Friday, January 6, 2023

PA Pinnacle Trails: Fogbound

 #52  2022 52-Hike Challenge: Pinnacle Overlook and Woods Trail Mix - 2.5 miles

Still trying to get caught up on 2022, here is my last hike of the year on December 31, a full six months past when my competitive cousin finished her 52-Hike Challenge in July then went on to hike an additional 20 hikes to equal her years in age. 

Not Hadrian's Wall

When I texted her to let her know I'd finally reached 52 hikes on the last day of the year, she proudly told me her total mileage, average pace, longest, shortest, hardest, and (best of all) which hikes included a stop at a local pub. In England and Scotland, it's not hard to find a brew stop right on a major hiking trail. So, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I conceded and congratulated her, as I climbed the last hill of the year in a thick cloud of fog. 

Where's the pub?

Where there should have been amazing views of the Susquehanna, there was only fog. It crept through the woods like a blanket being pulled slowly over the hill. It swallowed up the trail so that I could only see one blaze ahead. I missed a critical intersection and wandered too long on the Conestoga Trail the wrong way before I noticed I was following orange blazes and not red. 

Delicate Fern Moss, Thuidium delicatulum 

This old familiar ground seemed a little feral today, like something wild and unexpected could jump out of the mist and give chase. Likewise, the sodden ground is thick with fallen tree trunks where there might be something or someone magical watching us pass by from under their fern-thatched rotten log homes. 

The Old Pinnacle Road

Being a little short-sighted due to the fog, I was forced to look close-in, closer-by, for dramatic views of more intimate scale. Colorful lichens and tree jelly fungus added splashes of orange and blue to the drab backdrop. I studied the different shades of brown and grey from the forest floor to the leafless canopy and it reminded me of rough woolen yardage, dyed with natural plant dyes in a vat. 

Jelly Tree Ear Fungus, Auricularia americana

We met one other person wandering around the woods, a little lost like me. Amos sounded his happy whisper yelp and wagged his trail as the other hiker asked how far the Conestoga Trail goes north and how, in a mistaken right turn when he should have turned left, he hiked the hardest three miles he'd done all year. I assured him I did the same, though not as far.  The fog seemed to mess with our sense of direction.

Summit at Pinnacle

I walked out to several viewing points over the Susquehanna, thinking wrongly that here I would find a break in the dense fog. Tundra Swans flew low overhead and I could hear the wind through their flight feathers, zip-zip-zip. Their staccato calls drifted downriver, following this major migratory flyway that connects arctic waterfowl to their winter refuge on the Chesapeake. I imagined they were keeping close by sound so their tight flight lines didn't unravel in the blinding mist.

Last year's Indigo Bunting nest 

Close in were the elegant remains of last nesting season: a Cardinal nest tightly wound about with strips of grass and pine needles, a stacked mud hut with an open view of the sky built by an industrious American Robin, a delicately woven teacup attached to a forked branch assembled by an Indigo Bunting to impress his mate, adorned of course with a strip of plastic wrapper.

Downhill towards Kelly's Run

I looped around the hill on the old roads and listened to Kelly's Run whooshing down the ravine below. All around were ghostly forms of old trees and the fading remains of 19th century farm lanes and wagon roads. On this hill there were no grand historic ruins except for long undulating stone fences and reclaimed farmlands reverting back to forest, which, in its own way is a big testament to the persistence of nature.

Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor

Start and end of the last hike of 2022

Somehow we found ourselves back at the truck at the end of the last hike of 2022. I had to think some more about whether to join my cousin in another challenge. This year seemed frustratingly rough to hike with any regularity. So many changes in my life, so many adjustments made, and at times the joy of hiking was hard to find. I was so exhausted this fall that it almost seemed like a chore. In the end though I did agree to take up the 2023 52-Hike Challenge but this time I gave myself a little advantage by proposing a 25-Hike/25-Ride +2 Your Choice adventures. In a final text of the 2022 Challenge she agreed to give it a go. "You know I don't ride bikes," she typed. "But I guess I'll have to get back into it." Challenge accepted and here's hoping the fog will lift.