Friday, July 2, 2010

The North Loop

or, Hiking is Fun!
The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 11
Monday June 28, 2010

8:45am - We leave our first camp site and head east then north on the Sassafras Hill Trail. This section of the trail is a long gradual climb to the top of a plateau, going through the same kind of woods, ferns and mountain laurel as yesterday evening's section. We would see more of this than anything else. It feels great to be on the move, although it is a new sensation between carrying the weight and the change in center of gravity. Again, not bad, just different.

9:14am - We have reached the top of the plateau and cross the Sassafras road, a grass forest service access road leading east to State Game lands. Everything has loosened up and I am in a nice rhythm. The pack feels light as a feather. At the moment I feel like I could do this forever (but I'm sure that will fade). On the other side of the Sassafras road, we are now heading almost due north in a straight line following another narrow grass path that looks like it was a road at one point. No rocks, no roots, nearly level ground and we are making great time. This section is called the North Line Trail. We talk a bit but are mostly content to enjoy the quiet and take in the sights.

9:33am - We reach the Spruce Hill Trail and turn west. We are hiking through a mix of forest, meadows, and have passed a nice patch of white birch trees. Up here on the plateau there are some large stretches of exposed rock in the meadows. The trail is a little rocky in places but not too bad.

9:51am - We arrive at the junction with the Hayes Run Trail and decide to take our first pack break. We stop and drop our packs. I take a a few steps and almost fall forward onto my face. I am so used to leaning forward to counterbalance the weight of my pack that when it is no longer there, I am now off balance without it. It's a hilarious feeling. A few hundred yards back, on a wide grassy section of trail, we pass what had to be bear scat. It was the size of what you would expect from a horse, but clearly not from a horse. So unless someone had a dog the size of an elephant back here, it was a bear. Cool. I would like to see a black bear (from a distance).

10:00am - After a short break, we are on the move again, heading northwest and beginning a long gradual descent into the valley that will eventually bring us to Painter Creek, the northernmost point of our loop. We leave the meadow section of the trail behind us, and are back into the ferny woods. The trail is rockier here in places, reminding more of Hawk Mountain than anything thus far. We also hit our first boggy sections of trail as we skirt the area that drains into Hayes Run Swamp.

10:47am - A steeper descent over the last few hundred yards brings us down to Painter Creek, a pretty little stream surrounded by evergreen groves. We stop and rest, and filter some water. This is roughly the halfway point of the northern loop, and one third of our distance for today, maybe a little less. I still feel great and am really enjoying myself.

11:00am - We leave Painter Creek behind and begin the climb out of the valley. Jeff Mitchell's Backpacking Pennsylvania; 37 Great Hikes, my guidebook for the hike, says there is a short but steep ascent at this point and refers to a shortcut trail, but we don't see any trail junctions, and the climb is long and gradual, slanting easily up the side of the ridge.

11:30am - We cross the Pittston road again and continue to climb toward the shoulder of Big Pine Hill on what is now the Scrub Oak Trail. There is a nice vista from the top of the hill, but we really can't afford the extra 2 miles or so the detour to it would entail, so we will be bypassing it. This whole section of the trail is more ferny woods, and climbs gently but consistently.

11:57am - We reach the Pine Hill road, a grass forest track and stop for a pack break. We have done approximately 5 miles so far today, and everyone is feeling fine. The weather, which has been warm, breezy and partly sunny so far appears to be ready to take a turn for the worse. The forecast for the whole day was reasonable chance of thunderstorms or showers off and on all day, and it looks like that's what we are going to get soon. The sky is dark overhead and to the west, and the wind has picked up. While we are stopped, we get our pack rain covers out and begin putting them on. As we do this, the rain starts. It's too warm to worry about rain gear for our bodies, so we shoulder our covered packs and head off.

12:20pm - It is raining lightly but steadily, and it actually feels good. We need to pay a little more attention to footing so as not to slip and fall, but the rain isn't a big deal. This section of trail is called the White Line Trail and follows the western boundary of the state forest very closely, heading due south. At around this time, I feel the first twinges of soreness in my right knee. This isn't a major worry at this point, and is something I expected at some point. Vigorous day hiking brings out the same minor soreness in the same place - the under/outer side of my right knee cap. Patella tendinitis or similar inflammation. I brought a knee brace and plenty of ibuprofen, so I am prepared. I put on the brace and we keep going.

12:57pm - We cross the paved Bear Lake Road, completing the north loop. My knee is a little sore but not bad. About a hundred yards south of the road, we stop for lunch in the shade of a huge spruce tree. I eat the last of my fresh food - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. We have done about six and a half miles so far today, and we all still feel good. Looking at how far we have come and how much seems to be left, I am guessing that 14 miles for today was an overstatement. Re-reading the map now, with what we know, would seem to put it closer to 11 miles. We shall see. After about a 45 minute lunch break, we shoulder our packs and head out to tackle the south loop.

Next...the south loop.

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