Christmas Day 2004 Hike at Pen Mar

My family is so fractured and dysfunctional at this point it is impossible for us to get together, we all go do our own thing and everyone seems much more content and happier than trying to remain civil to each other for 6 hours of togetherness. So every year I try to do something alone and stupendous on Christmas day. This year I decided to do some winter hiking. Hiking is safe since, around here, you will always bump into somebody else on the trail (or so I thought). I decided to do a leg of the Appalachian Trail from Pen Mar south. It was the only portion of the AT I haven't hiked in Maryland and I figured I should go check it out before I participate in a hiking race in May 2005.

The AT is a relatively mild trail from Catoctin to points south so I felt comfortable that this segment on South Mountain, slightly north of Catoctin, would be reasonably tame. Normally I am well prepared with map, clothing, cell phone, etc. but since this hike had been such an impromptu decision I had just filled my bladder with water, made a sandwich and left wearing the winter clothes I had picked up off the bedroom floor. I didn't even think to bring the poles because I assumed I didn't need them. Since I had no map it took me a while to get to Pen Mar since I got lost, then it took me longer to find the trailhead so I started late.

I assumed things would go smoothely, the AT is a straight line, isn't it? Everything started off pretty well, but I did notice the temperature was definitely below freezing. I was about a mile into the trail when the trail got very rocky. I didn't mind the terrain, but it was difficult to negotiate where the rocks were and where hard ground was with all the loose leaves in piles around the rocks. I was suddenly concerned when the trail took a hard switchback up South Mountain which I didn't expect, this was an unplanned steep incline. I am a pretty good hiker but the rocks, the leaves, and questionable hard ground seemed to get much worse as I ascended. Things would have been okay except my water tube kept freezing and I realized I was the ONLY FUCKING PERSON ON THE MOUNTAIN. It never warmed up to say the least, the temperature dropped significantly during the day and I didn't have the appropriate clothing.

I decided to head back at around 1 PM. As I walked down the switchbacks my foot slipped on a branch. Down I went on that cold hard rocky trail. As I lay in a crumpled heap on the ground I realized if something was broken and I couldn't walk I wasn't going to be coming off the mountain alive this night even though I wasn't too far from, not one, but 2 major metropolitan areas. Nobody was going to come on Christmas day to haul my sorry ass off this mountain. I don't mind dying but I do mind being exhibit A for every hiking club in the tristate area as "experienced hiker who was badly prepared and paid the ultimate price". I was going to get off this mountain somehow someway. I got up and realized that nothing was probably broken but I was in a lot of pain.

I stumbled slowly forward cognizent the sun would set soon, I finally laid eyes on my car. Penmar, Cascade and Blue Ridge Summit seem like spooky places at sundown with the defunct Ft. Ritchie in their midst. I saw some beautiful big Victorian homes, an old lodge and various other points of interest. I definitely will be heading back sometime when it is warmer and more hospitable.