Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Starting Out

The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 7
Sunday June 27, 2010

The Plan for Day 1: Hike a little over a mile to a campsite above Spring Run. Set up camp and wait for Leo, who would be leaving from work and coming in a separate car. Get a good night's sleep for the big day Monday.

Journal, 5:35pm - Depart parking area on the Powder Magazine Trail. This late in the day it's still very warm and muggy. Forest canopy is fairly open with lots of sun coming through. Trail has some rocks and roots but not bad at all.

I had a lot of thoughts running through my head as we left the parking area and set off on the Powder Magazine Trail, the first section of the Pinchot Trail system. The overriding feeling was excitement, but there were certainly touches of worry and doubt. What if it rained as much as the forecast suggested it might? What if I couldn't keep up the pace and slowed my companions down? What if I was not physically up to the challenge at all? What if I could do it but ended up not having nearly as much fun as I expected to?
The bad thoughts quickly melted away as we began a gradual climb away from the parking lot. within 100 yards we met a woman and two children coming back down the trail with baskets of fresh wild blueberries. The berries were much smaller than grocery store berries but looked delicious, and I chose to take that as nature sending me a positive sign. As it would turn out, these would be the only people we would see on the trail the entire trip.
My pack fully loaded with 3 liters of water weighed in at around 32 pounds, and the feel of it took a little getting used to. It was a new experience for my shoulders, my back, my legs, and most noticeably for my balance. My center of gravity was definitely different, and I found myself hiking bent slightly forward to make up for the pack pulling me backwards. It made me very conscious of how I stepped over and around things, and where I was putting my feet. This would become second nature quickly, but was an alien sensation at this point.
The sun was still fairly high in the sky at this time of year, and the forest canopy was not very thick, so a good amount of sun was filtering through the trees down to us. It was warm and humid, but there was a decent breeze as we neared the top of the hill. The trail itself was narrow, and had some rocky patches and a lot of roots, but was not difficult, either in steepness or in footing. Because of the thin canopy, there was a very thick understory of ferns, mountain laurel, wild blueberry and all manner of other shrubs and grasses. The trail was only 12 to 18 inches wide in most places and the undergrowth often arched in over it so that as you walked you were brushing your way through the knee-high or thigh-high leaves as you walked. Everything was dry so it felt fine.
Journal, 6:20pm - We reach the Pittston road, a dirt road, and follow it for a little while before going back into the woods on the Sassafrass Hill Trail. Almost immediately we cross Spring Run and climb a very short distance to an obvious camp site.
After 20 minutes or so, we had climbed north up a small hill and turned right to descend down the east shoulder. We came to the Pittston road, a dirt and gravel forest road that we turned left and followed for a hundred yards or so. Finding the double orange blaze marking a trail turn, we turned right off the road onto what was now named the Sassafrass Hill Trail and almost immediately came upon Spring Run, the small stream that meant we were approaching our campsite, and would serve as our water source for the night.
The stream seemed to pop out of the ground at the foot of a small boulder patch, and reminded me of streams I have seen when hiking around Hawk Mountain. When you stand on top of the boulders, you can hear the water splashing under and through the rocks below you, but it is several feet down and you cannot see it. In the rocky ground, the water has long since washed away all the soil, and there is nothing left but the heap of rocks that the stream now flows under. It was a very peaceful sound.
My first thought on seeing the water in this little stream was "we're going to drink that?" I know we have micro-filters and UV bacteria killers, but the water didn't look all that appetizing. Not horrible by any means, but certainly not crystal clear mountain spring water. However, as Leo would later remind me, we used to drink water straight from the streams that ran through the golf course near our homes when we were kids, and this was in the 1970's when god only knows what was in the fertilizer and pesticide runoff. A good point, but still...
Next...we make camp.

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