It should come as no surprise that not much has gone according to plan this season. The whole world seems to be upside down right now and it’s anyone’s guess as to when we might see a bit of normalcy. Thankfully, everyone in our extended family has been spared of both the virus and financial hardship, and we’re praying that continues!
Now then, truth be told, Loonie and I did get a bit of normalcy earlier this month as far as trail-time goes. Franklin County in PA moved to the “Yellow” phase (Cumberland County moved to yellow a bit earlier) and the ATC eased up a bit with respect to their plea that everyone stay off the trail. A five or six day window of decent temps with little chance of rain was predicted for the beginning of June…something that looked too good to pass up. So, we decided to pick up at Pen Mar Road and hike to Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
For the most part, we strayed away from the shelters and privies, sticking to pitching tent and burying poop well off trail. And that was just fine with us! In keeping with social distancing practices, we gave passers-by (what few we saw) plenty of space. In short, we kept to ourselves. Those folks we did run into did pretty much the same. All in all, it seemed as though everyone was conscious of the importance of respecting other folk’s space. It was certainly no Ozarks Pool Party, that’s for sure. And were we grateful for that! It’s unlikely that our experience was representative of all that’s been happening on the trail the last couple of months so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. YMMV!!!
Pen Mar Road to Pine Grove Furnace SP is just under 38 trail miles and, with the exception of a short, stiff climb NoBo up to Chimney rock and another out of Caledonia SP, its a very easy section. A bit rocky in places but I’m sure nothing in comparison to what awaits us just before Duncannon and on through the rest of PA. So, the typical hiker will fly through this stretch. Not us. After being cooped up for weeks and now blessed with some beautiful weather and some easy trail ahead, we had absolutely no desire to run down the trail. A snail would have made better time. We were content to mozey along and take our time. So much so that our original intent was to make 7-1/2 days of it! Turned out being 5-1/2 in order to beat some nasty weather late in the hike.
The only real issue we ran into was having to haul additional water at times. Nearly all of the water sources listed on Guthook’s app were flowing fine but our slow stroll meant that we wouldn’t always reach the next source. No worries though. We were happy to be out of the house and there were some very beautiful stretches of woodland walking.
Day One: Pen Mar Rd to Tentsite at Spring – 3.3 mi
After the long drive, we got a very late start. Our shuttle driver dropped us off at Pen Mar Rd, starting point for last Fall’s SoBo hike of Maryland. We moved north now, reaching a large campsite and footbridge at Falls Creek, just 0.4 mi into the hike. Originally, I planned to stop right here. That’s right. Just four tenths of a mile!
It was a very nice spot but knowing that some nasty weather was predicted later in the week, we decided to move on a bit. Adding a mile or so to each of the next few days would lessen our chances of being caught up in it. Two and a half miles in brought us to Rt 16. Just across that was another spot but the traffic noise was ridiculous. Being so tired from the long drive earlier, we were tempted to bed down here. Thankfully, we decided to trust Guthook and moved on another mile to a spring. We found a fantastic spot tucked away not far from that and called it a day, leaving the sounds of traffic far behind.
Day Two: Tentsite below Chimney Rock – 6.1 mi
We reached Deer Lick Shelters just 1.7 mi into the day’s hike. Originally we had intended on finding a spot to pitch for night two near here but, even with our decidedly slow pace, we opted to move on. There were six or seven thru hikers present who had stayed the previous night. We talked to them for a bit, mindful of keeping our distance. An easy 2.6 mi downhill more put us at Old Forge Picnic Grounds. We dropped the packs and had a long lunch break.
With water bottles topped off from the spigot, we moved on. Just one mile more of easy trail put us at Tumbling Run Shelters, one of the nicest I’ve seen thus far. Very cool but, obviously, we weren’t staying here for the night. Chimney Rock, night three’s original stop was just 1.2 mi further and there was still plenty of daylight. Unfortunately, it was all uphill. Despite our vow to do as few miles as humanly possible each day, we moved on. This meant that we would have to carry a LOT of water though. We needed enough to get us there, through the night and down to Caledonia State Park the next day. According to Guthook, the only water between Tumbling Run and Caledonia was at Rocky Mtn Shelters, and that source was a LONG way downhill. I preferred to haul the water now and not have to deal with the down and back off-trail trek midway through the next day’s hike.
We took our time on the way up. The huge swaths of Mountain Laurel helped to take our minds off of the climb and it turned out not to be as bad as we feared, even taking into account the crazy amount of water we were hauling. We arrived with plenty of daylight left. Two other couples were camped nearby but there was plenty of space for us all to keep to ourselves. Camp chores and dinner out of the way, we took our tea and made our way out onto the rocky cliff to take in the view before settling in for the night.
Day Three: Stealth tentsite at Caledonia State Park – 8.8 mi
Knowing this would be a longer day, we hit the trail early. 2.1 mi of easy walking took us through a pipeline cut and then a power line cut on Snowy Mountain. 1.6 mi more, all downhill brought us to PA 233. So far, so good. The trail made a gentle ascent up to Rocky Mountain Shelters, following a boulder strewn ridge line along the way.
From the junction of the side trail to the shelter we began a 3.4 mi descent to Caledonia. The trail topped the ridge, taking us through a short rock maze that required a bit of scrambling. Very interesting and nothing technical. Once out of the rock, it was a pleasant walk down to the park.
We took a long break here, eating dinner and pondering our next move. If we moved on up the AT, we had a short, stiff climb ahead of us. The park campground was a good bit off the trail as well. We followed one of the park trails a short distance and found a spot tucked out of sight, foregoing a fire, and went straight to bed.
I’ll wrap it up in the next post.
More to come…