Monday, January 18, 2021

PA Appalachian Trail Hike: #5 Caledonia State Park - Quarry Gap - Long Pine Run Reservoir Loop

Ridge run.

AT Loop Hike #5: Caledonia State Park to Long Pine Run Loop - 15 miles

Today's loop hike was under a low cloud deck with almost continuous snow flurries. I parked again in the second parking area at Caledonia State Park where the AT passes within a few hundred feet of the car. The trail climbed Orebank Hill on steep steps and switchbacks. Iron ore pits from the 1800s are almost hidden by the thick walls of rhododendron that enclose the AT in a tunnel up to and past Quarry Gap. Passing through the Gap, I explored a side trail and found the remains of an old AT shelter (now gone) built in the notch where the quarryman's shed foundations are still visible. An old iron hulk of a woodstove lies nearby. 

Stone steps up through Quarry Gap

Remains of a 1936 AT shelter built on a quarryman's shed foundation

Hungry tree!

Rising up to the ridge, the AT follows old quarry and haul roads and runs fairly flat and fast for several miles, characteristic of the long ridges common in PA now that I'm north of the hilly South Mountain Complex. I got sneak peeks of the Cumberland Valley through the winter woods but snow squalls filtered long distance views.  This loop was not very scenic except for the reservoir. Amos did enjoy meeting these two backpackers, however, and we stopped a while to chat with them. They were finishing three days and two nights out.  

Quarry Gap Shelter - one of the nicest on the AT 

Log bridge

Distant views of Cumberland Valley

Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor 

The ridges near and far were topped with the strong and able Pitch Pine, some grown a little twisted from their constant exposure to wind. I stopped often to admire the fire-proof bark, great thick plates of woody armor. Their tightly closed and prickly cones lay everywhere on the ground, still clinging to dropped branches, and filled the limbs overhead. These are serotinous cones, waiting for fire to open them and distribute seeds. The highest cones are female, the lower ones are male. The air within these forests are scented with pine oils that for thousands of years have been used medicinally to help alleviate congestion and asthma. I have always felt that walking in a pine woods helps me breathe easier and when my asthma flairs up at home, I put a few drops of pine oil into an infuser to relax my tightened lungs.  

Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida

The snow flurries were steady as wind sang through the high branches of tall Pitch Pines. The sun was trying to punch out of the low clouds but the light stayed muted and dull all the way to my jumping off point to join the forest roads that ran downhill to the beautiful Long Pine Run Reservoir.  Amos and I had a time of it in some sections to keep from slipping and falling on the ice at higher elevations. By the time  we made the reservoir the roads had turned to grey sticky mud. We took our lunch break looking out over the water just as the sun popped out - long enough for us to finish our snacks.

Snow on Haircap Moss 

Icy trekking!

Long Pine Run Reservoir - and our one chance to enjoy sun. 

We road walked back to the park entrance as light was fading. It was cool to see remnants of the diversion canal that carried water to Thaddeus Stevens' iron furnace and the many ore pits along the road. The iron furnace, canal, and blacksmith shop were all destroyed by Confederate infantry on the way to York via Gettysburg in 1863. General Jubal Early was sending a message to abolitionist Stevens that the South would have its way with anti-slavery advocates should the war turn in favor of the Confederacy with their incursion north of the Mason Dixon Line. Thaddeus wasn't bowed by the threat  - he only doubled down on his work to end slavery - while Union forces sent Lee's Confederate Army packing after the Battle of Gettysburg. Reflecting on last week's attack on the U.S. Capital and the parading of the Confederate battle flag both inside and outside the halls of our democracy, I had to spend a few minutes at the small replica of Stevens' iron furnace at the park entrance. 

This circuit took almost seven hours. 


Iron Works explained in "Geology of the Early Iron Industry of Fayette County." Not central to this location, this fieldtrip guide does give a nice overview of how the iron industry worked and has many excellent illustrations. The figure on pg. 12 gives a sense of how large Thaddeus Steven's Iron Works were - destroyed by Confederate infantry, 1863.

Serotinous cones are more prevalent in Pitch Pine forests of the Coastal Plain - like the NJ Pine Barrens, but I found as many closed cones as open ones on this stretch of the ridge. Maybe the burn cycle is more frequent up here?

Monday, January 11, 2021

PA Appalachian Trail Hikes: #4 - AT/Old AT Loop from Caledonia State Park

Hike #4:  Rocky Mountain AT to Old AT/ Raccoon Run Trail Loop, 12 miles 

My AT Loop adventure continued with a large loop that combined the current Appalachian Trail over Rocky Mountain with the Old AT, now Raccoon Run Trail. The re-routing of the AT in this area took place beginning in the 1990s with the aim to elevate the trail across the ridge of the mountain for scenic, geological, and stewardship reasons. The re-routing also resulted in new trail shelters throughout Michaux State Forest with new dispersed camping and park access options. I parked at the farthest parking area open in winter in Caledonia State Park - which is one of my favorite state parks, btw - where the AT comes right past and is easy to jump right on.

I want to say right away that the crossing of RT 30 is a dangerous one. I think if I had been starting out from the park on a busy Saturday or weekday morning instead of a quiet early Sunday, it would have been crazy.  Even so, I had to calm Amos as big loud trucks roared past at 60+mph just feet from where we stood. Anyone hiking with small children or who may have to move a little slower for whatever reason may want to walk to the entrance of the park (there is a a large parking area at the stop light) and use the pedestrian crossing there and road walk (still scary as hell) along Rt 30 to the AT on the opposite shoulder. 

Sign post just after crossing the creek bridge off the parking area.

Rocky Mountain begins with a long slow hike uphill to the crest of the ridge which is lined the rest of the way to Rt 233 with a palisade wall of quartzite and conglomerate rock. The AT climbs up and along the wall at several points while also following a gentler path just below it through the forest.

Climbing the wall.

Conglomerate formations of the Rocky Mountain ridge.

Watch your step! 

Stone stack formations.

As a fairly new section of the AT, I have to thank the trail crews that maintain this area. Skillfully-built stone steps, careful trimming back of vegetation, and safe access points created from the trail to the stone stacks all combine to make this stretch a beautiful hike. Thank you, trail crews! 

Banded quartz and conglomerate.

Walking behind the crest wall of the ridge.

Amos and I came down off Rocky Mountain after five miles of ridge walking to the crossing at Rt 233. From here we road walked the quiet, wide-shouldered valley road to find the start of the Raccoon Run Trail, blue-blazed, the old AT.  Soon we were on a very rocky path that challenged even my four-footed hiking partner. I was never so grateful for my hiking poles, though I did crash one time, luckily in a soft bed of grass and not on the sharp rocks! The old AT had been well washed away and its well-traveled surface was mostly roots and sharp rocks. It was slow going. 

Trail marker at the crossing of Rt 233

A mossy break to rest sore paws.

Reasons for re-routing the AT are numerous but sometimes its just because it's time. This old route certainly demonstrated that it was certainly time to move it off this old path due to the excessive wear and tear that tens of thousands of hikers can inflict on fragile ground. Partly in the flood plain of Raccoon Run and partly on hilly land, the effect of decades of hikers has caused spring seeps to turn to muddy holes and delicate mountain soils to wash away leaving an ankle-twisting two miles of trail heading north, back towards the park. A re-routing, however, calls for years of planning and when all is secured, approved, and set, the back-breaking work of building new trail begins. I was ever so much more thankful for the hard work needed to create the Rocky Mountain section as I stumbled, tumbled, and grumbled my way up Raccoon Run Trail!

A spring seep turned mud pit caused by hikers - now bridged. 

Raccoon Run.

I was trying really hard to enjoy Raccoon Run Trail but was finding the going so slow that I got a little grumpy. Ok, a lot grumpy.  Fortunately for both Amos and I the last two and half miles became less a chore and I was actually able to take in the surroundings without having to stay laser-focused on every step and misstep where I was actually saying out loud "Pay attention!" 

Rhyolite boulder along the trail 

So many charcoal pits I stopped counting

The trail climbed a beautiful hemlock covered slope and I began to find rhyolite flakes in the trail. Someone before me had placed a worked piece of rhyolite on a log to share with hikers who knew what its shape and flaking meant - this area had once been quarried by indigenous people for the tough, sharp stone to make into blades, points, and scrapers. Nearby is a known Native American bank quarry and this rock type was prized and traded all along the East Coast. I did not photograph the worked scraper b/c I do not want to draw attention to the specific area, but thank the previous hiker who left that great piece to ponder and turn over and over in my hands.  

The last two miles on Raccoon Run Trail

There were so many charcoal pits along the last two miles that I stopped counting them at 18. Many had become old campsites for AT hikers and two are still in use with large fire rings and log benches. I scuffed the surface of each one I came across and found charcoal chunks and black charred soil just below the moss layer. This whole area had been logged and turned into charcoal for the ironmaking industry that consumed what is now Michaux State Forest and though the forest here is thick and mature today, in 1900 this landscape was devoid of trees completely after 100 years of fueling the iron furnaces nearby. 

Salvage notice.

Amos and I took a proper lunch break at mile 11  at an Old AT campsite where a hemlock grove shaded out the late afternoon sun. He sunk his snout into my entire bag of crunchy granola while I had my back turned to set and fill his water bowl.  That granola was gone in ten seconds! I had to laugh as I thought about hungry hikers at this very spot doing the same thing.  Caledonia State Park was only a mile further on so he'd have more snacks when we got back to the car. I don't know why I waited so long to eat, but it was the perfect space to sit in the cool of the hemlocks and relax. Soon my hiking buddy was wagging his tail and tugging on his leash to get going again. In a half hour he was prancing proudly through the park, making a bee-line for the car where he knew his goody bag awaited his return. 

Mature hemlock grove and an old AT campsite.

Coming back into Caledonia State Park

At the trailhead to Raccoon Run Trail in Caledonia State Park. 


Re-routing is grueling work, but good experience and learning opportunity for future trail stewards.

The AT through Pennsylvania - affectionately known as "Rocksylvania."

Saturday, January 2, 2021

First Day Hike 2021: Actually, January 2, 2021

Though I admire the enthusiastic hikers and walkers who posted their First Day Hikes on a rainy, windy, cold January 1, 2021, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So I waited for the sunny dawning of January 2 to take my First Day Hike at the Pinnacle on the Susquehanna River. It's nearby, beautiful, and in the mornings mostly empty. This morning I met a few deer hunters who waved from their blind and tree stand. (Always wear blaze orange when hiking in PA during hunting season.)

Pileated Woodpeckers squawked back and forth as I followed an old farm road around the height of land. The hill is ringed with stone pasture fences and wagon roads are held to the slopes by stone-built abutment walls. Further on there are beautifully built walls that may have surrounded a yard or home. Then I came to the tumbled foundation wall of a barn and a large cleared flat area where water trickled  into a spring box. Looking around, it is amazing to me that during the Civil War (1860-1865) this land was completely clear of trees. The river hills were bare save for the scrub meadows and grasslands that cattle, sheep, and horses grazed across on these knolls. 


Greenshield, sp.

Turkey-Tail, Trametes versicolor

Trametes ochracea

I'm not one for making New Year's Resolutions because I always have so much unfinished or ongoing business from my writing projects and everything else in life so why add to it?  But important to this year's ongoing projects are to further research the Pilgrims Pathway, a route of the Underground Railroad that crosses the river south of here. I want to  focus on  black abolitionists - free black and former slaves - who lived and farmed here.   I hope to lead another three-day Pilgrims Pathway pilgrimage again this summer so I hope this pandemic is over and so we can walk safely side-by-side together. 

Clouds rolling in to obscure the sun, to finish near where I started.

Friday, December 18, 2020

PA Appalachian Trail Hikes: #3 AT Loop - Old Forge AT / Swift Run Road / Hermitage Trail

 Hike #3: Old Forge to Swift Run Road to Hermitage Trail, 10 miles

This loop contained all the elements of a state forest hike - remote trail, logging road, cabins and camps. Of note today was the announcement that COVID vaccines will soon be made available to front line health workers, seniors, and first responders - something to mark the significance of today's AT Day Hikes During COVID series as I walk the AT in PA through this pandemic. 

A long steep climb up the AT to start

I parked at the end of Rattlesnake Run Road at the upper end of Old Forge and began the day's hike on the AT, crossing Old Forge Road at the bridge over Tumbling Run and continuing on the AT northbound past the Tumbling Run Shelters and camping area to the steep climb up to the ridge. All the exposed rock is Quartzite, metamorphosed and highly resistant sands, sandstones, and beach cobble formed 500 million years ago. This is the predominate ridgetop rock type through Michaux State Forest.

Coarse-grained cobble Quartzite 

At the Chimney Rocks overlook

At Chimney Rocks you can really study the way quartzite fractures and weathers and this gives some hint as to the very cool columnar and rock city formations at the center of today's hike at the Shaffers Rocks climbing area.  Amos scrambled and sniffed under all the ledges. The Waynesboro Reservoir was visible in the vast forested landscape below. 

Amos enjoying rock scrambling on Chimney Rocks, 1900'

We continued following the AT northbound along the ridge of the South Mountain range which extends southward into Maryland. This is young forest as forest age goes, replanted by foresters in the early 1900s and later by CCC men who lived and worked in the first state tree nursery and numerous camps throughout Michaux in the 1930s. I was really impressed by the miles of young forest understory growing beneath the mature trees as the next generation of forest gains hold on the mountain. Disease and fire has impacted these woods, however, as standing dead, dying, and fallen trees are everywhere and the windy ridgetops seem to have a concentration of tumbled gypsy-moth killed oaks rotting away to soil. 

Looking back at the South Mountain range

We came upon a drag where a hunter pulled his harvested Whitetail Deer along the AT to a road crossing ahead. The gut pile was still fresh but it had already been well scavenged. We came upon a fresh, shimmering  twist of Weasel scat left prominently on a rock to mark its territory. Amos was less impressed with the scat than he was with following the hair and blood trail.  He never has shown an interest in predators or scavengers, always alerting to prey animals like rabbit, groundhog, deer, and bear. The coonhound hunting tradition includes  those big coonies who can tree Black Bears and Amos seems to come from that line.  Whenever we come  to a "bear-in-the-air" I keep him on short lead.  As we followed the drag along the AT, a flock of American Crows descended on the gut pile behind us as well as a lone Turkey Vulture. 

A hunter dragged out his harvested deer while...

...a hungry Weasel loved the gut pile he left behind (2" across)

We came down off the ridge and turned west on to Swift Run Road for a few miles. There are a few active logging access roads that feed on to this gravel road, so beware of the logging trucks during harvest time. We passed a hunting camp decorated for Christmas.. It was a nice leisurely walk until a horse and rider came on to the road from a log landing which made Amos loose his mind. So he pulled me all the way to the busy trailhead at the Hermitage Trail.  Lots of climbers and hikers here but horse not allowed on those trails! Too bad, Amos.

Swift Run Road at the trailhead parking. 

Shaffers and Monument Rocks

The Hermitage cabin, managed by PATC

We spent a bit of time just wandering around the rock city where fracturing and erosion has formed tall "monuments," columns, pillars, and narrow passages between. Then lunch on the little bridge that crosses Tumbling Run on to the Hermitage Trail until it connected with the AT. I'm really enjoying these loops as ways to hike the AT and explore the areas near the trail. As an AT hiker so focused on hiking just the AT in the past, I missed so much else that the old roads and blue-blaze trails reveal. These loops have been really fun ways to explore the wider landscapes of our beloved AT corridor. 

Tumbling Run along the Hermitage Trail

Snow is on the way and the next loop may well be in the white stuff. Time to dig out the ice spikes, crampons, tall gaiters, snow shoes and two hiking poles instead of one. My favorite time of year to hike! Thinking of all my first responder friends and family. Light at the end of this dark tunnel and hoping that my next hike marks another milestone in emerging from this pandemic.

Old Forge AT /Swift Run Rd/ Hermitage Trail Loop


The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains 42 historic cabins along the AT from Virginia to Pennsylvania. COVID has had an impact on rentals and use, however.  But reading about their history and knowing how to rent one in future makes a nice winter afternoon's reading/planning/dreaming.