A Return To Michaux
December 15, 2021 § Leave a comment
The plans for a late Fall adventure began to take shape during the 3 day Indigenous Peoples Day weekend in October when I accepted an invitation (I invited myself) to spend some time with my longtime friends Larry and Melanie Butler at their cabin in the woods behind Woodward, Pa. As it so happened, this was also the weekend of Pennsylvania’s tremendously successful gravel bike ride UnPaved, which Larry and I planned to “Bandit Ride” a shorter segment. I brought all my Pennsylvania Lizard maps with me so we could take some time to glance at “possibilities”.
Over the course of the last 3 decades I have made many trips to Virginia for backpacking weekends in which many were broken down into a Thursday drive to Larry’s and Melanie’s place, and then I am either a passenger to and from the backpacking destination, or I drive myself there, and then the return day finds me on the road most of the day. So, when we started to target Pennsylvania, it meant at most, 3 and half hours of travel each way for me, and not much of a change for my Virginia friends (Minus Terry – Richmond). We had been to Michaux State Forest, near Gettysburg, twice now, and once we did a weekend in Bald Eagle State Forest where the aforementioned cabin resides. Larry owns the Bald Eagle map, and I brought along Loyalsock, Pine Creek and Ohio Pyle. I backpacked The Black Forest Trail back in College, as well as a section of the Mid State in Rothrock State Forest, so anything in the middle of the state was on that table. That immediately put the Ohio Pyle map back into my suitcase. A map we didn’t have, was for Ricketts Glen State Park in an area of PA known as “The Endless Mountains” and home to such tremendous resources as “State Game Lands #57”, however checking the state website indicated “No Primitive Camping”, so that was out.
The Loyalsock trail is also in that area and runs mostly EW, however we couldn’t find anything there that offered a somewhat short hike in that also included a good potential day hike loop for Saturday. In addition, every trailhead begins a steep and direct ascent of the mountain adjacent to it, and for a bunch of old men with beer in their backpacks, that wouldn’t be a good start. I should note though, that loaded down with beer and food, we did tackle Vanderbilt’s Folly a few years ago, and ascents don’t get much steeper than that! So, the Loyalsock map found a partner in the Ohio Pyle map. That left Bald Eagle/Rothrock, and Michaux. Anything in the Bald Eagle/Rothrock would actually morph into a Friday night camp, and a Saturday night at Larry’s cabin. Not a bad thing, mind you.
Further investigation of Michaux revealed an area between the two places we had hiked before, near Caledonia State Park. I spied a trail called The Rocky Knob Trail that followed a creek for a short way before ascending up to Rocky Knob. The hope here was that the “Rocky” referred to the Knob, and not the Trail, though PA is referred affectionately (NOT!) as Rocksylvania, so perhaps there weren’t any primitive sites along that creek. We decided that was worth exploring, though without actually driving up there, how do you explore it? Google of course! And Bruce. Bruce and his lovely wife Mary, drove up for a day hike, and found The Hossack Trail, just south of where we were looking that had “Many fine large primitive sites” a short (and flat) hike in from parking at either end of Greenwood Road and easy access to water. With approximately the exchange of another 20 emails, it pretty much looked like that was our choice, and Bruce and Terry had agreed to meet out there on Thursday, with the rest of us arriving Friday. The weekend for this quickly narrowed to the first weekend in December, still a firearm hunting weekend, and now it was simply something to look forward to.
It wasn’t long after this, that an opportunity presented itself to get another weekend trip into the woods when I answered a call to arms from my friend Kal, and we hiked a long section of the AT in New Jersey. I did kind of hint that anyone that wanted to join in this was welcome, but there were no takers, but it gave me another adventure this year.
By the time the weekend rolled around, we lost Bruce. Hopefully his Mother is doing better now, so that put Terry out there all by his lonesome. He did get out there pretty early, and got himself set up, and sent us at least one photo to show us all how he was getting along, though to be honest, the fire in the photo didn’t look like it was going to keep him up too late. In fact, later that evening there was query into Terry’s status, that remarkably went unanswered/undefended.
I had my own issues the next day, as my Granddog Gus, who many know and love, had his eye-removal surgery moved up to Friday morning, and I wanted to hang out near home until he was in the clear. My daughter would need me if something went wrong, and that was that. I received texts of best wishes for Gus and indications that others got out there fairly early in the am, where of course it was verified that Terry had turned in early the night before. For me it was about 3 and 1/2 hours to get out there, so I would definitely get there before darkness befell us, but as the morning wore on, there was no news. Now I think that the old adage “No news is good news” holds here. If Gus was going to have an issue, it would have occurred early on, IMHO, and the longer we went without news, I felt the better off he was doing. The operation got a late start, so that was one of the reasons for the long silence, but once the clock went past noon, I was getting worried I wouldn’t get to the campsite before it got dark. I took care of some work errands, and got the car packed, and double checked I had everything, so when the clock hit 1PM, and we were still in the dark, I decided to go fill up the tank, and pick up a prescription, and when that was all done, and still there was no word, I called D1 and told her I was going to head out, and if anything went wrong, I would turn around and head back. Ten minutes later I got a text that all was good, and Gus would come home at 5. With that news, I pinned the speedometer on 85 and zoomed along at ease.
As advertised, I found all the Virginia cars parked near the gate at the end of Quarry Gap Road, and there was enough room for me to park my friends in, and enough daylight for me to hike in and get my site established before the sun set. After a little confusion regarding which way to go, this being because my original plan was to park at the other end of Greenwood, I set off in the correct direction and found the way to be an easy walk. After an easy stream crossing, within ten minutes I arrived at The Hossack Trail, and within 100 yards I could hear voices, and I espied the camp fire through the vegetation and then noticed the trampled trail leading into the site. I was the last in, and found my friends comfortably engaged in campfire speak around a roaring blaze with plenty of dry fuel off to the side. This was going to be an easy setup. I dropped my gear, and made the round of greeting and hugging all. Some I hadn’t seen since Colorado, and some not since last Spring. I gave everyone the Gus update, and then set about getting my tent setup. This would be its first outing. Anyone who has read my recent posts know that I usually travel with my Tyvek Tarp, and I used it quite effectively in Colorado, but I felt my footprint was too large for one person, when there wasn’t a lot of space to be had, and so I invested in a Big Agnes ultra light single person tent and this was it’s break in trip. I found it very easy to set up, however when I inflated my sleeping pad I found it odd that my 76″ length pad was touching in the inside ends of the 84″ tent. Either my pad was longer than 76″ or my tent was shorter than 84. This was verified later when I lay down and fully stretched out my feet and my head were touching the interior sides, so I have a question out to Big Agnes now concerning how the measure 84″. I don’t really sleep on my back any longer, so I rarely reach those dimensions, but I did feel a little betrayed by their advertised dimensions.
With my setup complete, and my beers in the “pond”, I found a nice level spot near the fire and plopped my shit down next to it, and then proceeded to become disappointed with one of my beer selections. See, I grabbed a four pack of Kane Donut Shack, to accompany the Kane Party Wave that I knew I loved. The Donut Shack was an IPA, but as it was a collaboration beer with Delicious Orchards, and it was late fall, this was a tribute beer to the famous cider donuts that DO is known for. Okay, okay, I get it. Who would think that a cider donut has any purpose with beer except maybe as something to eat? Who would think that the beer would be enhanced by such flavor? Well, I didn’t think I wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t figure on it tasting that bad. Bad? Let’s be fair, and say that it really wasn’t for me, and I should simply have gotten another Party Wave, or Head High. Or something else! Just not that beer. Oh, and yes, I did share a little bit, and the unanimous consensus was that I had made a huge error in judgement, and my normally respected beer opinion was now on the ropes, warding off Formanesque-blows coming from my friends. “What possessed you to bring that shit?” “You really thought we would approve?” “Donuts in beer and camping?” “WTF?”
Fortunately I had an ace in the hole for backup. In addition to my Jim Beam, which I have no recollection ever buying, (so where did it come from?) I did pick up a bottle of Bookers (aka Jim Beam) small batch Bourbon 2014-07 edition and I packed a little bit of it away in my pack for this trip to share around. I don’t buy much small batch bourbon, but when I do, I buy Bookers. That’s the good stuff “fer sure!”, and when I passed that around, the general consensus was that I had simply made a grave error with the donut beer, and all was forgiven. I would not receive any help consuming the donut beer, though let me amend that statement that my brother Ed, on Saturday night, in a move of moving brotherhood traditions, sauntered over to my side of the fire, and as any brother would do for another brother helped me finish off my last can of that shit so I could move onto my Party Wave supply. Thank you Ed.
The evening turned to late night, and the firewood pile turned to firewood rubble, and the cracks in the support structures that support continued campfire camaraderie emerged and people started skirting off to their tents for the night. I think the last of us made it to midnight, but that was enough for me and I turned in for my 4 get up and piss good night’s sleep. It never got cold enough for anything to freeze, so my decision to pack my 34o bag was more than comfortable.
I am not the first one up, not of course counting the many times I get up during the night, on trips like these because I always know that Jim and Kevin will be the first up, and they will get the fire going again so that by the time I do want to get up for good, I can wander over and warm my hands. This morning was no different, and I found a “warm enough” flame to sit by and boil up some coffee water. There were actually still coals from last nights fire, and they were warm enough to toast bread. Having packed two loaves of Sour Dough, as well as a dozen and half sour dough english muffins, I start toasting some up while others emerged from their chrysalis enclosures. Talk began early with respect to the plans for a hike. Ali would leave after breakfast, and both Jim and Terry would day hike, and then leave later in the afternoon. There really wasn’t any question of where we would hike, as we would walk Ali back to the cars, and then from there loop North along the AT, eventually connecting up with the terminus of the Hassock Trail, where we could reach our camp via the back door route. A simple plan. But first, coffee drinks for the house!
It wasn’t even a fifteen minute walk to the car, however before we left, we gathered wood for the evenings fire while we still had all hands on deck. Because of the proximity to the car, Terry actually brought his chainsaw again, so we made quick work of the wood gathering, and then we walked Ali back to his car where we said our goodbyes, and before we could start hiking we chatted up a hunter dude who was done for the day. A local gent, Terry being our main hunting representative, quizzed the gent up and down the streets of local hunting lore while we quietly snuck away to start our hike. The AT was just a bit up a connector trail, that based on the many man-made ditches and walls along it, made us all thing that too many ATVs may have tried to access the AT, a non-motorized, non-bike, footpath only resource that the local trail maintainers tried to make sure that no ATV could get anywhere close to the trail.
Once on the trail, we awaited Terry, who we figured once he noticed we had left, would politely inform the local hunter gent that he needed to skedaddle on, and eventually we spotted is mildly rotund frame moving up the trail to join us. Once on the AT, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of mature Rhododendron that was all around us. Walls, and in some places, caverns/tunnels of it, which the AT sliced through with care-takers help. Andy and I were stuck in Rhodo Hell once, many years ago in the Otter Creek Wilderness, and once you get yourself into the big Rhodo, it is hard as hell to get out. Here, however, all that work was taken care of and all we had to do was walk on through. The trail gained elevation little chunks at a time, nothing too heavy, but enough to keep your heart rate elevated. It was very pretty, though finding a way to present that in a picture proved to be a challenge.
We reached Quarry Gap Shelter, and it was a truly unique masterwork in design, form and function. The “maintainer” wasn’t around this time of year, but apparently spends a fair amount of time up here/there during the peak hiking season, keeping it looking nice and welcoming. By welcoming, I mean fresh cut flowers. Fresh reading material. Swept out spaces. Clean tables. The caretaker for this place goes the extra ten miles for the hikers. It’s very nice. It could be the nicest shelter on the entire AT, but others will have to comment on that. It is certainly the nicest one that I have ever seen.
Ever since we left the cars behind, we had been gaining elevation, though it was never very clear just how much. Unlike hiking out West, you can turn around all you want to and all you are going to see are the trees behind you. Sometimes it feels like when the first tracks of the AT were laid down, many of the mountains the trail goes over may have been in a state of deforestation, so there may have been many fine vistas for the hikers to soak in. Over the course of 50-70 years all the trees grew back, or in the case of the Rhodo, large swaths of it matured into tangled webs. We like to have at least one view where we can sit and partake in some snacks, but it didn’t look like we were going to find that here. When we reached the intersection with The Hossack Trail, I had to convince the others that the top was less than a mile ahead, and maybe, just maybe there might be something to see. The gravitational pull of the fire ring was strong, even at this distance, so my only choice was to start walking, so I told them I was going to check it out, and I’d see them back at camp. Sometimes, that is all that is needed, and they quickly fell in line behind me :). The top wasn’t too much further. There was an intersection of forest roads at the top, and on the other side of the ridge there was a clearing that at least offered up a Northern view, however, there wasn’t anywhere to take a seat. There weren’t any rock formations, say like Little Schloss, so we hung out in an open clearing for a short while, took a swig of Jim Beam, that I had brought along, and then talked about getting out of the wind, and finding some place where we could snack. As it turned out, that place was our fire ring, however getting back there involved a steep switch-backed descent down The Hossack Trail. Even with the switchbacks it was a steep descent. Right down into the Rhodo it led, where the first place of interest we reached was a nice sized level camp site. The only issue with this site was its access to water. There wasn’t any. At least not without descending another 150 of elevation through a non-switchback steep Rhodo tunnel before the creek appears. What also appears are other large camp sites, so I am guessing that there must have been occasions where a late group shows up, all the sites up to this point are occupied, and so they are forced to continue, and on the next shelf they find success, but it has no water.
At one point we were sitting around a now roaring fire and I became aware of a query going on between Ed (Queryer), and Kevin (Queryee) concerning a “medical condition” Kevin had experienced when he was in the Air Force, possibly many years ago. My initial interest in this was piqued when I noticed the contorted look on Ed’s face when he heard what the issue was, and I had originally included its full content here. However, I checked with Kevin, and he preferred I not go public with it, and we would simply keep it among friends. Your loss.
After Kevin’s story, there really wasn’t anywhere to go but down. Perhaps that isn’t quite true, but that story wasn’t going to get topped on this trip, and it may have to be reprised on another trip for all those that missed the live telling. The rest of the evening was the usual banter, interrupted here and there by meal preparations and meal consumptions. The one note I have to make for the future is that when you spend so much time next to a fire, in dry cold weather, even if you are using some kind of lip balm application, do not, cook something so spicy that it burns right through the balm protection and sets into the underlying soft flesh of your lips. And so it went with my Korean Spicy Ramen dish, which was really delicious, but a price was extracted for all that deliciousness, and with no dairy products to douse the fire, it was almost an hour before I could draw air that didn’t further inflame. There was an extra serving which I chose (wisely) not to cook up. Beyond that, the rest of the evening was passed and though the subject of turning in was brought up more than a few times, the appearance of another beer kept us all engaged. A beer packed in does not become a beer packed out. I do wish, once again to thank Ed for his selflessness in helping me get rid of the Donut Shack beer as already told.
It was after Midnight when I finally called it a night and turned in. It felt warmer than the previous night, so I didn’t bother wearing some of the extra clothing to bed that I had worn the previous night, and turned in for a decent night’s sleep. I think I only got up twice!
In the morning we decided that we didn’t need anything other than coffee drinks to pack up and get out. Larry called a friend that lives near-by to get a recommendation for a diner, and it was the Lincoln Diner in downtown Gettysburg that we would be heading for. The hike out was uneventful, though there were a lot of folks out for such a beautiful day, including a rather large mountain bike group, though one of their company was experiencing a mechanical issue when we walked by.
The drive into Gettysburg takes you right through one of the battlefields, and this being my first visit to this part of the area, I was surprised at the sheer number of monuments on both sides of the road. I think the place definitely deserves a repeat dedicated visit another time. At this time, the Lincoln Diner was calling.
Downtown Gettysburg was maybe just how you might expect a town so closely associated with the Civil War to look. A lot of preservation, and except for the asphalt, and electric lights, doesn’t look too different than it did 160 years ago. At least many of the buildings on the main drag, are the same, though updated to some degree. We found some parking and managed to get seated easily. The diner seemed busy, and I think we were lucky there wasn’t a line out the door. I espied the French Toast on the way in, and that choice set immediately as my top choice. I was pretty sure it was going to be hard to order a vegan meal here, so I was going to have to put that on a shelf, and just keep meat off my plate. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about our meals. Our server took pretty decent care of us, our coffee drinks never getting to cool or too far below the lip of the mug before being refreshed. Ed decided it was a big tip morning and dropped a 10er on the table leading others to match. When our individual checks were delivered with a Christmas card for each of us, that was too much for Ed, and another 20 was added. The rest of us matched at checkout, so I believe our server, hopefully splitting with the bus help, made out quite nicely from a bunch of stinky just out of the woods leaky prostate old men.
Once again, another fine time in the woods with friends. A definite happy place for me. Yes, I have many happy places, but isn’t that a good thing?