The morning sun streamed through the windows. I half thought about staying home, but the deep blue sky quickly overruled that idea, even with a foot of snow on the ground. I began to think about where I wanted to go. On such a clear day, I needed to find a place with a view. After thinking about a couple different trails, I soon settled on a return to the Bartlett Mountain Balds. After all, I’ve wanted to see it on a clear day with snow on the ground.
But I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
I quickly loaded up my gear and brought my snowshoes. I was soon on the road. My hope was to park at White Brook, but the trailhead wasn’t plowed and there was no berm to park. So, I drove down to Stony Brook where I found a place for my car. This approach would be longer, but not as steep.
I put on some wrap around sunglasses to protect myself from the glare and was soon snowshoeing up Stony Brook. The snow was powdery and over a foot deep. It was going to be long day. The blue sky was incredible, almost electric in its clarity. Stony Brook offered some nice views of the plateaus I would soon be climbing.
The climb up along Big Deer Brook was long and taxing. I saw odd, symmetrical porcupine tracks and several deer tracks that randomly meandered through the woods. In a few places under hemlocks, I could see where the deer had bedded down. The snow got deeper as I ascended and I had to take a rest several times. Even with snowshoes, my feet sank deep in the powder. The trail explored a deep hemlock forest covered with snow, as the forest floor had patterns of bright light and shade. A wall of fallen snow had formed on a suspended log.
The trail leveled off and I followed the snow covered brook. I startled a quail, hiding in the snow, as it exploded in the air with the beat of its wings only a few feet from me. The trail took me into a tunnel of hemlocks and to the first bald. A windblown snow formation surrounded a concealed rock. The bald was covered with snow, now almost 2 feet deep. The sun pierced through the crystalline sky. I entered another deep hemlock forest as snow covered branches arched over the trail. I tapped the branches with my poles to clear a way. The trail descended past large boulders and I reached an old forest grade. I pushed on to a rim of cliffs with large boulders. I struggled to the top where I was greeted with a series of glades along a rim of cliffs. The snow was now over two feet deep and I was wondering what purpose my snowshoes were serving. The snow was so powdery I continued to sink deep. I began to think I should turn around. I was losing daylight. But I had come too far, so I pressed on.
I followed a rim of ledges, passing white pine trees stripped of bark by porcupines, and the tracks of what appeared to be snowshoe hares. I battled through mountain laurel and lowbush blueberry. I began to reach the balds where snow drifts reached my waist. The balds were stunning with waves and furrows of wind blown snow. Boulders were surrounded by crescents of powder. A deep blanket of powder covered the narrow, overhanging ledges, the crevices and caves. The sun seared over the frozen landscape. I was exhausted.
I continued the hike up the balds and reached views to the distant plateaus and mountains. I could see over 30 miles away. Deep green spruce stood guard, insulated with pillows of snow. The sun was beginning to set as cirrus clouds began to expand from the west. I stood there as a soft breeze drifted through the spruce. There was no one else around for miles. The isolation and serenity was absolute.
And then I heard the lone howl of a coyote. It howled several times. It was in the deep spruce forests to the east. Nothing responded. It howled again, a soft echo swept across the balds. It was haunting, a chill ran down my spine. The sun began to fade in the clouds along the horizon.
I had to get back. In my haste getting ready for this hike, I forgot my headlamp. I decided to descend along White Brook. That would get me back to the road quicker, even though I would have to walk the road three miles to my car. It was easier following my tracks across the deep snow, but I soon had to break trail for the descent. The snow seemed too deep for an easy glissade and I still had to work to break trail even with the help of gravity. I should have just followed the way I came.
I descended the steep grade along White Brook as the snow covered buttresses of the plateaus glowed in the setting sun.
I reached the road at twilight and took off my snowshoes, my feet felt liberated. Despite being so tired, I walked the three miles along the road quickly back to where I parked. I reached my car in darkness.
On this beautiful winter day, I had this place to myself, accompanied only by a lone coyote.
Located near the scenic village of Slate Run in the beautiful Pine Creek Gorge is the Golden Eagle Trail, a nine mile loop trail that is considered to be among Pennsylvania’s finest. The trail has it all- stunning views, deep gorges, streams, waterfalls, rock outcrops, and scenic forests of pine and hemlock.I met Steve and Ashley under cool, gray skies. A thin layer of snow powdered the mountains. We began the loop with a hike up Bonnell Run. The trail was icy and slick. The path followed an old grade above a falls and then eventually met the stream in a narrow mountain valley with pine and hemlock. Small cascades danced into pools. The trail crossed the small creek several times. As we ascended, bare hardwoods covered the slopes and we tackled a steep trail as the wind blew stronger.
We reached the top and were treated to a fine view looking into the gorge. A view to the north soon followed, overlooking farms and ridges that disappeared into the clouds. We got something to eat in the cold air.
The trail passed an unmarked trail to the left; I could only assume this leads to the fantastic Bob Webber Trail to the south of the Golden Eagle Trail. Another view looked down Wolf Run. The trail through the headwaters of Wolf Run featured beautiful forests of hemlock and pine in a narrow gorge. The meandering trail through these stunning forests was a highlight of the hike. The snow dusted hemlocks offered some gorgeous scenery. We continued down Wolf Run as waterfalls began to announce their presence in the deep, narrow gorge.
The trail along Wolf Run was often covered with ice, so we had to be careful. The trail became a narrow, white ribbon along the steep slope of the gorge as the creek roared below. The gorge became more and more narrow, as the creek below was surrounded by cliffs and ledges. The trail stayed higher on the slope, but we still had to watch our step. Broad mountains rose around us through the bare trees.
A climb followed up a precipitous ridge offering numerous views of the gorge. We passed odd rock formations, including one rock tower that was honeycombed; you could see through it. The trail ascended up the ridge until we reached the premier highlight of the trail- the spectacular views from Raven’s Horn. The view is incredible as it looks over the peaks, cols and ridges to the south. The terrain is varied and vast. Even on this gray day, it was breathtaking.
A long descent followed to the edge of a meadow with more views. Here we saw four or five deer. We returned to the car and drove to Slate Run for a meal at the Hotel Manor. I was last at the Hotel Manor about 15 years ago after hiking on the Black Forest Trail. It was a dark cabin with a lot of character. I think a huge cheeseburger and fries were about $2.00 and I distinctly remember Yuengling drafts were fifty cents. The beer tasted so good after hiking in the summer heat. The old cabin burned down and now it is a contemporary timber-framed building with large windows overlooking Pine Creek. The meal was very good, but the drafts were not fifty cents. Regardless, it was great to be back at Pine Creek; it is a special place.
The Golden Eagle Trail is an impressive introduction to the beauty of the Pine Creek region.
Map and brochure of the trail.
Despite being a short drive from my house, and the longest trail in the county, I had never hiked the Joe Gmiter Trail. Ironic, since I have hiked trails all over the country.
So, the other weekend, I decided it was time to check this one off my list. Or at least try. I knew the trail was in tough shape, nor ideally routed since it simply follows the game lands boundary. But at over 8 miles, it is a rather significant trail. It was named after a president of the Susquehanna Trailers Club, a local hiking club that built the trail.
It was a clear, sunny day as the temperatures steadily rose. The trail is primarily blazed orange, although there are old, multi-color markings as well, and some side or connector trails. The hike began with some promise as it climbed along a field with some views before heading up the ridge through laurel, only to go back down, and then steeply back up to the top of the ridge. As I said, the route of the trail makes little sense in relation to the terrain. As a result, there is hiking along the side of slopes and seemingly pointless turns, and ups and downs. If there is snow, some kind of traction on ice is a good idea.
After a level walk, the slick trail went straight down before disappearing into a jungle of blowdowns at a “no trespassing” sign. We found an orange blaze and battled through the blowdowns. The trail turned right as the blowdowns receded. A descent followed between some neat multi-color ledges and we reached a pond on private property next to the trail. We descended to a field with some nice, pastoral views. But the trail and blazes were nowhere to be found so we bushwacked up the slope until I reached a rock wall where the blazes returned.
We took a break at some large ledges and decided to leave the trail and simply bushwhack. It seemed pointless to follow the trail through a morass of blowdowns, up and down steep slopes. We crossed a pretty stream and then another ravine. There were some hemlocks, slowly dying due to the adelgid. There were also some huge hardwoods, whether it be ash or oak. It was the finest feature of the trail. We rejoined the trail along a nice section as we hiked up and over ledges with piles of porcupine droppings. The blowdowns soon returned and our battle resumed. It seemed the blowdowns were mostly downslope along the mountain.
The trail steeply descended into another ravine and another climb took us into a forest with huge hardwoods. After another battle with intense blowdowns we followed an old forest road behind a home. We left the grade, and the trail, as we bushwhacked along the slope of the mountain. A climb followed to the top where there was a knoll of pines and then a hike along the ridge until we reached a small valley. The bushwhack continued down through thick laurel where we reached the trail again. As luck would have it after all the blowdowns, it was wide, clear path along an old grade.
The trail took us to an open area where there was recent logging. This area provided extensive views of the surrounding mountains as the sun began to set. We followed the logging road back down to the car.
It was good to finally hike this trail, or as much as I could. It is in very rough shape and appears largely abandoned. Not surprising since it is not really worth hiking due to its route being unsustainable, and at times illogical. This is too bad since there are some nice scenery and forests on Sorber Mountain. Unless the trail is re-routed to a more sensible and scenic loop, I doubt I’ll be back.
Regardless, it was good to be in the woods.
We returned to SGL 57 to explore some new streams and forests. The plan was to first explore an unnamed creek that flows in between Stony and Becker Brooks. We climbed up the steep and rugged glen of this creek which harbored countless cascades and about three falls 10-20 feet high. It was tough climbing up the boulder strewn bed of the creek as it was caked with ice and snow. Wes and Ryan climbed the rim of the gorge as I followed the creek.
We reached the top and turned right onto a gated game commission road that explored a hardwood forest with some huge cherry trees. This soon brought us to the road that goes to the Dutch Mountain coal mine. There was a truck parked at the old mine, it appeared to be someone running hounds. We entered the mine where it was noticeably warmer; a spring flowed out of the depths. A climb to the ledge on top of the mine offered some views as we got a bite to eat. A nice campsite was hidden under some hemlocks.
The trail took us across Red Brook, dotted with mounds of snow, draped under hemlocks and spruce. I had never followed this old trail across Red Brook; the trail wandered into a bare hardwood forest and crossed a few small streams before entering a spectacular spruce forest along Coalbed Swamp. The forests were deep and green, dusted with snow, it was a winter wonderland as the sun began to shine through the breaking clouds. Not happy with just seeing the forest, we decided to reach the swamp. The swamp was more open than others we’ve explored; it had few blueberry thickets. Frozen mats of sphagnum moss covered the sodden ground underneath.
Despite its name, Coalbed Swamp is pristine and is one of the most diverse places in the state, being the home to several rare species.
Hiking into the frozen swamp soon lost its excitement and we re-entered the incredible spruce forests. The diversity of SGL 57 never ceases to amaze. The hounds barked on the far side of the swamp.
After retracing our steps, we turned on another trail that took us to the outlet of Coalbed Swamp, and the source of Red Brook. The name of brook soon became obvious; the water was a deep amber color thanks to the decaying vegetation in the swamp. The remainder of our journey was to follow Red Brook.
We battled through spruce to be treated to a hidden cascade in a grotto of conglomerate boulders and ledges. We crossed the trail we hiked previously and continued down the brook. Red Brook is one of the most scenic streams in SGL 57, featuring many cascades and small falls, old growth beech and hemlock, and deep gorges.
The first highlight was a dramatic falls in an incredible grotto framed with ice flows (in the picture above). An old railroad grade soon came into view. The grade was rocky and still had ties in it, but it was easier hiking than bushwhacking along the brook. The grade passed cliffs with frozen springs and huge boulders along a steep slope. The top of the second falls soon came into view.
We scrambled down to the falls and it was an impressive sight, the main drop was about 30 feet as the water roared down. Smaller falls were both above an below the main drop. We couldn’t reach the bottom due to the ice. After getting more to eat, we continued down the old grade. Our hike continued along another old grade above flood torn Stony Brook back to the car as the sunlight faded on the tops of the mountains.
Yesterday, I decided to go for a quick hike and I found myself in Ricketts Glen State Park. It has been years since I hiked the famous and popular Falls Trail; I now spend more time exploring the little-known areas of this large and diverse park. Regardless, the Falls Trail was closed. With snow on the ground and fading daylight, my options were limited. I was going to drive up to Lake Jean, but as I drove over Kitchen Creek along PA 118, the forest floor was shrouded with a dense layer of mist. I had to check it out.
The mist was formed by the warm and humid air over the snowpack. The mist congregated along the creeks and hollows. I began my walk on the Evergreen Trail, an easy, overlooked trail that is a pleasure to hike. It is perfect for kids. The icy walk down to Adams Falls took some care. The falls were flowing great with roaring water surging through a chasm in the red bedrock.
The trail took me across the creek and into the “Hemlock Temple” of the Evergreen Trail. This trail features an impressive old-growth forest that is serene and beautiful. However, the hemlocks are dying from an invasive species, the wooly adelgid. The largest and healthiest trees are now the white pine and tulip poplar. The veil of mist that was draped across the floor of this ancient forest was both eerie and beautiful. Massive white pine trees soared into the air, towering over 120 feet. The dead standing trees were stripped of their bark, leaving a silver sheen over the damp wood. As the sun tried to fight the clouds, a translucent light spread through the forest, illuminating the mist.
The trail passed a huge tulip poplar, the park is near the northern limit of this tree’s range. These trees can grow to incredible proportions, and they create a sap that is sweeter than maple syrup.
Once I hiked out of the mist, the temperature became much warmer and my glasses briefly fogged up. I hiked a little further, gazing at the large trees, and returned to my car. It is hard to believe some of these trees are older than the United States.
It seems the greatest temples are made by nature.
Sometimes it is the feel of a place that makes it so special. It may be easy to appreciate waterfalls or vistas, but to explore a place few others have been and feel the cycles of life that it harbors is just as rewarding.
We returned to SGL 57, and this time the goal was an area north of Stony Brook where a prong of the plateau juts out, west of Flat Top. Since it doesn’t have a name, I’ll just call it Middle Top for the sake of reference. I first hiked this area almost two years ago when we traversed the eastern rim of Middle Top. There were no stand-out views, but even then I know it was special. The deep forests, pristine springs, carpets of moss, and countless caves and crevices along the rim of rock outcrops created a realm where nature seemed to take precedence over man. It felt primeval, silent.
On this hike we walked up along Stony Brook through a few inches of snow. We finally reached near the top and left the trail to begin the bushwhack. We were soon greeted by deep spruce and hemlock forests. While spruce is somewhat common up here, it was a pleasure to see so much hemlock. We spied what seemed to be an opening, but it was a bog. We continued south into a mysterious hemlock grove. The wildlife was amazing. We saw bear tracks and countless coyote tracks; in places they trampled the snow down with all their tracks. We felt as if we were being watched. But the snow revealed all that lived here.
Ahead were some ledges with deep cracks that we scaled to reach a bald surrounded by spruce and hemlock. Mountain laurel guarded the edges. Everything was dusted with snow or glazed with ice. As we hiked through the ice-covered laurel, it sounded as if we were crushing glass. The bald was beautiful. It was so isolated and quiet. Pebbles and rocks dotted the surface as the deep, green forest surrounded us. It was a hidden place, undisturbed by man. We felt as if were hundreds of miles from anywhere.
We hiked along the bald along groves of spruce and hemlock. Our hike soon returned us to the forest. We tried to cross a swamp, but it was impenetrable. The forests revealed another, smaller bald where we got a bite to eat. The sun began to fight through the clouds.
I decided we needed to head south to find the rim of the plateau, and we were treated to another hemlock forest. A rim of ledges soon came into view, accompanied by the sound of water. I was surprised that a creek would be flowing this far up the mountain, and it was a decent sized stream. I followed the creek into a beautiful grotto of boulders and hemlocks to see a ten foot cascade dressed with icicles. The forest revealed a long ledge wall with caves and crevices. I even walked up through one of the caves.
The sun finally broke through the clouds as we reached a cliff with deep crevices and a partial view through the trees. This is the point we reached on our last hike. Thick, stunted hemlock trees grew behind us.
We decided to return along the stream we had discovered. This unnamed creek descended steeply with many cascades. We crossed under a forest of bare hardwoods, with some very large trees. The creek became steeper as we inched our way down the steep slope. There were some larger falls that were over ten feet high. We soon retraced our steps at Stony Brook.
A walk back to the car followed. Unlike most of our hikes, we weren’t walking back in the dark. As we drove back home, the primeval forests of Middle Top were high above us, cast in the shadows of a winter afternoon.
Location of the bald.