Laurel Highlands Trail
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.