Chucky said it was time to come out and play!
In hindsight, I should have realized Dan getting called in at the last minute to stay in town for work and asking me to step in to lead the trip was similar to many intros to horror flicks.
After driving for several hours and getting to the final stretch, we assumed staying on 144N rather than following Google's convoluted directions would be more straight forward. Turns out that was a mistake. While it gave us quite a quite nice tour of the local small towns, the twists and turns made for an extended journey. Finally getting out of the small towns and into state forest lands we began looking for the starting point for our trip. Seeing a parking lot marked "Chuck Keiper Trail" we thought we had arrived, so we got geared up and got ready to head out. A look at the trailhead map board, however, let us know we were at the wrong spot, so it was back in the car and looking for one of the three other lots in the north-central area we actually wanted to start in.
After another 15 minutes or so we found a big lot and started looking for the trail. The "you are here" area circled on the map board led us on a wild goose chase searching for the trail for almost 20 minutes more until we finally figured out we were two miles east of where the map board told us we were.
It was already past 11pm at that point, so we decided it would make more sense if we hit one of the other parking areas further west along the trail to save ourselves some hiking for the night. Back in the car we quickly found the next parking area a mile down the road. On to the next lot to see if we could save ourselves another mile or so that night, but there we couldn't locate the proper connecter trail in the night, so it was back to the last lot and known trail location so we could finally get started.
We donned our headlamps and got moving. It was good to be on the trail, and with only a few of normal night-hiking challenges to following the trail we were making good progress. About a mile in Hua suddenly announced that she had lost her camera. Grabbing Mark's keys, she was going to backtrack and then catch up with us. We wished her luck in finding her camera on the leaf covered trail in the dark and continued on. The trail dipped and climbed and finally started the descent down the ravine to the night's camp. We called it at the bottom and set up camp a bit after 12:30, with Hua rolling into camp around 1:20, having found her camera in the back seat of the car.
We woke up at 7 and everyone had rolled out by 8. The morning basically consisted of side-hilling the entire time, a especially challenging when it was totally covered in leaves. When it wasn't side-hilling, the trail was climbing, with Chucky's idea of replacing switchbacks with turns taking you more directly uphill instead. More side-hilling followed, until we finally hit the first actual switchback of the trip. Woohoo!
Eventually the side-hilling ended and we got to forest roads, drivable trail, and wide trails - relatively easy traveling for the rest of the day - and thought at last we had overcame the evilness of Chucky's plan.
Hua and Mark pulled into camp early and as par for the course, Hua had a big fire going as Ted and I pulled in just at dusk. After the short night's sleep the evening before, backpacker midnight was quickly called and we all headed off for a full nights sleep.
The wake-up call came at 6:30 and we were on the trail by 7:30. More easy trail continued in the morning, although there were several instances of the trail taking a quick turn off of a forest road that were easily missable but quickly remedied. Eventually the CKT kicked it up a notch and started with what would seem to be the theme for the rest of the evening and the next morning - heading straight up the hill quickly followed a steep descent straight down the other side. Few climbs seemed to be long, but the steep leaf-covered descents on the other side seemed to be as much, if not more, work than the ascent had been on the other side.
Eventually the steep ups and downs gave way to one last long descent along a beautiful ravine followed by several miles of side-hilling, with a gorgeous looking grade down by the creek with several intermittent campsites located along side it. We finally passed some other backpackers, the first we had seen on the trip, a crew from a Pittsburgh based backpacking meetup. When Ted and I passed them, they were setting up camp and asked if we were hiking with the Asian woman that had blown by them hours before.
After a few more miles than anticipated, we came across Hua and Mark set up at a campsite that had the fire ring pretty much directly on the trail. Having had a good night's sleep the evening before and not having too many miles remaining on Sunday, we stayed up a little longer before finally calling it a night.
A bit of relatively easy climbing the next morning was followed by one of the steepest descents of the trip. Easier walking continued for a while after that, which Chucky for some reason deciding to give us switchbacks #2 and #3 along a wider section of side-hilling (only 3 switchbacks in 50 some miles!). The group reconvened at the end of the side-hilling before starting up the final gradual climb of the trip. We had gone about a mile or so when Hua realized she was missing her camera for the second time on the trip. Back down the hill she went, staring at the ground and brushing away the leaves. The rest of us continued on, taking a break at the final and just about only scenic view. While I waited for Hua, the others continued to the car to get it warmed up and ready to go. Hua eventually pulled in, having found her camera on the return portion of her back-track after grabbing a branch and using it to sweep away the leaves on the trail.
Having finished up a bit early in the day, the group was content to wait until we got to Altoona for lunch, where we stopped at the Knickerbocker for beer and grub. After a difficult decision amongst all the delicious sounding sandwiches, we ordered and waited for our food. When Hua's burger came out it seemed like it was as big as her head!
All-in-all it was a challenging trip with good company. Kudos to all for successfully surviving Chucky in good form!
WOW!! [:D] Thanks Brian for the trip report. My adrenaline is pumping out excessively while reading your report. It brought me back to the vivid memory of the CKT hike. I have listened to your suggestion, and have a hook attached to my pack to prevent the camera slips out from the case.
I sent 'Jason,' Chucky, the Texas chainsaw killer, and a few other horror-flick friends after you guys (according to script), but they must've gotten lost on all those leaf-strewn sidehill trails. Oh, well: there's always next time (cue evil laugh).
Any worthwhile vistas along the way? The map says there should be, but it's hard to tell the reality behind map icons like these sometimes.
It was pretty similar to the STS in terms of views and scenery. The main vista is at the north parking lot along 144. There are a few other power line right-of-ways that they mark as vistas, but they're nothing spectacular.
Yeah, sounds about how it looked in the photos. More in the trees than overlooking them. If anyone's really feeling masochistic this winter, why not snow-shoe the CKT? Count me *out*. :-p
Great trip report, Brian! I remember all those side-hills. In 2012, I did them with a sprained ankle. Good times!