With Alex’s AFT trip so popular, I decided to post a second group doing the same loop, same direction, but starting from the western parking lot instead. We quickly got a small group of 5 adventurers, excited to see the fall foliage in Pennsylvania.
Traffic on our way out of D.C. meant that we didn’t get to the trailhead until 9:30, but other than the initial short climb up from the river it was an easy couple of miles in to camp. We found a small site in the pines just next to the trail, uphill from a river and before an upcoming road crossing. Even though our group wasn’t large, we’d all brought two person shelters and filled up the space with our luxurious lodgings.
Due to a series of unfortunate events, it was another couple hours before we heard Claudio whistling his way along the trail. Just after he set up, there was a lot of road traffic and loud conversation – this campsite isn’t exactly the most secluded. Despite the less-than-ideal sleep, We were on trail by 7 a.m., climbing up to the ridge just in time for sunrise.
A light rain started, continuing for the next several hours. Kyle quickly took the lead, enjoying the even terrain (and making do without his rain jacket), while the rest of us leapfrogged back and forth. I enjoyed getting to revisit the trail and see where I’d been before. This trip was significantly drier than last March; boardwalks that had been completely submersed then were high and dry now, and many looked entirely rebuilt.
At the trail register, we each stopped to sign in; it was fun getting to see how close we were to each other despite mostly hiking separately for a couple hours. We all linked back up at Ralph’s Majestic View for lunch around 12:30, taking our time once we realized we only had about seven miles left for the day. Ralph’s Pretty Good View soon followed, as did some unexpected descents and climbs.
About a mile before our planned end for the day, Kyle stopped at a pretty awesome campsite – it was close to water, had plenty of space, and a great fire ring. We’d talked about pushing more miles to make Sunday shorter, but this was such a nice site that we were all excited to settle in. Before long, we were enjoying whiskey and fudge-topped brownies around the fire in the light of a bright, full moon.
Sunday morning was clear and cold, and we walked through ferns and meadows all coated in frost. A hunter we’d encountered the day before had said that their first frost was just last week; we’d timed it just right to get all the fall colors without too much of the cold. Even so, it was cold enough that Claudio was less than pleased when he dunked a whole foot into a mud puddle.
The trail was heavily shaded, and it stayed cool for most of our hike out. Where the sun did come through, we could see all the frost and condensation dripping off the trees in a fine, steady mist. Along the fire road, Kyle thought he saw a husky lying down in the middle of the trail, but when it ran off he saw that it was a baby bear!
We all agreed that the last few miles of our loop were unnecessarily hilly – instead of following the stream, we just went up and down, up and down. The trail was steep and several people slipped; no wonder I’d fallen so many times back in March when it was icy! We all made it back to the cars in one piece, albeit a bit muddy, and drove to the Knickerbocker for a celebratory meal. The timing worked out perfectly for us to reunite with the other DCUL group, and we enjoyed swapping stories of mediocre campsites and dry water sources. Until next season, AFT!
Featured image photo credit: Mark Groeneveld