Fall is a great time to hike. The temperatures are very comfortable for hiking during the day and at night the temperatures stay warm enough that you can stay nice and cozy in a mummy style sleeping bag and three season tent. And in Pennsylvania, hiking in fall gives you an opportunity to view some amazing fall foliage. So this October, five of us set out to hike 30 plus miles from Ansonia to Blackwell, along the Pine Creek Gorge, with the hopes of taking in some nice vistas with brilliant autumn colors.
|Trailhead:||N 41° 44.37'
W 77° 25.97'
|Trail Length:||30.2 miles|
|Hike Time:||18 hours|
|Near:||Between Ansonia (route
US6) and Blackwell
(route PA414), along
Pine Creek Gorge.
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|Get the trail guide.|
In June, during our Black Forest Trail hike, we had decided to do a hike in mid October. We first discussed the Allegheny Front Trail but then decided on the West Rim Trail. After a few weeks we had decided on the dates with three of us, Waxman, Merf and myself, as definites on the hike. For the next three months we tried to recruit others to go on the hike with us. One of those that we put a lot of pressure on was WaterMan. WaterMan had introduced Waxman to hiking and though he and I talked of hiking a lot, I only had the opportunity to hike with him once. So in early September we got WaterMan to commit to the trip. Of all the others that we tried to recruit, only Jeff stepped up to do this hike.
With a roster of five and a date of October 13th we were ready to do the hike of thirty miles on the West Rim Trail. The West Rim Trail follows the western edge of the Pine Creek Gorge, or what's more commonly known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The northern terminus of the trail is just south of Ansonia with the southern terminus being just 2 miles outside of Blackwell.
For our hike we decided to go north to south, starting at the northern terminus trailhead. To reach the trailhead you will need to make your way to route US6. From the town of Wellsboro, follow route US6 west for approximately 11.3 miles and turn left onto Colton Point Road. Once on Colton Point Road, continue for about 0.6 miles and you will see parking and the northern terminus on your left.
Our hike of thirty plus miles started on a late Thursday afternoon. WaterMan, Waxman and were planning on hiking in four and a half miles to set up camp along Bear Run. Merf was to meet us that evening with Jeff joining the group at camp in the morning. We were then planning on a 9 mile hike on Friday, followed by 11 miles on Saturday and the remaining 6 miles on Sunday. And so it started on a dreary Thursday afternoon around 4:00PM at the northern terminus of the West Rim Trail. Waxman, WaterMan and I donned our packs, grabbed our trekking poles, put on our rain gear, and started hiking south.
After about 500 feet on the trail we came upon the trail register. We pulled out the register to make our entry to discover that there was no pen or pencil for which to record our passing. Since none of us had a pen (who would figure you would need one on the trail), we put the register back and continued on our way.
After a quarter mile we stopped and took off our rain gear. For a raining October day, it was somewhat warm and quite humid. We were getting wetter wearing the rain gear than we would not wearing. With our rain gear packed back into our packs, we started off on the trail once again.
For the first 2 miles we had a pretty steady climb, ascending about 400 feet. The trail for the most part paralleled the Colton Point Road. At about 2.5 miles our ascent came to an end and we found ourselves along the rim of the gorge. Or at least we made an educated guess that we were on the rim of the gorge. It was so foggy that we couldn't even see the other side. It was a shame because I am certain that the views here would have been spectacular. As a matter of fact I am planning on making a drive up to Colton Point State Park on a nice sunny day just so I can see those vistas that we missed.
For the next mile the trail took us right along the edge of the rim, and headed south of Barbour Rock. And when I say right along the edge, I'm not kidding. There were places where the left edge of the trail itself was eroded away and all you could see to your left was a lot of fog below with an occasional tree top visible through the soupy mass.
At about 3.5 miles into our hike we turned right and away from the rim of the gorge. We slowly descended about 70 feet and met up with Colton Point Road. About 300 feet prior to reaching the road we walked through a stand of pine trees. A number of the lower limbs on these pine trees were dead and looked quite dry. We knew we had about another 0.25 miles to hike until we got to our campsite and decided that if there wasn't any dry wood (which there probably wouldn't be since it had be raining for the past 8 days including today) we would walk back to this point to gather as much dry wood that we could carry.
Once crossing Colton Point Road we hiked for another 0.25 miles along Bear Run. We came upon a nice campsite to the right of the trail, just prior to the trail dipping down and crossing Bear Run. The campsite was in amongst a stand of pine trees and for the most part the ground was relatively dry. It was about 6:00PM so we set up our tents and then headed out to gather fire wood.
With our nice collection of dry firewood we had a fire going in no time and enough to keep the fire going until about 9:00PM that evening. Merf was suppose to meet up with us at about 9:00 so we decided to head back to Colton Point Road and wait for him. After about 20 minutes he showed up and we all headed back to camp. Merf set up his tent and soon I was off to bed with the others following a little bit later.
The next morning we were awoken by Jeff as he arrived at our campsite at about 8:30AM. We were soon up and about, tearing down the tents, and having a fresh cup of coffee. After we had the campsite all cleaned up, water filtered from the nearby stream, and everyone had their fill of coffee, we headed off on our second day of hiking at about 10:00AM. Today's hike was to be about 9 miles with an estimated arrival at camp around 3:00PM that afternoon.
Friday was another damp day with overcast skies and a lite drizzle almost all day long. There was some road walking after a mile of our hike, but the roads were grass covered and soon my feet were feeling a little damp. I should have taken the opportunity, once we got off of the grassy road, to stop and put on dry socks. But I didn't, and by the end of the day I had a nice sized blister on my left foot. This would haunt me all day Saturday as we did our longest hike of over 11 miles.
We hiked for about 3.5 miles on relatively level terrain as we skirted around Colton Point State Park. After 3.5 miles we came to a side trail that removes about 2 miles of hiking from the West Rim Trail, meeting up with it again along Burdic Run. Since we were here to hike the West Rim Trail, we stayed on the main trail. There was also suppose to be another vista, according to the trail guide, that looked up Pine Creek Gorge past Colton Point State Park, and we wanted to enjoy this view.
At about 5 miles into our hike we reached this supposed vista. Unfortunately the trees had grown up quite a bit and it was difficult to get a clear view at the vista.
We continued to hike on up the trail with WaterMan, Merf and Jeff a good ways in front of Waxman and I. As a matter of fact we could no longer see them. I was starting to slow down somewhat because of the blister forming on my left foot. We had originally decided to stop for lunch at the vista, but since the vista was not all that well defined, the other guys missed it completely and continued hiking.
As Waxman and I continued our hike, trying to catch up with the others, and thinking about eating soon, we heard a loud rustle in the woods to our right. Not sure what it was (a bear was the first thing to come to my mind) we scanned the underbrush to look for anything moving. I happened to glance to our left and a small branch, about 2 feet long, fell just off the trail. I looked up to see a limb about 40 feet in length and probably 6 inches in diameter hanging in the tree tops above. I told Waxman to look out, and he scurried back beside me and about 10 seconds later a limb about 8 feet long fell right where he was standing. We waited to make sure that nothing else was going to fall on us and we hurried on down the trail.
After catching up with the rest of the group, whom we found sitting along the trail about 0.5 mile on, we had a quick lunch and then continued on with our hike.
The next 3.5 miles of hiking was uneventful with one decent vista where we had the opportunity to take some pictures. At 9 miles our hike on Friday came to an end along the banks of Little Slate Run. We were all wet and in my case my feet were hurting from the developing blister. We set up our tents, filtered water and then gathered a respectable amount of wood for that evenings fire. Dinner consisted of ham slices and instant mashed potatoes. We all put on dry clothes and enjoyed sitting around the campfire. At around 9:00 or 10:00PM we did happen to catch a glimpse of the moon and some stars. But this clearing was short lived as a number of rain showers moved through that evening.
We awoke Saturday morning to blue skies overhead. It was a bit windy, but the thought of hiking in the sun lifted everyone's spirits. I had taped up my blister on my left foot and hoped that it wouldn't hurt too much as we had 11 miles to hike today. We packed away the tents, filtered water, and had our morning coffees. At about 9:50AM we were on the trail.
We came to a nice vista in about 0.75 miles. My blister was beginning to bother me and I knew I was going to have a long, hard day of hiking in front of me.
We continued to hike on and after about 2.5 miles we had a number of beautiful views of the gorge below. In another 0.5 miles we were at the Bradley Wales picnic area. We stopped here to have a snack and to fill up our water bottles.
After about 15 minutes at the Bradley Wales picnic area we continued on with our hike. The next 0.75 miles was a gentle incline and soon we were walking through a stand of pine trees and emerged onto a forest road. The sun was shining brightly and it was a pleasure to stroll along on the road in the sun. With the sun and a slight breeze, things were finally starting to dry out.
We passed a small swampy area and the trail headed off the road and back into the woods. The next mile was rather level walking and then we began a descent into Good Spring Hollow. We ascended the southern edge of the hollow and rounded a turn to come upon another vista. From here we could see where our next vista would be, a good 2 miles away and some 800 feet higher in elevation. We took a moment to have another snack of meat and cheese.
This climb of 800 feet wasn't steep but was continuous. It was our hardest climb so far on the hike. When we finally reached the top we were all drenched with sweat and a bit of rain, as a passing rain shower dumped on us as we made the climb.
We were now 8 miles into our hike and only three more hollows to go until be reached our destination for the day. At this point my left foot was killing me and the others soon were out of sight. It was kind of nice to walk alone in the woods and enjoy the solitude.
We reached camp at 4:00PM and soon had a clothes line strung up between a couple of trees. The sun was still shining, but not down in the hollow where we were setting up camp. Luckily the wind was still blowing and in about 1 hour our tents and clothes were dry.
As our tents were drying we gathered more wood and soon had a strong fire going. We were going to need a good fire tonight because a chill could be felt as soon as the sun dipped below horizon. Saturday night turned out to be the coldest of the nights so far. We handled it properly and sat around with our knit caps and fleece jackets, keeping warm by the fire.
Sunday morning was chilly and overcast. I was hoping to see the sun and blue sky above as we had the previous morning, but it didn't happen. At least it wasn't raining and it didn't rain on us at all that day.
My foot was feeling much better and by 9:30AM we had broke camp and were on our way again. We did a respectable 3 miles in an hour and came upon our last vista of the hike. This vista looked down on the town of Blackwell with Gillespie Point, the Matternhorn of Pennsylvania, behind it.
The next 3 miles that we hiked to finish up the trip did not go as swiftly as the first three. We had to descend about 1000 feet in a little over a mile. In some parts the climb down was over a rocky trail and we all were careful and took our time at these parts.
We arrived at the southern terminus of the trail at about 11:55AM on Sunday. Cathey was there at the parking lot to meet us and shuttle us back to the trailhead to get our cars.
The hike was a success as we did the entire 30.5 miles of the West Rim Trail in 3 and 1/2 days. There were no injuries except for the blister on my left foot that only slowed us up a bit on Saturday. The weather could have been a little better since we didn't get to enjoy any of the views on Thursday. The constant dampness also took away from the hiking experience and I'm sure it would have been somewhat more enjoyable if the sun had been shining the entire trip.
I'm not sure if I'll hike the entire West Rim Trail again anytime soon, but I will definitely make a trip up to Pine Creek Gorge to take in some of the vistas. Most of the great views are an easy dayhike from parking areas all along the west side of the gorge. The fall foliage wasn't as splendid as I had hoped either, what with the rain and wind knocking most of the colored leaves from the trees. The spell of dry weather during the summer probably contributed to the lack of brilliant oranges and bright reds. I guess there's always next year. Maybe that hike up the Mid State Trail to where it intersects with the West Rim Trail is in order sometime during Fall Foliage of 2006.