Andrew and I met at Detweiler Junction on a snowy road in the middle of nowhere and shuttled down south for the northbound hike. We headed into the woods at about 10pm, and were surprised to see footprints in the snow on the trail. This trail has been absolutely deserted so far.
I was thinking about camping on what I thought was an old forest road from the guide, but it turned out to be an active logging road, so we had to continue on. The trail turned off the road, and we found a flat spot on an ancient road grade to set up camp. We're right on the edge of the big nor'easter, but we were on the east side of the mountain which offered us some shelter. About 3-4 inches of snow on the ground when we set up camp. Off to bed by 11. We had a late night visitor of the 4x4 kind, and they stopped for a while by our tents, but didn't give us any trouble, and eventually moved on.
We got up with the sun to 20 degrees and some residual wind and headed back down the mountain we climbed last night. Crossed railroad tracks which bore the trains that serenaded us through the night, walked through small town USA to cross a bridge, and headed back up Tussey Mountain once again.
Had to juggle layers a bit on the climb to balance the exertion with the cold temps and wind. We started on the back of the mountain, but eventually wound around to the windward side on an old mine road past several old quarries where the wind hit us with full force, and almost stopped me a couple times. We made it to the top of the ridge where we would spend the rest of the day, and headed off down the spine.
The trail was snowy and quite rocky. There were large expanses of nothing but basketball-size rocks, which were tricky to traverse since they were covered with snow; we spent much of the day stumbling down the trail, but no bad falls. The ridge walking and rocky expanses afforded nearly continuous views off both sides of the ridge though, so it was well worth the hike.
The snow on the ridge varied throughout the day, and was generally 3-5”, and the snow wasn't too heavy, so it wasn't too bad to hike through. There were knee-high drifts in places, and I was grateful I brought my boots and high gaiters.
There was no water on the ridge, and the only option for running water was to hike straight downhill. Didn't sound like fun to Andrew and I, so we decided just to push on and melt snow in camp for water.
We made good progress though. Because of the cold and incessant wind, we only stopped once (briefly) during the day. At one point, Andrew mentioned that the hike reminded him of Hoth.
We ended up doing 20 miles. We got further than I was expecting, and camped near a stream where the MST briefly dropped off the ridge, so we didn't have to melt snow. Andrew's feet had gotten wet and cold during the day, so he had to spend some time in his bag in camp when we got there. I got a massive pile of wood for the long night and started a fire.
I was craving pizza this week, so I decided to bake it for dinner on the trail. I made dough at home, and brought all the ingredients. I grilled portabellas on foil over coals, tossed the dough and baked it on foil before finally adding the sauce and toppings. I put some foil over the pizza to reflect heat down onto the toppings and add some smoky flavor to the pizza from the oak wood fire. It actually turned out great! The dough cooked perfectly, and the whole pizza turned out fantastic. A bit of work, but it gave me something to do during the long night.
It was a clear night with tons of stars, but the temperature was dropping off rapidly when we went to bed. Towards morning, some sort of animal woke Andrew and I making screeching/dying sounds, but we couldn't figure out what it was.
It was a crisp 12 degrees when I got out of my tent in the morning. I had to beat my boots into submission to get them on my feet, but it was nothing in comparison to Andrew's epic struggle. He spent about 15 minutes hitting and flexing his boots, and when that didn't work he hit them on the ground and a tree before he was finally able to squeeze into them. Gotta love frozen shoes.
We hit the trail quickly, and were looking forward to the coming uphill to get us warmed up. Only in winter. However, in the first hour we were hiking, the temperature rose about 15 degrees, and by the time we hit the uphill, I even zipped off my pants bottoms. Quite a dramatic change.
Back on the rocky ridge, we again had views of the surrounding country side, and we walked past State College before the ridge started winding around such that we did a miles long S. Good views, and another clear day. There was a cool looking swampy area down in the valley below us, but unfortunately the trail didn't take us there.
We finished our 15 miles for the day at 2pm, and the temperature was in the 40s. 35 miles total, 122 for my section hike so far.
Man, I have to do this trip next year. It sounds like y'all are having such an adventure. I laughed out loud twice: the reference to Hoth and the sounds of a screeching/dying animal.
I'm just relieved that you didn't have to gut a Tauntaun to stay warm.
I've heard a number of screeching sounds in the night in the woods. Interestingly, I've discovered two culprits which I've heard at different times: Foxes make awful baby-killing sounds, oddly enough, and the Barn Owl, which screeches like some unearthly alien thing killing babies. Neither of those animals like for me to sleep.
Between the trip reports and the photos, this has been looking like an epic trail experience. It seriously tempts me to rent a car for the weekend be a part of it at some point. Seriously making me jealous Max!
@Mike - I'm there with you in totally wanting to do this trail now!
For next winter, I'm quite serious about doing some sort of big section hike, like Max is doing the MST. We'll see.
@ Joffrey ... About 4 years ago, right after I had moved up here from Texas, I got myself lost in the GWNF while day hiking and had to spend an unplanned night out. No big deal, ultimately, but while I was trying to sleep (on the cold ground) ... I heard the most unearthly alien-like shrieking. Perhaps it was a barn owl.
@ Brian ... You know, it looks like Max is without a partner for next weekend. Without provoking controversy, I should mention that I did tell Max that if it stays that way, I'd try to talk someone into going up there to help him. It's important that his sections happen, even if we are stretched a bit thin with veterans with winter gear. Believe it or not, we'll have done 12 winter backpacking trips this season (six of mine, two of MikeVW's, and Max's four sections). (I'm counting "winter" as December, January, and February.) That's huge. Hopefully, next year, we'll have more people geared to do them.
Believe me, I've seriously considered doing the rental. But there's the saving up for Sweden that's the other little voice in my head, and it seems to be winning out.
Yeah, I had to cut a deal with my Laura: I get to do all the trips I need for the book, and Sweden ... but nothing else. Really, it's a reasonable enough deal. But the MST will have to wait.
A pity: I bought snowshoes. I guess they can sit in my closet for a year.