A July Journey From Little Flat to Williamsburg
Hiking around 60 kilometers in July heat isnít ideal but going too long without another weekend on the Mid State Trail isnít an option either. I needed to be out there again and next up for me was a section hike from Little Flat Fire Tower south to Williamsburg. As we know, the fine backpackers of DC UL Backpacking originally completed a section hike of the MST in 2015-2016 and I was able to hit a few sections with them. It was love at first rock. I needed to organize a few more sections to complete my personal MST journey. For our weekend purposes, Michael and the team ended up splitting the MST into seven sections: MD border to Everett, Everett to Williamsburg, Williamsburg to Little Flat, Little Flat to Hairy Johnís, Hairy Johnís to Woolrich, Woolrich to Blackwell, and Blackwell to the NY border. This weekend was my last section south of Blackwell, and I wasnít going to let the summer heat stop me. It did stop most of the DC ULers, however, and MST Trail Maintainer for the State College region Kevin Busko was more than kind enough to offer a ride from Williamsburg to Little Flat Fire Tower late on Friday night before Sharon came through with a car and we were able to complete our logistics. He did provide some key pieces of guidance for our trail plan, especially some recommendations for water caches to keep us from worrying about hydration or having to leave the ridge to find a water source. And so, we were set for our weekend adventure . . .
As most adventures begin in DC, we had to fight our way out of town through horrendous traffic. Fourth of July weekend was certainly not an exception, and it was many hours and around 8:30 p.m. before we gathered at Williamsburgís Lower Trail parking lot to leave one car and begin our drive into the mountains to drop not one but two caches of water off before parking at the Little Flat parking lot and starting for the night. We each carried around four liters of water and left eight liters at both Colerain Road and Pennsylvania Furnace Road to keep us hydrated for the weekend. It was almost 11:00 p.m. before we paid our respects to the old fire tower itself and began hiking south. My eyes lingered on the northbound orange blazes and thought of our incredibly wet journey in May that brought us to Hairy Johnís. Some cold rain sounded like an excellent idea for this weekend, as much as we didnít like a full two days of it the month before. We started off in the dark and hiked around 3 km or so to stop at a lovely little dry camp near Sand Spring Trail.
Our alarm startled us awake at 5:00 a.m. with the first light of dawn filtering in through the trees. We packed up quickly and hit the trail by 5:30 a.m. We wanted to maximize our cooler morning hours before the high heat of the afternoon slowed us down. It got rocky fast, as those who know Tussey Mountain know well. I was familiar with the other ridges of Tussey Mountain and cautioned by the guide and previous backpackers that this stretch was possibly the rockiest and most beautiful. They werenít wrong, but expecting to rock hop for 40 km does make it seem better than being surprised by it. So we grinned and enjoyed it. Soon, Roman Tower, Beaver Pond (where we met and thanked a trail maintainer on his porch enjoying the fine morning), Jo Hayes Vista, Indian Steps, and other notable attractions came and went. The views were spectacular and the temps definitely within our comfort zone. We enjoyed the comfort of our first water cache and if anything were drinking too much Ė water, that is. At around one p.m. a strong little storm came in and we sheltered in some hemlocks to avoid the lightning and wind, though we certainly got as wet as everything else around us. This was a thankful wet that cooled us down and kept the ridge pleasant for another hour or so before the heat came on stronger. I had a great time on the pinnacle of Tussey Mountain with 270 degree views and, surprisingly, not a rattlesnake to be found. We even lounged a bit on the rocks at a couple viewpoints as we slowed down to keep things from getting too hot. By 5:00 p.m. we crossed Colerain Road, grabbed our second water cache, and found a little dry camp not too far forward on the trail. Weíve certainly had better back country sites before but this one did the trick . . . and was our home for the next four hours left of daylight. We let the birds, the breeze, the distant sound of fireworks, and a few buzzing insects serenade us to an early bedtime. I may have had a little whiskey too.
We popped out of our tents again at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday and continued our journey over the final parts of Tussey Mountain, lingering at the last viewpoint in the Little Juniata Natural Area before saying goodbye to our friends the rocks and descending hard through the former quarry to Barree. If you want to blame us for hiking southbound and missing this hard ascent, you can. I was happy to be going down instead of up thatís for sure. We slipped quietly through Barree in the morning, noted that we missed some comedians at one of the campgrounds the night before, and went up and over Short Mountain before connecting with our final long stretch back to the car on the Lower Trail. Though not very varied in scenery, I really enjoyed the Lower Trail. We saw a number of birds, including roosters, and other animals having a good time themselves next to the bikers who went by us all in a steady flow. I appreciated the long-distance shelter near Mt. Etna (which Kevin had told us about) but was happy to be finishing on the Lower Trail rather than starting on it so as to avoid rock-hopping during what turned out to feel like the hottest part of the weekend. We were done by one p.m., Sharon finishing up well before me, and promptly retrieved our other car to begin the long ride back to Washington, D.C. Iíll miss this section. It turned out to be one of my favorites of the MST Ė and the MST itself is one of the best trails in the region. I plan to finish up Labor Day weekend with a long adventure from Blackwell to the NY border. But thereís just something about those Tussey Mountain rocks that Iíll miss. I left a haiku to them in one of the trail registers to say farewell:
Tussey Mountain Rocks
Stumbling Stone Hopping Delight
With Love Mid State Trail
So you choose to specify who finished first the ONLY time I was ahead of you. I guess chivalry is not dead. ;-)
I still think my haiku should get points for honesty:
Rocks Rocks Rocks Rocks Rocks
Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs
Rocks Rocks Rocks Rocks Rocks