Ascent of Quirauk Mountain on 2008-05-13

Climber: Scott Surgent

Others in Party:Beth Cousland
Date:Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Quirauk Mountain
    Elevation:2140 ft / 652 m

Ascent Trip Report

Washington County is located in the narrow band of land connecting the main part of Maryland to its western hillier parts. Its highpoint is Quirauk Mountain, which is part of a long narrow range called South Mountain that extends south from the Potomac River north into Pennsylvania. Quirauk Mountain is also the most prominent mountain in Maryland, at over 1,400 feet. It's also home to very important government buildings and towers, and is patrolled at all times by armed guards. Getting to the top of Quirauk Mountain requires advance homework and permission. You can't just show up and ask. Trying to go cross-country through the forest is impossible. Assuming you don't get shot first, you'll be arrested and in a world of trouble.

We “started” this highpoint journey a few weeks earlier when I called the PIO (name and numbers are provided on the website). Earlier visitors had established these connections and to them I am grateful. The PIO was very helpful. When we arrived in Baltimore I called again with a make, model and license plate number for our car, plus an exact date we’d be there.

From Beth’s folks' place in Millwood, Virginia, the drive north to Quirauk covers about 80 miles via Frederick and Thurmont. From Thurmont we followed smaller highways through the Catoctin Mountains toward Sabillasville and Cascade, following the signs to stay on course. Finally we arrived in the community of Pen Mar, sitting on the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line. Quirauk Mountain is above the town. Here, we took a short break at Pen Mar Park, then drove three miles up a narrow road to the checkpoint.

The guards were waiting for us, asking us if we were the “hikers”. They were nice, probably happy to have us show up to relieve their boredom. While we gave them our IDs, four guard kitties emerged. The human guards feed them. Evidently the kitties have the final say who goes on past the gate. Within a few minutes the human guards led us on the grounds, and we followed another police guard named Sean, who’d been out for a jog, to the highpoint.

The actual hike covers a few hundred yards, and photographs are not permitted. The “natural” highpoint was probably flattened ages ago. Some rocks near a parking area are the likeliest highpoints. After tagging them we started back down the hill, the entire visit taking 15 minutes. We thanked the human guards and the kitty guards and drove back a mile to High Rock, a lookout along the road covered in colorful graffiti and a popular launching point for hang gliders.

From here, we circled down into Hagerstown then south along Interstate-81 via Martinsburg (West Virginia) back through Winchester and onto Millwood. The weather, rainy most of the past few days, had been beautifully clear all afternoon, by far our best day so far.

In talking with the guards they said only a few people have come up specifically to seek the highpoint in the past couple of years. The Appalachian Trail runs along the spine of the South Mountains but cuts west of Quirauk Mountain. Nearby military and government installations use the communications towers. The guards were nice, as was the PIO on the phone. However, I would stress that future visitors to this highpoint call ahead and make plans with the PIO rather than just showing up. It would be a shame to have this access denied because of some irresponsible people. And trying an end-run around the guards would surely mean business for you and them. They are armed and it is made clear they will use force if they need to.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:30 ft / 9 m
    Round-Trip Distance:0.3 mi / 0.5 km
    Trailhead:2110 ft / 643 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike

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