So, Max’s exploits in walking the Mid-State Trail a few years back inspired me to take up the challenge in the spring of 2015. Like Max, I would section hike it, since I have a job and all. Unlike Max, I intended to do a 3-season hike (though we got winter on our first section). We did fairly well, knocking out the trail from the Maryland border to Blackwell by Columbus Day weekend 2015, but some landowner rights issues meant that we wouldn’t finish the trail in late 2015. With about 75 miles remaining to reach the New York border, we reserved Memorial Day weekend 2016 for the final push. I was joined by Shuttle, B~~~, and B.A., each of whom had finished the trail to that point (a few with make up sections), as well as by Face Plant, the Baconator, Moses, Superman, and by Nick … who would soon get a trail name.
Thursday, 5/26, we tackled the formidable logistical problem of getting out of DC and up to the Allegheny Plateau. Setting up a 75 mile point-to-point route that far away is no joke. By midnight, four cars had converged at the Pettecote Junction Campground just south of Blackwell.
Next morning, we all woke early, ate some strawberries, and piled into the cars. We dropped off the riders at Blackwell for them to get started (Moses, Shuttle, B~~~, Face Plant, and Superman), then the rest of us drove cars to the north end at Cowanesque Lake, where we left three anchor vehicles. We took the Baconator-mobile back to the south end, and the trailing four—me, B.A., the Baconator, and Nick—started around 10am.
That Friday, we quickly started to develop a pattern. The weather was warm, but in the mornings the trail would take us through lush, leafy, shady forests. In the afternoon, however, day after day, we found ourselves exposed, often on asphalt, for hours of baking sunlight.
After our first climb on Friday, we traversed the plateau near Pine Gorge (the MST here is very near more commonly hiked trails like the Black Forest Trail and the West Rim Trail), and then descended along Stony Fork Creek, which may very well have some of the best swimming holes in the region. A local told me that one was 40 feet deep! It amazes me these gems are not better known.
We crossed the creek wet and then climbed again, along Roland Run. Nick puked for the first time. We didn’t think much of it. B.A. and I chatted, eventually catching B~~~, who had made a wrong turn. He promptly mentioned the Big Cheese and we joked that there should be a special “award” for the first person to do so on a trip. We sidled the plateau along PA-287, jumping over rock fissures to reach a place called Haunted Vista. Our hearts sank at the road walking we could see ahead, but off we went into the burning sun. I applied band aids to my nipples. B~~~ walked with his shirt half up. Mi-State. Mid-riff. Mid-life. Middle-aged. You get the idea.
On Sand Run Road, Nick started laughing. We peered over the guard-rail at a piece of trash, a discarded plastic wrapper that read “7 inch cock with balls.” That set the tone for things to come.
And then a low moment … In Antrim, there is a bar. A small local bar. That we intended to visit, because DC UL doesn’t skip bars. But we passed it and were about 0.5 mile up the road before we noticed. Ain’t no way we were going back. Without refreshment, we grimly set into the hot road walk out of town. B~~~ spied Moses back in town with his telephoto lens. Was Moses lost? How did he get behind us? Turned out that Moses was merely manifesting his uncanny AT thru-hiker ability to find food along the trail. He had not missed the bar.
At last the infernally hot road walk ended. We entered Tioga State Forest, where Face Plant had pulled us up at leafy green meadow that would do for a camp. Nick seemed a little shell-shocked; we counseled him gravely to eat some and hydrate more carefully. Everyone pulled in eventually, completing a 20-ish mile day. We passed the night being hooted at by all manner of critters, unaccustomed to having intruders in their meadow. A fox or a coyote padded under my hammock a few times.
Saturday morning, we were up at 5am and on trail at 6am, a pattern that would repeat, as we tried to take advantage of the cool air. The stretch through the forest was beautiful and fine walking. We passed the foundations of a ghost town. Shuttle and I met up with B.A. and Faceplant where the high-water route diverges. We thought Superman was ahead, but as I pressed on, I was catching a lot of cobwebs. I thought, “If Kevin really is ahead, we need to discuss his cobweb clearing abilities.” He wasn’t ahead, of course.
Sand Run Falls is magnificent—one of the prettiest falls around and with a splendid campsite near it. But we had miles to go before we could sleep. Miles of road walking! Just as the heat of the day came on, we had to leave the beautiful forest and hit the pavement. Honestly, some of this would have been diverting, if the temperature had been lower. Arnot Road. Haverly Hill Road. Then a wild section with slate oucroppings. I lunched in parking lot before tackling Elk Run Road. Lots of friendly people, staring at the backpackers. A few of us rallied at Cherry Flats Road, and then we were off tackling a section that crossed agricultural fields, edging around and between property boundaries. What heroic efforts it must take to keep the MST open! We passed Wimbrough Campsite (where Max had stayed on the first night of his section 8) and then crossed PA-660 and US-6. Some weather rolled in. We crossed more fields, including a cow pasture. I joked that it was like the Dolomites. “Really?” someone asked. “There were cow pastures there too,” I explained. But the descent down to Hill Creek State Park was nice, and boy was I eager to finish up for the day.
I got there a few minutes behind B.A. and Faceplant. The campsites were full, but we decided we would harm no one if we pitched in the trees nearby. A ranger came by later, and seemed to agree. People trickled in and we chatted about what a brutal 23.5 miles it had been in the heat, which was near 90* and full of sun. Nick puked violently again. We decided to assess his health in the morning.
Sunday morning, we decided that it was wiser for Nick to stay behind. The rest of us sat out to reach the Scenic View Campground. We wanted to go a little farther, but that was the last campground we could discern (we were right about that). Again, the day started off beautifully. We passed around the lake in the dawn air. It was humid though and heated up fast. Still, our passage through State Game Land 37 was good hiking through a beautiful forest that most backpackers would have few other occasions to visit.
I reached the recreation area near Hammond Lake and pressed on. Of course, it was afternoon now, and the sun bore down on me in time for the climb up, yes, a paved road in full exposure. I was hydrating carefully, drinking up to 8 liters a day, but I had to sit in the shade to cool down a few times. Mercifully, at Ridge Road, the trail turned off into the forest, dropping down to Elk Horn Creek. Somehow, my feet decided they would suddenly blister. I think perhaps because they were dry, I hike wet so often! Anyway, I dug some lycotape out of my pack—I was glad it was still sticky. A little more road walking and then the climb to the campsite. Which I did in a hail of gunfire, clacking my poles together to let the shooters know I was down there. I meandered around in a meadow as the blazes seemed to wander. At last, I realized that the place with the party was where we were headed. Yes, that was the Baconator and B.A. on the patio. The campsite was no field, but a rollicking joint. Hot showers, food, cold drinks. And people who were happy to see us, and delighted to discover they were on a backpacking route!
Although I joked about the Dolomites earlier, the view from Scenic View really is good, and the place had a great back country vibe. It was a Keystone State refugio! We watched as B~~~, Shuttle, and Moses did the climb. They seemed late, but it turned out that Moses had merely waylaid them with ice cream. Peter Fleszar, one of the MST head honchos and maintainer of the book, dropped by for a visit. And he brought beer! We sat around our campsite, with its stupendous view, capturing the essence of this stretch of the country, and listened to his stories about the MST, which he has maintained for 17 years! It was interesting to learn of the trail as a living trail, a work in progress. It’s unimaginable the work that it takes to keep it open. Moses ate the last free hot dogs. Damn him.
We got a call that Nick was okay. He had ended up in the ER, badly dehydrated. He was fine now, and was in a hotel in Wellsboro. Thank goodness he hadn’t hiked on, or that would have been a 9-1-1 call.
Peter headed home. The weather rolled in, and we ate dinner as the rain poured down. Tomorrow would be the last day. We were asleep early. Some kids rode by on a 4x4 and said, “That’s a hammock with a tarp. The coolest shelter ever.” How right he was.
Monday morning, my blistered feet were ready to go at 6am. The morning was crisp and cool, perfect for walking, and we could smell the barn—about 14 miles to go! We rounded the mountain on roads, seeing deer and bison. We crossed fields and dropped down to Sheppard Creek Road, which was so covered in salamanders I had to concentrate on not stepping on them. Eventually, we reached Cowanesque Lake, which we would have to round. The south bank was a little tedious, but eventually we reached the north bank and we plowed through fields of unmown damp grass. We arrived at the cars at the Tompkins Recreation Area. Superman and Moses stopped here to move the cars up. The others charged into the 2 miles, uphill road walk to reach the New York line. Nick (now CnB) re-entered the operation in high DC UL-style, bringing cold drinks for everyone. By 11am-ish, it was all over. We reached the line and celebrated! B~~~ crossed the line on his hands and knees, like an exhausted marathoner.
So ended Section 7, and so ended our end-to-end section hike of the MST. It was all over but the driving and our post-hike meal at ABC in Harrisburg. Splits were 20.3, 23.5, 17.4, and 13.3, but this was some surprisingly hard hiking, especially due to the weather. It’s amazing how hard a relatively flat trail can be—we recorded about 10,000 feet of gain, which isn’t very vertical for that many miles. Many other sections of the MST were more vertical.
Thanks to all who participated, and special congratulations to Shuttle, B.A., and B~~~. I’m going to put together a compendium of all the trip reports, with some pictures!
It’s good to be done!
Great trip report, U-turn!
Reflecting back on this trip, I fully agree that the mornings were the best time to not only hike in the cool temperatures, but also enjoy the coincidental morning scenery along the waterfalls, lakes, game lands & hunting reserves. Who knows what the experience would have been if we chose different splits. Also, I'd prefer to suffer in 90 weather and bitch about it all the time and bask in the after-glory than sit my ass at home. Maybe if you asked me on last Saturday, I'd have a different opinion.
Overall, it was quite a memorable section hike. The trail was definitely tough, but I can easily recall some really beautiful views/moments on the trail in almost every section. On the drive home, Brian, Kylie and I were thinking of our favorite moments on this trail. That last campsite of section 6 stood out for me. Somehow, this pic of Evan captures that night of camping so well.
I am sad that there are no more trails in the area like MST to keep thru-hiking over weekends. I hope I am wrong.
Anyways, I had quite the exemplary experience hiking with you, Jen and Brian (and a lot others of course) throughout the trail! Thank you for leading this!