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Article added Wednesday, December 6, 2000
A Worm in Burkittsville?
Story by Greg McCulley

[1997 Winter Hike] [1999 Winter Hike]

Greg McCulley
Behold, the Worm!
As I rested one evening from hiking, I found myself transformed in my bivy into a gigantic worm. Was this trickery from the Blair Witch? The infamous Burkittsvile, Maryland lay east, just below our camp atop Lamb's Knoll. We had set shuttle early and trekked the first half of a twenty mile overnight before settling on a comfortable notch along the eastern edge of the ridge. With the annual winter hike coming up, a repeat of last years prehike was mandatory.

Fortunately, Marty Lamp and Dennis Vass believed enough in this idea to join in. Today, December 2nd, is also the day John Brown was hanged back in 1859. He had been sentenced to death after raiding a federal weapons arsenal at Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia in an attempt to ignite an uprising against slavery. John Brown had probably walked these very paths, while visiting Chambersburg just before his raid. His headquarters before the attack was the Kennedy House, which lay just beyond the end of our hike.

Washington Monument
The original Washington Monument
East on Route 40 from Hagerstown, Maryland, the Appalachian Trail crosses over a ridge. We had begun this two day excursion at this junction, and proceeded south across a fenced-in walking bridge straddling Interstate 70. Already, the prehike had paid dividends. Marty discovered a weak point in his pack after a plastic piece on the shoulder strap broke at the parking lot.

Three miles in, at the George Washington Monument, noted for being his first, was an impressive stone structure with a spiraling staircase to beautiful views. Soon after, we climbed onto South Mountain for the remaining fifteen miles of the journey.

Midway up the largest elevation gain of the segment we took a side trail to a shelter. Luxury is what we found. The near cabin came complete with spring, covered woodbox, deck, chairs, fireplace, porch swing, and a skylighted privy! Marty and I were willing to stay for the night, but Dennis had a new tent that he wanted to test exposed on the ridge, so we ventured the next half mile to this place.

Sunrise on Lamb's Knoll
Now I huddle in the bivy. Earlier we ate dinner and watched the sun set talking about John Brown and the Blair Witch. It is a clear crisp twenty degrees. The cresent moon and stars shine soft. Eddies of swirling breezes dance about the woods wisping leaves in a subtle choreography. Warm in my bag, I listen to the sounds. As my imagination wanders, random cracklings aquire patterns while winds wisper gutteral groans. My neckhair stiffens as I reach for my Swiss Army knife.

"I will not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me, I will turn to see the fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain".

The litany calms me as I drift into sleep. As it turns out, we all woke the next morning unmolested, lacking any strange wooden figures hung in the trees around our campsite, or small piles of stones neatly placed around us. We ate eggs and potatoes and made big cups of coffee in the fifteen degree cold under a bright sun. The AT had more history to offer at Gathland State Park where a stone arch stood in tribute to the dead and injured of a Civil War battle that took place days before the infamous Battle of Antietam.

Finally, we decend South Mountain stopping at Weverton Cliffs for panoramic views of the Potomac River. My feet hurt and I am seriously considering trading the trusty "Ridge-Rest" in for a "Therma-Rest". Other than that, I am feeling good about the winter hike. This year it's back to the Cranberry Wilderness and everyone knows to expect the worst.

When he's not throwing ends on his favorite West Virginia river, riding his mountain bike on the meanest trails, or explaining the intricacies of "Dune", published poet Greg McCulley likes to write for iPlayOutside.