The Deep Freeze Delights of Winter

Well, happy new year and happy outdoor adventuring to everyone! Here is hoping your toes are warm, your furnace is cranking, and the pipes haven’t burst at your house.

I kicked off the new year with the Trail Dames, heading out on the best possible day last week…yay! Temps rising into the twenties!!  What an absolute delight.

I led the Dames on a 6 mile loop at Catoctin Mountain Park near Thurmont, Maryland.  This is one of my favorite hiking spots and home to Camp David for you political junkies.  Occasionally, the trails are shut down when the President is at Camp David.  This isn’t very often with the current administration.  So stomp on down the trails, no secret service to stop you!

Our route started at the Visitor Center.  We were all giddy with the blue skies and promise of increasing temperatures, despite it being 17 degrees as we pulled into the lot and greeted each other.  The Visitor Center opens at 9 am…important information if you like to hit the bathrooms before heading down the trail.  Dames LOVE bathrooms at the beginning of a hike!!! 😀 😀 😀

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Shedding Some Layers!

We started uphill first heading in the direction of Thurmont Vista.  This warmed us up!  We took our first break at the Vista, then continued around to Wolf Rocks.

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We made a half – ass effort to investigate the top of Wolf Rocks, but with ice and snow covering most of the rocks we retreated without argument and  stomped on to Chimney Rocks.  We took a longer break at Chimney Rocks.  It is a nice spot for a break since there are many rocks to sit upon.

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Retreat from Wolf Rocks

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Winter View from Chimney Rocks

Kudos to the park maintainers because they have now blazed the trails in a variety of happy colors and put in benches for restful contemplation of the universe in many spots along the trails.

Leaving Chimney Rocks, it was all downhill, steeply, to park headquarters, then a rolling mile back to our cars.  It was a beautiful way to kick off 2018!

May all your hiking goals be met this year (in spite of the frigid start).  Hike on!

Camp out with the Dames – New Germany State Park, Maryland

A camp out with the Dames! A new state park to explore! Sidekick Pauli was coming! Triple yay 🙂 🙂 🙂

I love to plan fun stuff for our Trail Dame chapter to do and this was no exception.  A camp out was a great opportunity to chill out on a beautiful Autumn weekend in western Maryland.  I had never been to New Germany State Park and was excited by the prospect of hiking somewhere new.

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The Lake at New Germany State Park

A few of the Dames are beginner backpackers and wanted to try out their gear over the weekend.  This turned out to be a super weekend for that too!

We all started arriving at the park on Friday afternoon.  Tent went up quickly, then I went up to the park office with Queen V to buy firewood…a campfire there would be!

The park office was not hard to find.  The ranger asked us if we wanted to go on a trail run he was going to lead that weekend.  Politely declining, and somewhat flattered that he had asked, we went to grab our firewood and return to camp.  Now, Queen V and I, well, we are lesbians,…but as we left, I leaned over to her and asked, “Was that guy hot?”  because I’m never quite sure, but my temperature was certainly elevated 😀 and she practically cut me off replying “OH MY GOD, he was so hot!!”  Like, so hot, I was ready to attempt trail running…no lie.  He was fondly referred to as Ranger McDreamy (coined by Queen V) for the rest of the weekend! Ha!

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A pay phone? One can make two calls for free from this phone…911 or a number that links you to pastoral counseling…good to know 🙂

Fanning ourselves as we returned to the campground, I found a few more Dames had their tents going up. Oh, what a site! We had taken over the small tenting loop. Our, all ours! Okay, one site wasn’t ours…it had been…then that particular dame decided not to come and gave her site away. 😦   For SHAME!!!

Our first hike was Friday evening, a casual stroll from our tent site to the lake, then along the Orchard Loop and back…maybe 2 miles.  Just enough to start bonding with everyone and make the transition from busy life to restful weekend!

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Heading up the Orchard Loop

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Hemlock Trees!

Afterwards, I built a fire and hung out long into the night (maybe 9:30) with the Dames.  B^2 had brought pie, Roxanne brought home made caramel corn, and Queen V brought sausage for Sidekick Pauli! These women are the best!

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“Is that Queen V making bacon?” ~Sidekick Pauli gazing longingly over to Queen V’s campsite

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Indeed it was, Sidekick Pauli, indeed it was!

The next day we took a longer hike starting down by the lake, circling the other campground, then taking the Cabin Loop to the Turnpike Trail.  The trails are altogether lovely at this park and, in the winter, are groomed for cross-country skiing.

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The New Germany School House

Along the way, a must stop was the old school house.  Yeah, I’m a teacher, so historic places having to do with education are right up my alley! Don’t think I haven’t fantasized about being a teacher in a one-room school house. 😀

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Filtering water

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Follow up Lunch & Backpacking Chat

Later on during the hike, a few of the Dames tried out their water filters.  This was a great experience for these Dames! Do you remember the first time you filtered watered out of a creek and drank it?  The initial hesitation, the wonderment, then the satisfaction of drinking the water that you had filtered?  I saw all of this as I watched from my perch under a shady tree.  So proud of these gals!

We returned to camp for lunch and backpacking chat, which was then followed by a backpacking gear demo by none other than Venture Scout leader extraordinaire, Lola! Wow, her mini-van must have been packed with stuff.  And how absolutely selfless to bring it to our camp out and demo it! The backpackers, new and old, got a lot of great ideas during our day of learning!

Saturday evening the park was providing a “Star Party”.  Most of the Dames chose to walk back down to the lake except for Queen V and me.  I decided to drive because my old Pauli girl was pooped and wanted to sleep in the car.  The Star Party was awesome! We could see the Milky Way without any special telescope and many satellite fly overs (even the Russian satellite passed over).  Clear skies and very little light pollution made for a wonderful night under the stars!

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Looking toward the Lake House

It got a bit chilly as we all made our way back to our campsites in the dark.  We gathered round around a roaring fire and made s’mores to cap off the day.   I was so happy to crawl into the tent with my warm Pauli as the temps kept dropping. 🙂 Happiness is a warm puppy!

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Sunday was a lazy morning.  No hikes planned, just clean up, take down, and drive home.  I was very sad to leave! These Dames…amazing! Hike On!

 

 

 

 

Cool Spring Battlefield, Virginia – TGIF!!

I am just so damn pleased.  Last night I took a hike with some fellow Trail Dames at Cool Spring Battlefield in Bluemont, Virginia.  Now, I’m not damn pleased because I took a hike (although, I seriously deserve a freaking ribbon for doing that in the heat and humidity last night). No, my current smirk of satisfaction comes from seeing this previous golf course reclaimed and thoughtfully returned to its mostly natural state.  The asphalt roads built for the golf carts are still at Cool Spring, but now serve as walking paths.  This was my first visit to this battlefield and I was impressed.

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The path we meandered along followed the Shenandoah River north.  Wildflowers lined our path, which made this sticky, hot hike bearable!  Not even a breeze! Oh, it was brutal but beautiful. 🙂

The river looked refreshing, but I resisted the urge to jump in.  I really didn’t want to drive the hour back home in damp clothes.  No one else took the plunge either, but it was nice to listen to the water tumble over the rocks as it moved on north.

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We moved on, climbing the “big hill”, then headed to the waterfall.  This battlefield is wonderfully diverse! Meadows, a climb with a view, woodlands, the river, and now a waterfall! I like, I like, I like!

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Luckily, we weren’t really in any hurry.  None of us cared if we did too many miles. After all, this was a Friday evening hike.  A chance to close out the week by inhaling the sweet scents of the meadow and exhaling all of our work stress.  Breath in, yes, it was working! Exhale, ahhhh, the weekend! Hike On!

And Then, Out Came The Sun!

Oh boy, to say we’ve had a spell of rain in the Mid-Atlantic would be a half-truth. I feel for all those hikers out there on an AT thru-hike or section hike. They just haven’t had many dry days in the last month.  

When backpacking I seem to be able to dig deep and splash on when inundated with the wet stuff.  Flashing back to my section hike of the Georgia section of the AT…8 out of 10 days it rained. Most memorable rain event was being stuck in the Tray Mountain Shelter during the derecho in June 2013…

As a day hiker, I seem to lack that same willpower to hike when raining.  So I have been literally crawling in my own skin as rain continued to pour down over the last several weeks.  There were windows of opportunity, during which I would hurriedly scamper down a trail to get back to my car before the next sky dump occurred.  Most of the time I’ve been lucky!

And then, out came the sun! We got a bonified reprieve today, huzzah! So even though I’d awakened with a migraine, I remained optimistic, popped some meds and took off for Catoctin Mountain Park. 

I parked at the Visitor Center, then headed off down the trail towards Headquarters. I planned a loop hike to Chimney Rocks and Thurmont  Vista.  

Slightly squishy trail

My feet stumbled a bit on the rocks as my brain still struggled with bad migraine juju. As I rounded the corner at Headquarters and headed uphill my feet got in sync with what my brain was telling them to do and the going got much easier despite going up, up, up! 

Oh, and the Mountain Laurel, wow! It was abundantly flowering. Just lovely!

Once on the ridge, I was able to breathe deeply the scents of a forest made more delightfully pungent after many days of hard rain. Inhale…ahhhhhhhhh!  New blowdowns had exposed bug-ridden interiors and the birds voiced their happiness with delirious abandon. A glorious morning to be alive!

I took a sit down at Chimney Rocks. Shedding my boots, I made myself comfy leaning into the coolness of my stone seat. Getting lost in the blue of the sky while letting my thoughts filter through my head like the parade of puffy, white clouds making their way across the sky was a luxury.  I had no idea how long I sat there, and didn’t care. I got up when I got up!

The time at which I left Chimney Rocks was apparently the perfect time to continue on down the trail as I passed seven hikers headed for the spot I had vacated.  

Sturdy new benches all along the trail, and shiny new trail signs!

Making a quick pass of Wolf Rocks, I headed off in the direction of Thurmont Vista. 

At a fork in the trail, I passed a large group of hikers headed to Wolf Rocks…so glad I was going against traffic!  I had Thurmont Vista all to myself!

Down the hill to the next Trail sign. “Visitor Center 1 mile, Hog Rock 1.5 miles” Decision time. Big Loop (8.5 miles) or Little Loop (5 miles)? I looked at weather app on my phone…hmmm, possible thunderstorms at 2 pm (time was 1:52 pm).  I looked at the sky…some darker clouds over to the west. I looked at the trees, breezes picking up and some trees had flipped their leaves. 

Well, I wasn’t going to push my luck after such a delightful morning! Here’s to getting to the car without having to outrun a thunderstorm! Hike on!

In the Meadows High and Low

Sky Meadows is such a lovely state park in Virginia.  This park was a choice I made without a lot of thinking about it.  The weather was forecasted to turn cooler and I was in need of a walk alone…well, with Sidekick Pauli, but without other humans.  A total introvert retreat!

I parked away from the main parking lot.  Partly because I really didn’t want to see a lot of people yet, but partly because I needed to put my boots on, get my pack together, then get Pauli.  A bit easier without being in a tight parking lot.  So, I pulled right towards the picnic area just after paying my entrance fee at the gate.  No one was in this little lot yet!

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I hadn’t parked here before and found it to be a great spot with easy access to the Hadow Trail.  We took this trail around the lower meadow.  What a glorious morning! The wildflowers were thick along each side of the trail and throughout the woods.  Goldenrod, thistle, and other beauties whose names elude me waved gently in the breeze making the background of blue skies pop as if I were looking at them through polarized lenses.  And the scent of Autumn wafted by occasionally making me burst with happiness!  The change in seasons is coming!

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When the Hadow Trail intersected with the Boston Mill Road, we turned left to pick up the South Ridge Trail.  Well, I could tell it was still summer as the sun rose higher in the sky and we did the same.  Whew, broke a sweat!  Sidekick Pauli needed two water breaks before we made the ridgeline by taking the North Ridge Trail up the final ascent to the AT.

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Once on the ridge it was just bliss.  The breezes picked up and even felt slightly chilly! We left the AT to swing around through the upper meadow to the Paris overlook.  I didn’t want to come down the mountain.  It was so lovely looking down on the surrounding countryside with my feet propped up and mind wandering.  Sidekick Pauli took up residence under the picnic table, coming out only for cheese.

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It was here, my bliss bubble started to spring a leak.  This was September 11.  I had intermittently thought about that day on my way up the mountain.  Here at the top, my mind finally settled on those memories.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, thankfully.  But the day was awful and scary.  My son was 7 years old, so in a rare unification between his dad and me, we decided no media was the best media.  He knew what had happened before I picked him up from school, but as a 7 year old, he only knew so much.  He was scared too.  We lived in Bethesda, Maryland at the time, and the planes flew very low over the house all day.  My son would panic if we went upstairs because he was afraid the planes would fly into our house.  So unless we needed the bathroom, we stayed downstairs.  One of my sisters lived in New York, and of course, no way to know…but we figured she was fine…I mean, we reasoned, what would she be doing near the WTC anyway?  Another sister, who was a foreign service officer, was doing language training in Arlington.  She hitched her way back into Maryland, along with thousands of others.

It is a day I will never forget. The internet has made way too many images from that day too easily accessible.  I cannot un-see some of those images.  I can’t imagine the horror that first responders encountered.  I don’t want to even think about it.  So many people, in a flash, gone.

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I once heard that one should not mourn the dead, but instead mourn the living.  Wait, that may have come from a Harry Potter book…no matter.

A rather big wind, that blew my pack off the table, brought me out of my dark trip down memory lane.  I packed up and we hiked down the mountain.  I felt sad and I felt happy, a strange way to be.  But as long as I am gifted with this life I intend on living.  Hike on.

Closing out Summer on Massanutten Mountain

George Washington National Forest has been on the hiking list for awhile.  It’s not that far, but it is on the other side of Shenandoah National Park…so after driving an hour to Shenandoah, I’m like, um, this is good!

Well, I scheduled this one with some hiking pals so I would actually go ALL the way down to the trail head which is on Rt. 211 west of Luray, VA.  It was exciting to head off in a new direction, towards a new mountain, a new adventure!

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Route: Wildflower ->Massanutten South -> Bird Knob -> Forest Road ->Roaring Run ->Brown’s Hollow (11.7 miles)

We met up in Front Royal, then carpooled down from there.  The trail head had ample parking and isn’t hard to find…although, I passed by it before I saw the turn off.  No matter, there was a small place to pull off and turn around just afterwards…which I did.  Holy moly, the traffic coming up the mountain from both directions is FAST…had to gun it like a NASCAR driver when I pulled out! My RAV4 enjoyed the kicking up of gravel and trail of dust…

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Trail Head Parking

We set out down the Wildflower Trail, then climbed up on the Massanutten South Trail.  This was a big climb and I purposefully went up while it was still early in the day.  Once on the ridge, the trail is really nice!  Yes, rocks…but enough space in between to place my feet on soft pine needles.  The scent of those pines was particularly delicious on this morning, ahhh.  Back to school for me within a week’s time.  I would miss the freedom of summer, but not the heat and humidity.  This morning, up on the ridge, with a slight breeze, cool temps, and scent of pine …lovely.

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Hiking Pals at Overhanging Rock (almost on the ridge)!

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Yay! A rockpile! No, I’m serious, I love these! 🙂

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Top of the pile, here I come!

Given that I had no idea what to expect on this trail, I found the terrain pretty interesting! Huge rocks, rock piles, pine trees… Once on the ridgeline, we hiked along in comfortable silence until we came upon the overlook.  Wow! and there is a campsite up there.  I am definitely putting this on the backpack list!

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After the overlook, the goal was to visit Emerald Pond.  I’d heard about it, so I wanted to see it for myself!  Believe me, it is every bit as beautiful as I’d heard!  and more campsites!  It would be nice, if more people cleaned out their trash though.  We packed out a couple of bags along the way.

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Right Turn, I’m not getting on the forest road yet!

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Just before Emerald Pond. Camping allowed in the field.

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Emerald Pond

After Emerald Pond, there was a bit of hiking down a forest road which wasn’t super pleasant, but not too bad.  But oh, buddy, when we pulled off the forest road to Roaring Run Trail…wow, that was steep! It didn’t help that it was now the hottest part of the day! Trudge up it we did, then took a sit down break at the top near another campsite.  We then headed down and picked up Brown’s Hollow Trail to complete the loop.

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A few leaves are changing! Ready for Fall!

Brown’s Hollow would be gorgeous to hike through in the Spring as several waterfalls cross the trail on their way downhill to the creek. Loved this hike and Massanutten! Definitely coming back!

But now my summer is over…on to Fall! Hike on!

Beat the Heat at Little Bennett Regional Park

Can Mother Nature cool her jets?  Everyday brings a new level of heat disgust!  My last hike was two weeks ago and we were chased back to our cars by a thunderstorm.  Since then it has just been oppressive.  I know it’s summer, yada, yada, yada…keep your logic to yourself!

I needed to get out, but also needed motivation.  This is where being a hike leader with Trail Dames is so, so, personally satisfying.  I scheduled an early morning hike at Little Bennett Regional Park in Maryland.  And six other crazy women signed up…so at 6:20 AM I pulled into the Hyattstown Mill trail head parking lot in Hyattstown just across the street from the fire department.  It was already a steamy 80 degrees, but otherwise a gorgeous morning that had surprised me with an amazing sunrise on the way down from Frederick.

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From the Hyattstown Mill Trail Head Parking…with a colorful filter. 🙂 Cute little town.

As soon as everyone arrived, some still trying to wake up, we started down the road to pick up the trail.  The trail used to be the old Hyattstown Road that went from Hyattstown to Clarksburg and it still resembles a road.  Wide and paved with gravel it was an easy walk to the cut off for the Bennett Ridge trail.

There was a 10k going on in the park this morning.  As such we navigated past water stations, yellow tape marking off trails, and eventually the runners.  They had their work cut out for them on this muggy morning!

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Along the old Hyattstown Road

We followed the Bennett Ridge trail to the campground (pitstop), then backtracked to Beaver Valley.  We headed downhill and encountered a bubble of runners from the 10k coming up.  Oh! They looked a little whipped, but were in good spirits as they scuttled up the hill.

 

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A 10k runner in beautiful Little Bennett

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Another runner in the 10k. How can I not love this park? So lovely!

Beaver Valley winds around to the Western Piedmont trail, which we took back in the direction of Hyattstown.  This is also part of the old road, so we were on flat, wide terrain again for a while.  As we approached the section of trail where Pine Grove trail comes in, runners were exclaiming that they were getting stung.  We slowly walked forward.  I watched the next runner carefully, trying to spot the bees.  Runner yelled, another win for the bees.  I saw the bees and following their track I spotted the hive.

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Look closely above runner’s head…the HIVE! Yep, this guy also got stung. It was just easy pickins for the bees.

Holy moly! A huge hornet operation just above the heads of the poor defenseless runners!  I looked around and decided this was a time when it was perfectly okay to go off trail.  I led the women who chose to follow off, up, and around the nest…no stings.  Hooray!

A few women had decided to take their chances and stay on trail…sucked for them, stung!

The final piece of adventure for this trail was wading across Little Bennett.  I chose the deepest part, because, well, it was hot, and I mean seriously, if I’m taking the time to put on water shoes, then dang it, it better be worth it!! And it was! The water came up to the bottom of my shorts and felt so cold and ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

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A good cool off!

Long before the daily heat advisory went into effect, we were back at the cars and ready to head home for showers.

I looked forward to coffee and chilling out in the AC… Hike on!