I had hoped to return to Wooster Memorial (Spangler) Park a month ago for a long, challenging hike, but that turned out to be the weekend I got knocked down with the start of my second respiratory infection of the season. It took all month, but I finally felt strong enough this weekend to take advantage of the fine weather forecast today and head out to the park for a hike with my best friend.
Since the trails I have yet to hike here cover much of the “backcountry” of the park, any hike I planned in order to cover any of those trails meant hiking part of one of the familiar trails first. So after we descended the big hill to reach the original trailheads in the valley, we turned onto the Spangler trail, following it around the floodplain to reach Rathburn Run.
We’ve had a lot of rain lately, so I expected the run to be flowing a little higher than usual. And no matter which trail we took, we knew we would have a couple of creek crossings to make. There are no footbridges across Rathburn Run in the park, so a creek crossing means finding stepping stones or wading into the current (which is deeper than it looks, thanks to the clear water). And yes, we ended up in some deeper water that made it into our boots.
But after three crossings, we came to the start of the Saddleback trail and started climbing to higher ground. Second in difficulty only to the Outer trail, the Saddleback (a 1.3-mile trail) makes a loop through the newest portion of the park, added in 2006. A steady, steep climb took us first to the Outer trail, overlooking Rathburn Run, and then into the woods along another ridge that overlooked an intermittent seasonal stream.
Once on the ridge, we took a breather, sat on a log, and enjoyed a snack before heading on. For a while, the trail’s twists and turns caused only minor changes in elevation, so I thought, what’s the difficulty? Then we followed the path down through a few switchbacks as the trail took us along the creek and through a lush (but muddy) meadow before returning to the woods.
The old saying tells us that “what goes up, must come down.” But on trails like this — and there are many in the area — I often find that what trails go down, inevitably must come back up. And sure enough, the trail took us up another steep set of switchbacks and a narrow ridge trail that sloped away dramatically on either side. We had great views, but as I got a little dizzy looking at them, I focused on the path ahead.
Gradually we made our way back through the woods to our trailhead and decided to skip a repeat of the creek crossings. Instead, we turned onto the Outer trail (close to its halfway point) and followed it high above Rathburn Run to the east end of the park. We still had to descend to river level and pick our way across, but this last crossing turned out easier. The ascent out of the park also proved easier as we took the less-challenging Kenwood trail out of the valley and around the edges of two fields before returning to the parking lot.
We covered about 4.5 miles of trails in just over 3 1/2 hours, so we were both worn out and hungry when we finished. But I also felt a deep satisfaction at having completed such a strenuous (for me) hike — and at checking another trail or two off my list of hiking goals for the year!