Saturday, May 9, 2015

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail - A Thru Hike (Intro and Day 1)


Saturday, May 9th, 2015

As I sit here, in a chair with a back, surrounded by four walls, drinking my third cup of freshly brewed coffee, my back has that crawly feeling it gets after a few days of carrying a backpack.  My body and mind tell me I should be hiking, but this hike is complete. 

It was a wonderful time and I really enjoyed traveling the trail of my youth from end to end.  This is actually the best I have felt after almost a week on the trail and I know I could go on indefinitely, but I ran out of trail, and of time, and I must get back to work.

So sit back and enjoy my trip.  Over the next few days, I will try to relate the ups and downs of the trip and the trail that I now fondly call the L - Double H - T.

_______________________________________

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Here I was, driving along the country roads of West Virginia, heading towards Ohiopyle, PA where my next adventure awaited.  I was cheating on my mistress again, this time with the trail called the Laurel Highland Hiking Trail.  A 70 mile north to south running trail in the western part of PA.  The trail runs the length of Laurel Ridge.  The area has a lot of early American history, (Braddock's Road, Forbes' Road, Moon shining, etc).

I called this the trail of my youth, because I had done a hike with a bunch of my relatives and brothers back in the early 80s and I have always held a special spot in my heart for this trial.  I can still remember dreading that last climb up from Blue Hole Creek to the Grindle Ridge Shelter area, after lugging my too heavy pack along the trail for seven miles or so.  During this trip, I would re-hike that two day stretch in only one.

I had spent the morning in Harpers Ferry attending the first annual AT Flip Flop Kick Off (FFKO) and walking around and talking with hikers, just made me more anxious to get to PA and start my own adventure.  I was on my way to doing that.


Temp tattoo that I got at the FFKO.
I wonder how long it will last.
I was meeting my childhood friend Turk, aka Kangaroo Joe (KJ) at a small Motel along Rt 40.  I arrived about 20 minutes before him and just hung out in the truck until he showed up.  We rang the bell to the office and woke up (it was 4 pm) Norman Bates, who checked us in.  After taking our gear into the room (which wasn't too bad), we headed to Ohiopyle to check out tomorrows Shuttle Ride and have some dinner.  It was KJ's birthday and we had a nice dinner and a few beers at the Falls City Pub, which is right at the end (for us) of the trail.  How convenient.  

Bates Motel
We stopped at the Wilderness Voyageurs to confirm our reservation for the morning shuttle and do a little bit of shopping.  I bought something that I have been thinking of trying out and KJ bought a new pack towel.  My item was an umbrella.  It was small and about 5 or 6 oz, so I added a little more weight to my pack to try it out as rain was in the forecast.  We walked around the river area and went by the visitor's center, which was closed, then went to dinner.  After Dinner we headed back to the motel and finalized our packs for the morning.  Then it was sleep time...

The Yough
Happy Birthday KJ
Testing the new gear.
Adjustments would be made
Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 (Day 1)

We were up early, got a quick sandwich and coffee for breakfast at a nearby gas station and headed to the Wilderness Voyageurs parking lot.  We met our shuttle driver, who had the handle of "Crash".  I asked him if we had anything to worry about and he said no.  His name came from his mountain biking days.  He was an interesting dude with an interesting life.  He has lived in Avalon, the town next to my hometown and had been a punk rocker, snow board instructor, mountain biker and was now a white water instructor and shuttle driver.  We had some nice conversation during the hour and 10 minute drive.

We arrived at the northern terminus of the trail near Seward, PA.  Around 9:25, we started the hike.  I had a couple of missions for this hike.  I was going to try and gps track the whole trail, taking gps tagged pictures of various waypoints like power line crossings, roads, streams and signs.  I hoped to put it all together in a comprehensive trail guide.  I didn't know if my aging Galaxy S3 would hold up battery wise, but I was also carrying a 1 lb, 20,000 ua battery pack that was billed to provide multiple re-charges.  I would be pleasantly surprised at the performance of the battery pack as the week went on.  The S3, not so much.  

As we started off the temperature was in the mid 40s.  The trail starts off at 1300 feet and you then do a three mile steady climb to over 2400 feet and from there you ride the ridge until you head down into the Youghiogheny valley, with a lot of ups and downs in between.  As we headed up the ridge, one thing was very prevalent.  Spring was just arriving here.  The trees were just sprouting their leaves.  It was quite different from the full spring I had left in Maryland.  

Start picture at MP 70
The walk up the ridge wasn't that bad and before long we had passed our first few mileposts.  One of the unique things about the LHHT is there is a cement milepost every mile.  My gps said we had arrived at MP 70 in about .7 miles so there was a discrepancy from the beginning that would continue as the hike progressed.  My gps didn't always agree with the mileposts, but it wouldn't matter.  It was always fun looking for each mile post and seeing it up ahead always gave you a little boost as it announced how many more miles you had to go.  I took a picture of every post (except 52, don't know how I missed that one.  Maybe it is my aversion to a certain football player that wore that number).


The beginning (for us)
As we walked up the ridge, we could see views of Johnstown and the Conemaugh River. As I was enjoying one of the views, a hawk alighted from a nearby tree and floated out over the valley.  It was majestic.  Just before noon we arrived at the trail to the Rt 56 Shelter area.  We headed down the blue blaze to eat lunch and get some water.  Just before the shelter turn off, we had come upon a lone hiker who was out for a couple days.  He was headed for the 56 shelter for the night.  

J Town and the River
After lunch we headed back to the yellow blazes and continued south.  We saw a few other day hikers out and after a while I saw another couple with a dog up ahead.  I gave my usual trail greeting and saw it was Greg and Becky (my cousins) and their dog Willa.  They only had two days to spare, so they had decided to park a car at either end of this day's hike and hike North (down hill) to Seward, then drive back to the 271 parking area and then camp with us at the Rt 271 Shelter area.  They only had about six miles to go to finish and we had about eight.  

The day's hike continued on with pleasant temperature of somewhere in the 70s.  It was a very good day to be hiking.  Before MP 61 we came upon a road walk that lasted over a mile.  That was the only unpleasant pathway of the day.  I was really impressed with the condition of the trail.  Not a lot of rocks and plenty of duff to walk on.  I was feeling spoiled after my last long hike in the Eastern part of the state known as Rocksylvania. 
MP 61 along road walk
10 Miles Down (60 to go)
Around 5:08 pm, we pulled into the Rt 271 Shelter area for the night.  Greg, Becky and Willa would should show up a short time later, with large packs full of delicious food.  These two don't rough it, they smooth it.  Steak, salmon and lobster tail cooked on the fire with asparagus and a bunch of other good smelling things.  I had rice...

Almost done with Day 1
Another special thing about the LHHT is the only place you can spend the night is in a shelter area.  Each area provides five shelters and numerous tent sites.  The shelters are billed to fit five people and maybe if they are skinny AT hikers, but for people of my girth, three would be pushing it.  As it was, the shelter was perfect for the two of us and our gear. Especially as KJ pretty much exploded his pack each night.  He likes to spread his shit out.  Greg and Becky tented out by the fire and it was a beautiful night.  As darkness came, the day's work started to take its toll on me and as usual, I was the first to hit the boards.  
Day done.  Arriving at Camp
Shelter 3.  Our home for the night.
Willa, Greg, Becky, KJ
Shelter 4 and 5
Shelter 3
I had just enough signal to do my quick little post to Facebook and Trail Journals and to let my bride know I was still alive.  We had done just about 14 miles total on the day according to the gps.  That included the hikes into each of the shelters and the one into 271 was almost a mile.  Below is my FB/TJ post.  

LHHT Day 1
1. Date: 5/3/15
2. Day 1
3. Morning temp: 46
4. Weather: Warm, light winds.
5. Time start: 0925
6. Time stop and miles: 1708 14.0
7. End point: 271 Shelter
8. Events: Hawk, Greg and Becky
Log: Arrived at shuttle early. Was on trail by 9:20ish. Nice steady up from trail head. Saw a few people, among them Greg and Becky heading north. Ate lunch at 56 Shelter. Last miles were the hardest and fastest. Tomorrow we do 10ish.

Next... Day 2

Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6
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