It had been four years since I last hiked the AFT, so I was delighted to give it another go. Between the stay at home orders and travel restrictions due to work, I hadn’t been out backpacking since the Death Valley trip, so I was hot to trot.
Since I had posted it so close to the event, I wound up doing it solo. One person expressed some interest, but thought better of it once I explained my plan to hike until dark. As is, I wound up hiking until 8:30pm on Saturday night.
Initially, I planned to drive up on Friday afternoon. However, the weather forecast showed a severe thunderstorm with hail and damaging winds, so I opted to drive up early Saturday morning instead. One quirk of the current Covid situation is that the rest areas are closed and it’s undesirable to stop too many places, but four hours without a rest stop is too much. So one needs to look for convenient places to pull off along the way. I wound up doing a brief Sheetz stop for the restroom on the way back, but felt there were too many people in the store to mess around with the food.
I used the southern trailhead that google maps lists for “Allegheny Front Trail” and hiked clockwise. The previous time I hiked it I started on the East side and hiked counter-clockwise which is what’s listed in Michael’s book.
The trail itself was beautiful. It’s well maintained and fairly easy going. It has half of the elevation gain over 42mi that the Black Forest Trail does. Lots of walking along streams, then popping up to the plateau and hiking through logged forests. The weather for the weekend was great too. I only wound up with one tick, which was surprisingly few for the amount of grass I walked through.
There are lots of awesome campsites on this route. While I normally focus on just the hiking, it’s a worthwhile destination to spend some time enjoying nature in some of the campsites by the streams. I was originally going to dry camp on the plateau to get a good view of the sunset but came upon an adult black bear about 80 feet away when looking for a site, so decided to keep hiking for a bit instead. As things worked out, I got to an unoccupied campsite under pine trees by the black Moshannon river eight minutes before sunset, so had a peaceful night and breakfast by the river.
For other wildlife seen, I saw a wild turkey, a gardener snake and a number of deer. There were numerous pink flowers in bloom, but I don’t know the fauna very well.
I saw only one other person on the trail in the first 19 miles that I hiked. Then I ran into another backpacker who was solo hiking in the opposite direction. I ran into him again just before finishing the loop. All told, I saw no more than 40 people when doing the loop divided into about ten groups. For PA locals, the trail is definitely runable and I saw some runners taking advantage of it.
The stats from the trip show roughly 16 hours of hiking and almost 8 hours of driving, so it’s just barely over my preferred 2:1 ratio of hiking to driving. If I count some of the time in camp as activity time, then the ratio improves. Based on the wheel measured distance of 42mi, it works out to 2.6 MPH for a hiking pace. Heart rate data indicates that I could have gone faster Sunday, but I’m out there primarily to enjoy my time in nature.
Per the STS trip report, it’s noted that returning to backpacking can be a bit of a shock. I think that this trail seemed to be a reasonable place for me to start. I was tired by the end, but not in danger of an overuse injury. I had a bit of tightness in my quadriceps, which might be from side-hilling for extended sections. Overall, I think that the major shortcoming of my physical training during the Covid lockdown was not doing enough workouts of duration >= 3 hrs, so I seemed to be coming up short on extended energy production.
For me, the drive to the AFT is slightly shorter than to Dolly Sods, so I’m probably going to head up there more often than every four years.
Solo backpacking has a different feel than the social outings with the club. While I prefer the social outings since so much of the computer work that I do for a living is non-social, I’m still glad that I got out and enjoyed what the AFT had to offer.
-Andrew L. (Camel)
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