View from High Rock on Quirauk Mountain

View from High Rock on Quirauk Mountain

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hiking through History: Part 1

Hiking, history, and mountains....what's not to love?

If you're at all familiar with the Civil War, you're probably heard of the Battle of Antietam. However, you may not be as familiar with the Battle of South Mountain, which happened three days before Antietam.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign in September 1862 sought to bring the fight to Union soil. Among other objectives, Lee wanted to win a battle in the North and damage morale before the elections in November. A Confederate victory might have brought more 'peace-makers' into Congress, and an early, managed end to the war.

After entering Maryland and marching through Frederick, Lee split up his forces, sending Longstreet to Hagerstown via Boonsboro, and tasking Stonewall Jackson to take the Union garrison and armory at Harpers Ferry. This left the Confederate cavalry to defend the rear of Lee's forces. With McClellan in pursuit, and with the Confederate plans revealed to the Union side, Lee then sought to concentrate his forces near Sharpsburg. In order to delay the Union advance, and allow time for Lee to assemble his forces, small units of Confederate troops were positioned at three gaps in South Mountain: Turner's Gap, Fox's Gap, and Crampton Gap.

Since I've probably glossed over a lot of the history, please feel free to read all the linked wikis, or the following website at the Civil War Trust.

On to the hiking part! Disclaimer: I didn't have my camera (well, just a phone camera) so I didn't take a whole lot of pictures. Maybe I'll do this hike again soon, with a camera.

Turner's Gap to Lambs Knoll White Rocks Overlook

Aim your navigation app to the Old South Mountain Inn on US Alt 40. The Inn has its own storied history, having been founded in 1732. You can read more about it HERE.
There's a parking lot on the left of the inn (there's a sign denoting the Appalachian Trail parking area).

The trail head is more or less next to US Alt 40.

A short way down the trail, you'll run into the Dahlgren Backpackers Campground. It even has hot showers and a privy! Technically, the campground is for backpackers only, but unfortunately, being a 'free campground' leaves it open to non-backpacker use.

Author's Note: As I arrived, there was a large group of shall we say..."not-backpackers" leaving the campground. They had apparently parked overnight at the Old South Mountain Inn lot to camp at Dahlgren. Later during the hike, I ran into a couple of backpackers who also stayed at Dahlgren the previous night and mentioned that there was a group who was up late and making a lot of noise.There are several State parks with camping areas along South Mountain, and while it does cost to use a campsite, I would recommend that you use these instead of Dahlgren, unless you're actually backpacking along the AT. This is especially relevant when the AT thru-hikers are coming through Maryland (NoBo hikers come through from May to July, if I recall correctly).
The Dahlgren Backpackers Campground

Showers and privy

Once you pass the campground, the trail heads up a bit, and in just under a mile, you come across Reno Monument Road and Fox's Gap. The Reno Monument is dedicated to Union Major General Jesse Reno, who was killed by friendly fire during the Battle of South Mountain. There are other monuments here as well, including one opposite the Reno Monument dedicated to the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

There is a small parking lot at Fox's Gap, so if you want to shave off about a mile off your hike up Lambs Knoll, you could try to park here, but I'd recommend arriving early.

The trail picks back up right off the parking lot, next to an old split log fence. You'll eventually pass a large power line cut. If it's quiet, you can almost hear the electricity flowing through the wires high above you.  This is where the trail starts to really gain elevation.

Similar to the Pen Mar- High Rock hike, you won't cross over the highest point on Lambs Knoll, which is occupied by various communications towers.  The trail takes you around the summit, and at one point, there's a side trail that goes to the fenceline (I didn't explore this trail, so don't take my word for it).  Once you reach the highest point, there's a short descent to get to White Rock.

Getting there: 
Set your gps/navigation app to Old South Mountain Inn.
Interstate 70 west, take exit 49 to US Alt 40. You'll drive through Middletown, which has a nice restaurant, The Main Cup and ice cream parlor: More Ice Cream,  for post-hike treats. There are also a couple of Civil War history markers in Middletown.

Happy Hiking!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cunningham Falls State Park - Manor Area, Bob's Hill, and Cat Rock

I've visited and posted about Cunningham Falls SP before, but I hadn't hiked in this section of the park.

Much less visited than the falls and lake area, the Manor area of Cunningham Falls SP is a much more suitable destination if you're looking for some solitude, but like any Maryland State Park, you'll probably still encounter fellow hikers on weekends.

On a warm summer day I took on the challenge of climbing Bob's Hill.  The trail up the mountain runs concurrent with the Catoctin Trail, which begins in Gambrill State Park, a park which will be featured in another blog post.

The trail head is directly across from the Manor area visitor center. There's another trail head closer toward the park entrance, but either will work.

I first wanted to walk down to Little Hunting Creek, a lovely mountain stream. The path to the creek is also part of the Catoctin Trail, which crosses the creek and continues south from here. The trail goes up a bit before reaching an intersection to take you either down to the creek, or up the mountain.

To get to the creek, take the Blue Trail (aka the Catoctin Trail) south.

Little Hunting Creek

After taking in the quiet sounds of the creek, turn around and head back up to the trail intersection.

Back to the Catoctin (blue) Trail North.

It's a pretty good climb, so I'd definitely rate this a strenuous hike. The hike up Bob's Hill presents you with a 1,000 foot elevation gain in about 1.5 miles. Take your time, and plenty of water breaks!

After a nice climb, you'll reach the summit of Bob's Hill which is 1,765 feet, according to the marker. You'll also notice two paths on the left and right, toward the overlooks. Take the one on your left first, it's the better of the two.

Bob's Hill Overlook, looking south along Catoctin Mountain.
 The overlook is a rocky outcropping somewhat similar to Chimney Rock or Annapolis Rocks.

 Yes, that's Sugarloaf in the distance!

Looks like someone had a little fire up here. Shame!
*please folks, don't start fires in unauthorized places.

Once you head back toward the main trail, you can check out the North Overlook. It's not nearly as open and grandiose as the South Overlook, but you can get a good look at some rocks.

Ok, back to the trail.

Continuing down the Catoctin Trail, it's about another 1.2 miles to the Cat Rock trail intersection. This section is relatively easy, so enjoy it. The trail to Cat Rock will be on your right, and there will be a sign. The trail to Cat Rock is blazed yellow and gradually descends from 1,700 feet to about 1,500 feet over about a mile and a half. Note that you'll split off from the Catoctin Trail at this point, which continues over the mountain and down toward the William Houck area of Cunningham Falls State Park. The intersection is clearly marked, so there shouldn't be any confusion.

Cat Rock

The light gray rocks at the summit of Cat Rock and nearby Bobs Hill are quartzite – metamorphosed sandstone – originally deposited about 500 million years ago during the Cambrian Period. During much of that time, the seas teamed with life, but the land was mostly barren with only a few isolated microbial life forms existing. The quartzite rocks belong to the Weverton Formation, the primary ridge-forming unit of Catoctin Mountain and, to the west, South Mountain, the two main ridges in the Blue Ridge of Maryland. -source: Maryland DNR
Looking back at the map, you'll see now that you've taken the long way to get to Cat Rock, but I feel that it's worth the extra effort.

Cat Rock is a huge pile of rocks, and if you're interested in getting a better view, you'll have to do some rock scrambling to climb to the top. There are large crevices and cracks, so please take your time and be sure of your footing.

...and of course, the panorama view from (almost) the top:

Getting there:

Set your navigation app to the Manor Visitor Center
-from the Baltimore area: Head west on Interstate 70, and then take exit 53B in Frederick for US15 North. Follow signs for Cunningham Falls SP Manor Area, which will be on the left as you're heading north on US15.

Daily use fee is $3, on the honor system most days.

Other nearby places of interest:
Catoctin Iron Furnace
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo

Happy Hiking!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pen Mar Park to High Rock

A tough hike with a worthy payoff...

So I've been trying to chip away at sections of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, and since I've done a couple of the middle sections, including the hike to Annapolis Rocks, and a hike from the Washington Monument to the I-70 bridge, I thought I'd do a border crossing this time. There was also the challenge of climbing Quirauk Mountain, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland (as well as the highest point on South Mountain).

The northern terminus of the AT in Maryland is at Pen Mar, in the northeast corner of Washington County, MD. The town of Pen Mar sits just south of the Mason-Dixon line.

So, to get up on top of South Mountain, you first have to travel to Pen Mar Park.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Pen Mar Park was quite the destination for tourists. The site hosted an amusement park and resort, served by the Western Maryland Railroad. People rode the train from Baltimore to enjoy all that Pen Mar had to offer. Pen Mar once hosted huge crowds: up to 20,000 people on a summer weekend!

The park eventually began to lose money, and was torn down in 1943, and the city that profited from the amusements became a quiet town on the Mason-Dixon line. The Pen Mar County Park as it is today (more or less) was established in 1977.

I arrived at Pen Mar and parked in the gravel lot across from the Park.  The sign denoting the Appalachian Trail is near the overlook, visible from the entrance.

Clearly if you're going to drive all this way, you should head north into Pennsylvania, just to cross the border. You can always tell people you walked from Maryland to Pennsylvania and back!

The path north takes you about 100 yards to a T-intersection of sorts. Turn left and be careful crossing the train tracks. There will be a sign showing where the AT is.

Just a few steps into the wooded area, and you're at the Mason-Dixon Line.

I have to admit that this was another 'feature' of this hike that drew me. I'm very interested in history, and this boundary between the "North" and "South" is definitely an important historical marker. The line has its origins in a boundary dispute between the colonies of the Penn family and the Calvert family...which of course are now Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Who knew that the Mason-Dixon Line had a post box?
There's a guest book inside the box, but I didn't leave my name.

From here, the AT turns to the right, and goes by a sign and under a power line cut before a road crossing.

I didn't cross the road here, so this is as far as I went into PA. I turned around and headed back toward Pen Mar Park.

The hike from Pen Mar Park to High Rock on South Mountain is approximately 3.1 miles (one way) and for the most part, is relatively easy. However, for the last 0.8 mile, there's an approximately 500-foot ascent which will test your legs and endurance.

Unfortunately for you, I didn't take any pictures while on the trail itself, because I was busy navigating rock fields and then climbing the mountain. Fortunately for you, I did pull my camera out once I reached the High Rock Overlook. The last mile might be really difficult, but the view is definitely worth it.

View from High Rock on Quirauk Mtn.

A couple of notes: the climb up to High Rock is very rocky and steep, so make sure you have good footing and go slowly. The platform at High Rock used to be a launch point for those brave enough to take to the sky in a hang glider, but I've found out that hang gliding without a permit from High Rock is now illegal. I think I'll keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. Otherwise the platform is tagged with all kinds of graffiti, and I've heard it gets slippery when wet, so be careful!

Bonus: Here'a video of High Rock from a drone!