May 23-25, 2020
Thanks to COVID-19, my Pennsylvania backpacking list has slowly been dwindling down. With the Appalachian Trail “closed,” it only seemed fitting that I broadened my horizon and explore some other trails somewhat in my own backyard. I reached out to another friend and asked if she would join me. Lukcily, she had the West Rim Trail on her list too and had the map to go along with it. She planned the trip and we met early at the Northern Terminus at 8:30AM.
We then proceeded to drive the 40 minutes to the Southern Terminus. Our plan was to hike 12-13 miles Saturday, 12-13 miles the second day, and have 4.5-6 miles to the car.
Leaving Rattlesnake Rock, we started to climb. We passed a big group camped underneath the pine trees, close to the lot. Not a bad spot to camp the night before if you have a long drive. The trail followed along aside a stream as it climbed for a steady 2ish miles. It didn’t seem that bad especially when Elena and I were so busy chatting and catching up.
As the trail started to plateau, the forest changed to pines and some open meadows. It made for very easy walking. We passed an interesting old, locked building that said Dynamite on the side. We crossed a road and re-entered the forest walking at a nice pace but still making great time. We didn’t want to overdo it and just enjoy it. Shortly, after we got our first glimpse of Pine Creek.
The weather had been spitting rain for a little bit as we continued to hike on. Not alotting to require putting on any rain gear. The trail took us across several streams running down from the ravines. We passed a large group on their way out and several others who were spending one more night. We headed away from the ravines and walked across the forest as the humidity increased and blue skies approached.
There were some sections ladden with blow downs and other sections had been recently cleared. The trail was well marked and water was plentiful. We didn’t get another view until around 3pm.
We ran into a large group that informed us that there wouldn’t be water until we got to the road. Our first camp spot was near the road but we filled up anyway. It was pretty hot and water seemed to be going quick. We climbed out of the ravine and trekked to option 1 for camp. It didn’t seem like much of an established spot, so we decided to keep going about a mile away. The trail brought us down a paved road for a bit and eventually re-entered the woods. We were eager to spot our camp as we walked along. This section was particialur muddy and wet compared to other parts of the trail. We arrived at what we thought was the marked spot on the map for our option 2 of camping. The water source was a trickle and the campspot had knee high grass. I was not comfortable camping in that high of grass where many ticks probaly recided.
A few other hikers were just ahead of us. We were afraid they were going to take the next camp spot. We were going to have to dry camp. Dry camping is when there is no water source at the campsite. We came out of the woods to a parking lot that had an outhouse, and water pump. We used the water pump to max out on water. I could only carry about 2.6 liters. We debated making dinner there because there was a picnic table and we wouldn’t need much water when we got to camp. We decided to fill up, which took a while with the pump, and head to the campsite to make sure we got a spot. The three other woman ahead of us were headed that way. With heavy packs we walked up the road and entered to the woods to see the ladies tents in sight and another view.
There was a ton of camping. I ran to the other viewpoint but a tent was already there, so we made up camp socially distanced from the ladies. It turns out they were section hikers of the AT too! It felt like I was right at home.
We had hiked 14.5 miles and it was around 5:30PM when we arrived to camp. Not bad. A little bit later, a large group rolled in 6-7 college kids with their dog. Then after them came another group of hikers that kept heading down the trail. Another two showed up and camped down the hill a bit. It was a nice large camp spot. Elena felt uneasy with the amount of people. I was happy to have more people and felt safer. I was also so giddy with our sweet camp spot and the anticipation of seeing a sunrise in the morning. =
Right as we were cooking dinner some dark clouds rolled in. It only drizzled a bit and moved away quick. Later, the ladies had saw a baby porcupine, which we looked for and couldn’t find.
I headed for bed to read my book and thought I heard something moving around but blamed it on Elena making noise.
At some point, the whole camp was woken by coyotes. Like not running through our camp but somewhere close by. It sounded like so many. My heart was pounding. I lay frozen listening to their barking and didn’t even check to see what time it was. The kid’s dog huffed once and didn’t make any other sounds. I knew they weren’t that close if they dog settled down but still it was unnerving. Then all of sudden it was dead silent. There was a field with a house near the outhouse and water pump. I figured they would be in the field hunting. Also I later found out they don’t travel in packs. It could have been a family with pups but usually there sounds make it appear there is many more than there actually are.
I woke up to catch the sunrise and could see nothing happening outside my tent. I went back to bed. Elena had said all the kids were out of their tents watching but no one saw anything. We saw a sunset… so it would make sense we wouldn’t see a sunrise too.
I started to pack up around 6 something. Everyone was talking about the coyotes. Elena said she had heard something climbing in the trees and was worried about our food. She climbed out and looked but didn’t see anything. We headed for the trail around 7:30 ahead of everyone else, who would be heading the same way.
Saturday varied in scenery. There was two possible camp spots again. The ladies were aiming for the one at mile 6. If we felt good, we planned to head to 4.5. We got several nice views early on with people camped at each one. Two friendly guys had a radio playing as we walked by and offered us their view and entertainment. Honestly, I thought the one was being a little “too” friendly but Elena didn’t think so. They shared they had left their camp soap out and were visited by a porcupine last night chewing on it. They planned on camping at the same spot as us. I hope it was big enough. Porcupines like citrus scented camp soap… you’ve been warned.
We passed so many people… I didn’t know where they were all coming from. We had some nice flat sections of trail, grassy sections, tree covered sections, some leaf covered, and a little bit of road walking. There was several climbs like 3-4 that I can remember much more elevation gain and loss compared to the first day. Elena and I agreed day 2 was the hardest even though we were crushing the miles without even trying.
We arrived at the camp spot at mile 6 and it looked pretty small. It was pretty early in the day hot, but early so we kept going. We made one last climb and walked on old fire road. The fire road lead us past a gate and down a driveway of a nearby house. We knew mile 4.5 camp spot couldn’t be too far away. Elena was very anxious and afraid the two marked camp spots on the map would be taken. It there wasn’t any room, we would have to dry camp again.
Camp spot 1 had space for maybe one tent. The other one would be on a slant. The campfire space took up a majority of the camp site. It would be perfect for hammocks but we had two tents… There were other people camped at the other site. I scouted to see if there was anything further down the trail but couldn’t find anything. The young guys were cool if we set up near them but they had really spread themselves out and taken up all the flat spots.
We ended up squeezing on a grassy patch close by. It was on a slant but it was better than nothing. Later, Elena found a hidden third campsite that wasn’t much better than the first one. We had gotten to camp before 2 and had plenty of time to wash up at the stream and relax. The 11 miles went quick but we were both relieved to relax for the rest of the day.
The friendly guys from before showed up a few hours later and took camp spot one because they had hammocks. A few other guys showed up and took the hidden spot. I was lounging in my tent, reading my Kindle and heard people. It was a few of the kids from the group. They sat down to wait for the rest of their group. It was clear they had planned to camp here too but there wasn’t really any other flat spots. Their friends caught up and they chatted about what to do. They decided to death march the next 3 miles (it was actually 4.5) to the end, shuttle to the other end and camp in the woods like they did the morning we passed them. There was more camping about a mile away but it was dry camping with a view.
Elena talked to the guys. They actually had caught up to us earlier that day when we were taking a lunch break and refilling our water. They wanted to know our take on the hill we climbed after leaving them.
We cooked our dinner and hung out. We heard the snapping of branches across the stream like the guys were going to have a fire. I told Elena that if I went down to the water I bet they would invite us over to the fire. I needed to grab more water anyway. She thought one of the guys looked younger maybe his son and was cute. He had a grayish bread from what I remembered. Anyway, I went to grab water and they invited us to come hang out and they had bourbon (not that it would change anything). I informed Elena and she seemed interested in talking to them. I was pretty tired and was eager to go to bed early but it would be interesting to hear their story. Another hiker and her dog showed up and camped in between us and the young guys (who had taken all the good spots).
A little bit later, we headed to go hang out. The guys were named Tim and Brian. Just like they thought we were mother/daughter, we thought they were father/son. Nobody was related. We talked for two hours about jobs, hobbies, gear, family, teaching, travel, and the virus. They didn’t seem that bad after all. It was nearing dark when we retreated back to our tents and I had commented that it was good that Covid didn’t make use forget how to socialize.
It took me a bit to unwind from the conversation but I fell asleep dozing in and out. It turns out sleeping on a slant and a basically in a bowl is not comfortable. Even 26 years old can experience back pain for several days after.
We packed up and headed out around 8am. The trail had one mild uphill to the other campsite and some more views. There was one more steep uphill close to the parking lot but it was all pretty much downhill. We got a few more shots and made it back to the car before 10 only having to do 4.5 miles.