The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) is one of Pennsylvania’s many backpacking trails. For 42 miles, it wanders through the Moshannon State Forest while circumnavigating the Black Moshannon State Park. The AFT follows diverse, but mostly gentle, terrain as it follows streams, plunges into hollows, sneaks through red pine plantations, and boardwalks through swamps. I had done this trail twice previously as a 3-day trip, but this time I’d attempt to do it in two.
As usual, my trusty dog Pickle came along for the hike. We met Aaron (AKA “The Ox”), whom I hadn’t hiked with since our Presidential Traverse in June, at the eastern trailhead on Route 504 just after 9AM. I’d always hiked the AFT clockwise from here, so Aaron agreed to indulge me and hike counter-clockwise this time.
It was 9:30 when I finally had my gear out of the car, and we stepped onto the trail. We ambled along discussing everything from our favorite craft brews to my utter disdain for DIY home improvement projects. The gentle terrain lent itself quite well to conversation. We took a lunch break just afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had already covered almost 10 miles of trail.
Soon after lunch, we made a short, but steep climb up to a Forest road, passing a trail register about three-quarters of the way up. After passing a hunting camp and a DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) job site, we had our first wildlife sighting of the day: a fat porcupine lumbering down the trail. The Ox held Pickle so I could make sure it was safe to bring the dog through. With Pickle on his leash, we made our way around Porky, who had retreated up a tree. I kept the dog leashed for a while afterwards, just to be safe.
Upon reaching the end of the grassy road (the highest point on the AFT), we started descending directly to the trail’s low point on the shores of the Moshannon Creek (AKA the “Red Mo”). The Red Mo’s water has a distinctive rust color, which comes from the acid runoff of an old coal mining incident. Every rock touched by the creek is now stained orange. This water is, of course, unsuitable for drinking.
After following the Red Mo for a few miles, we climbed up over a steep spit of land and then descended to one of the Red Mo’s tributaries: Six Mile Run.
Six Mile Run is a nice little trout stream, with several nice campsites along the way. The Ox and I decided to press on a bit further and cross Rt. 504 before camping along the run. This would get us exactly to the halfway point of our hike. About a mile after the road crossing, we found our spot and settled in.
I was toasty warm in my hammock, and slept far better than normal. When I woke up and poked my eyes out from under my quilt, I was shocked to see that it was already bright and sunny. It was 7:30 and much later than I planned being up. I rushed through breakfast and packed up in a hurry.
The first few morning miles went a little slow. We lingered in a red pine plantation (planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps after the area had been clear cut by loggers) to take care of our morning “business” because our camp had been a bit too close to water. The trees in this region were replanted in perfectly straight rows, giving it a very unnatural feel.
After wrapping up our business, the miles went quickly for me. I felt good, so I started cruising along at over 3mph, stopping once an hour to let The Ox catch up. He was never too far behind.
As we entered Black Moshannon State Park, the trail became very swampy. We had almost no choice but to suck it up and power through the wet muddy mess. Once our feet were good and wet, we reached a long stretch of boardwalk, which traversed the swampiest sections of trail. After 3.5 miles, we left the park as unceremoniously as we had entered it.
Before too long, we were crossing Underwood Road. With less than 4 miles to go in our hike, we were FINALLY making the gentle climb up to the Allegheny Front, an east-facing escarpment in the Allegheny Mountains that forms the border between the Piedmont and Ridge-and-Valley regions. The AFT, which had previously been smooth and pleasant, suddenly became rocky and angry.
Sliding around on the loose rocks was no fun, and this area also had the only challenging climbs of the whole trail. The combination of the two factors slowed our pace. On top of that, my feet started sprouting blisters like it was going out if style. The Ox took off ahead of me for the first time in 2 days. The AFT had a few small vistas in this area, but not enough to make up for the pain in my feet.
We eventually emerged at our cars. In standard fashion, I stripped naked by the side of the road and changed into a clean set of “driving clothes”. The Ox and I shook hands and parted ways.