Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Chuck Keiper Trail: Hiking the East Loop

I always look forward to overnight backpacking trips. I enjoy the sleeping outdoors and the time spent with fellow hikers around the camp fire at night. I especially enjoy the first overnighter of the season. You look forward to trying out all that new gear that you purchased over the winter. The excitement builds and expectations are high as the first day of hiking approaches. I'm happy to say that our hike on the east loop of the Chuck Keiper Trail, the first overnighter of the season, met all of my expectations.

Trailhead: N 41° 14.16'
W 77° 46.94'
Total Elevation: 9042'
Trail Length: 22.5 miles
Hike Time: 13.5 hours
Hike Type: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 135
Near: Clinton County,
south of Renovo, PA

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This hike was done the last weekend of April, and with it being in the north central part of the state, there were mostly just buds on the trees with some leaves found in the hollows and valleys. Waxman, Richard, Ken, Dude, and of course Storm, all participated in this hike of over 22 miles. It was nice to have a group of five of us hiking and camping on the trail.

The trailhead for this hike is located along route PA144, in the parking area of the Fish Run Dam Overlook. This parking area is the typical trailhead for hiking the Chuck Keiper Trail as it is located at the one end of the cross connector. To reach the trailhead from the south, east, or west, get on route I80 and exit at the Snow Shoe exit (Exit 147). From the exit, turn left onto route PA144. Follow PA144 for 3.9 miles to the town of Moshannon, hanging a right, and continuing on route PA144. Travel for another 21.5 miles and you will see the parking area on your left, directly across from Swamp Branch Road. Coming from the north, follow route PA144 south, or route PA120, to the town of Renovo. In Renovo, follow route PA144 south, across the West Branch of the Susquehanna river and drive for 10.2 miles. The parking area will be on your right directly across from Swamp Branch Road.

Day 1

We all arrived at the trailhead at about 11:00AM on Saturday morning. We weren't in a big hurry to get on the trail since Spring Gobbler season started today. The hunters are only allowed in the woods until noon, so the later we got started on our hike the less we had to worry about hunters. Waxman and I drove in my car and Richard had met us at my place and followed us to the trailhead. Richard was only going to be hiking until Sunday as he couldn't get off of work on Monday. We dropped Waxman and Storm off at the trailhead, along with all of our gear, and headed down Pete's Run Road. We parked Richard's car along the road where the CKT crosses, about 16 miles from the trailhead.

Ken and Dude arrived shortly after us and soon everyone was all packed up and ready to start our hike on the east loop of the Chuck Keiper Trail. We were hiking in a counter clockwise direction (which I highly recommend if you do this hike) so we crossed PA144 and turned left onto a new reroute of the trail. The CKT use to walk along the road for about 0.8miles, but a recent reroute put the trail just south of the PA144 eliminating the road walking.

The reroute met up with East Branch Trail at the intersection with PA144 and we made a sharp right and walked for a few hundred feet on a grassy forest road that lead to a leased cabin. About 1.5 miles into our hike we paused for a moment along a swampy area. After a 5 minute break we were soon on our way again and met up with Coon Run Road at 1.8 miles.

We were only on this forest road for about 500 feet, as we crossed East Branch Big Run. We followed this stream for the next 1.25 miles, crossing over it about three times. At one of the crossings there was a nice bridge but the other crossings lacked these nice bridges and we had to cross on rocks or single logs. At the second crossing we took another break, this time taking off our packs and enjoying a small lunch.

We met up with the main trail about 3.2 miles from the trailhead and beared left, heading around the CKT loop in a counter clockwise fashion. For the next 2.5 miles our hiking was relatively flat. We had some small inclines and hills to traverse but they were barely noticeable. We passed some forest meadows and an area that looked as if it had been clear cut. We also passed a few camps along the way.

Our first climb began at 5.4 miles. We paused to rest and take drink before we started going up this small uphill. Again, this climb wasn't all that bad, but we encountered out first "switch-back-less" descent once we reached the top. The trek down to Clendenin Branch was very steep, descending over 100 feet in less than 0.05 miles. At the bottom of the descent there was a nice campsite, just a few feet shy of the stream. The stream here flowed through a hollow that was dense with pines and rhododendrons. There wasn't any easy way to cross the stream either and Dude, the first to attempt the crossing, lost his footing on a slipper rock and ended up getting his one foot soaked.

We now began our first real climb of the hike. Luckily it wasn't straight up, but instead traversed across the side of the mountain. The climb to the ridge top was about 0.5 miles long and we ascended about 350 feet. Once at the top we walked across the ridge top which was once burnt during a forest fire. Since there weren't many trees present on the ridge top we were able to take in some nice views. However, the spring sun was directly over head and we were all anxious to make it back into the tree filled hollows where we could get a little bit of a break from the heat. Exactly seven miles from the trailhead we reached the other side of the ridge and began another "switch-back-less" descent.

After making our way down off the ridge we were nearing our destination for the first day. We approached Cranberry Run and followed the trail to the left as it followed the stream a short distance to a bridge. At the bridge we encountered two other hikers, our first on this hike. They had spent the night before along Boggs Run (where we would be spending our second night) and inquired about campsites that we may have passed. I referred them to the campsite along Clendenin Run, only 1.5 miles back. We snapped a picture of the both of them with their camera and wished them luck. We crossed the bridge, immediately turned right on an old rail road grade, and hiked another 400 feet to our campsite.

The campsite was situated in amongst some pines right along Cranberry Run. There was a fire ring present along with a decent supply of wood. We soon had our tents set up and began to relax around the fire. Of course Dude was the last to join us around the fire as he had about two dozen new toys that he had to unpack and try out. We gathered some more fire wood, filtered some water, and made our evening meal. Supper consisted of instant mashed potatoes and ham steaks. Dude had a variety of spices that he brought along and we experimented with them on our ham slices. After 7.5 miles of hiking the potatoes and ham tasted awesome.

That night passed by rather uneventful. We did here a few owls with their mating calls early on in the evening. Dude made a pretty good impersonation of an owl and I wouldn't have been surprised to see one trying to get into his tent with him. It did get very cold that night with the temperatures pushing my 35 degree sleeping bag to it's limits. At about 6:00AM with my mummy bag pulled tight around my face, my nose and my feet were feeling pretty cold. Soon the sun was out and things started to warm back up.

Day 2

We packed up camp after having a small breakfast. Dude had developed some nasty looking blisters on the back of both of his heals and he tried to fix them up with moleskin. Around 10:15 we were ready to hit the trail.

Our second day of hiking was to start with a slight climb as we made our way up out of the hollow through which Cranberry Run flowed. Over the next 0.7 miles we ascended 340 feet, with the steepest part of the climb towards to top of the ridge. Of course, once we reached the ridgetop and started our descent down the other side, we were greeted once again with a straight, steep descent. As I mentioned earlier, we were doing this hike in a counter clockwise fashion. If we were hiking in the other direction, these steep descents would be killer climbs.

Along our steep descent into Wertz Hollow we did have a nice view to the north. Vistas on this hike were few and far between, but since I wasn't expecting any vistas on this hike, the few that we did have were treats. After the initial steep descent, the trail leveled off, slowly descending to Benjamin Run. We were 9.2 miles from the trailhead and 1.7 miles from our campsite when the CKT turned sharply to the right on a forest road where it paralleled Benjamin Run. After walking another quarter mile, we crossed Benjamin Run and took a break before we started our hike back Sled Road Hollow. Dude took this opportunity to apply some more moleskin and tape to his heals as they were really starting to bother him.

We hiked back Sled Road Hollow for a little over a mile, following alongside a small stream the entire way. The incline was slight and it was a very pleasurable part of the trail as it wound it's way through a stand of pines. We began our second climb of the day 10.5 miles from the trailhead. The ascent was steep but the trail followed an old forest road which made the climb much easier as we didn't have to concern ourselves with tripping over rocks and roots.

Everyone made it to the top of the climb without much problem other than being a little winded. We crossed a forest road at 11 miles and then began our descent towards Boggs Run. As we approached the end of the steep descent, 11.9 miles from the trailhead, we were surprised by two black bear cubs climbing down a tree just some 50 feet to the right of the trail. The cubs hit the ground and took off like a shot up the mountain on the far side of a small stream that we were following. I barely had enough time to blink let alone get out my camera before the cubs took cover in some thick brush. We caught a few glimpses of black as the scampered on up the mountain side. Of course our main concern at this point was determining where the mother bear was at. We thought we caught a glimpse of three black masses as they crested the ridge top but we were quickly on our way on down the trail not wanting to encounter a protective mother bear.

As the trail approached Boggs Run it stayed await from the stream proper and made it's way along the hillside, about 100 to 200 feet above the stream. We were hoping to take our next break and lunch along the stream but decide to stop at a fallen tree along the trail. At this point we were a little over 13 miles from the trailhead.

From here on things took a turn for the worse. About 0.7 miles on down the trail we came to a side stream the flowed into Boggs Run. Both Ken and Richard were out of water so we stopped here to filter more. Dude's feet were killing him and I suggested that he consider calling this hiking trip short and heading back to the trailhead with Richard. We had another 7.5 miles of hiking to do on the next day and I wasn't sure if Dude's feet were going to make it.

After Richard and Ken filled up with water we walked on for another mile, passing a number of deadfalls and blowdowns across the trail. Having to navigate around these obstacles not only consumed additional time but sapped our strength as well. having already hiked about 7 miles we were all ready to call it a day. The trail at this point made a turn to the left, still following Boggs Run, and I was under the assumption that our second night's campsite would be about another 0.5 mile up the trail.

As we continued along the trail I kept an eye to the left of the trail, looking down on Boggs Run, looking for a fire ring. After hiking 0.5 miles I had thought that maybe we missed the campsite. I sent Waxman on up the trail to scout around some as we waited for Ken, Richard, and Dude to catch up to us. Waxman couldn't find a campsite and we started to think about making our own for the evening as we were both very tired. Dude had decided we was going to hike out with Richard and head back home since his feet were killing him. Ken would have to call it a trip early as well since he rode up with Dude and his keys and wallet were in his car. It was at this time that Richard discovered that he did not have his camera, dropping it or setting it down somewhere along the trail. He took off his pack and started to retrace his steps to see if he could find his camera.

I took a look at the map and at my GPS to soon discover that we were still about 0.7 miles from where that evenings campsite was suppose to be. That meant that Dude still had to hike another 1.2 miles to get to Richard's car. Waxman, Dude, and Ken decide to hike on to the campsite where Waxman would begin to set up camp and everyone could filter some water since we were all out. I waited by Richard's pack waiting for his return. After 30 minutes passed I decided to hike back the trail to see what was taking Richard so long. I came across him hiking up the trail towards me after I hiked back around a half a mile.

So our second day finally came to an exhaustive end. Dude and Ken hiked out with Richard to head back to the trailhead and home. We had all logged over 8 miles of hiking with Richard hiking about 10 miles as he looked for his camera. He hadn't found his camera and was saddened, not by the loss of the camera as much as by the loss of the pictures he took on the hike. The campsite that we chose wasn't the greatest, with the fire ring being right on the trail, but we were too tired to look for another one. Besides the trail would soon be turning away from Boggs Run as it climbed to Pete's Run Road. Once on the other side of the road, camping is not permitted since we would be in the Renovo watershed.

Being very tired, I slept well that night. I had filled a water bottle with hot water and placed it at the bottom of my sleeping bag. This kept my feet nice and toasty all night long. I also wore a hat to bed which also helped keep me warm. I only awoke three times during the night. The first time I awoke was to the sound of coyotes howling somewhere down the trail. Next I was awaken by the sound of some animal walking through the dry leaves by my tent, pausing just to the side of the tent, and then being spooked and running off again through the dry leaves. The last time that I was awaken was again by coyotes howling. This time they were above our campsite and very close. Around 7:00 AM I awoke for the last time, climbed out of the tent, and started to prepare for our last day of hiking.

Day 3

The last 0.5 miles of hiking from our campsite to Pete's Run Road was a little steeper than I thought it was going to be. I'm sure Dude had a heck of a time trying to get this last section of the trail behind him. Once we reached Pete's Run Road, we hiked on it for less than a tenth of a mile and then beared off to our right. We followed an road down past two camps and came to the initial descent down into Diamond Rock Hollow. In less than 1.25 miles we descended over 900 feet. There were many waterfalls within Diamond Rock Hollow and it was a shame that you couldn't set up camp here.

Crossing Hall Run, 17.3 miles from the trailhead, was an interesting experience. Even on this dry spring day the stream looked deep, fast moving, and too wide to leap across. I was able to find some rocks to cross on, with some of them being under the surface of the water. Waxman attempted to follow me across but slipped a little on one of the rocks and ended up getting his right foot rather wet. Luckily he had water proof boots on and his feet managed to remain dry.

After crossing PA144 on a new reroute, we paralleled the road until we reached Drake Hollow. At this point the trail began a steady climb back to the ridge tops over the next 2 miles. Prior to beginning the climb Waxman and I took a break and looked over the map. This was going to be our last climb of the entire hike but we weren't in any big hurry to conquer it.

The first half of the climb was relatively easy. The incline was slight and constant and the trail followed an old, unused forest road. A mile into our climb old road switch backed to our right but the trail continued straight. This last part of the climb was somewhat strenuous, with a number of deadfalls that we needed to navigate around. As we approached the top the climb got steeper. Finally, with 20.5 traveled since we started two days ago, we reached the top of our last climb as the trail merged again with an old, grass covered road.

We followed this old road for a quarter mile and then we beared left onto Barney Ridge Road. We did some road walking for the next mile. Neither Waxman nor I am found of walking on regularly used forest roads. There is no give on your feet and we could feel our feet tiring for the first time during the entire hike. At 21.7 miles the trail beared off to the right from the road and we paused here to drink the last of our water and to give our feet a rest.

The remaining three quarter miles that we hiked was easy on an old forest road that was slowly reverting back to the forest. When we started our final small descent off of Barney's Ridge, heading towards the parking lot and the trailhead, I spied what appeared to be a forest fire on the horizon. We weren't quite sure where the fire was, but assumed that it was close, perhaps somewhere in Sproul State Forest. It wasn't until later that day that we learned that the fire was in our back yard, burning on Tussey Mountain some 35 miles to the south of the CKT.

After 22.5 miles and three days of hiking we had completed the east loop of the Chuck Keiper Trail. I enjoy hiking on any trail in PA and the CKT is no exception. I wasn't expecting any vistas but was pleasantly surprised to find a few on the trail. The campsites were above average providing fire rings and plenty of space for all of our tents. If you are considering a hike on the east loop of the CKT just heed this one piece of advice: hike in a counter clockwise direction. As for the Chuck Keiper Trail, the west loop now needs to be conquered so that Waxman and I can put another PA trail under our belt.

Ken, Richard, and Mark patiently wait at the trailhead while Dude makes some final adjustments to his pack.

On the CKT connector trail you cross over Branch Big Run about three times. Here's an example of one of the bridges that we used for crossing.

Mark and Ken eating a little snack as we take a break on our first day of hiking.

Richard lounges and enjoys the sunshine. Look at those shiny new trekking poles!

One of the few vistas on the trail. Because of a forest fire a decade ago, this area is mostly Mountain Laurel and brush, allowing great views of the distant mountains.

Ken snapped this shot of myself, Mark, Dude and Richard sitting around our campfire. Mark's getting ready to filter water so we can start cooking our evening meal of ham steaks and instant mash potatoes.

The campsite on our first night. This is just a few hundred feet south of the bridge that crosses Cranberry Run. I scouted this campsite out earlier in the year.

The only snake we saw on the entire hike. I almost stabbed this little garter snake with my trekking pole as we began our ascent out of Sled Run Hollow.

Ken makes the turn and reaches the top of the climb from out of Sled Run Hollow.

Coming down one of the many 'switch-back less' descents. Hiking counter clockwise allowed us to walk down these steep inclines as opposed to having to hike up them.

Storm leads the way as we hike on the trail on the south side of Boggs Run.

Taking a break to eat lunch along Boggs Run. At this point Dude has some major blisters on the heals of both of his feet.

Dude enjoying the view from the hillside above Boggs Run about 2 miles from our second night's campsite.

Mark attends the camp fire as Storm takes a rest on his fleece blanket.

We encounter this nice waterfall feature on our third and last day of hiking. These and many other waterfalls were found along the trail in Diamond Rock Hollow.

Another waterfall, after we crossed route PA144, on one of the tributaries that flow into Drake Hollow.

We encountered this large hemlock tree along the trail in the upper end of Drake Hollow.

Almost finished as we hike over Barney's Ridge on our way back to the parking area and our cars.

Mark and Storm pose for a picture at the end of our hike. They're standing at the Fish Dam Run vista.

Here's the hikers waiting for Dude's camera to snap a picture.

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