Sunday, May 2, 2021

AT Hike #7: Dead Woman's Hollow Figure 8

Amos and I hiked a figure-8 route that included 3.5 AT miles, several forest road miles, and the Dead Woman Hollow Trail. A large part of the the hike passed through a forest restoration area to bring back Appalachian heathlands that include Pitch Pine and Scrub Oak. The whole route clocked in at just under 8 miles (7.9) and included a beautiful, cool break at the Anne Mitchner Cabin and springs.  

Amos in the shade of a Pitch Pine

Two memorial stops were COVID-Bear and the official halfway marker for the AT. COVID-Bear on the Big Flat section of the AT marks the lost year for thru-hikers who had to abandon their hikes in 2020 when the trail, its shelters, and trail towns closed due to the pandemic. The National Park Service administers the AT while the Appalachian Trail Conservancy manages the trail maintenance, section organizations, and land acquisitions or re-routing. When both organizations decided to close the AT in May 2020 thousands of hikers, thru-hikers, day hikers, LASHrs, and others lost their beloved trail until restrictions eased somewhat in the late summer (hike with masks/shelters & toilets closed) to an almost full reopening just a few weeks ago. The trail today was somewhat of a celebration for many as I met several LASH and thru-hikers happily on their way again. (I wish I was with them.)


COVID-Bear Memorial
Official half-way marker on the AT

The half-way marker is rather anti-climatic but because half-way fluctuates from year to year depending on re-routes and new sections, it is moved for accuracy - so it can't really be something massive and immovable. 

Three-mile section of forest road

The AT section finished with a walk out to a forest road past a bright purple gate. The restoration area is in full view from the road and it occurred to me how carefully the AT corridor is maintained so that hikers get the feel of being in wilderness.  The trail goes right through the large restoration plot and I don't recall seeing any of it from the AT.  I'm glad I came this way because since the prescribed burn in 2017 there was beautiful sea of sassafras flowers on their spindly stems as far as the eye could see.

Logging road to the trail head. 

I left the forest road and took a turn on to a service road and over the AT, down to find the Dead Woman Hollow Trail. The burn area here has recently undergone a salvage logging operation to remove dead standing timber. It was at once distressing but also encouraging as heath plants like Low Bush Blueberry and Huckleberry were already established and in full bloom. The hillside was a-buzz with bumble bees and other pollinators working the bell-like blossoms.

Hot and dusty hiking - Amos no like.

Dwarf Crested Iris - a native Appalachian woodland iris. 

Almost the entire Dead Woman's Trail passes across the logged-out eastern slope of the mountain. It was stark almost too hot for poor Amos. We stopped a few times in the shade of remaining Pitch Pines and he quickly gulped down his water. While he rested, I observed Eastern Towhees, Phoebes, and Bluebirds working the slash piles for insects. I saw my first bear of the year - at a distance - from the log landing looking back down a haul road. Amos caught scent of it eventually but by then we were well on our way to entering the woods where a gushing great spring stopped us in our tracks. Amos waded, drank, and sat in the pools. Happy coonhound!

The Yellow Sea of Sassafras

Sassafras blossoms

The Sea of Lowbush Blueberry.

We came upon the Anna Mitchner Cabin just inside the wooded flank of  mountain, beyond the springs. No one was renting it for the weekend so Amos was able to roam around sniffing the various woodpiles while I picked up little bits of wrapper and plastic and then we sat and had a nice lunch. Atop the mountain the AT runs a quarter mile or so up a shale-gravel access road, and along it walk all the hikers oblivious the the restoration areas - the prescribed burns and logged out hillsides to the east and west. The walk back to the Shippensburg Road parking area gave me the chance to admire how well the AT corridor view shed is managed. Coming back into the Big Flat area where the Pitch Pines are old indeed, I could see what the restoration efforts hope to achieve as this area is one of the most beautiful wooded heathlands in Michaux State Forest. 

From whence we came.

Anne Mitchner Cabin (PATC)

AT viewshed.

Big Flat, where Scrub Oak and Pitch Pine shade the trail.