Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking’s 3-day walk on the Allegheny Front Trail couldn’t have gone any better. The terrain was mostly gentle, the weather was nice, and the company was good. I couldn’t have asked for much more. That being said, here’s what happened! This was Seth’s first backpacking trip, and, despite some knee pain, he did very well.
Dan, Seth, and I (also Dan) met near the beach at Black Moshannon State Park on Saturday morning, and we decided to start the AFT loop at the western trailhead, at the intersection of PA-504 and Six Mile Run Road. Upon arrival at the parking area, we realized that it was parked completely full by trout fishermen. We decided to drive back down 504 to the eastern trailhead, which had plenty of empty spots.
From the parking lot, we crossed 504 and headed south on the AFT. The trail starts out as a mild, rocky descent, and we chatted quite a bit. After descending a few hundred feet, we had a collective epiphany: We haven’t seen any blazes in a while. After consulting the map and a trail guide, we determined that we had missed a turn pretty early on. We retraced our steps and had a palm-to-forehead moment, when we saw that the turn was clearly marked with a sign AND a freshly painted double blaze.
As we got back on course, we made a short climb up to the Allegheny Front itself, which provided a continuous rolling vista through the leafless trees and a few named vistas. We stopped for some pictures and a quick snack at “Ralph’s Pretty Good View”, before continuing on our way. After moving along the Front until around Mile 3.5, we began a gentle descent, where we crossed Underwood Road.
We forged ahead on rolling terrain until Mile 5 or so, where things leveled out substantially. We crossed Smay’s Run on a footbridge and entered a boggy, wet section of trail that lead us back into Black Moshannon State Park. In the park, the trail was VERY easy. Wooden catwalks and sections of logs bridged most of the marshy areas as we passed the southern tip of a lake, formed by a dam on the Black Moshannon Creek. Around Mile 10, the AFT leaves the state park and reenters Moshannon State Forest. Here, we will find more boardwalks over chronically wet portions of trail. Too bad there weren’t 20 more miles of boardwalk on the trail… my feet would have stayed dry.
Around Mile 14, we reached our first potential campsite. We sat down in a hemlock grove along a stream and weighed our options. Eventually, the decision was made to hike another mile and a half before settling in for the night. Along the way was Wolf Rocks, which appears to be an active nesting area for porcupines. There were many holes and large piles of droppings all along this outcropping (including in the trail). A short time later, while climbing over a blown-down tree trunk, my trek pole got stuck in a hole and became extremely bent. In a moment of “manly” frustration, I attempted to straighten it across my knee. Of course, It snapped like a toothpick.
After a brief misdirection, we found our way to a small campsite among hemlock (mile 15.4). Seth and I crammed into the uneven site along the banks of Six Mile Run, while Dan hung his hammock about 100 feet downstream. Once our basic camp chores were done, we sat around the fire pit and ate some dinner. We then started a fire, attempted to dry our socks and shoes, chatted a bit, and hit the sack. It got down to 29degrees overnight, but everyone managed to stay warm. I was happy that my 40 degree quilt and uninsulated pad were enough to keep me comfy for most of the night!
We started Day 2 by following the trail as it meandered back and forth down the valley along Six Mile Run. We made great time, completing the first 6 miles in about 2 hours. At mile 21-ish, we reached the intersection of Six Mile Run Road and PA-504 (our planned starting point). We hopped the guard rail and continued down the trail, which runs parallel to Six Mile Run for 3 miles or so. We refilled our water bottles as the AFT made its final turn away from the run. We started a brief, steep, and rocky climb, but about halfway up I noticed some strange movement at the top. It finally dawned on me that this was a fisherman (hip waders around his knees) getting busy with his best gal. I loudly and obviously cleared my throat, which was followed by a flurry of movement as the couple redressed and started walking up the trail. I passed them with a polite “excuse me” and continued on my way. The other Dan, who was at the end of our group told me that he almost got a show as well, when he came upon them a few minutes later.
After a brief walk on Munson Road, the AFT made a steep descent into a hollow before beginning a steep climb back up the other side and sharply descending again (we affectionately called this the “Little Bump”). After a few smaller ups and downs, we reached the banks of the Red Moshannon Creek, so named because of it’s rusty orange-colored water. In the distance, we could see and hear the busy I-80 viaduct as it bridged the valley. Around Mile 29, we reached the lowest point on the entire AFT, which meant there was only one direction to go: UP!
We had been secretly dreading this climb all day, but it wasn’t too bad at all. It was steep at the beginning, but quickly turned into a gentle climb up a series of sunny, grassy lanes. As we reached the top, we passed a beautiful hunting camp and smelled the wood smoke that bellowed from its chimney (Mile 30.5). The AFT followed the grassy lane for a bit, before plunging back down into the woods. We passed the intersection with the Shingle Mill Trail and continued another half-mile to our campsite along the Black Moshannon Creek at mile 31.7. Again, we hung around the fire for a while after dinner and then went to bed. Luckily the temps didn’t dip nearly as low that night.
On Monday morning, we arose and packed up with one mission in mind: Let’s finish this thing! We had almost exactly 10 miles to go, with only one moderate climb ahead of us. As I blazed out ahead of the group, I managed to take a half-mile detour because I didn’t pay close enough attention to the blazes again. I eventually found my way and caught up to Dan and Seth. At our halfway point for the day, we crossed Tram Road, where a sign told us we had 4.7 miles to go. For the next mile or so, we traveled through an area where lots of trees had recently been removed, leaving the AFT open to the bright sunshine before it reentered the woods near the intersection with the Rock Run Trail System. Before we knew it, we were back at our cars! I don’t know about the others, but I felt like I finished the AFT pretty strong. According to the trail guide we used, our final mileage breakdown was 15.2/16.5/10, but we did notice a few small discrepancies with the map which means these numbers may not be 100% accurate.
A few thoughts:
1. The trail markings on the AFT were terrible to say the least. I counted 4 different color blazes (yellow, red, orange and blue) which seemed to change at random. There were several instances where different colored blazes appeared within inches of each other. They seem to be working towards making everything yellow, but there are still plenty of areas where faded red and orange blazes dominate. The blue blazes only appear in the area of the Rock Run Trails, but that actually makes sense because the RRT and AFT actually share a path for a while. Despite the haphazard blazing, the trail wasn’t usually too hard to follow (although I still managed to get turned around a few times).
2. There are a lot of sections of this trail that are single-track with pricker bushes on either side. Luckily for us, most of the plant life hadn’t started growing in the recent spring weather. Later in the season these sections could become a sharp, jumbled mess as these plants start to grow. (I saw it firsthand 2 years ago, when I hiked this trail in June)
3. I was VERY happy with the gear I used on this trip. My sleep system worked pretty well, despite being pushed 10 degrees past its rating. My Caldera Cone Ti-Tri continues to impress me, as I only used about half the fuel I rationed for this trip. I’m finally getting the hang of setting up my ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tarp, and I’m starting to like it more and more. Last, but not least, my Gossamer Gear Murmur pack worked great. I finally found a combination of gear, which allowed me to use this pack within its intended load rating, and it was a whole new world. The Murmur is definitely going to stay in my starting line-up.
All in all, the AFT is definitely worth the trip. At 41-ish miles, it is doable in two, three, or four days. I think I might try a 2-day plan next time. I hope you all get a chance to hike this relatively easy, yet scenic trail.