Trip Report: VMO Black Forest Trail - Non-Dumbasses!

Posted by Will on

After some shuffling about of leadership and attendees, Eeyore, Blue Blazes, Liza and I rendezvoused at the Savage Marc station in the early morning of Halloween. Hua gave us a start with her orange face paint as she pulled up!

We made the long drive up to Slate PA in just under 4 hours, and located the porcupine free parking lot The Look had researched for us. It seems the prickly critters have a taste for salty vehicle parts. Taking no chances, I also littered the ground around the Forester with moth balls. Supposedly this will keep them at bay - like garlic for vampires.

A short stroll over the Slate Run Bridge brought us to Hotel Manor, and just to the left of that was the prophesied bridge over Slate Run itself. Less than a quarter mile of spur trail brought us to the BFT proper, and we were off on our counter-clockwise loop!

After the first short climb, Eeyore made a devastating discovery - he had left his Baby Bell cheese in the car! He pushed on through bitter disappointment. We finished the rest of the climb to the ridgeline and the first campsite. I took a minute to leave a DCUL sign for Team Dumbass that would be coming through the darkness in a few hours.

Another short climb brought us to the plateau, where we started cruising. Aside from the occasional ankle ambusher hidden in the leaves, the trail was soft and easy walking. We took a few pics as we passed the overlooks but overall made good time, and then started the steep descent back down to the water.

The next climb was not as steep, but went on a seemingly forever. After hitting the top, a gentle descent took us to 44. I carved a quick note in some mulch for Team D.A.. Just beyond this gravel road around mile 13.5 we found some good camping with about 30 minutes to sunset. We made camp, and Hua had a fire roaring in no time! Luck was with us, the forecast rain only drizzled slightly on us as we ate dinner. Backpacker midnight came right on time, and we were off to our down cocoons. Temps were maybe in the mid 30’s at worst.

The next morning, we were up and off a few minutes before 8. The sky was overcast, but still the rain held off by some miracle. We only had to contend with sporadic light drizzle. This day was more of a roller coaster, lots of climbs, and sharper descents. Some of these were quite treacherous as we slipped on wet leaves and rocks. We avoided getting wet feet on the numerous water crossings as long as possible, but inevitably all our shoes and socks were soaked from slips in the creeks or the sopping wet trails.

Temps bounced around the low 40s most of the day, and made for nice hiking! Our efforts at leaving a rousing note for Team D.A. at the route 44 trail register was foiled by a soggy log book. It turns out this would be the only book they checked, so they missed out on Eeyore’s encouraging taunts.

We pushed through the climbs and had easy walks on the plateaus in between, keeping a moderate but steady pace. We even had a luxurious lunch stop with hot lunch! Eeyore had to make do with trail mix and whiskey.

We reached Callahan Run at 2pm, where I scribbled a greeting for our pursuers on a rock with a piece of charcoal. One more climb up and over Hemlock Mt. brought us to Naval Run where we made camp at 4pm. I was glad to give my knee a rest - the descents were murder today!

We enjoyed another rousing fire courtesy of Hua while Liza impressed us with her firewood gathering. I suggested the trail name Xena (since the reference to She-Ra was lost on all but Mike and I) while she hoisted rocks to make a lounge chair. Mike told us a ghost story, and we swapped other tales late into the night - aka 8:30. One by one we retreated to our shelters, settling in for a cold night.

We had decided we couldn't make things too easy on the chase team, so we were up at 6 (after an extra hour of sleep from DST) to get on the trail at 7. The morning greeted us with cold winds and hail! We set off after breakfast, dousing our small fire.

We weren't quite on the ball this morning! As we chatted away, we blundered by the left hand turn from the forestry path that would start our climb. After coming to an intersection with no orange blazes, we plowed ahead to a parking area and trailhead. We jumped on the Lance Trail from here, which fortunately reconnected us with the BFT. Precious minutes were lost, and I expected to see Karan burst out of the treeline at any moment. But at least we avoided doubling back which is abhorrent to me.

This climb was a long one, and we were rewarded at the top by frigid arctic winds. Our shoes were quickly soaked by trudging through the snow and hail, but no more precip would fall on us this day. In fact by mid-morning, blue skies began to appear for the first time. Twice, we startled white-tail deer that ran across the forestry road as we continued northwest.

Apparently I zoned out at some point and wandered off the BFT for a few minutes at an intersection. When I caught up to the trio - they thought I was Karan for a moment! After a couple short dips and climbs, we had a short break at a surprisingly clear pond about 3 miles from the finish. I scribbled another charcoal note - still expecting to see John and company charge out of the brush behind us.

We knocked out the remaining climbs, and plowed through the thick and treacherous carpet of leaves on the descents. More than one of us took a spill along the way. Liza was ready to try out trekking poles, while Hua simple went with the shuffling and arms-outstretched method of sliding down the leafy slopes.

As we approached Slate Run, we found that the final section had been rerouted to the road - so we missed out on a final frigid water crossing and instead went straight back to the Hotel Manor and the car. We regrouped, and piled into the Forester to head back to the Manor for a bite - but instead found Karan walking across the bridge! Kylie was just steps behind, followed by John, Peter and Mike.

We had a quick reunion before heading to Williamsport to find some food. The Bullfrog was far too busy and popular for us hungry hikers to wait for a table, so we braved the roaring windswept streets for a couple more blocks to the Brickyard for burgers. We were all dangerously close to food comas as we made our goodbyes and headed for home.

Thanks to Jimmy for getting this all setup, it was regrettable that you and Miles couldn’t make it! Mike, Liza, and Hua, you were all great company as always and made the BFT look easy. I’m glad we got to catch up with Team Dumbass after! Also big thanks to John for your logistics research and tips - I was glad to find my Subaru free from porcupine nibbles.

Hua Davis posted on

WOW!!! The trip report has written faster than NA group..Haha... NA has to catch us on this one [:D]. Will, thanks so very much for the detailed summary. Also, thanks for the long driving go and back for the hike!!

Liza posted on

Great trip report! My highlights included bonfire building with Hua, and being woken up half an hour early by Mike on Sunday morning to see the snow falling. I learned a lot from Will about winter hammocking, and am going to look into upgrading my hammock for colder temperatures--his setup looked very comfy and cozy, especially on the second night when there weren't many flat spots for tents. Also after taking at least 10 falls and sustaining some pretty frightening bruises going downhill through the leaves I finally saw the benefits of using trekking poles, and will certainly bring a pair on my next trip with that type of climb and descent. It was great to meet up with the Dumb-Ass group at the end of the trip, and I look forward to seeing everyone again soon on other trips!

Karan posted on

Nice trip report, Will! Seems like I was haunting you guys on Sunday :) We missed a lot of messages from you but were very happy when we saw the ones we found. It was also refreshing to meet you guys at the end and go for a meal together! Happy times..

Will posted on

Thanks guys! Fun trip for sure - great warm up for winter weather! I'm glad we all got to have a celebratory meal at the end to catch up, great way to end the trip!

Liza, here is a link to Hammock Gear's quilts: - I used the Burrow 20 top quilt and the Phoenix 0 under quilt. Way overkill for this weekend! But my 40 UQ would have been a little light I think, and I feel having more insulation in the underquilt is the way to go as it wraps around you. If you get one of those, you can just pile your 15 degree bag on top and be toasty. All the lengths and widths are customizable, and we get 10% off!