Assistant Backcountry Coach, Stu Hickey, and his family were kind enough to let us stay with them in Troutville, Virginia. We were lucky enough to be welcomed by a litter of eight Labrador puppies, just 7-weeks old. The Hickeys treated us to incredible southern meals and beds for the night. We got to hang out with the horses too! Before beginning the outdoor climbing portion of our trip, we headed to the local climbing gym to strengthen our skills.
The adventure really began when we hopped over to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. We set up at a nearby campground for the next couple of nights. Within walking distance from our tents was a climbing area known as ‘Junkyard.’ Despite its name, it certainly wasn’t junk. We were able to set up multiple top-rope climbs, progress our rock-climbing skills, bond as a team in the outdoors, and have a grand old time. We spent two days climbing at Junkyard before checking out a new crag.
The final climbing day brought us to ‘Sandstonia’ along the New River. This location was unique as we could learn sport climbing here. When sport climbing, the rock is pre-anchored with bolts and you clip in as you climb up. We were introduced to this style of climbing and had a blast doing so.
We couldn’t leave the New River Gorge without actually doing something on the river… so we went whitewater rafting. The New River is the oldest river in North America and is home to some incredible whitewater. We pulled our wetsuits on, pumped up the raft, and headed out onto the river. We cruised down the 6 miles of river, splashing through countless waves and even a Class 5 rapid. Although nobody went overboard, nobody made it out with their hair dry either.
Halfway through the trip, we headed back to Troutville to take a day off and catch up on schoolwork before we began backpacking. After study hall, we were lucky enough to head to the local indoor waterpark, thanks to the Hickey family. We rode the water slide, splashed around in the pool, and chilled in the hot tub. It was a good day off.
We were originally planning to spend the next 3 days hiking the Virginia Triple Crown on the AT, but the remnants of a tropical storm was forecasted to dump multiple inches of rain on us on day one of our hike. With this in mind, we decided to shift our plans and head to Maryland.
The Appalachian Trail stretches about 40 miles across Maryland. We had 3 days and 2 nights to hike all of it. Luckily, this section of the AT is super well-built and is a lovely hike. The first day of hiking brought us from Harpers Ferry to Dahlgren Backpacker Campground, where we set up camp. We got to check out the views from the Weaverton Cliffs as we made the 15 mile journey along the ridgeline. When we arrived at Dahlgren, the positive vibes continued as we cooked up some camp-stove mac and cheese for dinner. We watched the beautiful night sky show off its shining stars before heading to sleep for the night.
The second day of hiking brought us 16 miles to the Ensign Cowall Shelter. Along the way we stopped in Washington Monument State Park. The original Washington Monument was built here in 1827 and still stands today. We got to walk up the stairs to the top of the monument and enjoy the view which stretched for miles. When we arrived at camp, we cooked up a ramen dish and headed to bed early. It was a chilly night!
The final day took us all the way to the Maryland/Pennsylvania border in Pen Mar. We walked about 9 miles to finish off the journey. The end of the hike brought a feeling of success: we just hiked across an entire state.
This trip was a wonderful way to unite the team, learn new skills that will be needed this winter, and explore a new region. The rock climbing, rafting, and hiking formed memories that none of us will ever forget.
-written by Backcountry Athlete Kai Glidden, Class of 2023