Trip Report: Tuscarora Trail Section 8: “The End is Nigh!”

Posted by Michael Martin on

When we set out to walk the Tuscarora Trail (TT), we were looking for adventure, a less-traveled trail that would link up familiar sights and generally offer us a good backpacking challenge. Friday night, eight of us set out to complete the final section. The drive from DC to Harrisburg to set up the anchor cars took a ridiculously long time, but Jeff and Blue Blazes were there waiting for me at the parking lot where the AT crosses PA 850, right on time. We drove south to where the PA 74 and the TT intersect to cache some water. The Pennsylvania ridges looked dry on the map! But would the cache freeze? With the lights of Mechanicsburg twinkling below, we three looked skeptically at each other. An interesting gamble.

Farther south to Three Square Hollow Road, and then the plan goes to hell. The road is icy and, like a good Texan, we’re halfway up it before I realize that I’m a cat up a tree. Shuttle and B.A. call. They’re behind me and having problems. “No way,” I say. “Don’t take any more vehicles up here.” They park and begin the process of walking up the hill. Blue Blazes and Jeff labor heroically to help me get my car up the slope. After five or six ditch-extraction exercises, we at last succeed. It’s not long before Turbo, Pringle, Aileen, B.A., and Shuttle join us. We stare grimly at the road, wondering how we’re going to get the car down come Sunday.

It was adventure we wanted, right?

Oh well, it’s time to backpack. It’s already near 10 o’clock, so we don’t go far, grabbing the first flat spot. This is my first winter backpacking trip this season; I feel a little rusty. But Shuttle and I snuggle under my Trailstar, in bivies, with about an inch of snow. We drink some whisky and fall asleep.

Saturday morning, we’re on the trail by 7am and … walking through a hail of gunfire. It is the last day of hunting season and there are hunters everywhere. They’re not too happy to see us. We’re not too happy to see them. One says something about how we need orange. He does have a point (B.A. and I were remiss). We have everyone put on their brightest colors. There is blood, hair, and guts all over the trail—so much for Leave No Trace. I’ve never seen hunting activity as intense as this. It goes on all morning. We descend to Colonel Denning State Park—half the group goes briefly astray—then climb to the Wagon Wheel Shelter, where many of us take our dejeuner sur la neige. Salami and Baby Bell and Chex for me!

On we go, climbing to the viewpoint at Flat Rock, then hiking along a creek—a pleasant stretch. We tank up. B.A. has informed us that there is a brand new shelter ahead, just shy of PA 74, but that it’s dry. The shelter is merely “proposed” on our maps. As the afternoon wears on, the footing goes quite bad. The TT is famously rocky, and we’ve crossed some rough ground already, but with a little snow and ice … It’s slow going—maybe 1.5 mph, no more. Shuttle and I are together; Pringle and Turbo behind; the others in front. We turn the corner and enter the Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary, which I guess is hunting lingo for privately owned killing fields. There is blood on the ground, and the path is lined with deer blinds. If I were Bambi, I’d try to find a nice quiet zoo somewhere. Gun shots ring out in the twilight.

Michael Martin posted on

The sun goes down. Shuttle and I are now crawling over the rocks. I have been paying careful attention to the map. Shouldn’t we have reached that shelter by now? We grow irritated. Shuttle thinks she sees head lamps. There are none. I declare that this shelter probably doesn’t exist and we’ll soon reach PA 74.

At last, our eyes perceive the firelight and Blue Blaze’s celebratory huzzah! B.A. goes from chump to champion in a heartbeat, as Jeff remarks. We’ve covered 21 miles over rough ground and in winter conditions. Not bad … but everyone is tired. Jeff and Aileen are in their bags in the shelter. We share some apple brandy and enjoy the beautiful shelter with its awesome view of the settled areas to the south. The folks who made this shelter really out-did themselves here: it is one of several truly excellent shelters on the TT. Shuttle and I sleep on the patio in our bivy sacks.

Sunday and a 6:30am start. We have 15-ish miles to cover to finish the trail and reach the cars on the AT. We worry that it is going to be rocks, rocks, and rocks, and that we’ll be at it till 9pm. The rocks go on. They go on some more. PA 74 and our water cache—unfrozen! More rocks. Shuttle has fallen so many times that I make her put her camera away. “Stop making baby Joffrey cry!” I admonish her.

At last, around Longs Gap, the rocks relent. Smelling the barn, we start to fly, averaging around 3mph. Descent via power-line cut to PA 34, where there is some road walking to a traffic circle, then a hard left to regain the ridge. This is one of the few road sections since the Maryland border. We marvel at the work that has been done to keep this trail open, given how hemmed in it is by private property. PATC has done a great job. We plow on the last few miles and reach the AT!

And so ends the journey we started about a year before! Eight sections, four in the winter. Roughly 260 miles, as we tacked on Little Devils Stairs and had a few extra miles to make the sections work. We celebrate, take photos, and descend north on the AT over rolling fields. It’s a lovely way to end the trail.

Car shuttle reversed. Blue Blazes drives me up to Cowpens Road to rescue my car. The road is melted out, but there was a car teetering on the edge. I think we all held our breath as we drove by. But we’re off to the Appalachian Brewing Company in Gettysburg—a fine establishment for festivities.

Thanks for Karan for leading this one! Congratulations to him and Mimi for finishing the entire trail with me. And thanks, too, to the many other DC ULers who walked sections of the TT. It has been a heckuva trip!

I’ll be compiling some information on the entire trail and consolidating some of our photos and write ups!

And … I’ll be putting up the first section of the Mid-State Trail, soonishly.


Hua Davis posted on

U-turn, thanks a lot for the fine trip report-the last chapter is finally draw a period to the TT backpack. [:D]