Last Thursday afternoon, we took a star-studded cast of DC ULers out to do the STS, an 84-mile loop that is the great grand daddy of big Pennsylvania loops and, in some way, epitomizes walking on the Allegheny Plateau. B~~~ was there, decked out in his Kungsleden gear. Shuttle attended, with her newly healed toe. Shamrock came along, with pigtails and a bright new ULA pack. Casserole lent his strength to the expedition. Virtual Slug brought Lulu and the Battlewagon, resonant with the sounds of twittering birds. The soon to be named LaBamba attended, with his newly dehydrated delicacies. And Cover Girl graced us with her presence--this 84-mile loop being only her second backpacking trip ever! And John Callahan (sadly without a trail name) met us at the trailhead, suffering from Bear Grylls withdrawal.
Truly, you don't assemble a group like this every day.
As the long drive fell away behind us, it was clear that this Memorial Day weekend would not be like last year, when Yeti, Virtual Slug, and I encountered hot and steamy jungle-like conditions, with temps in the high 80s. It was raining when we reached the northern portal. Our eyes fixed on getting our patches this year, we signed the trail register at about 7pm, and proceeded clockwise around the loop. The forest was lush at twilight, and it rained gently as we reeled off seven easy miles, and reached the broad campsite at Lyman State Park, just after the light faded. The shelters went up and we were snug in our bags by 11pm. It rained steadily most of the night.
Friday morning was cloudy, windy, and occasionally drizzly, but we nine were soon off, covering mile after mile southwards. We made light of Cardiac Climb, passed the Cherry Hill fire tower and discovered that Shamrock was the best-smelling one of us. By the early afternoon, we strolled into Ole Bull State Park. It was chilly, if you can believe that--I regretted that I did not bring a little warmer gear at several points that day. We took a break there, then climbed out of the park, descending to Impson Hollow, where we pitched on the grassy fields near a hunting lodge. We had contemplated going further, but it was a good thing we didn't. There were few campsites for a group this size.
On Saturday, we set off to cover the SE quadrant of the STS, which Virtual Slug and I remembered as being the most rugged and least well maintained (it was much better this year, so kudos to the STS people). We passed Spook Hollow (where I had wanted us to try to camp, but there was nothing there for us), did not die on the steep descent into Morgans Hollow, walked through the open areas where oil and gas work is being done (which I remember as being super hot the previous year), and were soon on the long descent into Cross Fork, PA. The folks at Deb's Place were super accomodating to us, giving us a table out back in the sunshine, and not balking as we spread out our things to dry and took off our shoes and socks off. We laid waste to the food. B~~~ even managed to eat a little, though it was not his meal time.
After a 3-hour meal at Deb's Place, and perhaps a half dozen pitchers of Yuengling, we pulled out of Cross Fork, climbed out of the valley and descended to reach Hammersley Fork, where I remember there was a beautiful site. We pulled in at dusk and set up a dispersed camp ... The tents and tarps were beautiful as they were lit up from within in the dark.
Sunday, more glorious weather and perfect walking as we headed north, sidehilling along the river. Cover Girl took off, covering the miles fast, and had an interesting chat with some PA backpackers. Such friendly guys, they named LaBamba as they passed. One was carrying a walking stick that weighed as much as our packs. They marveled at the mileage we were doing and, I think, thought us strange. U-Turn spotted a bear, one of two that day. We re-grouped at the bridge over Sinnemahoning Creek. B~~~ got naked and took little B~~~ for a swim. LaBamba also dove in, clad more modestly.
After this glorious break, the easy miles were done, and we had a tough afternoon. Four quick climbs, four quick descents. It almost felt like the BFT. We spotted some cans of chili left behind by the ultra-heavy PA guys. Casserole and LaBamba ate 'em. But we reached camp by the early evening, had a nice fire, and fell asleep to the singing of coyotes.
Early Monday morning, we were off to cover the last miles to the cars. Scenting the barn, we were moving fast, reaching the register before 10am, the 9 miles notwithstanding. The only contretemps? The Bullfrog in Williamsport was closed (all of downtown Williamsport was) so we had to settle for a bite at TGIF's, which was fine, really .... But it ain't the Bullfrog.
Sum total, we walked 7-23-24-21-9, completing the 84-mile trail in 87 hours. Great walking.
Big shout outs to everyone who did this awesome trip, all of whom got their veteran level 3 status. We had a perfect group of skilled and fit backpackers, and I think we all enjoyed the immersion of a little longer trip. This is the sort of trip DC UL is built to do, and I can't recall any time where we had such a large group complete such a long trip, with no one needing to bow out. Chapeau all around! And thanks for keeping me company on book chapter 21!
PS Casserole, Shuttle, B~~~, and U-Turn now declare themselves fit for Sweden.
PPS Pictures and GPS log coming.
PPPS I'll contact the STS people about the patches.
So sad I missed out on this one; it sounds like it was the perfect confluence of conditions and company! Maybe next year? ;)
We wished you had come along, Mike! But we understand the need to recover fully for Sweden.
Hard to say what next Memorial Day will entail. I like the STS ... but I have done it and the BFT twice in the last 12 months, so I may be off for new trails. ;)
Nice report U Turn. It has been hard for me to visualize just how far 84 miles is. I did some playing on google maps and this is the best I could come up with. If we left the Washington Monument and started hiking West, in about 84 miles we would hit Strasburg, Virginia (about 13 miles West of Front Royal)!
For those of us also doing the New Jersey Pine Barrens this weekend, if we left the Washington Monument and started hiking South, we would be hiking the distance of just shy of Williamsburg, Virginia!
Great job leading us Mike. Great hiking team!
Google Earth data is up ... http://files.meetup.com/1502009... ... After taking out terrain distance, GE has us at 81 miles (confident the real distance is 84.8 or so) with 13,000 feet of gain / 13,000 feet of loss.
Hey LaBamba ... Load this file into Google Earth. You'll have fun scoping it out.
Michael - the gEearth file link doesn't seem to be working. But great report. I have to admit actually laughing aloud about little B~~~ going for a swim...
Sounds like a nice trip! I'll have to do this trail sometime. As for next Memorial Day, I am building up to a crazy, completely Beast Mode idea linking wildernesses in the Whites. More on that later, though.
Can't wait to hear about the Whites idea, Beast Mode!
Come this autumn, I'm going to be ready for some new destinations.