Monday, June 1, 2015

PA: Mason Dixon Trail: Map 4 - Apollo Park to Kline's Run Park with Bad Language

Saturday May 30, 2015: Boyd's Run Lot (Apollo County Park) to Kline's Park, Long Level, PA
10 miles had we stayed on trail/ 9 miles because we didn't. [140/200]

If you have no doubt that we are anything other than intrepid, serious hikers, then continue reading. If you have a problem with inferences of  foul language and real pain then avert your eyes and look elsewhere for pleasantries on the Mason Dixon Trail.

Wilson's Run. Cuff's Run. Fishing Creek. We knew going in we'd have three steep descents and three equally steep ascents in order to cross three ravine then traverse three high sections of bluff and cliff edge. We knew we had ten miles to cover. Not a bad day, since we've already had several days of 12 - 13 miles. But by the time we limped to the car at Kline's Run Park at the northern edge of Long Level almost ten hours later, we thought back to the fit man who met us that morning. "He was an omen," I moaned to my hiking partner Kim.


The descent into Wilson's Run was just a warm-up, literally. The famously hated Pennsylvania humidity had returned. Carefully picking our way through a boulder field of frost heaved rock the size of small cars, crossing the stream, and climbing steeply up to the river bluff high above was slow going. We met a woman at the stream crossing, in her mid-50s, who was literally jogging along the jagged path. She was an ultra-trail racer. She happily told us about the 100k race that starts in Havre de Grace, MD, and ends at Shanks Mare at Long Level, PA, and takes 24 hours to run (in August - are they nuts?!). She happily told us about the MDT meeting she was scheduled to attend at the Safe Harbor hut building site - five miles to the south. She happily told us about how we should join an ultra race! She was so very nice. But I hated her the minute we said our goodbyes and she happily continued bouncing along her way up the steep switchbacks. Mile 1.

Trying not to fall down 100' to the river below.

Along the first bluff edge we could see the river far below through thick forest canopy. It was beautiful but hard to admire. It was tricky to keep an eye on the rough and pitched footing with every step and not go careening down the cliff.  A young man came trudging along, in his mid-20s, he seemed grateful to have an excuse to stop and chat. "I'm doing this section everyday to get in shape," he said , "I'm carrying 20 pounds of water. But - shit - this is too hard when its humid like this. I'm calling it early." I started to get a little nervous. We came across a nice place to take our first break and grab a snack. A nesting pair of eagles chatted above us from a nearby nest. I wished I had wings to fly back to the car and sit in the AC. I wished for winter...

Cuff's Run.

As I've mentioned in this blog before, the Susquehanna River Hills are known for their steep creek ravines that carry water down from the Piedmont Plateau above, dropping a hundred of feet of grade to the river below. Nowhere along the MDT so far have the ravines been as steep as on this section.The next descent into Cuff's Run was a tortuous knee buster. By the time I got to the bottom my legs were shaking and my head was pounding. I took a full head and shoulders bath in the cold water and awaited Kim, who was being very cautious with her down-steps so as not to aggravate an old ligament injury. "Obnoxious," she said, over and over again. Three miles out of ten so far and it had taken us five solid hours. Mile 3. But there were butterflies...

Spring azures and Tiger swallowtails muddling for minerals Pic by Kim.

The second bluff section was straight across a sharply defined bow of cliff high above the water. I was hanging on to trees to stay centered on the trail. I said "F--K!" a lot. No, really, a lot. I had reached my F-point. My half gallon of water was running low and I began to ration. The sounds of people boating and swimming below put me in a foul mood. "Oh shut up!" I cursed as I wedged myself between two towers of stone. Another hour passed. Then another. I lost count. I started playing music in my head again. "Music for a Darkened Theater" from the soundtrack of Edward Scissorhands. Go figure. I tried to tell myself a joke. I forgot what the punch line was...

Any tree to lean on, grab hold on to, or hug was welcomed. Pic by Kim.

Four teenagers came frolicking up and over giant blocks of stone stacked like books on their sides. "Hello!" they called as they bobbled happily by. I hated them too. "Where are you headed?" ask Kim. One of the pink sneaker clad teens chirped happily back "To the top!" The other  pink tank top clad girl stopped huffing in her tracks and stared at us. Two old women with backpacks and hiking poles. No pink to be seen. Maybe some blood, though. "Wait," she said, "How do we get down from here?"  One of the two boys cheerfully proclaimed "Easy! The way we came up!"  Kim, having reached her F-point some time ago, said not so happily, "Good luck with that!"  The foursome looked somewhat somber and skittered away. "Did you hear what that lady said?" But the good news was that somewhere nearby was a parking area where these kids must have started from not to long ago. "Stop being so bubbly," I muttered. A six foot blacksnake slithered over the cliff...

Stone steps like books on end. Pic by Kim/

Mile five at the height of land overlooked the river and we found a tree stump to sit on. Seven hours.  By this time we were F-bombing every ankle twisting step and trying not to just sit down and cry. So we just sat. I did, at one point however, sit right in the trail against a tree and begged Kim to go ahead while I stewed in my own sweat. Nursing an almost empty half gallon water bottle I fought back the pounding headache that comes with too much heat. I talked myself out of throwing up a few times. But soon we were down into another creek ravine where people were hurling themselves off a cliff...

Cliff climbing box turtle relocated down slope towards Cuff's Run. Pic by Kim.

We should have taken a clue as to what we were up against when as we were strapping on our packs at the Boyd's Road parking area in Apollo County Park, that fit man in his early 50s, came cruising into the gravel lot from the trail we were about to climb. His face was pained and red. We asked where he'd started. "I started at High Point and had this bizarre vision that I'd make it to Otter Creek Campground today. I just called my wife to come pick me up. I cant go another quarter mile. This section kicked my butt!"  He muttered something about rocks.  Climbing and crawling through and around and over and between lots of rocks. He collapsed on the side of the lot to await his wife. "Maybe I can get a nap in before she gets here." That was eight hours ago. I stopped to think about him coming this way hours earlier.

Through a slot to a steep descent (again) to Fishing Creek. Pic by Kim.

Finally we stepped off the mountain and on to an old road. Fishing Creek ran deep and cold next to the road. We met a cabin dweller who was wiring shut a gate that the four bubbly teens had opened to access a short cut to the ridge climb through his property. It was hung in three or four places with No Trespassing signs. He overcame his anger to chat with us a few minutes, then we hobbled on towards the ice cream shop in Long Level another mile further. And of course it was closed. Closed!

At five o'clock on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the riverside park crowded with picnics and kids and what we most desired that very minute was Closed!

A kind outfitter pulled in to park his trip trailer and offered us a few bottles of water. We decided not to delay or lengthen our walk any further and started out on the road straight for Kline's Park, rather than returning to the twisty up and down trail behind the outfitters. I walked at a fast pace, swerving off the narrow shoulder for wide boat trailers and wincing as loud motorcycles yowled by. The sun was setting. Mile 9.

I almost cried when we saw this. Good food, friendly service, and ice cream to go with lo mein.

We made our escape up out of the river valley, AC roaring. We were disappointed, muttering unsavory things in our exhaustion. Approaching a little crossroads we almost missed a new place to eat! We cheered! I backed up in the travel lane and drifted down into the parking lot.  A Chinese/Asian food eatery with a Hershey's ice cream shop and Hawaiian shaved ice. Oh delish! Saved! With our meals of Lo Mein, General Tso's chicken with pork fried rice, egg roll, milkshake, Coke, and ice cream cone one of two fortune cookies had this inside...

Thanks to Kim for most of the pictures for this post since my trusty SLR decided the humidity was to much and threw error codes with abandon. Thank you, most of all, to the MDT Trail Crew who again impressed us (even in their absence) with the all the work to clear blow-downs all along the way. We can't imagine the work involved in hauling chain saws and other important tools to these remote and rugged parts.

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