The Black Forest Trail (BFT) is a 42 mile loop in north-central PA. It is well-known to many of you, but for any uninitiated, it is a relatively pleasant and easy trail, giving only 6000 or so feet of elevation gain throughout the loop. That elevation is hard-earned with several steep ascents and a few slopes covered in shale, and some rock hopping areas. The rest of the trail is relatively easily traveled, the blazes burn bright orange and are frequent and relatively easy to follow. Our trip on June 21-23 went as follows.
After a traffic-delayed departure from the Shady Grove metro, four of us (Holger, Joffrey (Beast Mode), and two non-ULers, Honey and Sophie) were off into the Friday evening traffic. After stopping for lovely scenery at the Thurmont Sheetz, we kept pushing north, making one additional scenic stop at the Selinsgrove, PA Walmart for a headlamp and some more snacks. We finally arrived around 10:30, got our packs together and walked the 0.2 mi in to the Slate Run campground by Slate Run, pitched, then crashed to get some needed rest before a 6:40 trail start time.
The weather was forecast to be relatively good: all clear with a small chance of thunderstorms each afternoon, but no significant chance of rain until later Sunday evening. Highs were expected in the low 80s F. The walking started easy, but the first series of hills took their toll - we gained a bit over 2000ft. in only about 3 of the first 8 miles, with some nice steep downhills to help even things out. One of our ranks (Honey) decided that the next 15 miles of up and down didn’t look fun, and decided to take a shortcut staying in the highlands and cutting off the 10 miles of the SE quadrant. Of course, this decision was probably wise, as some of the least pleasant parts of the trip seemed to be clustered there. We walked down a valley which for a mile straight was completely overgrown in nettles, and the gnats were thick enough to grab out of the air by the fistful, then we walked up another steep hill and down through a large bunch of downed trees, missing a crucial turn. This is the difficulty of the BFT: The trail winds up and down, back and forth and any notions of vaguely circular loops are thrown to the wind. It is advisable to look at your map at every stop to familiarize yourself with the trail directions and terrain you expect to cover up to your next stop. Even so, it was easy to lose a sense of bearing on the twisty trail.
We recovered from our mistake (which cost us little distance but a few hundred vertical feet extra down and up), and trudged on, eventually coming to a nice creek where we stopped and cooled off in the water. Going back up the hill, we almost ran into a rattle snake before regaining the plateau. Once back on top, we picked up the pace, except when stopped to pick a few of the season’s first blueberries. Right after a little nap by route 44, we ran into some other BFT trekkers who were closing in on day 1 camp after about 25 mi in the CCW direction. As the afternoon wore into evening, Beast Mode grew impatient and decided to take off and live up to his name. Before long, he found the shortcutting traveler, who had stopped short of the intended campsite at mile 24. The campsite turned out to have some occupants with a smoky fire and barky dog, but eventually they left us to our own little camp. Beast Mode did not properly follow UL codes, and brought 4 cans of beer, which were chilled in the river as camp was set up and dinner preparations were set underway. Wood was difficult to come by without a saw, and we passed up a fire, but sat around drinking the beer and a flask of rum while the conversation grew more scandalous. Around 10:30pm, we decided we’d had enough and turned in for a 7am start on the second and easier day.
The sun rose to a cooler and less humid start on day 2. We had only 18 miles go to the second day with two moderate ascents for around 2000 ft of elevation gain. Walking commenced quickly and we made good time; the terrain allowed for faster movement, and we took fewer breaks. After around 10 miles, we hit Slate Run and took a much-deserved swimming break next to the bridge over the creek. After about an hour break with lunch, blister control, and a nice rest, we were off walking again, only to find a splendid water hole about 2 more minutes up the road next to a narrow walking bridge. Next time we’ll know to wait!
After another fairly steep uphill, we had mostly plateau walking left. We kept a good pace, though I was back and forth stopping to pick blueberries, then racing to catch up. Apparently, I missed (and must have nearly stepped on) another rattlesnake. Before long, we were walking down hill toward Slate Run and the end (beginning) of the loop. After some claims of particularly Beast Mode abilities, I was egged into running down to the creek, and trying to make it to the cars in a bit under 20 minutes. After a good effort, I was thwarted by the heat, but rewarded with a delightful swim in Slate Run, and some Beast Mode pull-ups on the overhanging cliffs. Everyone by Sophie enjoyed cooling off some in the stream before heading the final 0.2 mi back to the cars, where we were awarded a free beer from a fly fisherman from North Carolina. It may have been Bud Light Lime, but free beer is free beer!
Thanks to a silly story about a Frenchman and Honey’s addiction to Diet Coke, Honey earned a PG-13 rated trail name. In order to satisfy that Diet Coke addiction, we raced out of the hills to get Honey her much-needed elixir. To satisfy the rest of us, we stopped in Williamsport for some food and brews at the Bullfrog brew pub, then got ice cream at Bruster’s before leaving town and driving home. We made it back to the Gaithersburg Park & Ride around 10:30, tired but satisfied by a nice weekend in the woods.
Some of the photos I took can be found here.
Oops. Holger corrected me - apparently it was 9000ft elevation gain. Whatever.
If the turn you missed was on the descent to Naval Run, that's the same one I missed too. I debated between descending all the way to the road and walking over and up, or just backtracking. I opted for the latter. That was an easy turn to miss.
Yeah, it didn't help that I was at a full run down the hill, and there were loads of downed trees making me think maybe the trail had been re-routed and was new and unblazed. But all-in-all, my sense of direction was so scrambled from all the twists and turns of the trail that I didn't really have a good sense for what direction I was heading or should have been heading.