Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Return to Hawk Mountain, November 9, 2009

With the forecast for a nice day, and Leo unable to make it, Dave and I decided to do a day at Hawk Mountain. Dave had not been yet this year, and while I had been there only a week and a half ago, I had no issue with going back, as there were pieces of the more difficult trails that I had not done, and the bird watching was relatively bad the previous trip.

I picked Dave up at around 8:20am, and we were on the road shortly after, arriving at about 9:45 (with one stop for drinks and snacks). We went to South Lookout first for a quick look around. The day proved to be a lot cloudier than forecast, and the visibility was not great, with a significant haze out over the valley; it was warm though. Another big difference was the fall foliage: a week and a half ago, most of the leaves were still on the trees and the colors were good (but not at peak). By today, most of the leaves were on the ground, with only a few trees hanging onto theirs. With all the leaves on the ground, footing would be a little more uncertain, as you could easily slip on them if you weren't careful. It was also difficult to tell sometimes on the rocky sections whether there was solid ground under the leaves, or just a leaf-filled hole.

We stayed at South Lookout for just a few minutes, enough to see that there was more bird activity. We decided to hike down to the River of Rocks trail, do the full loop around to the eastern Golden Eagle connector trail and then up to the Skyline trail for the hike over to the North Lookout. We would lunch at North Lookout and spend some time (hopefully) watching birds.
The scenery was definitely different without the leaves, and visibility down in the woods was much farther without the view obstructions. It was a nice easy walk, mostly downhill or near level until we looped around and started up toward the Skyline trail. In my extremely limited hiking career, I have not had to go up many steep inclines, and the last portion of the Golden Eagle connector certainly counts as steep, at least in my book. Looking at a topographic map, you climb about 700 feet in 3/4 of a mile, which much of the worst of it being in the last part. My legs are pretty good, but my cardio/lungs are not very good at this point. It was a different feeling. With a few brief stops for a breather, I was sweating, breathing hard and my heart rate was up nicely. I felt like I was doing ok until just a hundred or so yards from the top, when we stopped for one last breather and I had a sudden feeling like I was going to throw up. It passed fairly quickly, and I am happy not to have to confess that indignity. We stayed at that spot for a few extra minutes before completing the climb. I was perfectly happy for a good solid 5 minute break at the top, and was wondering if I had pushed myself a little too hard. Perhaps I did, but I began feeling good again shortly, and we continued west along the Skyline Trail, climbing the last rock face hand over hand and popping out on the North Lookout. I like the Skyline trail very much; I enjoy the boulder hopping and rock climbing, and I seem to be pretty sure-footed.
There was a decent sized crowd gathered, and a fairly steady stream of hawks flying across the far end of the valley. Dave and I sat down, had a sandwich, and had a while to relax and chat. The people watching aspect of spending some time at this spot was as interesting to me as the bird watching. There were quite an assortment of people. There were two HMS employees (the official spotters), as well as several other apparently knowledgeable people and a number of apparent novices (like me). Among the knowledgeable ones, there was one guy who seemed to need to identify and call out as many birds as he could before the spotters did so. I guess he saw it as some sort of competition or something. Or perhaps I simply lack the proper amount of reverence. At one point someone nearby said something along the lines of "if those birds got closer we could tell whether they were males or females". My comment to Dave was "if those birds got closer we could shoot them and eat them for lunch." I don't think anyone heard me, which is probably just as well.
Side note: Looking north into the adjoining valley, you can see the little town of New Ringgold nestled between the next few ridges. The Little Schuylkill river (a stream really) comes down from Tamaqua, through New Ringgold, comes down toward the base of Hawk Mountain, then veers around to the west before heading on to Port Clinton and beyond. A canoeing book I have says this stretch of the Little Schuylkill is perhaps the nicest canoe run in the whole Schuylkill drainage. I now have a strong desire to canoe it...
By around 2:30, we packed it in, headed back to the car and on home (with a quick stop to gawk at Cabela's, an amazingly huge outdoors store). All in all a very nice day.

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