Trip Report: Section 5 of MST: Labor Day Weekend: Hairy John to Woolrich

Posted by Michael Martin on

***Warning: not all elements of this trip report are entirely factual.***

So, my presentiment that sections were going to get logistically difficult as we reached the north-central part of Pennsylvania definitely came true. Evan was picking up Superman and B~~~ from downtown; Savage was driving up on his own; Shuttle and I thought, "Hey, why don't we leave a little early and stop off in Selinsgrove for dinner at that brewery, before we set up that shuttle?" We left at about 2:30pm. 2h30 in and we had only reached Frederick, Maryland! The traffic was just outrageous. Slowly, we crawled northwards. Selinsgrove really has a neat downtown area and a number of attractive eateries, but we were two hours behind and just grabbed a pint and an appetizer. We drove to Woolrich, left my car, and headed south to Hairy Johns. When will this end, we asked?

We arrived at about 11pm--we could have got to the ADKs in that time. The others were already there. We drank beer in the dark and shot the bull till 1am. Yes, U-Turn was up till 1am. At last it started to rain, so we inflated our air paids in a pavilion and dozed through the night.

Saturday, we were up at 7am and on the trail at 7:40am. We teased Evan about his penchat for walking off early. North of Hairy John, we climbed Winkleblech Mountain, and joked about the unusual name. Shuttle thought that the PA Rockhopper award should be called the Winkleblech award. It was steamy and humid, but we had cloud cover all day, so not so bad. The trail was in great shape, and we cruised into the R.B. Winter park, just after noon. I spotted the concessions area, and we all acted like we had been in the woods for a week. As Evan said, "It was a blessing."

From Winter, we climbed to a ridgeline, and enjoyed flat walking to the Sand Mountain Fire Tower. The gnats were thick, so we clustered around Savage, hoping they would prefer his superior height. Down we went, steeply in places. Regretfully, around 3pm, we passed up a campsite where Superman had waited for us. This is at Fryingpan Run--one of the best campsites we've seen on the MST, but we had miles to go before we could rest. We pressed onwards, at last crossing I-80. One last climb, then we dropped down near Gas Pipe spring. Indeed, there was an aroma of natural gas in the area, and a pipe does cross right through the stream, though the water was sweet and cold. We had walked 21 miles and we were staying there.

Just as our mood dropped, who should happen by but the Big Cheese? He happened to have a dutch oven and made us cherry cobbler. Around our campfire, we drank whisky and ate cobbler, and our morale rose. The weather didn't seem inclined to rain, so we all cowboy-camped. Owls hooted through the night, and the sounds of the interstate drifted to us.

Michael Martin posted on

Up at 6am, on the trail before 7am. We were in for a pressure cooker of a day as we started off on what we termed "Operation Screw Over Karan." All we had to do, we figured, was walk a 24-mile day, then do 12 miles Monday morning, reaching PA-44, then the make-up group would have a devil of a time catching us. Simple enough. We set out to do it.

Of course, our car was at Woolrich, so Superman, Sven the Swedish Hiker, Savage, and I set out to go fast, get my car, go get the others from Hairy John, park some at PA-44, then return to sleep at Woolrich. Additionally, we'd have the coolers and brats that were stashed in Shuttle's car for a cook out tonight. Oh boy, what could possibly go wrong?

Initially, the temps were reasonable, as the clouds lingered and we climbed the gentle grade up White Deer Hole Creek. Topping out on the ridge, we enjoyed easy walking ... until the tortuous MST-style descent into Ravensburg Park. The trail has got to follow a property line, and it's not good walking. We front four gathered in the park, peering at the contour lines ahead. Yep, some interesting climbing. It was hot now. Really hot. So hot, I got a little disoriented and started the wrong way on the trail! I figured it out fast and was pressing northwards.

Somewhere on the steep climb up Great Island Path--no trivial thing at 90-odd degrees--I drank my sixth liter of the day. I was out, and cranky about it. The Big Cheese passed me, carrying an 80-pound pack, full entirely of water. He let me have a few liters and I was good.

I caught up with Savage at the source at Yarns Run, where I had initially thought to camp. It was only 2pm and Operation Screw Over Karan was in full swing. Will and I stared mounfully up at the steep grade of Round Top. I had to get my mind right, but of course the trail topped out eventually, then descended very steeply indeed--one of the steeper descents on the MST, I think. Somebody had done a heckuva lot of work on the trail leading up to Spook Hollow Road.

And so began the afternoon road walk to Woolrich ... in the blazing sun. Past PA-220, past the junk yard, past the rows of GE corn, where there was not a trace of shade. It was an oven. Savage and I crossed the Susquehannah together, Sven the Swedish and Superman ahead.

Oh no, there was road work on the road north of the river! A massive obstacle! How shall we cross? Again, the Big Cheese to the rescue. He happened to be carrying a bridge that he set down across the fissure. We were saved!

Just before we started up the hill into the woods, Savage and I spotted a gathering at the VFW outpost. They were super friendly, and I caged a beer and a bottle of water from them.

The last stretch went fast, we walked through the woods, then down into town, then into the park, where Superman and Sven were waiting. It was 6pm, and we'd done 24 miles in the scorching heat, at least as hot as the day when Beast Mode and I had taken on the derecho. We completed the mission with the cars, but somehow we decided not to walk the extra miles in the morning. It seemed like kind of a mean trick to play on Karan, plus we could walk those miles on a mild October day. We all thought of things we could do at home that were better than that heat.

So, when we returned to the park, Shuttle and B~~~ were there. We heated up some charcoal, roasted brats, and relaxed, sharing tales from the day. Again, the weather was so nice, we just slept on the ground in and around the shelter (so nice of the Woolrich folks to maintain this shelter but there needs to be a way to unlock the bathrooms!). Three nights in the woods, and no one pitched a shelter. That's a strange record!

The next morning, breakfast and a comparatively easy drive home. So, we backpacked splits of roughly 21 and 24, for a 45 mile weekend. And we're north of I-80, north of the Susquehannah, north of Williamsport. The quest continues Columbus Day weekend, and we'll pick up at Woolrich. Perhaps we'll see the Big Cheese again.

Thanks, everyone!


Karan posted on

Lol, this made me laugh so hard.. "OSOK" - hahaha.

I am glad you guys didn't go for the extra miles. Although if you did, it would have been [u]only[/u] 12 more miles... Myyehhhh :P

(I should probably revisit this after I do the makeup section)

Michael Martin posted on

I think, given the logistics, you'll find doing the 45-46 miles, over a short weekend, with the driving, plenty of challenge. The trail's not too bad, and the cooler temps will help.

To do the extra 12 miles would be brutal in a short weekend.

Karan posted on

That's true - its a ton of driving. Especially heading north on a Friday evening. I hate 495 North..

Evan Mc posted on

Three cheers for the Big Cheese! Great write-up and trail. I look forward to finishing the MST, even if I have to start from the beginning and work my way back to the middle. It will seem fitting to end at Hairy John's.