Sunday, February 28, 2016

PA Mason Dixon Trail -Map 3: Codorus Furnace to Highpoint Overlook

Saturday February 27, 2016: York County, PA, 13 miles 

Today Kim and I switched our direction north to south, starting this section at Codorus Furnace in Hellam Township and walking south along the river to the summit at Highpoint Overlook just south of Wrightsville, a very pretty river town. Besides being an absolutely perfect day for a long hike, it was important section for me as I was carrying a full pack using the Gregory 38L Savant I plan to use on my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in May and June. 

The oldest iron furnace in York County. 

We started our section hike at Codorus Furnace in Hellam Township. The oldest surviving pre-Revolutionary iron furnace in the York County, it was built in the 1740s as a pig-iron production furnace but when war between England and America broke out it quickly transitioned to producing cannon balls and shot. This is the western reach of the Iron Hills region of South Central Pennsylvania where during the Revolution every furnace (and there were hundreds!) were put into service to supply Washington's Army with munitions. It also produced cannon shot for the artillery during the War of 1812. Like most of these hill-built furnaces, it was retired in the mid-1800s replaced by new technologies.  I love the furnace history of this region and were it not for having to start our hike, I would have liked to explored this old site for more of the ruins and remains that were scattered through the forest.

Codorus Creek on our left was flowing fast and rapid filled with snow melt and recent heavy rains.

I had forgotten the map, stuffing it into the wrong pack the day before, so we were totally dependent upon the blue blazes. We found the trail to be well marked and easy to follow the whole way to Highpoint. It was icy in many places as bluffs and hills blocked the afternoon sun, and snow still laid in shady places, leftover from the record-breaking 30 inches we received a few weeks ago.

A single narrow road between the bluffs and the river made for a beautiful stretch.

This is river hill country and we huffed and puffed up several steep switchback slopes, but the trail mostly followed old woods roads when traveling through valleys or along ridges. Down along the river we followed the blue blazes through pretty cabin and cottage communities. The river was high - in watch stage - as snow melt and run off from recent heavy rains raised ever stream, creek, and tributary river along the lower section. 

Flooded river woods.

As we walked I thought about the idea of hiking through landscapes as a way to interpret the rich ecology and social histories that they hold. I do a lot of research at my computer, in libraries and archives, and poring through books and journals, but there is nothing that compares to investigating a landscape history by walking through it. With the river nearly touching our path, the sound of dozens of waterfalls and fast creeks tumbling off the bluffs, and surrounded by historic sites, it was clear that this section was all about hydrology, industry, and human ingenuity. 

A memorial deep in the woods.

We passed a simple memorial to some unknown soul and I thought about how dangerous work had been in harnessing the river with dams, building canals, operating cable ferries, log drives and logging, the furnace industry, and quarrying, Because of the danger of furnace work, working the colliers' charcoal pits, hoisting and setting huge blocks of stone in canal walls, an early piece of Pennsylvania legislation made it illegal to site a public house or tavern within two miles of a work site. Drinking on the job or showing up to work drunk was not tolerated. The work is still dangerous and given the place where we found the newer memorial deep in the woods, I wondered if a logger or tree cutter had recently met his end here. It was a sobering sight, so remote, but clearly cared for and maintained.

A mailbox garden begins to bloom.

Down along the river the woods paths gave way to a single paved track that traced the contour of a higher shelf of the old river bed. Here were a line of perfect cabins and cottages, some quite old and made of quarried stone, some of log, others more recently built. We chatted with folks clearing flood debris from the lower reaches of their properties and said our hellos to some folks still shoveling snow, chatting with neighbors, walking dogs. This stretch of river front community was hemmed in with a high bluff to the west. Here the Susquehanna carved its way down, down, down, through the hills and mountains rising all around as the Appalachians were being folded and lifted. The rate of downcutting was faster that the rate of uplift, so the river made its way through the young mountain range mostly by following the path of faults and fractures. The ninety degree bend at Chickies Rock is evidence of one such fault that captured and redirected the  mighty Susquehanna. 

Not much room on this shelf of old flood plain to site a cabin or cottage with the bluff directly above us.

Chickies Rock  marks a ninety degree bend where a fault line redirected the river.

As we walked I kept fooling with the strap adjustments on my new pack. I'd loaded 20lbs for the hike, probably a little more than I want on the Camino, but any back pain, knee or hip strain was quickly addressed by shifting weight from shoulders to hips with adjustments. I actually forgot I even had the pack on, even on the steep uphills, so I figure it will serve me well across Spain and several of the mountain ranges I will cross on my way to the Atlantic from France. 

Lime kilns at Wrightsville.

John Wright's Foundry and the 'new' bridge that replaced the wooden structure burned during the Civil War.

June 1863, Wrightsville Union Militia skirmished with Confederates then burned the bridge to prevent their crossing.

The single paved lane payed out as we approached the little river town of Wrightsville. John Wright's Foundry is still standing and beyond it is modern foundry and forge. The bridge connecting Wrightsville to Columbia delivers walkers, cyclists, and vehicle traffic to he center of town. An impressive bank of lime kilns funneled us on to the main street. We passed friendly folks on the porches of their small worker's row homes typical of the mid-1800s for industrial villages. But this is an important town for environmental historians so if you have the time to linger and look, there's much to learn about how the river, the hills, bridges, ferries, forests, and farms shaped the look and function of the town itself. Historical markers and signs are everywhere. I made a mental note to come back and just wander around. 

Leaving town and back to the river hills.

Once through Wrightsville we continued south along the river to the point where the trail left the road for good. Up and up we climbed into the river hills once again with the Susquehanna loud and fast below us. Rafts of debris were washing down, huge logs bobbed along, and anything floating seemed to have a crew of ring-billed gulls happily riding along. This would have been log drive season when men rode the rafts of logs downstream to mills further south. It was fun to imagine the gulls directing their logs to some distant island downriver. 

One last crossing, grateful for waterproof boots, following the blue blazes.

Coming through the culvert. Photo by Kim. 
Climbing to the summit of Highpoint Overlook. Photo by Kim. 

One more set of switchbacks and we were on our way to the summit at Highpoint. Lots of ups on this section hike but also plenty of brilliant early spring light to make the effort beautiful. Kim and I agreed that this had been one of the more beautiful sections we've hiked so far.

At the summit looking across the Susquehanna into Lancaster County. Photo by Kim.


Wrightsville's Bridge Burning was an important turn of events during the Civil War. 

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