36th Birthday Hike 2011 – Billy Goat Trail
When I started my birthday hike tradition, I hiked alone. Well, with the dogs. And since we were usually hiking on weekdays in early March, we had the whole Appalachian Trail to ourselves. We owned that wilderness! The hikes were empowering and spiritual and absolutely invigorating. A wonderful way to still feel young and yet thankful for the experiences the ticking years bring.
But the birthday hikes had a more sinister inspiration. Initially they were a means to forget I had no one to celebrate with. March Madness, afterall, was infinitely more entertaining than one person’s birthday. To be fair, who among us could compete with sheets and sheets of printed brackets? Some team names circled, some team names scratched out and the occassional ring-shaped discoloration from a poorly placed beer bottle. Stiff competition. : )
Then I started dating Ryan Somma. Just like that, I no longer hiked alone on my birthday. He takes off work and we adventure together. This year for my 36th birthday, we found ourselves in a new town and relied on word of mouth. Our friend Greg Z (who organized the Old Rag hike last year) spoke highly of Maryland’s Billy Goat Trail. It’s a lovely rock scramble along the Potomac River and the cliffs of Mather Gorge. And so on March 18th, we drove up to Potomac, Maryland and hiked.
At times when I stepped off a rock or navigated between boulders, I felt a familiar stirring in my belly. This year I wasn’t hiking alone and I wasn’t just hiking with Ryan Somma. Our son was accompanying us as well. : )
We started our journey at the parking lot by The Old Angler’s Inn and took the Towpath to the Billy Goat Trail – Section A. The Billy Goat Trail – Section A is promoted as strenuous and even has warning signs saying as much at both trailheads. There is indeed a lot of rock scrambling, but with the exception of one rock wall it is a relatively flat rock scramble. Without the steep ascents you find on the Appalachian Trail, Ryan and I found the Billy Goat Trail to be a nice, relaxing, moderate hike. The hike is short too— only about 1.7 miles one way. It is a wonderful return on investment for a hike though. You are skirting the Potomac almost the entire way and there are no shortage of views.
Most stunning on this hike were the regal, white-barked sycamore trees that lined the shore, but it was also nice (and nostalgic!) to see mountain laurel and red maples along the way. Mountain laurel reminds me of my former home in Blacksburg. Red maples reminds me of my former home in Elizabeth City. Since it was still mid-March, we got to see some of the season’s first buds.
We saw a baby snake on the Towpath on the way to the Billy Goat Trail. We also spied some geese hanging up on the cliffs well above the water. Finally, a peaceful pond along the Billy Goat Trail housed bright orange fish (koi????).
Canadian Geese on Rocks (By Ryan Somma)
Orange Fish in Pond (Photo by Ryan Somma)
Early on the trail before the rocks are hit, we ran across this tree. I affectionately referred to it as “The Scrotum Tree”.
Want to be humbled? As you take in the views, take note of all the debris in the tree branches. That’s where the water level was! No matter how high up you seem– it was once no match for the river!
After the hike, I have concluded that Greg Z’s word of mouth is a worthy one to follow. The Billy Goat Trail was a wonderful outing and a great way to get enthusiastic about the outdoor opportunities of our new home.
More pictures of my Birthday Hike on the Billy Goat Trail can be found on my Flickr site.
|Billy Goat Trail – Section A
Length: 1.7 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Directions from 495
From I-495, take Exit 41
Take Clara Barton Pkwy towards Carderock
Turn left on MacArthur Blvd
Parking is on the left across from The Old Anglers Inn