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!!! 😀 😀 😀


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.


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.


Retreat from Wolf Rocks


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!

A Round Trip Ticket from Catoctin Furnace to Bob’s Hill Overlook

This has been an amazing Autumn day.  It started with bright sun and temps in the sixties…a perfect day to climb Bob’s Hill in Cunningham Falls State Park.  This was my first time up to Bob’s Hill, although I am familiar with the area having climbed to Cat Rock, Chimney Rocks, and other high points in the Catoctin range.

Filling the bladder with water and tucking a couple of sandwiches, in addition to some cheese for Sidekick Pauli, into the pack, I realized it would not be so easy to slip out of the house with only one dog in tow!  Little Caesar helped me placate the other canines with a plan that had us walking all three dogs around the block, then quickly leading two, who were not going, back into the house, while Sidekick Pauli got into the back of the car! It worked!

If you are headed to Bob’s Hill, then I would suggest parking at Catoctin Furnace.  It is free to park at the furnace, and it is a pretty interesting site to look around.  The Ironmaster’s house, which is in ruins, is well worth a look see.

The Ironmaster's house ruins

The Ironmaster’s house ruins

Head up the short hill from the parking lot to pick up the trail that will lead to the Manor area of Cunningham Falls State Park.  This is a short trail, about 1/4 mile, but has some interesting features such at the Bowstring Arch bridge.  This beautiful, historic bridge takes you across Little Hunting Creek as you head toward the elevated bridge crossing Route 15 (pretty much a super highway!).

There are several hiking trails in the Cunningham Falls SP/Catoctin Mountain Park area. A great map of the trails is provided by the National Park Service.

Once across Route 15, Sidekick Pauli and I took a little break at the creek.  The sun was breaking through golden leaves making the water sparkle as it spilled over the rocks.  Sidekick Pauli couldn’t resist stepping into the cool stream as she bent to take a drink.  After trying the water in several spots, finding them all absolutely delightful, she turned to me with a big smile on her face!  Ready to go, Papa? Oh yes, ready to go!


We walked along the creek looking for the blue blazes that mark the Catoctin Trail.  We found it without too much difficulty and headed to the right and up the hill.  I was surprised and pleased to find that I did not need to stop to catch my breath on the way up to Bob’s Hill overlook.  A few times I stopped briefly to take in the fall splendor and listen to the wind as it roared up from the valley.  The wind was ferocious at times, pushing the trees aside allowing me a glimpse of crystal blue sky.  Ahhhhh!

All the way up to the overlook we were alone! It was wonderful!

We checked out the overlook to the right first.  Then we backtracked and headed to the overlook on the other side.  I don’t know which I liked better!  We sat down to eat our snack at the second overlook.

It was one of those moments that you want to stay in forever.  The gusting wind caused several leaves to let loose and fly.  The sunlight made the color of the leaves sparkle as they were carried by the wind off the mountain and down into the hollow.  I felt all at once like I was part of the mountain.  I let the wind push against me and instead of turning away from it, I looked up into it, feeling it make my eyes tear up and sting my cheeks.  I took a deep breath as it blew, the freshness of it filling me up.  I did a sideways glance to check on Pauli and found she too had her nose turned up to greet the wind!  It was just one of those moments.


Leaving the overlook several minutes later we continued toward Cat Rock.  I had no plans to visit Cat Rock today, but I wasn’t ready to turn around and head back to the car yet.  Plus, we were now on the ridge which was easy walking!


Easy walking means I was able to just let my thoughts wander.  I thought about life, work, hiking, dogs, cats, … then something popped into my head that made me pause.  A woman said to me the other day that she wasn’t a strong hiker because she was so slow.  It bothered me.  It bothered me because strong is not the same as fast.  I consider myself a strong hiker, but I hike at a steady 2 mph pace in the mountains.  I have been hiking for a long time, have confidence in my abilities, and know when I should challenge myself and when I should turn back.  But I am not fast.

I thought about this because I was thinking this hike up Bob’s Hill is a moderate hike.  I think anyone could do it.  When I say anyone could do it, I mean, anyone could do it in a time that is right for them.

I want to yell passionately at that woman to stop berating herself.  I wanted to tell her, “If you run out of breath…stop and breathe! Look around the woods; enjoy the moment!  Take your time and love that you are on the mountain! This is your life!”

Hike on!!!!

4/5/2014 Saturday at Catoctin Mountain

Earlier in the week Bag Lady, yes…the same Bag Lady from the AT Maryland back pack last fall, put out an all points bulletin for a hiking partner this weekend.  She wanted to go face her nemesis from that trip…Lambs Knoll. She also wanted to train for an upcoming hiking trip in Alaska.

You just went “wow!” didn’t you? Me too….Alaska …Totally cool!

I was in! But turns out she wanted to shuttle so we didn’t have to do an out and back hike. I couldn’t do that as I wanted to bring Sidekick Pauli!  So we decided to hike a big loop at Catoctin Mountain Park instead.

Now this was probably more my desire than Bag Lady’s since my hike at Catoctin got cancelled last week because of an absolutely ridiculous late spring snowstorm. 😉

We met at the visitor center, then started down the trail at about 9:45am.  We were hiking an 8.5 mile loop with a stop at Chimney Rocks, the picnic area just before Hog Rock and the falls before trekking back to our cars.

The first mile went smoothly and soon we were climbing up the rocky trail to Chimney Rocks. Weather was decent with an occasional chilly breeze that made me happy that I had brought both a hat and my gloves!

On the way up we met a guy doing a training hike with a full pack.  He was training for Colorado!

Wow!  Everyone is going to hike someplace really neat this summer!!!

I was glad I didn’t have on a full pack! I was already sucking a little wind with a day pack.  Up, up, up…reached Chimney Rocks in good time.  We took a short break, then continued to Hog Rock.  Along the way we passed Wolf Rocks and Thurmont Vista.  We did not stop at either.  We were ridge walking now and it was nippy! Winds had picked up and it was no longer sunny.

A Short Break at Chimney Rocks

A Short Break at Chimney Rocks

As we walked I took in the destruction left by the ice storms.  The forest was littered with downed trees and widow makers were left along the trail. I silently mouthed “please don’t fall on me” every time I had to walk under one!

We took a nice sit down break at the picnic area before Hog Rock.  I ate my PB&J and put out water for Sidekick Pauli.  Bag Lady gave Sidekick Paulia slice of real meat (salami? Pepperoni?).

Sidekick Pauli makes friends with Bag Lady

Sidekick Pauli makes friends with Bag Lady

Oh good Lord.  The look on her face! I am vegetarian…well, not exactly…I eat fish…anyway the point is that she has never had real meat!  Sidekick Pauli definitely has a new best friend!

We finished lunch and headed across Park Central road to Hog Rock.  Supposedly you can see Chimney Rocks from Hog Rock but I have never spotted them and today was no different!  I looked a second time searching the opposite ridge…nope, couldn’t find them.  Maybe another day! Onward!

We crawled down the mountain, visited the falls, then took the rolling path back to the visitor center.  There we found out that there is a shelter you can reserve on the other side of the park where the trails are a bit more level.  We both thought about a Trail Dames beginner back pack!! Fun! Fun!

Hike on! 🙂

McAffee Falls

McAffee Falls