Hike Prep: The Black Forest Trail

I’ll soon be hiking the Black Forest Trail. This 42-mile loop is considered to be one of the most challenging and rewarding trails in the state of Pennsylvania. Named for its dense hemlock groves, the BFT includes several steep, rocky climbs that are paid off with beautiful vistas. I plan on completing this in 2.5 days. 

Rather than carrying my usual backpacking pack, the Gossamer Gear Murmur, I’ve decided to attempt to fit all of my gear into what is essentially a day pack. As this pack is still in the prototype stage, I will not divulge any details beyond the weight, and will henceforth refer to it as “Mystery Pack” (I will reveal the mystery and provide a full review if/when this pack ever goes into full production). This pack is actually a little heavier than my Murmur but offers a few luxuries that my Murmur does not.

Another change from my recent gear lists will be my choice of trekking poles. I’ll be leaving my Black Diamond Distance Z-Poles behind and testing my brand new pair of Gossamer Gear LT4 poles. The LT4’s are over 4oz lighter (per pair) than my Z-Poles. I haven’t been using my poles as much lately, and I felt a lighter pair was in order because they were spending so much time strapped to my pack.

After several years of hiking in La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners, I just wasn’t happy with my last pair. They were relatively new going into my New Hampshire vacation and completely shredded after. I decided to try something new. I went into East Ridge Outfitters (my favorite local shop), and the manager Amberly pointed me toward La Sportiva Ultra Raptors. They felt good on a 100 yard hike around the store (the girl always knows what shoes I’ll like), so I figured I’d give them a whirl. They are a bit heavier than a lot of trail runners on the market (29.9oz for the pair), but they are almost a full ounce lighter than my Wildcats were. 

August in Pennsylvania is usually hot and sticky humid, so I’m hoping to be able to leave my puffy jacket, hammock underquilt, and most of my rain gear at home. My 40-degree Enlightened Equipment ProdigyX top quilt will be in the mix instead of my 10-degree Enlightened Equipment RevelationX quilt. Since it’s doubtful that I’ll be in the mood for hot food, I plan on going “No Cook”, which means no stove, fuel, or cook pot. These changes alone will shave over 2 pounds off my base weight. There will also be a significant reduction in pack volume, which will allow me to squeeze everything into this slightly smaller pack.

My food selections for this trip don’t exactly add up to a well-rounded diet, but they are calorie dense and will keep me fueled for my hike. The bulk of my calories will come from Power Butter (a fortified peanut butter intended for body builders). I got this for free as a promotion, so I figured I should use it for something. I packed a few tortillas to act as a Power Butter delivery system. I also packed some Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, almonds, Back to Nature Bar Harbor Blend, and Chex Mix Muddy Buddies. When I go no cook, I’m always on a lookout for fun new ways to get my caffeine fix. This time I decided to try Awake Caffeinated Chocolate. Each square contains the same caffeine as a half-cup of coffee. Like I said: Not exactly nutritious, but it will get the job done.

My complete gear list for this hike is available HERE!


Trip Report: The West Rim Trail (PA)

After our snowy, cold hike on the WRT back in March, one of the hikers requested that we attempt it again. Since I’m generally a fan of the WRT as a 2-day trip, I naturally agreed. This time around, the forecasts were pretty favorable, so we figured that we would manage to stay warmer and drier this time around. How well do you think that worked out for us?


Perfect weather on Day 1 of our WRT hike.

After a 40 minute shuttle to the southern terminus of the WRT, our hike started off pretty darn well. The weather was a bit chilly at the beginning, but the sun was shining and there were only a few wispy clouds in the sky. It was about 10AM when we hit the trail, and sunset was going to be at 4:48PM. We knew we’d have to keep moving to finish our 15.5 mile hike before dark. The southern half of the WRT is generally in the woods, and only has one or two isolated vistas, so we didn’t have many distractions to slow us down. At times, we were moving over 3MPH, but we ended up closer to a 2.5MPH average for the day. We made it into camp around 3:30PM with plenty of sunlight to spare. We set up camp, ate dinner, and got a pretty warm fire going. We heard some coyotes nearby and had some fun convincing our only female companion that they would be swarming our campsite all night. We hung all our food as a precaution. Around 6PM, we all started to half-seriously joke about hitting the sack, but we managed to stay up until almost 8. A pretty spectacular full moon lit our campsite up, and made it a little hard to fall asleep, but we all managed.

As usual, I woke up pretty early… around 5AM. I packed up my gear and sat next to the dormant fire ring; enjoying the solitude until the everyone else started to wake up around 6. A few morning showers hurried us out of camp, but luck wasn’t on our side. The 20% chance of rain quickly became 100%, and we ended up walking in a cold, moderate rainfall and fog for most of the day. With the exception of the weather, our 16-mile day went pretty well. We all wished that we had hiked in the opposite direction, so that we would have seen the WRT’s trademark vistas in better weather conditions the previous day. We were back at the cars by 2PM, changed into dry clothes, and got on our way home.

Next time, we might try this as a 1-day, 30-mile traverse.