Friday, January 2, 2015

PA: First Day Hike 2015 - Kelly's Run and The Pinnacle

Happy 2015 from The Pinnacle!

This is a tough, rocky bit of of the Conestoga Trail and as our First Day Hike of the New Year it was a winter hike at its best. Windy, cold, and steep, this 'lollipop' circuit combines the up-and-back run from the base of a high river hill to the top with a round-and-up loop of Kelly's Run for a total of 5.5 steep miles. We both agree that winter hiking beats humid hot days of summer in these parts. We built up heat soon enough and were comfortable the whole way.

A new hiking pole for Kim from her son, disguised for wrapping purposes!

The tradition of First Day hiking started over a hundred years ago and has endured as a New Year's Day event for families, friends, clubs, and parks in the EU and North America. It comes from the hiking traditions of Germany and Austria where long distance walking and family holiday hike outings have deep roots. It was a pleasure to come across so many folks out on this trail today celebrating the First Day Hike all wishing each other a Happy New Year with smiles and conversations about plans for the day and tales of past hikes in the Holtwood area. 

Hiking poles helped a lot!

Kelly's Run and The Pinnacle are both part of a large land holding managed by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) that includes several large dams across the Susquehanna River and the inflow valleys that contain dozens of creeks and streams. PPL land is managed for recreational use with miles and miles of trails, many picnic pavilions, ball fields, campgrounds, and boat launches. Several unique natural area sites are protected by PPL as well. These sites  have Friends groups and university clubs that oversee and offer events and hikes to the public.  The rugged orange-blazed Conestoga backpacking trail is almost completely contained within PPL lands. It starts in Marctic Forge, twenty miles north of The Pinnacle. There are two campsites available for backpackers who follow this craggy path south  through scenic ravines, lush hollows, and across steep cliffs to the Norman Wood Bridge just south of Holtwood.

Share the trail! A pheasant hunter and his dog.

It's good to know, too, that public hunting grounds are snug up against PPL lands in many areas, including here at Holtwood, so seeing hunters using PPL trails to access public lands is a good possibility. This morning we met up with two polite young men on their way to a nearby PGC gamelands unit, excited to have the whole day to hunt. Later on a pheasant hunter and dog crossed Kelly's Run on their way to the scrub forest and open lands along the base of the cliffs. Though some hikers (usually not from Pennsylvania) are annoyed by the close proximity of hunting lands or by the presence of hunters themselves, there has never been trouble to my knowledge. Hunting is an important part of PA as anything I can think of, and we've done well with the idea of 'multi-use' in my home state. 

The Pinnacle up-and-back is rocky and steep!

From the Kelly's Run crossing at its mouth (under an old road bridge and railroad culvert) the climb up to The Pinnacle involves a bit of scrambling but the views from the edge of the trail overlooking the river are outstanding. Stands of Virginia Pine frame every look across towards York County and we looked over at several of the creek valleys we've hiked this past fall on our Mason Dixon Trail trekking.

View from the top!

Once up and over the cliff  we followed a woods road to the top and  it seemed people simply appeared! Note: There is an access road open only in summer that leads to the ridge top, and in winter with the gates closed and locked below, people will park at the end and walk in on the flat. Today there were plenty of hikers who'd made the trek as we had, some coming from the north, some from the south, others road walking up. There was a lot of mingling with the car-folks who walked the half mile from the lot. Lots of "Happy New Year's!" exchanged up here. Conversations started about past hikes, where to go from here, birds and birding from the lookout, the river, and fitness goals for the New Year that included these rugged trails.

Cliff top overlook on the orange-blazed Conestoga Trail heading down.

After watching an eagle pair circling a nest on the opposite shore, we returned the way we came to rejoin the Kelly's Run loop. Inching down some of the steeper bits, some of it on our butts, we stepped aside to allow a more adventurous hiker forge past. He had at least twenty years on us - but he hopped along like a mountain goat. Oh. I aspire to be like him in my 70s!

Before I forget - here's my First Day poem-prayer for 2015...

    Prayer for the Dawn of A New Year

    May we grow in understanding of our role as stewards of 
    this old and ailing Earth.
    May we replace paranoia, fear, and denial with acceptance...

    of our responsibilities to our one and only home.
    May we rediscover the beauty of seascapes, heavens, 
    forests, and hills - and in all the creatures who live here.
    May we put aside our clinging to boundaries and borders,
    and open our hearts for the sake of humanity
    and our Planet. 
    May we truly grasp the ideas of interrelatedness and 
    May we realize and enter into the hard work that is Love, Healing, Caring, Compassion, and Gratitude. 
    May we teach this to our Children, Grandchildren, and Great-Grandchildren so that they may teach theirs. 

Kelly's Run Trail - south ridge.

We intersected the blue-blazed Kelly's Run loop at the bottom and began our trek up the very narrow boulder strewn creek. The shady, cold recesses of the valley contained a lot of ice, some of it on the trail, so we continued to take our time. We watched a few people slip into the cold water from  glazed rocks and logs trying to make crossings. The poles were especially helpful and we suffered no more than a little slip here and there.

Rocks and crossings were glazed with ice.

Kelly's Run ravine is mostly in shade during the short days of winter, so ice is a possibility even on days when the air temperature is well above freezing.  The tall and ragged cliff walls were draped in icicles  today and as some of the higher cliffs caught an hour's sun, we could hear the glass-breaking sound of large daggers shattering down into the ravine. 

Lots of ice along the cliff walls!

When the snows finally come (and we hope they come soon!) it would be a good idea to use strap-on  ice spikes (Yaks)  for your boots. Most quality outdoor shops like REI and EMS have these available and they are worth the $20 to have in your pack for these slippery stretches of ravine trail when you can't see the ice that underlies the snow. And if hiking alone, it's not such a bad idea to let someone know you are down in this cell phone/ GPS free zone. If you fall or find yourself in trouble and need help, you'll have to wait until someone comes along or wait until someone doesn't hear from you! Many of the Susquehanna ravines are deep and dangerous and require a hiker to pay special attention to weather - flash flooding and ice are high on my list! 

Icy blankets under dripping boulders.

The Susquehanna River Valley is known for its deep creek ravines that drop precipitously from the tableland above, the Piedmont Plateau. The slight eastward tilt of the vast plateau above coupled with repeated cycles of glaciation to the north and massive melt-off over tens of thousands of years have combined to create rapid down-cutting by the river and its tributaries. Some of the streams have become entrenched - unable to meander - held in place by high cliffs, large boulders, and deep V-shaped valleys. Frequent waterfalls, cascades, and tumbling steps of rushing water are constant companions as the narrow trail skirts around or over rocky obstacles. 

Kelly's Run at it's icy best on New Year's Day.

By mid-afternoon we'd come up through the creek valley to the dense woods that blanketed the gentler hills above. We heard a screech owl whinny as we left the steep canyon as if to say 'Good Job!" In the oak-poplar woods the trail is wide enough to hold two hikers side-by-side for a time until the trail opens out into the park where we'd left our cars. A great start to the New Year! 


From the website Mid-Atlantic Hikes, a fully indexed and mapped hiker's trail share.:

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