Last Sunday I did the first segment of the eastern shore of Liberty Reservoir from Rt 140 down to Cockeys Mill Rd. Today I took on the next and by far the hardest segment of any part of the reservoir system that I’ve attempted to date. The reservoir is surrounded by buffer forest and easily hiked fire roads. In a few areas where there are no fire roads, there are simple single-track trails, some of which are actually marked. However, if you want to hike from north to south and avoid walking on roads, there are three places where you face obstacles. Approaching Liberty dam at the southern end, you have no choice but cross Liberty Road. Also, at the end of the upper third, you do have to make the short trek up Nicodemus Rd, with two quick right turns to get back into the woods for the very long middle stretch. For most people, the third place where a road hike is unavoidable is the short hop between the southern end of the Keyser Run trail (where I last left off) and the Ivy Mill trails. That is, unless you’re really stubborn.
The Keyser Run trail ends at Cockeys Mill Rd. There is an enormous and historic farm that is bordered on the east side by Cockeys Mill Rd, on the north and west sides by the reservoir, and on the southern side by a power line right of way, a sort of alley cut straight through the forest to let the high voltage lines pass through. They’re kind of an ugly distraction but by the same token they do peel back all the vegetation and let you see what the terrain really looks like. This area is, after all, the foothills of the Appalachians, so there are beautiful rolling hills that you can’t always fully see or appreciate because of the dense forest.
The farm is called Jones Contrivance and has an impressive and beautifully landscaped main gate. I did a quick Google search and found that the property dates back to the 1700’s. Here is a link to an obituary for the most recent owner, the wife of a newspaper publisher: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2003-12-30/news/0312300054_1_keyser-bryn-mawr-farm. She and her late husband received the farm as a wedding gift from the groom’s parents and renamed the farm ‘Jones Contrivance’, as the story states, because that’s the name that was on the deed dating back to the 1700’s. I also found a link to the last will and testament of Mr. Philip Jones, in which he bequeaths several enormous tracts of land to his several children. It’s a fascinating read: http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mdbaltim/wills/will123.htm In it, various children receive these massive tracts, but one presumably black sheep daughter named Margaret receives only 50 shillings (about four bucks) and Margaret’s daughter is to receive “Fifty Pounds Sterling to be paid by my Executrix if she shall apply in person for the same within the space of Ten Years after my Death”. You have to wonder what Margaret did to piss off the old man like that. However, there’s also a really sad entry, where Jones bequeaths “one Negro boy called Nathan, being now about Seven Years old” to his grandson and “one Mulatto Girl named Sal” to a daughter. That was pretty sobering to read and was constantly on my mind as I pawed my way through the brush surrounding this formidable estate.
Sorry for the digression, but the fact is that this part of the country is loaded with historic properties and this one just happens to sit right in the middle of my trail!
I had done some exploratory hiking last fall around the perimeter of the farm. I had approached from the southwest and had hiked up to the very northwestern point, where the reservoir is at its absolute narrowest, at this point just a channel a few yards wide, and flows west and then sharply southeast at a site I nicknamed Jones Point. There’s really no trail there and you can clearly see that the fence line for the farm is about 40 yards in from the water. So, there is public buffer land between the farm and the water. The problem is that most of that land is fairly steep, brushy, and trail-less.
So, the point of this long intro is that I’d been putting off this hike for months until I had the time and a compelling excuse to do it. Well, today I found the time and my compelling excuse is that since I am trying to both complete the full route and document it here on EveryTrail, I vowed that I would chart each section separately before doing a complete through-hike no I do not have OCD.
So, I psyched myself up, parked at the end of the trail along Ivy Mill Rd and had about a 15 minute walk along two rural roads to get back to where I left off last week. I stopped at the Keyser Run trailhead and took a big stretch, reciting this trip’s mantra: “Don’t Worry, just hurry.” In other words, “Yeah it’s going to be a bitch but just get on with it.” And, just to provide me with that extra ironic bit of reassurance, while I was stretching, I noticed a 4-foot black snake watching me. He seemed to be daring me to enter. “Welcome to the rock, bitch. Sure you’re man enough?”
I hate snakes, but then I remembered I had an apple waiting for me in the van and I laughed out loud. Welcome to the Garden of Eden.
So, I headed down the road towards the place where it literally disappears under the reservoir, a reminder that there once was a mill town where there is now water. Just before the water, there is a little bunny trail off to the left, actually a fishing trail, a trail where somebody must have gone often enough to his favorite secluded spot. This lake is known for fish as large as 15 pounds and is extremely popular with anglers. But this is a tough section to get to so whoever was fishing it hasn’t been around for a while. There were hardly any footprints and the trail was overgrown to the point that you could just tell. And, like many of these fishing trails, it ended fairly quickly. From there I had to pick and paw my way through. The terrain is pretty steep but that would be fine if it were steep in my direction of travel. In other words, if I was just going up a hill – no problem. But this was left-to-right steep. I have some really rough Asolo hiking boots. They’re waterproof, they hold up to all sorts of rocks and boulders, but my only complaint is that they just don’t seem to have a good “bite”. Unless I have a firm footing I tend to slip more than I did with my previous boots from Vasque. (Man I miss those boots; never try to dry your boots by a fire – they will delaminate and the sole will just fall off. I say this from experience.)
So, I was grabbing trees, bushes, roots and rocks- anything that could help me pull through. Felt like I was hiking the whole time with just my right big toe, trying to get a grip with that lower foot. I had studied the maps and aerials very closely and I knew that halfway to Jones point there was a bulge in the shoreline. Knowing the geology of the area, I correctly assumed it was a large rock outcropping and hoped it would be smooth-topped, making a good rest stop. Not only was it perfectly level, it was clear of bushes and had a nice carpet of grass. If I wasn’t alone this would be a great spot for a picnic. Awesome views of the water. Clearly, others thought so, as I noticed a definite trail leading onward from the opposite side. I rested for a few minutes and checked the topo map, which is a very cool feature on Google maps.
On the one hand, when you’re hiking, you want to be away from your blackberry and your email and your texts and all that technology. But, there’s just so much damn cool stuff out there that actually enhances the experience. If you can ignore the message dings, there’s great mapping and GPS tools. The fact is, a these local hikes are really just intended to help me keep my skills sharp for when I go off on my periodic adventures into actual wilderness. Like it or not, navigating, or as we hiking nerds call it – “orienteering” – is one of the most critical skills to have if you plan on finding your way home. So, even though I know where I’m headed and there’s zero chance of getting lost, I still like to consult the maps and compass (all smartphone apps) and also pay close attention to the terrain. That in mind, the topo map told me that I was in for a nice surprise – the next section was relatively wide and flat. What a relief. However, while I love Google maps for including this feature (it’s one of the choices on the “layers” menu), you can only zoom in but so far. Turns out, I was in for another surprise.
A few yards on, the terrain was indeed much easier. But then it dropped down slightly and I saw up ahead the telltale marks of a forest wetlands. Fewer trees and bushes, lots of low fern. There are probably hundred of streams that drain down the hills that surround the reservoir. Some are easier to cross and a few are a little challenging. In some places the county maintenance guys, in building the fire roads, would bury a piece of drain pipe cross-ways under the trail so the water can pass under and you could hike right across unimpeded. In some places, large chunks of rock or even old concrete slab have been hauled in and placed as a means across. However, this being the untamed section, I knew I’d have to figure it out for myself. This was not identifiable on the maps.
The trail stopped just before the meadow and you can’t even see your feet as you pick your way across through the fern. I was worried I’d find the creek the hard way – by falling in. Then, I started to hear the sound of water gurgling over rock and I followed the sound to a tiny narrow waterfall. Last week I used my ears to identify the sunrise, and today I used them to find the trail. In fact, just on the other side, the trail did, in fact resume.
From this point it was a very quick walk to the familiar area I’d hiked before, down a little trail to Jones Point. Last time I was there, I noticed an old washtub with holes cut into the bottom was lying on the shore, surrounded by empty beer bottles. It’s still there (and in the accompanying photos). Again I hung out for a couple minutes just to rehydrate and catch my breath. From here I ran up the trail to the corner fencepost marking the northwest corner of the farm. There’s something strangely interesting to me about this very specific boundary.
When I hike, I am very strict about not trespassing on private property. It would have been much easier to quickly reach the higher ground and just walk along the edge of their fields. From the edges, you can’t even see the houses or outbuildings (there are many of each on the estate), but honoring private property rights is central to our way of life and satisfies the commercial real estate professional in me. However, pushing on through a game the other side thought I would abandon and making my way stealthily around their precious private preserve satisfied my stubborn hiker’s heart… and it felt pretty good, too.
For this last section, I really had no choice but go right up to the fence line. On this section they laid it right on the shoulder and the terrain below it is just as nasty as it can be. Every time a branch snapped under my boots I thought, “If they release the hounds, I’m screwed.” Again I repeated to myself, “Don’t worry, just hurry.”
Finally, I was back to the utility alley where the hike began, only I was at the totally opposite end. It’s a wide grassy area but the terrain is not smooth and is full of rabbit holes and other surprises hidden beneath tall grass. From memory, I made it to the far corner piling of the last big electrical tower where I knew I would pickup what is at that point a very faint trail. To my right, at the edge of the grass where the tree line resumes, I noticed a trail entrance that I realized I had never taken- this leads to a unique-looking peninsula that has a summit labeled on maps and in trail guides as “The Bunker”. The peninsula itself is shaped like a giant whale tail. So, I decided to check it out, thus adding about 1.5 miles to my hike.
Frankly, the whale is a pretty unremarkable area, the views are merely more of the same, and except for the three deer I spooked there really wasn’t anything to see. And, the only way back is to backtrack to the grass. So, I did that and continued on along the alley to the point where the trail changes over to a fire road that winds back in and out of the woods. At one point, off in the distance, I could see my van right where I parked it. However, I still had one more obstacle – a fairly wide water crossing.
Last fall we had some serious weather, including the edges of a hurricane that passed through this area causing major damage to trees. At this particular water crossing, a fairly large tree was knocked over and as the trunk fell and the entire root structure was, well, up-rooted, it tore up the crossing. In addition, the storm surge simply washed what was left downstream. It’s still definitely passable but it used to be one of those spots I described earlier where you could walk over without a second thought. In fact, it’s part of the fire road, so they used to be able to drive trucks right over it, but not right now.
From here, the trail winds around the bottom of a small cove and then splits. I turned left and hiked up one last hill, a very rocky path on which I slipped a few years ago and gashed open my knee. Back at the car, I pulled out my blackberry and hit the stop button on my EveryTrail trip tracker. I had planned for a 3-mile hike but knew I added some with the whale. But to my surprise, the GPS said I had hiked 11,048 miles. Turns out it was just a glitch. I think the system lost a minus sign on one of the coordinates, so instead of being in Maryland, it had me just off the west coast of Africa. Luckily, EveryTrail allows you to edit your tracks and I was able to correct the map you see here.
Overall, a great, challenging little trip and one that I will grudgingly need to do one more time when I do my full north-south through hike, hopefully this summer (and hopefully in better boots).
Reisterstown, Baltimore, Liberty, reservoir