“We need to get you off the AT and in the backcountry.”
Due to COVID-19, my chance to hit the backcountry became a more tangible option. The trail closures were happening every day. Even though I had my heart set on finishing another state the Appalachian Trail (AT) encountered, it was time to put that goal to the side. There was no better time than the present to go and explore some other trails that I had heard so much about.
Lately, on day hikes, my go-to question would be “What is your favorite place you have backpacked? What is your favorite local backpack?” I may have put in some serious miles last year backpacking, but I still consider myself a newb. My only experience has been on the AT. I can’t get this goal of finishing the AT via section hiking out of my head like I said that dream has been put on hold like many others. There are other trails on my radar but none of them included backcountry trails that are found in Pennsylvania. You would think after nearly hiking 180 miles of the AT in PA, one would see no reason to return to those blister and headache-causing rocks. But I don’t give in so easily…
It was the morning of April 3rd, 2020 and I set out to meet Bill and Blase (real name, not a trail name) at the ghost town of Masten to attempt the Old Loggers Path. Recently in my questioning of favorite local backpacks, the Old Loggers Path was brought up. Bill and Blase had both done the trail before. It was a 27.1-mile loop located in the Loyalsock State Forest. I was told I would get my first taste of PA backcountry, which simply meant no cell phone coverage, fewer people, more wildlife, and experiencing the non-existent ominous sounds caused by humans.
We all drove separately coming from separate households and did not encounter humans on our journey to the trailhead. Only one other car was parked at the lot on Friday morning and those backpackers were exiting the forest upon our departure for the trail. There is camping reservable right across the parking lot too.
We decided to hike the loop clockwise and would be following orange blazes, which is pretty common for Pennsylvania. Some of them are rather unique.
We quickly crossed over a bridge above Pleasant Stream pond and walked the road until upon entering the woods for a gentle climb. It had started to rain and wouldn’t let up for the next few hours. It being spring the trail was more saturated than usual and my feet quickly got wet in my trail runners. Although there were no signs of spring, the trail was slightly overgrown in places. Our guess most trails would take a hit with maintenance as people were avoiding gathering especially to tend to a trail. There was the occasional blowdown that slowed your path. Being “winter” still, we were able to catch glimpses of neighbouring mountains in the distance and waterfalls that would normally be hidden with the exception of being heard. Speaking of water, the OLP has a lot of that in the form of stream crossings some larger than others.
There are two wooden shelters that can be found, which aside from the AT in PA is not common. We approached our first one and got a small glimpse of a view. There was another view coming up but we weren’t sure we would be able to get a view with the unprecedented weather.
There were a few climbs that first day but nothing noteworthy. Prior to arriving at camp, we stumbled upon the legendary view of the OLP. A 180-degree look of almost uninhabited wilderness. “The best view in PA.” It was clear! Thanks, mother nature!
Elated from the view, we road walked a bit (part of the trail) and re-entered the woods to start our descent towards camp. We had a decision to make. Cross Peasant Stream that evening (around 4:30PM) or in the morning. Bill had mentioned there was some awesome campsites along the stream that we had planned to camp that night.
Sadly, upon approaching the stream, there was evidence of some serious storm damage. The guys said the place was unrecognizable. What you used to be pristine backcountry camping spots was now a flood zone. The dirt had been swept away and all that was left was sand. Even upon approaching Peasant Stream, it was apparent water ripped through at one point leaving down trees and caused erosion to the opposite bank. There was no right way to cross the stream and what used to be a mear ankle-deep ford was now above the knees if not deeper in some spots. We walked alongside the edge of the water like a pacing animal in a cage looking for the best spot to cross. We decided given the temperature of the water and damaged campsites, we would cross that night hopeful that the campsites on the opposite side remained intact.
Afterwards, Blase called to follow up on the damage. “The ranger at Loyalsock Forest office said that there were a couple strong nor’easters that came through since last summer… damage to camping area around Pleasant Stream caused by high winds and heavy rains… she said that it was a similar nor’easter, only worse, that destroyed roads and bridges requiring significant repair over the last few years.”
Upon finding a spot, Blase crossed first and I saw the water reach up past his knees. I was shorter than he and immediately became anxious at the thought of the water rising well past my knees. However, I had experience on my side. I had crossed many fords the previous summer and was successful. I had a flashback of a sketchy ford I had to cross in the 100-mile wilderness solo and the water easily came up mid-thigh. This wasn’t nearly as deep and I wasn’t alone. I untied my shoes, stored my shoes in my pack, traded out my socks for my crocs, and began to slowly cross the stream. (A stream sounds like nothing in this context but I promise you it was a threat) I was greeted with ice-cold water. You couldn’t just run across with a heavy pack on your back. You had to methodically choose the right footing and place holders for your trekking poles. One wrong move and you could go in easily becoming hyperthermic. Learning from Blase’s mistakes I avoided the deep section and was able to take the high route keeping the water below my knees. It was still cold and left your skin red. Bill crossed after me in bare feet and felt hyperthermic upon exiting. He dried off his feet and put on his dry socks and shoes. We still had one little outlet to cross and thankfully were able to do it with keeping dry feet.
Once we climbed up the eroded, steep bank. We were greeted by a man-made lean-to. Someone had constructed sticks and used a blue tarp as a roof with some added branches. I wish I had a photo but talk about being creepy…
This side of the stream was in no better condition for campsites. Once again, the storm had washed away the dirt and had left the sand. Not an ideal place to pitch a tent but this was where we would call home for the night.
The following day we didn’t make it out of camp until around 10:30AM. Probably the latest I have ever left camp before but with only 10 miles to go there was no real rush. We actually saw a couple with their dog find an alternative way to cross the stream but still got their shoes wet pass us as we were lounging around camp. Well, I was lounging… not everyone was packed up yet.
It appeared to be another dreary day but it beats sitting at home staring out the window with this weather. We had a gnarly climb out of the valley. It was barely a trail and pretty steep like 90-degree angle steep. It didn’t last long and we were greeted with a nice old logging road to trek on for a bit before entering the woods, spotting another stream running down into the valley as we slowly ascended towards the ridge. The only annoying thing was running into three mountain bikers literally walking their bikes due to the rocky nature of the trail and more blowdowns coming towards us. OLP is a foot traffic trail only…. To make matters worse, right as the trail cleared at a convenience to them they hopped back on their bikes and plummeted downhill (we were hiking up hill…btw all hikers going uphill have the right away) and basically had to jump out of the way not able to maintain 6ft of distance.
We had to rock hop our away across another stream and continue to climb out of the valley passing another hiker on the way. I started to feel a nagging pain in my upper left hip area. When we stopped for a delayering break, I used my trekking pole to roll out the area. Even putting a slight amount of pressure, it hurt but felt some relief afterwards.
Still climbing (we did a lot of that the first part of the day), we passed a few more hikers until reaching rattlesnake ridge. Okay, it’s not really called that but Bill had been there before with loads of rattlesnakes hanging around on the rocks, so that’s what we now refer to it as. Thankfully, it was too cold for those suckers to be enjoying the nonexistent sun on top of Sullivan Mountain, I believe.
We took a much longer than anticipated lunch break than necessary. Right as we were heading back on trail, we heard an owl hooting down in the valley. But what was so special about this owl was another owl answered this owl back. It was something none of us had experienced before.
Nothing too interesting to report the remainder of the day, we walked past the other shelter, passed a few other streams, and a few other people. My leg was starting to hurt a bit more than earlier and I was looking forward to getting to camp even more than usual. Bill and Blase had shared some interesting stories to our camp spot along the gorge called Rock Run. This is where Rock Run meets with several streams including Yellow Dog Run where the stream eroded away at the underlying solid rock, making for a number of small waterfalls and interesting rock formations.
Aside from the beauty of this place, the more interesting is the “experiences” Bill, Blase and a few other hikers have recalled from previously camping here.
Bill- In the middle of the night, it sounded like something grazed across my tent fly and was shaking my tent. I looked with my headlamp and thought someone was messing with me but saw nothing.
Another Hiker reported seeing glowing orbs around her tent.
Cindy reported something touching and grazed her own tent wall.
Disclaimer: I did not experience any of these myself nor was I present for this trip.
Most recently, Bill recalled something else touching his tent again around the time we had all went into our own tents that night. He thought we were trying to mess with him. It wasn’t me and Blase had climbed into his tent before me and I knew it wasn’t him.
So beware when camping there!
Sunday morning we wanted to get an early start for the long drive home. I’ll be honest even with stretching the night before. I was in pain. It reappeared gradually and was pretty persistent for the duration of the hike, which thankfully was only 7ish miles. It was hard to focus on anything else. What I do remember is climbing out of the gorge, listening to the sounds of the water rushing below, having some slight occasional changes in the scenery with pine trees and soft, orange pine needles to traverse over. Lots of water. Walking slower and slower. Being startled by a horse. Yes, a horse. With someone riding it of course. More stretching. A water break where Blase insisted I give up some of my weight in my pack. As stubborn as I am, I gave him my camp chair (weighing about a 1lb). Being pretty persistent, I gave him my crocs, food bag (basically trash), and another small stuff sack full of miscellaneous stuff. My bag wasn’t too heavy, to begin with, but did feel lighter. It relieved the pain for about 5 minutes and came back. With nothing else to do but walk that’s what I did.
We began to hear a strange humming sound in the forest like a big truck engine. What we found was much bigger than a truck engine. They were fracking not far from exiting the woods in a nearby clearing. Disappointment.
We continued down the trail almost to our destination. The sun started to come out and was a nice distraction to the pain. We passed a nice campsite and one final stream crossing until we began to descend towards the cars.
A few more cars were now parked alongside ours. I found a tick crawling on my leg after changing out my shoes and said see ya soon to the guys.
- Being still “winter” I was not too impressed with OLP but I know spring can be pretty transformative and would like to come back when the path is in its prime.
- Sorry Bill but I still choose the AT due to its close proximity to my house, the people, and the memories. #whiteblazechaser