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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Appalachian Trail - North from Port Clinton

April 28, 2020
Hi Blog!

The past two days have been a washout. The weather this April has been cold and wet. When we woke up this morning to blue skies, we knew we had to get out for a hike. With two straight days of rain, we decided to head back up to the Appalachian Trail. The trail tends to be rocky so it doesn't stay wet for long. Today's adventure took us to Port Clinton. In order to practice social distancing, we picked a small parking area and headed north on a difficult section of trail. 

It is well know to Thru-Hikers that Pennsylvania is where hiking boots go to die. At our trailhead, someone discarded a pair of broken hiking boots.

A blue blazed side trail took us from the parking area off Route 61 down to the banks of the Schuylkill River. The AT follows the banks of the river as the river cuts its way through the Blue Mountains.

After following an old railroad grade and wondering whether or not it was the trail, we finally found the ubiquitous white blaze - and now our hike begins!

It is believed that Schuylkill is a Dutch name. Kil means "creek" and schuylen means "to hide, skulk" or "to take refuge, shelter." One explanation given for this name is that it translates to "hidden river", "skulking river" or "sheltered creek" and refers to the river's confluence with the Delaware River at League Island, which was nearly hidden by dense vegetation. Since the trees have just begun to leaf out, the river wasn't hidden to us.

We thought this little collection of trash was either some kind of trail maintenance or some urban art installation. We had no idea what was to come.

The trail crossed under Highway 61 as the highway headed out over a bridge above the Schuylkill River. We first noticed the tree decorated with socks in the photo below. We just figured some Thru-Hiker washed some socks in the river and hung them to dry. We soon realized is wasn't a hiker, but a homeless person taking refuge under the bridge. When we crossed under, no one was home at the time, but the place looked well lived in.

What we first thought was poetry or journal entries from Thru-Hikers turned out to be long rants about everything from politics to religion. Some of the rants were signed Wolfman of Helltown. It wasn't until we returned home and Googled, that we discovered that the Wolfman is an AT oddity. There are numerous blog posts from hikers who ran into this guy at shelters in the area, where he rants for hours at a time and leaves manifestos all along the trail. We saw him briefly on our return trip, but once he saw us, he hid in the bushes (probably out of fear of Covid-19, although we had our masks on), so we never got the pleasure of listening to his rants in person.

Just past the bridge, we began our climb up to the top of the ridge.

The trail was well marked.

After about a half mile of switchbacks, we found ourselves looking down on Port Clinton. Port Clinton was once a thriving place. The leading business had been the shipment of coal from the mines in the vicinity. Today, most folks work for the railroad and distribution centers.

Once we recovered from all that uphill climb, we were able to enjoy the view.

We followed the ridge as it headed northeast. This part of the trail is a knife edge. We had views both north and south. When we noticed a couple hikers coming our way, we stepped off trail to let them pass. It gave us a chance to admire some the spring flowers.

For part of our hike, we were joined by a mourning butterfly.

After about three miles, we found a comfy place to sit and relax and enjoy our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Amish peach bread. Living in Lancaster County has perks.

As we hiked back along the knife edge, Dave recorded this 360-degree video from the ridge. At the same time, Kathy recorded Dave recording the 360-video!

We took one last look at the Schuylkill River before tackling the short but steep climb back to the trailhead parking lot.

The next time we come to Port Clinton, we'll follow the AT south. In the meantime, we'll be house hunting, cleaning and dodging rain drops. Stay safe and keep smiling!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Hiking South from Highway 501 on the Appalachian Trail

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

"The Land of Counterpane," by Robert Louis Stevenson

Our good weather days are few and far between.  We got another one today and seized the opportunity to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail that follows the ridge of Blue Mountain above the Mennonite farms of Lancaster County.  To us, as you'll see, the scenery below reminded us of "The Land of Counterpane."

Pennsylvania now requires masks in public to protect against Covid-19, but, as a matter of personal protection, we believe it's important to use masks and glasses whenever we pass other hikers or hike in their "slipstream."  As it turned out, because today is Saturday and many people in Pennsylvania are chafing at their mandatory isolation, we encountered many other hikers on our section of the Appalachian Trail.  So we started the hike at the trailhead, on Pennsylvania Highway 501, in full gear:

The trail lost no time heading out to viewpoints looking to the South:

We passed two viewpoints within the first half mile of our hike, but we'll share those with you on the return portion.  After we enjoyed those views, the trail got down to business, throwing rocks and boulders at us without break for at least a half a mile:

About 1.5 miles into our hike, we came to Fisher Lookout, named in memory of Bob Fisher, a president of the local Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club, which was responsible for laying out and now maintaining sections of the Appalachian Trail running along Blue Mountain ridge.  It gave us expansive view of Lancaster County as Spring began its bloom:

Continuing South, the trail flattened and grew less rocky -- a welcome change for our feet, which were already getting sore after just about 2 miles of tramping:

Kathy imagined herself leaping over this dead tree and collapsed in an imaginary fall in the attempt.  Neither hiker nor tree was injured in the making of this photo:

David always enjoys adding some photos of details along the trails, including such things as this little mossy hollow at the base of one tree --

-- and this furry vine working its way up one of the trees:

We stopped for lunch at our turnaround point near Highway 645, where, on a side trail, we discovered this unexplained, and very uncorroded, snow shovel (and, by the way, where is all the snow, anyway?):

Along this stretch of the A.T., we spotted three side trails leading south from the main trail.  Each side trail was marked with unique-color blazes -- blue, green, red, and even this trail with lilac purple blazes:

Working our way back to our trailhead, we stopped at an expansive viewpoint along a powerline easement that dove steeply down to the trees and farmland below:

David stopped again to spend some time with a fun guy he spotted --

-- and then leaped up onto a dramatic rock overlooking the trail and valley below --

-- from which vantagepoint Kathy looked relatively miniscule on the trail below:

Just around the corner, we returned to Kimmel Lookout, where we took our last, long look at the Land of Counterpane below:

Returning to our Jeep, we were happy that we had had a chance to stretch our legs today, while expecting two or three days of rain hereafter.  Ah, we take what we can get.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Blue Marsh 2 - Sleepy Hollow Road

April 20, 2020
Hi Blog!

It's been a few days since we last hiked. The weather has been cold and rainy. We are still looking around for a house to buy, but the lockdown makes it impossible to actually tour them. On the bright side, our daughter was able to complete the purchase of her new home, and we will be helping her move in tomorrow. So, for today, we decided to revisit Blue Marsh National Recreation Area and stretch our legs.

Blue Marsh Lake is located northwest of Reading in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This is a multi-purpose project built and maintained by the Philadelphia District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam which created the lake was authorized by Congress for flood control, water supply, water quality and recreation. Construction began in 1974 and was completed in 1979. The dam is located on the Tulpehocken Creek and the project's water control practices benefit downstream communities. We started our hike at the Peacock Road trailhead, just as we did on our last hike, but this time we decided to hike south.

This portion of the Blue Lake Border Trail follows several gravel roads. Portions of the land surrounding the lake are still being farmed. It's not often you find a stop sign on your hiking trail.

Did you know lichens occur from sea level to high alpine elevations, in many environmental conditions, and can grow on almost any surface. Lichens are abundant growing on bark, leaves, mosses, on other lichens, and hanging from branches "living on thin air" in rain forests and in temperate woodland. They grow on rock, walls, gravestones, roofs, exposed soil surfaces, and in the soil as part of a biological soil crust. Different kinds of lichens have adapted to survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth: arctic tundra, hot dry deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. They can even live inside solid rock, growing between the grains. Usually, the lichen in a given spot are relatively uniform in color -- presumably because they are absorbing similar nutrients and living in similar conditions.  However, we happened upon colonies of lichen on these two trees which display a rainbow of colors.  We like the color combinations in these lichens.

In case you were wondering, this is Just a Road.

The Blue Marsh Lake Trail System is a multi-use trail. The trails are used by horses, bikes and hikers. While we didn't see any horses today, we did get passed by several trailbikers.   Overall, the trail was much more populated than we expected.  Luckily we had our coronavirus masks.

The trail is surprisingly diverse. From walking through farm fields to meandering along a creek.

The little brook in the photo below is lined with skunk cabbage. This perennial wildflower loves to grow in swampy, wet areas of forest lands. This unusual plant sprouts very early in the spring, and has an odd chemistry that creates its own heat, often melting the snow around itself as it first sprouts in the spring.

The trail then took us along the banks of the lake. The Blue Marsh National Recreation Area covers over 6,200 acres of land, and of this the lake stretches over 1,148 acres of water. It's impossible to see the entire lake as it twists and turns along the old river valley spreading up into the small creek valleys that continue to feed the lake.

Blue Marsh was the name of the village that was located where the lake now is. It was the first settlement in Lower Heidelberg Township. The land was very fertile. It was also a heavily forested area with abundance of wildlife. There were many farms and 18th and 19th century homes. The village also had a church, schoolhouse, post office, and General Store. Residents were put under eminent domain and had no choice but to move out. All that's left are a few foundations like this one.

As we explored the old homestead, we came across this well.

We had to cross several bridges on this part of the trail. The old, rickety bridge below was the longest one.

The next bridge we crossed was over Spring Creek. This creek is healthy enough that Pennsylvania's Fish and Wildlife Agency stocks it with trout. Just as we were reading the stocking notice, a trout lept from the stream in pursuit of a meal. We made a promise to ourselves to come back with our fly rods!

Once we crossed Spring Creek, we began to follow Sleepy Hollow Road as it paralleled this arm of the lake.

It wasn't long before Sleepy Hollow Road was sleeping with the fishes!

We decided to make this our lunch spot and turnaround. While we munched our lunch, we were joined by this little fellow.

On the way back around the Spring Creek arm of the lake, we noticed this farmhouse up on the hill. Spring is finally springing along Spring Creek.

On our return trip, we were passed by several hikers. None of them were wearing masks. We quickly donned our masks and stepped off trail giving them a wide berth. We didn't mind stepping off trail; it gave us a chance to discover some cute little wildflowers.

Just across the channel in the photo below is the old Peacock Road which we hiked last month. This arm of the lake was practically dry back in March. With all the April showers, the channel is filled from bank to bank.

While we hiked six miles, we only covered three miles of trail. Combine that with the three miles we did last time, and we have only hiked six miles of the 36 miles of trails in the Recreation Area. We hope to knock off a few more sections in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mason-Dixon Trail - Otter Creek

The Mason-Dixon Trail is a 195.9-mile, blue-blazed footpath that connects the Appalachian Trail, to the west, with the Brandywine Trail, to the east.  It passes through Gifford Pinchot State Park and White Clay Creek Preserve in Pennsylvania and White Clay Creek State Park in Delaware.  Today we decided to hike a short section of the Mason-Dixon Trail that includes the Urey Overlook and runs through Susquehannock State Park and Otter Creek Nature Preserve:

This short section runs along the western shore of the Susquehanna River (the far end of the red-lined trail to the right in the map below) between Shenks Ferry and York Furnace:

Susquehannock State Park is a 224-acre Pennsylvania state park Lancaster County. The park is on a scenic plateau overlooking the Susquehanna River and Conowingo Reservoir. The park is named for the Susquehannock people, who lived in the area.

From our trailhead parking, we climbed an old farm road (to the right in the photo below) --

-- and followed the road through neat lines of young trees that probably fill a former farmfield:

Within a half mile, we reached the Urey Overlook --

-- where we got a panoramic view of the Susquehanna River near its transformation into Chesapeake Bay.  For a video from the Urey Overlook, click here.

The Susquehanna River is a major river located in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States. At 444 miles long, it is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States. It drains into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, about 30 river miles south of where we hiked.

Having taken in the beautiful view of the Susquehanna, we continued south along the Mason-Dixon Trail as it wound along the cliffs above the river:

While the Pennsylvania landscape still looks wintry, it is starting to green up with the Spring weather.  We spotted dozens of types of forest wildflowers, of which this Great White Trillium was but one:

For reasons we couldn't discover, parts of the tracts we hiked through boasted remarkably large, old trees.  Here, Kathy inspects one fallen giant that has acquired its own green patina:

Entering Otter Creek Nature Preserve, we descended to Otter Creek itself:

Otter Creek, over 11 miles long, empties into the Susquehanna River, and much of its length is protected by the Otter Creek Nature Preserve.  We soon found a spot that showed off the beauty of the creek --

-- and agreed that this would make a perfect lunch spot.  Below, Kathy enjoys one of two log seats that some Nature Preserve trailhand was kind enough to leave in a strategic position overlooking the stream:

After a quiet lunch appreciating the beauty of Otter Creek, we continued along the Mason-Dixon Trail toward the confluence of the creek and river:

This huge fallen tree, cut to accommodate hikers, glows an irridescent green which the recent rains and warm weather have bedecked it:

Three miles out, we reached the mouth of Otter Creek.  Kathy ventured out onto the bridge above it to look about:

We had hoped to make a loop hike by connecting with another section of the Mason-Dixon Trail by climbing a campground road above the highway bridge, but "No Trespassing" signs at the campground entrance gave us pause.  We decided, instead, to retrace our route and take some variant side trails as we worked our way back to our trailhead.  Hiking back along Otter Creek, we spotted this bucolic view of the stream and trail that we had missed on the way out:

As we crossed back into the State Park, David remarked that, curiously, he hadn't seen any mushrooms or other fungi today, despite the dampness of the woods here.  Not more than ten steps later, we encountered this gorgeous butterscotch-colored colony of fungi on a dead trunk:

On a side trail we had not taken coming out, we found this modest little wooden bridge over a small creek --

-- and, much more memorably, this immense field of violet flowers, tinged with pink, that had practically swallowed the trail in their Spring excitement:

Here is a close-up of the flowers themselves, which we thought might be a species of beardtongue:

Back up at Urey Overlook, we spotted a couple paddling their canoe along the shore of Weise Island across from us.  Kathy shouted a hello and, once they spotted us, they shouted back.

We soon reached our trailhead and finished the 6-mile hike, just as the sky clouded up and the temperature began to drop.  Unfortunately, we had an hour's drive to get back to our campground, which resulted in "some stiffness" as we climbed out of the Jeep.  A little run outside with Ruby (for David) and a little sit outside with Baxter (for Kathy - she took advantage of the time to do a little stretching) soon cured the stiffness.

Another hike well hiked!  Stay safe.