Trip Report: Loyalsock Trail, Memorial Day Weekend, 2014

Posted by Michael Martin on

I'm afraid that I've not done the Loyalsock Trail (LT) justice. I was dimly aware that it was one of the trails competing for my six PA chapters in the book, but I just couldn't walk everything in the 10 months I had and I was leery of a 60-mile point-to-point course (such a hassle for individual backpackers!). Then, The Look proposed it in the autumn, and I was going to go ... but life intervened. Finally, we had planned to go to the ADKs this Memorial Day, but there was the DEC's warning. So ... there were the Loyalsock books and maps sitting on my shelf at home. Loyalsock it was.

Mid-morning Friday, the weather glorious, Biltmore (Shannon), Iru (Mile Marker), Matt, Tree Hugger, and Mountain Slayer (no one ever calls Mark this) all met up at Grosvenor and headed north for the blissfully short (compared to Lake Placid) drive up to the Loyalsock State Forest. There was Memorial Day traffic in Selinsgrove, but we met Hua and Unicorn Dust at the easternmost trailhead at 3pm. Seconds later, the folks running the local shuttle rolled in, and we were headed to the western trailhead by 3:10pm.

(I do feel that using the commercial shuttle service is well worth the expense. It makes everything so much easier.)

The weather was quite unsettled, however, alternating between rain and sunshine. When we reached the trailhead, it was around 4pm. Before we started the LT's first and rather notorious climb, I told everyone that we'd try to cover about 10-11 miles by sunset.

And cover it we did. We conquered the first nasty climb, pausing only briefly to catch our breath, then donned rain gear, as the clouds moved in, obscuring what are no doubt some lovely plateau views from the top. We descended the slippery and wet hollow into Little Bear Road (welcome to Pennsylvania!), adjusted some gear at the ranger station, then climbed for High Knob and the views of the river valley. Unicorn Dust expatiated on turkey farms. From there, the trail undulated for a few more miles till we crossed a creek at the 10-mile mark. The sun was just setting, so we pitched, and settled in for the night. Wawa whistled us to sleep.

Saturday, we were up at 6am and walking before 7am, aiming to walk a 24-mile day that would set us up for the entire trip. We noted that the campsite at 11.5 was probably a little better than the one at 10 miles. The miles were easy in the morning, eventually taking us through some private lands along a road, which opened out into some lovely meadows. It was mid-morning when we passed the club that The Look and Beaver Slayer had talked their way into. We descended to Kettle Creek, and enjoyed lunch, then climbed out of the valley. Some of us tacked on the Angels Falls side trail, though it was rather tough to glimpse amid the foliage. We hurried along, eventually gathering again at about mile 27. The miles were starting to tell on us a bit (Mile Marker had some terrible blisters that never seemed to slow her down), but we vowed to press on to mile 34. A very steep climb took us back to the plateau, and the group spread apart some as we passed Split Rock. Around 6pm, we reached our intended campsite at the top of Ketchum Run. Backpackers filtered in for a time, but we had plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the lovely evening.

My snoring irritated Tree Hugger so much that she tried to stuff my head in her backpack.

Sunday dawned and we were hiking by 7am. And here is where Loyalsock started to show us its riches. Ketchum Falls were glorious, Wawa and I disturbed slumbering backpackers at its base with our photography, and then the trail rode high to the Lower Alpine and Alpine viewpoints, which were just starting to clear of early morning mists when we reached them. Other falls followed, and we endured the steep descent to Worlds End State Park, where we rallied at a picnic table in the shade, consuming burgers and cokes. In the early afternoon, we trickled out of the park, climbing back up to the plateau. Tree Hugger decided she would bushwhack to the top, then decided better of it. Our line nice and stretched out, we crossed the marshy area atop the plateau before descending to the next run. There, next to two boots nailed mysteriously to a tree, we made camp in a narrow area near the falls (about mile 50). Only 17 miles that day, but after the previous day's long walk, no one complained about taking it easy.

(I had been carrying a fair amount of camera gear, including a tripod, so I was delighted to have a few hours to play with my camera and work on getting some silky water effects with some long exposures.)

We were all eager to hit the trail the next morning, and so we woke at 5am and were walking before 6am. Plateau miles flew by; we passed sleeping backpackers at Somes Pond (I thought camping here was illegal!), the we dropped down to cross the creek, walked along the railroad grade for a spell, then descended for the gorgeous views of the rapids at Haystack. Glorious, easy miles followed along the river in the mid-morning sunlight. We were glad to be done, of course, but it almost seemed to end too early, as we all filtered in to the trailhead from about 9am to 10am. Biltmore and Tree Hugger were first, though Tree Hugger had been discarding her gear along the route, for me to gather it up!

Final splits were 10-24-17-9, which means we covered the 60-mile trail in about 66 hours, total time elapsed, exactly as we planned. Six new people--Matt, Unicorn Dust, Tree Hugger, Mile Marker, Wawa, and Biltmore--earned their veteran plus status ... and amply so, with this challenging trail.

Unicorn Dust gave Tree Hugger a ride on his bike to the local breakfast joint, where we appalled locals with our ripe smell as we huddled around the breakfast bar. Wawa made a thing called a Creamy Mary (ice cream in tomoto juice?); Mountain Slayer had meat with extra meat. Our celebration was only marred when 5-0 took down Unicorn Dust as he sped by on his bike. :(

And then it was home (though my car did stop at the ABC Brewery in Harrisburg!). Overall, it was a great trail and a fine followup to my previous Memorial Day trips on the STS. The LT proved challenging, varied, and lovely. Not as wild as the STS, but similar in difficulty. Not as hard as the Black Forest Trail, but much more diverse. I don't think anything in PA compares to the different environments on this trail, especially the river stretch near Haystack ... If only Deb's were somehow on the route!

Chapeau to the eight who undertook and completed this great trip! Eight started and eight finished!

Hua Davis posted on

Well done. A nice summery. Thanks Martin!!

Joffrey Peters posted on

Wait... Ben got pulled over on his bike?! Please tell me it was for speeding. I've always wanted to get pulled over for speeding on my bike.

Michael Martin posted on

It was a motorcycle. ;)