Ten backpackers, two pooches, a clear night, and a moon-lit wood...thus begun our short but winding circuit of a trail called "Thunder Swamp."
The beginning was boggy and meandering enough, with blazes sometimes hard to see (or else *huge*) and footing hard to find on the rocky, leaf-covered path. I was stumbling about like a drunk, obese cat (TM) on New Year's Eve. No matter: the magic of the fall forest prevailed, and after two miles and change of walking/stumbling the late arrivals-- or, as I prefer to call us, the 'magnificent seven'-- that is Karan, Kylie, Taylor, Brian (AKA B~~~), Mel, and I found John, Irina, Hua Hua, and Noah camped by-- or in Hua's case, in-- Bushkill Creek. We said hello then settled in for a welcome night of rest around midnight, stars overhead.
Saturday morning broke clear, with pale sunlight gradually growing. You could tell it was going to be a nice day (as forecast), and the weather did not disappoint. Nor, in fact, did the trail itself: between hemlock groves and babbling streams, swamps and dams, the gentle diversity of the landscape pleased us. We stopped for a bask in the ever-scarcer sunlight (it really gets dark this early?) and got our feet (if not boots) wet on a few creek crossings. We made camp a little before 4:00, with Ace and Buddy-- our canine [i]compadres[/i]-- very ready to rest.
Oh, did I mention that there were hunters? Quite a few. The first day of bear rifle-hunting season. Perhaps not the greatest day to walk the trail in PA, true-- shots rang out with some frequency-- but at least it wasn't the *deer* rifle hunt kicking off (a week from today, for those keeping score at home). We managed with our orange apparel-- though not orange enough, we were told-- and otherwise brightly-colored gear or garb. Methinks our hunter friends were none too delighted to see us bounding through their otherwise pristinely silent ambush attempt, but hey, the trail was still open for business! On the plus side, some of us got to see a trophy in the flesh: a slain bear dragged by several hunters as daylight faded. Guess not all those shots were for naught after all. This would also explain the fresh blood on the trail, and perhaps also some of the countless scat heaps we danced around toward the end of the day.
The Big Bear Swamp loop, for those interested, is worth the extra jaunt, which a few of us took while the others pitched camp. More secluded in feel than maybe any other part of the trail, the loop rises and falls as it rings the (mostly) unseen swamp that gives it its name. A mile or so in, the trail rises to what could be a lovely camp spot, facing west toward a setting sun and cushioned with moss. (What's not to like?) We moved on, though, and made it back to camp around dusk. It had felt like a fairly full day, after all (~17 miles total, I think).
And what better to cap off a cool autumn hike than a comforting campfire. Sure enough, the redoubtable Hua did not let us down. We gathered round, warmed up, ate dinner, sipped whiskey, and traded jokes and trail tales. Hua, we learned, avoids saying "Virginia" if at all possible. 'Little Brian' was broached (inevitably) but never brandished (mercifully). Clouds moved in, shrouding the moon, but we lingered by the fire and savored the moment. We had the place all to ourselves.
At 6:00 Sunday morning B~~~ did the wake-up call and we were all moving within an hour or so-- back-tracking on the TST's 'tail' to its 'body,' i.e., the main loop. I veered off trail a couple times as I yakked with John about this and that. (Always a hazard when the conversation gets amusing or even hilarious.) I nearly walked into someone's driveway, once, and he did not look amused. But even then we weren't shot, so maybe luck really was on our side all along.
The rest of the trail-- ~11 miles total on Sunday-- passed uneventfully, though the stretch toward the end along Red Rock Run was a true highlight. A cascade, a waterfall, boulders, broad flowing water...it felt like a different place all of a sudden. A nice boost to carry us over the finish line, which we crossed nice and early, just after noon. The sun shone and everyone was in one piece, unshot, and smiling (I think). All that was lacking was a bear sighting for ourselves, though you know-- be careful what you wish for.
The Gem & Keystone beckoned, and our post-hike meal did not disappoint. John and I had both been before, three years ago, after our riotous-- and, for me, infamous-- New Jersey AT trip. The beer was offline then, but back on now, and it was good. The chow hit the spot, too-- the dogs had their own Kibble lunch, in case you wondered-- and we all left sated if groggy. Nap time!
I can't think of a better way to have kicked off Thanksgiving Week. I didn't know what to expect from the TST exactly, and frankly was skeptical, but it turned out to be pretty nice. A solid shorter, gentler walk in the woods with some appealing features. Fall's a good time to go, and maybe early spring, too-- before the trail gets overgrown and buggy. We lucked out with the clear weather, and everything went off more or less without a hitch. Thanks to everyone for making the experience so fun and lively. "And they said it couldn't be done!"
Great trip report, Dan. The camp fire discussions are always interesting but Saturday night was one of the best I remember.
Enjoyed this report, I need to try harder to make my second (and third and fourth and fifth) DC UL trip happen next year (no, not ready for winter camping yet)
This trip report makes me miss DCUL and the lit of you ridiculous and amusing backpackers. Excellent writing. Thanks Heavy D!
Thank you, Joffrey! You and Annie are missed around these parts.
Great trip report Dan!