I set off to drive the 4 hours to the trailhead around 4:30AM. I was meeting Bill, Blase, and Douglas for our attempt to completing the 42 miles of Alleghany Front Trail.
We met at the trailhead around 8:30AM, parked on 504, with a few other cars already parked in the lot. Shortly after, another car showed up and two young, college girls hopped out of the car and headed for the trail. None of us had seen two people arrive at a trailhead and practically run for the trail faster than they did. Were they going to take our camp spot?
We eagerly headed for the trail, which started downhill down a wide service like a road. We were going in a clockwise manner, which is what most people seemed to do. Chatting and catching up with one another; we missed the trail marker post, signalling the trail was veering off to the right. We had to backtrack slightly back uphill and layers quickly were stripped.
Once we were back on the trail, it became pretty rocky for the next several miles (referred to as the Northside). It was the most elevation gain and loss we would experience in such a succession. The trail was damp from last night’s rainfall, which made the rocks slick and leaves slippery.
Luckily, we were rewarded with Ralph’s Pretty Good View and Ralph’s Majestic View. I’m not sure who Ralph is… After a quick search, Ralph Seeley established the trail in 1991. Also if you may be wondering after you see the photos of the view and vista, what’s the difference between the two like we were. There is nothing, the words can be used interchangeably. We also still did not see the girls at all.
The trail took us deeper into the woods with some distant sounds of cars on the road, which can be heard occasionally. Even though it was mid-May, a lot of trees had not developed leaves nor were the spring flowers blooming. We crossed a few low traffic roads and also plodded over some wet, muddy areas from the recent rainfalls. Thankfully, my feet stayed dry. At times, the trail carried us across bogs and boards.
Eventually, we had passed the girls as they were taking a lunch break. Bill asked them where they had planned to camp to see if they were headed to the same spot as us, Wolf’s Rock. They said they were aiming to hike for 15 miles each day. I had previously mentioned to the guys and politely remained Bill that you don’t ask any female in the backcountry where they are headed for the night. It can appear creepy even if I was with the guys.
We crisscrossed paths throughout the day. We had stopped for water and heard them coming, so I encouraged Bill and Douglas to keep going and we would catch up. Blase was stilling working on filling his water up and I didn’t want to leave him alone. Once the girl’s approached, I felt it was my duty to offer them some advice woman to woman. “Hey, this is going to sound super weird, but do guys backpack a lot?”
“No, this is our first trip. We usually car camp,” one of them responded.
“Ah, well I want to offer some female to female advice. When someone asks you where you plan on camping for the night, don’t tell them. Even if they seem okay because another female is with them.” I shared
Blase chimed in and said, “Yeah, you don’t want creeps like me knowing where you are planning on camping.”
I laughed and they graciously accepted the advice. The girls were now in between our group. Blase and I shared about how each of our families was handling COVID-19 and how they were creating strains on relationships.
Now would be a good time to mention it was a pretty warm day with high humidity. The warmest day of Spring so far. We had planned to camp at Wolf Rock’s 14.5 miles. We had only really taken one break and hadn’t even taken a lunch break. It was a rat race to get to camp before the girls. At one point, our average was 3.1 miles per hour. Blase was starting to get a headache from dehydration. He stopped to grab some water and I told Bill we were planning on taking a lunch break if he and Douglas wanted to keep going. The last time we encountered Bill he told me, “If you see a nice campsite and I’m not there, keep going.” The guys pushed ahead. Blase and I found shade from some tree trunks on a grassy road and fueled up for the rest of the trip.
Blase and I came across a run and figured camp was nearing and this was to be our water source. We passed one nice campsite. No Bill. We passed another great campsite. Again, no Bill. Blase and I exchanged a sideways glance and knew this Wolf’s Rock campsite must be way nicer than this. Then the trail was headed away from the water… what the heck and went back up hill…
We were hot, sweaty, and tired, and ready for camp. After the hill plateaued, Bill and Douglas were coming back towards us. There was no camping at Wolf’s Rock despite everything Bill had read online. Douglas and Bill didn’t want to push on not knowing if there was camping ahead, so they had decided to turn around. We headed back to the shade of the pine trees and the run. Back downhill, we went it to the campsite we passed to call it for the night. It was around 3 when we got to camp. Still pretty early, but we had been hiking hard. It also didn’t help we passed a bunch of animal fur, bones, and a skull nearby…
We set up for the night. Just as we’re about ready to eat dinner, a few passing rainstorms came by. Also, the girls kept going beyond Wolf’s Rock. It rained more overnight and there were several worrisome gusts of wind. We had talked about heading out of camp at 7AM due to the need to do between 16-18 miles to camp the next day.
The next morning we headed out for the trail a little after 7:30AM. We passed Wolf Rocks that featured endless porcupine poop from their dens.
I hiked most of the morning solo and at a pretty slow going/average joe pace for me. My feet were hurting from switching to another pair of shoes and my feet were not happy with the change. The terrain varied throughout the day from open plateau’s on top of the ridge to hemlock forests to mountain laurel, and rhododendron jungles. My mind aside from thinking about my aching feet was well occupied with the variance the forest had to offer.
I eventually caught up with the guys and after mile 7, I had requested a sit down break. We filtered water and sat for about 10 minutes, which was a fight to even get an additional break beside water filtering. I don’t usually complain much but my feet were really getting to me. All I could think about was when I could sit down again. I had already developed a few blisters or hot spots that I had tended to in the morning. We also spotted some other hikers taking 4 days to do the trail instead of 3. They were hiking about 10 miles a day, which sounded nice.
We hiked up and down along the Sixmile Creek. Eventually, the trail led us away and up a viewless mountain to our lunch spot. I was relieved to elevate my feet and sit down, oh and eat. We even had a bit of cell service.
After lunch, Bill and Douglas took the trail with me following and Blase behind me. For some much-need motivation, I decided to pop in an earbud, which helped immensely. When I had caught up to the guys, they had asked me where Blase was. To be honest, I hadn’t seen him since lunch. Blase and I had decided the day before we were going to take it easy. Douglas and Bill (when they hiked together) seemed to be like the fast and furious, constantly checking their miles per hour, ploughing full speed ahead. However, the amount of pain I was hiking in, I just wanted to put one foot in front of the other until I got to camp. Douglas and I continued on. Bill decided to wait for Blase.
Douglas led the way for the most part as we passed a larger group of backpackers. Likely we enjoyed the mutual silence for most of the walk with my occasional singing mixed in. We now followed along the Moshannon Creek, which was not drinkable due to toxic water from nearby mining. When we did talk, we had some great conversations about the natural therapies the trail always seems to provide. Douglas and I are both introverts at heart but when we do chat, the conversations are always meaningful.
We had one more anticipated climb, which had appeared farther away than I had realized. There were a few climbs along the way that I kept hoping were the “one.” Once we stumbled upon the “one”, it carried us up a grassy slope that eventually plateaued for a long time. Once we passed a popping hunting camp on the top, we transitioned to walking on gravel roads.
Douglas and I were both nearly out of water. Bill and Blase were still out of sight. We knew we were ahead of the pack (aka all the other backpackers headed our way). I suggested when we got near the Black Moshannon Creek where there was to be water and camping again, Douglas and I should scout out for a spot to camp. I didn’t want the same problem to happen like yesterday. I know they wanted to push for a bigger day but I knew judging by how Douglas and I felt (not having taken a break since lunch), we didn’t want to go on.
You become so thirsty when you don’t have anything. We heard the creek but didn’t yet reach an accessible part. It was teasing us. Upon first sight and the first campsite, we filled up our water and decided we could squeeze into the space. Now all that was left to do was wait. In this instance, the first good campsite we saw, we took.
45 minutes later, I saw the guys through the mountain laurel. Thankfully, they agreed the spot would work and we began to set up camp.
When asked the next morning if I slept well, I responded with “I don’t know”. The creek was ripping through and it was very loud. I was thankful I couldn’t hear the little sounds but did not enjoy the loudness. I doctored my feet and we headed back out on the trail.
We followed another creek or stream for a bit, through patches of woods, across more plateaus, and through a pretty pine tree forest. It rained off and on. My feet ached one, two, three, maybe four blisters. I had never wanted to reach my car more than that day. My feet wanted out and carried me as fast as they could, through the rain, and towards the headlights that signalled the parking lot.
Through the grit and pain, I will most definitely be visiting the trail again. It was too beautiful not too and it wasn’t even in full bloom yet. Until we meet again, Alleghany Front Trail with different shoes…