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.