Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland

Hike Summary: 8 miles, some decent altitude gain, in a beautiful area close to the DC metro area.

Yesterday afternoon the meeting I was at in Herndon got out a bit early, and I couldn’t get an early flight back home, so I decided to hike Sugarloaf Mountain. I had found this area a couple years ago while researching hiking in the DC area. I really wanted to hit Shenandoah National Park, but decided it was too far for just a part of an afternoon.

I got there about 1500 and left at 1845. It’s a free area. I sort of expected a Visitor Center, but didn’t see one. Signs said the area closed no-kidding at 1900, so I left my car parked at the gated entrance. I didn’t realize until later that the road into the area goes up to the east viewing area, which I walked up to.

I started out on the White Trail. I used the Orange Trail to hit the high point, then picked up the Blue for the longest segment, ending up on the White Trail again for the home stretch.

The initial part of the trail was very nice, but steadily UP. The trail was very rocky, and I was feeling it through my sneakers.

The weather for this expedition was wonderful! Temps were in the low 60s, and the sky overhead was a perfect blue. I did get a bit sweaty, though. I had packed a sweatshirt in my backpack, but was wearing a long sleeve mock turtleneck, so I was constantly putting the sleeves up and then back down.

The first stop on the way up is the East viewpoint. The road from the entrance ends up here, and there are a couple picnic tables, one of which was being used by a group of four. I took a panorama up there (I love this feature of my camera!), and a couple closeups.

After this break, the orange trail heads up to the top of the mountain. It’s steep! There is some serious stairstepping that needs to be done along here, and parts of the trail that are dirt only are slippery, and would be quite hazardous if wet. I got to the highpoint and took the obligatory photo, through the trees. There is a neat little rock face right below.

Below the high point is a nice rock bluff. If you look at the last photo, of the mountain in the distance, you can see a bare spot just below the peak; that is where I was sitting when I took these.

I got to say Hi to a young black Lab up there who was having a walk with his person. I also had a nice extended conversation with a guy who is lucky enough to live about 10 miles from Sugarloaf. We had kids about the same ages, and common issues with them, and a shared passion for the outdoors.

From the high point I headed north, steadily down now. The trees were beautiful, tall and without much in the way of undergrowth.

I walked steadily for almost an hour here. My target was White Rocks. I got here, and figured I was at White Rocks.

Well, cool, I thought, a crowd-sourced rock cairn. I added a couple rocks to it, and headed down the trail, just knowing it would turn back to the south. I kept thinking that as I kept walking west and then northwest, and north some, and more west. Eventually, I passed a trail junction that pointed to the front of me – “White Rock”. Live and learn. There were some more very pretty views off to the northwest and north.

This is looking down. Pretty far down.

Now I headed back south for real. The trail steadily went down for the most part, but there were some no-kidding down-in-the-deep-holler turns that were getting a bit dark, so I did some trail jogging. Turns out it wasn’t really necessary, and I had plenty of sun for the walk back. The Blue Trail joined the White Trail, then the White Trail went off on its own around the south base of Sugarloaf and back to the parking area.

As I drove back to the metro area, I took this shot of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The treeless spot to the left of the peak is a bluff area. I was sitting on top of the bluff area when I took the photos looking out to the west and northwest.

Maps and Such

These are the topo and terrain maps, and altitude plot for this hike.

This last chart is interesting and new. I used Google Earth. The altitude is pretty standard. GE automatically calculates altitude for you, and it says I did 2080 ft of altitude gain. It happens that my informal designations for a serious hike is 10 miles or 2000 ft (what are these based on? 10 miles is a Bill Arbitrary Impressive Sounding Number, but 2000 ft is based on the hike I took up to the top of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park). So eight miles and 2000+ feet is pretty darn cool for the (relatively 🙂 ) flat East Coast region, especially in just under four hours.

It also shows speed. You can see where I stopped to admire the view, or rest, or take pictures. You can also see one place where I was walking very fast downhill (5-6 mph), and three places where I tried some trail jogging (10 mph) where I thought I was going to run out of daylight (see Gear Notes).

Gear Notes

I had left my boots home, as in Oklahoma City. I will not make that mistake again. Sneakers were not the footwear for this area. My feet were literally sore from getting stabbed with rocks from some parts of the trail.

My Garmin GPS lost satellite track at one point as I was headed home. I was on the west side of Sugarloaf proper, and under some serious trees. I think that it was that combination that caused the GPS to lose lock.

On the other hand, my Android Nexus 7 didn’t! I had downloaded an app called Runkeeper into the Nexus on the recommendation of friends Wendy and Chuck. It’s a runners app primarily, but it has a hiking mode. So I started a track in the parking lot, then put the Nexus into it’s case, and tucked that in a pocket of my backpack, zipped the pocket closed, and off I went. It still kept satellite lock the entire time. The only issue? Shortly into the hike, my backpack announced LOUDLY how fast I was going and how far I had gone! I about jumped out of my skin when I first heard it. I turned the volume all the way down on the tablet, and later figured how to mute the voice altogether.

Speaking of boots, I did this hike with pretty much none of the stuff I usually take. I had planned to take my SPOT with me henceforth, but it, along with my water bottle, headlamp, first aid kit, BOOTS, etc. all got left at home. I didn’t know if I would be able to get any hiking in this trip, but as a Scout I should Be Prepared. It’s all about risk management. The main problem would have been trying to walk a strange trail after dark on a moonless night. I could have used my phone as a flashlight (it’s good at that), but a headlamp is more reliable. I had disposable water bottles from the hotel as well. But I need to just carry my hiking stuff regardless.

Critters

There were numerous squirrels, six deer, and a few birds, including some very small flitting birds with a golden/yellow breast.

Random Notes

I had a heck of a time getting the Runkeeper GPX file out of the Nexus. The email app would not find the file (it defaults to pictures only for attachments), and when I tried a method I found online, the file attached, but didn’t transmit with the attachment, in spite of multiple tries. In the end, I did something very simple: I used a USB cable to attach the Nexus to my laptop, and the laptop mounted it as a drive, which I drilled into the Nexus Downloads directory, found the GPX, and copied it over.

Now I had the Runkeeper GPX. The Garmin Mapsource or BaseCamp programs would not open them, complaining that the files were not formatted properly. Google Earth was quite happy to open the file, however. I don’t know what the Garmin programs were so picky about.

This was a great, relaxing hike. It was just hard enough. The trees were beautiful! I look forward to my next visit.

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