Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rothrock Forest, First Looks

When I first considered moving to Pennsylvania I wondered about hiking on the Appalachian Trail. But then my wife read in a book that hikers consider the Pennsylvania section of the AT to be their least favorite section. Apparently the reason is that the trail misses some of the prettiest parts of the state. So I did a little research and found that the Great Eastern Trail, which parallels the AT for much of its length, runs right through State College and was more carefully designed to hit the nicer areas of Pennsylvania. In fact the Pennsylvania section of the GET was the first section finished and it's called the Mid-State Trail. Ever since then I've been interested to find out where this trail starts and do some miles on it.

I have learned most of what I know about hikes in this area from the website The site is apparently run by someone here in State College. From this site I learned that the MST is not the only trail nearby. The nearby Rothrock State Forest is crisscrossed with many trails. Below is a topographical map of the forest near State College.

View Larger Map

On Saturday I followed some directions from and found the MST. If you look at the northeast quadrant of the map you will see a road called Laurel Run Road. I followed this road up the mountain to where it crosses anther road called Little Shingleton Road. This road is not really a road as it has a gate. I parked my car at the gate. The MST is marked with orange blazes on the trees and follows this road for a hundred yards or so before forking off.

Last post I mentioned the differences in the foliage I have noticed. In the picture you can see one of the main differences along the side of the road -- ferns. There are ferns in the Ozarks but here the numbers and density of the ferns is really impressive. Here's another patch of ferns further on.

After 100 yards or so the MST forks off to run along the ridge of the mountain. The trail is rocky but the hiking is easy because there are no ups and down. Occasionally there are nice views of the valley far below and the next ridge. This picture doesn't really capture the view but it was the best I could do.

I followed the trail for a mile or so and then came this intersection.

Rather than continuing on the MST I took a side trail called the Sand Spring trail. which heads down the mountain. It's very steep in this direction. I found myself huffing and puffing on the way back up. I then continued on the MST until I came to the highest point on the mountain (you can see it in the map). At that point I returned back to my car.

In short I'm enthusiastic. I plan to return for a hike in this location and spend a day or two along the MST -- the first of many I hope!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mount Nittany

Since settling down here in State College, PA I haven't yet taken an opportunity for an overnight trip. But I have spent some time examining the territory. It's beautiful country around here for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

State College is nestled in the Allegheny mountains of central Pennsylvania. Because it's such a small town you really feel close to the woods. Biking around town I notice that it smells like being out in the woods. My house is right near a forested area. In fact I'm surrounded by trees on 3 sides. At the bottom of the hill my house is located on is a creek called Spring Creek where the local kids go to play in the water on warm days. On the other side of Spring Creek rises Mount Nittany, the largest mountain in the area.

Recently we took a little hike up Mount Nittany. The trailhead is just a mile from my house. There are many trails on the mountain and some fine views of the town from the top.

I'm trying to figure out what is different about Pennsylvania as compared with the hardwood forests of the Ozarks. In some ways it is very similar. But there are differences that I can't quite put my finger on yet. Some of it has to do with the plants. The trees seem to grow taller here and the undergrowth is entirely different.

The topography is also different. The hills aren't that much bigger than they are in the Ozarks but they seem bigger. That's because of the way they are shaped. Imagine laying a hand towel flat on a countertop and putting your hands down on the towel about 6 inches apart. Now if you were to slide one hand toward another folds would rise up between your hands. That's how the mountains around here look. They are quite steep on the sides and very long, just like the ground had been folded.

Hikers often talk about how rocky Pennsylvania is and I was curious to see for myself. It certainly is very rocky. There are few places where the trail is smooth. There aren't that many very large boulders or very small stones either. Either would make the hiking a little easier. Most of the rocks you see scattered about are about the size of a typical desktop printer.

I talked to a geologist who told me that we have an inverted topography here. The stones are sandstone from some ancient ocean shore that has been raised up to become the surrounding mountains.

I'll write more soon about some other areas I've explored.