Last Saturday, on the recommendation from the guys at The Weekly Day (thanks, guys!), I went for a hike at Catoctin Mountain Park, which is north off I-15 in Maryland (past I-270). The park is National Park Service property, but entry is free of charge. It also happens to be the hiding place of the Bat Cave, otherwise known as Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat. The property is visible on Google Maps, but I wouldn’t suggest attempting to find it unless you’re hankering for some face time with U.S. Marines guarding the property.
I arrived at the visitor’s center at about 11:45am and spent a few minutes getting my bearings. Upon asking the park ranger to point me in the direction of the trailhead for the 8 mile circuit hike, I was met with skepticism.
“You know that’s eight miles?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“And it’s a five-hour hike?”
“And sunset is at 4:15?”
(That hadn’t actually occurred to me.)
“Right. Well, I figured it would actually only take me four hours.”
And off I went.
Despite its status as a national park, Catoctin isn’t particularly well maintained. In fact, none of the hiking trails in the park are blazed with paint. The only demarcation occurs as signage at the intersection of two trails. Other than that, one has to pay attention to the tamped down foliage and fallen leaves to follow the trail.
About a mile into my hike, I missed a switchback and started wandering through heavy leaf litter and humus. I quickly recognized that I was off trail but had a heck of a time finding my way. After about 15 minutes, I resolved to retrace my steps – all the way back to the trailhead, if necessary. My instincts were sound; after another 5 or so minutes, I regained the trail and noticed my oversight. I followed the sharp turn in the path and continued on my way.
After another mile, during which I’d sped along for fear of the dreaded 4:15 sunset, I came to Chimney Rock and spent only a minute or two appreciating the beautiful view. Then I hiked on another ½ mile to Wolf Rock, which is essentially a stone ledge hundreds of feet long. I hate to say it, but, having established my hurried pace, I glanced upon Wolf Rock – and all of the other natural features of this hike – for nary a moment before moving on.
Over the course of the next three hours, I came across in succession Thurmont Vista, Blue Ridge Summit Overlook, and Hog Rock. Truth be told, I think I like the Chimney Rock overlook the best. Since I like to save the best for last, next time I’d be inclined to do the hike in reverse.
When all was said and done, I made it back to the visitor’s center in less than four hours. On the one hand, my legs resembled Jello from my getting turned around a few times and then speeding up to maintain my pace. On the other hand, rushing along was worth it as I had enough time to change and drive to the movie theater to watch an inspiring story about someone else who ventured on a long-distance journey, someone as short as I with equally large, hairy feet. (Oh, come on. You know what I’m talking about, right?)
What a perfect end to a lovely day.