I have to say, it was a heck of a week. I had planned Dolly Sods, but the threat of either huge amounts of snow or huge amounts of mud and run off made me reconsider on Wednesday. Then I planned Duncan Knob, but FS waffled on their burn issues (apparently concluding late in the afternoon (after my second call of the day) that the trails would be open). Late Friday afternoon, unsure where I was taking this group, Doug Ide came to my rescue (thanks, Doug) and proposed this loop around the AT, heading north out of Caledonia State Park. I knew this section of the AT, but not the side trails, so after a quick trip to REI, I had the maps and I had a plan!
Somehow, through all of this, we had a great (and, for us, quite large) group of backpackers stick with the trip. Katie, Steve, Peter (of derecho fame), Sharon, Will, Mike MacBryde, Michael Dodson, and Miles (who planned to arrive independently) all stuck with me as I changed my mind, and changed it again.
Anyway, after organizing at Vienna, we were off in short order, and eight of us (minus Miles) were soon walking north on the AT. There's a bit of climb heading out of the park there, but we were all eager and we soon passed the Quarry Gap Shelter (the best maintained shelter on the AT!), where we took a little break. A bit past this shelter, we swung right on the Hozack Hollow trail, and descended through thickets of rhododendron to an idyllic little run. We followed it for a ways, then turned on the Locust Gap Trail, reaching the Long Pine Reservoir.
This beautiful little lake is surrounded by signs listing all the stuff you can't do. The list is long and includes, rather mysteriously, "no picnicing." They might as well say, "Just keep on walking, buddy." Well, we walked out to a beach, where we took a long break, drowzing in the sun, and trying out Peter's dehydrated kale and apples, which were scrumptious. Did this constitute a picnic? Plainly, we are a group of anarchists.
From this point, we rounded the lake--a lovely, peaceful and easy walk--before taking the Rocky Knob Trail from the lake's north end. A rocky, straight-uphill climb (ah, now this feels like Pennsylvania!) took us to the rightward branch and a view southwards to the knob and the lake we had left behind. Soon, we re-joined the AT, and had easy ground to cover northwards to the Birch Run Shelter and water. Mile pulled in a hour or so after us--the mapmaker using his hand drawn map!
This is a pleasant place to camp, but boy was it crowded! A least four groups camped nearby. For one of our trips, we spent a lot of time in camp (apparently, I walk too fast!). Plenty of time to build a nice campfire, cook a ton of food, make smores (which Sharon had graciously brought), hang a bomb-proof bear line (Mike MacBryde is adept at the PCT method), and generally shoot the breeze around a roaring campfire (built by Peter and Will). Sharon got her trail name of MacGyver, which was almost inevitable given last October's Triple Crown trip. Miles discussed plans to do a map-making project in West Virginia, and even offer some packrafting trips--both things I hope he follows up on.
Backpacker midnight came early, and soon we were off to slumber, interrupted by the hooting of owls and a few gun shots. It is PA, after all! A few sleep systems ... uh ... did not perform as expected and two backpackers spent most of the night by the fire. The temps touched freezing.
We were up respectably early, put out our fire with care, and were soon striding southward along the AT for the gentle miles back to Caledonia. Peter earned his trail name of "Fiber One" ... Well, I think I'm going to let him explain how he earned this name. The weather was fine for walking, and though there were no grand views, there were some partial views of Pennsylvania farmland to the west. We met Jim Stauch, the proud maintainer of the Quarry Gap Shelter, which is truly a splendid shelter.
We reached Caledonia at about 11:15am, with splits like 10.5-9.1. Soon enough we were off for our ritual post-trip meal, which we had right on the town square in Gettysburg. Amazingly, the waitress sat us grimy backpackers down at one of the best tables!
Here is the Google Earth file for our weekend trip.
GoogleEarth says we covered 19.6 miles with elevation gain of 3,379 feet and loss of about the same. All in all, this was a gentle and pleasant loop for us, which makes for an excellent low mileage trip for new DC ULers. We had four new people come along, so big shout outs to Mike MacBryde, Michael Dodson, Katie, and Will, who've earned their memerships. We hope you guys will be out on many more trips!
PS I should say that, for future iterations of this trip, DC UL would probably best be served by not camping near the shelters. Without being catty, I can say that a few individuals displayed an attitude of busy-body-ness at both shelters related to having a campfire. Our fire at Birch Run was one of four or five fires, so we weren't doing anything extraordinary. There are some excellent backcountry sites ((1) in Hozack Hollow, just as you come down the switchbacks and reach the run; (2) the Rocky Knob Trail, just as you leave the reservoir; and (3) on the AT, just as you walk north, uphill, past the PATC cabin)). Any of these sites would have made for a much better, and more private, backcountry experience.
Not sure if anyone is interested in this marked up version of the Caledonia loop, but since it's now a book chapter, here it is: