Tuesday, June 18, 2024

PA Michaux State Forest - AROOO for the Hosack Run Trail Loop

Michaux State Forest, Hosack Run Trail Loop - 6 miles 

Time again for another "sneaky break" close to home with three days off in a row. One day for chores - mowing the grass mostly - then headed back to Michaux State Forest with an overnight at Caledonia State Park again. We arrived too early for check-in so I parked outside the campground on Quarry Gap Road in a small parking area, figuring by the time we'd come down off the mountain it would be mid-afternoon and time to check in to the site.  It was early in the morning and still cool, perfect for the mile-long walk up to the dead end and the start of the Locust Gap Trail where we'd begin our loop up and around the mountain.

On the way up the road Jim Stauk passed by in his blue pick-up. Jim was one of the first people Amos met when still a pup learning to hike years ago. "How's my old friend?" he asked. I told Jim about Amos' journey with MCT cancer and how it's been a wait and see affair, especially with one tumor near his hip that I think has started to grow. Back to the vet soon for ultrasound scans. "Well, I'll see you on top," said Jim as Amos happily hollered and hooted and yelled at his old friend. 

Quarry Gap Road

The walk up was filled with the sounds of an Appalachian morning. Blue-headed Vireos were everywhere, so were Ovenbirds. A screaming Broad-winged Hawk was matched by a screeching Red-Shouldered Hawk. A Turkey bolted across the road. Veery, Wood Thrush, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Goldfinches. A deer snorted. Amos hollered. The sounds of water everywhere in streams tumbling down through the valley. Stress and exhaustion from these past few weeks of non-stop work seemed to just gurgle away with the cold, sweet mountain water the higher we walked. 

County Line

Deptford Pink

My "sneaky breaks" have been lifesavers these past few months. Not full on camping trips, mind you, or long hikes for that matter, but enough time away in the mountains that I somehow seem to reset. By the time we make to the end of the road and find Jim's parked truck we'd walked a mile uphill and Amos needed to rest. I wondered about that hip and if he could make the full six-mile loop. At least the heat hadn't set in yet and wasn't due for another few days. 

Fly Poison

Locust Gap Trail

We were lucky! It seems the trail crew was here the day before and the trails were super neat and clean, no wading through underbrush or high grass. Though the Mountain Laurel bloom is almost through, the Great Rhododendron is starting and we passed through fragrant pink banks of it on the way to the vernal pond and an old bog. We've walked this old road a few times before and Amos certainly knew where he was going but with the trail work it looked entirely new. 

Great Rhododendron

Shrinking vernal pool

I spent a little time looking through my binoculars to spot what was still living in the shrinking vernal pool. There were gads of tadpoles with little legs, with some big enough to do little hops. I saw several gilled salamanders, small and wriggling, but they were too deep in to identify.  Amos plopped his paws in the mud and tested the water. He loves plopping. Back on the trail, headed to the Hosack Run cut-off we met up with a couple hiking down. "Is THAT the coonhound we heard a while back? What a great voice!" Of course, Amos had to holler for them, too. 


Sphagnum bog

At the cut-off we followed the light blue blazes up the hill and into the deep woods, crossing over Hosack (pronounced Hoss-sick) Run several times. Amos had to test the water at each crossing with big sloppy slurps and plopping paws. In no hurry, I waited at each stream crossing until he'd had his fun.  We finally reached the shoulder of the mountain, hiking through a rock garden and on to steeper ground. 

It's uphill from here

A breeze blows through

The mountain breezes were heavenly and we stopped often to feel the wind swirl around us. Amos was testing the air for scents and I admired the old, old trees in this now steep valley where logging never reached. White Pine trees three people-hugs around (over 150 years) and a hundred feet high towered over the trail. There were a few 8-inch diameter American Chestnut as well with no sign of the blight. 

Old White Pine 

Ghost Pipe

In the humid creek valley, the steep slopes were more like rainforests with moss covered logs, thick carpets of moss and fern, and huge trees. As we climbed higher and steeper, a series of switch-backs elevated us (me breathless and still coughing) to a mesic, dry ridge overlooking the Hosack Run valley. The stream seemed so far below. 

Switch-backing up and up

The mountain began to level out and soon we found a campsite near the intersection with the Appalachian Trail and I asked Amos if he was ready for lunch treat. What a fuss he made! Another holler and wagging tail and soon the cheese, crackers, and cold water bowl was out of my pack. He took a little nap, belly full and spread himself long ways on the cool dirt while I worked a page of sketches from our climb. 

Intersection with the AT

Lunch sketches

Another couple of hikers came along and they too asked if this was the coonhound they'd heard about twenty minutes ago. Yes, yes it was. They asked for their picture with Amos and said how wonderful a sound it is to hear in the mountains. I guess I hear it so much that I forget that the coonhound's voice is like a signature sound of the Appalachians for some folks, and hearing it brings back memories of childhood hounds or hunting at night with grandpops and dads. "Hound-song in the mountains," said the hiking husband, "it's just thrilling to hear." 

On the AT

Down the AT we went, crumbly rock under our feet. Another stream, some more plopping paws and big sloppy lapping of water. Compared to our hike a few weeks ago on the Rocky Knob Trail, I can tell things have been dry up here. The streams are a lot lower and the vegetation seems crisp and thirsty. But still the green is lush and heavy, almost a solid mass. An AT thru-hiker passes us and says she's from New Mexico and has been overwhelmed with the amount of green. 

Summer stream level

Before we knew it we arrived at the Quarry Gap Shelter and find Jim watering the flowers at the bench. This is the bench where I must have had at least two dozen lunches with three different coonhounds over the years. This was the AT section from Caledonia to Pine Grove (13 miles) where Amos learned to hike - although I carried him for a lot of it! Jim turned and called to Amos "Hey buddy!" and boy-howdy did Amos let out another AROOOOO. 

Amos AROOOOing for Jim 

The Quarry Gap Shelter is regarded as the finest shelter on the AT and Jim has been "innkeeper" here for many years. He often has two seasonal caretakers who help him with every day upkeep and visiting with the hikers. I thanked him for the trail work. He and his trail crew worked until all the equipment, chainsaws, weed whippers, trimmers, all ran out of gas, he said.  Though he will never admit it, he is a legend on the AT. "Hell," he said, "Don't let that go to your head!"

Quarry Gap Shelter

Quarrymen's stairs

We headed down the AT through the quarry gap itself, a place once so heavily mined for iron ore that the mountain was open and raw. Now the forest hides all the signs of industry, "disappearing" all signs of human activity except for the trail itself. These were the ore banks for Thaddeus Stevens' iron furnace at Caledonia and while he served in Congress advocating for the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, southern troops were marching nearby into Pennsylvania to engage the Union forces at Gettysburg a few miles east of here. 

Mountain streams, cold and clear

Wooly Foxglove

Down, down the mountain we hiked until we came to a faint path through the woods that connected back up with the Locust Gap Trail and the long walk back down Quarry Gap Road. We made lots of stops at streams and Amos tested all of them. Plop plop go the paws. 

Stream plopping

It was almost two o'clock when we got back to the truck and into the campground we drove, Amos with his head out the window announcing his arrival. I set up camp pretty quickly with the truck and Amos, just as quickly had dug out a little shallow nest in the leaves and was soon snoring. Our neighbors, an older couple from Kentucky said what a beautiful sound to hear a hound. Whoa! That made three compliments for the day. "Don't let that go to your head," I said to Amos. They brought my old sleepy boy some steak leftover from the last night's grill and he gifted them (and the whole campground) with a big ARRROOOOO! 

Home on the road.

It must be hiker's midnight! (7pm)

I don't know what the future holds for my seven-year old coonhound. He's living his best life no matter. I massaged his hip and helped him into the truck where he had a nice nest of sleeping bag and cushion. The tumor seemed a little larger and I know we have to head back to the veterinarian soon, but for now, for that day, he had a wonderful hike even though I was a little worried. He spent all six miles smelling all the smells, hollering into the hills, paw-plopping in the muck, water, and mud. A mountain hound he is and I'm glad he brought so many smiles and memories to all the folks we met. I do apologize to anyone who jumped out of their skin, or was annoyed with his grand campground entrance. I'm sure Jim heard that up on the mountain, too. 

Hosack Run Trail Loop


Caledonia State Park maintain TWO campgrounds: NO PETS at Chinquapin Hill Campground and PETS WELCOME at Hosack Run Campground. 


Caledonia and Pine Grove State Parks are nestled inside the Michaux State Forest complex. It is a thirteen mile AT hike between the two parks through some beautiful Blue Ridge country, the northern reach of the famous Blue Ridge Mountain Range. 


Thaddeus Stevens Iron Works, now Caledonia State Park, was once a large industrial center with iron furnace, forges and smithies, water works, charcoal hearths and colliers. There is a lot of history preserved here even though the surrounding forest has overtaken the ore banks and charcoaling sites. 


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