Once more, to the surprise of no one who has hiked any section of the Mid State Trail before, twists and challenges transformed a lovely (and surprisingly cool) June weekend backpacking trip into yet another Pennsylvania adventure. Our trip started off mostly uneventful. We staged Marika’s car at the southern end in the Solid Wood Floors parking lot and drove to Tenley Park in Everett for the evening to camp and meet up with Brian, who drove himself in from Maryland. We stopped several times in MD and PA trying to find beer but no luck. We’d have to make it work that night without it. Marika then discovered she left her hiking shoes in her car back at the other trail head and, after briefly flirting with the idea of hiking in camp sandals (A TERRIBLE IDEA ON TUSSEY MOUNTAIN), I drove her back down and we spent a lovely hour+ exploring the back roads of PA. Heck, at least we weren’t missing out on beer back at camp.
The next morning started cool and lovely. Because of concerns about road walking and trail relocation, I decided to pull a similar move to May’s MST section hike and re-stage a car near the mountain to reduce the possibility of getting lost or turned around in Everett. This saved us a few miles and we decided to sleep in a tad bit. Marika and I put on our skirt and kilt respectively and bragged to the others that we would enjoy the ridge breezes while they sweltered later that day. (This bragging is intended as appropriate ironic foreshadowing.) We set up our cars on Ashcom Rd. and proceeded right up the mountain after taking a peek at the PA Turnpike and its gigantic billboards.
We fought our way up the ridge on a relatively new relocation trail and were a bit chagrined it was so misty at the top. There were supposed to be views and all we saw was fog. Things took a little turn for the unpleasant from there. This section of Tussey Mountain was already notable for its rocky ridge and (in good weather) solid views. We found it to be a sometimes overgrown thicket of thorns and mist. The trail was blazed well enough (for the most part) but the blazes were covered on the rocks and trees by the overgrowth. It look a lot of work to find our way. Worse, the rocks were slick and wet from rain the day before and tough going for all of us. Worse yet, snake activity seemed pretty high and we were all on the lookout. I had intentionally set the trip for VMO backpackers because I knew it would take some experience to manage throughout the weekend – and I didn’t want to have to worry too much about newer people unused to these conditions. This section was bad enough that I had us VMOers wait and stick together for the most part until we got to a better and safer part of the trail. All of us took a few spills and Marika and I were practically flayed on our exposed legs.
Toward the end of this section of Tussey Mt, Nick, David, and I waited for the others while Wolverine (Bryan) scouted ahead. We were serenaded by not only the clatter of small arms fire from a nearby “range” but the booming report every few minutes of what must have been a cannon. Seriously. In the midst of this noise, and David politely refusing to accept the trail name J.E.B. Stuart after the cannon sound prompted a brief Civil War –related conversation, we heard a male scream. Wolverine hurried back and warned us of several rattle snakes up ahead. We investigated. Sure enough, a sharp and close rattle emanated from the bushes right on the rocks of the trail. We had to make our way through snake-filled bushes to go around. With snakes, we figured it was the devil you don’t know that was the safer option. We survived. Marika was far back but we decided we needed to push on anyways. Thunder and lightning loomed in the distance. The five of us made it down to PA RT 326 and waited by the road. It was getting later and the storm was getting closer. We contemplated setting up camp here, though it was far from ideal. The trail conditions/snakes/storm had us extra worried about Marika. Eventually she came down off the ridge, smiling and in good form. She had taken a break when the lightning swept in to stand on her pack and avoid electrocution. As soon as she arrived, however, the heavens opened and we were drenched. We pushed on.
Good MST campsites are tough to find in good conditions. It was tougher now in the dark and rain. Eventually we found a relatively flat spot and got our shelters up in a hurry. It rained and rained. We took shelter and watched the water level on the ground rise too. I poked at my Cuben shelter floor and marveled at how much like a water bed it looked like. Luckily, I stayed dry inside and managed to cook and start the whiskey libations. When it broke a bit, I skipped around camp in my underwear (no desire to put my soaked kilt back on) and whiskey fairy-ed some Bulleit rye to folks settled in their shelters. We ended up enjoying our night despite the conditions.
The morning came and we scrounged for water before setting off on the trail at different times and speeds. After spending up to three hours waiting around at various points the day before because of adverse trail conditions, we took up our own speeds for the better trail situation on our final day. I ended up with Wolverine for the rest of the trail, first marveling at the underwhelming highest point on the MST (no view/radio towers/ATV trails/blah) and then opening it up on the flat x-country ski trail stretch. Wolverine and I took a little nap by the last stream by the trail register (I pulled my first two embedded deer ticks off of my legs) and then decided to finish the trail around one p.m.
Nick and David rolled in shortly thereafter. The sunny afternoon took a turn on us again as soon as Nick checked the forecast (should he get trail-named Weather Man, I wonder?). We ran for cover under the Solid Wood metal silo and hoped for Marika and Brian to appear. Marika eventually came, umbrella and all, and we got a little concerned for Brian. We discussed the oddity of a northbound thru-hiker named Bean Wag who had signed in that morning with NY as his destination. Marika confirmed that he was cute. Wolverine and I had somehow missed seeing him, so we took her word for it.
Brian appeared in the rain – and it was pretty bad now – and it was good to know that he had gotten off trail earlier in the day and wasn’t hurt, which I feared. Marika, Nick, Brian, and I jumped in her car and headed north. I would retrieve my car and drive down to get Wolverine and David. A huge tree in the road thwarted our easy driving route and we had to get creative. Sadly, this left Wolverine and David huddled under the silo for even longer than anticipated. Eventually it all worked out and I managed to retrieve them and begin our journey home. Wolverine, though, realized he forgot his bag and phone in Marika’s car. We eventually made arrangements for them to meet up in Rosslyn. Marika too discovered a deer tick on her exposed legs.
What can we say? The MST isn’t more scenic than other trails. Its section hikes and car staging make for complicated logistics at times. Something always seems to go astray in an odd way. But it is magical and pulls us back. It isn’t ideal to get off trail at one p.m. and get home at 7:30 p.m. even though it’s only a two-hour ride home. But there it is. At one point I thought, “I’m done – the logistics for these section hikes are too much to be worth it.” But then I got home, pulled off more deer ticks and rued the day I decided to wear my kilt instead of Permethrin-treated pants, and thought about how excited I was to get back out there and do it all again. MST, I can’t quit you.
Sounds like quite the adventure.
I have often thought about the wisdom of doing many of these stretches in the winter, as Max did.
I tried, for my sections, to do as much of the PA blue ridge as possible before the year's growth got started.
Ironically, the thing I was most worried about for this trip (hence the kilt) was heat and sun. It ended up being mild for most of the weekend.
"It's not a fanny pack, it's a sporran, dammit!" - Whiskey Fairy
"Should we call 9-1-1 and ask the police?" - Blizzard, on purchasing alcohol
Hey folks, strangely enough I was in the area last weekend, missed y'uns but did see the apparently "cute" thru-hiker. Here's his blog: http://hike4homeless.weebly.com/
Beer: the little store at the intersection in Flintstone, MD as well as the convenience store slightly west on MD Route 144 have both been observed to sell it. Of course since just this week a modernization of PA liquor laws passed, maybe by the next time y'uns come up the "beer cave" already installed in the Sheetz in Everett will live up to its intended purpose.
Also note the trail between Ashcom Rd and the south side of the Ellis Weicht bridge in Everett is NOT a roadwalk, there is an off road trail sandwiched between the river and turnpike. About 2/3 of that is a cinder/grass railroad bed, much of the remainder is a weird moonscape known as the Earlston Furnace Cinder Piles, offering a unique view of the Aliquippa Gap area.
Finally here's some info from the National Weather Service in State College concerning the rain Saturday night: https://www.facebook.com/NWSStateCollege/photos/a.202646946453067.66991.202338219817273/1121466597904426/?type=3&theater A road flooded next to my mother-in-law's place in Beans Cove.
Hope to meet someday somewhere down the trail!
Thanks , Peter! That's kind of funny that the Everett Sheetz was converting their Soda Cave to a Beer Cave after our weekend. For parking options, I felt our choices were to walk from Tenley Park through town or jump over to Ashcom Rd. Sounds like we missed out on some cool stuff! (I'm thinking I need to go back and walk across Everett at some point to complete my section hike.)