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2004-04-04 - Western Ridge and Valley Trails

~7+ miles @ ~15 min/mi

Mud, cliffs, deer, fallen trees, high winds, freezing rain — a fun morning in Rock Creek National Park (Washington DC) — south on Western Ridge Trail from near Oregon Ave. & Bingham Dr. to Bluff Bridge, returning northward via Valley Trail to Rolling Meadow Bridge and back to the starting point via Bingham.

After last Saturday's experience (see HAT Run 2004 for report) my feet ask permission to try some local off-road routes. #1 Son is an organist at the Knollwood Memorial Chapel today, so I drive him there and set sail (the winds are gusty) south. I lose the path at the Park Police stables but rediscover it at Military Rd, and from there am only befuddled a few times.

The Western Ridge Trail (green blazes) is steep but straightforward to navigate until south of Pierce Mill (Tilden St.) near Hazen Park, where suddenly it becomes terrifying. Huge trees have fallen across the route, and after cautiously clambering through them there are some severely eroded segments of cliffside: rotten shale covered with wet leaves and mud, plus a bonus 50 foot drop into Rock Creek. Visions of falling keep my adrenaline level up; I tuck my water bottle inside my shorts to free both hands for clinging, and literally sit down to descend at a couple of places. Finally (after 49 min) I reach that trail's end.

Crossing Bluff Bridge east and heading north again, I turn onto the Valley Trail (blue blazes) near the Jusserand Memorial and follow it up and down as it parallels Beach Drive. (It should have been named "Hill Trail"!) At about the 1 hour mark on my watch (~9:15am) the cold rain begins, intermittent and noisy as the gales drive it against the fallen leaves. Just north of Military Road I see that a shoe has come untied and pause to fix it. While bent over I think I hear some hissing/whistling sounds, and when I stand and start jogging again I meet three big deer (no antlers, sorry) who eye me fearlessly from ~20 feet off the path. Soon thereafter I misstep and plunge my left shoe deep into a pool of muck. Ah, the glories of nature ...

A fence blocks the path and a sign announces a detour at Rolling Meadow Bridge, just north of Bingham Drive. I take this as a portent and turn back toward Knollwood. Probably I spent almost as much time walking as trotting, but the perceived effort was much higher than on a typical asphalt path run.