Andrew, Dan, and I met at first light Friday morning and shuttled down to the southern-most trailhead on the PA Mid State Trail. Ever since I thru-hiked the AT, there is just something about hiking northbound on a long trail.
On our hour long drive down, it was 18 degrees, and snow was billowing across the road while Andrew and I debated wearing our trail runners or boots...runners won out.
We reached the southern trailhead, geared up and headed out. We first had to do a little bit of road walking through Amish country and alpaca pasture to reach the official start of the trail at an unremarkable “Welcome to Pennsylvania” road sign, but then we headed off into the woods to climb Tussey Mountain for the first of many times of this hike.
The MST started off just as I remembered it from a short section I did a few years ago: blazes leading through the woods with no apparent treadway. It was nice though; this trail isn't the hiker highway that many of the trails in the area are, and it is more rugged and remote.
As we climbed higher, we reached a threshold where every twig on every bush was uniformly coated in ice and glowed in the sunlight. We walked along the ridge of Tussey for a while, on trail and an old forest service road. Though road walks aren't typically interesting, I enjoyed this stretch with all the ice and the nearly complete lack of external sound.
We took a brief break for lunch, but the wind and cold started to get to Andrew and I, so we headed off while Dan finished up. Down out of the ice to a minor gap, and back up into it on the next mountain, which happened to be the highpoint on the entire trail. The climb wasn't too hard though. The view from the top was...well...radio towers and trees, so we kept moving. The downhill was a bit icy, and I was wishing I had brought my microspikes since I had to do some stomping to get a purchase.
The rest of the day we meandered through small stream gullies and climbed the next ridge of Tussey Mountain to where we camped right on the trail (for the lack of a better spot), about a foot from the edge of the state gamelands. Great fire, dry wood, and jokes at Andrew's expense. Got up to ~25 degrees today, and blue skies.
In the morning, it was actually a bit warmer than when we went to bed the night before. We followed a ridge for almost the entire day, and what a day it was. Blue skies once again, and it warmed up into the 40s on the ridge, which started to melt the 1-2” of snow we were walking through. The trail followed the hogback ridge to a T, leaving us to negotiate slabs of snow covered rock and brambles, because that's how the MST rolls. However, since we were on top of a sharp ridge and it was winter, we were afforded nearly continuous views on both sides of the ridge, and we stopped at a few spectacular vistas. The guidebook compares this section of trail to North Fork Mountain, and that isn't an exaggeration.
We had to descend into the town of Everett to cross a river, the PA turnpike, and US 30 before we could continue onto the next ridge of Tussey. Roadwalking ensued, but in Everett we found an Italian restaurant where we stopped for dinner. Andrew and I wrapped up our leftover pizza and calzone for breakfast, and we headed to a city park where we got permission to camp.
The wind picked up overnight, but the temperatures still weren't as bad as our first day. We packed up, did some more roadwalking, and took a spur trail STRAIGHT up Tussey, where we encountered another spectacular and challenging ridgewalk like yesterday's. The snow was a little deeper up here at ~3” in some spots, and the wind was blowing fierce up top. All good things have to come to an end, so the trail took us off the ridge, and we spent the rest of the day following old forest service roads through the gamelands. We ended up at a river with the bridge out of service, so we forded it to get back to our car. Conveniently, there was a restaurant across the street from the trailhead, so we stopped in for the traditional post-trail meal, and what a meal it was. Good homestyle cooking, with soup and salad bars. I ate too much.
This stretch of the Mid State Trail was truly spectacular, and well-worth the difficulty of the hike, and we had 3 clear days to enjoy it. We didn't see any people on the trail, and according to the 3 registers we passed, it seems like this section sees only a few hikers per year. One person signed one of the registers more than a month ago. After hiking this section of trail, I'm really looking forward to the rest of my thru-hike.
Pictures are posted.
Great trip report!
Seems like you guys had more wintery conditions than us. I'll get caught up tomorrow morning!