Monday, February 2, 2015

Seven Mountains to Poe Valley

We've been getting a lot of snow this winter and I was anxious to get out in it.  So on January 6th I decided to continue my exploration of the Mid-State Trail.  Below you can see a "selfie" of me next to one of the orange blazes on the trail.  I knew it was going to be cold so I grew a bit of a beard in advance.  It made a huge difference in how cold my face felt. 

My favorite time to hike in the winter is shortly after a snow.  It makes everything more beautiful and magical looking.

One funny thing I found was that my iPhone has a lower temperature range.  Don't know what it is exactly but it was in the teens while I was walking.  So often when I would stop to take a photo the phone wouldn't be able to work until I warmed it up a bit. 

Apparently I was the first to hike the trail since the snow.  Above you can see the trail ahead of me with nothing but snow on it.

The drop in temperature had been pretty recent so the streams were still flowing and not completely frozen over.

At one point the trail looked like it was going to cross over this old bridge.   Thankfully it didn't.  I could easily see myself falling through into the frigid water below!

I think winter is a good time to hike this section of the trail.  There are many upland bogs here and although there are sometimes boards set up for walking on I think that I would have had wet feet during the other three seasons of the year.

As with any other trail there are maintenance problems.  There were a few downed trees the blocked the way forward and so I had to bushwhack a fair amount.  I was grateful for my West German wool army pants.  They kept me toasty warm and I didn't have to worry about hurting them during even the worst bushwhack.

In fact I was quite pleased with my entire winter setup.  On top I worse my synthetic hoodie and a light-weight fleece jacket.  On top of the hoodie I wore a hat that I could take off and stuff in my pocket when I got warm.  Similarly with my OR Meteor Mitts.  I could slip the outer shell off and let it hang from it's cords around my wrist and just wear the liners when I was warm and I could slip the shells back on when needed.  I really value being able to regulate my temperature without stopping to repack.


In the evening I stopped and made camp just off the trail and got ready to make dinner.  Here I discovered my big mistake of the trip.  I had recently bought a Primus Eta-Lite canister stove.  My son and I had used it on a hike and I had done a test boil or two but I had never tried it in the cold.  What I discovered was that those little canisters run out faster than I had thought.  So I had no warm dinner that night.  I should have brought an extra canister because not only was I not able to cook dinner but my water froze during the night.  Ideally what I wanted to do was boil some water, put it in my water bottle and sleep with it so that I would have plenty in the morning.  As it was I ate cold snacks for dinner and drank from a cold stream in the morning.  Man is it hard to drink much when the water is that cold!

Fortunately my sleeping system worked great.  I brought my Warbonnet Ridgerunner hammock with a new (well, since last winter) Lynx full-length 0 degree underquilt.  Slept toasty though the temps dropped to near zero.

Poe Valley State Park, where I ended up looks like it would be a very nice park in the summer.  I might have to come back so I can finish a hike with a swim in the lake.

My wife came and picked me up at the park and on the way up out of that valley there is this great view of Penns Valley.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Quehanna East

I'm finally getting around to documenting a hike I took a long time ago.  Chris and I hiked the Eastern half of the Quehanna trail.  It's one of the nicest places I've hiked in Pennsylvania.  There are many fields like this just covered in wild blueberry.

As always, I'm a sucker for a nice view of a creek or river.

There are large areas where birch is the predominant tree.  It makes a nice change from the oaks, maples, and hemlock I see most of the time when hiking.

Another really nice view.  As I said this was a beautiful hike.


It was interesting for me to see my first "bear tree".  Here you can see where a bear has marked the tree with his claws to show his territory.  

We camped near an old farmhouse.  The farmhouse is long gone but their "plumbing" is still working.  They carved troughs in logs to bring water from the spring to near the house.  Since wet wood doesn't rot it remains to this day.

We camped near this convenient water supply.  We both went with a ground setup rather than hammocks this time.  I packed my pad and synthetic quilt inside my bivy so my setup was literally 30 seconds (plus the time to inflate the pad).  Of course the next morning the inside of the bivy and the quilt were damp but I set them in the sun and they dried quickly.

This part of Pennsylvania is the only part with herds of elk.  These spots have been cleared and during the mating season the males stake out a part of one of these fields and bugle to try and attract a female.  People come to watch often.  We saw a number of elk but not close enough for a picture.

Nearly stepped on this guy.  He was sunning himself in the trail and I walked right over him and then heard the rattle.

This was one of the best views near the end of the hike.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

NW PA Hang at Hickory Creek

This past weekend was the 2nd Annual NW PA Hang.   A "hang" is a meeting of hammock enthusiasts.  Last year it was held at the Marion Brooks Natural Area.  This year we were at that Hickory Creek Wilderness in the Allegheny National Forest. 
A "hang" is pretty much what is sounds like: hammockers get together at a campsite and hang their hammocks and talk and have fun for a few days.  Not much hiking goes on.  So Chris and I decided to go up a day early and hike the 12 mile loop that goes through the Hickory Creek Wilderness.  The forest service has decided not to maintain this trail anymore -- they want to let it revert to it's natural state -- so the blazes have not been painted for a number of years and there are a lot of fallen trees to climb over while following the trail.  But despite this the trail wasn't that hard to follow and we had a good hike.

Daytime temperatures were in the high 30s.  The first day we had some rain in fact.  I expected this and so wore my DriDucks rainsuit.  There were only a few inches of snow on the ground.  We were the first people to have hiked the trail since the last snow, judging from the lack of tracks.

Like every forest in Pennsylvania the Allegheny National Forest was once logged bare of all trees.  In places the trail follows old railroad grades which were built to carry the logs out.  The rails were removed as soon as the job was done but here you can still see pattern in the ground of the old railroad ties, which were left behind.

One of the exciting things for us was to discover that this part of the forest was inhabited by a family of fishers.  Fishers are members of the weasel family.  They were introduced to Pennsylvania to control the porcupines.  Porcupines have very few predators and they do a lot of damage to trees (especially cherry trees which are a favorite).  Fishers are not put off by the sharp quills and make short work of a porcupine.  Fisher tracks have five distinct claws as you can see below.  They also have a bounding gait so the tracks are in pairs as you see below.  Judging by the number of tracks we saw the fishers seems to be thriving in this area!

Chris and I spent Thursday night on the trail and then on Friday we completed the loop and joined the others who had just arrived.  We spent Friday night at the hang.  There was a fire and good food and conversation.  Below you can see FixedByDoc (his trail name) who gave us a demonstration of starting a fire with a fire-bow drill.
I used my bridge hammock as usual.  But rather than an underquilt I brought pads which I slipped between the layers of the hammock.  Nighttime temps were in the mid-20s and I was very comfortable. Underquilts are a little nicer than pads because pads don't breath and so can feel a little clammy.  But it wasn't too bad.

The hang continued through Saturday night but I left late Saturday afternoon.  That turned out to be a good thing because it started snowing heavily just as I was leaving and I was the only one without a 4-wheel drive.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MST to Penn Roosevelt

I have written in a previous post about the State College section of the Mid-State Trail.  In January I decided to explore further.  I began where Little Shingletown Road (a gated road in Rothrock state forest) comes out at Laurel Run Road.  But this time I headed north on the trail (which, strangely, is almost directly east at this point).  The beginning segment of this trail seems to be along an old railroad grade from the logging days.

The trail goes through very forested areas and then comes out occasionally into more open areas that are thick with Mountain Laurel. It would be gorgeous in the summer when the blooms are out.

The trails toward the old fire tower and the area called the "Little Flat on Tussey Mountain".  The tower is now closed to visitors.  That's a shame because I'm guessing the view from the top is amazing.  After a bit the trail heads back along a very rocky ridge, just as it does heading south toward the Joe Hayes vista. The views over the nearby valleys and the Bear Meadows natural area are great. This seems like a great place to go in the fall when the leaves turn color.
My intention was to night hike for a few miles since it was going to be a full moon.  However the clouds obscured the moon around dusk and it got too dark to hike so I spent the night in my hammock up on this ridge.  The next morning I got back on the trail as it descended into two natural areas (Alan Seeger and Detweiler).  This area is totally different.  The trail follows a creek through a thick jungle of Giant Rhododendron.  Just a gorgeous area.



After leaving the creek the trail climbs over the ridge of what I believe is called Thickhead Mountain. On the other side the trail descends steeply into Penn Roosevelt state park. It's a small park with a little lake in the middle. I'd like to bring the family here someday.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Allegheny Front Trail -- Southern Section

The day after Thanksgiving Chris and I set out to explore the Allegheny Front Trail.  This trail is relatively close to where I live in State College and my understanding is that it is a fairly new trail.

State College itself is in the ridge-and-valley part of the appalachian mountains (some of the ridges are really sharp as I've noted in a previous post.  But just to the north and west of us is the Allegheny Plateau.  The boundary between these two regions is an escarpment known as the Allgheny Front.  It's easily visible in google maps if you look at Terrain view.  The trail is partially in the Black Moshannon State park which you can see in the map below.

View Larger Map
One thing I wasn't prepared for was that much of the plateau is upland bogs.  In places there are boardwalks as you see below.  But they weren't everywhere so I ended up with wet feet.


One of the reasons we decided to do the southern part of the trail is that that the trail passes near the escarpement and there are views into neighboring Bald Eagle Valley.  These "views" are actually places where they have cleared the trees to allow for views.  They've been given names too.  Here's Chris posing by one of them.



The first day we did about 12.5 miles.  Then we set up camp and had dinner.  Chris was nice enough to make a hot water bottle to warm up my wet feet (he had read up about about the trail and knew enough to wear waterproof footwear).  We had decided to try camping on the ground rather than doing hammocks.  Below you can see me having breakfast in the morning from the sleeping bag.



On of the interesting things about this trail was how many spring we came upon.  In fact our camp was just 30 feet away from a quite substantial one.  You may not be able to tell from the picture but a pretty substantial flow starts from this small spring.



Despite the views and springs though I'm afraid my opinion of the southern part of the AFT is not very positive.  A few years back insects destroyed a huge swath of the forest and for several miles the trail goes though this wasteland of dead trees and open areas where the dead trees have been removed and are being replaced by less desirable foliage.  It's pretty bleak for several miles and just depressing.   But I suppose that is the way with almost any trail of significant length.  It can't all be good.

We're going to go back and do the northern part of the loop at some point.  We hear it's very different from the southern section.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comfort on Long-distance Hikes

Backpacking provides many uplifting sights, sounds, and experiences.  However it also brings its share of irritations and adversity which can detract from the experience if we let them.  So it's important, especially on a long-distance hike, to provide enough comfort for yourself to keep your spirits high.

Meals

We don't use the term "comfort food" for nothing.  Eating, and the satisfaction you get from eating, is one of the most important things one can do to maintain a happy feeling on the trail.

Sometimes hikers get obsessed with things like calorie density and getting the thousands of calories you would need to replace the calories you are burning.  I, at least, can't eat that much.  Thru-hikers apparently get a big appetite after a few weeks on the trail but for most people, even on a hike lasting up to a week, that's not going to happen (see a related post by SectionHiker here).  I find that I eat about as much on the trail as I eat at home, perhaps just a touch more.

I think we need to worry more about WHAT we eat.  Basically you are happiest if you eat very similar things to what you eat at home.  On my West Rim Trail hike I brought pop-tarts for breakfast.  Many hikers favor them because they pack a lot of calories.  After the second day I could hardly face them.  My hiking buddy Chris was eating cold cereal for breakfast with powdered milk that he mixed-up.  That was really what I wanted because cereal is what I normally eat.  So on my Susquehannock trail system hike I brought powdered milk and cereal and was much happier.  I took some Archer Farms granola single servings like Brian recommends on his blog (tastes great and provides lots of calories) but also some stuff I just had around the house.

I also think the evening meal should be a warm meal.  Won't energy bars provide as many calories without the fuss of a stove?  Perhaps, but there is something nice about eating a warm meal before bed, even in the warmer seasons of the year.  It's what we do at home so we should do it on the trail to keep our minds and stomachs happy.

Hygiene 

Perhaps our ancestors, who went months without bathing, would not be distracted by dirt and sweat.  But for us modern folks it's pretty distressing to be really dirty.  Now we have to be practical here.  We can't bath every day on the trail or pack clean clothes for every day.  But we can do a few things to help us feel human.

Chris and I had wonderful weather on our hike.  But even at 69 degrees F you are going to work up a sweat on a steep climb.  It's not so much the sweat that is the problem, it's the layer of salt that builds up on your skin.  That tacky feeling is unpleasant and can cause chaffing. So one thing Chris and I did frequently was to stop at a water source and take an upper-body sponge bath when we felt dirty.  I used soap on my face but just plain water on the rest of my body.  It's amazing what clean skin can do for your outlook on life.

I also brought along two pair of quick-drying nylon mesh underwear.  So after a particularly sweaty day I could wash the one I was wearing and change into the other, letting the first pair dry.    Not a big weight penalty but a big difference in happiness and comfort.

Sleep

If most of us are honest we would have to admit that it's harder to sleep in the woods than in bed. Perhaps this wasn't true when I was a kid but a good night's sleep is harder to come by as an adult. Lack of sleep makes even the nicest day in the woods a burden so we have to learn to sleep.

For one thing the woods are noisy and that can be quite a distraction when trying to sleep. I've found that a pair of foam earplugs work wonders. They don't block all sounds but they are very good at the high pitched sounds made by many insects and critters scurrying about in the leaves.

If you worry because you don't sleep well on overnight hikes then take hope. Chris taught me, and I found that it is true, that your body adapts fairly quickly. The first night won't be great but the second is better and by the third night you will find that you sleep amazingly soundly.  I had brought along a book to read during sleepless hours but by that third night I was asleep within seconds of lying in the hammock.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Susquehannock Trail System Hike

As you know I usually am the Weekend Hiker, in that I tend to go on overnight hiking trips.  But back in January I made a New Year's resolution to do a long-distance backpacking trip this year.  Well I recently accomplished that goal.  My hiking buddy, Chris, and I set out to hike the entire 85 mile Susquehannock Trail System loop in six days.  It turns out we had to stop early and so weren't able to complete the entire loop but it was still the longest backpacking trip I've taken since I was a teenager.

Chris and I met Monday morning, the 13th of June, at the trailhead at Ole Bull state park. The weather was perfect. The trail climbs immediately from the trailhead up to a ridge. I have written before about how many more ferns there are in Pennsylvania than in Missouri. But I had not realized the extent. Here's a shot of Chris with a carpet of ferns behind him stretching as far as the eye can see. That was pretty typical of the forest floor during much of the hike.
We picked the best week of the year to go hiking I think.  The mountain laurel was in full bloom everywhere we went -- beautiful white and pink blossoms surrounded us on all sides when we were at high enough elevation.  This picture doesn't do it justice but it was the best I could do.
Chris was a great hiking partner for this trail.  He lives quite close to it and painted many of the trail blazes himself.  He also maintains a section of the trail by himself.  As we hiked along he told me the history of the area.  Apparently there was very heavy logging back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The first to go were the pines.  Then there was a building boom in the country which caused the loggers to go back after different species.  Previously the eastern hemlock (state tree of Pennsylvania) had only been valued for the tannin that could be extracted from it's bark.  The hemlock in this area were hundreds of years old (as old as 800 years in many cases) and were enormous.  Only a few old trees survived this mass harvest but the stumps can still be seen.  In almost every valley if you look you can find the old railroad grade that had been built to carry the logs to the mill.  The rails are gone but you can still see where the railroad ties were.  We found several old whiskey bottles from the period.  Chris also pointed out a stand of apply trees that sprung up around an old logger camp, apparently from discarded apple cores.

After the area had been clear cut it became known as "Pennsylvania's Desert".  The state was able to purchase the land for little money and the forest has grown back to where it is very pleasant.

There is one "trail town" on this loop.  It's the little town of Cross Fork.  We stopped at the tiny general store for an ice cream.   

The heavy rains this spring have had an impact on the trail.  The currents in the stream had been so strong that they had carried tons of rocks downstream and pile them up in various places.  You can see an example of this below.

Chris noticed some places where the stream had changed course compared to just a few weeks before as the stream had choked it's old channel with rocks.

The wet spring had a rather unpleasant side effect.  The stinging nettle, which normally just grows in boggy areas of the trail, was thick everywhere.  For some sections we were up to our knees in stinging nettle for a mile or more.  Thank goodness for long pants.

This area is home to a great number of rattlesnakes.  We only saw one on our hike but it made for a little excitement.  I was in front and came upon a snake who was apparently coiled next to the trail waiting for a chipmunk to run by.  I heard the rattle right next to me but couldn't see the snake because of the brush.  Chris told me it was just to my left so I stepped away from it and circled back to where Chris was standing.  From there I was finally able to see it.  A good-sized "black phase" timber rattler, about 5 or 6 feet long.  He was a well-behaved snake I must say.  He gave me a good warning and then when we gave him some room he slithered across the trail (stopping to look at us and make sure we wouldn't attack him).  Here's the best shot I got of him.

Notice the rather large rattle.

On the third day Chris' bad knee began acting up and we realized that we might have to adjust our plans.  By the end of the day it was clear that the best strategy would be to bail out the next day.  I think our total distance traveled was 50 miles or so.  I had a great time.  One of the things that had kept me from doing multi-day hikes before was that I was reluctant to go that long without anyone to talk to.  A hiking partner make a lot of difference.  Chris is a great hiking partner.  He's a very experienced backpacker and a good conversationalist.  I'm hoping that a doctor will be able to fix his knee so we can hike again in the future.