Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Chuck Keiper Trail: Our First Attempt at the West Loop

In April of 2006 we had decided that our annual Spring Hike would be on the Chuck Keiper Trail. Not having enough vacation time, nor the stamina, to do the entire trail we opted to hike the eastern loop of the CKT. We finished the 22 mile hike in three days and decided that we would try to make it up here later in the year to finish the rest of the trail: the remaining 33 mile western loop. As often happens, plans change, things come up, and we never did make it back to the CKT in 2006. Now in April of 2007 we set out to finish the Chuck Keiper Trail by completing the western loop almost one year to the date from when we started our adventures last April.

Trailhead: N 41° 14.16'
W 77° 46.94'
Total Elevation: 7042'
Trail Length: 14.5 miles
Hike Time: 10 hours
Hike Type: Shuttle
Difficulty Rating: 142
Near: Clinton County,
south of Renovo, PA

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Unfortunately, unlike last year, we couldn't get a large group to hike the west loop with us. It ended up being just Mark and I doing the entire hike with hopes that others would join us later on. We started out late on a Thursday afternoon with intentions of hiking the entire 33 mile circuit and making it back to the trailhead on Sunday. However, as is often the case, thing didn't quite turn out the way we had planned.

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 began our hike on Thursday afternoon. We stopped on the way up to park Mark's car along route PA144 where the trail crosses the road. This would be close to our Friday evening's camp and we made sure that we had a couple cans of beer waiting in Mark's car for our eventual rendezvous.

When we got to the trailhead it was chilly, overcast, dreary, damp, and windy. The kind of day that you think to yourself: "Boy am I glad I'm not outside." We tried to get our gear gathered and on our backs as quickly as possible so we could begin hiking and warm ourselves. Shortly after 2:00PM we were on the trail, crossing route PA144, and heading west on the CKT.

Just after crossing route PA144 the trail turned to our right and in 0.23 miles the single track that we were following came out on a grassy, old forest road. We followed this for less than a tenth of a mile and noticed a side trail to our left. This went out to what probably would have been a nice vista, but with the weather that day, all we saw was a lot of fog.

After a half mile of hiking across this small ridge, we began a short descent, and met up with route PA144 at 0.8 miles. At this point, where the trail crosses the road, there is a rock monument erected. The monument commemorates the first game refugee in the state of Pennsylvania. We paused here for a moment to read the plaque on the monument and the we were back on the trail.

We now encountered our first ascent of this hike. It was a 300 foot climb in about a half mile. This got the blood flowing and we were soon forgetting how chilly we had been earlier at the trailhead. Once we reached the top of this second small ridge, we had a nice hike along it's top, walking through a small stand of pines. At 1.78 miles, the trail that we were following seems to continue straight ahead, but the Chuck Keiper Trail bears off to your right. Make sure you keep your eyes open for this departure or you may find yourself back tracking once you discover that there aren't any more orange blazes.

About 2.1 miles into our hike we began the steep descent into the Fish Dam Run Wild Area. The first two tenths of the descent was rather easy, as we traversed across the face of the ridge we had just been hiking. But at 2.3 miles the trail merges with an older trail and turns sharply to the right. We now began our descent on a more typical CKT trail; straight down with no switch backs.

At 3.25 miles our descent wasn't quite as steep as the trail levels out where the small stream that was flowing to the left of the trail merges with Fish Dam Run. We continue on along Fish Dam Run for another 0.25 miles until we cross this stream and begin the steepest climb of the entire hike.

We faced an 850 foot climb in a little under a mile. Luckily the weather was cooperative. It was cool with a slight breeze blowing as we made our ascent. With a few stops on the way up, we were happy to finally make it to the top of the ridge. Once we made it to the top we encountered a large clearing. This was burnt from a major forest fire some time ago. The grasses had returned with some smaller trees. If it had been a hot, dry summer day, this would have not been a very pleasant section of the trail. We continued across the burnt out clearing, crossing a gas pipeline at 4.5 miles and walking for a short period on Jews Run Road.

We turned off Jews Run Road at 4.6 miles onto an old forest road that headed back to a camp. We followed this road for about 0.4 miles before the trail broke with the road to the right. This was the beginning of our descent into Burns Run Wild Area. The descent was gradual and we left the forest fire area behind at about 5.2 miles into the hike. The larger trees became more prevalent and soon there were no signs of a forest fire. At 5.3 miles the trail turns to the left as it follows J U Branch downstream.

At 5.9 miles we crossed over J U Branch and began hiking on the northern bank of the stream. The trail was rerouted here to take it further up on the side hill, eliminating a lot of stream crossings. I was glad that they had done this as the stream was flowing swiftly at this time of the year, and it looked to be quite deep in places.

Finally, at 6.2 miles into our first day of hiking, we decided to stop and set up camp. We found a nice camp site where J U Branch merged with Burns Run. We soon had a small fire going, the tent set up, and had a nice meal of garlic pasta for dinner. As we finished cleaning up from our dinner it began to rain. The rain was a steady drizzle, so we decided to continue to hang out by the fire. However, at around 9:00PM the rain picked up, so we put out was was left of the fire and headed off to the tent to call it a night. It rained quite hard twice during the night and accepted for an incident where the wind managed to blow some rain in under the rain fly and get our feet a little damp, we stayed mainly dry and had a good night's rest.

Day 2

We woke to find that the rain's had stopped. We quickly made some coffee, filtered water, and packed up camp. Around 10:00AM we were back on the trail.

Again, we followed the newer, rerouted section of the trail above Burns Run. Glances to our left showed a few tell-tail signs of old orange blazes following Burns Run below. At 7.1 miles we descended off of the side hill trail, crossed Packer Fork flowing in from the right, and we were now right along the banks of Burns Run. At this point we encountered two other hikers from Ohio. They had started on Wednesday and were looking to finish up the trail today. They asked about the climbs they had ahead of them, and we told them that they had two and would definitely be getting a cardiovascular work out.

Shortly after parting our ways, the trail crossed Burns Run. The stream was swift and high in it's banks. During this crossing I happened to get a little water over the top of my left boot. The socks were a little damp at the top, but all things considered, I thought the stream crossing went well. As we continued along Burns Run, now on the opposite bank, we encountered numerous ticks. Up to this point I think we only saw one or two, but on this short stretch alone, Mark managed to pull about 7 off of him and another five or so off of Storm. Luckily I didn't have any on me.

At 7.5 miles we crossed Owl Run, and the trail turned to our left to follow this small stream on our second steepest ascent of the hike. This time we would be climbing 1000 feet in 1.4 miles. There were a few times that the sun peaked out during our climb and it was a bit warmer than the previous day, making us break into a sweat much sooner. The trail crossed Owl Run many times during the climb. The stream was only a trickle so these crossings were not difficult at all. It was very lush in this small valley, with moss growing all over the rocks and fallen trees. I'd definitely like to make it back out to this section during the summer months, when everything is green, and take some beautiful pictures.

At 8.9 miles we completed our climb and crossed Fisher Fire Road. The CKT now merged with the drivable Plantation Trail. We hike along this dirt forest road, through a pine plantation, and joined up with Eddy Lick Trail at 9.4 miles. Turning left at this point we could have followed Eddy Lick Trail out to route PA144, but the CKT turns right. We had hiked this section before three summer's ago, during our hike of the Yost Run Loop. We kept on the CKT, turning right, and following Second Fork as it made it's way to join up with Yost Run below.

There section of the trail was on the northern side of Second Fork. At some places the trail is very narrow, with a steep bank to your left, and we had to be careful on these sections so as not to slide off of the trail. At 10.8 miles we found ourselves at the bottom of the hollow, where Second Fork flowed into Yost Run. There is a nice, large campsite here, but we were going to forge on for another 2 plus miles. We wanted to camp at the same camp site we were at three years ago: located just below a small waterfall.

For the next 2.5 miles we had a gradual climb along the banks of Yost Run. At times the trail was down along the stream and at others it was located high above. Again, this section of side hill trail was put in to avoid the many stream crossings of Yost Run. The old trail, I believe, is still located along the stream and is blazed blue. After the long, slow climb, we came across our campsite for the night, located on the far side of Yost Run, where Kyler Run joins it.

I guess this is a good time to mention that I had just recently purchased new hiking boots. These were full leather upper boots, which were much different than my old synthetic upper boots. Well, to make a long story short, I thought I had adequately broken my new boots in for this hike. I was wrong. As we sat at the campsite filtering water, my feet were aching so much that I could not imagine walking on them for the next two days.

Luckily we had parked Mark's car nearby, only another mile up the trail, and I had the option of ending our trip early. Mark and I discussed it for a while and decided that we would call it quits for this hiking trip. We hiked the remaining mile back to Mark's car and then headed back to the trailhead to get mine.

Not the best ending to a hike and not the way I wanted it to end. However, my feet were very sore and I feel that if I would have continued on for the next two days that my feet would have been damaged severely. Both Mark and I want to get back out and finish this hike on the west loop of the Chuck Keiper Trail. We've got the hardest part behind us as the remaining 18 miles is over relatively flat terrain. I will make sure that I where my boots around the house and get them well broken in before we venture back out on the trail. Hopefully we can find time in our schedules to get the rest of the trail completed sometime this spring.

At the trailhead on an overcast and dreary day. Our hiking adventure starts.

Not more than 0.5 miles into our hike we are presented with an opportunity to take in a vista. Unfortunately mother nature was not cooperating, and about all we saw was fog.

This stone monument, marking the first state game refuge, is located where the CKT crosses route PA144, less than a mile into our hike.

After out first descent, we find ourselves along Fish Dam Run.

During a pause during our steep climb out of the Fish Dam Run Wild Area, I took a snap shot of these large rocks found just off to the right of the trail.

Our campsite alongside Burns Run. This small fire helped keep the dampness and the chill away, but soon it would be raining harder and we would have to head to our tent for the evening.

Being early spring, the streams were full and running swiftly. Here is a picturesque look up Burns Run just after one of the CKT stream crossings that we did on this hike.

Owl Run as we follow it out of the Burns Run Wild Area.

Easy going on this section of the hike as the CKT merges for a short period with the drivable Plantation Trail.

Thanks to the lack of leaves on the tress, we were able to enjoy this view as we began our descent to Yost Run.

The waterfall on Yost Run, found about a hundred feet up from where we were going to camp Friday night. A short hike of less than a mile from route PA144, this waterfall is easily accessible for all to enjoy.

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