Norma and I stayed the night in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Without snow to enjoy cross country skiing, we were left to do some hiking. We asked our breakfast waiter about the area and he recommended Mount Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania. Hence, we set out to hike this 3213 foot peak using a route described under the "Mt. Davis Natural Area" chapter in 50 Hikes in Western Pennsylvania.
Mount Davis, Pennsylvania is named after John Nelson Davis who was an early community leader in Southern Somerset County. He was a surveyor, school teacher, Superintendent of Schools for Elk Lick Township, Pennsylvania, ordained minister, shook maker, and farmer. During the Civil War he served as First Sergeant of Company 'K', 171st Pennsylvania Vounteers. He was also one of the last surviving Civil War Veterans of this area.
Mr. Davis was a naturalist and was fascinated with Mount Davis and the High Point throughout his life. It seems appropriate that the mountain is named in his honor. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchased most of the land from Mr. Emma Humes in 1929. Smaller parcels were purchased from the Davis heirs in 1921 and 1942. In 1974, the 581 acres surrounding the High Point was set aside as the Mount Davis Natural Area.
- from sign at observation tower base
While Mount Davis may be a peak, it is by no means a difficult hike. The 5.8 mile circuit hike starts at a huge parking lot (with a restroom) that is about 3160 feet above sea level. This blazed trail is fairly rocky and at times difficult to follow. Some of the blazes are red so I recommend getting someone with normal color vision to lead.
Though there was no snow, we did see some ice on that December 30, 2008 day when we crossed a tributary of Tub Mill Run. Some of it looked like candles being hung from their wicks. See first and second photos at left.
We stopped for a short lunch on a sunny patch of the trail next to Tub Mill Run. See third photo.
The high point of the hike (not literally, that comes later) was Wildcat Spring. This spring is unlike any I've seen before. At first, it just looks like a pool of water near a fallen tree (fourth photo). But upon closer examination, the bottom of this shallow pool is covered by fine sand. It is so fine that any movement in the water creates an uplift. There are about a dozen places in this spring where water gently spurts out from the bottom. The force of the water is too weak to make any noticeable affect on the surface of the water but it does force the sand to rise in little two inch gushers (fifth photo). Photos don't do it justice since the real beauty is in the movement. So if you really want to experience it, you'll just have to go there.
Near mile 4.8, we came to the observation tower, some information signs, and our first encounter with other hikers. The "50 Hikes..." book says that the area has weather that "is frequently foul; even in midsummer there can be a fog so thick that you can't see the ground from the top of the 50-foot observation tower." But the view for us was sunny and clear (sixth photo). Like the Who says, "I can see for miles and miles and miles."
Our short but fun hike only had a total ascent and descent of 1300 feet (2600 feet total elevation change). We finished with enough daylight to get back onto the main roads for a long drive home with very little traffic.
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After a relaxing night at the Log Haven Bed and Breakfast, Norma and I set out to do some hiking on part of the 70 mile Laurel Highlands Trail. We left my car at Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania then paid the company $25 to shuttle us to the trailhead on the northeast side of Maple Summit Road, about 2.25 miles southeast of Clay Run Road. The fee was well worth the cost which is based on the trip, not the number of people being shuttled.
We used the map contained in the "Pennsylvania Recreational Guide for Laurel Ridge" to trace our route. This map is also available at Pennsylvania State Parks - Laurel Ridge Maps. We used the south park map on this link. For a verbose description of the hike, see "Maple Summit to Ohiopyle" in 50 Hikes in Western Pennsylvania.
By 1140 on December 29, 2008, Norma and I were trekking south on a yellow blazed, well maintained trail. We saw numerous clean, flowing streams that were fresh enough to be in a Coors commercial. See first photo at left. Some interesting, large, pitted rocks were seen that reminded me of our October 13, 2008 trip to Beartown State Park. See second photo.
Unlike some of our earlier hikes this year, there was no snow and hardly any ice except for the crunchy stuff growing out of the trail like fungii. We originally planned this to be a cross country skiing event but it is pretty hard to ski without snow so hiking was plan B.
A nice vista gave us a clear view of the Youghiogheny River in the distance. See third photo.
After 5 miles, we came to some shelters. This was our lunch break and our first encounter with other hikers. In my opinion, these were Cadillac shelters (fourth photo). Each has room for about 4 people and there are several that are spaced sufficiently far apart to ensure adequate privacy. The best thing is that each shelter has its own stone chimney and metal platform for heating containers over the fire (fifth photo). If you choose to sleep here, the fire will be as close to your sleeping area as it can safely be to keep you toasty warm like a Quiznos sub. There is also a hand pump well (sixth photo) and toilets (seventh photo) at the site. To make reservations, call 724-455-3744.
Upon leaving the shelter, we encountered several other hikers and backpackers. One was a group of about 10 children and 3 adults. They were spaced out pretty far apart. An adult in the group received a cell phone call. He then hurried south. We caught up with him quite a bit later to find that he was escorting a backpacker who had fallen behind. She looked to be about 12 years old. I was a little surprised that there wasn't an adult acting as sweep. It was fortunate he had cell phone reception.
There were several scenic stream crossings. Anything more than a few hops across was covered by a sturdy but minimalistic bridge made of thick, solid wood. See eighth photo.
Norma and I had to keep a pretty good pace since sunset was at 1644. A fast walk on this route was a bit difficult at times because of the significant number of large rocks on the downhill slopes. Norma's knees were getting sore but she kept a good attitude as usual.
We made time to stop at the final and the most scenic overlook just northwest of Rock Spring Run. Here, we caught a fantastic view of the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park. This view made the trip truly memorable. See ninth photo. Unfortunately, we could not stay long as it was already getting dark.
The trail took us to an old jeep road along the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. This led back to my car.
We finished at about 1750 (yes, it was pretty dark) after having walked 11.3 miles with 2150 feet of total ascent and 3300 feet of total descent.
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Everyone needs a pilgrimage. For me, it is Twin Bridges, California. I've done this short but strenuous day hike which begins at the Pyramid Creek Trailhead in Eldorado National Forest more times than I can remember. My most recent visit was July 29, 2008. When I meet up with a friend in California, I take them on this hike. Upon visiting this place, I am filled with fond memories.
Norma also has such a pilgrimage. It too is a place that fills her heart and mind with pleasant memories. It is Swallow Falls.
The first time I visited the falls was August 10, 2006. Norma introduced me to this place not long after we first met. So much beauty was contained in this small area that I had never heard of. We shared this place with my parents on Columbus Day, October 8, 2007. On Christmas Day, December 25, 2008, we took Norma's mother to the falls. See the first photo at left for Norma and her mother peeking through a hole in a tree.
This was my first time visiting Swallow Falls in the winter. The place was still beautiful, but in a different way. The Youghiogheny River which feeds the falls was raging. Water sprayed upwards then mixed with the sunlight to form a rainbow (see the three of us in the second photo). Ice hung from the rocks like giant stalactites (see third photo). It also sparkled on the branches. On one tree trunk, ice mixed with sap to form yellow icicles (see fourth photo). I wonder if they taste like a maple syrup popsicle?
But the beauty of the wintery park was also dangerous. Some of the trails were slick and hard (see fifth photo). It was a good day to wear crampons, but we did not. We took our time and walked carefully, helping each other along the way. Fortunately, there were no bad falls.
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Glendening Nature Preserve
Not many people know about the trails at the Glendening Nature Preserve. Visually, they are not the most interesting trails and since it is part of Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, the hours are very limited. It is very flat and there are no vistas. But even the more mediocre trails take on a whole new appearance when they are presented by someone that has spent a good deal of time researching the history of an area.
On December 21, 2008, Norma, her sister Joyce, and I visited the Glendening Nature Preserve for a December Solstice hike led by Mike, a volunteer at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. There were about 18 people ranging in age from about 11 to 70.
About 18 of us met at the Plummer House at 1530, about an hour before sunset. Then we walked about 2.5 miles in the Preserve. Mike stopped frequently to tell us about how the landscape used to look, who owned it, and what it was used for. He mentioned how big trees were left or rocks were moved to serve as boundary markers. He told us about fields giving way to pines and later giving way to hardwood as part of a natural cycle. Mike also pointed out some invasive plants.
We saw a beaver dam. See photo at left. On the upstream side, the water is about 6 feet deep. On the downstream side, it is only about 2 feet deep. Unfortunately, we saw no beavers. Someone saw a deer but that's about it for the land critters. It was a little too cold and windy for them to be out and about. But we saw numerous geese flying to the protection of the water for the night.
We also saw some prickly pear. The leaves of this cactus were flat against the ground though I have seen them upright during warmer seasons.
Much of the information Mike knew about the area was based on his own research in historical documents. It is unlikely we could have found a better guide. I walked this area several years ago and found it somewhat boring but the way Mike presented information that night made it much more interesting.
Afterwards, we met at the Plummer House for some cookies and hot chocolate.
Some might say that the darkest day is a sad time but I celebrate it since I know it means that the days ahead will only get brighter.
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Michaux State Forest
The last time I stayed at a cabin with Ralph was November 18-20, 2005. Back then, we stayed at the Olive Green cabin and hiked at Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park.
On December 12-14, 2008, several of us stayed at the Gypsy Spring Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) cabin in Michaux State Forest. See first photo at left. In contrast to Olive Green (and many of the PATC cabins), Gypsy Spring is the Hilton. It has running water, hot showers, flush toilets, a refrigerator, electric stove, and electric heat. Also, one can park right at the cabin. The place is small but not too small for 8 people if they play well together. Near the middle of the cabin is a large wood-burning stove to keep us toasty warm.
Norma and I arrived at Gypsy Spring late on December 12. The next morning, we made breakfast for Ralph H., Beth H., and Dick R. We used eggs and bacon from Norma's family's farm along with syrup from Garrett County. Ralph said making a meal covered our share of the cabin rental. Sounds like a bargain to me!
After breakfast, Greg W., Jenny P.-W., Sue B., and Rich S. rolled in. Most all of us are members of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA).
Beth, Rich, and Sue guarded the cabin while the rest of us set out on a hike. We drove a short distance to Pine Grove Furnace State Park and picked up the Appalachian Trail. We then started walking south. Almost immediately, we saw a huge charcoal iron furnace. See second photo at left. I then knew I hiked this same location back on February 2, 2008. Then, the ground was icy but this time, the ground was fairly clear. There were occassional patches of ice but it wasn't slippery. Rather, ice crystals grew out of the ground like mushrooms. See third photo.
A pileated woodpecker was spotted. It was an ideal moment to tell my tree joke but I forgot. Other than the pecker and maybe some squirrels, very little wildlife was seen.
The temperature was around freezing but unlike last weekend, it wasn't uncomfortable because there was no wind.
We crossed over Toms Run, a small creek (see fourth photo) with a nice bridge over it. The last time I crossed this bridge, it was way hella icy but this time it was dry. Dick and Jenny crossed the bridge with no difficulty (see fifth photo).
After about 2.5 miles, we came to some old ruins just before Michaux Road. See Greg in the sixth photo. This is where Jenny, Greg, and Dick headed back.
Continuing onward, Norma, Ralph, and I stopped for lunch at one of the two Toms Run Shelters.
After a short climb, the forest turned into a spectacular winter wonderland. Freezing rain coated every branch, twig, and leaf with a layer of ice. The sun reflected on this and made it look like we were hiking in a crystal forest. Best of all, the trail was still not slippery.
Seventh photo: Small icicles formed on this leaf.
Eighth photo: Silvery trail.
Ninth photo: Bright light, ice, and shadows.
Tenth photo: I thought ice plants only grew on the west coast (my poor attempt at humor).
We were glad to be hiking on the 13th instead of the 14th when the temperatures were expected to be much warmer. The only disadvantage to being out on the 13th is that it was the final day of rifle deer hunting season. There were quite a few shots fired but since hunting isn't permitted on the Appalachian Trail, we were fairly safe. Still, we made sure to all wear some blaze orange. See eleventh photo.
Ralph led us to Michener Cabin, another PATC shelter. It is a nice log cabin that is definitely way out in the woods and away from it all. I don't believe folks are even permitted to drive on the dirt road to it.
After walking a little further south, we passed Dead Woman Hollow. Not sure how the place got its name but I'm sure there is a great story there.
Our 9.5 mile hike ended at Shippensburg Road, where Ralph left his vehicle. It is always nice to have multiple vehicles to ensure an interesting one-way trek. I gave my keys to the group that did the out and back hike so Dick drove my car back to the cabin once they were done.
That night, Rich cooked a fabulous gourmet meal. Jenny introduced a board game called Sequence which I REALLY enjoyed. Norma introduced Bananagrams, now an old favorite.
The next day, we cleaned up the cabin and spent much of the day at the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.
It was a very nice and relaxing weekend.
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Seneca Creek Greenway Trail
Over the last couple of years, I've hiked at or near many Senecas: Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, Little Seneca Lake and Little Seneca Falls both at Black Hill Regional Park, and Seneca Creek and Seneca Creek Trail both part of Seneca Creek Backcountry in West Virginia.
The word "Seneca" actually means "place of the stone." The word comes from the Seneca Indians who were a tribe of the Iroquois. Maybe the name appears so frequently because it is so much easier to pronounce and spell than other Native American tribes such as "Mattawoman" or "Monongahela."
On December 7, 2008, Norma and I did a hike led by Rueben D. of the Mountain Club of Maryland. I am presently a member of this fine club. We met at the Route 70 and Route 32 Park and Ride. There, I volunteered to drive Norma, Gail, and some guy (whose name I forget).
At this time of year, the days are short so Norma and I wanted to do a hike closer to home. Thus, when chosing between the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail and Old Rag, the choice was clear. Additionally, we've already hiked Old Rag (twice for me) but have never hiked Seneca Creek Greenway Trail so the thrill of seeing someplace new made our tails wag.
The temperature was around freezing and there was a strong wind that made the perceived temperature in the low to mid twenties. But at least it was sunny.
About 18 of us stepped off for a hike through sparse woods and grasslands. The trail was lightly covered with snow. See photo at left. It was a bit slippery but not too bad. The clear Seneca Creek was often in our view. So were the various Montgomery County homes and roads. It didn't quite feel like a wilderness hike though I'm sure that place is a gem for the nearby residents. I'm certainly jealous. The cold wind kept many people indoors so we had most of the trail to ourselves.
Lunch was brief since sitting still for very long was most uncomfortable. Jody shared cookies as she often does. That set many of the rest of us sharing our food. Norma and I shared dried fruit. Lunch became a bit of a potluck.
The area has some history. Around 1790, Abraham Faw built a grist mill on Seneca Creek. This area later became known as Middlebrook Mills. Another grist mill was also built on the creek around 1783 on property that was eventually referred to as Watkins Mill.
After 11 miles, we were done. Rueben did a good job in leading the hike. It is obvious he put a good deal of work into preparation.
I'm sure Norma and I will see some familiar faces in the club in the spring. The warmer weather can't come soon enough for me.
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Cold Mountain and Mount Pleasant
For a trip report of my October 25-27, 2008 backpacking trip in George Washington National Forest, see
Cold Mountain and Mount Pleasant.
Kelly's Run/Tucquan Glen
For a trip report of my October 4, 2008 day hike in Holtwood, Pennsylvania, see
Susquehanna River area hiking and paddling.
Shenandoah River State Park
I've been to Shenandoah National Park several times but I had never been to Shenandoah River State Park (aka Raymond R. "Andy" Guest, Jr. State Park), Virginia until September 28, 2008. This was the first time. In fact, that day marks five "firsts" for me. Read on and you'll learn about the others.
Norma and I met the group at the Vienna Metro parking lot. Thirty people were signed up and 27 showed up. It was a huge group and I was surprised that I didn't know anyone although a couple of faces looked vaguely familiar.
Norma and I are Sierra Club members and she is a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). I had never done a hike with them but after Norma showed me their AMC-DC Newsletter, we decided to sign up for one of their hiking/paddling events. This trip was supposed to be on September 27, co-led by Carl L. (who helped me with the Patuxent River Canoe Cleanup on April 5, 2008), and to include a 6 mile circuit hike with 3000 feet elevation gain. It ended up being on September 28, led by Paul E. and Mike D., and included a 6.5 mile non-circuit hike with less elevation gain. Not that I'm complaining. The leaders demonstrated "adapt and overcome" or "the show must go on" mentality. The park was undergoing some construction so the route had to be modified. I know how it is leading a big group of all different skill levels. Last minute changes are not fun. But Paul and Mike managed just fine.
I drove Norma and Nancy to the park. My new car tells me the average miles per gallon. The gradual incline up to the Shenandoah area noticeably decreased my fuel efficiency reading.
A squirrel with a nut in his mouth ran out in front of my car soon after we entered the park. I came to a stop, expecting him to move, but he stood his ground in the middle of the road with his treasure. After a couple of seconds, I honked my horn. The squirrel jumped straight up about two feet into the air. His nut went flying. Looking very nervous, he ran away without his nut. Hopefully, I taught him a valuable lesson. The next driver might not be so willing to stop.
We parked near the canoe launch at shelter one then walked east past some of the other shelters and the fish trap access. It seems there were quite a few Shenandoah River South Fork access points in the park. See first photo at left for a view of the river.
We saw some wild persimmons (see second photo) and LOTS of paw paws. The paw paws were ripe so I picked one up from the ground for lunch.
At the entrance to the River Right Campground, we came to an information sign. I don't remember what all it said. What I do remember is that there were several bats resting between the plexiglass cover and the cork board. See third photo at left. We're not sure why they chose that location to rest. Perhaps the plexiglass kept them warm. Maybe the cork gave them something to grip onto. Behind the sign was a bat box (fourth photo) and a bat residing inside (fifth photo). The largest bat had a body about 4 inches long.
We hiked on the Bluebell Loop then walked up Wildcat Ledge for a spectacular view of the valley below. See sixth photo. We returned back to Bluebell and enjoyed its elevated boardwalk view (seventh photo).
We stopped for lunch at one of the vacant campsites. They all seemed vacant. There, Norma and I shared a meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) and a paw paw. That was the first time I tried one. I liked it. It tastes a little like papaya or banana. Norma said they are closely related. Though the fruit is about as big as a pear, it doesn't have much meat because the seeds are so big and lie throughout the fruit.
A good mix of wildlife was seen. In addition to the bats, we saw a tiny crayfish about 1.5 inches long (eighth photo), a writing spider, a toad, and a walking stick with a four inch long body (ninth and tenth photos).
We also walked on Allen's Mountain Loop and Turkey Roost trails.
Back near the start, I saw a tree with what appeared to be hundreds of eggs on various leaves. See eleventh photo at left.
We loaded up the cars then drove to Cullers Overlook for a view. See twelfth and thirteenth photos at left. This point was named after Mr. Everett Cullers and his family. The land was originally a portion of a larger farm, acquired in 1953. Over the next four and a half decades, they and their three sons worked to improve the farm and protect the beautiful river along its boundary. Virginia purchased the land from Merle Cullers in 1999, thus adding two miles of scenic river frontage to Shenandoah River State Park.
- from sign at overlook
Next, we drove to Downriver Canoe Company. The original plan was to hike there but the trails that led to this outfitter were closed.
We boarded a short bus that took us across a small bridge to the launch site. About half of us had canoes and the other half had kayaks. Norma and I had a tandem kayak. It was a heavy, wide, plastic thing that made my Ocean Kayak Cabo look like greased lightning. I found the boat very hard to steer as I kept overcompensating with turning. The big, heavy, plastic, unfeathered Euro paddles were quite cumbersome too. Regardless, it was fun.
The river is very clean, the area is quite scenic, and there are lots of fish. But even with the heavy rains over the last few days, the water was low. A few times our boat got stuck on the rocks and I had to get out to get us unstuck. Over the area we paddled, there appeared to be few parts where one could not stand up in the river. The thick vegetation also made paddling a little difficult at times. If I return, I'll definitely try to come back in the spring, after a heavy rain, with a plastic boat, and Euro paddles.
Dark clouds rolled in (fourteenth photo) then it rained hard for about 25 minutes.
We took the boats out where we began our hike. The short bus came to take us back to our vehicles.
Afterwards, some of us met at a custard stand not far from the park. The custard tasted like ice cream.
We walked only 6.5 miles and paddled a mere 3.5 miles. It was an easy but fun day.
Thus, my five "firsts" on September 28, 2008 are
First time in Shenandoah River State Park.
First time hiking with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Hopefully there will be a second.
First time eating a paw paw.
First time paddling on the Shenandoah River.
First time eating custard.
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Seneca Creek Backcountry
For a trip report of my Labor Day backpacking adventure in West Virginia, see
Seneca Creek Backcountry, Labor Day Weekend 2008.
For a trip report of my California vacation which includes hiking near Lake Tahoe, kayaking in Lake Tahoe, kayaking in the Point Reyes area, and bicycling in Sacramento, check out
California, Summer 2008.
I did an enjoyable hike with the Mountain Club of Maryland a few years ago. They had an upcoming hike on Sunday, July 20, 2008. So did another club. But the other club's hike was out yonder in Shenandoah...a little far for a moderate length day hike...especially with gas prices being what they are. Hence, I signed up for the Mountain Club hike which was along Morgan Run and Liberty Reservoir...a place I had yet to visit.
I invited most of the fun people I knew to join me. I had no takers.
I arrived at the meeting place in Carroll County. There, I met Richard, the leader, along with Monica and Gwen. Also in attendance was Jody, who I've hiked with many times before.
The temperature was in the 90s but we were in the shade almost the whole time. Occassionally, a very light breeze found its way through the trees.
The trail wasn't blazed and for some parts, like under the power lines, the trail was a little difficult to follow. There were also several trail off-shoots. I would have certainly had a hard time keeping from getting lost but Richard knew his way around. With him in the lead and Monica as sweep, we were well taken care of.
We saw several frogs. Most were only one centimeter long but occassionally we would see a larger one (3 inches). Other than that, we didn't see much animal life though there was certainly evidence of eager beaver activity.
Our hike was a moderately paced approximately 8 mile lollipop route with a lunch break about two-thirds through.
I hope to hike with the Mountain Club again.
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Horseshoe Crab Watch
For a trip report of a Delaware kayaking, hiking, and bicycling weekend to see the horseshoe crabs come ashore, check out
Horseshoe Crab Watch, 2008.
After spending most of the previous day driving or working on re-roofing the barn at Norma's parents' house, it was good to do some walking. So on May 25, 2008, we did just that.
Norma took me to the Poplar Lick Trail in Savage River State Forest. The day was sunny and warm. In fact, the day was as bright as our future...hence I had to wear shades if we were out in the open. But under all the tree cover, we didn't even need sunscreen.
The trail followed the scenic Poplar Lick Run. Though it claims to be a trail, it is really just a dirt road. See first photo at left. The sign at the trailhead says it is for off road vehicles, bicyclists, and hikers. We saw several all terrain vehicles, 4x4 trucks, and mountain bikes. The road wasn't particularly rough though there were a few stream crossings that my Acura might not have liked.
There were several drive-in campsites along the way. I believe campsite use is only five dollars a day.
While the wooded trail is pretty, the stream crossings became deeper and more frequent. We didn't bring river shoes so it was slow and uncomfortable making each crossing. After the third one, we decided to turn around.
All the traffic was a little annoying though I certainly can't complain since this is a designated off road vehicle trail.
Norma lost one of her favorite socks. By now, it has probably floated downstream several miles and is on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe we'll see it on our trip to Delaware the next week.
At the trailhead and throughout parts of Garrett County, we saw a large prism-shaped blue boxes. A sign said it was for trapping the emerald ash borer. See second photo at left.
Our short hike took us only 6.5 miles. We needed to save our energy for tomorrow's barn roof work.
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Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia
For a trip report of my backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail from Sunset Fields to Punchbowl Shelter in Virginia, see
Appalachian Trail, Virginia, April 2008.
Hiking on Eastern Neck Island
For a trip report of my weekend trip to Maryland's smallest county that includes just a tiny bit of hiking, see
Kent County, Maryland, March 2008.
Catoctin Mountain Tri-Leader Hike
Back in December 2007, Cindy was scheduled to co-lead a hike in Catoctin Mountain Park. Unfortunately, her event ended up getting canceled. She was still wanting to sponsor this event but not as the sole leader. This is where I came in. I thought I would make a good co-leader. I discussed the event with my partner in crime, Norma, who was also agreeable to helping co-lead the hike. Three leaders? Why not? Some say two is better than one, therefore, by inductive reasoning, three must be better than two...right?
I first met Cindy on May 7, 2006. For both of us, that was our first Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC) hike. We hit it off quite well. Thus, when she recently asked if I'd be willing to help her lead this event, I was eager since I felt she had many qualities that would make a fine co-leader. Hence, in early February 2008, the three of us scouted the route. Check out February 9, 2008.
Now that we knew our route, the next question was what to call the event. Let's see...Norma and I led the Pax Tri-Event, then I led the Tri-State Hike. With three leaders, why not call our event the Catoctin Mountain Tri-Leader Hike?
We wrote up the event description then submitted it for posting only two weeks prior to the actual event. In about a day and a half, our event was full with 25 people signed up. Of course we had some cancellations but with Cynthia's help, I managed to get us back to full capacity.
On the morning of Saturday, March 1, 2008, Cindy met folks at the park, Norma met people at the Grosvenor Metro, and I met people at the Columbia Park and Ride. Three leaders...three meeting locations.
The forecast that day called for
Partly sunny, with a high near 43. Breezy, with a west wind between 17 and 22 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph.
That meant a perceived wind chill temperature of about 30 degrees! Quite cold but at least we would stay dry.
Our event commenced. I mentioned a little bit about the history of the area and the origin of the word Catoctin. It came from the native American tribe, the Kittoctons, who once lived at the foot of the mountains near the Potomac River. I prepared some historical and geologic information to pass onto the group at each stopping point. I warned them they would be tested. Failure was not an option.
All the participants introduced themselves, stating their names, something they do well, and something they do poorly. I quickly learned that we had a very bilingual group after some claimed that they spoke French well, spoke Russian poorly, etc. We had folks who spoke German, Russian, French, Chinese, Persian, Japanese, and Korean.
There were several new faces. Cindy, Norma, and I (with dinosaur names Proto-Cindy-tops, Tri-norma-don, and Saki-saurus Rex) made an effort to chat with everyone, at least briefly. It was interesting how many in our group led other outdoor activities in the club. Both Chris B. and Amy were leading hikes the next day. I know Joe, Cynthia, Chuck, and KC were also trip leaders.
Twenty two of us were off and hiking at 0930. Cindy led us heading east along the pristine Hunting Creek for about a mile. See Joe at the trout-filled creek in the first photo at left.
We headed north on the trail towards Chimney Rock. Chris R. showed up late (better than never) but managed to catch up with us which brought our count to 23.
Norma, with map in hand, led the group up the first big ascent which turned out to be an ass-kicker for some...but not for Chuck and Sandra despite the fact that they brought packs full of overnight camping gear to physically prepare themselves for an upcoming backpacking trip. Hardcore all the way!
A little later, KC showed up, bringing our count to 24!
Our first scenic view was Chimney Rock at 1419 feet above sea level. Unlike our scouting trip, visibility was very good. See Chris B. trying to push a rock off the cliff in the second photo at left. I spoke about how melting water that filled spaces froze and expanded, breaking away pieces of rock, a process known as frost wedging.
The next stop was Wolf Rock. We took a snack and rock scrambling break here. See third photo at left. Two black vultures watched us from a distance, waiting for one of us to fall to our deaths off the high rocks. See fourth photo at left.
One person in our group was not feeling well so I escorted her back on a side path to make sure she returned to the visitor center safely.
While I was gone, Norma took the rest of the group to Thurmont Vista where they saw the city of Thurmont to the east. See the city behind (from left to right) Jennifer C., Verena, Norma, Maureen, Alice, Jennifer S., and Van in the fifth photo at left. At this stop, Cindy spoke to the group about conglomerate and phyllite...geography terms.
I headed north and eventually met back with the group near the Charcoal Trail.
I took our remaining 23 on the 0.6 mile muddy Charcoal Trail loop. We saw the remains of structures used in the charcoal making process during the 1800s. Norma explained the process in greater detail, clearing up any misconceptions about colliers being Lassie dog handlers. In the sixth photo at left, Jennifer (left) and Anya (right) stand in a teepee-like object used for creating charcoal.
Cindy led us to the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook. Unlike the first part of the hike, this area had significantly more snow. See seventh photo at left. Near the overlook, I spoke about the history of Camp David, which lay almost directly to our west.
Next, it was off to Hog Rock, our highest vista at 1610 feet above sea level. Time for a group photo. See eighth photo at left. From left to right in the standing row are Chris R., Amy, Chris B., Dee, Maureen, Alice, Joe, Cynthia (in front of Joe), Jennifer C. (behind Joe), Kevin, Verena (behind Kevin), Anya, Ali (in front of Anya), Sandra, KC, Chuck, and Cindy. Left to right in the kneeling row are me, Norma, Brendan, Jennifer S., Rachel, and Van.
Continuing onward, Cindy led us to Cunningham Falls in Cunningham Falls State Park. We walked on the boardwalk over some marshy areas to a viewing station. See ninth photo at left. The ice formations were rather impressive. See tenth and eleventh photos at left.
As promised, I asked some test questions. In short, everyone passed. Let's see how you would do.
Q: What is etymology?
Q: What was the name FDR gave to his Presidential retreat?
Q: Quartzite is a hard, metamorphic rock which was originally _________.
Q: What is a collier?
Q: What is brown coal?
Q: Who invented the charcoal briquette?
Q: Metabasalt is dark greenish-gray metamorphosed igneous rock, also known as _________.
Q: A sedimentary rock of irregularly sized gravel is called _________.
Q: How high is Cunningham Falls?
Answers appear in Catoctin Mountain Park Information.
After another group photo (see twelfth photo at left), Cindy led us on the Falls Nature Trail back to the start. We finished at 1500, having hiking the 7.5 mile Catoctin loop plus the Charcoal Trail for a day's total of about 8 miles.
An overwhelming majority of us went to Cindy's place for after-hike eats. Our gracious hostess served a make-your-own sandwich platter, chips, pasta, salad, soup, cake, cookies, and soda. Hungry MOCers started devouring food before it even reached the table.
From Cindy's back yard, we caught a clear view of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Most of the guests headed home around dusk. The rest of us stuck around awhile longer then headed over to the Music Cafe in Damascus. In the thirteenth photo at left are (from left to right) Jennifer S., Cindy, Norma, me, Joe, Ali, and Jennifer C. Verena must be taking the photo. We listened to the Mary Shaver Band, a blues/rock/soul group. See fourteenth photo at left. We left at 2145.
It was a full day of fun activities...a day well spent.
Special thanks to Joe for providing many of the photos.
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Grantsville, Maryland President's Day 2008
For a trip report of my holiday weekend outdoor festivities, see
Grantsville, Maryland President's Day 2008.
Cunningham Falls and Catoctin Mountain Park
On February 9, 2008, Norma, Cindy, and I scouted a route for an upcoming hike we plan to lead. We met at the Catoctin Mountain Park visitor center.
The goal was to follow Mike J.'s 7.5 mile Catoctin loop. Unfortunately, park rangers told us the western side of this route was closed due to a Presidential visit to Camp David. Hence, we were forced to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
After speaking to a ranger (who, ironically hasn't done much hiking in the area), we decided to drive a short distance to the parking lot on the west side of Catoctin Hollow Road and just east of the dam at Hunting Creek Lake. We were now in Cunningham Falls State Park. From here, we walked a tenth of a mile south on the road then caught the orange blazed Old Misery Trail, at the Dam Overlook Trailhead. We then headed east. No need to dress too warm when hiking up this trail as you'll quickly warm up. Our path was covered in a fresh coat of snow that gave the area a "winter wonderland" feel. See first photo at left. We didn't need crampons as there was no ice but we also weren't willing to take too big of steps.
Eventually we reached the yellow blazed Cat Rock/Bob's Hill Trail. We turned right (south) on this trail. Within two minutes, we were under some power lines. Continuing onwards, we soon came to the 1562 foot elevation Cat Rock. Norma rock scrambled to the top but found the view disappointing. I joined her at one of the lower rocks. See second photo at left. After a short break, we headed back (north) on the trail.
While we weren't looking for Old Misery Trail, we managed to walk past it without seeing it. If you're wanting to find it, I suggest you remember that it is only a couple of minutes north of the power lines.
As we continued northward and downward, we noticed there was less snow. Not sure if it was melting or if the lower areas just didn't get as much.
We crossed Bear Branch.
At Foxville Road (route 77), we crossed a parking lot and a bridge over Hunting Creek. About 100 meters west of the bridge and on the north side of route 77, we caught a trail that took us northeast into Catoctin. It climbed upward for a good distance. Soon we saw a sign for Chimney Rock. I expected it to be just up ahead. After what seemed like a third of a mile, we saw another sign again promising our arrival at Chimney Rock. This second sign displayed some integrity as now it really was just ahead. Don't let the first sign get your hopes up.
The Catoctin side is without blazes though we had no problems following the well worn trail.
We ate lunch at Chimney Rock. The overcast day didn't offer much of a view though it was obvious that on a clear day, this sight would be truly impressive. See third photo at left.
Continuing onward, we walked a short distance to Wolf Rock. I liked the information signs in this area as they appealed to my paleontological side. Lots of good rock scrambling in this area though I was a bit too cold to do any. See fourth and fifth photos at left. We saw the rock that supposedly looks like a wolf though I didn't see any resemblance.
We walked north and eventually came to Thurmont Vista. On a clear day, one could easily see the city of Thurmont. We could see it...just not very easily. See sixth photo at left.
By now, the snow was all gone. Soon, the sun came out and warmed things up a bit...just a bit.
Our original plan was to hike to the Blue Ridge Vista but this trail was closed because George was in town. Hence, we caught the trail that heads south, east of the Charcoal Trail, and straight to the visitor center. There were a couple of old relics on the Charcoal Trail. We saw a hearth, once used by a collier to make charcoal out of wood...a process that has Norma and me stupified. There was also a wood hauler's sled.
Back at the visitor center, we saw Colin and a group he led from the Maryland Outdoor Club. They finished a shorter hike in the area just a few minutes before us. At the visitor center, I spotted a chipmunk through the glass. See seventh photo at left.
Next, Cindy, Norma, and I headed west. We crossed Park Central Road then walked through a huge overflow parking lot. At the west end of this lot was the start of the Falls Nature Trail (look for the sign that reads "Cunningham Falls"). This trail took us parallel to route 77 for a mile. Not much to see here. The traffic noise and all the downed trees really didn't give it a "nature trail" feel.
We crossed route 77 then came to a parking lot for disabled drivers. This gives them access to a boardwalk that leads to Cunningham Falls. Unfortunately, it doesn't extend far enough to give anyone a good view of the falls. We were hoping to find a simple way to access the trails that lead to Hunting Creek Lake but we didn't find any. The maps we had didn't show the trails around the falls with much accuracy. It is good they have the boardwalks to allow people to see the falls who normally might not be able to do so but the high walls also restrict the more able-bodied hikers.
It was getting late and we were getting tired so we didn't stay at the falls very long. I had time for one photo from the boardwalk. See eighth photo at left. We'll see more next time. Norma, Cindy, and I walked along the busy, shoulderless route 77 to Catoctin Hollow Road then south on the road to our vehicles. Not exactly the ideal way to end a hike but after walking 10.4 miles with 2250 feet of elevation gain (much of it on snow), we were simply looking for the shortest route.
Cindy took us to a quaint little nearby cafe called Cool Beans at 4 East Main Street in Thurmont (phone: 301-271-2633) for a snack where we refueled and warmed up. We discussed our plans for leading a hike next month. I think it will be a good one.
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On February 2, 2008, I attended a Howard County Sierra Club hike led by Mike J. Our trip was Sunset Rocks in Michaux State Forest in Caledonia State Park, Pennsylvania. We met at the
Route 70 and Route 32 Park and Ride.
In the Baltimore area, the forecast called for highs in the low 50s and sunny but where we were heading, meteorologists predicted much differently.
A slight chance of snow showers before 1300. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 36. West wind between 6 and 14 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
Hence, we headed out, leaving the milder weather for something more fitting of winter. I drove up with Ken in "Big Red," his big red van. It easily fit 10 of us and all our gear. We drove through Gettysburg then arrived at our destination a couple of hours later.
We parked next to Furnace Stack Pavilion near the Appalachian Trail Hostel in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. By 1130, our enthusiastic conglomeration of 25 were on the move.
The hike began with a group photo at the Pine Grove Iron Furnace. Back in 1764, iron was mined nearby and heated to nearly 3000 degrees Farenheit. See first photo at left.
Quite a few folks were smart enough to bring trekking poles to help balance on the ice. But Ellen, myself, and one other person brought crampons. They wore Yaktrax while I had Stabil-Icers crampons. I've found that the Yaktrax tend to come off whereas Stabil-Icers stay secure. Most of the route was fine for those without crampons but there were a few parts where they came in handy.
With such a large group, there were many familiar faces including Ken C., Ken (Big Red driver), John, Teresa, Donald, Laurie, Andy, Ellen, Ted, Mary, and of course Mike J. I also met a few new people such as Brenda and Winnie. I know I met more...I just don't remember their names. If you were one of them, I apologize.
We headed west on the Appalachian Trail.
A thin layer of hard snow covered the ground with broken bits of ice on top of that. It looked like there was freezing rain over the previous night since most every branch was covered with a thin layer of ice. See second photo at left.
I mentioned that there were a few parts where the crampons came in handy. They were the biggest help during our walk across a foot bridge over Tom's Run. My feet were secure over the ice-covered planks but those without crampons were not so confident. A large percentage of the group crossed on their hands and knees. See third photo at left. Mary carried her shoe wearing Shih Tzu across in one arm while holding onto a pole with the other. Ken C. followed closely behind to help her if she lost balance. See fourth photo at left.
Soon after, we came to the the remains of an old stone barn built by Hessian prisoners captured at the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War. See fifth photo at left.
At the westmost edge of our lollipop hike, we stopped at Tom's Run Shelter for lunch where we found two shelters, a couple of picnic tables, and an outhouse. See sixth photo at left. Icicles hung from both the shelters and the tables. See seventh photo at left. I found a Playboy magazine in the outhouse. Unfortunately, there was no time to look at it since the hike was about to resume.
Continuing onward, I never ceased to marvel in the beauty of the ice covered landscape. It was as if mother nature coated everything in a layer of glass. See eighth photo at left.
We returned partly on Little Rocky Ridge Trail.
A short distance off the main trail took us to what Mike described as a spillway, perhaps for a saw mill, near the remains of the Camp Michaux prisoner of war camp (from World War 2). Based on what little remained, I don't think I would have known a camp existed there unless I was told.
A steady ascent took us up Rocky Ridge. We could see across the valley below but with all the trees present, there was no way to get a clear view. See ninth photo at left.
The next part of the trip included a rock scramble. However, once we reached the base, we found all the rocks to be covered in a layer of ice. We had no injuries up to this point and Mike didn't want any now. Hence, he took us back and we returned along an alternate route. Without crampons, I don't know if I would have wanted to do this scramble myself.
By mid-afternoon, the sky cleared up a bit and the sun shone through. It illuminated the ice and cast a silver glow on the frozen terrain. See tenth photo at left. For about half an hour, we were in awe of this spectacular natural wonder. Winnie, Ellen, and I stopped frequently to take photos. See Ellen in eleventh photo at left.
By 1600, we were done, having hiked about 9.5 miles. Despite the icy conditions and the large number of participants, there were no serious falls. A good way to end the day.
To learn more about this hike, check out AT - Sunset Rocks Circuit.
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Billy Goat Trail and Scott's Run
Winter is generally not when people think of hiking. But each season has something special to offer. A good trip leader knows how to choose a scenic route depending on the time of year.
On January 5, 2008, Norma and I participated in a Howard County Sierra Club hike led by Ken C. I think the last hike I did with Ken was a couple of years ago near this same area.
Sixteen of us met at the Broken Land Parkway and Route 32 Park and Ride then carpooled to Carderock. I rode with Norma and Stacy. We actually missed the turnoff due to my poor navigational skills but managed to recover quickly and meet the rest of the group in time.
We began the hike at about 0930. Ken took us east on the C&O towpath where we spotted some mallard ducks. See first photo at left. Then we caught the C section of the Billy Goat Trail and walked west...upstream, alongside the Potomac River.
There were a few easy stream crossings. I noticed that ice formed on some of the rocks near the streams and the river. This is what I meant about a good hike leader choosing an interesting route based on the time of the year. Many hiking areas just have bare trees. But today's route had plenty of scenic water and ice views. Awesome! See second and third photos at left.
It wasn't long before we came to a popular rock climbing area. Unfortunately, there were no climbers.
Back on the towpath, we continued west, passing mile 11. We caught the east end of the B section of the Goat and ventured west.
After a short stop for a group photo (see fourth photo at left), we continued onward, moving at an impressive pace for such a large group.
Soon, we came to Anglers Inn where we had our third restroom break. There's no shortage of porta-johns in the Great Falls area.
Next, Ken led us on the opposite side (east side) of the towpath on some trails further away from the river. We followed Valley Trail north to the Gold Mine Loop. The loop led us to an old gold mine. I never knew folks mined for gold in Maryland. It turns out that very little gold was found and the miners spent years of toil and drudgery with little reward. According to the trail sign:
"...gold was extracted from quartz. The quartz was dug in the Maryland Mine, one of over 30 mines that once dotted the landscape here. During the Civil War, a Union soldier assigned to guard the Great Falls area discovered gold in the quartz rocks in the surrounding hills. After the war, he returned and purchased land from local farmers and began prospecting for gold. While the former soldier and his partners are only known to have found 11 ounces of the precious metal, their find inspired hundreds of men to continue the hunt. Gold fever, dreams of wealth, and a better life, caused men to risk everything in search of the elusive ore. Hoping to succeed where others had failed, the Maryland Mine began operations here in 1890 and ran intermittently until 1940."
Today, the mine is fenced in and covered with metal roofing material.
We stopped for lunch on the Overlook Trail. Appropriately named, it provides a very nice view of the towpath and river below, especially when the trees are bare. See fifth photo at left.
A nuthatch and a woodpecker were spotted. See the sixth photo for the nuthatch and the seventh photo for the pecker.
Our group went to the visitor center for our 4th restroom break!
The park purchased a new boat that is a replica of one used back when the locks were operational. Unfortunately, it was covered up for the season so we didn't get a good look at it. But we did see the locks used to hold back water on the canal. See eighth photo at left.
At the Washington Aqueduct Observation Deck, we saw ice frozen to a bush. Cold water from the dam (ninth photo) splashed onto the plant, froze, and added to the natural ice sculpture. See tenth photo at left. Elsewhere, ice slowly melted, creating stalactites that reminded me of teeth from a large predator or perhaps the snout of a sawtooth fish. See eleventh photo at left.
We couldn't leave without checking out the Great Falls Overlook. This boardwalk provides some of the best views in the state of rushing water (see twelfth and thirteenth photos) and fearless whitewater kayakers (see fourteenth and fifteenth photos). It may have been too cold for the rock climbers but these kayakers don't know the meaning of "too cold." They were right out there paddling alongside the icicles and taking advantage of the high water. To see them paddling down the fast, rough conditions was indeed humbling.
Andy took some of the group on the A section of the Billy Goat Trail while the rest of us followed Ken on Berma Road and the towpath. Along the way, we saw a great blue heron catching fish alongside some ducks. See sixteenth photo at left. Neither seemed to mind the other. I wondered if they shared some sort of symbiotic relationship. I also wondered if the heron's skinny legs were cold.
We made it back to our cars after hiking roughly 8.5 miles. It was truly a scenic winter hike.
But our hike wasn't over...at least not for Norma, Stacy, and me. The three of us drove to Scott's Run Nature Preserve which was only about 10 minutes away. We had never been there. In years past, I'd only made it to the parking lot but I knew there was a short loop trail and a waterfall. Hence, I put it on my list of places to explore. It might not have been worth while to drive out just for a hike at the Preserve (since the trails are so short) but with Ken's hike so near, I felt it was now necessary to see what the Nature Preserve had to offer.
We parked at the east lot then walked, heading north. Much of the trail was pretty ordinary but we did manage to find a chimney at and old homesite. See seventeenth photo at left. We also saw the thickest poison ivy vine I'd ever seen. Don't touch that Norma! See eighteenth photo at left.
We took a shortcut (or so we thought) down a steep section to the Potomac River. This area of the river is known as Stubblefield Falls. But this was not the falls we came to see.
Scott's Run, a medium sized stream, flowed into the river. But before it joined the mightly Potomac, it fell down some rocks. These were the falls we wanted. Once again, winter added some exotic beauty to the scene as ice hung down from the rocks and along the side of the falls. Quite beautiful. See nineteenth photo at left and the photo at the top left corner of this page. We stuck around until we started to get cold then continued our hike, resuming counterclockwise on the loop.
The three of us crossed the stream then passed through the much larger west parking lot. At the lot, we read a sign that mentioned that the waterfall is comprised of very unclean water. Oh well, at least it was pretty. A little further and we were done. Only an additional 2.2 miles in the Preserve for a day's total of 10.7 miles.
It was a great day to get outside. Sunny, low humidity, great visibility and active birds. Seeing the water and ice was quite remarkable. I've never been a fan of winter but days like this make it all seem kinda nice.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.