Having done all the previous sections on Tuscarora Trail, I was eagerly looking forward to this section. Sure, one of the reasons was that it didn't involve road walking. Another reason was that we would be on the ridges for a long time - so I was expecting good overlooks along the trail. This was pretty much how the trip went - more or less.
On Saturday morning, Miles, Matt and me met in Hagerstown and set off towards the endpoint of the trip. Once there, Hua joined us too. We got into Hua's car and drove to the trailhead - just off furnace road off PA 456 (this brought back memories). It was pouring hard all along the short drive, but thankfully reduced to occasional drizzling when we met everyone else :- Michael, Jen, Mimi, Sophie and Trevor. This was Sophie's and Trevor's first trip with DCUL. Within minutes, we were all on the trail.
The first part of the trip involved a steady 1500 ft. climb - this would take us to the top of a ridge. As we got to the top, the terrain turned very rocky. It became difficult to hike at a good pace because the rocks were slippery due to the fresh rain especially with moss covered on them. We took our time going through this section. Lots of people slipped on these rocks, luckily there was no major injury. Another interesting thing about the trail in this rocky section was that it wasn't well blazed. In a way, it was telling us to find the best possible way close to the top of the ridge and stick to it. By the time we stopped for lunch at ~1 PM, it had been 2.5 hours since we started and we had covered just 4.5 miles. I was worried if we would make it to the campsite in time - we had to cover total 18 miles for the day. Guess we were going to find out. At the lunch point, the group split into two - the front group had Mimi, Hua, Sophie and Trevor - remaining people including me stayed a little behind. Once we resumed hiking, the rocks started disappearing and the trail became easier to walk on despite the thick bushes with infrequent brambles. The ridges being pretty much flat, so we were back to our normal ~3 mph speeds. Also, it had stopped raining and the clouds were starting to clear making the day brighter. The temperatures were ideal for hiking. It was very pleasant. I was hiking with Miles in this section and we discussed a range of topics including African rap music, Alejandro Jodorowsky, movies, 2/3 of a cookie, Haystack etc. This made the section go really fast. We reached PA 16 and by this time, the weather had made a complete U-turn - it was sunny and we could see blue skies. Nice. We took a short snack break at PA 16 and regrouped with Michael, Jen & Matt. Back on the trail, we observed that the trails had become much more nicer now - they were more wide and there were no brambles anymore. We hit a nice overlook facing the west just before US 30. We also came across a bar named Mountain House right next to US 30 - we were all tempted, but decided to skip as we had only couple of hours of sunlight. We crossed US 30 and continued with a short climb. In no time we reached Big Mountain - we paused here to catch some views. I was concerned about the front group since we hadn't seen them since lunch. A little worried, we approached Big Mountain Shelter - our campsite for the night. And, I was glad to find that the front group was here already. Hua already had a fire going - of course. The shelter was nice and cozy - 6 of us decided to sleep in it. Michael, Jen and Matt pitched up their tents. There were some flat spots to accommodate few more people. There was a nice stream too - it worked well for us. Everyone gathered around the fire for dinner and we had a nice chat. A new trail name for Mimi was suggested - Bubbly. I think she liked it. Around 10 PM, everyone started getting into their sleeping bags. The temperature dropped to ~45 degrees in the night - I think everyone was well prepared for it and slept well.
I woke up early to catch the sunrise at Big Mountain overlook. It was very amazing up there. Everybody else got up around 6 AM and started hitting the trail around 7 AM. I was a little late, but caught up with the group soon. Again, we walked in a beautiful section - the trail was wide. Skies were clear and blue. We reached Cowan's State Park and took a short snack break. It offered gorgeous views of Cowans Gap lake. With only 6 miles to go, we got back on the trail. I hung back a little waiting for Hua, but when she didn't turn up - I realized she might have gone ahead with the group in front. When I caught up with Jen ~3 miles later, I learnt that Hua was not in the front group. I waited for 30 minutes, but when she didn't turn up I decided to go ahead. I met Michael ahead and we thought we had waited enough for her to catch up - she hikes fast - so she might be waiting for us at Cowan's Gap to come pick her up. We decided that next time we will have Hua carry a Walkie-Talkie and we would pair her with Miles. We continued towards our destination - Fannesttsburg Cabin Road. Just before hitting the road, we met an interesting man who was teaching his kid how to use a gun. The gunshots were really loud and scared some people in our group. Oh, well. Soon, it was all over. Now all we had to do was to find Hua. We had already tried her cell phone with no success. I drove to Cowan's Gap in hopes of finding here but she wasn't there. Michael suggested an idea - he would start from the endpoint towards Aughwick Road and I would go from Cowan's Gap park to Aughwick Road to meet Michael. This way, we would zero down on Hua if she was on the trail. I reached the rendezvous point without finding Hua on the way. As soon as I sat down waiting for Michael to show up, I got a call from Hua - she had landed on Standing Stone trail and she ended up hiking 10 miles on it. I was happy to know she was absolutely fine. I asked Matt to meet her and drive to the ending point. Around this time, Michael showed up and he was relieved to know that Hua was fine too. Soon we all drove to the trailhead to get the remaining cars. Hungry, everyone rolled into Antietam Brewery (Thanks Jen) with a big appetite. Hua bought everyone the first round of beers - Cheers. After a big lunch, everyone said their goodbyes and headed home.
Overall, I liked this section a lot. It did seem difficult initially, but soon became quite scenic for most of the time. And I had great company and great weather to go with it. Thanks to everyone who joined this trip and made it more fun. Thanks to Michael for his guidance all along. Two more sections to go!
A fine writing. Thanks Karan [:D]