Monday, June 3, 2013

Pole Steeple

Pole Steeple is the the most popular trail in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and leads to one of the best overlooks in Pennsylvania. And unlike the Pinnacle or the nearby Sunset Rocks, the trail isn't long. Or I should write the main trail isn't long; hikers have an alternative if they include a segment of the Appalachian Trail and the Pole Steeple connector to the AT. A straight up and down - and at times it seems it IS a straight up and down - to Pole Steeple is two miles round trip. Adding in the connector and AT segment, as I did the day I hiked it, means four and a half miles.

I parked at the trailhead next to Laurel Lake at noon, followed the blue blazes, and headed up. And up. The trail climbs the face of Piney Mountain, and while the trail is well-groomed and signed, its a PA trail. Rocks, rocks, rocks, with tree roots for variety. I needed to stop and catch my breath more than once.

The final quarter mile the trail splits in two. The "Steep" portion heads straight up the rock face. The "Less" portion uses a series of switchbacks to get to the top, and then takes you around the back of the rock outcropping. I chose "Less", fearing my rock climbing days are past me.

The final approach required some careful choosing of where to plant my feet. Its not just that Pole Steeple is rocky, but the rocks are pitched at an angle. However, the view was worth it. I look grim in this photo because I'm nervous about standing so close to the edge, but I was thrilled to be at the top. Laurel Lake, where I parked my car, is in the background of the photo. Beyond that is South Mountain.

I spent nearly a half-hour at the overlook, sitting on a rock, taking photographs, and enjoying the view. From  Pole Steeple you have nearly 180 degrees of view.

For the descent I took the blue-blazed connector trail, with the idea of taking the AT to the park road and then walking the mile or so back to my car from there. The connector trail was flattish, soft with pine needles, and fast underfoot. The birds were singing and I was confident. So confident I didn't notice the tree root looped out of the ground. My right foot caught on it, and I went down. As I was landing I must have had a thought to preserve my knees and my camera, because I basically belly flopped onto the trail. Somehow or other my left shoe came off and went down the trail a few feet. 

Once I realized I was horizontal I did a quick check if anything was broken. Nothing seemed to be, so I struggled to my feet. Kneeling is uncomfortable under normal circumstances, let alone on dirt and pine needles. I got up, did a quick inventory, and then went in search of my missing shoe. Fortunately a size thirteen bright orange Brooks Cascadia tends to stand out in the woods, so I quickly found it. 

A couple of hikers came along a minute later and asked if I was OK. They noticed the dirt on my shirt and shorts and blood on my right knee. I explained what happened, and fortunately they had a first aid kit in their pack. I wiped down my wounds and put Neosporin on them. I then thanked them, they went on their way, and I slowly made my way down the AT and the road back to my car. If I weren't so shaken from the fall I'd have enjoyed the AT more, as it was a pretty hike and much less steep than the Pole Steeple trail. I cancelled the rest of my hiking for the day once I reached the car. 

My pride seemed to be the biggest injury I had. But I did have soreness on the left rib cage area, scratches on my left knee, and odd abrasion marks on the back of my left ankle. The latter is a puzzle; how did I get them? My guess is that at some point something rubbed the back of my ankle - but what? The hiking pole? My other foot? The tree root? I'll never know. A week later the minor scrapes and soreness are gone. 



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A Taste For The Woods: Pole Steeple

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Pole Steeple