All 2014 Reports

Four State Challenge (44 miles)

3-4 October 2014

- Dave MacLuskie


The Four State Challenge is a oft-attempted challenge among thru-hikers and others. There is a section at about the half way point along the Appalachian Trail where one can set foot in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in a single day -- if you hike about 44 miles. (The Maryland section of the AT is about 40 miles.) This hike was north-bound. We camped the night in Virginia, awoke and headed quickly into WV through Harpers Ferry, then into Maryland for most of the day. At Pen-Mar we crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania.

Full Report

WARNING: Doing, reading about, and even thinking about challenges like this is a path to crazy things. I remember the first time I hit 20 miles in day. It was long and painful. But every successive 20 miler got easier. Then back to back 20's. Then you start thinking that 30 isn't so insane. Then 40. Once you go there things like consecutive 20 or 30 mile days seem entirely reasonable. It's a dangerous and wicked path. You've been warned.

My drive up from Yorktown was uneventful. My GPS led me astray on Wolfsville Road but thanks to the PATC map I figured out where the trail head was and arrived at about 3:30pm. I took a rather nice nap, played with a gorgeous grey tabby kitten at the trail head (who wanted in my car), and waited for Sophie and Kylie to arrive. While I wanted I realized I hadn't packed my rain jacket. I distinctly recall it sitting on my bed (so I wouldn't forget it). Fortunately I had a large trashbag in my trunk and I fashioned myself a rain coat.

Sophie and Kylie arrived around 7pm just as the rain started. I left my car with some jugs of water hidden under the front. It would stay there as a backup for folks who had to bail at mile 35. I drove Sophie's car to Harpers Ferry with the aid of my printed map and Kylie's phone and eyes. Little did I know that navigating in the dark and rain was just beginning. We arrived at Harpers Ferry and I caught head lamps as I threw on my pack. Will, Mimi, Hua, Trevor, and Bryan had just happened to be walking by from parking at the further lot. They kindly waited as we got prepped and we headed up across the bridge on our way to Virginia.

I managed to miss a switch back on the ascent due to the the fog and low visibility and ended up lost for several minutes. I anxiously awaited the headlamps from those behind me, back tracked a little and found the trail again. After reaching camp and setting up my tent I found my rain jacket inside my dry bag. I'm too clever for my own good sometimes. The trash bag was working great though!

This is only the second trip I've done with Michael and the both started on dark rainy nights and cold rainy mornings. I hit the sack shortly after the birthday celebration and had a lousy night's sleep. The morning -- if you can call 2:30 am "morning" -- wasn't much better. I was on the trail just before 3am. I managed to miss the trail at least once on the descent into Harpers Ferry and was slow to pick up the trail through the sleeping town but got through thanks to Michael's corrections behind me. I managed to slip on a rock slab and go down hard landing on my left hip and elbow. The hip only hurt for about a week or two. The elbow took longer.

Blazing along the C&O Canal with Will, Kylie, and Joffrey was great. The subsequent climb to the ridge was less great and the foggy section was rather taxing but it was great to have company and backup to ensure I didn't miss the trail in the fog. It seemed like forever before dawn arrived and when it did it was bleak and cloudy.

As the sun rose the speedy crowd (Will, Kylie, Joffrey) disappeared up an incline at a pace I couldn't match. I wouldn't see them again until the Washington Monument (the original one, not the one in down town DC). I finally got an appetite around 9am and started snacking.

I second guessed the blue-blaze after the I-70 pedestrian overpass for the first check-in and stopped to check my map when the speedy crowd ran by and informed me of my mistake. I back tracked, signed in, and caught Hua coming across the I-70 bridge and clued her in on the sign-in. I was pretty happy about my chances at this point. I figured 3 hours to Wolfsville and 3 hours to the finish. That turned out to be a bit optimistic.

I lost a fair bit of time along the 9-10 miles along Annapolis Rocks to Wolfsville. I'm not even sure how as it's a pretty easy section for the most part. My feet were starting to feel it after 30 miles. A double snack seemed to snap me back into focus just as I hit the rock garden section and much cursing ensued. The rapid descent to Wolfsville made me happy though I admit I was a bit crushed that I was now almost an hour behind the speedsters. I hadn't realized I'd lost that much time. With a 3pm check-in I figured I had 4 hours before dark to cover 10 miles. That seemed reasonable so I topped off my water and hit the trail.

The first 5 miles weren't too bad. I made what I thought was good time until I hit the climb before Raven Rocks. I convinced myself that the blue-blaze at the top of the climb to the "scenic view" was actually Raven Rocks and was thrilled with my progress. Thirty minutes later when I passed the actual Raven Rocks sign I was less thrilled. I made good time to High Rock and was glad to do the rocky descent in the fading sun. The remaining two miles were a mental challenge. The trail seemed to drag on. I resisted the urge to pull out the map and check my position. It wouldn't change where I was or how far I had to go so I focused on forward progress.

Pen-Mar park appeared rather suddenly and the cheers from the dark pavilion were surreal. I'm fairly incoherent about what occurred next other than eating many slices of pepperoni pizza. I apologize if I said anything stupid. After donning some warm, dry clothes I threw on the pack and hiked out to the mailbox across the railroad tracks into Pennsylvania and officially logged in my success at a trail log book.

My 44 mile day took a bit under 16 hours. Big congrats to those who finished and to those who didn't. Everyone had a long day no matter where they ended up.

dave.macluskie AT