Into an Emerald Forest: Scouten and Kasson Brooks (SGL 57)

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Rock shelter with caves

 

You know you lived a day to its fullest when you create a memory, an experience, a feeling that will forever stay with you.

For me, that was this hike, this place…

Over ten years ago I hiked up Scouten Brook in SGL 57.  I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this stream, as the water slid over red bedrock and tumbled down small cascades under a hemlock forest.  This off-trail hike was only the beginning for me, the first of many beautiful places I would see during my exploration of SGL 57.  This past weekend, I returned.  And it was amazing.

I’ve spent little time in this area of the SGL 57.  Recently, I’ve become intrigued by what might be there.  Google Earth revealed a vast, deep green forest, even in winter.  I suspected it might be a spruce and hemlock forest.

Our plan was ambitious.  Hike up Scouten Brook, explore the cliff rim of the spruce forest, find a vista, descend a side stream of Kasson Brook, visit Kasson Falls, and hike back out.  This rugged hike would be about 17 miles.

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Looking through the cave.

 

We followed an old grade along Scouten Brook as cascades danced far below over the deep red bedrock I remembered from years ago.  Large boulders adorned the creek. The hemlock forest was not as verdant, dying from the woolly adelgid.  The creek was beautiful and pristine as it flowed through a gorge of towering hardwood trees.  Ryan mentioned there was a sidestream falls and iceflow across Scouten Brook.  We scrambled up the steep glen and a grotto soon appeared with a 20 foot cascade and columns of melting ice.  The day was warm under overcast skies and Ryan had to jump across the stream when an icicle suddenly collapsed.

We continued up this rugged gorge, climbing over large boulders under towering old growth white pine and dead hemlocks.  At the rim were jungles of mountain laurel and a cave formed by boulders that Wes explored.  We continued along the rim, following a bear path, but the thick laurel made it slow going.  We descended steeply back to Scouten Brook to see a beautiful ice covered waterfall.  Upstream were more waterfalls, all adorned with ice.  It was a beautiful, serene place.

Easier hiking was provided by an old forest grade that gradually climbed the plateau.  The hemlock and spruce forest that was the goal of this hike soon came into view.  We left the old grade and climbed to this evergreen forest and were greeted with a massive rock overhang with a cave behind it.  The rock was made of pebbly conglomerate.    I reached the overhang by descending through the cave, where one hanging rock looked like it was about to fall.  We sat there to enjoy the scenery as spruce trees surrounded us.  The best was yet to come.

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Incredible forests of spruce, hemlock, and moss.  One of the most scenic forests in the state.

 

We left the overhang and cave to the plateau rim to be immersed in an amazing forest of spruce, hemlock, and carpets of moss.  It must be one of the most scenic forests in Pennsylvania.  The greenery was simply incredible, invoking a forest from the Adirondacks or New England.  Despite it being winter, when most forests are bare brown, this one was an endless green.  We were awestruck.  Carpets of moss spread through the forest, harboring countless spruce saplings.  We could have been in the Pacific Northwest.  Massive boulders comprised the forest floor, and in a few places, the separated boulders created long, straight chasms.  Stunning.  Moss and lichens covered the boulders.  We pushed on through this sylvan wonderland.  The cliff rim provided some views through the trees from the exposed boulders, as more caves and crevasses hid beneath our feet.  The bedrock had separated, creating mazes of passageways and narrow, deep crevices that we had to be careful not to fall into.

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Exploring the chasms.

 

As we made our way around the western edge of the forest, the clouds cleared, offering deep, blue skies and warm sunshine.  A strong westerly wind filled the spruce forest, as shafts of sunlight pierced the canopy to electrify the forest floor.  It was a complete sense of wildness as the wonderful aroma of the spruce filled our lungs.  Few people have ever seen this place.  The rim featured more boulders and crevasses, and tangled, fallen spruce trees.  We continued along the rim and soft carpets of moss.  I saw a slight rise ahead of me and I climbed up to it.  The spruce forest separated to reveal a beautiful view to the west, with vast plateaus, and the canyons of Mehoopany Creek, Stony Brook, and Red Brook.  The view was untouched, with no sign of development.  We were all impressed as we enjoyed the warm sun and blue skies.  We knew we had found a special place.  We weren’t the first ones here, but few have ever seen what we saw.  I imagined what the sunset must look like from here, it must be beautiful, I thought.

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Views of the vast plateaus to the west, with no sign of development.

 

We pulled away from the view, each of us burning it in our memories for a future return.  Our hike continued on the southern edge of the “emerald” forest, the boulders were not as big, but it was scenic nonetheless.  We found a tributary of Kasson Brook, and descended along it.  The creek was filled with boulders and frozen cascades.  As we descended, the creek became much steeper, with many slides and frozen waterfalls.  It was too steep and icy for us to explore so we left the tributary and reached Kasson Brook.

By this time we were exhausted.  The climb up Kasson Brook was tiring, even with the fine scenery.  We hiked over fallen trees and loose rock above a streambed torn from prior floods.  The amazing iceflows of Kasson Falls came into view and I was speechless for a second.  This grotto is truly impressive, and even with the warm weather, there was still a lot of ice.  The ice had a bluish hue and descended like draperies.  Springs tumbled from the edge of the grotto.  The falls itself were frozen as well, next to an ice cave.  Everything was dripping and melting.  We were happy to see it before it collapsed or melted away.  What is most beautiful about this stunning place is not the falls itself, but the surrounding springs that descend for the cliffs and freeze in winter.  So much beauty in one place.

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The incredible ice flows of Kasson Falls.

 

We hiked out to the road, passing more falls and pools along Kasson Brook.  Twilight soon came as we flushed some wild turkeys from the pine and hemlock trees.  The dark, bare tree branches reached across the last light of the day.  The air was warm and still, making it feel like April and not January.  Darkness surrounded us as we completed our hike on the road.  The rapids of the Mehoopany Creek filled the isolated valley, the air had the scent of woodsmoke.  An owl hooted in the distance.   I slipped through the darkness, walking quickly along the road and startling deer in the woods.  Constellations filled the clear sky, with Orion being the most vivid.  We felt alive, seeing such a new and beautiful place, a place to which I must return.

We lived this day to the fullest.

More photos.

Location of the Emerald Forest.

Location of the vista.

The chasms are located approximately here (can’t see them through the trees).

Winter at Woodbourne Forest

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Hiking at Woodbourne Forest

Every other year it seems I find myself back at Woodbourne Forest, north of Dimock.  This preserve covers over 600 acres and is owned by the Nature Conservancy, the first of its preserves in the state.  The forest is famous for its old growth forest.  Here, you will find giant beech, oak, cherry, and ash trees.  However, it are the ancient hemlocks that make this place so special.  The giant trees with canopies of green are a beautiful sight, casting the forest floor into eternal shade.  With its wide variety of habitats, from streams, fields, wetlands, and drier slopes, Woodbourne boasts an impressive diversity.  Nearly 200 bird species have been documented.  The preserve is described as Hike No. 2 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.
The woolly adelgid has reached Woodbourne, and the hemlocks have been affected, but most trees are hanging on.  We began on the blue trail as it circled the northern and eastern parts of the preserve.  The trail passes many of the preserve’s large trees and we hiked through spruce plantations as an owl hooted in the distance.  A white blazed link trail brought us to the orange trail, featuring more large trees and a meadow as a deer silently ran away from us.
Next was the yellow trail as it did a small loop through the old growth hemlock forest.  A frigid breeze blew off of the frozen swamp, formed by a beaver dam encased in snow and ice.  Shafts of sunlight pierced the high canopy to illuminate the forest floor.  The colors were stark and beautiful, from the deep blue skies, white snow on the frozen ice, to the brown and gray trunks of the trees, and finally the green hemlocks.  Besides the breeze, the wetland was serene and silent.  In early summer, this is a place that teems with endless life and the buzzing, chirps, songs, and calls that goes along with it.
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Trail map

The trails are pretty well marked and most trail junctures have signs.  There were fallen trees and branches on the trails, but overall it was a nice hike in one of Pennsylvania’s first protected places.
More photos.

The Lesson of Devil’s Falls

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Devil’s Falls, near Pittston, PA, upstream of Gardner Reservoir, along Gardner Creek

Only a couple years ago I heard about Devil’s Falls.  The pictures looked incredible- a towering, large, cascading waterfall.  It didn’t seem real.  It looked like a falls you’d expect to see in some other place, far away.  But here it was, hiding in plain sight.  I recently set out to see it for myself, and I did.
This, for me, was a hike of contrasts.  Even the name of the falls is a contrast.  And it was a contrast that hinted at something deeper.
After all, places like Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Pittston are where people move from, not to.  Northeast Pennsylvania raises images of culm dumps, old mines, land that has been raped.  Depressing communities on life support, waiting for someone to tell them to die.  A place where the younger generation moves off to greener pastures- Colorado, Washington, Arizona, California, or North Carolina as the older generations wither into obscurity.  Maybe our attitudes have conditioned us.
And maybe we have been completely wrong.
No one is going to arrive here to create the place where we would like to move to; only we can do that.  And we deserve it.
Surrounding these old mining towns and cities are places of amazing beauty.  We have no idea.  From sweeping vistas, to hidden gorges, beautiful trails, and serene waterfalls- it all exists right here.  Waiting. For you.
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Devil’s Falls

I once talked with someone who recently moved back to the area after being away for several years.  He didn’t realize all that was here when he was a younger man.  He said Scranton has more outdoor recreation possibilities than Burlington, VT.  Imagine that.
Think about it.  Close to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area are: Rattlesnake Falls, Pinchot State Forest, Pinchot Trail, Seven Tubs, Ashley Planes, Bear Creek Preserve, Harvey’s Creek Gorge, Tillbury Knob, Moon Lake, Frances Slocum State Park, Moosic Mountain Barrens, Merli Sarnoski Park, Nay Aug Gorge, Lake Scranton, Campbell’s Ledge, Panther Creek Preserve, D&H Rail Trail, Mocanaqua Rock Climbing and Trails, Shickshinny Falls, Lackawanna River fly fishing and rapids, Panther’s Bluff, Stillwater Cliff, Lackawanna State Park, Susquehanna River, Ricketts Glen…
And Devil’s Falls.
I parked behind a development filled with vast warehouses and hiked along an old road, a place that seemed totally forgettable.  The woods were sparse and forlorn, growing over and trying to heal the land.  As I hiked further, the forests became scenic, with larger trees.  I continued on the rutted road, as it followed a hidden water line.  I saw two large water tanks off to the left.  The road then dropped into a glen with icicle covered ledges.  The sound of roaring water filled the glen.  I knew there was something special down there.  The road became eroded as I picked my way between the ice.  I reached the bottom and looked up.
There was Devil’s Falls.
This falls alone would justify a state park or premier hiking trail anywhere else.  It was a huge, powerful, towering cascade as the currents almost seemed to cris-cross as it slid down the bedrock.  It was easily 70-80 feet tall.   Hemlocks framed the falls.  At the bottom was a shallow, clear pool anchored by a massive boulder.  This is truly one of the finest waterfalls in the state.
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Looking down the falls

I climbed up the north side of the falls.  I reached an exposed ledge that had stunted oak and pine, common for dry, exposed habitats.  Just thirty feet away was a moist hemlock forest growing along the creek.  An impressive array of diversity.  Views stretched across the glen.  I descended to the top of the falls, scrambling between large conglomerate boulders.  The top revealed the impressive scope of the falls.  But there was more.  Above me were additional falls and slides beneath massive boulders.  All told, I would not be surprised if all the cascades were over 100 feet tall.  I explored this boulder city, dressed with veils of moss between the twisted trunks of mountain laurel.  Nearby the creek had etched itself into the smooth bedrock.  The clear, calm water oblivious about what was ahead.
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Massive boulders above the falls

I reached another trail and looked upstream as the creek flowed under a grove of green hemlocks.  I soon returned to the old road, and my car.  I drove away along the wide, sweeping roads of the warehouse development as Devil’s Falls continued to flow in its glen of hemlocks and boulders, waiting for us…
More photos.

Pinchot Trail-North Loop

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Painter Creek

With the hope to burn some holiday calories, we headed out to hike the north loop of the Pinchot Trail in the state forest of the same name.  I was looking forward to it, since I had not been on some parts of this trail for a couple of years.  The easy trail threaded its way between green mountain laurel, over streams, and through hardwood forests caked with fluorescent lichens.  In summer, this trail features every shade of green imaginable.  In January, the colors were not as diverse, but the forest still had a stark beauty.  As we continued, there were more fern and lowbush blueberry meadows, now a lifeless brown.  White birch trees added some color, especially since the snow had melted.  Deep green spruce trees rose over the trail.
Some areas were very wet and water seemed to drip from everywhere.  As we rounded the north end of the loop, I was surprised to see several campsites where they had not been before.  The trail was in good shape, and seemed to be well-used.  We descended to Painter Creek, a scenic highlight of the north loop.  Here, a pristine stream flows under a dark grove of hemlocks with beautiful campsites.  We took a break here as another hiker walked by.
The trail took us into a forest with carpets of ground pine, moss covered logs, and fins of fungus encircling a dead tree.  We took a side trail to the Pine Hill Vista as a strong wind blew around the observation deck and through the stunted forest of pine and oak.  We didn’t linger.  It is striking how much the forest changes in less than a hundred feet of elevation.  We descended back to the car.  It felt good to get outside and use my legs.  It is also hard to believe only twelve miles south of Scranton is this beautiful trail system and state forest, just waiting to be explored.  Go there.
More photos.

“Backpacking New York” is now published!

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I’m pleased to announce that “Backpacking New York” is now published.  It is the best book I have written, and more than a typical trail guide.  It has been a blessing to explore New York, which is such a beautiful and diverse state.  From Allegany State Park, to the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Taconics, this was a journey that I will never forget.  Thanks to everyone who joined and helped me along the way.  Enjoy.

For sale at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Stackpole Books

 

First Day Hike 2016

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The group at Coyote Rocks Vista

 

Over the last few years, it has become popular for state parks to offer guided first day hikes (on the first day of the year) to get people outside, and to start the year off right.  This year, I decided to jump on the bandwagon with my own first day hike.

After a little advertising, I was surprised to find 9 people wanting to go on the hike.  They made a good choice.  I decided on a 6 mile loop with moderate terrain and great scenery; it follows Wolf Run, Bean Run, and Bowmans Creek in SGL 57.  It really is the perfect dayhike, with tumbling mountain streams, big rocks, streamside hiking, a view, beautiful forests, isolation, and a stunning hike along Bowmans Creek.  Part of our hike is described as Hike 29 (White Gold Loop) in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

After a drive deep into the gamelands, we reached the parking area along Wolf Run.  Our hike follows unblazed and unmarked trails that are well-established and just a pleasure to hike.  The trails are also used by mountain bikers.  We climbed up along Wolf Run as boulders and cliffs adorned the woods.  At the top of the glen, there were red spruce trees.  We left the loop for a hike to Coyote Rocks Vista.  The view was forbidding with a cold wind, flurries, and dark skies.  Everyone liked the view, but we did not linger.

Our hike continued as the trail crossed the plateau west to Bean Run.  This is a superb woodland hike that everyone enjoyed.  In summer there are meadows of ferns and ground pine under stately hardwoods.  It is simply beautiful.

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Boulders along Bean Run

 

Next was our descent along Bean Run.  The trail followed this pristine stream along an old grade with more spruce.  Huge boulders soon crowded the trail, making it a beautiful place.  One angled boulder created a small cave.  Bean Run was higher than I expected and it took time for everyone to cross on a fallen cherry tree.  No one fell in the water.

Our loop continued by following Bowman Creek, where two mountain bikers passed us on bikes with large, fat tires.  This was everyone’s favorite section, with comments such as “it’s like a rainforest” or “it’s like a jungle”.  It is simply a sublime hike.  The trail closely follows scenic Bowman Creek through tunnels of laurel and rhododendron.  Hemlocks tower overhead as the creek danced over rapids and swirled in pools.  It’s the type of hiking you wished never ended.  Everyone was impressed.  People had the look in their eyes that said I never knew this was here.

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Trail along Bowman Creek

 

We reached the end of the loop.  Everyone enjoyed the hike and wanted to go hiking again.  After a quick stop at Beth Run Falls, we all headed our separate ways.

2016 is off to the right start.

More photos.

The Waterfalls of Hoagland – Loyalsock State Forest

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Waterfalls of Warburton Hollow

 

 

The Hoagland area west of Hillsgrove is one of the most overlooked places in the beautiful Loyalsock State Forest.  Hikers flock to the better known places, like the Haystacks, Rock Run, Old Loggers Path or the Loyalsock Trail, ignoring the forgotten and little known trails along Hoagland Branch and Mill Creek.

Hoagland Branch is a stunning mountain stream, gathering its waters near Shunk and then cutting a gorge through the plateau filled with rapids, slides, and deep swimming holes scoured out of bedrock.  Side streams tumble down to Hoagland Branch with an assortment of waterfalls.

After being away for several years, the plan was to do Hike No. 48 (Hoagland Loop) in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  Of course, things did not work out as planned.

We began along Hoagland Branch Road and soon found the Trout Hole Trail; it is too bad this trail appears to be abandoned because it is a nice one.  Some old red blazes and a treadway remained.  We climbed up along the plateau through a misty forest, under ledges.  We soon reached Warburton Hollow.  I decided I needed to see the waterfalls in this hollow, so we climbed up along the tumbling stream.  It was beautiful as the creek dropped over moss covered boulders.  I then noticed an obvious path on the east side of the creek, following an old skid trail uphill.  Why would there be a trail?  Naturally, it must go somewhere for a reason, so our exploration began.

The hollow was impressive with non-stop cascades, and larger falls and slides soon appeared over scoured bedrock.  Large hemlocks rose over the hollow.  What a gorgeous place.

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Moss covered ledges in a hemlock forest

 

We reached the top and headed east along the plateau rim, hoping to intersect the Trout Hollow Trail again.  There were foggy hemlock forests and carpets of club moss over fractured bedrock boulders.  We then reached a stunning boulder city, smooth and glistening as if they had been polished.  Gowns of moss covered the tilted boulders.  Large ledges loomed through the mist, hiding a small cave.  More large hemlocks adorned this special place.  A large spring bubbled from the forest floor and we soon reached the Trout Hole Trail.  We followed the trail down to some large boulders, including Pacman Rock, and a delicate spring seep falls my friend Ryan called Ponytail Falls.  Next to the falls was a unique mushroom rock formation.

We turned around and climbed up the plateau passing more mysterious, misty hemlock forests.  The scenery was beautiful.  At the top we reached a forest road, which we followed to the right.  Hoagland Vista was fogged in and we soon reached the Browns Trail.  We meandered down the trail when I heard a distinct waterfall.  I looked to my right to see a hidden glen, incised it what appeared to be a large mound of dirt.  There I saw a ten foot falls and fractured rock ledges.  We followed Browns Trail, passing more large trees above a gorge.  Stunning Swamp Run soon came into view.

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Emerald Falls, Swamp Run

 

Swamp Run is an amazing stream.  A powerful slide and large pool greeted us.  The run featured numerous falls, cascades, and pools over bedrock.  It is one of the state forest’s best kept secrets.  We hiked upstream to impressive Triple Falls and then back down to powerful Emerald Falls as it hurtled over an overhanging ledge.  The creek was powerful, and incredibly beautiful.  We bypassed a landslide and reached Hoagland Branch.  We could have followed an unblazed trail back to the road, but we decided to ford the frigid stream.  My feet froze in the water as I battled the current.  We made it across safely and followed the forest road along Hoagland Branch as waterfalls tumbled down the gorge into pools darkened by the deepening twilight.

What a special place.

More photos.

Map of Loyalsock State Forest that shows these streams.