Since I'm going to be moving to the West coast in a month or two, I invited those I'd been hiking with for the past few years out to a winter hiking extravaganza in the wilds of PA (where else). Originally 20 people said they were interested, so I picked Quehanna since there's some wide open areas to camp in, and much of the DC crowd hasn't been there yet. In the end, somewhere between 9 and 10 of us arrived on a snowy Friday night in north central PA.
Andrew and I got there first and found a campsite next to a dam a short way from the parking lot. We got the typical massive amount of wood for the long night, and marked the trail in for the rest of the crew, who wandered in over the next few hours from Ohio and DC. We shared stories and libations until well past hiker midnight (close to actual midnight) when we called it for the early start the next day. However, Nicole hadn't made it in, and we didn't have phone service to try to get ahold of her.
The next morning we woke before dawn to get ready for a long day of hiking. Brian, Holger, Dan, and myself were going to do 20-some miles, but the others were going to cut their hikes a little shorter due to the lack of daylight and snow. Nicole hadn't arrived overnight, and the 4 of us took off on the 20+ mile hike at dawn. Our stories diverge here, and the others' adventures are posted below.
The first stretch of trail was along the QT east cross connector and some side trails, and we mostly went down along Mosquito Creek for the first half of the day. Upper Mosquito Creek is one of the most scenic hiking areas in PA with beaver dams, stretches through open blueberry fields and huge boulders, and some rapids and waterfalls. Truly fantastic hiking, and the scenery was exemplified by the 2" of crunchy snow on the ground.
Briefly turning away from the creek, we made our way to Crawford Vista through the tussocks of Dry Marsh, and it started to snow in earnest. Crawford Vista gave a fantastic view down Mosquito Creek gorge, which faded into oblivion in the gray snow. We descended into the gorge and crossed the creek once again near an old Air Force nuclear reactor development site before a steep ascent to the ridge above the creek where we finally hit the Quehanna Trail.
At this point the snow was beginning to pile up, and we rotated breaking trail for the rest of the day. We passed Wildcat Rock, where there was a plaque to commemorate someone who shot 3 bobcats from that spot 60 years ago. Welcome to backwoods PA.
After dodging around a big patch of fallen trees, the trail went straight down the mountain, and we all envied Holger's microspikes. We found our first respite from the storm on the porch of a hunting cabin, and wondered if the bridge over Mosquito Creek had been rebuilt just down the trail. Hiking on through the woods, we could see a bridge, and I was excited. However, upon arriving on the bank of the creek we saw that the bridge was under construction, and was firmly sitting on the opposite bank. We looked up and downstream. We considered crossing a slanted, snow covered tree which bridged the creek, but it didn't seem like a good idea. While the others looked for a place to rock hop upstream, I started taking off my boots to ford. I've found that if it takes some hunting to find a place to cross, it is often quicker just to ford it. Walking through the cold snow, it was almost a relief to step into the warmer creek...for about the first 2 seconds.
We regrouped and redressed, and luckily had an uphill climb to warm us after the crossing, where we wandered across the Quehanna plateau for the rest of the day.
It snowed the entire day, and the snow deepened, slowing our pace as the day progressed. When we came to the Quehanna Highway, we decided to save a mile or two and take some game roads and multi-use trail since it was getting late in the day. The highway was paved with snow, and there wasn't a car in sight.
Since it was the last day of rifle deer season, we had tire tracks to follow on the game roads, which eased the burden of breaking trail, but the snow intensified, and was driven in the wind. As it was getting dark, we arrived at the area we planned to camp. We found the others by calling out and a fire was already going for the festivities of the night, and a pine tree was decorated with christmas lights and stockings. However, Andrew, Denise, and possibly Nicole had opted to later follow us on the 20+ mile route, and we ended up not seeing them the entire night.
It snowed hard all evening, and I had to shake off the tent a couple times. We had a potluck that night, and most of us cooked on the fire. Holger made nachos, Brian supplied munchies for appetizers, Dan made glazed sweet potatoes, Handlebar did brownies with ice cream, Jen made crepes with Nutella and lingonberries, and I assembled and baked lasagna with Shelli's help. Andrew had once teasingly asked me if I was making lasagna that night for dinner, so I had been wanting to take on the challenge for a while now. It baked up quite nicely. We also had Swedish mullled wine and other libations (obviously). After the multi-course feast (which all disappeared somehow), we retired to our tents for hibernation.
The next morning it had mostly stopped snowing, and there was about 8" in our copse of pine. It was almost knee deep in the blueberry field we had to cross to get back to the road. We walked the snowy road for a bit, since we had decided to take the easier roads back to our cars. However, on the way a hunter in a truck passed us and Handlebar stuck out his thumb. He stopped and gave two of us a ride back to our cars to avoid the snowy roadwalk.
When everyone regrouped (minus the missing 3 who had already left for home), we went into Benezette for brunch, and everyone at the table got an elk burger, before we parted ways.
This hike was definitely eventful, and I think a fitting end to hiking on the east coast. Accounts from the other groups are below.
Twas a bright, sunlit morning with a sparkle of snow dusting the air. After a leisurely breakfast and romp through the lowlands, Andrew, Nicole, and Denise, later to be known as "the Lost Three",converged on Crawford Vista and resolved upon an adventure--a late start to the 21 mile trek to the site of the Epic Potluck.
We left with cheerful chatter, playfully kicking up the snow, little aware that it would soon become our biggest foe. Haley-the-Faithful brought up the front and rear, monitoring each individual's progress, ensuring that no one fell too far behind, at times giving a helpful little head bump to a hamstring to keep us on course, while periodically checking the trail ahead. Brave valient Haley bore up to her great responsibility with a sanguine disposition and little complaint. Andrew-the-Navigator took the lead, assiduously referencing the map as we followed a generally southeasterly (don't quote me on that) path marked by orangish blazes. After a brief stop for lunch, the group reconvened on a snowy treacherous trail, only to find that its treachery was beyond our early and naive estimation--deceitful, evil trail brought us right back out onto the same route we'd already passed, depositing us near a great swath of high tension powerlines that we had traversed just hours before!
Curses and consternation! The maps lied and the trail blazes were their allies! What to do? Oh...what to do? Andrew-the-Navigator checked the map and pronounced, gazing wistfully into the darkening afternoon, "if we follow the roads it should just be another 13 miles or so." Nicole-the-pragmatist asked "how far is it to our cars?" Denise-the-disclaimer muttered "my legs are tired." And so back to the cars it was, with hearts heavy at the knowledge that our trek would be incomplete. "Only another 3.5 miles or so," said Andrew, at one point, as the snow reached up over our knees, grasping at us with icy cold fingers. We persevered, the cold growing ever greater in the onsetting darkness, draining us of spirit and composure, except Nicole who remained cheerful throughout as she lightly scampered over the snow like an Elvin snow fairy.
Denise was the first to fall. "I haven't been this tired since Iceland" she muttered, aghast at her failings, eyes welling with tears as Haley ditched her and latched onto Andrew. "Does anyone want a snack?" inquired Nicole, solicitously, which Denise, in her depths, misheard as "May I carry your pack?". Misunderstandings aside, the group carried on, eventually reaching a sign that read "Beaver: 1". Several miles later we ran across a pack of flourescent-orange, bear-like titans carrying rifles. Coming from different worlds, we all shared a unifying preoccupation--where the hell was the trail? Well, to shorten a long story, we made it back to the cars in varying degrees of composure but all secretly relieved that we never had to resort to cannibalism. The unspoken was finally spoken--the final 3+ miles to the campsite (following a car ride along the Quehanna Highway) was not to be. The fellowship was broken but fear not, faithful reader, we shall meet again.
After parting ways with “The Lost 3” at the vista, The Short 3 decided to focus on the CC trails and make our 14 miles about 10 overall. Why? Why not? It would give us time to set up a great camp, chill (literally) and not have to break trail for 4 additional miles.
Mind you, we did go back and forth (figuratively and literally) on our decision, as there were many times winter hiking bliss was experienced. Then it went away again. (then Jen ate something and it came back. Then the wind came and it went away again. You get my drift.) but anyhow…
We based our route on the map. Which, was more than accurate for the actual HIKING trails…but the cross country & multiuse?
Yah. I really hate to break it to em, but the trailheads are NOT where the dude who created the map thinks they are.
He needs kicked.
Or…to revisit his notes from carto-class.
Anyhow, after retracing our steps a few times, staring at the map, guessing which trail/road/whatever we were on, we decided to head back to the QH. And walk it. Without breaking trail. All in all, we would prolly end up close to 14 miles even with our “shortcuts”
So…the highway it was! And it was a WIND TUNNEL.
But…Hey. It was sorta pretty.
And even prettier when decorated in deer blood!
Or…well. Ok. It was even prettier with a truck decorated in deer blood appeared.
And gave us a ride up to the fire tower.