The Black Forest Trail: 42 (or 44 miles?): The Sleep Deprivation Version

Posted by Michael Martin on

Friday night, 5pm, B~~~, Casserole, Shuttle, and I met up at Grosvenor at 5pm. Our plan? To walk the Black Forest Trail (BFT) in a short weekend. Some call the BFT the toughest trail in the Mid-Atlantic and, while we debated this at some length this weekend, we all agreed that the BFT is at least in the discussion. Doing it fast, as we planned, would of course make it harder.

(Shuttle was still recovering from an injury, and so we had pre-arranged that she would only be doing some of the miles, as she wanted to get some backpacking in without aggravating her healing foot.)

It's a long drive up to Slate Run, PA, made even longer by the rain and thunderstorm we got to drive through. But we put our trust in the weathermen, and sure enough, it was clearing up as we reached Williamsport and then started following Pine Creek north. We parked at the 0 mile marker, where someone had taken Chuck Dillon's advice and liberally sprinkled mothballs under their car (the stench was unreal), and we walked the few hundred yards into the campsites where the BFT crosses Slate Run. Some fellows were camped there, and they had a bonfire that would warm even Evan and Beastmode's hearts, but there was plenty of room. We pitched and slept through the night. The next morning, Slate Run would serve as our starting line for the trip around the BFT.

At 7:30am, we were off, walking easy miles up Slate Run, before the first big climb out of the river's valley. For those who haven't walked much on the Allegheny Plateau, unlike Virginia, the topography is carved by rivers eroding the land, so one is forever dipping down into gullies and then climbing out of them. "The mountains don't get any higher, but the gullies get deeper." People who haven't walked here tend to underestimate the difficulty of walking these gullies. Anyway, we were soon climbing the first of six significant climbs for the day. We quickly had big views, but also some blustery weather and ... snow! Seriously, we must have walked through half a dozen little snow storms, some happening as the sun was shining ... Good practice for Sweden, we told ourselves, since 40% of the Kungsleden contigent was there.

The gullies dropped away behind us. Slate Run, Fosters Run, Little Slate Run. Shuttle diverged to rendez-vous with us later in the day. Big views of the Pine Creek Gorge, then the dip down to Naval Run. We misplaced B~~~ for awhile, endured the epic climb out of Naval Run, descended Callahan Run. There I, walking alone, actually got spooked in the woods ... a thing that hasn't happened to me in a long time. I could have sworn I heard a wild pig! I reached the confluence of Callahan run. Casserole joined me. And we misplaced B~~~, again. We teased him about the BFT being his nemesis, and told him his trail name would have to be changed to Goldjaeger if he didn't finish. He cursed the blowdowns repeatedly. Together, we climbed the last ascent of the day--Callahan Run. The SE quadrant of the BFT is a b***h. As Max once described it, the trail basically wanders around the plateau looking for gullies to drive into. As some point, you will get tired of it doing that!

With easier ground ahead of us, we pressed on, tanking up near the south link trail to the STS. We were eager to be reunited with Shuttle, who was waiting for us at about the 21 mile mark (according to Chuck Dillon's map). It was 6:40pm by the time we joined her, and she was getting cold and worried. We pressed on a ways, to warm everyone up, as it was chilly on the plateau.

At about 7:40pm, we reached the gully where Dillon's 18 mile mark is located. Protected there by a rhododenron thicket, we pitched camp, enjoyed a little campfire, drank some wine, brown and otherwise, and spent time trying to assign trail names to Evan. It was a cold night, with temps dropping down to the mid-20s. Not what you'd expect for almost May. Good thing we are all winter veterans.

Sunday morning, we were walking at 7am. The easy miles flew by (the BFT is much easier in the west half than the east), but the dozens of crossings of County Line Run were cold and wet. Much tougher than I remember from the summer. By the time we regrouped at 44, our feet were icy cold. We wrung out our socks, and warmed them as best we could in the sun, then walked the easy 5 miles or so along the northern edge of the BFT, descending and reaching the top of Slate Run at about noon.

Here, Shuttle decided she would take it easy and return to the car by the road. B~~~, Casserole, and I paused to admire the beautiful campsites and swimming holes along Red Run, then climbed steeply up the gully--the steepest and most technical climb on the trip. From there, it was easy plateau-walking in beautiful sunlight until the 2-mile descent into Slate Run. We paused for photographs and to admire the gorgeous view. Then, we plunged down to the river, where we practiced our multi-person creek crossing skills. Slate Run wasn't bad, but we were thinking of Sweden.

Shuttle was waiting for us at the finish line, which we reached at 3pm. So, sum total, we walked, according to my GPS, 25-19, or 44 miles in 31.5 hours. If you used Dillon's map, I guess that would be 24-18. Supposed to be about 8,000 feet of gain. We'll see what Google Earth says later in the week.

On the way home, we stopped for excellent beer and grub at the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, which everyone agrees is one of the best pubs on the DC UL circuit (thanks, Max!). Then, there was the long drive back to Grosvenor and, for me, to Alexandria. I got home just after 10pm, spread out my gear to dry, and was asleep by 11:30pm. Up at 5am, and at my desk at 7am. Quite a weekend.

All in all, I'm pleased with how we did this. We shaved quite a lot of time off the trip I did last summer, and certainly I feel fit for Sweden (not only did we cut about 13-14 hours off my last BFT trip, but the trail felt easier to me than it did last summer). Obviously, we completed the trail in high DC UL style.

Additionally, I feel very confident in writing up this trail for the AMC going CW ... I feel it has a much more dramatic and interesting finish that way than going CCW. As I told B~~~, this trip has all the things that make PA hikes great, plus it has views, which so many of the hikes up there lack.

Next time I walk the BFT, however, I think I'm going to take it easier, perhaps schedule the trip for a month where we can enjoy some of the nice campsites I keep walking by, maybe even take advantage of some of the lovely swimming holes! Heck, I may spend three nights on the trail next time! :)

In any case, great trip, everyone who did it! As always, you can't beat the camraderie of the people in this group!

Michael Martin posted on

So, here is the Google Earth file:

It has us at 41.5 miles (with terrain distance that's very close to 42), with almost 9,000 feet of gain.

Laura was looking over my shoulder as I got the profile. Her response: "That looks like a shitty hike!"


Michael Martin posted on

And here's a marked up copy of the Google Earth file.