Rediscovering a Favorite: The Allegheny Front Trail, Winter 2019

After chasing down new trails in PA for the past few years, it surprised me to realize how long it had been since I had visited one of my favorites! Having neglected it for far too long, it was time to head back to the Allegheny Front Trail and see if it still held the same allure for me it had the first time I’d hiked it.
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Even though it was the last weekend of winter, the days leading up to the trip saw a sense of spring and warm days approaching. The Friday leaving DC even saw temps in the 70’s! But of course Mother Nature had something different planned for the weekend. Chad reported several inches of snow earlier in the week in the PA mountains. It was hoped the warm weather would knock some of that snow depth down, meaning we anticipated it would turn the trail into wet, muddy, slushy trail. With temps expected to drop down into the 20’s, winter was giving us one last taste. At least it was expected to be precipitation free.

Getting to the trailhead parking a bit before 10pm on Friday, we hiked in three miles looking for our campsite for the night. The trail was wet and covered with slushy snow, leading to some dread about what this would mean for tomorrow’s 24ish mile day. Thinking we had potentially passed our campsite, we settled for what looked like a fairly flat area for some dispersed camping. Appearances of flatness were somewhat deceiving,  but at least it was passable. With only a 10%-20% chance of precipitation there was the talk of cowboy camping, but everyone ended up setting up their shelter anyway.

There was a wintry mix of precipitation all night long.

Fortunately it was cold enough overnight to refreeze the snow, so the going in the morning wasn’t as rough as the night hike in. The trail entered the gorgeous rhododendron tunnel following Rock Run. Crossing Benner Run, the snow started to become more patchy, and by the time we climbed the ridge and dropped down to Red Moshannon, the snow was almost non-existent. Along the way we ran into Ben Auer and a number of folks from the MidState Trail Association heading the opposite way. Ben was out scouting the trail for a trail care planned for the summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe climb up from Red Moshannon to Six-Mile Run saw some icy patches. These were to continue sporadically along Six Mile Run. The traction devices I thought wouldn’t have been needed and had told a few people such, might have actually come in handy. This was particularly true on the iced up climb just south of the eastern crossing of Rattlesnake Road, where several of the lead crew slipped and some (me!) slid back a few feet. We waited at the top of the climb for the others and just had them bushwhack up the hill instead of doing the icy stretch.

The hike along Six Mile Run was beautiful. The run was much higher than normal and looked like it could have made for a fun pack raft trip. South of Rattlesnake Road, the trail again became covered with snow, which was to predominantly be the case for the remainder of the trip.

Shortly after we arrived at our planned campsite for Saturday night just past Wolf Rocks, a group of ten from an Outward Bound training trip showed up. None of us had set up our shelters yet, so hearing from Chad that he thought there was another site just a bit up the trail for us, and knowing there was nothing we had passed that would have been suitable camping for the Outward Bound crew, we decided to move on and leave the campsite to them. Jake spoke a bit longer with the OB folks, who asked him what maps we were using and how we knew where there was camping. They were planning to be out there doing the whole loop over 5 days. Hope they made it!

Not finding the site Chad thought he had used previously within the next several tenths of a mile, and quickly approaching 26 miles for the day, we found a spot that looked level and fairly dry and called it camp for the night. The site was somewhat breezy, so several folks cooked from the comfort of their quilts and shelters. Erik made some chocolate pudding that was much improved with the addition of some whiskey. Mmmmmm.

It was to be the coldest night of the trip. Jake starting off cowboy camping, guaranteeing once again some snow overnight. The cold temps at least froze up yesterday’s slushy snow and allowed us to walk on top of it for a while, which made the going easier first thing in the morning. The southern stretch of the AFT goes through several swampy areas so trying to dodge the wet areas of the trail took some effort, and it was nice not to have to deal with soft snow as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlong this stretch we came across a tree with a bunch of porcupine poop piled up by a hole at the base of it. Looking up the tree, Chad spotted the tail of the porcupine visible through a big hole in the trunk of the tree. Pretty cool! Due to the amount of water flowing after a week of snow melting, much of the boardwalk crossing Shirks Run was underwater, guaranteeing we all got some wet feet.

As the morning progressed and began to get warmer, there was much more breaking through the crusty snow, making the miles that much harder than simply trying to dodge the wet areas already made them. Around what used to be one of the wettest (but really cool!) stretches of the trail that skirted the edges of a big swampy area, the trail had recently been rerouted to some higher ground. It hadn’t been traveled enough to really wear down the trail, so it was interesting to travel new ground, and significanly drier and much easier going than trying to get through more swampy trail.

East of Julian Pike, the temps became even warmer and the snow softer and slushier. The trail miles slower and more tedious. We climbed to the ridge and took in the views at both Ralph’s Majestic and Pretty Good Views, the consensus being that the latter was better. We continued along the west side of the ridge sliding down the few slushy and slippery decents, and up the few climbs with water running down the trail, and eventually back to the cars.

It was a great trip, and while the snow made the miles a bit more challenging, and the trail was a lot wetter than normal, the beauty and variety were a good reminder of why I fell in love with the AFT in the first place. Congratulation to Chad and Jake on their successful first trips with DC UL, and Cassie on getting her longest trail day in yet to date! Now onto planning the next visit to the AFT. Maybe this fall?

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