Monday, April 28, 2014

Ricketts Glen SP - Day 2 - The Hike (Part 1)

Falls Trail and Highlands Trail
Monday dawned sunny and cool, with a temperature of 39(F) degrees at 7:00am. It seems like the three of us were all more or less awake to varying degrees well before 7, but we were not rushed for time, and so didn't get moving too early. We showered, had breakfast at the hotel, fiddled with gear, made sandwiches for lunch, and were on the road to the park by around 8:15am. Mifflinville is 32 miles and 40 minutes south of the park, and it was a pretty drive through mountain ridges and farmland. I had scoped out a few geocaches along the road to the park, but we were all anxious to get to the business at hand (and these weren't new counties), so we made no stops. By 9:10 we were parked in the lot off route 118 at the south end of the Falls Trail, and we set out at 9:25am.

Our hike, as shown on the map, is the classic Ricketts Glen hike. Kitchen Creek, coming down off the Allegheny Front, has carved a series of "glens" into the side of the mountain. Dropping nearly a thousand feet from top to bottom, the creek tumbles over 22 named waterfalls, and countless smaller ones, over a three mile north-south distance. The hike is in the shape of a "Y", with the Kitchen Creek section below the junction, known as Waters Meet. Glen Leigh is on the east (right) of the "Y" and Ganoga Glen is on the west (left). We hiked counter clockwise; up Kitchen Creek to Waters Meet, up Glen Leigh, across the Highlands Trail at the top of the mountain, down Ganoga Glen, and then back down Kitchen Creek to the starting point. All told, this is a 7.1 mile hike. There is about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but most of that occurs as you climb one of the glens (between Waters Meet and the top), and happens over a distance of about one mile. I'm not crazy about climbs, but 1,000 feet doesn't seem too bad. We shall see...
At start...

9:25am - Setting off up the trail, I was immediately struck by two things; it was a lovely location, and it was quite chilly. I hadn't packed particularly well. Other than a couple of thin sleeveless hiking shirts, I only had a fleece vest (not enough for cold arms) and a much heavier fleece jacket (very quickly too warm). Or a rain jacket that would have quickly become my own personal sweat lodge (skip that).
On the trail

It is 1.8 miles from the route 118 trail head to Waters Meet, and the first mile or so of that was a very modest up hill grade. We walked along a beautiful noisy stream gurgling over rocks and small waterfalls too numerous to count. In any other spot, this would have been noteworthy enough, but knowing what was up ahead, this section of the stream was unfortunately all too easy to discount. This section also had the only traditional cache on the trail, but it was good to find one here (there are also a few earth caches, two of which we did successfully, but that comes later...).
Kitchen Creek, the flat part

There are three named falls below Waters Meet. The first is "Murray Reynolds", at a modest 16 feet. As the first one we came to, it seemed very big, and would be by most standards. It is actually one of the smallest named ones on the hike, but is a good one. It is a pair of chutes coming down around a central rock pillar, with a nice pool at the bottom. If it weren't 45 degrees with the stream temps near ice water, I am sure Leo would have gone swimming...
Murray Reynolds

The second is "Sheldon Reynolds" at 36 feet, or more than twice the size of the first. If that was "wow", then this was "WOW." This is maybe a cataract fall at the top and a cascade at the bottom. We are only two falls into the 22, but I am in awe. A quick look at the map shows that there are eleven more waterfalls bigger than this.
Sheldon Reynolds

The third is "Harrison Wright" at 27 feet. Different once again from the character of the previous two, and would seem to be a textbook curtain fall. We have gotten lucky (partly by plan). We couldn't have guessed that the weather would have been absolutely perfect, but since it is mid-Spring after a wet winter and Spring, there is a good amount of water in the stream, making the falls show themselves at their best.
Harrison Wright

10:32am - We arrive at Waters Meet. Standing near the bridge we can see more falls in both directions, a modest one off to the right on the Glen Leigh side, and a big one off to the left in the distance. There is amazing scenery everywhere you look. It is a bit overwhelming. We are not making very good time given that the hiking has been very easy thus far, but it is understandable due to the amount of stopping, gawking and picture taking we are doing.
Waters Meet - Ganoga Glen (L) and Glen Leigh (R)

10:35am - After a brief break, we set off up the Glen Leigh branch...

Next - The Glen Leigh branch.

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