This trip report covers the April 2016 running of the Allegheny Front Trail http://www.meetup.com/DC-UL-Backpacking/events/230395551/
The trail was in great shape. It was well blazed and easy to follow. I only noted one blow-down in 42 miles and the shorter folks were able to limbo bar under it. The section that runs through the swamp had a number of planks on it, but still expect to get your feet wet on a portion of this section.
Cramer's guidebook, "Guide to the Allegheny Front Trail," covers the trail turn by turn in a clockwise direction starting from the East junction with Rattlesnake road. The map that comes with that book for $5 extra seems to be the best map that I found of the trail. It's definitely hikable with one of the other maps or a print out from Caltopo or Alltrails. As things went, it was sufficiently well blazed and marked that we only referenced the maps while we hiked. We did check it for water descriptions though, as Cramer had gone through the effort of noting the various sources.
Cramer's guidebook notes the AFT as 41.75 miles based on a wheel measurement. As this is consistent with Karan's GPS, it's likely an accurate distance.
So that folks could leave the DC area after work on Friday, we decided to meet at the trailhead between 9 and 10 pm on Friday night. As one of the folks was driving from NOVA, he had to leave work at 5 to get around part of the beltway at rush hour. Another left Baltimore right at 6 and got to the trailhead at 10, so it might have made sense to push the start time back to 10:30 pm. As is, there was an acceptable campsite about 150m in from the trailhead before hitting the field. We used this so as to start setting up while still waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. We stored our food in the car instead of hanging a line, to save a little bit of time too. For various reasons, we ended up with five cars for six hikers, which was too bad as it would have been great to have not been driving when we got to Otto's brewpub on the way back.
We hit the trail at 6:45 am, which was 0:25 after sunrise. It had rained on Friday in the area and we had a touch of drizzle while we were camping, but the weather for the rest of the weekend was fabulous with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s.
On the trail for the weekend, we only passed two other groups of backpackers, one pitched tent and one group of day hikers. Given the beauty of this trail and the proximity to Penn State, I had expected to see a lot more people on the trail. The group of six backpackers was probably from the College and we passed them going in the opposite direction twice, so they were clearly backpacking. Maybe people were hiking in the state park rather than on the trail surrounding the park. We saw some kayak's on the water. I forgot to sign the trail register.
Around noon, we stopped at a point with a good view of the red Moshannon to regroup. Based on doing 15 mi in just over 5 hours, the group in the front had been averaging almost 3 mph the entire time, so some in the group up front took a brief nap while waiting in the shade and dried their feet out. As almost everyone was already a Veteran member, we decided that we would next regroup at the campsite.
Based on the available data, we aimed for a campsite around mile #14 on Cramer's map, which made the splits 28/14. I had posted it as just a MO trip instead of VMO, so congrats to Ali and Yuna for completing a very solid 20+ mile day to earn Veteran status. It's debatable if 28 mi is appropriate for just a MO outing or is a VMO trip. While I agree with Michael's assessment in his book that this is a good trail for an intermediate backpacker looking to walk a large loop, it's pushing toward the boundary of VMO. None-the-less, I think it's OK to post it as either MO or VMO as long as people are warned.
The campsite around mile #14 on Cramer's map was awesome, but of questionable legality due to close proximity to water and the trail. Since it was pre-existing and we had seen very few people on the trail, we went ahead and took it. One of the perks of camping near sunset and starting hiking near sunrise is that one is less likely to be spotted by other hikers when camping.
Since it was spring in PA, we couldn't have an open fire. But given the mileage, folks ate dinner, hung their food and went to bed so that we could get on the trail just after sunrise on Sunday. I decided to hang a separate bear line myself and knocked off my headlamp when throwing the line. I nearly had to call for help after searching for my headlamp for three minutes in the remaining twilight. I finally found it in a hole between two rocks under some leaves. I secured the headlamp under my hoodie before making another throw.
On the hike out, there was some frost in the swamp along the way, which was particularly pretty with the low angle sun. The battery on my $100 phone died earlier in the trip, so I don't have any pictures to share. The last three miles of the trail turn rocky and have some elevation gain / loss to them, but it wouldn't be a PA hiking trail without some rocks.
Four of us caught lunch at Otto's on the way back, while two of us took more time to stop and enjoy the views on the hike out. Otto's had a solid burger and is already on the "DC UL approved restaurants" list. The lead group was out of the woods at around 11:45, so we had hiked 42 mi in around 29 hours as the trail is moderate for elevation and footing.