One week later and once again the forecast was for scattered thunderstorms. After being scared off last week, I decided to take my chances this week and head off on the hike. I settled on doing an out and back on the Laurel Highlands Trail starting from Ohiopyle.
I left the house at 5:15am on Sunday morning so I could make it to Ohiopyle by 6:30am. I figured I’d stop off at Cucumber Falls before the crowds showed up to grab a few comps before heading over to the trailhead. As hoped, the parking area was empty giving me the place to myself. I spent about an hour there before leaving.
I drove over to the trailhead and I was the only vehicle in the lot. I got my gear together and was on the trail by 8:00am.
The day started out pleasant enough with mostly clear skies, however, through the river valley where the trail followed, a thick mass of fog hovered over the river. Initially this made for nice cool conditions and since I was doing an out and back, any views that were missed early due to fog could be seen on the way back. Hiking out of the trailhead follows a service road for about a quarter of a mile and then the trail leaves and heads up a steep slope with stairs cut in before leveling back off and continuing to follow the edge of the mountain, railroad tracks and river southeast. At about the mile and a half mark the trail starts ascending rather quickly to get to the first vista.
At the first vista I paused to catch my breath. The fog was still thick at this point and only the silhouettes of the nearest trees were visible. As I reached to grab a drink from the side of my pack I noticed some movement around my right foot. Looking down I realized the movement was a swarm of yellow jackets. Quickly, I jumped away to see that I was standing right in front of their nest opening.
After getting away from the nest and being thankful not to be stung or followed, I took a shot or two and proceeded on my way.
Shortly after the first vista the sun started to burn through the fog illuminating the trail.
I continued along the edge of the mountain before descending quickly to a small creek called Rock Spring Run. At this point the trail turns into an a roller coaster where it is continual ups and downs for the next 6 miles. I had three additional vistas that I wanted to get to and clouds were building as the day moved on. I was determined to get a good workout in at the same time so I continued on at about a 3mph pace.
For the most part the next three vistas were pretty much a bust. There was nothing dramatic or awe inspiring at any of them. Two of the last three ended just being a small clearing through the trees with a brief view of the surrounding hills.
At about the six and one half mile mark the path takes a continual one mile ascent with a 1000 feet elevation gain. After getting to the top and leveling off I heard some distant thunder. It was here that I decided to cut 9 mile out hike to 7.5 and turn back with the hopes of making it back before things got ugly.
I worked my way back making good time and getting a good workout. The storm never did materialized and at worst about twenty minutes of light drizzle fell. Slowly the sky started to clear up again and by the time I got back to the first vista the weather was nice.
I finished up the hike and got back to the trailhead at 2:30pm. Total miles was 15 and total time was 6:30.
Still having some energy left after making it home, I whipped up a steak salad to get back some (if not all) of the ~2000 calories I burned on the hike.
Since the family had no plans for Sunday, I was going to try to get out and do a 16-18 mile hike on the Laurel Highlands trail starting at Ohiopyle and going out 8-9 and then doubling back. The forecast for the day was for 80% chance of showers. I did not want to drive for 1:15 just to walk in the rain (or worse, lightning), so I postponed the hike for a future date. The forecast ended up being completely off the mark and the day turned out very nice. After a 5.5 mile morning run I still had the afternoon open so decided to walk the trails at the park to see how many deer I could see and shoot.
All in all, I ended up walking for 5 hours and probably put in at least another 7 miles. The bad thing about walking around for deer is that you really don’t get the best compositions. They always see or hear you way before you see them. They will stand and stare you down and when they do decide to leave, it’s a couple leaps and bounds and they’re gone. If I was more patient I could have waited for some of them to relax and continue their foraging but I did want to get in the exercise also.
All shots taken with the 7D and 100-400 F/4.5-5.6L. All shots at 400mm and F5.6 with ISOs ranging from 1000-2500 except squirrel shot at 400mm, F7.1 and ISO 160.
Stats for the day: Bucks (5) seen – (3) shot, Doe (~10) seen – (6) shot, Fawns (4) seen – (2) shot.
After getting off the trail the previous night the wind started to pick up. The Dolly Sods Wilderness sits at approximately 4000 feet elevation along the Eastern Continental Divide. High winds are typical and one only needs to look at the trees to see this. On the exposed sections of the mountain, branches on the spruce trees all face east away from the prevailing winds, this is known as flagging. Throughout the whole night the winds just howled and could be heard coming through in waves around our campsite. However, just a 25 feet below the tops of the trees to our camping area, the winds did not penetrate the canopy and the air was only slightly breezy. So surface conditions weren’t bad but the loud wind gust noises kept me up all night.
Only about three miles north on Forest Road 75 is Bear Rocks Preserve. This is definitely one of the premier sunrise locations along the Eastern US. I had set the alarm to 5:30 to be there for some predawn light. The weather had not improved much over night so I passed on the sunrise attempt and ended up finally getting out of the tent at about 6:15.
After eating breakfast and packing up we were on our way to Bear Rocks at 8:00. On a clear day one can easily make out 6+ ridge lines stretching away to the east. That morning ended up not being clear. Between the rain passing through previous night and latent humidity still in the air from the east coast enduring 90+ degree days before, a haze had settled within the valleys allowing only a murky three or four ridge lines to be visible. Initially another 10+ mile hike was planned for the day across northern Dolly Sods which is very exposed. Between yesterday’s hike, the continuing wind, and clearing skies with no shelter from the summer sun we decided to head down to Seneca Rocks for a short but strenuous hike.
All pics on this post taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ28 point-n-shoot.
“Seneca Rocks… are formations of the white/gray Tuscarora quartzite. The quartzite is approximately 250 feet thick here and is located primarily on exposed ridges as caprock or exposed crags. The rock is composed of fine grains of sand that were laid down approximately 440 million years ago in the Silurian Period, in an extensive sand shoal at the edge of the ancient Iapetus Ocean. Eons of geologic activity followed, as the ocean slowly closed and the underlying rock uplifted and folded. Millions of years of erosion stripped away the overlying rock and left remnants of the arching folds in outcrops such as Seneca Rocks.”
There is a gentle 1-1/2 mile trail to an overlook near the top of Seneca Rocks or the 1/2 mile trail straight up the east flank. We chose the shorter, harder climb…
…but at the top the views are worth it.
After maybe 45 minutes on top we worked our way back down taking the gentle trail.
We did have one more stop at Black Water Falls SP since it was on the way home and lingered for a little bit but the kids were spent from the previous day and half hikes so if was off to DQ in Oakland, MD to refuel.
Sunday morning had me up at 4:45am. I had planned another hike in West Virginia but this time I was going out with my best friend Mike and I was taking my oldest, Rachel, and he was bringing his oldest, David, and his youngest, Gracie. We arrived at Mike’s at 5:30 and loaded my truck and started on our journey. The weather was a big question mark with forecasts calling for 40% storm probability and on the high plateau of Dolly Sods anything weather-wise is a possibility. After about a three hour drive we arrived at the Blackbird Knob (BBK) trailhead at 9:00. I was initially planning on trying a bit of photography but ended up not even taking the DSLR on the hikes and only using my point-n-shoot. For only about 30 minutes near the end of the second day did I end up pulling out the 7D.
We had decided on trying a medium length hike of 10.6 miles that would take us through open meadows, hardwood forests, hills of loose boulders, red spruce groves, rhododendron thicket, fields of ferns and six stream crossings. The elevation change wasn’t too substantial but we knew the distance would test the kids.
Hiking away from forest road 75, we ascended a small hill before working our way down through an open field down on the other side. At the bottom of the hill we entered a wooded area that was fairly open. At about a mile into the hike we had our first stream crossing. This would be our smallest stream to get across at maybe ten feet wide. The water was low enough to rock hop across boulders that were obviously placed by hikers. This small stream, however, did not stop David from slipping and soaking his feet.
After a small climb through some more openly wooded areas with large ant hills we descended again and came across a tributary of Red Creek. This crossing would be about thirty feet but a large boulder dam had been made and the water was low enough to allow us to keep our shoes on and attempt a rock hop. Once again David got wet. But this time he lost his footing and ended up landing on his backside soaking himself below the waist.
We continued on our hike past the junction of Upper Red Creek trail. Then we pasted Lower Red Creek trail which is the trail we would be on when we completed our loop. We followed BBK trail an additional two miles passing through meadows, forests and fields of ferns.
After crossing another tributary of Red Creek and about three miles into our hike we started to hear rumbles of thunder. We continued on through a hilly meadow and started looking for some trees with dense growth to provide some shelter. After finding a good spot and donning our rain gear the drops started to fall. We took this time to take a 15 minute break and have some snacks until the rain stopped.
Once again on our way, the trails became more muddy and slick.
Finishing off the BBK trail, we approached a kiosk where Big Stone coal trail and Breathed Mountain trail intersected. Before heading off on Breathed Mountain trail and nearing the halfway point of our hike we came across a group of about a dozen college aged backpackers working on their seventh straight day on the trails. They couldn’t help but brag about their smelly body odors and seemed proud to be out that long enduring the satisfaction and punishment the trails had dealt them.
Breathed Mountain trail was a little less worn than BBK so I assume sees less traffic. We continued on through various landforms along the trail for another two miles before descending a steep boulder strewn grade down to Lower Red Creek trail.
On the Lower Red creek trail we continue upstream for another crossing and then ascended a steep slope before making our way back to the junction of BBK trail. Back on BBK we traced our previous steps back. Upon returning to one of our original stream crossings, the water level was a little bit higher making this crossing more difficult but this time David managed to stay dry.
The last mile of the hike dragged on for about 45 minutes. Gracie developed a sore foot and Mike decided to give her a piggy back ride the rest of the way to save her foot for a hike the following day. David developed a case of chronic “How-much-longeritis” and Rachel was plodding along like a zombie. After passing another large crew of young backpackers we found a GPS laying on the trail about five minutes later. I took off after them screaming loudly to get their attention but to no avail. Upon giving up and running back to my crew I came across another hiker who was the one who dropped the GPS and passed it along to him. After reaching the others I found out that only a few minutes after I took off to see who lost the GPS they had been screaming as loud as they could to get my attention to let me know that the hiker that lost the GPS was not in the backpacking crew like we had initially thought. And in the middle of nowhere were the silence can be deafening I didn’t hear anything. I certainly understood how someone that is lost could scream all they wanted and still not be heard.
Back at the truck the kids were beat but came through pretty good.
My wife decided to take the kids on a two day excursion to Slippery Rock campground to one of her friends “cottages” . At the last minute she decided she had better take the dog in case she wanted to stay an extra day. This freed me of any immediate responsibility, so I decided to do an over night trip and then a day hike the following day. I settled on the Otter Creek Wilderness because I had not yet been there and by looking at the satellite shot it looked pretty wild and isolated.
I left early afternoon on Sunday July the 31st. I decided to spend the night at Black Water Falls State Park campground to see about getting sunset and sunrise shots from Pendleton Point which is a beautiful vista just down the road. I arrived at the park at 5:30pm and figured I’d get my camping spot and then shoot over to the other side of the canyon to take some pictures of Shays Run. Typically when I shoot waterfalls, I put a neutral density filter on the lens to reduce the amount of light entering which allows for longer exposures, so the water looks more appealing and gives a sense of motion . In this case, it was late in the day and so dark within the draw, that I not only didn’t need a ND filter but also had to remove my polarizer filter (which usually lives on my wide angle lens) to reduce the exposure time.
Elakala Falls on Shays Run is made up of three separate falls and right next to the lodge. It’s a very popular spot but on this evening I was the only one there and nothing could be heard but the roar of the falls.
I spent an hour or so grabbing some comps before deciding to head off to Pendleton Point to scout a good location for sunset/sunrise. On the way over, I noticed a small fawn hanging out in the dark pine forest with beams of light shooting through the canopy. I was hoping she would walk into a shaft but she did not cooperate and stayed behind the trees until she fled.
After getting back to the other side of the canyon and making my way to Pendleton Point, the sky had not cooperated. Not a cloud was to be seen which made for a very boring shot so I decided to head back to my campsite and cook up some jalapeno wursts for dinner and wait for the star lights to come on at night (while downing a few hop/barley flavored beverages of course). At around 10:00 when the sky really started to get black, I grabbed my gear and walked down to a meadow I spied earlier to take some shots of the Milkyway at the best time of the year.
Upon waking in the morning, after spending a restless night while a mouse noisily rummaged all around my tent, I was once again disappointing with a cloudless sky. I didn’t even bother driving to Pendleton to see of any photo ops and packed up my stuff and was on the road to the trailhead by 6:45. In hind site, fog low within the valley could have made for an interesting shot but I’ll never know. Chalk it up to experience.
I planned to do a 11.7 mile hike within the Otter Creek Wilderness on a predetermined route called the Turkey Run Loop. For the most part, I get all my hiking maps and trail notes from Midatlantichikes.com. It is truly a great site with all the info you need.
After a slight delay from making a wrong turn on the drive over, I arrived at the trailhead at 8am. After getting my stuff in order, I was on the trail by 8:30. The Otter Creek Wilderness is very remote and even the trails don’t look like they see much traffic. For the most part, most of the trails are converted old logging railroads but from the info read on some posted signs this area has not been logged since the early 60’s and is not due again until 2030. That is not to say that the trails are not easy to follow but I saw very few footprints compared to what I’m used to in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.
When leaving Big Springs Gap Trailhead toward Otter Creek, one passes through a very lush, healthy forest. This is typical of the whole trail.
As soon as you reach Otter Creek, you have to cross to get to the trail on the other side. At the peak of summer this is an easy task and I almost contemplated just rock hoping to the other side without taking my boots off but this early in the hike I did not want to take the chance of slipping and then having to slosh through 11 more miles.
After crossing, the trail traveled upstream an additional 4 miles while crossing three different times. Along the way, I past many good campsites, two really nice swimming holes and plenty of beautiful cascades and falls. Upon completion of that section of the trail following Otter Creek, I ran across some nice falls before making my way onto Moore Run Trail.
At this point, it was a gradual ascent to the top of the mountain. Halfway up the trail I nearly stepped on a bee hive that appeared as if it had recently been exposed. I stopped and took a picture and got stung once for hanging around too long. On the positive, for the next 30 seconds my trail pace increased dramatically.
When I got to the top on the mountain, the terrain flattened out for a while and the ground started getting wet. At most of the bad sections, logs had been laid down forming a bridge to span the bogs. At one location I noticed some deep prints off to the edge which appeared too wide to be a dogs but too circular to be human. They also formed very deep depressions. What ever made them was heavy.
According to the trail notes, the Turkey Run Trail is a old road that has been reclaimed by the forest. It also notes that there is a good chance of stinging nettle, so I attached the bottoms of my convertible pants for some protection. Sure enough, the stuff was everywhere. Fortunately, the trail was worn wide enough to keep most at bay. At this point I was nearing the end of my hike. Up ahead I noticed a deer spring forward and stopped my intermittent loud conversations with myself to sneak up for a shot (every so often I think and talk to myself out loud (very loud) so I don’t sneak up on a bear). As would be expected, the deer noticed me and was gone. A minute later I spot a bear cub walking down the path toward me.
I have no idea where Mom is. At this point the cub is still 150 feet away and I stopped moving and I am surrounded by thick weeds. It starts up the hill and I grab a picture. It then turns back down to the trail and I decide it’s time to let it know I’m here with a loud,” Hey, where you goin’ bear!”. It stops, looks around, finally notices me, I yell again, and it bolts uphill. For good measure, I just stayed in the same spot for 5-10 minutes making plenty of noise giving the cub and it’s unseen mother time to regroup and get away.
Continuing a cautious 1/2 mile back to the truck I finished the hike at 3:00. Hiking time was 6:30 for 11.7 miles. I relaxed with a drink for 20 minutes before making the 3:15 drive home.