The MST’s fearsome reputation, as well as some of its quirks, had me rolling from Old Town at noon on Friday to do some last minute scouting. After getting lost in Flintstone, Maryland, I found the beginning point at Solid Wood, just a few meters (MST also means the Metric System Trail) north of the border. I drove on along the trail. The snow was coming down and accumulating at least 3-4” along the route. So much for a 3-season start! We were plainly in the winter "bonus" round. I had planned to drive in to check out Biddle Place, but the unmaintained road was covered in powder and I never saw it. In Everett, I stopped off to scout the Union Hotel. I found the beer tap completely satisfactory. At 6:30pm, I met Turbo, Pringle, and The Look at the Civil War Trenches north of the border. We left two cars in a bay—I had made a valiant attempt to drive up the little road, but it wasn’t happening.
Back at Solid Wood, Savage, Blue Blazes and Sophie were napping. A few of us walked down the road to the border. Shuttle, B~~~, Patricia, B.A., and Covergirl pulled up around 8pm. The Mennonite fellow who owned the property pulled up and chatted with us. The sky had lowered down to the earth and visibility was poor in the last minutes of twilight. Plainly, he thought we were a bit cracked. We set off down the first few meters of the trail, headlamps blazing. As we turned off along the border of a farm to gain Buchanan State Forest, a farmer must have seen our 12 headlamps. “What are you doing?” she shouted. “The Mid-State Trail” we replied. “You’re going to freeze to death!”
Yes, this is our idea of fun! It really wasn’t that cold …
We walked about 2 miles into the forest in the falling snow. The trail was gentle, well-marked, and fairly easy to follow, given the conditions. B.A. and I conferred. We thought it might get steep, so we grabbed a flattish spot. Probably it would have been better to walk another hour. Shuttle and I crept under the Trailstar, snug in our bivies. We ate fancy sandwiches and drank whisky.
Saturday morning, we were up at 6:30am and walking north on the MST by 7:15am. Despite the powder, it was easy walking, much of it along forest road. We crossed Bean’s Cove Road in the mid-morning and passed through a stand of evergreens, where the snow fell off them like clumps. It was like were being pelted by snowballs! We climbed for the highest point on the MST—not so high, objectively, but it did seem to dominate the surrounding countryside, the valleys of the Blue Ridge shrouded in mist—then descended at times steeply into the Sweet Root Wildlife Management area. Wary of dry stretches, we filled up at a spring. I waited for Shuttle, who it turned out, had a stomach bug. Pringle’s knee bothered her. We trooped on till PA-326, through a warren of hollows, where we re-joined the main group. After a quick lunch, we were climbing for the 18 miles of ridgeline between 326 and Everett—reputed a very tough part of the MST. By this point the sun had come out. A few people got a bit turned around up there, but righted themselves.
This ridgeline is, indeed, very striking, and it amazes me that more hikers don’t know it. The MST manual—written by the recently deceased Tom Thwaites, who created the trail—compares it to North Fork Mountain, West Virginia. Indeed, I think it is better. There are spells where the ridgeline is quite articulated and far more knife’s edge-like than you would believe. There are a few points where you really are scrambling (a little) with drop offs to either side, and you certainly enjoy fine views to both sides. Of course, the slush made it a bit more difficult, but I didn’t find it too hard. The last miles of the Standing Stone Trail were harder; I found stretches of the Tuscarora Trail to be more difficult as well. Certainly it was rewarding and satisfying hiking. Consider that we did not see a single hiker the entire weekend!
Racking up 22 miles backpacking that ridgeline through that slush felt like a good solid day.
The night was passed in slush, our waypoint enlivened greatly by Blue Blaze’s unique talent. Sunday morning, we started with a sharp little climb back to the ridgeline. We’d had a hard freeze that night, the slush had turned to compacted snow (I never used my spikes, as it was not really icy) and the ridgeline was chilly in the wind, but at last, we ran out of mountain, and the MST—which we really found in very good shape, and extremely well marked—dropped down the mountain on the left, winding about some before crossing beneath the PA turnpike, following the Juniata River into Everett … through a gravel pit and a wood chip pile! Patricia had a very strange bear sighting on Main Street as we 12 rallied at the Union Hotel. Much food and beer was consumed; many tales were told. We celebrated to learn that the 4-state challenge had been completed safely, despite the slush. You really have to love trail towns, and Everett is a good one.
Somehow, my calculations were slightly off. Having hiked 2-22-10, for a total of 34 miles, we decided to call it in Everett and start section two there, otherwise we’d be out till past midnight. Our waitress was nice enough to drive The Look and I back to our nearby anchor vehicles. Soon, we were reversing the shuttle. I think we all made it home in the early evening.
All in all, the MST gave us the adventure we were after, and I am super excited to be walking it the remainder of this year! It definitely satisfies my desire to be walking something less often hiked and it was really a very beautiful route. So far—and we have just started, of course—much of the difficulty stems from logistics. We’re really going to need full shuttles for this … I’ll do a better job of that! We're going to need a lot of cars.
Great job by Sophie, Patricia, Savage, Turbo, Pringle, B~~~, The Look, B.A., Shuttle, Covergirl, and Blue Blazes! This was indeed a fabled group of hikers, worthy of the MST.
Thanks for such a timely trip report it kept everything FRESHY...[:D] Enjoied readying it as much as enjoied the hike!!![;)]
Thank you, Hua!
Ahem... mileage splits? Metric, man! Metric!