“Do you have warm clothes?” my mom asked as we walked out of my parents’ house after dropping off our children, Ly and Peach. “It’s supposed to be freezing tonight — Temperatures in the teens.”
“Yep — We’ll be fine,” I told her in a sort of dismissive manner. Don’t get me wrong — I was grateful my mother was concerned over Andy’s and my well-being. At the same time though, of course we packed warm clothes. Of course because it was only a few days into spring/past winter . . . and we were camping . . . and this was our first camp in a good while, meaning the last time we camped was May 2018. It was now the first days of April in 2021, which means nearly three years later we aimed to live in a tent . . . so again, of course we packed warm clothes, mom. Andy and I aren’t newbie hikers anymore — We are experienced; we are wise; we are planners.
“Are you sure?” she re-questioned. “If you want to borrow — “
“I appreciate it — I do. That is very kind, but we’re alright” and here I ran through the list of what clothes I packed and what clothes Andy had laid out to pack . . . because we had reviewed our clothing choices together while pulling items from our drawers before stuffing them into our packs — We have our base layers, shirts, flannels, fleeces, scarves and hats and gloves, and even rain jackets, which doesn’t sound that special but if you need a bit of extra protection, it truly does help.
This seemed to soothe her mind some, but her eyes still clung to Andy’s bare arms due to his short-sleeve shirt.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “He does have warm clothes — He just didn’t want to wear five layers driving up.” I, on the other hand, didn’t mind the warmth so my attire appeared ready for an immediate cold mountain walk, which is possibly what my mother chose to focus on.
“Okay then . . . I guess” and her voice, along with her concerns, sort of trailed off so I took it as our opportunity to leave.
“We love you!” I called from the car as we zoomed away. “Don’t worry — We’ll be fine!”
And, of course, those are the famous last words of any person that ends up being precisely not fine because, let’s be honest, mother’s know best . . . which is why when Andy and I were curled into the tightest balls at the very end of our sleeping bag that was fully zipped with the hood fully tucked in, I questioned through chattering teeth, “Are we going to make it through the night?”
“I think so,” I heard Andy say back. I think . . . which made me move closer to him and him, closer to me as we shivered together and counted hours until the morning . . .
But I’m getting ahead of myself because right when I began to think that Andy and I would no longer have captivating trail stories, let’s just say Andy decided to step up his game so let’s start back at the beginning when we pulled onto the interstate to head north for Maryland for our first hike in the state at Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliff:
- It was almost eight miles
- 840-foot elevation gain
- Level One of Two difficulty
Easy because this hike contained two goals: one was to ease ourselves back into camping and the other — I was yearning for a good sunset in the mountains.
Since our hike was short in length — and slightly less than three miles to the vista, we left later . . . which also meant we were in a bit of a scramble up the mountain because the sun was setting fast. In fact, our first footsteps on our beloved white-blazed Appalachian Trail found it already spotlighted in those beautiful sunset hues . . .
Soon our path slowly become steeper, requiring a steady walk up stairs . . .
Then the trail leveled out and the area opened on both sides, allowing us to get a better glimpse of the arriving sunset . . .
By now, we were hurrying — With limited time, we had agreed to hit one of two vistas called Annapolis Rock on the way back down the mountain and so our aim became the most coveted vista, which was Black Rock Cliff. There, more incredible 180-degree views of the valley and distant mountains could be found.
“Come on, And! We have to hurry!” I gasped, literally dashing through the woods — pack bouncing up and down with each full-run step.
“L, I’m not running,” Andy announced, quite stubborn — and I understood his point. We are what I call “slow hikers” — the kinds that normally pause at every overlook, the kinds that admire each wildflower, the kinds that embrace those gigantic trees that are becoming more rare today. We are the hikers that pick up snails to analyze their shells, and we stop to listen to every bird chirp and each limb break under the hoof of deer. We are slow hikers — We stretch time to absorb every second of our journey so that we can seek the beauty of nature and immerse ourselves in it.
Therefore, I did — I understood why Andy did not choose to run through the woods with me — to miss the leaves and trees and animals and views and all that nature provided in that moment . . . and I normally would not have rushed either . . . but I had a sunset I ached to catch so — as color flooded around us — my race increased when I saw that burning ball of orange about to disappear . . .
And just as the sun went over the blue horizon, I reached the summit — Black Rock Cliff — where the most brilliant light threw color into the sky . . .
No sooner did I take the deepest inhale and exhale, I heard Andy echo my breathing. “Wow,” he whispered.
“I know,” I murmured back and there we stood, hand-in-hand as the sky burned and as time found a way to pause.
Incredibly this vista was ours alone that night — which still amazes me because it is said to be one of the most popular hikes in Maryland and one of the most beautiful views on the Appalachian Trail. Not only this, but the cliffs entice rock climbers so the fact that we were the only ones standing to take in this view was hard to believe.
Yet sunsets burn bright and they burn quick and so it soon vanished in a blend of blues.
“Time to set up camp,” Andy said, turning to me and so we walked to one of sixteen campsites to make our home for the night.
With tent pitched, we had grand visions of sitting outside to watch as the stars illuminated the sky but in the end, it was too windy and way too cold. Engulfing our dinner simply for an opportunity to go inside the tent to warm, little words were spoken other than how we could not wait to layer up with any and every bit of clothing we had.
“How cold is it supposed to be tonight?” I shivered to Andy as we crept inside, zipping the rainfly and then tent door.
“Thirty-three degrees but with the wind chill, it feels like seventeen degrees,” he quoted the weather on his phone.
That is when our situation turned a bit dire.
“Where’s my sweater? And my flannel shirt? And my — where’s my — ” Andy’s words seemed be thrown around as quickly as every item inside his backpack.
“Your what?” I asked, feeling panicked watching him. It is quite uncommon for Andy to lose his calm but here we were — Our tent floor, scattered with his camping supplies and a frantic search for . . . something.
“My — Did you by chance pack my base layer and sweater and my flannel and fleece?” Then, without a moment to respond, I heard him answer himself: “L. I think I left all of my clothes at home.”
I confess I did not believe him at first. He is a pretty good packer and he’s a great backpacker — There was no way a slight such as this would have been made so I went through his dry sacks and pack again . . . only to come to the same realization.
“How?” I asked then shook my head. That wasn’t the important question. “So you only have what you are wearing?” and both sets of our eyes fell to his body where a lightweight raincoat was zipped over a short-sleeved cotton shirt and short wool socks were under long pants. That was it. For seventeen degrees. “Andy, what are you going to do?”
“I’ll be okay,” he muttered. “I’ll be okay — It’s just one night.”
But it was cold . . . and I do mean cold. It was one of those nights where the wind pierces through your skin and stings all the way to your bones. One of those times where you feel there is no way you will every get warm. I had on my base layer, short-sleeve shirt, flannel, thick fleece, and raincoat . . . yet still felt as if I had on nothing. Plus, our tent was only a lightweight three-season tent — designed not for winter weather like we were camping in — and trust me when I say this makes a massive difference because it was essentially as if we were sleeping directly outside.
“Are we going to make it through the night?” I asked and this was a genuine concern. That some passing hikers at some point would find Andrew’s and my frozen bodies, that my mom would live the rest of her life regretting not asking us to prove we had warm clothes, and that miparents (Andy’s parents) were years from a hug from their only son. That was a lot of pressure.
“I think so,” I heard him say back through equally chattering teeth. I think . . . which made me move closer to him as he snuggled inside his sleeping bag, zipping the sides up completely before pulling the hood down as far as it would go. Now, the only part of him visible was half of one eye.
“GFFF IFFFIE OOOF UUUF” and Andy’s eye blinked once at me so I blinked at him. Nothing happened.
He’s trying to communicate, I thought and so I bent closer to his eye. “What?” I whispered and he blinked again.
“GGGFFF IIIFIIIEEE OOOFFF UUUFFF!” His eye seemed angry, though I still could not make out his words.
“Andy, love, I’m sorry but — “
There was at sudden thrashing and then his face was visible. “GET INSIDE OF YOURS!” he yelled in this urgent manner that made me jump and made him tuck back inside, deeper into his bag and his one eye — well, it now was covered entirely.
And so I did — primarily because I my empathetic expressions apparently were not helping . . .
By this time, night had fully set in and the wind howled, tugging at our rainfly as if trying to get in. Most of the time, when the wind is fierce, I am lulled to sleep in the same way others are by beach waves, but this night I remained on edge. Barely had I nodded asleep before waking suddenly to count down invisible hours until the sun came up. After counting, I would revisit our plans in my mind — plans to strip clothes and join skin-on-skin in one sleeping bag if it got too frigid because that’s survival basics in desperate arctic situations, which is precisely what it felt we were in. What ended up happening though was that at some point, I took off my fleece-lined/sweater scarf and gave it to Andy to wear . . . and at some point he found a second pair of wool socks to pull over his current ones . . . and at some point he vowed to himself to find a stronger cold-weather sleeping bag because his had large cold patches and retained little heat . . . but somehow we made it — shivering, huddled against each other, and tucked into tiny balls at the end of our bags so that zero skin was exposed.
With the start of the new day, we eagerly packed our belongings then headed back down the white blazed trail, this time stopping to take in our first missed vista — Annapolis Rock. There, we saw towns below and Greenbrier Lake at Greenbrier State Park, which we walked in January when parking for this hike proved impossible.
And while this vista was breathtaking too, there was less visibility left and right and so I felt at peace with our decision to trek on the day before.
“I cannot believe we made it to that killer sunset,” I told Andy as we stood one last time that weekend breathing in the mountain air.
“I know,” he told me back, “and I cannot believe I did not pack any clothes.”
Right — so it was back down the Appalachian Trail to get a cold Englishman warm because if there’s one thing we both learned from this hike it is that I am in charge of double confirming what goes inside of our packs.
* * * * *
If you want to hike Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliff, remember it gets incredibly populated so here are two main suggestions to ensure you can make the climb:
- Either get there early or get there late
- Visit during the weekday to avoid crowds on the weekends
Also a note if you do find a parking space: Be sure to hide all valuables and lock your vehicle — There are numerous reports of car thieves, in fact so serious that some people have reported broken panes of glass and door handles.
Onto the opposite, if you cannot find a parking spot (like we were the first time we visited), here are alternate nearby hikes and approximate distances from Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliff:
- Greenbrier State Park (five minutes away)
- Catoctin Mountain Park (nineteen minutes away)
- Chesapeake and Oil Canal/Weverton Cliff (thirty-six minutes away)
- Maryland Heights (thirty-seven minutes away)
- Sugarloaf Mountain (forty-two minutes away)
Mikids.. Wow.!! You survived to tell the tale.!! Beautiful photos though.!! Andrew, do you remember that night fishing session at Smeatons.? It was so cold we couldn’t get the stove to boil the kettle for a mash.!! 🥶. XXXX
Certainly do! It was crazy cold! Both caught one and then headed home for a curry!