Sunday, September 30, 2012

fall strolling

i apparently have 2 hiking speeds: speed walking and jogging. the concept of strolling and soaking in your surroundings is lost on me. sure, i can get to an overlook and ooh and aah and sit for 5 minutes but then i zip right along again. but that's not the point- the whole idea of my hike was to just get away. ever get that antsy feeling where you just want to get away from yourself but then have to settle with just being by yourself. it's not so bad. rather relaxing and all sorts of chances to just be you. it was one of those weeks where nothing was going right, so being outside and active was just the sort of cure-all i needed.
Chimney Rock, my favorite part of the loop
i picked catoctin mountain state park b/c i  remember liking it back when i was little. their website has all their trail maps (read: for free!) and parking at the park is free as well (woot woot). i got there around 9 am and there were only about 3 cars parked at the visitor center (visitor center not only has free maps, but water fountains and bathrooms!) so all around i was a happy camper. i asked the park ranger at the desk where i should start to take the 8 mile loop. i picked the longest hike b/c i figured i'd get to see everything and i wanted to be away for as long as possible. he pointed the way and even gave me a hint about the trail signs. for those of you who want to go hike the 8 mile loop or hike catoctin mt in general here are some things i found out:
Blue Ridge Summit Overlook,
this is where I started seeing lots of other hikers
- no sign will mention the blue ridge summit overlook, just go towards hog rock if you are coming from thurmont vista
- go early on the weekend, parking gets crazy
- none of the trails are marked with trail names or blazes (athough they are very well maintained so hard to get lost...although there was the one time when i was trying to find chimney rock...)
- on the 8 mile loop you take the handicap access trail to cunningham falls and there is no way out to the falls without climbing over the observation deck fence (it's fun, trust me, just know that you will have to do some spidermany kind of moves to get back onto the observation deck, or you can just keep walking down the water until the platform opens up, but where's the adventure in that!)
Cunningham Falls
- you have to park somewhere else to take the lower or cliff trail
- i started towards chimney rock and ended at cunningham falls, i don't know if it was b/c it got more crowded or b/c i like big views better, but i much preferred chimney rock.

now, back to whole speed walking thing. i always walk fast. it's just the way i move. maybe it's b/c i had tall friends growing up and had to keep up w/ them but i enjoy racing up terrain. the 8 mi loop said it takes 4 hours and 45 min, adding on the mile-mile and a half i got lost on, it took me 3.5 hours to do it. and i spent a a little bit of time at every point of interest (some more than others when there were too many people).
Thurmont Vista, there was a pretty sweet bench here,
except it was really narrow
since it was still early early afternoon i wanted to check out cat rock (the description says "beautiful overlook" so i knew i had to check it out since i was already there. so i drove to another parking lot by park headquarters, squeezed into a grassy "parking" space and hiked up the 1.4 miles up. it ends at a sign post that says "cat rock- 1546 ft" (i'm not entirely sure about the exact number but it was in that range) and there was NO other sign. i had no idea where to look for this view. all the other trails had signs that pointed the rock formation to climb to get the view so i looked around and started going up this huge rock structure to the right of the sign and then got stuck on how to get to the top. luckily, met another hiker who was familiar with the overlook and he pointed out the route to take through the rocks. hint: go a little past the sign and climb up. it takes a bit of leveraging but the view is totally worth it! oh, and the hike says it takes 2 hours round trip, it took me an hour and i spent a while at the top until i got too cold to stay up there.
Cat Rock Overlook, the view I almost missed,
and boy was it high up and windy to get this shot
*just as an fyi, these pictures are not in order of how i hiked to them. the actual order i went was: chimney rock, wolf rock, thurmont vista, blue ridge summit, hog rock and cunningham falls. but i took some artistic pleasure in ordering them the way i wanted. i also didn't include pics of wolf rock or hog rock b/c that would be picture overload:)

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