Saturday, June 14, 2014

North Country Trail Affair

In my love affair with the Appalachian Trail, we have an open relationship.  I'm ok with millions of people treading on her and she lets me see other trails.  

So, with that established, on the early morning of May 11th, Alex and I packed up the truck and headed five hours over to Western PA to the Allegheny National Forest.  Here is where the North Country Scenic Trail works its way through the northern parts of Pennsylvania on its way to Ohio and beyond. 

Alex and I arrived at my brother's cabin near Tionesta sometime after noon and we spent the day, catching up with my brothers Mart and Tom, Marty's wife Michele and daughter Allie and also with my cousin John, who lives just down the road, drinking some beer and cider and eating fresh picked Morel mushrooms.  Turk, (aka Kangaroo Joe) was also there.  He would make up the third of our little backpacking group.

Practice makes perfect
Allie Bubble Girl
Homemade hard cider
We had been planning this little outing since the winter months.  Our plan was to hike four days for a total of somewhere around 30 miles.  This wasn't the AT.  I would find out, it was much more remote.

On Monday morning, we were all up and on the road by 7:15.  John was taking us to our drop off point at Henry Mills along Route 666 and would be picking us up at Cougar Bobs in Kellettville in four days.  

Ready to go
Go this way...
On the way to the dropoff, we saw two Bald Eagles sitting in trees near the Creek.  A good omen in my book.  We hit the trail at 0813.  The beginning was a fairly steep climb up from the road onto the ridge.  It was mostly on old forest roads and pretty easy to walk.  We kept passing lots of old machinery along the way.  There has been lots of oil drilling in the area for years.

There are a lot of Geocaches along the trail and I had put about 30 of them in my GPS.  I couldn't get a good lock on the climb up the ridge, so I turned the device off for a while and kept on walking.  We took a break around 1000 and I turned it back on.  I got a lock and saw that a cache was just .2 away.  After the break I headed along and found the cache quickly. 

Our first day was planned to be a comfortable length and we were at Hunter Station Shelter around 11:15, just in time for lunch after about 5.8 miles.  After checking out the area, I found what I thought was a nice place for my hammock and set it up only to see a large widow maker right above me.  I moved to a different location and there would be my bed for the night.  The Upper Sheriff Run was flowing past in a babbling frenzy.  Just right for lulling you to sleep.
Hunter Station Shelter
I went back east to find a cache we had passed coming in and after a nice nap in the shelter, I walked about .8 up the trail to find my third cache of the day.  

Painted Trillium
During the day, I had been thinking of good trail names for Alex.  He was usually out front, being the young buck he is, and he carries a blue water bottle that I could see from time to time as I hiked behind him.  I started thinking of him as "Blue Blaze" until he missed a turn and walked off trail a bit.  

Alex also takes a lot of pictures and anyone who is his Facebook friend can see how good he is at framing a shot.  We made a few other suggestions on photography related trail names, one of them being "Snapshot".  

One other possibility came along when Alex realized he didn't bring a sleeping pad.  In our other hike, that was Shauni's job to carry the sleeping pads, while he carried the heavier stuff, so it slipped his mind that he needed one.  No problem for him, as he said he can sleep without one, but another trail name possibility "Padless" was thrown out there.

The day's wildlife included lots of Snake Sticks.  These vile creatures sit on the trail and jump up at you as you walk by, tangling in your legs and biting you with their woody teeth.  I also discovered and named another trail beast.  The Turtle Rock.  This badass will sit in the middle of the trail and wait for you to step on him, only to roll over and try to take your ankle with it.  I fearsome beast to be sure. 

We had a nice dinner and fire and around 8:30 pm the rain came in.  We all sat in the shelter as the rain came down rather heavy and at about 9:30 pm, I headed to my hammock to spend my night floating on air.  

Nice small creek coming into the run

My bed for the night
Wet morning
By morning the rain had pretty much stopped, but my tarp was, as expected, rather damp.  I had stayed high and dry throughout the night and slept pretty well despite the occasional thunder and lightning.  There was a rather loud and close crack right as I stepped out of my hammock in the morning, but by the time we headed out, the rain had stopped for the time being.

Once again we had a rather easy day.  About six miles were planned and we hoped to stay at the Triple Forks area of Minister Creek.  It is a popular place in the summer and has lots of places to set up.  

The day had turned pretty nice and before we knew it, we were heading down the ridge to the creek area.  We found a nice place to set up and I commenced to drying out my gear.  At this point I proposed the theory that all backpacking is, is getting yourself and gear wet and then drying it out again.  Sometimes during long trips, that separation can be days and days.  But for me, this day, it was only hours.  There was a nice breeze and before long I had all dry gear, including my shoes and we were all set up along another series of babbling brooks in a very nice area.  

During this day's hike, I couldn't find two caches.  I only look for a short time and if I don't find it within a few minutes, I move on.  I did see something showing in the woods as we neared the camping area and it did appear to be a cache, but it was in a different type of container.  I didn't take any notes on my DNFs, so I couldn't log them correctly as I couldn't remember which ones they were.  Also, I never could figure out if the one I did find was listed on the Geocache site.  I did find the one nearby the camping area pretty easy.  I think that was my 399th cache.  I was going for number 400 during this trip since I started this cool hobby.

Triple Forks Campsite
As we were sitting by the fire, I spotted a porcupine walking on the other side of the creek.  Turk and Alex headed over to check it out and get some pictures.  I was more tired this night and headed to my hammock before 9 pm, read some and slept well till dawn.

I think the rain started around midnight and when we all got up there were still sprinkles in the air.  We broke camp carefully and headed up the trail with soggy gear once again.  

After we got moving the day became beautiful.  After hiking for a while, we found a nice sunny open area and we spread out all of our wet gear to get some drying done.  After a nice break I headed down the trail and I discovered another shelter that we didn't know about.  The Queen Creek Shelter was very nice and someone had left a scrap of blue sleeping pad.  I cut a piece and now had a nice sit upon mat for rest stops and wet logs.  

Queen Creek Shelter
Today was to be our longest day of hiking at about 9.6 miles or so.  It was once again perfect hiking weather, if not a little warm for the time of the year.  The streams and springs were flowing so nice we always had enough water and by 2:35 pm we were at our last campsite.  This little gem was a short walk off the main trail and once again was surrounded by flowing water.  The one scary thing is a very large pine tree had recently decided to fall over from across the creek and it blocked the entry trail a little.  That would have been a scary night if we had been there when it fell.  

Very cool step bridge along the trail
We all found places for our sleeping areas and had another pleasant evening sitting around a nice fire.  I went out and found two more nearby caches thus putting my total found at 401 since 2005 or so.  It was nice enough for Turk (KJ) to take a swim in the creek, but I was ok with being sweaty and dirty, but I did clean up in a hiker sort of way.

Kangaroo Joe cleaning up
KJ's tent
This night we had no rain.  No, that would come during the last days hike of about 7.2 miles or so.  It actually felt pretty good as the day was rather warm once again.  We encountered a couple beaver dams on the way out, but didn't see any of the beasts themselves.  

The rest of camp
Before we knew it, we were on the last forest road before we hit Kellettville.  We spread out on the road down as KJ, with his ancient phone, tried to call John to see when he was coming to get us and let him know we were headed to the Bar for lunch and he could meet us there.  We were a little ahead of schedule, but I never make my schedule firm.  The woods and the trail dictate my progress.  Not some written down itinerary or guide book.  Turks old phone was the only one that worked during this trip.  I was able to send one or two texts to Lisa along the way, when we got high enough, but Snap's and my "smart" phones were pretty much on airplane mode the whole trip.  Only a camera in a sense, but that is ok for me.  

Oh yes, Alex decided on "Snap" as his trail name.  I added a surname for him and called him Snap Padless, but Snap fits him fine.  His photography skills are legend.  

We got down to the road and waited for Turk to finish his phone business and then we all headed over to Cougar Bobs for some lunch and a few well earned beers.  When we got in there and placed our orders with Heaven (yep, that was her name), I realized that she was the first person we had seen since leaving John at the trailhead.  We had had the whole trail to ourselves.  There was plenty of evidence of other hikers as our trash bag professed as we lugged out their trash that they left at each campsite, but no one else was hiking in our area the whole four days.  So NOT like the AT.  Comforting and scary at the same time.  

Waiting for Kangaroo Joe.  Hike complete...
Before too long, John came in and joined us for lunch and then Dave and his cousin came by as we finished up.  We headed back to Marty's for a nice shower and some clean clothes and then Alex and I headed back to Maryland as Turk headed out to his next adventure with Dave.

It was a great time and our next trip will be on ground I have already tread on my beloved AT.  Pen Mar to the Museum, July 7 to 9 or 10.  Almost 38 miles, with some much longer days planned than this trip.  Gotta keep raising the bar.  

I'll see you on the trail...

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