Short Thru Hikes in Pennsylvania 

Would you be surprised to learn that Pennsylvania is chock full of great backpacking trails? Everyone knows that the Appalachian Trail travels through the Commonwealth, but I believe that there are trails that the weekend warrior may find more rewarding. Hidden within the PA State Forests and Parks are several gems that can be thruhiked in one to five days.  These are my favorites.

Loyalsock Trail

  • Length: 59.2 Miles
  • Duration: 2.5-5 Days

In my opinion, PA trails don’t get much better than the Loyalsock Trail (LT).  Located in Northeastern PA, the LT weaves through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park, roughly following the Loyalsock Creek. It begins on PA-87 near Montoursville and ends at US-220 north of Laporte. Out there, you’ll find something for everyone: waterfalls, streams, vistas, rock formations, and a road walk. The trail is well-marked by yellow plastic discs emblazoned with “LT” in red, making navigation a breeze. Water is readily available in all seasons, which means no schlepping tons of water. There are a lot of ups and downs (the elevation profile is often compared to the EKG of an arrhythmia), but there are only a handful of really tough climbs. Definitely add the LT to your list!

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

  • Length: 70 Miles
  • Duration: 3-6 Days

Looking for a more leisurely backpacking experience? Check out the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT). The LHHT is located in Southwestern PA, stretching from Ohiopyle State Park to PA-56 near Johnstown. With the exception of the initial climb to the ridge and the descent at the end, this is a relatively tame hike. This trail is its own PA State Park, which is what makes it different than any other trail in the state. There are shelter areas every 6-12 mile along the trail. These areas include tent camping sites, privies, firewood, water, and clusters of wooden shelters. You must reserve your campsites or shelters in advance, which means you have to plan out your hike and stick to it. There’s no improvising on the LHHT! I suggest booking the shelters, so you can leave your tent or tarp at home. The shelters also have built in fireplaces, which makes them great for winter trips. I strongly suggest the LHHT for beginners, but it can also provide an interesting change of pace for veteran backpackers.

West Rim Trail

  • Length: 30 Miles
  • Duration: 1-3 Days

One of PA’s better-known wonders is the Pine Creek Gorge (AKA The Grand Canyon of PA). As the name suggests, the West Rim Trail (WRT) roughly follows the western rim of the gorge. This means that you’ll get plenty of great vistas along the way! The ups and downs are minimal on the WRT. You climb up to the ridge, follow it for 25 miles, then drop down again. Water is relatively easy to find, and there are a handful of nice campsites as well. If you want some added convenience, I suggest that you park at Pine Creek Outfitters and have them shuttle you to the southern terminus. When you finish the trail, just walk back to your car at PCO. It’s only about a mile!

Black Forest Trail

  • Length: 42 Miles
  • Duration: 2-4 Days

The Black Forest Trail (BFT) has a reputation as one of the hardest trails in Pennsylvania. Also located near the Pine Creek Gorge, the BFT often decides to lose 1000-1500 feet of elevation very quickly only to regain it equally as quickly. I’ve always said that this trail is bipolar. Sections are either really hard or really easy, and there isn’t much in-between. The BFT’s proximity to the Gorge means that it has several nice vistas, and it also travels past some interesting old slate quarries. Water and campsites are both abundant, so logistics and planning are a snap. A connecting trail allows you to link the BFT with the West Rim Trail for an extended adventure!

Mission Abort: Hike at Lehigh Gap

I headed out today with plans on hiking the east side of Lehigh Gap. My route was supposed to take me up the AT, along a retired section of the AT, back onto the current AT, and then down the Winter Trail (forming a rough Figure-8). That plan wasn’t meant to be.

The intersection of the AT and the Winter Trail at the beginning of my hike.

The intersection of the AT and the Winter Trail at the beginning of my hike.

I began my hike on the AT as planned. The trail climbed through the woods for a bit before beginning an exposed rock scramble. This side of the mountain had good southern sun exposure, so the snow was minimal.

However once Pickle and I crossed over into the shade, the snow got deeper. The trail, which was mostly blazed on the rocks, disappeared beneath the drifted snow. I tried to climb up to the ridge, assuming that I’d be able to relocated the trail when I reached the ridge. After several near-miss incidents and hip-deep postholes, I decided to cut my losses and head back down to the car.

I’m not a huge fan of hiking in the snow to begin with, and the trail was simply not enjoyable today. We’ll try this hike in the spring after things thaw out.

Pickle enjoying his post-hike TurboPUP bar.

Pickle enjoying his post-hike TurboPUP bar.

Snowy hike to the Pinnacle

On Friday (1/30), My dog Pickle and I took a snowy hike on the Pinnacle and Pulpit Loop. This route uses the Appalachian Trail and a blue-blaze to form an 8.7 mile loop and goes by the two best vistas on the AT in Pennsylvania: The Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock. Check out this gallery of photos!

Gossamer Gear Jamboree

From January 16-20, I attended a gathering of Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors in Moab, Utah. Trail Ambassadors from all over the country gathered to hike and hang out for a few days, and it was a blast! Read my full write-up over on the Gossamer Gear Blog! Also, check out hashtag #GGUtahAdventures on Instagram!

Report: Susquehanna Super Hike

This past Saturday, I participated in the 6th annual Keystone Trails Association Susquehanna Super Hike and Ultra Trail Run. Participants had the option of two distances (23.4 or 29.6 miles) on a course comprised of sections of the Conestoga and Mason Dixon Trails. At the close of registration, 454 people had signed up.

I’d never done any kind of race or trail challenge event, so this was all new to me. I wasn’t in any danger of winning the thing, but I signed up mainly to test my stamina under somewhat controlled conditions. Exactly how fast could I cover 23.4 miles, if speed was my goal?

Of course, 1 week before the race, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis. I started eating Mucinex like candy just to get through my days (don’t try this at home). I was truly worried about what effect this would have on my hike. By race day, I was feeling 80-90% better. Only a minor cough and a little chest congestion remained. I got lucky.

The check in table at Super Hike

The check in table at Super Hike

388 people started the race with me that day. Hiking with so many people made me apprehensive because I have a bit of enochlophobia (fear of being in crowds). I managed to suppress that anxiety and focus on something just as troubling: the heat. If i had to guess, I’d say it was in the low 70’s with a billion percent humidity at 7am (the temperature allegedly hit 90 at some point during the day). I was sweating before I even started moving.

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Me (far right) at the starting line with some members of DC UL. (Photo Credit: Jen Adach)

Right out of the gate, I decided to run for a bit. The trail started off flat, so I figured I’d take advantage of that. Of course the “real” runners pulled well ahead of me, but I was able to separate myself from the slower part of the pack. I wasn’t all that worried about getting ahead of people, but I really wanted to get out of the crowd. I ran about 3/4 of a mile until the trail and then slowed to my hiking pace when the trail headed uphill. I battled with the crowd for the first few miles, but everyone started spreading out after that. I’d never really be alone, but I often had a 100-200 yard buffer between me and the next hiker. I was OK with that.

The first ten miles looked like they were going to be the hardest. There were no truly brutal climbs, but there were a LOT of moderate ups-and-downs. My problems started around mile 3. While hiking downhill, I noticed that my insoles were sliding and bunching up at the front of my shoes. Before long, hot spots were forming on my heels and toes. I had to make an unexpected to fix my shoes around Mile 5. This problem would recur all day, but I decided not to stop again. I could power through blister pain for one day and nurse them back to health after the race. Normally I wouldn’t have such a cavalier attitude towards foot health, but I didn’t want to waste any time.

The first checkpoint was at the Holtwood Pinnacle. I decided not to waste time refilling my hydration reservoir, which by my best estimation still contained just over a liter of water. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and a Clif bar and got back on the trail as quickly as possible.

After the checkpoint, the trail got a little easier. There were still a few climbs here and there, but not as many as before. I managed to regain a little speed. Around the 11th mile, we hopped on a road and crossed the Susquehanna River on the bridge. Shortly after that was the next checkpoint.

I lingered at the second checkpoint a bit longer than the first. The first order of business was refilling my hydration reservoir, but that was easy thanks to some young volunteers who did the work for me while I headed to the snack table. I enjoyed half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few cups of water (fortified with electrolytes from Elete). This checkpoint even had loaner trekking poles from Leki, but I had my Gossamer Gear LT4‘s and didn’t need to borrow a set.

Stopping at this checkpoint caused my muscles to start tightening, so I was stiff for the next mile or two. This was particularly painful when the trail started going back uphill. Luckily, I got warm again and loosened up before too long.

The trail meandered through the woods, along a dirt road and past the Holtwood Dam. Just before the third and final checkpoint, the race route took us up a long, grassy incline. The heat and humidity of the day had started to become oppressive, and this hill, which wouldn’t have been very challenging on a normal day, became brutal. Every single hiker slowed to a crawl and looked half-dead as they death-marched up to the checkpoint.

The checkpoint itself was very hot. I heard grumblings that it was 101 degrees in the sun there. I helped myself to water and a banana or two and then started walking once more. I heard that the next section included road walking, which I was not looking forward to. I imagined that the asphalt would be brutally hot, but it turned out that it actually gave me a bit of a reprieve. Even though we were exposed to the sun, there was a beautiful breeze blowing through the corn fields. The smooth road was hard underfoot, but the smoothness was a welcome change after hiking on rocks most of the morning.

The trail went back into the woods for the last 2 miles or so. By this point I had started hiking with 3 or 4 other people. I was nice to have someone to talk to. I was alone most of the morning, and the conversation made my brain forget how tired I was.

As the trail entered Otter Creek Campground, I knew that my hike was almost over. When I saw the finish line, I broke into a dead sprint. I wanted more than anything to finish this race strong, and I did. My final time for the 23.4-mile course was 7:30:21 and I placed 51 out of 205 finishers. There was tons of food for the participants at the finish, but I wasn’t very hungry. I only had a hot dog and an iced tea before boarding the shuttle bus and heading back to my car. Despite the heat, I had a great day on the trail, and I’m looking forward to coming back to the Super Hike next year.

On the shuttle at the end of the race.

On the shuttle at the end of the race.

Hike Prep: Susquehanna Super Hike

SuperHike_Final

The Susquehanna Super Hike and Ultra Trail Run is a challenge event hosted by the Keystone Trails Association. This is a timed event, but meant to be an individual challenge more than anything, as there are no prizes for winners. The goal of the event is simply to challenge yourself and have a good time. Participants have the choice between a  23.4-mile option and a 29.6-mile option, and they are allowed to either run or hike either course depending on their preference. In order to be considered a “finisher”, participants must complete their chosen course in less than 12 hours. The course has a few aid stations along the way, so water won’t be a worry.

When I signed up for this event several months ago, I must have been feeling lazy because I chose the 23.4-mile course. I’m glad I did. Although I’ve been completing some very ambitious gym workouts lately, I haven’t been able to hike very many training miles in the weeks leading up to the event. A 30-mile day is still very much in my wheelhouse, but I have a feeling that my time would be abysmal and that it wouldn’t be much fun. I believe the 23.4-mile route will serve well as a benchmark test of my current physical fitness and hiking ability. 

My workout regimen has kind of been a mixed bag lately. I attend a Boot Camp class at The Gym in Kutztown, PA as often as my schedule allows. They have several very good instructors who mix things up and keep the workouts challenging and interesting. We do everything from bodyweight exercises to barbell power movements to TRX training to agility work, and I am generally wiped out by the end of a session. When I can’t attend class, I often attempt to emulate those same type of workouts, but there are also days when I focus on heavier lifting, too. The gaps get filled in with 3-5 mile runs and sessions on the elliptical machine. This may sound like a disorganized and poorly planned “program”, but my fitness level has spiked dramatically since I’ve started constantly mixing things up like this. My hiking has improved by leaps and bounds.

Gear-wise, there isn’t really a ton to talk about. I’m going to carry my Gossamer Gear Quiksak. This is the lightest pack in my arsenal, and I am going to want to keep things light for the sake of speed. Instead of my typical water bottles, I am going to bring my Platypus Big Zip hydration system out of retirement. A hydration system like this will help me be extra sure that I’m staying hydrated as I hike, will fit well in my pack’s hydration sleeve, and will also be faster than trying to fiddle around with water bottles on the fly. I am going to pack a very basic first aid kit, in case I would need to treat blisters or minor cuts along the way. Finally, rounding out my kit will be my Gossamer Gear LT4 Trekking Poles

Even though snacks are provided at the aid stations, I am going to bring a few hundred calories worth of snacks with me. If I’m doing well on water as I pass a station, I may choose to hike on without grabbing a snack. This may only appear to save me a few seconds of time, but it will save me the extra energy expenditure of getting back up to speed after the stop. I hate stopping unless it’s absolutely necessary. 

My apparel will be a pair of synthetic running tights over synthetic compression shorts. Long days like this can often lead to chafing, so these articles, although unflattering, will help prevent that problem. On top will be a simple sleeveless wicking workout shirt (a Russell or Champions or some such thing). It was cheap but has actually become one of my favorite workout shirts. On my feet, a pair of thin, low wool running socks and a pair of La Sportiva Ultra Raptor trail runners. These shoes are still fairly new, but they treated me well on a few 20-mile hikes, so I have every confidence in them. Capping the whole thing off (HAHA) will be my trusty Gossamer Gear/Headsweats Visor. It keeps the sun and sweat out of my eyes and is very comfortable. What else could you ask for? 

If you are interested in participating in the Super Hike, you still have until 9PM on Sunday 8/31 to sign up. I’m confident that this will be a fun event, and I look forward to hiking with a great crowd of athletes. Wish me luck! 

Super Hike Route Part 1

Super Hike Route Part 1

Super Hike Route Part 2

Super Hike Route Part 2

 

A Very Quick Hike to Dan’s Pulpit

Wednesday morning, I came right home and hit the sack after my last night of 3rd shift. I fell asleep around 8AM and woke up around 10AM, packed a lunch, and hopped in the car. My dog Pickle and I headed for the Appalachian Trail crossing at Hawk Mountain Road near Eckville, PA. The bottom part of the trail was moderately rocky, but the climb to the ridge was relatively smooth. Trying to hike after 2 consecutive leg workouts at the gym was probably a mistake. I was pretty sore and my quads were burning as I worked my way up the hill. They trail on the ridge alternated between very rocky and very smooth, with the majority of the hiking falling somewhere in the middle. Dan’s Pulpit is a modest little vista, and the views were hazy. I still enjoyed my hike though! This hike took be about 2 hours, including a little lunch break at the vista.