Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Stepping Stone achieved - the hike to Penn State Campus

Stepping stones across a stream in the lush Rhododendron/Hemlock forest at Alan Seeger Natural Area

"Hither to Yon" - Days 10, 11, and 12

Stepping Stones are the metaphor for my 'big-picture' hiking project.  I'm hopping from rock to rock, each one being another place where I once lived, and each separated from the other by the erratic currents that make up the flow of life.  The stones aren't connected by solid ground, yet together they become part of a coherent path.

On Day Eleven I reached another stone.  After nearly fifty years of shifting currents I returned to the campus of Penn State U where I spent four undergraduate years studying Meteorology and learning to talk to an IBM mainframe computer - a room full of circuits that was stupider than a cell phone - using hand-typed punch cards.

I was a dorm rat.  Fraternities were not my style, and I wasn't interested in complicating my life with the independence of an off campus apartment.  Amazingly the two dorm buildings that I lived in--Pennypacker Hall in the then hopelessly remote new complex called East Halls, and Shunk Hall down closer to College Avenue on the SE side of campus, remain virtually unchanged in all these years.  Here are two photos offered as proof.  In January, 1969, during a heavy wet snowstorm, my friends and I stayed up all night building an interactive snow sculpture--a set of arches over the steps in front of the Pollock Commons (our cafeteria building, then called the PUB - Pollock Union Building).  The maintenance crew responsible for clearing the snow allowed the arches to remain for several days before removing them.

And here's today's view from roughly the same location as the second photo.  They've added two arches over the entrance!  Wow - did they take their remodeling inspiration from our long-ago snow arches???

Note the upgraded but still present street light fixture at right in both photos.  They've modernized the look of the place, and seriously upgraded the student's dorm experience since my day (cafeteria food then was 'you get what we serve', now it's a buffet including unlimited PSU creamery ice cream in a dozen or more flavors), but the bones are the same.

It was a quiet Sunday morning when I visited campus--good for nostalgia.  The McLanahan's book store on College Ave was open, still in the same place.  But now it's much more of a clothing and memorabilia store than a student supply store.  Three doors down the same McDonalds that I frequented as a student was still in business, now open 24 hours. Back then the Big Mac hadn't been introduced yet.  Their big new thing was the double cheeseburger.  I looked for the Hi Way Pizza place where we used to hang out, but it was gone.  The company still exists, but now their one location is far from campus.

I've visited Penn State a few other times since I was a student there.   The last time was with my daughter when she was touring campuses as a high school senior.  Other times were on business.  But this was purely a walk back in time.  I walked in from the mountains, spent an hour bathing in memories of a bygone era, and then walked back to the mountains.

Happy Valley, as they call it, looks happier from the vantage point of a mountaintop, where all the nitty-gritty of college life fades into a patchwork of green meadows.

As I approached Penn State on Day Ten I passed some of the places my friends and I hiked when we wanted to escape the campus drudgery.  Prime among those was Bear Meadows - an 800 acre bog with rare species and a microclimate that allows frost all year (or did back in the 60's).

As I retreated from Penn State I picked up the Mid-State Trail and followed it under US 322.  That was sort of the dividing line.  Once north of there I was truly back to wilderness hiking.

US 322 is busier than many interstate highways.  The trail goes under it via a little culvert--not much more than a drain with a narrow sidewalk and hand rail.  It was so tiny I had to crouch low as I walked through.  On the other side I was startled by a twitter and flurry of wings as a bird flew its nest.  There it was - a neat little nest perched right on the hand rail with five ivory yellow eggs.  Breakfast!  Just kidding.  As always I took only photos and left behind only a smile.

One last note on this segment of my hike.  It's about 'Trail Magic'.  They say "the trail will provide".  True trail magic comes in may forms, comes unbidden, and is not expected.  True magic can only come when you least expect it.

I was lost.  As I was transferring my vehicles from the south side of US 322 to the north side I could not exit on the road shown on the map.  You can't get on or off 322 in very many places, and none are close to the trail crossing point.  I found myself in the town of Milroy - a one-horse town, literally (Amish carriages).  I asked for directions at the huge truck stop beside the highway.  They didn't even have a local map.  I asked at the Dollar General across the store.  No luck.  I was about to give up when, as I was pulling out of the Dollar General parking lot, who should drive in but a DCNR forestry warden.  Voila!  I flagged him down and got all the information I needed.  I would never have found my way on my own, because the road I was looking for was gated and abandoned.  The officer even gave me a map and took my vehicle license plate and description, promising to look after it as I parked it overnight.

"The trail will provide."  In situations like this it's hard not to believe in magic.

Here are the GPS tracks screen shots for the three day hikes covered in this report.  The hike to and from Penn State was basically out and back via the same route, which is why it looks a little busy.

If I can get EveryTrail to work, I'll add interactive maps and more photos.  Stay tuned.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A rugged rocky ramble to the north end of Standing Stone Trail

"Hither to Yon" - Days 8 and 9

The Standing Stone Trail is the best long distance Trail in Pennsylvania.  It's also one of the toughest.  The last segment up to Greenwood Furnace State Park epitomizes this mix.  The ridge is one big long pile of rocks for seven miles.  Where the trail builders haven't tamed the rocks, it is slow going, picking ones footing, unable to look up for a moment.  That lasted for five miles and I had about had it.  Then there were the two miles of amazing trail where they've laid down huge flat 'pavers' across the level areas of rock and have built innumerable sturdy steps to climb the piles.  Somebody did a whole lot of work there, and it was worth the effort.

This special two miles of trail also featured the best views and even included a wooden observation platform called Hawk Watch.

It's a piece of trail I will not forget because it literally demands your undivided attention.

On the next segment south, which I covered on Day 8, the trail is much less stressful and more whimsical.  It meanders among the 'Thousand Standing Stones' of Rocky Ridge.  This is a distinctive ridge with big outcrops separated by saddles.

The best of them have views.

There are tunnels like the AT's Fat Man Squeeze and narrow wedges like the Lemon Squeezer.  The trail was routed such that the hiker was forced to play among the rocks.  If you're just trying to chalk up miles, then this could be annoying.  I wasn't in a hurry, though.  So I lingered, I played the game, and I won.

Here are the static screen shots of my route for these two days.

And here are the interactive versions with links to a bunch more photos:

Standing Stone Trail - Rocky Ridge at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Standing Stone Trail, Greenwood Furnace to Hawk Watch at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

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