Green Ridge State Forest lies in the western Maryland pan-handle just 45 minutes west of the more well known Catoctin Mountain, and is situated so: that the willing hiker only needs to take one step to the north and they are in Pennsylvania, to the east and they are in West Virginia, and to the west – more empyy un-explored Maryland woodlands. It is the latter that Green Ridge is all about. The forest is un-kept, un-ruly, and largely un-inhabited. Visitors have a chance to see (and even swim in) one of the better preserved sections of the Potomac River, as it winds its way through the Appalachians, free to surge it’s waters far from the footprints of civilization. Another notable waterway in the forest is the, now retired, C & O Canal, which in its day, served as the main trading route between the Ohio River and Chesepeake Bay. Although the C&O’s algae and sludge infested appearance doesn’t garner many lengthy glances, the towpath that follows it is a favorite amongst backpackers and mountain bikers for its gentle terrain, scenery and most importantly – the Paw Paw Tunnel. For hikers that wish to add that extra edge of excitement, the Paw Paw is a 950 foot long tunnel that channels itself right through the heart of the mountain. Although light is visible at both ends, it’s said to be deceiving to the eye, as the middle is pitch black, damp and cold. The other trails throughout the forest have their own reputation for demanding the hiker to crab walk, or even employ hand-over-hand techniques to conquer the slopes. Now with all this build you would think this would be a prime woodsboy hiking location…think again.
Steven, Andrew, Matt, and Daniel made the drive down 270 in the pouring down rain, and we were already running late. The time was pushing 10pm and we still needed to check in at the ranger station to get our permit, and make the shuttle to the drop-off point, drop a car, AND make it back to the first night’s campsite. Looking at the map, they would all be do-able drives, and we would have plenty of time to feast before we went to sleep. However, once we took care of bussiness at the office we took off down the road. As we headed into the forest we quickly realized that the backcountry mountain roads were very to almost undriveable, at least for cars without 4×4. Since it had just rained, the muddy one lane paths (won’t even call them roads) were highly slippery and already incredibly eroded. One mile took ten minutes, and suddenly the meager 15 miles it would take to drop a car and head to camp seemed dim in our minds. Still it was only 11:30, so continued cautiously, resigning ourselves to the mear fact that it would take as long as it needed to. All that was shot when the road emptied into a big clearing with no discernible way to go. We drove in circles for a bit, backed in, backed out, checked the map, turned on the GPS until we finally realized – game over.
We retreated back to the ranger station where we looked at the big map and decided to head over to a nearby car camping site. We had already paid our camping fees so we figured we could camp anywhere we wanted to. We pulled in and the sigh of the campsite boosted everyone’s morale, because it was spacious, but more so just because we could get out of the car. We gathered our wood and started our blazing fire. Steven cooked up his famous “Bison Royale”, which Matt dubbed the meal, with the juicy bison meat, cous and stir fry veggies with plenty of salt and pepper. We sipped some whiskey and planned the next day’s adventures. We worked out a plan to salvage our botched backpacking trip, which was to drive to Bond’s Landing the next day and have another leisurely day of car camping and swimming in the river before we do a one night backpack back to our current location on the following day. Everyone seemed energized about that plan, so we ate more food in celebration. We talked the rest of the night about Game of Thrones before tiredness finally took us at 4AM.
The next day was the kicker. The drive to Bond’s Landing was nothing short of frustrating, bumpy, and moderately dangerous. We made a quick stop to buy some more beer at a camp store, before continuing our crawl to the campsite. Bill’s Place, which is supposedly the one saving grace of the area was closed for the day and no one knew why – go figure. When we finally reached Bond’s the campsite, yet again ,was a welcome sight. For all the terrible roads, this place sure knew how to make a good campsite. We settled in and set up our tents, drank some beers, and finally decided to go swimming in the Potomac. Weather was perfect – sunny, blue sky, mid-70s. We threw rocks, rode rapids, waded, sat…pretty much all the things you could do swimming in a river. Little did we know this would be the peak of the trip. Huge thunder storm rolled in a few hours later and we holed up in Matt’s car as it passed. We took another hour to re-set up camp and get the fire going before some hell-bent forest rangers rolled up and shined their flashlights in our faces, asking all sorts of questions. We were stunned that they decided to choose us because we weren’t noisy, didn’t do anything wrong as far as we could tell. Turns out they were mad we didn’t fill out our permit correctly. Even though we paid money, they were concerned we didn’t tell anyone we would be at this specific site. They combed through the rest of the campsite, looking at everything, rifling through our car, asking more pesky questions. When they finally took off we were all left a little dumbstruck, shaken, and feeling a little taken advantage of. The mood of the camping trip had been killed and we all knew it. We left the next day thinking luck wasn’t on our side for this one. We regained our spirits at an awesome Mexican place where we all ate Burrito Grandes – California style. Can’t wait to get back to Green Ridge and actually backpack – no car camping next time!
Pics coming soon!