The Hiking Weekend: Sugarloaf Mountain

I found myself on my own last weekend, the rest of the family – the ladies – having decided to have a weekend to themselves in NYC!

My thoughts turned to outdoor activities. This was an opportunity for me to focus on things I could do on my own, to do things my own way, and to push myself to my own limits without worrying about others.

It was too cold for biking. I decided to spend the weekend hiking. I could hopefully cover significant distances, and also tackle some challenges that I have not been able to get to recently.

I was also hoping that during the weekend I would meet with some level of success in finding places where the leaves were turning on account of Fall. (Some hopes never seem to die!) I was successful in this endeavor, but with one surprising twist. I would find areas of green, changing color, and even trees without leaves, all within within a few hundred yards of each other within a single park. There could be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps it was difference in the kind of trees in different locations in the park. It could have been the location of the trees themselves – beside a body of water, or on a hill, or in a location that was exposed to winds in a certain way. It was a “micro climate” kind of phenomena that I had not anticipated. Or, perhaps, I was being more sensitive to this phenomenon this year.

Having said all that, my focus when taking pictures during the weekend to a large extent still remained the phenomenon of Fall. How could it not be? This turning of the leaves is something that happens only once a year, and it lasts for such a short period of time. It transience is part of what makes it attractive. For that reason only, the pictures that I post will probably be primarily about Fall. The reader may get the mistaken impression that the experience of the hikes of the weekend was fully about the colors of Fall. That was not the case.

My destination for the first hike of the weekend was Sugarloaf Mountain. I was able to get out of the house very early, and was at the trail head shortly after 8 am, less than half an hour after sunrise. The temperatures had fallen below freezing during the night, and it was still cold. I was dressed warmly in a few layers.

I was able to get this picture just outside the park. The scene caught my attention as I was driving past. It has to be noted that this is a fully landscaped area with trees planted for their visual impact. This is not completely natural. But, it did have the Fall colors I was hoping to see!

I met an older gentleman at the start of the first trail I took, near the entrance to the park. From the way he was dressed up and equipped, he appeared to be a seasoned walker. As I overtook him, I made a comment about the fact that the leaves on the trees had not changed color in that area. He mentioned right away about how beautiful it had been in the Shenandoah National Park the previous weekend. He noted the bright reds of the Oaks and the Maple he had seen during his visit. Dang! We had been about three weeks too early when we made our own visit.

I was keeping a brisk pace up the mountain. I was feeling it! As I left the older gentleman behind, I was wondering what his life story was all about. His face look quite weathered. He had a Peace Corp logo stitched into his beanie, and he seemed to be able to spend his weekends enjoying the experience of hiking on his own in the mountains. These were all positive signs to me.

Surprisingly, I ran into the same gentleman in the park on two other occasions – once in the middle of the hike, and once towards the end. I was generally walking at a much faster clip than he was, but was deliberately taking longer routes. I even took a break in the middle to make a phone call to India!

Here are some pictures from the hike.

This is the extent to which the colors were turning in certain sections near the beginning of the hike.The sun was still low in the sky at this point.

My first stop was the overlook at the eastern parking lot.

The next stop was the overlook on Sugarloaf Mountain, the main peak in the park. The trails to this peak are the steepest in the park and are quite challenging. It was a good way to start the day.You can see the Potomac river and the towers of the Dickerson Power Station from the summit.

And then it was time to descend from Sugarloaf Mountain and head off towards the northern peaks of the park. This was a long stretch of hiking. I had the trail mostly to myself, very rarely running across another human being. It was very peaceful – just me, the trail, and the woods. I cannot even remember the sounds of the birds. It was quiet except for the occasional distant sound of the rumble of traffic.

The view from the White Rocks, the northernmost peak in the park, was not as panoramic as that from Sugarloaf. I took this picture to try to capture how the colors were changing in a wooded area below us.

On the way back from the northern peaks, the trail descended all the way down to the level of a road that runs through the park. (I have biked on this road before!) This was how the trees looked at that level.It felt like the phenomenon of Fall was past its peak in this section of the park.

And then it was back once again on a trail that went up the mountain. I had an opportunity to climb to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain once again, but decided not to push my luck since I was a little tired at that point. I took a trail that skirted the peak. On the way down the mountain, during the last stretch, I came upon these ruins on a short side trail.I find it interesting that a majority of of the old stone ruins that I have come across while hiking seem to have only their chimneys still standing. There is surely a logical reason for this.

I hiked a little more than eight miles on Friday. Having started early in the morning, I had time to do some shopping at the grocery store on the way back home. I was feeling good. I rewarded myself with a turkey panini from the deli. It was a very satisfying finish to the activity of the morning.