual perspectives.  I have pictures of certain sections of the trail taken at different times and from different distances.  When you look at something from a certain distance you get a certain picture in your mind of how the terrain might be and of the distances you will be covering, but as you get closer you may realize that the picture did not accurately represent reality.  Often times, you do not even realize the size of what you are up against until to get close to the object.  Here are a series of pictures focusing on the slope leading up to the top of Mt. Lafayette.  (In viewing these pictures I found that I could use the size of the patch of snow on the side of Mt. Lafayette as a reference of some sort.)

The first three pictures were taken from Mt. Lincoln by zooming in with the camera.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next three pictures were most likely taken from the small crest in the ridge closest to Mt. Lafayette. You can see this crest in the first and second pictures in the series of the three pictures above.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn both of these series of three pictures, I think it is the size of the people that could give you a better perspective of what you are dealing with.

Here are a couple of pictures that I think help with providing a better perspective of the vastness of the space that one is dealing with, especially because people are present in the pictures.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first picture below may make you think you are actually walking along a narrow edge for this section of the trail, but the picture below it clarifies that the edge is really not that narrow after all.  In fact, as you walk along the ridge you do not get the sense of this being a risky endeavor, a perspective that could prove to be incorrect and quite dangerous on a windy day.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you get up to the ridge at Little Haystack and look north along the trail you see Mt. Lincoln in front of you.   Mt. Lafayette is hidden behind Mt. Lincoln even though it is the taller of the two mountains.  If you were unfamiliar with the territory you would not know which mountain you were looking at and heading towards.  Some people may not realize until they get to the top of Mt. Lincoln that there was still more ground to be covered to get to the last stop along the ridge.  It is all a matter of the visual perspective.  Here is a picture that provides a little bit of that perspective.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think it is actually quite difficult for a person who is only looking at pictures to truly grasp what one is dealing with in reality.  You will appreciate the real challenge you are up against only while you are in that space.   You might try to capture the nature of that space with a series of pictures, but that is not the same thing as being in that space.

Here is a picture of the Franconia Ridge taken on the way down the mountain. (Click through to see the picture in its full size.)  At this point we still had a long way to go to get back to the parking lot from where we had started the hike. The Old Bridle Path trail from the Greenleaf hut descends along the ridges of the hills to the left of the picture.  The three peaks that dominate the picture are Mt. Lafayette (5249 ft), Mt. Lincoln (5089 ft), and Little Haystack (4760 ft). We walked the ridge from Little Haystack to Lafayette, a distance of about 1.7 miles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are interested in viewing more pictures of the hike, follow this link.