Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 'Thousand Steps' and other brutal climbs

"Hither to Yon" - Day 7

In the vicinity of Mapleton, PA there exists a historic piece of trail.  It was built in the 1930's by quarry workers who had to climb 600 feet up a steep mountain to begin every work day.  The steps didn't make it easy for them, they made it less hard.  Imagine starting your long day of cracking stones with this mandatory sixty-story climb.

The locals tell me there are actually 1056 steps, and they have endured well beyond the closure of the quarries to become part of the Standing Stone Trail - and a memorable part indeed.  When you get to the top you can look back down at the Juniata River and Mapleton.

My seventeen and a half miles today included two other steep and extended climbs - each 1600 feet and neither with the benefit of steps for the most part, although there were plenty of rocks.  Fortunately once I was up on the ridges there were some more great viewpoints.  I'll show just one more.

All of the viewpoints are provided by aprons of deeply jumbled white Tuscarora Sandstone that squelches vegetation growth.  It is what the quarries are there to obtain.  The best of it is a mineral mix called ganigan that is used in making fire brick for furnaces.  This Tuscarora Sandstone has been pre-fired.  It was laid down as sediments in shallow seas back in the dawn of multi-cell life - 440-415 million years ago.  Then it was buried so deeply that the earth's core furnace heated it to near the melting point and caused chemical reactions that created the ganigan.  Yet through all those eons, if you search carefully, you can find surviving evidence of ripples made by currents that flowed over the surface of the sand nearly half a billion years ago.  Stunning.

All that climbing and the long miles wore me out.  My 67 year old body can still do the long miles, but it doesn't recover as quickly, so I planned a shorter day tomorrow and then a zero day in a motel to clean up and recover for the first time on this new journey.  Tomorrow I'll try to quit early because I'll be eager to jump in the shower.

Here's the screen shot of the track of today's hike, and the proof of the brutal climbs shown by the elevation profile.

And here's the interactive GPS track with embedded photos.

Standing Stone Trail - the Thousand Steps at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Saturday, April 23, 2016

in PA the Standing Stone Trail wins. The AT loses.

Looking west from a power line clearing toward Sideling Hill and be - Yond.  It's where I want to be.

"Hither to Yon" - Days 4, 5, and 6

The Standing Stone Trail used to be called the Link Trail.  That name suggests its original purpose--a link between Pennsylvania's state-spanning Mid-State Trail and the Tuscarora Trail, which in turn connects to Pennsylvania's portion of the Appalachian Trail.  So the Link Trail turned Pennsylvania's extensive trail system into one connected web of footpath.

But the Standing Stone Trail is much more than a connector.  It is a wonderful experience all its own.  As I began to explore it I found not only lots of brutal rocky footing, but places where the rocks have been tamed with well-built flat stone 'pavers' and extensive systems of steps.  Best of all, there are loads of excellent viewpoints.

Pennsylvania's portion of the Appalachian Trail is dirty and dreary and tedious and boring by comparison.  There is very little built trail through the relentless rocks, it's hard to find water, it's too close to the urban blight (think graffiti and litter), and there are only a few good viewpoints.  If you're going to experience Pennsylvania's portion of the Appalachian Mountain chain on foot, I would strongly recommend skipping the AT entirely.

Instead, try hiking the route I'm now doing.  Approaching Pennsylvania from the south, I would get off the AT at Harpers Ferry and head west on the C&O Canal Tow Path.  You'll see the best of that trail, including the to-die-for new section through Big Slackwater.  Then hook up with the Great Eastern Trail and follow that north to New York to where it ends at the Finger Lakes Trail.

If you're a NoBo thru-hiker and want to continue into the magical White Mountains of New Hampshire and on to Katahdin you can then take the Finger Lakes Trail eastward to its end in the Catskills and connect to the AT in New York via the Long Path.  It's a longer route, but it avoids the part of the AT that most people hate and it will expose you to the best of Pennsylvania's wild trails.

Okay, getting off my soap box and back to reporting my hike experience, I started up the Standing Stone Trail on Day 4.  Here's the track.

The first thing that I came across was "Vanderbilt's Folly".  It's a railroad boondoggle - never finished because of political and financial wrangling among the wealthy tycoons and financers of the late nineteenth century.  Here's an optimistic glimpse of the construction - light at the end of a culvert tunnel under the railroad grade.  This was light that the poor people who invested in and worked on the project never saw.  It was here that W. H. Vanderbilt uttered his famous "The Public be damned".

Moving on up to the mountain ridge there were plenty of viewpoints.  The views west toward the wilder parts of the state were the best (see the headline photo up top).  This is lightly populated country.  Even on the seven mile road walk I did on Day 5, I encountered only a handful of vehicles.  Most of this day's walk featured quiet pastoral views.

Here's the Day 5 track:

On Day 6 it was back to the mountain ridges on Jacks Mountain:

Here I walked truly rugged trail - jagged rocks and uncompromising boulders.  But there were killer views to make it all worthwhile.  The rock outcrops had great names.  Here's the 'Throne Room' - a seat with 180 degree view.

And here's the nearby 'Hall of the Mountain King'.  When he gets up off his throne he can walk this ridge and survey his dominion for miles on both sides.

There's a section of new trail - a reroute for a couple miles north of Hooper's Gap where the trail is all constructed, not just a marked route through the untamed rocks.  I expect that with time the volunteer crews will be doing more of this.  Good on them!

It's needed, because other parts of the trail rely on seasonally gated game-land roads.  Pretty views and no traffic, but the gravel road bed is not great for hikers.

There were more great views from Butler Knob. At 2320 feet, it's the high point of the Standing Stone Trail, but just by a few feet compared with many other places.

And finally, also near Butler Knob, was this fine new shelter, built of local cedar logs - clean, inviting, in perfect condition.

And the best of Standing Stone Trail was yet to come.  Next up - the 'Thousand Steps.' And later, 'Hawk Watch'.  Keep tuned.


Here are the three days of interactive EveryTrail tracks with embedded, labeled photos.  Enjoy.

Standing Stone Trail, south end at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find trail maps for California and beyond

Three Springs Road Walk, Standing Stone Trail at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Standing Stone Tr., Jacks Mtn. at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Farewell to the Tuscarora Trail

Fewer rocks today, and some killer views, before I left the Tuscarora Trail where it meets the Standing Stone Trail.  Both are part of the long-distance cross-country route called the Great Eastern Trail--Alabama to New York, an alternative to the Appalachian Trail, and well worth checking out.

"Hither to Yon" - Day 3

I came to Cowans Gap State Park today.  The centerpiece of the park is their lake, with sandy beach and wonderful mountain backdrop.  The Tuscarora Trail takes you right through the center of the action.

In summer, this place is hopping.  The park's campground is huge.  Today, on a cool early spring morning, though, it was a quieter place.  A few campers had the best spots close to the lake.  A few day hikers were strolling around it.  And one long distance hiker was passing through on his way from Hither to Yon.

Earlier in the day the trail had taken me past the elaborate Hang Glider launch site beside US 30 overlooking McConnellsburg, PA.

It was quiet there, too.  Too chilly for hang gliding.  But most importantly the wind was wrong--out of the northeast.  These launch pads face west toward the town far below.

It wasn't too chilly for the Common Eastern Garter Snake, though.  Their winter hibernation is over.  I found this one on the trail, collecting the rays of the warm spring sun.

By the end of the day I left the Tuscarora Trail behind and headed for the Standing Stone Trail.  As mentioned in the caption to the opening photo above, I'm following the route of the Great Eastern Trail.  With luck I'll follow the GET all the way to its northern terminus at the Finger Lakes Trail in west central New York State.   I also hiked past the southern Terminus last fall in Alabama.  The middle part I may never do.  It seems that I'm making a habit of hiking most of a trail but not all.  My goals are different.  I'm not ticking off a list of trails to pad my hiker resume, I'm walking home--extending my Personal Continuous Footpath to all the place I've lived.  The home in my sights at the moment is State College, PA, and it's now only about ninety miles away.  Wish me luck.

Here are screen shots of the trail track for today and of the elevation profile.

And here is the EveryTrail version of the track, with embedded links to many more photos. 

Tuscarora Trail to Cowans Gap St. Pk. at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rocksylvania redux

"Hither to Yon" - Day 2

The Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania is famous for its rocky footing.  It's a favorite pastime of hikers to 'dis' the state because of its boring rocky trail with few views.  The experience of Pennsylvania's relentless rocky trail is etched deep in my AT memories, and they're not the fondest.  I had expected I'd probably never experience that again.  Then I decided to hike the Tuscarora Trail

Well, I quickly discovered that the AT has no monopoly on Pennsylvania's rocks.  Today on the Tuscarora Trail I endured many a gauntlet of relentless ankle busting footing.  The longest stretch was a mile and a half.  After having hiked flat smooth surfaces for months through southern Florida, my body wasn't ready for this, and by the end of a fourteen mile day I was spent.

But wait.  There were some great views.

It was sunny and cool, frosty in the morning, but up toward 60F in the afternoon, so despite the rocks I was happy to be high on the ridge of Tuscarora Mountain with nothing but the nesting buzzards and the leafless trees.  I passed two buzzard couples and this great trail tree, surely the shaggiest Shagbark Hickory anywhere.

Here's the GPS track and the Elevation profile for today

And here is the EveryTrail map with links to many more photos - both rocks and views.

Tuscarora Mtn, Tuscarora Trail at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond

Sunday, April 17, 2016

From Hither to Yon

"Hither to Yon" - Day 1

Okay - after further refining my plans I'm off on this new long hike.

I'm calling it the hike from Hither to Yon because it's part of a long continuous path that will truly meander across the United States and perhaps beyond, but it is such a long way that I can barely dream of finishing.  In stead, as the Limerick says, "I'll just go."  When I have to quit because of winter or health crisis or simply on a whim, then that will be my destination - my "Yon," which is short for yonder

And be-yonder lie my dreams.  The true 'end' of this hike is a place where sunsets dance with the dawn, or dance until dawn - land of the midnight sun.  Perhaps Alaska.  Perhaps the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Where is "Hither"?  Well, check out the track.  I'm including these screen-shot tracks and elevation profiles from now on in case the EveryTrail site fails me.  It seems to be owned by a company that doesn't care about it and barely maintains it.  There have been lots of outages lately.

The "Hither" is Dam 5 on the C&O Canal Towpath.  That is where I left off on my last hike in a series starting at the Appalachian Trail (AT).  This is the latest in my over-arching Personal Continuous Footpath trek aimed at connecting my footprints to all the places I've ever lived.

So the immediate destination is Penn State University, where I lived from 1966 to 1970.

Today's hike was 19.051 miles in length according to my GPS track, and it covered pieces of five named long-distance trails.
  1. The American Discovery Trail
  2. The Great Eastern Trail
  3. The C&O Canal Towpath
  4. The Western Maryland Rail Trail
  5. The Tuscarora Trail
The first two are 'umbrella trails' that piggy-back on big parts of other trails. 

Regarding the American Discovery Trail (ADT), I'm having a stormy affair with it.  In my last post I was thinking of it as the backbone of my hike westward, and was hoping to complete this entire 4000 mile plus trail.  But when I discovered that it requires ferry boat rides across the Ohio River and San Francisco Bay, its allure went way down.  I can't use ferry boats to connect a 'continuous footpath'.  It's just my rule.

My last hike, from the AT to Key West, made use of the southern end of the Great Eastern Trail (GET), and I've personally met the first person to thru-hike the GET - Joanna 'Someday' Swanson.  (Met her in the 'Roller Coaster' on the Appalachian Trail).  Best of all, the GET is a foot trail, not for bicycles like the ADT is and like the C&O as well as the WMRT.

The Tuscarora Trail is a foot trail too.  It was built as an alternative to the Appalachian Trail and connects to it at both ends (Central VA and central PA), but I'm just using about forty miles in the middle of it as a connecting trail.

Okay, enough of the logistics.  What did I see today?  Lots!  Too much to cover in this blog, so here are the highlights.  I'm still trusting EveryTrail with my full slide show as I have since I started my Appalachian Trail hike in 2012.  So go there to see the rest.

It started with a glorious calm morning above Dam 5.  Here's the turbine house and its near perfect reflection in the calm waters above the dam.

Dam 5 was built to tame the Potomac and allow the barges to leave the canal and use the river to get around a section of sheer cliffs where it would have been tough to dig a canal--easier to dam the whole river.  Here's the towpath beside the cliff.

There were cliffs on the other side in places too.  The houses perched here have unique views.

In another area called Big Pool, the canal is replaced by a regulated lake, given that name.  It's more than a mile long.

I passed a picturesque old mill called Charles Mill.  The creek runs right under and through the old stone building.

And I passed through Four Locks, which has four of the old canal locks all strung together in a tight series.  This is the uppermost one--number 50 (fiftieth one since leaving the Potomac River at sea level in Washington DC).

Then it was 'goodbye' to the C&O as I walked a mile of the WMRT.

This is a paved alternative to the C&O, preferred by most bikers.  It parallels the C&O for its entire length (22 miles).  I used it to connect to the Tuscarora Trail, although I didn't need to use it at all.  Using it probably saved me 100 yards.

Then it was on to the Tuscarora Trail.  It was mostly a road walk today, connecting to the long narrow ridge of Tuscarora Mountain, which I'll hike tomorrow.  But part of the road walk was on a peaceful dead end road in a state game land.

Soon after this I crossed the Mason-Dixon line on a short bit of closed road beyond the dead-end and began hiking across Pennsylvania.

The road walk ended at the foot of Tuscarora Mountain after crossing a quiet pastoral valley.

Plans are to hike all the way across Pennsylvania south to north on the GET and connect with the Finger Lakes Trail in western New York.

But that's "way down Yonder"  We'll see if I get there.  But 'til then I'll just go.


Here's the elevation profile for today's hike.

And here's the track in an interactive map created on EveryTrail, with links to more photos:

C&O Canal Towpath and Tuscarora Trail, Western MD at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maryland

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The next hike - plans and the first real footprints

The dangerous first steps out my door before sunrise at Topsail Island, Tuesday March 29th, and I was on my way.

In my youth I used to spend way too much time planning.  My plans were detailed, and were so extensive that there was no way I could execute them all.  I've probably done that again.
I love planning because it's a lot easier than doing.  I love planning hikes because it's armchair hiking--you cover 100 miles with the swish of a highlighter and you've barely raised a sweat.  But is it worthwhile covering a map with thousands of miles of carefully researched lines?

I think not.  At the end of it all you're still sitting there in your armchair, right where you started.  You've gone nowhere.

I had the time though, and so I indulged.  In the hiatus between my winter-spring 2016 hike from the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia to Key West and my intended but not thoroughly researched summer hike westward from the Appalachian Trail in Maryland toward Colorado, I found myself exploring dozens of trails and dozens of options.  I've learned a lot about some new trails and I've radically changed my original plans, which would have taken me on boring roads straight across the plains to Colorado.  Here's the new plan.

The master plan.  In purple are the trails I've already hiked.  The rest is all a dream.  The backbone of the planned future adventures is the American Discovery Trail - the only hiking trail that I know of that connects trails in the eastern and western US.  The pink spots encircled in yellow and green are the primary destinations of my Personal Continuous Footpath--places I've lived.  But to that I've added a grand plan to connect this personal trail to every one of the 49 continental US states and to the shores of three oceans. Wish me luck.

It takes me far beyond Colorado - to Alaska and the Arctic Ocean!  On the way I will take advantage of the existing network of trails and stay off roads as much as possible.  I'll do some loops and side trips so that I can accomplish more goals.  The planning was great fun and the hiking routes have me super-stoked.

But ... The Arctic Ocean?  Seriously?  The problem is that it will take about seven summers to do all this.  My life experience tells me I might get 10% of it done before being distracted by something else or starting over and preparing a radically different plan.


With all that planning accomplished it was time to put crocs on the ground.  I've bought an airline ticket and a bunch of maps sheets and guides, and on Tuesday, March 29th I headed out my door and onto the beach in front my Topsail Island condo.  Soon I was passing under Sea View Fishing Pier

It felt so great to be hiking with a purpose again.  The goal was to get one of my two support vehicles to the Albert Ellis Regional Airport outside Jacksonville, NC.  Rather than hire a taxi or a shuttle service I chose to hike there.  Much of the route is on the Coastal Crescent Trail--the current route of North Carolina's official State-wide trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Upon leaving the beach I crossed over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway ...

And was soon hiking through Stones Creek Game Land with its lakes ...

... its peaceful pine savannas ...

... and some rare indigenous plants.  The Venus fly traps were preparing to bloom.

These were the highlights.  The rest of the forty mile hike was on roads.  I got the vehicle parked at the airport the next day.  The next step is to drive my other vehicle up to Maryland and then fly back to get the first one.

In Maryland, I'll be hiking a piece of the Brandywine Trail first.  There's a wonderful network of trails in this part of the country, and they do a pretty decent job of connecting with one another and with the places where I've lived.  Here's the detailed map of the existing trails.

Overview of the available trails in the mid-Atlantic.  This is the raw material I used to plan this summer's hiking.

I won't be hiking them all -- not yet.  I'm reserving some of them for the far future, after I get back from the Arctic Ocean.

I'm calling this summer's hike my "Penn State or Bust" hike.  It will take me on parts of the American Discovery Trail, the C&O Canal Tow Path, Ohio's Buckeye Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail, New York's Finger Lakes Trail, Pennsylvania's Mid-State and Standing Stone Trails and finally a piece of the Tuscarora Trail.  It will culminate on November 7th with the "10K across the Bay" traverse of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge--the only day of the year when I can lay down my footprints on that bridge in order to connect with the American Discovery Trail's route across the Eastern Shore of MD and Delaware.

Spring is bustin' out here, and so is my enthusiasm.  See you on the trail.