Ali and I have been members of DC UL for a long time, but haven’t yet led a trip. Inspired by some warmer weather hiking and a beautiful fall, we decided to schedule a winter trip to a place we’d hiked before, Caledonia State Park in Pennsylvania. It was a low-mileage, winter 1 rating.
I was thinking that the weekend would be like the few that preceded it–warm for the season, sunny, and dry. Imagine my surprise when the forecast started showing signs of snow. Still, no one dropped out on account of snow. I think a lot of people want to test their winter gear and moxie.
Saturday morning, December 9, we met at the 2nd parking lot in Caledonia State Park, after most of our GPSs told us to go somewhere else. It was a cold morning, but snow had not yet started to fall. The group assembled and we headed back a side road that led to the trail head of the Appalachian Trail.
This is a trip from Michael’s book, AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic, so we had a pretty good idea of how things were going to shake out and a lot of good guidance from the book. The hike starts with a short climb up the mountain, leveling out for a bit before climbing again through tunnels of mountain laurels and stone steps. We soon arrived at Quarry Gap Shelter, one of the best kept shelters on the AT. We admired its caretaking and swing and kept on moving, up another short climb to the intersection of Hosack Run trail.
Now I should mention that I attempted the Four State Challenge in October and soon after found out that I was in fact injured (I have “acute chronic plantar fasciitis with bone marrow edema” but I like to call it ACPFWBME! I start physical therapy on the 21st!). Somehow when I scheduled this trip, I thought my injury would be “gone by now” but I wasn’t so lucky. Being in denial about many things, including about being injured, and having felt pretty well the week before, I decided to follow through with the trip anyway. It was around the switchbacks down the Hosack Run Trail that I started to feel the pain. It was here that I started to fall behind the group. It was also at about this time that the snow started falling, very slowly at first.
Along the bottom of the Hosack Run Trail, we saw a giant mass of rocks on our left and on our right, a Christmas tree. We stopped to admire its handiwork. We ran into a group of three hunters, making us all (me, at least) grateful that we had worn bright colors.
At the bottom of the Hosack Run Trail, we turned left and started north toward the Long Pine Run Reservoir. By this time the snow was falling more heavily. It was really beautiful seeing the snow fall on the water. Beth and Ali identified a white and black duck sitting on the water that eventually dove under. We didn’t know what kind it was.
Much quicker than I expected, we were finished walking along the reservoir and started heading up a steep staircase to begin climbing Rocky Knob. The group was very kind to me, being so much slower, by waiting at the intersections until I caught up. They quickly left me in the dust again as we headed up Rocky Knob which had a pretty steep climb.
Eventually the terrain leveled out and we met back up with the Appalachian Trail. Heading north, it was only a matter of miles until reaching the Birch Run Shelter, where we would camp for the night. Once again I came in at the very end and by this time the group was ready to cross Birch Run into some of the tent sites. A big shout out to Noah, who knew about these glorious sites with fire ring and wooden benches across the creek. And really, I think we owe thanks to Paul with Bunions, the original person who showed Noah the site. The time was around 3:30 p.m. We started setting up and then gathering around the fire ring. Geena, tired of being cold, I think, started gathering wood. Soon, others followed her lead. Wood was hard to find, but eventually we had a nice pile. Noah did the honors of starting the fire, then pulled out some things to start preparing his “party tray.” This included homemade bread (with a nod of gratitude to Noah’s wife), salami, and a couple different kinds of cheeses. The Jim Beam, Fireball (“this is the best place you’ll ever taste it”), and Islay Whiskey were soon being passed around the roaring fire. We started preparing our dinners and snacking on the party tray, while Noah rubbed the bread with olive oil and toasted it over the fire with a forked stick.
We had lots of good conversation. I realized that when our cell phones are out of service is when we need the most fact-checking. We made notes of all the things we needed to check in the morning. I thought we would go to bed when it got dark, but we ended up staying up several more hours chatting, looking at the stars, getting warm by the fire.
Finally, around 8 p.m. I headed to bed. I am not the world’s most cheerful winter backpacker, and I wrestled with my hoodies and pillows before eventually settling in. I was getting over a cold and woke up in the middle of the night with frozen nose crusties, temporarily rechristening my trail name “Snot Boogie,” and then falling back to sleep. The night was quiet, and no one was eaten by bears or ate any bears.
In the morning, I was concerned that everyone had stayed warm overnight, but most people were up and about already with the sunrise (around 7:20 a.m.). Jo had awoken very early and rekindled the fire around 4 a.m. Our native Floridian, Beth, swore she’d never winter backpack again because it was painfully cold, but I have a feeling we might see her on the winter circuit again (it was REALLY cold, Beth!). We were planning on hitting the trail at 8:30 since we only had 9 miles to go and wanted to hit Gettysburg around lunch time. Because of my slowness, I decided to get about a 15-minute head start and left Ali, my co-host, behind to start with the rest of the group. The funny thing about my injury is that I can start off pretty normal, I just get sorer and slower as the day wears on, so I was able to cover a good 4-5 miles before anyone caught up to me. David was the first person, followed by Chris and Geena, and then everyone else. It was a nice time to walk along the ridge in the morning with the sun just coming up in the east.
The group kept up a steady pace and eventually regrouped again at Quarry Gap Shelter, where we posed for a group photo on the swing (thanks, Noah!). After that, it was all downhill. No really. It was all downhill from there, and in another 2.6 miles we reached the parking lot.
Hunger crept in and we were all happy to go to Appalachian Brewing Company in Gettysburg for our post-hike meal. I just had to get the Hoppy Trails IPA.
I want to thank everyone for making this such a wonderful trip. I enjoyed talking to you all and I’m glad we got a chance to do this together. Congratulations to our two applicants who became members, Chris and David! I hope to see everyone on the trails again soon!
by Carrie P