Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paw Paw

So, way back at the beginning of June, we were going to go to the Paw Paw Tunnel campground so that Pat could fish and I could explore the tunnel. But between the two of us, we didn't have a vehicle that was driveable and capable of carrying everything we wanted to bring with us. So, the trip got put on the backburner.

Until this weekend.

Finally, nothing planned prior, and the last weekend before mom and I head out west on the road trip, so even though it was raining at home on Saturday morning, we waited until the precipitation was minimal, then loaded up the Lightning and headed out.
A little spider in the arbor vitae, weathering the rain
The neighbor's ridiculously huge sunflower, loving the rain
This was also the weekend of the Packwood ProSolo, which I missed last year due to taking on the resource teaching position at work. I was missing it again this year, but because I no longer own cars competitive in the SCCA autocross classing structure after the SEB decided that the WRX and the STi were the same car with different turbos. I was sad to be missing it, but I honestly haven't been missing autocross at all so far this year, and I'd be hiking and seeing beautiful scenery this weekend anyway.

We were using Waze for our directions, mainly because I downloaded the Schwarzenegger Terminator voice, and Pat just wants to hear the "Get down!" any time there's a car on the side of the road or whatever. Anyway, it took us out I-70 until Hancock, then instead of taking I-68 towards Cumberland, the directions had us take US522 to Berkeley Springs, then WV-9 to Paw Paw.
WV-9 is fun, twisting and turning along the Cacapon River, until you get behind someone slow.
We got to the campsite and set up our stuff by 3PM. This particular site is like Antietam Creek, in that you can't park next to your site. It's also unlike any other site we've been to, in that it looks like someone's big backyard, split up into 10 campsites. Five of those are marked "group campsite," and at first, it looked like only two individual sites were open. I looked at the tags still on the others where nothing was set up, and the two sites that were shaded by walnut trees were actually vacated, so we moved what we'd brought out already and got the tent and all set up at site 9.
Our tent, and the only other individual camper for the evening
We chose our precise area for the tent poorly. First off, we didn't check for walnuts and branches underneath the tent. Secondly, we kept having walnuts fall on the tent overnight. At least the air mattress made the former problem a non-issue.

So, after setting up the tent, Pat immediately went off to fish. I followed him down the path to the river just to see what it looked like there.
Upstream from the campsite
Downstream, where Pat was fishing
Then, I jumped on my bike to see the tunnel. It wasn't very far.
The campsite is just west of here.
The western entrance looms large. The eastern opening is barely visible.
There is a little water in the canal at this point, and it looks as if park rangers actually drive through the tunnel if they need to go this way. I walked down to the water to look.
Little fish!
There were a few little sunfish poking around, which I thought was funny. Then, it was back up to the tunnel mouth. I turned on the lights on the bike and started to walk through.

It's not really this bright
There were some other people in the tunnel at the same time I was, including a moron with an unleashed dog. As soon as I realized there was a dog approaching me, I just stopped. It was too dark, even with flashlights and bike headlights, and I didn't want to surprise the dog. I don't understand why the dog's owner didn't have it on a leash, especially in the tunnel. Canal towpath regulations require dogs be on a leash at all times, and even the friendliest dog can react badly when scared or surprised. It's really in the dog's best interest to keep it on a leash. Anyway....
I saw this partway through the tunnel
Getting closer to the other side
The tunnel is just over 3100ft long, the longest structure on the towpath
Coming back out into the stifling humidity wasn't pleasant. And the next part of the towpath was still on a boardwalk, as the shale formation through this section was still unstable.

I jumped back on my bike and proceeded to find the first of several locks! 
Lock 66
Lock 64, or as the sign says, "Lock 64 2/3"
The locks were completed in 1850, concurrent with the completion of the tunnel, but for some reason still have 1910 stamped. Maybe a repair?
There were tons of painted turtles, sliders and cooters on the logs between miles 155 and 153.

Lock 63 1/3
Another view of Lock 63 1/3
 

There's a hiker-biker campground (Sorrel Ridge) right around mile 154, and that's where lock 62 (and the remains of a lockmaster's house) are. But, there were a lot of people already there when I came through, so I didn't stop at first. I figured I'd stop on the way back, so I pushed on to 153.

Lock 61, looking upstream
Looking downstream from lock 61
 Just past lock 61 was the mile marker.

I turned around then. It turns out that the next lock isn't for another three and a half miles, so I probably made a good decision.

So, despite weird people looking at me, I took some pictures of the remains of the house at lock 62 on the way back, before dealing with the tunnel again.

Unlike most of the houses I've seen, this one has what appears to be a concrete foundation
Back to the tunnel
When I got back to the campsite, Pat was milling about, considering switching to his "topwater lures," and was happy that he'd caught several smallmouth bass, albeit small ones in the 8-10 inch range. Knowing he'd be out for another hour or so, I opted to head west on the towpath to see what the opposite direction held.
Abandoned railroad bridge just west of the campground
Obligatory mile marker
There wasn't much between the campground and mile 158. There's the Purslane Run hiker-biker campground, which evidently also includes a cemetery where cholera victims from the 1830s were buried. I didn't know about the cemetery, so I didn't check it out.
Ho-hum.
At 158, I turned around and came back.
Stay out!
I don't know what it is between the towpath and the river from 157-158, but there were yellow "POSTED : NO TRESPASSING" signs throughout the area. Maybe it had something to do with this.
Walter White camps in western Maryland?
Seriously, it seems like there's some farmland or something there, and the owners use it for their own private campground and party area.

There is a waste weir near there, too. It's in a lot better shape than most of the ones I've seen previously.
Waste weir and spillway at 156.6
So, once back at the campsite, we settled in for dinner on the campstove. Pat had brought some bratwursts and the DuClaw Misfit chips I'd picked up on Friday, so we were set.
Noms.
 After that, Pat went to fish yet some more (trying for bigger fish with bigger lures, which failed).
Sun's getting low.
It was finally getting dark enough to call it a night, so we sat and chilled for a while before going to sleep. It was hot and humid enough that we didn't start a fire in the fire ring, and in fact, let the fire die down in the campstove between cooking brats. Pat did bring his battery-powered Makita fan with him, but it cooled down enough that we didn't use it. We just didn't sleep inside our sleeping bags, and it was fine.
Little catepillar on the tent door when we woke up
Evidently, he woke up just after six, while I slept pretty solidly until just past eight. After getting cleaned up and changed, I got the campstove going and had our usual breakfast sausages cooking when Pat came up from the river. He'd caught a few more little smallmouth bass, and was ready for food. After breaking down the stove, I asked when he thought he'd want to leave -- it was about 9:25 -- and he responded, "Maybe in an hour or so?" He'd planned to bike up towards Purslane Run to see if he could find any better spots up that way, but I was thinking, an hour isn't a whole lot of time to do anything.

In the end, I decided to walk down to the Tunnel Hill Trail, which is a two mile trail that goes up and over Sorrel Ridge. It is the trail that many of the tunnel laborers used to get to their job site, and in fact, there are interpretative guides on the ridge that show where their shanty town and school were located. There were two sites on the ridge where laborers actually dug shafts down in order to speed up the construction of the tunnel. So, instead of just digging from the two ends, there was also digging in the middle.
This is a Division Superintendent's house, similar to a lockmaster's residence. Paw Paw Campground is in the backyard
I didn't really plan to hike the entire two mile trail. But then, I just kind of got into the groove once I got up the steepest part, which is right there near the western entrance to the tunnel.
Raspberries along the towpath
Flowers along the Tunnel Hill Trail
Looking down on the western opening to the tunnel from the trail
Eastern Fence Lizard
I rounded a switchback in the trail, and heard something scurrying through the leaves. The glimpse I'd caught in my peripheral vision showed me it was something small. I stopped, looked, and saw a little eastern fence lizard, about five inches from nose to tail. She looked around at me, then I moved on.
Glancing over her shoulder
I saw quite a few more of these during the trek along the trail, but absolutely none on the towpath itself.
Overlooking part of the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River
The highest point on the trail is past the halfway point, and I reached that around 10AM. I felt committed to finishing the trail then.
Heading towards the highwater mark,
There were quite a variety of mushrooms along the trail

As I approached the flat area where the shanty town had been located, it dawned on me that there was a flaw in my plan to finish the trail and come back via the tunnel.

I didn't have a flashlight with me.
No flashlight in the tunnel? Whiskey might be a good option.
However, I did have a portable phone charger, which at the time was hooked up to my phone. Not that it mattered, since we'd had zero service upon our arrival. What a curious thing that was, to be forced to be cut off from social media and texting and emails. When I realized my charger had a flashlight on it, I pulled it and my phone out of my pocket to disconnect it and make sure it had enough juice to function as a flashlight.

Imagine my surprise to see that my phone had blown up while crossing Sorrel Ridge. Evidently, I'd had service at the top of the hill, and received a ton of notifications. The moment to check them had passed, however, so I cleared the notifications list, saw that the flashlight worked, and continued on my way.
Delicate lichens covered a lot of things at the crest of the ridge and on down to the eastern trailhead
Lichens and moss mixed
Another mushroom
Flower at the trailhead
Heading back up the trail to the tunnel
Little flower in the shale
The shale slabs are still prone to breaking apart. Here, the rust of iron in the rock is evident.
It was definitely hotter in the ravine area of the canal, but upon approaching the tunnel entrance, the temperature began to drop. It was very comfortable inside the tunnel, especially after the hike. 

One thing I was trying to find was a marker for mile 155. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be along the boardwalk leading to the east opening, or if it was inside the tunnel itself. While I subsequently learned that 155 should be along the boardwalk, I did find many more of the survey markers.

Turns out that they mark 100ft increments through the tunnel, plus there are two additional ones marking where the two shafts were originally built. There is also one at each opening.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
The towpath is very uneven and at times treacherous through the tunnel. 
The "bumper" kept boats from damaging the brick
Survey marker outside the western opening
So, upon arrival at the campsite, I see that Pat's already started putting stuff in the truck, so I pack up my sleeping bag and break down the air mattress, then help move everything over to the truck. Sadly, our time at Paw Paw had come to an end.
Hoosier Bear checks out the Division Superintendent's house
 
Pat was fairly happy with the fact that he caught a lot of fish -- and no failfish... I mean, fallfish -- either. He's still searching for the elusive walleye, or at least a "legal size" smallmouth bass, but I can't help but think he was happier with this trip than he was with some of his other recent trips where he either caught nothing or just fallfish.

Though, he did have a funny fallfish story that I wish he had video to go with. Evidently, at one point where he was wading, there was a squarish stone nearby. He said it looked like the remnants of something manmade. Anyway, while he was casting from that spot, he saw a fish approaching, and he identified it as a fallfish. Inside of being scared by Pat's presence, the fallfish then proceeded to the stone and started rubbing up against it. All I could think of was when a horse is shedding and rubs against a post to help with the itchiness of the shedding hair. I just wish he'd gotten video. It sounded hilarious.

So, now we're home and prepping for my road trip and Pat's babysitting of the spaz dog. This is simultaneously going to be the longest week and the shortest week ever.

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