The Quehanna Trail (QT) stood as one of the few big trails in Pennsylvania that DC UL had not yet thru-hiked. We've driven through it a few times (most recently on the way up to the Donut Hole Trail), and I've thought, "Oh, one day ..." So, when B~~~ posted this trip to coincide with Doug Ide's being in town, well, I knew I had to be there.
Thursday, I had to attend a talk in Crystal City. Wolverine and Two Packs met me at the Hyatt, and we started the long drive north, which was uneventful enough, except for nearly hitting a deer on the roads south of Phillipsburg. We met the Whisky Fairy, B~~~, Doug, and Heavy D in a little pull out spot near Beaver Run. We drank a few beers, spoke of the impending Trumpocalypse, and settled down for the night.
Friday morning, we positioned the cars where the QT crosses the Quehanna Highway on its southern side (roughly mile 29.6 on the DCNR map) and we were off by about 7:20am in the cool morning air, the weather gusty and unsettled. I should say that the south side of the QT is quite easy walking, and we were moving at 3-ish mph--very flat, typical Allegheny Plateau walking. We dropped down to Mosquito Creek, crossed the stream, and had a quick but steep climb to regain the plateau. Then we walked along the rim for a spell on more rugged footing. The trail turned away from the gully, eventually crossed Caledonia Road. Walking alone, I enjoyed a rare view of the late autumn forest.
The group pulled up in Trout Run, after about 22-23 miles. We had intended to get 25 and reach Alex Branch, but by 5pm, we were short of light, and we had gone far enough. The Whisky Fairy cooked up a brilliant fire in a old discarded can--perhaps the remnant of some old settlement?
It got cold that night, down to 23*F or so. But my expertise with my hammock set up has improved and I slept snug. We all bitched about the ice that formed on our shelters. It had been a little blustery when we set up, but the air was dead calm during the night, and condensation was inevitable.
The next morning was really pretty icy and pushed my 3-season equipment a little hard. I had ice in my bottles, and it took them time to thaw. But the dawn was blue and sunny, and we walked fast to stay warm, climbing through a lovely section before turning north and east at Parker Dam State Park. I cannot say I loved the descent through Saunders Run (it made me think of Rattlesnake Run on the Donut Hole Trail). I ate lunch, then pressed on to Saunders Road. The group had decided that it would use the re-route on the Quehanna Trail West Cross. This seemed to be the blazed and official option. We passed another backpacking group on the road before climbing to the plateau. Perhaps this was the SC PA group? They seemed to know Ben Auer.
Anyway, we climbed to the plateau for a pleasant crossing, then dropped into Medix Run. We passed by a few houses, but then trail works hard to stay off the road, resulting in some awkward side-hilling, especially with the trail under inches of leaves. All part of Pennsylvania, we told ourselves! We crossed the Quehanna Highway, and I found Two Packs headed the wrong way down the trail ... It was a little disorienting, somehow. Perhaps we were just delirious from fatigue.
We re-joined the group where the QT reaches Silver Hollow, where there was a nice, flat spot for a lovely, long night. And much less cold than before! About 21 miles that day, we think.
Sunday would be our third full day on our trail, and we anticipated that it would be the most difficult. I wouldn't say that the QT ever becomes very difficult, but the northern stretch certainly has more ups and downs. It's quintessential Allegheny Plateau walking.
We began climbing Silver Hollow, the Whisky Fairy and I speaking of Dungeons and Dragons. Then we spent a long time in the CPL RR Grade Hollow before a sharp turn and a stout climb up to a vista. The QT then meanders about over rugged footing, visits a stunning rock garden, and drops down Porcupine Hollow. We ate lunch at Red Run Road, basking in the sunlight, before climbing the very beautiful Sanders Draft. A long plateau crossing followed. Late in the day, we passed by some wonderful sites at the head of Laurel Draft (Oh, DC UL, why?) and marched on.
It was 4pm when I crossed Wykoff Road. I ate some, tanked up my water, and began one last climb, trying to summon some more energy. I met a local trail maintainer on the way down. He informed me that I was halfway there. I crested the climb as the sun vanished. The group had camped in a big field near the intersection with Old Sinnemahonnig Trail. About 21 miles.
We gathered under the supermoon for dinner, but quickly settled in for the night. We were all a little tuckered out from the miles, I think. Local wildlife--especially the coyotes--protested our stay. I think I heard at least three species vocalizing around our camp.
Monday dawned cold and clear, temps in the low 20s. But we had only about nine miles to go and were eager to knock them out.
The open meadows on this side of the trail surrendered to deep hollows. Whisky Fairy spotted an elk. We did the usual upping and downing, with one last rocky down and perhaps the steepest sustained climb of the trip at Upper Three Runs. I, for one, would have been happy to end the trip at the top of the climb, but there were a few miles of walking (through beautiful terrain) left to reach the highway, where we all arrived at about 11-11:30am.
So, that was 74 miles in about 77 hours total elapsed time, with splits like 23-21-21-9.
I think we all came away a little enamoured with the QT. It is perhaps the wildest of the PA plateau walks. While the terrain is similar to the SST or the DNT or even Loyalsock, it has an out-of-the-way feel that is quite different. [b]Let us all praise the Keystone Trail Association and the DCNR for keeping up a trail that lets you go out and walk a 74 mile loop.[/b] That's pretty awesome. We certainly had an excellent crew for this one, as well. It felt very old school indeed.
So, after a stop at the Knickerbocker in Altoona ... where bacon was surreptitiously added to Heavy D's cheese burger, it was all over but for the driving.
Great read! Coyotes, screech owls, and what else?
Also, anyone planning to make a Sheetz stop in Frederick in the foreseeable future should not, because it appears to be shut down. And the bathroom at the nearby 7-Eleven was out of order. Fortunately, the bathroom at McDonald's across the street was not.
Amen, Michael-- good trip report. I think the trail's 'out of the way-ness' was one of its principal charms. The near-total silence at times reminded me of Vermont (the Long Trail).
Glad you enjoyed the QT. Next time I suggest you explore the following trails in the Quehanna Wild Area- so diverse and beautiful: Teaberry, Lincoln, Bridge, ECC, Crawford Vista, David Lewis, Meeker, Bellefonte Posse, Kunes Camp, Big Spring, Sevinsky, Gore Draft.