Slightly restless (and having already gained back all eight pounds I lost on the Appalachian Trail), I decided I needed to get out hiking more often, especially now that my knees and feet seem to have recovered, and I can walk down the stairs in my house without feeling like I’m about to fall over.
While there’s still a few trails vaguely near my house I haven’t hiked yet, I’ve long exhausted most of the hiking trails within a half hour drive. Since I’d much prefer to hike something new than retread old ground, I decided the solution was to join a hiking group, With other people in the mix (and someone else doing the planning), it’s a lot easier to consider hikes further afield, especially point-to-point hikes (as opposed to loops or out-and-back).
Some searching led me to the Mid Atlantic Hiking Group, and after looking through their extensive calendar of upcoming hikes, the first hike that was both interesting and available was one scheduled for today, in Caledonia State Park and Michaux State Forest, passing by the Quarry Gap Shelters on the AT.
Wait… Quarry Gap? The most awesome shelter on the AT? Well, sign me up then!
Revisiting the Trail
This morning, I made the hour and forty-five minute drive from my house, up to Caledonia State Park in southern Pennsylvania. I would never have guessed this section of trail was where I would make my first return to the Appalachian Trail (and, just two months to the day after I summited Katahdin). The last time I was here, in June, I had just gotten poured on, so the (relatively steep) climb up the AT to the shelter in soaking wet clothes was somewhat miserable.
Today, though, there was nary a cloud in the sky. It started off a bit chilly: the temperature was in the low 30s when seven of us started hiking just shortly after 10 am. Over the course of the next few hours, the temperature rose into the 60s, making a gorgeous day for a hike.
The hike today would be a roughly 8 mile figure-8 loop, with the AT serving as a backbone connecting two loops. Starting from one of Caledonia Park’s parking lots, Steve, the hike leader, led the seven of us (including four of us new to the MAHG) briefly south along the AT, until branching off onto the Ramble Trail, a relatively flat trail that (in its entirety) forms a loop around the southern part of the park. (Incidentally, Steve is a retired firefighter. I seem to be collecting these: I have an uncle who was one, as was Rainbow.)
From the Ramble Trail, we turned onto the Three Valley Trail, which seemed more a drainage ditch than a proper trail, and made a steep but short climb up the mountain before leveling out a bit and joining with the AT. Besides the rain and the awesome shelter, what I most remember about hiking this mountain was a steep half-mile long climb the AT made up this same hill, a bit further east. Though the Three Valley Trail starts its climb nearly as steep as the AT, it does the same elevation gain over an additional three-tenths of a mile, making it a bit easier. I was quite happy we went up the easier trail, and with just a day pack, I barely broke a sweat.
The AT, as it did in June, continued through a Rhododendron-lined section of trail, the shrubs making a canopy over the trail, forming a literal green tunnel, as the trail gradually climbed up to the Quarry Gap Shelter, just short of half of our hike for the day. We stopped for a break.
I had been looking forward to looking through the shelter log, to find my entry from June and see who else I knew had made it there after me. I was a little disappointed, though, to find that the logbook had been swapped out not quite two weeks after I had been there; evidently, the log had been nearly full when I signed in. In the new log, though, I did see an entry a few weeks after I had been there by Fat Hen and Rooster Talon, whom I hadn’t seen since early April along the road near Fontana Dam. (According to a blog post, they completed their thru-hike in early October.)
When I was last at Quarry Gap, the wooden swing was clearly newly installed and not yet finished, being roped off with caution tape and shielded with a tarp. Today, though, it was available for use, and actually rather comfortable. It would have been quite relaxing to have been able to use the swing back during my thru-hike, but at least I got to use it now, even if only briefly.
After our break, we continued on along the AT until we reached the Hosack Trail, turning east to begin the return leg of the northern loop. I commented to Steve that I didn’t actually remember any of this section of the AT. Not that there was anything to remember — it was really rather nondescript.
The Hosack Trail traveling east, and then south, gradually erased the AT’s elevation gain after turning off Three Valley, and rather reminded me of the trail in Georgia: specifically, the large quantities of leaves on the trail. I rolled my ankles a lot in the South, partially because I wasn’t really used to hiking with a heavy pack, but also in a large part due to the fact that with leaves covering the trail, it’s hard to actually tell what the ground is doing until you step on it. I was a little worried that might happen here today, though fortunately, it didn’t.
The Hosack Trail turned into the Locust Gap Trail, which brought us back to the AT, and we headed south, back to the parking lot. Descending the steep hill I had to climb with a full pack back in June was quite nice, a kind of ineffectual “ha, take that, lousy trail” lobbed at something incapable of caring, yet just as likely to grab my foot and trip me out of spite. (Yes, I spent six months on the trail. Yes, it was amazing. That still doesn’t preclude the trail from being a harsh mistress. Today, it took it out on Steve and Linda, one of the other hikers: both had tumbles, though neither was seriously injured.)
Back at the parking lot, we chatted for chatted for a bit before unceremoniously breaking and going our separate ways. I suspect, though, I’ll be seeing some of these people again, the next time an interesting MAHG hike strikes my fancy...