Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cat Rock

View from Cat Rock
2.6 miles round trip, 830 feet elevation gain

Cat Rock is a hike to a talus jumble of Antietam Sandstone with a limited but pleasant view in Cunningham Falls State Park. The hike is short but enjoyable, with a small rock scramble at the end.

I hiked Cat Rock on a weekend in early August with two good friends, during a time when the president was visiting Camp David. From the Rockville area, I took I-270 northwest to Frederick, then took US 15 north from Frederick to Thurmont. At Thurmont, I hopped onto Rout 77 west, which took me west into Catoctin Mountain Park. Route 77 is particularly pretty entering the park, as it winds into the mountains next to a small stream. I parked at a trailhead across the road from the Park Headquarters. This was the start of the hike, which headed south into Cunningham Falls State Park rather than north into Catoctin Mountain Park.

The trailhead information board at the start of the hike indicated that this was a "strenuous" hike, but I would certainly not consider that to be the case- compared to most hikes in SNP and farther south in the Blue Ridge, this is at most a moderately difficult hike. The trail swings to the east and south from the trailhead, climbing along the eastern side of Catoctin Mountain. It was a fairly gentle but persistent uphill following the yellow blazes. In a little under a mile from the trailhead, we passed a junction with a trail that led down to Hunting Creek Lake. Fungi sprouted all around the trail, a typical scene in the Appalachians in late summer.

Fungi along the Cat Rock Trail

After passing the trail junction, we passed through a powerline clearing along the trail. Continuing a little further on, a little over a mile from the trailhead, we came to a junction with the Bob's Hill Trail at what seemed to be the top of the ridge. From here, we followed the trail for Cat Rock, which descended slightly and headed east. This trail wound through the woods until dead-ending near the rock scramble. A final bit of uphill and a bit of rock scrambling brought us onto the top of the white rocks at Cat Rock. Cat Rock was really more a talus jumble than a single rock. Climbing along the highest ridge of rock in the center of the rock, we had a view of the ridgeline of Catoctin Mountain. To the north, a few more ridges of Catoctin Mountain were visible; in general the view was not too expansive. However, the rocks at the overlook still made a pleasant resting spot. Apparently Sugarloaf Mountain is visible from the rock on clear days; however, it was slightly hazy during our hike so our visibility was a little limited.

View east from Cat Rock

A helicopter flew overhead while we were at Cat Rock. Helicopters are fairly common to the area- Catoctin Mountain Park is home of Camp David, the president's mountain retreat. Franklin Roosevelt first established the presidential retreat here and named it Shangri-La; Hoover had earlier established Camp Rapidan in Shenandoah National Park, but Roosevelt's physical condition made getting to Catoctin Mountain much easier than getting high up the valley of the Rapidan. Later, President Eisenhower renamed Shangri-La after his grandson David.

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