Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter Solstice / Full Moon Hike

This is the most memorable hike of the year; and likely will be a treasured memory for years to come.

I join a group for a hike celebrating the winter solstice; it's a full moon too. Luckily it's a clear night.

We start about 6:30pm  and with ranger permission, head into Patapsco Valley State Park. At first, we're following a fairly easy single track trail. The course though turns more technical. In addition, there's still some snowfall on the path and lots of icy patches. It's fun, but slow-going. At some points, the leader and the front pack gets farther ahead, out of sight. It's a little scary as I would have no idea how to get back to where we started.

We follow and cross some small streams, helping each other on the icy rocks and patches. Wandering through the woods, we use our headlamps and flashlights. Later on though, we're in more open areas. We can turn off our lights and walk simply by the light of the moon.

Much of the hiking around PVSP leads you towards the ridge line. You climb up and cross over to descend into the valley along the river. Once along the river, the silhouette of the ridge line, and the tall pine trees is impressive and intimidating.

At one section, we cross the swinging bridge. I'm terrified of the bridge, and now I'm crossing it in darkness. Our guide wants to tell us about the effects of water currents and suggests we stop on the bridge for the view. I barely can do that. Everyone is helpful towards me. Later, we'll need to cross the bridge again to get back to where we started.

Another portion of the hike takes us on the Cascade Falls trail. We cross the stream, helping each other on the icy rocks again, admiring the frozen waterfall, and using our hands to clamber up the icy path on the other side.

The adventure is exciting, invigorating, and fun; but more difficult than I had expected. It was described as an "easy" hike, but it's a technical single-track trail, made more challenging by the darkness and icy conditions. It's a work day for me, so I'm tired after being at the office all day. I didn't eat enough, and my energy is lagging.

Another portion takes us along the river. We walk for a 1/2 mile or so completely by moonlight. We have no trouble seeing.

Overall, I found the experience immensely rewarding. Hiking at night, illuminated by the moon, and with snow on the ground, is incredibly beautiful.

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