Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sullivan Run, State Game Lands 13, April 2014

This blog is a diary. But I don't write it for myself. This is a story of how you, my readers, pushed me to do what my heart told me I should try.

State Game Lands 13 lies a dozen miles west of Ricketts Glen State Park. A State Game Lands tract in Pennsylvania is owned by the Commonwealth and open for hunting and fishing in season. With a few exceptions there are no blazed or maintained trails, no parking aside from roadside pulloffs, no visitor center, no park rangers and no maintained roads.

Which is why despite SGL 13 having nearly as many waterfalls as Ricketts Glen, there are no crowds. The only people who hike to the waterfalls are local residents and people who might have read about the falls on the Internet, or in Jeff Mitchell's book Hiking The Endless Mountains. 

Its Mitchell who coined the phrase "Waterfall wonderland" to describe the seventeen cascades on Heberly, Sullivan, Pigeon, and Orr Runs. Mitchell's book also details the eight mile hike to see all these falls. However, don't expect a walk in the park. There are no trails, only an old forest road or two and a lot of bushwacking. And to see all the falls you have to be prepared to scramble up and down hills and hike IN the stream and climb up the cliffs alongside the falls. Mitchell advises allow eight hours for the eight mile loop, never hike it in icy conditions, and never hike it alone.

So naturally, having read all this, I wanted to do the hike. Or at least part of it. Fortunately Raymond, the manager of the Pennsylvania Waterfalls Facebook group and the owner of the Pennsylvania Waterfalls website, offered to meet and guide me on the Sullivan Run leg of the hike. We set aside the last Sunday in April, and I arrived at the meeting place with hiking poles and hip waders. Ray drove us to a gravel lot in the SGL and we headed towards our first waterfall, Sullivan Falls. It was an impressive sight, and I was glad I didn't have to hike up it.

From Sullivan we followed an old forest trail, crossing a stream and then the top of Pigeon Falls. The water flow was high with runoff, but we had no trouble crossing. Even from the top Pigeon Run, and the falls, were beautiful. I could hardly imagine what they looked like from the glen below.

My problem began with the bushwack down the hill. As readers know I have from time to time trouble with descending steep slopes, and this was one time. I went down a few feet and stood there. Ray had hiked halfway down and he stared at me. Finally he said "We can turn back if you want. Its' OK."

I was afraid. I was nervous. But I didn't want to turn back. I wanted to see the falls. And there was another reason. "Ray, I write a blog about going out and doing things. If I don't at least try, I'm a liar and a fraud." A man takes risks, I told myself. And a big risk was in front of me. I told myself when I lost 160 pounds I wasn't going to live a boring life. Well, time to follow through.

But how to get down the hill? I looked at the ground, the usual Pennsylvania scree and grass, and remembered my Ravenshorn hike. "Ray, don't laugh, but I'm going to do a controlled slide down the hill." I sat down and scooted, using my legs to maneuver away from big rocks and trees. By the time I reached a point I could stand and walk down I'd blazed what I called a "big ass trail" and decided Cabella's is now my official hiking outfitter - those pants can survive anything.

Once in the glen, it was a matter of walking alongside Sullivan Run, walking IN Sullivan Run, and climbing on the cliffs. I was very slow and Ray was very fast, but we managed OK. I think he expected I was a better, stronger hiker when he offered to meet me, but we both learned fast - he that I'm slow but determined, me that I can do more than I imagine. And that includes climbing a waterfall. Or in this case, two.

Our hike continued to one of the few named cascades on Sullivan, Atticus Falls. Ray scampered up the side of the falls, and gave me advice from above on how to get up. This time I didn't succeed. It wasn't the will or the knees failing, it was the lack of flexibility in my hips that did me in. I couldn't bring my leg up that high to reach the shelf I needed to. As a result I stood half in, half out of the water flow. Finally I said "I can't", and carefully climbed back down the falls face. I wasn't upset, as I had given my all. My all wasn't enough, at least this time. 
Ray bushwacked up the side of the hill, followed by me very slowly. Going up doesn't activate my fear of heights, but the ground was soft and uneven, and I didn't want to fall. Once at the top we stopped, had lunch, and I amused Ray by pouring what seemed gallons of water from my waders. Once we ate and I struggled to get my boots back on we hiked back to the car. 

Will I ever do the complete loop in the Waterfall Wonderland? I don't know. I'd like to.  I was tested this hike. I'm not sure I passed or not. But the important thing is that I took the test. Thanks to Ray for guiding me, and for you, the readers of A Taste For The Woods, for helping to keep me a formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors. 

Labels: ,

Lake Jean, Ricketts Glen State Park, April 2014

After my hike on the Highland Trail but before setting up camp I visited Lake Jean and spent a few minutes along its shores. There is a short trail from the main camp road to the boat launch area, and I walked it and along the camp road looking at the lake and the sun setting in the mountains behind it. Had I known there was a trail from the camping area to the lake, I might have started from there instead of driving to the dam. I will have to hike that trail next time.

The weekend of my visit was following the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare, and the Bard was on my mind. Watching the waves on the lake and thinking about my life I couldn't help but recall the opening lines of Sonnet 60:

"Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end; 
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend. "

I wondered, have I used my minutes well, as I watched the waves make towards the shores of Lake Jean. Pondering that question I left the lake, set up camp, and went to bed. 


Highland Trail, Rickett's Glen State Park, April 2014

After I had trouble hiking the Falls Trail, I took on the Highland Trail at Ricketts Glen. A friend had called the park "Pennsylvania's premier hiking experience" and I soon found out the truth of that. Even without the waterfalls Ricketts Glen would be a wonderful park. And the Highland Trail was a delight. Easy to hike for someone tired from a four hour drive, and scenic enough not to bore someone tired from a four hour drive.

Highlights of the Highland Trail included a pair of stone 'ledges', basically cliffs on the trail. Normally they wouldn't provide much of a view but the trees were not fully leafed and I had some lovely sights of the horizon. And at the trail passes through the Midpoint Crevasse, a large boulder formation. And the whole of the hike I was surrounded by the sight, sound, and smell of an old-growth forest. (Due to the difficulty of lumbering in the area these trees were never cut.) The surface itself is dirt and rock founded flat by decades of boots, and very easy to hike. I wound up hiking four miles on the Highland Trail and another connection trail from the distant parking lot, and my comparative failure on the Falls Trail was forgotten.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Falls Trail, Ricketts Glen State Park, April 2014

This hike was a failure or a success, depending on what you are looking for. I'm still not sure which it is.

The last weekend in April I spent in Pennsylvania's waterfall country - the northeastern part of the state. Due to quirks of geology this region has waterfalls cascading all over. And the crown jewel is Ricketts Glen State Park.

The park is named for Colonel Ricketts, hero of Gettysburg and lumber baron. Wikipedia has an astonishingly detailed account of the history and geology of the park, and I have nothing to add. I'll just state that hiking alongside 22 waterfalls isn't something to be missed. And I tried not to miss it.

My trip north was delayed, as once again I had to work late the night before. I arrived at the park about five PM and set out to hike the abbreviated version of the Falls Trail. The complete Falls Trail is a balloon or lollipop hike, starting at Adams Falls on Route 118 and heading north to Waters Meet, at which point you hike up either Kitchen or Fishing Creek. When you reach the Highland Trail you head to the other creek and hike back down to Waters Meet and return to your car. This is a hike of over seven miles, but you can cut four miles off by starting on the Highland Trail and hiking along both creeks, but skipping the trip down to Rt 118. You miss a couple of waterfalls, but you see the bulk of them.

In fact what happened is I missed the bulk of them. That afternoon I tried to hike down the Ganoga Glen side of the trail and I had my fear of heights kick in at the top of the steps down 33 foot Mohawk Falls. Knowing that navigating century old slate steps would be what I'd face the entire hike, I turned around.

The following afternoon I tried again. I was in a good mood, having not only hiked alongside waterfalls that morning at State Game Lands 13, but up their faces as well. This time I started from Adams Falls and headed north. determined to get as far as I could. The trail along Kitchen Creek is level as far as the first waterfall, sixteen foot Murray Reynolds, but the trail gets rougher as you approach the second, 36 foot Sheldon Reynolds. Once again the steps deterred me, this time due not only to a fear of heights but joint swelling. Climbing up waterfalls is hard work, and I'd worked hard that morning. My body was telling me I'd had enough.

So, was the Falls Trail a bust for me? Some might call it a failure, but I can't. I saw four marvelous waterfalls - Adams, Mohawk, and the two Reynolds - and had a great hike along Kitchen Creek. As for those stairs, I feel confident I can do the entire seven mile loop if I start fresh and rested, and take the usual care I do when hiking. Ricketts Glen is a marvelous place to hike, and I will be back to do the Falls Trail.

Labels: ,

Teahorse Hostel, Harpers Ferry, April 2014

When I spend the night in a building instead of a tent or my car, I prefer to stay in a hostel. Yes, cost is a factor in my decision, but a hostel stay is an opportunity to meet fellow travelers and outdoor folks and learn from them. Also there's a historical aspect to hostel staying, as the community atmosphere is a throwback to an earlier era of travel with shared accommodations and meals. And camping prices keep going up and the wilderness aspect is disappearing.

During my Harpers Ferry stay Easter Weekend I spent the night at the Teahorse Hostel. When I first saw the Teahorse in 2013 my reaction was "what an odd name for a Japanese takeout place." And its an unusual name for a hostel, but once I learned it was named for the "Teahorse Road" in China, I understood. The owner is applying her love of history and linking the Teahorse Road to the C & O Canal Towpath and Appalachian Trail.

We had a full house Easter weekend, with section hikers on the AT, an AT volunteer, some cyclists riding the C & O, one family renting an entire room, and one formerly sedentary man rediscovering the wonders of Harpers Ferry. Bunk beds were comfortable, the area was quiet, company was good and the waffle breakfast was great. I'm looking forward to return trips to Harpers Ferry to explore the area, and if I don't camp the Teahorse will be a great alternative.

For more information on the Teahorse visit:


Monday, May 5, 2014

Maryland Heights, Harpers Ferry, April 2014

Maryland Heights was a trail I almost didn't do. And its an example of why listening to people requires exercising discrimination.

I'd asked online about hiking to Maryland Heights, and was told it was difficult. No one was trying to discourage me. But I was discouraged at first, as I'm a novice hiker and I trust the judgment of my hiking betters. Easter Sunday I work up with a sore back and decided I was going to stick to flat, easy walks for the day.

But as the sun rose in the sky and my back muscles warmed I walked easier. I had no trouble at Bolivar Heights, and as I stood there and looked at Maryland Heights in the distance I thought "what if?" I could always attempt it and turn back if it were beyond my abilities.

Also, I'd since read about how the trail came to be formed. Maryland Heights was the location of a naval battery during the Civil War. There was only one way to get the canon up there, and that was to haul it on a road. And hauling meant horses. And horses aren't known for hiking up rocky slopes. So there had to be a trail like the carriage roads I'd hiked in New York State. A drive by of the trailhead confirmed my suspicions. "I can do this" I said to myself.

Scott Brown, in his recent book on hikes in Maryland, suggests parking at the small lots near the trailhead on Harpers Ferry Road, but there's a much easier alternative - park at the national park visitor's center and take the shuttle bus to Lower Town, and walk across the pedestrian bridge and along the C & O Canal Towpath. It adds about a half mile and a parking fee to the hike, but the walk is easy and pleasant. Soon enough you reach a wooden bridge over the canal ruins, cross it and Harpers Ferry Road, and you start up the Maryland Heights Trail.

And up. And up. The comments about the climbing were correct. I was puffing like the pack horses 150 years ago, except I wasn't dragging a canon up the hill. Still, I paced myself, and caught my breath when I needed to.

That is, I caught my breath when the scenery didn't take it away. The elevated view of the Potomac vied with the hillside and stream views as I climbed. Meanwhile the trail was flat and smooth, not as rocky as a Pennsylvania hiking trail. Yes, it was a challenge, but not as much of one as I feared.

The trail continues to the site of the Naval Battery, where the canon were trained on Harpers Ferry and the surrounding hillsides. I'd passed the spur trail to the ruins of the fort as it would increase the difficulty of the hike and more importantly the time - one disadvantage to parking at the national park visitor center is that the last shuttle bus from Lower Town is 5:45 PM, and I started my hike mid-afternoon. From the Naval Battery site the trail climbs further to the cliffs overlooking Harpers Ferry, and I likewise left the cliffs for another day.

Scott Brown in his book barely mentions the Naval Battery view, but I found it worth the climb, and it made a good place to stop for a few minutes before heading back down. I caught my breath; I'd caught my courage at the start of the hike. I headed back down the road, along the canal towpath, across the bridge and to a shuttle bus, all while planning on the full six mile hike to the cliffs and fort for my next visit. The Maryland Heights trail is tough according to some hikers. But I'm tougher.


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-05-04

This page has moved to a new address.

A Taste For The Woods