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!

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!

 

 

Breaking Out of the February Funk!

Even though February is the shortest month, it certainly seems to last forever. As I wait for the daffodils to arrive, however, a gift arrived! A gift only Mother Nature could give to us winter weary Marylanders.  (seriously, our winter has been incredibly mild except for that outburst of sheer crazy a few weeks ago, so I don’t really know why it feels like we need to rush on to Spring …but it does!!)  Anyway, a gift! A weekend that tempted us with delightfully spring like weather.  The birds were singing, the ice was melting, rivers flooding, and I ran for the hills.

I jumped the gun a bit and headed out on Friday when the weather only hinted at warmth that would not come until Saturday.  The smell of fresh mud permeated my nostrils as soon as Sidekick Pauli and I exited the car at Worthington Farm, part of Monocacy National Battlefield.  However, heading up Brooks Hill we found snow and ice.  Not enough for traction devices on my boots, but enough to require picking our way along at a snail’s pace until we got about half way up the hill.  Then the trail was dry!

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View of Baker Valley from Brooks Hill

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Bottom of the Hill…Again with the snow!

Of course, we again encountered the tricky stuff on the way down, but the day was just gorgeous.  You know when the breezes are not quite as chilling and almost feel warm?  That is how it was!  We would be chilly, then rounding a bend in the trail meet with a warmish puff of air.  Very exciting!  After coming down Brooks Hill, we rounded Ford’s Loop by the Monocacy river.  Super gooey, suck your boots off muddy!  The river had just recently receded into its proper banks and left debris and mud on the trail.  A sure sign of Spring!!!

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Sidekick Pauli surveying the flood plain

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Still high water! Sidekick Pauli was not pleased…this is where her beach usually is!

So that was fun.  Saturday came the real delight though! 65 degrees!!!!!! Wazooo!  Oh my gawd, let’s all go hiking!!!  I had errands in the morning, so I set off for Cunningham Falls State Park at about 2:30 pm.  Parking my car at the Catoctin Furnace on the east side of route 15, Sidekick Pauli and I followed the Catoctin Furnace Trail through the woods and over the pedestrian bridge to pick up the Catoctin Trail up to Bob’s Hill overlook.

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Glad I didn’t have to cross Little Hunting Creek today!

This is not a long hike, but a steep one!  After crossing the pedestrian bridge follow the creek to the Catoctin Trail.  It is a right turn up the hill and steep right from the get go!  The trail was slushy, but not terribly difficult to maneuver.  The trail gives hikers nice breaks between the steep sections, leveling out for awhile where one can meander along as if no effort was needed at all to climb to such a height.  Then, of course, just as you get comfortable, the trail heads back up again!

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This was the perfect place to hike on this Spring preview day!  I only saw a handful of other hikers (and I bet Shenandoah NP was packed!)

But was I done with this weekend???? NOOOOOOOO! Even though it rained off and on come Sunday, I was not going to stay inside.  Okay, well, I was…but then as I came out of Joanne’s Fabrics down on 40, I glanced at the mountains. Their summits were so beautifully draped in fog that I could not resist!  I turned down 40 headed for Gambrill State Park hoping to walk through the woods with the mist swirling about me.

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CCC Memorial in Gambrill State Park

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I was ecstatic, just magical.

What an absolute wonderful gift this weekend has been. Almost March! Hike on!

Blockhouse Point Conservation Area

Blockhouse Point is a great little park in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Sidekick Pauli helped me scout this hike so I could lead a group here.  By the way, those of you who read the last post of mine know that Sidekick Pauli went in for surgery for a lump that grew rather quickly on her neck.  Her surgery went great and they were able to get all cancerous tissue out!!  So it was cancerous, but prognosis is fantastic!  She will probably be scouting hikes with me for a long time to come! 🙂 🙂

I visited Blockhouse Point on three different occasions to get the feel of the place since it was brand new to me.  The first time my son and niece tagged along.  Of course, we were caught up  in conversation and got off on the wrong trail.  We had wanted to loop, but this trail did not do that.  Turns out we had gotten on the last leg of the Muddy Branch Trail! Made a note to look this trail up later for future adventures in MoCo!

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The second time was better planned out and Sidekick Pauli was in tow!  We headed down the Canyon Trail, crossed over to Blockhouse Point Trail, then out to Blockhouse Point.  This was before Sidekick Pauli’s surgery and she was delighted to pull me along the trail smelling all things new and exciting.  I was expecting a little more of an overlook, but the views of the river were tremendously satisfying!  Pauli was a little antsy, so I let her lead us back to the car instead of heading out to the second overlook on the Paw Paw trail.  It looked a bit cloudy and felt like a storm was moving in. Sure enough as soon as we got to the car, the skies opened up!  Thank you, Sidekick Pauli, for keeping me dry!!!

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The third visit I practically ran down the trails.  I wanted to scout out the Paw Paw overlook.  I am so glad I did.  It is definitely the nicer overlook.  Expansive views of the river to the northwest.  Very understandable why this point was used in the Civil War.  Another neat feature is the C&O Canal is just below the bluffs, so you can “spy” bicyclists, walkers, and horse riders all day if you like while you sit high above on the rocks.  haha!

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I do need to advise that the Turkey Fan Trail has been rerouted.  This caused me a little confusion the first time out there… not hard to figure out…just weird trying to put together where exactly you are on the Blockhouse Point Trail if you have never been to the area.  So a heads up!

Also, I’ve heard there is a way to do a big loop by following an unmarked trail behind Calithea Horse Farm, then pick up the C&O Canal.   Walking south on the canal to Pennyfield Lock, then up the Muddy Branch Greenway Trail.  Hmmm…more trails to explore!

And while I do like winter…I think I will wait for Spring! Hike on!

 

Oh Fall…slow down!

I looked at the date of my last post…a sharp intake of breath…a month ago!!!

It has been an unforgettable fall season. 🙂  Lots of hiking, lots of working, lots of going to school…not a lot of time for writing unless it is for one of those reasons!

So a quick recap of the highlights. 🙂

Shenandoah River State Park

Shenandoah River State Park

October 17: We headed down to Shenandoah National Park in early October to leaf peep.  After seeing the line at the northern entrance, we gladly diverted and visited Shenandoah River State Park instead.  Lovely park and a very good decision!  We visit Shenandoah National Park all the time and quite honestly, prefer it without the traffic. 🙂

White Rocks, north of Gathland State Park on the AT in Maryland

White Rocks, north of Gathland State Park on the AT in Maryland

October 25: Sidekick Pauli and I took an afternoon hike to White Rocks on the AT in Maryland.  I realized I had been doing way too much desk sitting as I climbed up to White Rocks!!  We had a lovely lunch at the rocks before walking back to Gathland State Park. 🙂 🙂 🙂

2015 October 31 Antietam Battlefield

Antietam Battlefield

October 31: Led the Trail Dames on a walk among the lost souls at Antietam Battlefield. Perfectly beautiful day to enjoy and be thankful for all we have been given.

Wet, wet, wet on the Rose River Trail in SNP

Wet, wet, wet on the Rose River Trail in SNP

November 7: Rose River Falls Loop in Shenandoah National Park with the Trail Dames  IN THE RAIN.  Sidekick Pauli didn’t mind the rain and neither did I.  I wasn’t leading this hike so I walked along carefree as can be!  And we finished by celebrating a fellow dame’s birthday with blackberry cobbler and ice cream! Yes!!

Star Party at Sky Meadows State Park, VA.  Just look at those set ups!

Star Party at Sky Meadows State Park, VA. Just look at those set ups!

November 14: Let’s all go to a Star Party!! Kudos to the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) for sharing their super high caliber telescopes with us at Sky Meadows State Park.  I saw Jupiter, Uranus, a double star, the craters on the moon, and a lot, lot, more! So awesome. 🙂

Thomas Farm...my go to after work!

Thomas Farm…my go to after work!

I have enjoyed being outside this last month and am soooooooo looking forward to my Thanksgiving break!

#OptOutside on Black Friday! Hike On!

Feeling Beachy at Elk Neck State Park-Maryland

The Chesapeake Bay! Turkey Point Lighthouse!

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There is no better indication that summer is still here than a sailboat on the bay!

It took two hours, half a tank of gas, $8 in bridge tolls, and a $3 entrance fee to get to Elk Neck from Frederick, Maryland…but the views of the Bay…yes, definitely priceless!!

Elk Neck is located on a peninsula at the top of the Chesapeake Bay. The place where the Susquehanna, North East, Elk, and Bohemia Rivers spill into the Bay. At the southern most part of the park, Turkey Point Lighthouse sits atop the bluffs affording an expansive view of the Bay.

Sidekick Pauli and I started our hike on the White Banks Trail at North East Beach. Dogs are allowed on all the trails and beaches, except for the swimming area. The trail description describes this as a “challenging” trail, but that must be by eastern Maryland standards. 😉
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Within 15 minutes, we came to a “T” in the trail. The official trail goes left, but shamelessly, I went right…and oh my!! The beach, a secluded, empty, windy beach! Yippee!

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Sidekick Pauli’s first view of the Bay

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Driftwood is very, very cool

Sidekick Pauli approached the water with great trepidation. When a wave would roll, then crash, onto the beach, she would jump back startled. These were tiny waves! Oh well, mountains and lakes are more her style. 🙂 🙂

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The waves are chasing me!! Maybe I can climb that cliff…

There was a great piece of driftwood for us to sit on and eat our lunch. Total relaxation overtook me sitting there on the sunny beach watching sailboats drift by in the Bay.  Then Sidekick Pauli, having had quite enough of the sand, and the waves, and the wind, whined and pawed me leaving wet sand all over! Time to keep hiking!

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Okay, okay…we’re going!

After the stop at the beach we climbed the steepest hill of the entire hike.  I remember it, not for its steepness, but for the woman who we passed as we were going up…a cigarette and whiskey voice with a starlet physique…memorable. 😉

Next stop was White Bank overlook…pretty cool.  Watch your step! It’s a long way down!

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White Banks…and a rather abrupt drop off!

Continuing around the park, we took a side trail over to meet up with the Pond Loop.  Acorns and pawpaws were my only obstacles…and I slid twice! Darn acorns!
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The pond was more to Sidekick Pauli’s liking, so we took our time around the perimeter.  I love those big, plumed grasses that grow on the eastern shore of Maryland.  The pond’s shore was thick with this grass.
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Once we were around the pond, we caught the Farm Trail back to the parking lot.

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It’s not a flower, Pauli.

However, we were not done for the day!  The one unfortunate aspect of this park is that it is split into two pieces, with a prestigious bay community inbetween. 😦  Lucky for the residents, not for park visitors!  So if you want to visit the lighthouse…which of course you do…you will need to drive down to the lighthouse trail.  Which we did! Then NO PARKING was available, but the park ranger made a space for me! 🙂 🙂

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Turkey Point Lighthouse

Thank you, ranger!
Lovely day at the Bay!

Hike on!

A Shorter Loop at Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland

Rain, muggy, then rain again! My last week before returning to teach summer classes was less than ideal. While I got out for a few spins around downtown Frederick, I was missing the woods.  Sunday came with the gift of opportunity!  I chose to go to Sugarloaf Mountain!

Sugarloaf is a classic place to go hiking…translation…it can be super crowded and the port-a-potties always smell…

However, there are times when introverts like me can actually enjoy the mountain.  Go early and preferably on a weekday, although super early usually does the trick.  Park behind the mountain on Mt. Ephraim road and head up the Blue or Yellow trails.  It is a gravel road, but well packed down.  In addition, improvements have been made so the creek now flows underneath the road bed!

I was out the door with Sidekick Pauli at 6:30 AM, and after a few stops, was on the trail at 7:20 AM.  There was not a soul around!!! Yessssss!!!!

Mt. Ephraim Road

Mt. Ephraim Road

I parked at the usual spot on Mt. Ephraim road and headed up the Blue trail to White Rocks. The whole area was fogged in leaving the woods with mist hovering in the branches of trees and spider webs glistening with water droplets. Very moody, like something out of a BBC period production.  Too bad it doesn’t come out well in the photos because it was pretty outstanding!

Starting the Blue Trail just off Mt. Ephraim Road

Starting the Blue Trail just off Mt. Ephraim Road

It was also incredibly humid. Cool, but humid! Sidekick Pauli was delighted to find a spring dumping out directly onto the trail.  I was delighted to find a few stepping stones so I could hop over said spring!

Arriving at White Rocks, we found we were still fogged in.  We sat for a few minutes becoming part of the quietness that surrounded us.  When we got going again the birds were beginning to chatter to each other.  Ahhh, can’t beat being out here in the early morning!

No view at White Rock so Sidekick Pauli is searching for...?

No view at White Rock so Sidekick Pauli is searching for…?

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Foggy Woods

The Blue trail winds down, then up to one of the lesser summits at 1015 feet (Mt. Ephraim road is at 500 feet).  The summit is marked by a big rock pile.  I added a rock to the pile and kept on.

Lesser Summit 1015 feet

Sidekick Pauli at the Lesser Summit of 1015 feet

Coming down the mountain, it looked as if the trail has been rerouted to accommodate new switchbacks! Nice!  Soon after the switchback I spotted a dog barreling down the trail.  “I have a dog.” I called out in a stage voice that hasn’t gotten much use since high school.  The owners, thankfully, were able to call back their dog and get him on a leash. Sidekick Pauli is not fond of people or animals that intrude into her personal space without invitation!  Crisis was averted and we continued down the trail once the dog and its owners passed by.

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Having limited time and I chose to take the yellow trail back down to Mt. Ephraim Road.  A new trail to explore, a welcome change!  A nice trail too!  Even though this is the “Horse Trail” it was wide and easy to walk.

Great Trail! Just for horses? Looks like cars too.

Great Trail! Just for horses? Looks like cars too.

No obvious pock marks, not a lot of horse poo, but occasionally there was a disgusting, muddy puddle of water.  This was not unexpected after the rain in the area this week!

Yuck, Yuck, Yuck!

Yuck, Yuck, Yuck! Sidekick Pauli…DON’T even THINK about it!

The complete loop, Blue from Mt. Ephraim road to White Rocks, then to the Yellow trail back to Mt Ephraim road, was about four miles.  Long enough to get your mind in the right place, but short enough to not wear you out (just in case you have to go home and help with housework…)!

Grab the dog in your life and hike on! 🙂