The Winter of 2014. Very frigid temperatures and for the mountains around State College, quite a bit of snow. It was late February and we had a break from the cold temperatures, a thaw almost, which presented me with an opportunity to get out for a winter hike. I knew the snow would be deep in the mountains, so I decided to take my snowshoes along. Snowshoeing is quite a bit more strenuous than just hiking and I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew. With the snowshoes in the back of the PAHikes mobile, I headed out to Musser Gap for a snowshoe outing.
|N 40° 45.30'
W 77° 51.20'
|Rothrock State Forest Access off route PA45.
The trailhead for this hike is easily accessible from State College. Coming from State College, either via route US322 or business route US322 (South Atherton Street), you will need to turn right onto route PA45 west near Boalsburg. Once you are on route PA45 west heading towards Pine Grove Mills, you will want to travel 3.4 miles traveling through the town of Shingletown. You will notice a dirt road on your left that angles up and away from route PA45. There is also a wooden Rothrock State Forest sign here. Turn at this road, travel about 200 feet up the hill, and you will find a large parking area. This is the access area parking for the Musser Gap area and the trailhead for this hike.
There is some exciting activity for the Musser Gap areas, some of which will come to fruition this year. One item is the addition of a bike path, extending from the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive, over to route PA45 and the Musser Gap parking area. A new access road is putting in at the Musser Gap parking area that should make it easier to get off the sometime busy route PA45 and into the parking area.
Another event that could possibly occur this year is the purchase of private land near Musser Gap by Clearwater Conservancy. Clearwater Conservancy purchased the land in Musser Gap a number of years ago and then gave it to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be added to the Rothrock State Forest. Just a couple years ago they did the same thing with a piece of land in Galbraith Gap. Now they are on the verge of purchasing the land on the front ridge between Shingletown Gap and Musser Gap that is still privately owned. Aside from the many ecological benefits that this purchase will make, it will also provide for many recreational opportunities as well.
This was a rather short hike, being only 2.5 miles in total. However, since it was my first hike of 2014 and a snowshoe outing at that, it offered quite a bit of a cardiovascular workout. The temperatures were nice, being in the low 40s when I got to the trailhead. Their was slush in the parking lot, but icy spots too, as winter was in no big hurry to release its grip on Central PA.
After putting on my snowshoes I headed out from the trailhead hiking south towards Musser Gap. Out here in the fields the snow wasn't that deep and I probably didn't need my snowshoes. The going was slow anyways as I was stopping frequently to adjust toe straps and heel straps on both snowshoes, trying to get a snug yet comfortable fit on my boots.
At a little over 0.3 miles I left the open fields behind and entered into the woods. The snow here was deeper than in the fields. I could see foot prints of others that had ventured here before me. It looked like at least one person had snowshoes on, but there were signs of others hiking in their boots, post-holing as they walked towards Musser Gap.
The hiking had a slight ascent to it, but it was relatively flat. At 0.6 miles that changed as the incline became a bit steeper. I passed through two clearings and then the climb paused a bit as the trail came to a stream crossing at 0.9 miles. The stream wasn't all that wide but with snowshoes on my feet, the crossing was a little challenging.
After crossing the stream the trail split at another small clearing. To the right a trail wrapped around the front of the ridge. The the left the trail continued its climb into Musser Gap proper. I turned to the left and began to climb again.
The climb was a bit steep, but nothing too bad, as it leveled out once again at one mile into the hike. This was the site of the old reservoir. The remnants of the reservoir was removed a number of years ago, shortly after Clearwater Conservancy purchased the land. Now trees were planted in what was the bottom of the reservoir, along the banks of a tributary to Slab Cabin Run.
The trail that I followed up to Musser Gap continued its climb away from the former reservoir off to the right. However, since I had snowshoes on and had the ability to walk over brush that would normally be impassable in the summer month, I decided to do a little off trail exploring.
There were two small feeder streams that joined at the former reservoir site. I followed the eastern feeder stream, walking along its northern bank through a stand of pine trees. The snow here was well over 12 inches deep, but with snowshoes on, I didn't notice.
My snowshoeing adventure and off trail exploration came to an end about one and a quarter mile into the hike. It was at this point that my right snowshoe broke. Rivets pulled out of a strap that kept the crampons attached to the shoe. As I was cursing my luck I looked up to see a 'Posted' sign in the distance. I knew I was hiking toward private property and had plans to skirt along the edge or turn back once I encountered it. The 'Posted' sign and broken snowshoe were enough of a sign to me that I was done for the day.
Turning around I slowly made my way back the way I came. I made pretty good time considering I was only wearing one snowshoe. Once I was out of the woods and back in the field I took off my other snowshoe. A short time later I was back at the trailhead, safely back at my car after a mid-winter snowshoe outing.