One downside of being in PA instead of VA – longer drives to most of the hikes featured on hiking upward.com. I love this site and wish i had found it decades ago instead of last year, but i am grateful for it nonetheless. I have only done a few of the hikes on here, but i have read about most of them and have a list of at least 15 in the queue. In addition to all the great info from the group/original authors-hikers, every hike also has user reviews that provide great intel. My favorite feature is the solitude rating, but information about water availability is also key. I have found the maps, distances, directions, and elevations to be spot on. There are also more loop trails that are long enough to be done as overnights than i have found in any other place.
I have found some resources for Southeastern PA and the surrounding areas, though none i like as much as hiking upward. This is a similar group, but i have not put their intel to the test yet. The York hiking club has some good intel and led me to a few more established trails i did not know about. I did several hours of research checking out links and trails from these sources. To get a good idea of what the trails would really be like, i had three or four different maps/map sites open at the same time to try and compare and locate topo, route, terrain, road crossings, water, and frequency of city/town/roadway walking. SE PA is a mixed bag for hiking. There are lots of very rocky trails and on any trail, you cannot go more than 10 miles or so without at least a road crossing if not some miles walking on a curvy country road and then through an old town. It can be nice and has its own charm, but the drivers of cars are not expecting you to be walking on the road, and this is not the best way to travel with your dog. But, we all have to make do.
Several weeks ago, i was doing some gear research while also reviewing PA trail maps. Lucas and i loaded up the car for a double duty mission. The closest REI is in Timonium, Maryland. It is more of a haul than i would like, but there are a few very beautiful backroad ways to get there which balances out. It looked like there was a decent day hike possible right by one of the bridge crossings. We hit REI, finished the in-store research and bought 2 pair of REI Adventure pants. And really – how can you not buy ADVENTURE PANTS!!! The reviews were awesome and they felt great. I have been unsatisfied with my North Face zip-off pants since i bought them years ago. They breath OK, they feel OK, but they dry slowly due to the extra fabric that makes up the giant cargo pockets. While it is great to be able to carry lots in your pockets, the downside for hiking is – now you are carrying lots in your pockets! More than all of that it was the size. I bought a 30″ inseam and walked on the cuffs even in my boots. They run long. Jake had the same issue. And they have zippers at the bottom for easy on/off without removing your boots. Nice feature, but how to hem them? Anyway, the ADVENTURE PANTS are great. I have done two day hikes – one easy 7 miler and one moderate 10 miler as well as daily walks in the hood and some normal daily wear. The 30″ inseam is actually 30″ and i can wear the pants with sandals and not walk on them. They were both warm and not too hot while hiking and resistant to dirt when i sat on logs/ground. They dry much quicker than any other pants i have ever had. Out of the washing machine, hung inside, 3 hours. Probably would be 5 after hand-washing in a sink. Lite, pack small, wrinkle free – enough said.
We headed back to the bridge to check out the trails. I took a day pack with just the essentials and cold weather gear. Of course i put the ADVENTURE PANTS on in the parking lot, and we hit a nice trail through the woods, along the river, then up an old logging road through a rhododendron forest beside a beautiful stream with several deep pools and small waterfalls. A little ridge running led back down to the river and a view of the Holtwood Dam. I saw two trail names i recognized and it seemed like at least one of them would hug the river for many miles.
When i got home i had two things to research – decent maps and guides for The Mason Dixon Trail and somewhere to get at least one of my busted cameras repaired. I found the trail’s homepage and this highly detailed map:
Seriously though, they have some great info on their site and provide updates to the trail map/guide as needed and seem to actively and continually work to keep the trail clear and in decent shape as well as lobbying private landowners to get the trail moved off of dangerous roads. One location to purchase a full set of maps and guides is the local hiking shop Wildernest. The folks in there are nice. One of the part-time employees was in Physics with me and Jake back in the day. And this is actually where i bought my first real pack (my now torturous 7.5 pound pack of death).
I found a local camera repair shop as well and learned that for either camera, it would cost about $120.00 to fix. That is $10-$40 more than either of them cost. I bought a replacement camera for the newer model – so that i would at least end up with two batteries and two chargers.
I spent a few days going over my new maps and planning what to try next. It is getting better now, but two weeks ago it was still colder outside at night than i generally like, so i was looking at a day hike instead of an overnight. Also, it is not easy to determine where it is legal to camp along this trail. I imagine that most places it would be OK if you were quiet and respectful and used a stove instead of an open fire, but the trail is on private land, state game land (no camping), and city and county streets. As a solo hiker, i have to look for good out-and-backs or loops.
Lucas and i both liked the area near Holtwood Dam, and i found a reasonable hike to try out using that as a launching point. I loaded my daypack to about 20 pounds to get some practice with the weight. We started at the dam, the turn around point from the last hike, and headed further up river (north). The first mile or so was right along the river bank and through some folks’ backyards. Then it turned uphill hugging another nice creek and rhododendron forest.
There was some more nice ridge running then up and down the rolling hills this part of PA is known for – largely following other streams.
At about 3.5 miles, we hit an old forest road that was covered in grass. It was like a smooth highway in the woods.
The next part of the trail was on gravel then paved roads. These had very little traffic, but like most roads with very little traffic, the cars were going about 50 over the blind hills. I decided to walk the rest of the road section to at least see what the next part of the trail looked like. Lucas had been doing great in the woods, but he seemed bored once we hit the road. Once we were in the open, the wind was intense and the effective temperature dropped. I had on many layers, a rain jacket that is great in the wind, a hat and gloves, and i was still cold.
As we approached the last road crossing before heading back into the woods, i saw an Amish farmer mucking his fields. This is stinky, but kinda cool to watch. Back in the barn, they load a flatbed wagon with poo. A team of horses pull the rig into the fields and the driver throws a lever and a simple gear using the motion of the axles turns a mechanism like an old paddle boat wheel that flings poo off of the wagon and onto the field.
After watching and taking some photos, i pulled out the map and saw that just across the road, the trail went along the edge of a field for about 70 yards before hitting the woods again. This section of the trail had minutes ago been coated in fresh poo. Lucas and i decided that this would be a fine place to turn around for the day.
We had a nice walk back to the car and Lucas slept very well after our 10 mile day.
I am still studying these maps to select the next sections to attack, but my next hike will be in good old VA at the beginning of May…
I still have not set-up my self-hosted blog, so i can’t post video yet, but if you like video of dogs and water there is a good one of Lucas from this trip that i will post on Facebook (Mason Dixon Trail Stream Crossing), along with the full album of pics.