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Read Mountain Preserve Loop and Buzzards Rock

Hike stats: 6.0 miles, 1,106' elevation gain, 5:01:24 moving time, 50:14 average pace. Link to trail data at the end of the post (click the AllTrails map). We decided to add some elevation to our hiking and Read Mountain Preserve Loop looked like a promising candidate. We were accompanied by my mother-in-law, Bosco, for the hike, so the times are extended because we accommodated her pace.

We loaded up our packs and headed up the blue-blazed trail from the trailhead parking area. The elevation gain starts with the first step and continues well past the half-way point with only a few reprieves here and there as the trail winds up the mountain through a forest mix of oak/hickory, pines, and mountain laurel. Being winter and most of the trees being leafless, the views around the valley (and the promise of their getting better as the trail progressed) were evident even if they were modest at the beginning.

It didn't take long to realize that the two R's (Rocks and Roots) would be our constant companions on this trip. They are everywhere and with the leaf litter, you might not see them until your foot and ankle start turning--watch your step! Pay attention to your footing and trekking poles are advised. The trail has multiple switchbacks up the mountain and some of those turns have trails that are NOT part of the preserve and go onto private property. Pay attention to the blazes and the signs.

At about 0.8 miles in, Rocky Way Trail breaks off to the left with yellow blazes. I hadn't read the description of the hike very well beforehand, so we continued on the blue-blazed trail for a couple hundred feet before we took a break beside a stream that was falling down some rocks. While we rested, I noted the trail description and the instruction to take Rocky Way Trail so we backtracked and took the trail that was very aptly named. Among the switchbacks, the trail crosses a couple of stone ridges and we discovered an unofficial overlook at one that had some gorgeous views of the rocks.

A couple of switchbacks later, the trail crossed the stone ridge again (some stone steps have been set up across the rock) and you find yourself at the next trail junction.

Crossover Trail (red blazes) heads up the mountain via a stone staircase and Rocky Way Trail (yellow blazes) continues on along the mountain. There is a nice view just past the junction on Rocky Way Trail.

Consideration for joints (knees and hips) lead us to choose to go up the steps rather than coming down them later (yes, this was a good choice--we were worn out by the time we got back to this point). This picture is looking down the slope next to the stone ridge we had crossed several times so far. Watch for natural places along the way to stop and rest. At one point, we found a boulder that made a very nice bench. There are several view spots along the way up the mountain that offer nice views in the winter, but I imagine these would be mostly obscured by foliage in the spring and summer.

Once you get up to the ridgeline, Crossover Trail junctions with Buzzard Rock Trail (blue blazes--the same trail we left via Rocky Way Trail earlier). The loop trail description indicates to take the CCC Trail to the left (as you come up the mountain--I took the picture looking back at the sign), but we were so close to Buzzards Rock there was no way were going back down without enjoying the view and taking a much needed break for some hot tea. And the view did not disappoint. (Yes, I like my tea the same as Captain Jean-Luc Picard--Earl Grey, hot. This is one of the reasons I always carry my pack, even on day hikes--I have my gas stove and can make tea during my main break if I so choose.)

After leaving Buzzards Rock, we discussed which way to take back. There were three options. First would be to continue on with the loop trail and follow the CCC Trail along the ridgeline and then Rocky Way Trail back to the junction at the stone stairs. Second would be to follow Buzzards Rock Trail (blue blazes) over the peak of Read Mountain and back to the water where we rested near the junction with Rocky Way Trail. The last option was to retrace our steps back along Crossover Trail (red blazes) and down the stone steps.

The feet and knees vetoed the third option and we left it to Bosco to decide between the other two. She is a trooper, but this trail was a bit more difficult than any of us had expected so I wasn't about to protest if she wanted to take the shorter route back to the car. To my surprise, she decided for us to continue on the loop--so along the ridge we went! The trail along the ridgeline offered some lovely obstructed views in both directions (southeast and northwest). It was relatively straight and relatively level--easy walking for about 3/4 of a mile. We began to notice that the mileage wasn't adding up to what AllTrails listed as the mileage for this trail. Oh, well, if the rest of the trail was like this, it shouldn't be a problem.

The problem was...the rest of the trail wasn't that easy. It soon had us returning a lot of the elevation we had gained and the only word to describe the terrain just over the trail's edge is sheer.

But we took our time, laughed at our soreness, and pushed on. By this time, it was shorter to go forward than back and we were still having fun being out on the trail.

Rocky Way Trail, which makes up the return portion of this loop, has little elevation change across the face of Read Mountain. What this 1.5 mile section lacks in vertical challenge it makes up for in ruggedness (remember the two R's?). There are roots and rocks everywhere and the trail is narrow in most places because of the steepness of the terrain. We stopped quite a few times through here to let other hikers pass and to raid my first aid kit for some ibuprofen. And we eventually made it back to the trail back to the trailhead.

By the time we climbed down over the rocky switchbacks and were once again on relatively flat trail, the sun was starting to hide behind the bulk of Read Mountain and the temperature was dropping. This was fine as we had started the day off with layers so we had only to pull them from our packs and continue on protected from the chill. The cool and the quiet, though, made from an almost magical atmosphere in the woods as we made our way back to the trailhead.

Despite the length of the trail being considerably longer than what AllTrails advertised and it being our first foray into something with considerable elevation gain, we all had a good time--we'll be back! Bosco said that she can check "Climb a mountain" off her bucket list and that she's glad she came on the hike with us, but she doubts she'll do it again--just a bit rugged for her at this point. As I said earlier, she's a trooper and makes smart decisions without letting it keep her from having fun. I saved the best picture of the trip for last. Rock on, Bosco!

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