Return to the Waterfall Gorge, SGL 57

Highest falls in the Waterfall Gorge

Highest falls in the Waterfall Gorge

The plan was to hike up Caitlin Brook to see its waterfalls and then hike across the balds of Bartlett Mountain to White Brook.  However, we weren’t able to do that route.  So, I decided to show Raymond the secret Waterfall Gorge that I had explored a few weeks prior.

The forests were now green and the creek still had water despite the dry weather, although the flow was lower.  We bushwhacked for a couple miles through the woods and reached the unnamed creek as it tumbled down a steep bed of boulders to the first falls.  From the top of the highest falls, I could look down the steep and rugged gorge with its cliffs and boulders.  It was great to be back, this is truly a special place as the creek has carved a narrow gorge down to the bedrock with many slides, cascades, and four nice waterfalls.  There is even a pool right above the highest falls, a feature I have rarely seen.   Car-sized boulders were throughout the gorge as fractured cliffs rose overhead.

The bright sun illuminated the forests with fluorescent light as it glowed through the leaves.  Looking up to the highest falls was a gorgeous sight as a ribbon of water tumbled down the polished rock to a shelf, only to cascade down again.  The entire falls might be 40 feet tall.  The creek than slid along red bedrock to a small falls that fed a pool.  I stood on a large boulder above the pool and looked up the gorge to see the falls.  Another falls, about ten feet tall, was just downstream.  We hiked out of the gorge, looking for rattlesnakes, but we did not see a single one.  The deerflies, however, did find us.

This hidden gem is one of several in SGL 57.  With its balds, cliffs, views, caves, rock outcrops, spruce forests, gorges, gorgeous streams, and numerous waterfalls, SGL 57 rivals any state park.  It could be a national park.  It features a diversity that may be without peer in the Mid-Atlantic.

More photos.

A video of the gorge.

Bowman Hollow Falls

Bowman Hollow Falls

Bowman Hollow Falls

Just outside the scenic village of Forkston is a beautiful waterfall, Bowman Hollow Falls.  I’ve known about it for several years, but I never found a way to see it.  I once drove up along the road and was able to look into the gorge below, only to see the top of the falls.

While waterfall hunting in SGL 57 with Raymond Chippa, who has the Pennsylvania Waterfalls website, he offered to show me.  We parked along the road and took a path into the gorge.  What a beautiful place.  The creek slid over bedrock flumes and cascades as large trees towered overhead.  I saw one large tulip poplar tree, which can grow to be the tallest hardwood in the east.  The gorge walls surrounded us as shafts of morning light illuminated the mist and flies rising from the water.  The falls soon came into view and the setting is impressive.  The 40 foot falls were surrounded by a towering amphitheater of cliffs, carpeted with moss and lichen.  Red bedrock adorned the creek.  Springs trickled from the cliffs.  I sat there to take it all in. We walked back out and explored another falls that sinks into a narrow chasm and then feeds a pool followed by another cascade.  Sometimes a quick walk is as rewarding as a long hike.

The falls are on private land, which is not posted.  The falls have been described in books and on websites, and appear to be a local landmark that is regularly visited by the public.  As always, please treat such places with respect and thanks to the landowner for allowing the public to see the falls.

More photos and a video.

Austin Dam

Ruins of the Austin Dam

Ruins of the Austin Dam

September 30, 1911.

On that date, the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co. dam above the town of Austin burst, sending a torrent of water into the town, and killing 78 people.  It is one of the worst dam disasters in the history of the country.

The dam was only two years old at the time it failed.  Built in 1909, the concrete dam was 534 feet long, 50 feet high, and held 250 million gallons of water.  At the time, it was the largest concrete dam in the state.  It was built to provide a water supply for the paper plant.  However, soon after its construction, it became apparent that the dam was seriously flawed.  The dam failure was not a complete surprise as there were serious concerns about its integrity.  Ominous old photos showed the dam beginning to bow out in the middle, and the top of the dam was even notched to lower the water level.  It was not enough.

After heavy rains, the dam failed.  Its waters damaged, but did not destroy, the plant that was the reason for the dam’s existence.  Others were not so lucky.  State and federal laws regarding dam construction and inspection were finally passed after the disaster.

Today, a small local park contains the impressive ruins of the dam, weathered over the last century.  Massive blocks of cement have been pushed and twisted in unbelievable ways.  The road down to the dam is rugged and rutted.  There are plans to improve it.  Regardless, it is worth the drive.  The park also has the remains of an old earthen dam, and a small primitive campground.  It also hosts a musical festival.

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The paper plant met a similar fate.  Although the plant continued to produce paper until a fire in 1944, it is now an abandoned, collapsing concrete ruin with twisted rebar and vegetation growing through cracks.

Ruins of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co.

Ruins of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co.

I drove through the small, quiet town of Austin, now a fraction of its former size.  I decided to check out Prouty Place State Park and took the East Fork Road at Wharton.  While the park was nothing more than a sign, old field, and rutted road, the drive to it on the East Fork Road was very beautiful.  I highly recommend it.  Rolling mountains, dusted with white serviceberry blooms, surrounded a gorgeous, isolated valley with well-kept farms and cabins.  It was Appalachia at its best.

I drove out along PA 44 under bright sun and taking in some more nice views across the forested wilderness of Northcentral Pennsylvania.  I descended into the impressive Pine Creek Gorge as the mountains rose in the vivid sunlight, glowing with the new fluorescent Spring foliage.

More pictures.

Location of the dam.

Information about the Austin Dam Memorial Park, with historical photos of the disaster.

Backpacking the Square Timber Wild Area, Elk State Forest

Morning along Big Run

Morning along Big Run

I recently traveled to the Square Timber Wild Area in the Elk State Forest for a quick overnight backpack.  It covers almost 9,000 acres.  I’d known of the wild area for a few years, but after seeing a trail map, it became a goal to hike it this year.   I really didn’t know what to expect.  My hope was to find one of the black dashed trails in the northern area of the wild area, as indicated on the maps, to make a longer loop.

This area of Pennsylvania is very beautiful and isolated, with deep canyons and gorges, meandering streams, and towering plateaus.  The wild area is located north of Driftwood, a tiny, sleepy village that could be a hiking hotspot, with the Quehanna to the south, the Fred Woods and Elk Trails to the west, the Bucktail Path to the north, and the Donut Hole Trail to the east.

I reached the parking area and followed the yellow blazed path along Big Run, which wasn’t all that big.  It was a pristine stream, clothed in moss.  Large springs bubbled from the ground and joined the creek.  The trail entered a deep glen with hemlock on one side and hardwoods on the other.  There were several large white pine, and the red trillium was blooming.  There were even some sycamore trees along the creek.

As I hiked up the glen, the scenery and isolation improved.  Big Run also became dry, it appeared to be absorbed into the ground, only to reemerge as the springs I saw previously.  The trail hugged narrow sidehill above the creek.  I reached a trail sign and turned right up the Right Fork Big Run.  The glen closed in, there was water in the creek, and several stream crossings. The trail was minimally maintained, with faded blazes and several blowdowns.  A steep hike out of the glen brought me to the Bucktail Path.

View from the Bucktail Path

View from the Bucktail Path

The Bucktail Path was an enjoyable hike as I crossed a meadow with many nice views.  An old quarry followed with a fine view to the south.  The trail was well graded and the hiking was easy.  I soon reached the yellow Square Timber Trail to the left, but I decided to continue north on the Bucktail with the hope of finding a trail in the northern area of the wild area to make a larger loop.  The Bucktail continued to be a nice walk as I climbed to a firetower and small cabin.  The trail descended to scenic Brooks Run with large hemlock and pine, and one nice campsite.  I hiked away from the stream and reached Ridge Road, however, I was unable to find the unofficial trail as depicted on the maps.  I decided to head south on Ridge Road, see the two vistas, and then retrace my steps to the Square Tinber Trail I passed earlier.

The Square Timber Trail followed eroded sidehill through thick mountain laurel.  The trail was very brushy with faded blazes, including some old blue blazes.  I heard a turkey gobbling in the glen below.  I hiked up a rolling ridge, passing a mysterious campsite with perfectly cut firewood and a square bed of fresh hemlock branches.  The rolling ridge continued with more thick laurel.  I soon reached an intersection and turned left for the very steep descent into the Left Fork Big Run.  The terrain eased a little bit as I hiked into a very steep glen, with the small creek embedded in what looked like a mini-gorge.  The hiking was enjoyable with increasingly more hemlock and side springs.  The creek was pristine and there was an incredible sense of isolation being so far down in the glen, with no noises.  I was getting dark, so I found a place to camp and was soon in my sleeping bag.  Vivid moonlight crept down the glen as countless stars shone overhead.
Sky above my campsite

Sky above my campsite

I awoke the next morning and was soon on the trail.  The sun repeated the process of the moon, as its light slowly moved down into the glen.  The trail followed the creek, at times dry, only to reappear.  The scenery was beautiful with large pine, hemlock, and moss.  What was most surprising was the bird song, it was incredible.  All these birds were singing and calling, echoing up and down the glen.  It felt primeval.  I really enjoyed hiking down the Left Fork Big Run.
Red trillium in bloom

Red trillium in bloom

I completed the loop and retraced my steps in the warm spring sun.  I returned to my car and drove out along the beautiful Ridge Road, which featured several vistas.  The Logue Run Vista was particularly beautiful.  I stopped by small, secluded Sizerville State Park, and then continued my journey to the ruins of the Austin Dam…
Logue Run Vista

Logue Run Vista

Trail map of the wild area.
More pictures.
Location of the trailhead.

Middle Loyalsock Loop – Backpacking

High Knob Pond

High Knob Pond

My initial plan was to drive out to the Square Timber Wild Area in the Elk State Forest, but a late start scrapped that idea.  So I settled on a loop I’ve been wanting to do in the middle of the Loyalsock State Forest, and along the middle section of the Loyalsock Trail.  I call it the Middle Loyalsock Loop and it follows bridle trails, various hiking trails, and the Loyalsock Trail.  While there are several routes you can take, this route is roughly 20 miles.

I began at the Ketchum Run Nature Trail parking area and began by hiking the loop clockwise.  I crossed Worlds End Road and walked through the equestrian campground.  The bridle trail was muddy in places, but featured nice hemlock forests and small streams.  A meadow marked the first intersection where I turned right onto a wide grassy grade with hardwood forests.  The route curved back west to High Knob Road, which I crossed.

The bridle trail continued along a powerline swath followed by deer fences where there had been some logging.  These forests were afflicted by windstorms and insect infestations years ago.  The trail became more scenic as it entered the woods.  I could not find the turn to the High Landing Trail, which I planned to take.  Regardless, the bridle trail was a nice walk.  I saw some wild turkeys and a scenic meadow.  The trail curved to the north and I turned left.  I initially planned to hike the bridle trail, to the Stony Run Trail, pass the Hillsgrove Ranger Station, and then hike up the High Knob Trail.  However, I had already hiked those trails so I decided to hike the Loyalsock Trail so I could access a bridle trail I had never explored.  Soon the Loyalsock Trail (LT) came into view, where I turned right and dropped to Dutters Run.  I took a break at a falls when a group of AMC hikers passed by.  They were a very friendly group and it was nice to meet everyone.  I continued down Dutters Run, which is such a scenic place as the creek flows through a mini-gorge with several falls.  I continued on the LT until it began its climb to High Knob Road.  I hiked off of the LT and beared left onto a nearby bridle trail.

This trail was a very nice hike through deep woods.  I descended to a surprisingly large stream, considering how high I was on the mountain.  I decided to go off trail since I suspected there might be a waterfall.  I was proven right.  A 20-30 foot falls soon appeared over several steps as the creek tumbled down the steep glen below the falls.  I named it High Knob Cascades.

I soon returned to the bridle trail, which offered superb woodland hiking.  It traversed the side of the mountain, offering views through the trees down the Dry Run Gorge.  It was a very enjoyable walk.  I soon reached the High Knob Trail, where I turned right.  A short climb brought me to the Jackson Trail, where I turned left to see the High Knob Pond.  I was soon at the pond.
I do not know if the pond has an official name, but it is a very serene spot.  It is several acres in size and is surrounded by a forest of pine and laurel.  It is peaceful and untouched.  I sat there, eating a snack, as the breeze wandered through the trees and some ducks floated in the distance.  I wanted to camp here, but it was too early in the day.  I never hiked the Jackson Trail west of the pond, so I decided to give it a try.
The Jackson Trail was surprisingly beautiful and well-established, considering that it really doesn’t go anywhere, other than down the mountain to PA 87.  It featured a diverse forest of pine, hemlocks, laurel, and hardwoods.  The coolest feature was a large frog pond, hidden by the laurel and moss, just off the trail.  It appears to hold water all year, and several globs of frog eggs were floating or congealed on the shore.  I turned around at the edge of the plateau, before the Jackson Trail makes it steep descent.  I enjoyed some more views of the High Knob Pond, and then continued on the High Knob Trail to its namesake.
I’ve always enjoyed the High Knob Trail; it is just a nice trail to hike.  I passed small streams and a walled spring.  Soon I was at the foot of High Knob.  I stashed my pack and scrambled up the steep trail to the view as the sun began to set.  The view, as always, was beautiful.  I continued on the bridle trail north of High Knob.  I probably wouldn’t hike it again.  It was very wet initially, but then followed a wide, dry grade up to the LT, where I turned left.  I descended to scenic Cape Run and checked out the waterfall just off the trail.  I climbed up to Split Rock as the sun set, illuminating the bare branches and twigs with a sheen that resembled spider webs.  Split Rock was an interesting place; it had been years since I last visited it.  I descended to Ketchum Run just before night fall and quickly set up my tent.  I got a quick bite to eat, and was soon asleep.
High Knob Overlook

High Knob Overlook

The next morning revealed the warm glow of the rising sun.  I was soon up and hiked down to see Lee’s Falls.  Ketchum Run is such a beautiful place.  The light angled with shafts that pierced the dark hemlock forests.  The sun began to illuminate the narrow gorge as the water danced over slides and cascades.  I reached the top of Lee’s Falls and took some pictures as the water roared.  I then headed upstream and reached two more off-trail waterfalls in mossy grottos, with numerous waterslides.  A hemlock tree hung off a ledge with roots that resembled the legs of an insect.  This place is magical.
Ketchum Run

Ketchum Run

I hiked out along the Ketchum Run Nature Trail as the sun electrified the ground pine and hemlock forests.  I soon reached my car, completing the loop.  It was great to be back in the Loyalsock.
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This is a nice alternative to the more popular Loyalsock-Link Loop.
Highlights:  Several waterfalls, High Knob Pond, High Knob Overlook, Split Rock, Ketchum Run, Dutters Run, scenic woodlands, good camping, moderate terrain with no big climbs.  The loop can be extended along the Old House, Stony Run, and High Knob Trails via the Hillsgrove Ranger station.  The entire Ketchum Run Gorge and Alpine vistas can also be included in a longer loop.
Issues:  For two miles west of Worlds End Road, the trail follows deer fences along logged areas, this section is not very scenic and route finding can be tricky since blazes are infrequent.  There are several stream crossings without bridges.
Route of the loop.

Route of the loop.

SGL 57 – Becker Brook to the Waterfall Gorge

I knew something was there, I just didn’t know what.  The topographic maps hinted at a secret gorge with waterfalls, miles from any road.  Did SGL 57 have another secret up it sleeve?  After seeing so many of its waterfalls, gorges, big rocks, pristine streams, and diverse habitats, it was hard to think there could still be something hidden deep in the thousands of acres of forests.  How could a place this beautiful, this diverse, be relatively unknown for so long?

Our plan was ambitious.  We would bushwhack from Becker Brook southwest along cliffs and ledges, proceed down to Mehoopany Creek, and then climb up the hidden waterfall gorge.  From there, we would have to find some way out to the road.  While I expected rough terrain and thick brush, I did not expect to see a place so beautiful.

Ryan and I left the game commission parking area above Becker Brook, battling thick mountain laurel above a rim of cliffs.  The brook roared below us, announcing the presence of cascades.  We scrambled down a fractured cliff to reach the one branch of Becker Brook.  It was a steep ravine filled with boulders and a creek with non-stop cascades and rapids.  The sun was blistering with its light, even in the morning.  The day promised to be a hot one.  Our route descended along a branch of Becker Brook, with damage from the floods still evident.  Sides of the ravine were torn out with collapsed trees and landslides.  We soon reached the other, and larger, branch of Becker Brook and began our climb up.  This branch was even more scenic with higher cascades and deep pools framed by large, smooth boulders.  The setting was truly scenic, and we weren’t even at the best part.

Becker Brook

Becker Brook

We reached a private property line and turned away from the brook.  A climb followed up to a series of ledges and cliffs. Moss and fern covered boulders hid deep caves and crevices as springs dripped in secret.  Ice and snow still remained in the shadows.  The footing was difficult as I negotiated the terrain.  A spring cascaded down a carpet of moss like a bathroom shower.  As we proceeded around the rim, the cliffs became larger, featuring massive overhangs and deep grottos that held even more ice.

The rim soon revealed a long cliff from which countless springs tumbled down.  Rounded columns of ice and snow were under the cliffs.  It was a beautiful place that we called the “Weeping Wall”.  In winter, the ice flows here would rival the more famous ones at Kasson Falls.  The rim wasn’t done. We fought through beech saplings as the sharp twigs stabbed and cut my legs.  The cliffs rose higher and we reached a couple of nice views of the Upper Mehoopany Creek canyon.  One view even looked down the canyon towards Forkston.  I wish we could have spent more time at the views, but we didn’t know how difficult the rest of the hike would be, so we pushed on.  I was beginning to feel very tired and sluggish.  I had little energy as the sunlight burned through the bare trees.  I didn’t know why I felt weak.  I wasn’t that hungry and I still had water, which I made sure to drink.

Looking down the Mehoopany Creek canyon

Looking down the Mehoopany Creek canyon

Our route took us into a valley or drainage where we passed a couple small springs.  I walked on top of a large ledge and looked down.  There I saw something that almost seemed Biblical- a spring pouring from solid rock.  I had to look twice to make sure I saw it right.  There it was, a pure spring gushing from a crack in the rock.  Ryan and I scrambled down.  We just stared at it.  Ryan put his ear to the ledge; he could hear the water flowing through it.  I decided to drink from it, and quickly filled up my bottle and reservoir.  The water wasn’t simply cold, it was chilled.  And it was the most delicious water I ever tasted.  We both sat there, drinking to our hearts’ content.  The smallest thing became the most surprising.  I immediately began to feel better as my strength returned.  We called it “Blessing Spring”.  We didn’t want to leave.  Eventually, we did.  We were refreshed and invigorated.

View across the canyon

View across the canyon

A long, steep descent to Mehoopany Creek followed as rapids glistened in the sun.  We hiked upstream and took a break along the water in the bright sun.  Our hike continued along the valley into an area which appeared to have subsided from the floods; a distinct fault marked the place where the land subsided.  Surprisingly, the forest remained unaffected.

Spectacular

Spectacular

We reached the unnamed creek and passed a campsite with old cookware.  The bottom of the gorge was covered with fallen trees and flood erosion.  A ten foot falls soon greeted us.  Large boulders littered the creek as we scrambled.  Ahead was a long waterslide and an impressive grotto with a stunning falls about 40 feet in height.

Highest falls in the Waterfall Gorge

Highest falls in the Waterfall Gorge

A difficult scramble around the highest falls revealed more waterslides and pools.  The gorge was precipitous with steep slopes, making it difficult to crawl out.  We looked up to see a stunning sight- three waterfalls descending the gorge.  We were able to crawl behind the second falls as a curtain of water got us wet.  Another tough scramble followed where we reached a beautiful grotto at the top of the gorge.  There was another falls where we were able to crawl behind.

Beautiful view looking up the gorge

Beautiful view looking up the gorge

We sat at the top of the gorge and looked down with its large boulders and bedrock slides.  Fractured cliffs framed the gorge.  We were amazed by the scenery.  If this gorge was close to a road, it would be a state park.

We explored another ledge and then made our way out to the road through forests with ground pine and blueberry bushes.  A road walk followed back to the car, bringing an end to another epic journey in SGL 57.

We travel the world to see places we’ve never been, when such places exist in our own backyards.

Photos and videos of the hike.

Location of the Waterfall Gorge.

Kayaking the Loyalsock Creek

Jay Lewis running Haystacks Rapids.  Photo by Steve Graley.

Jay Lewis running Haystacks Rapids. Photo by Steve Graley.

The Loyalsock is a trail and a state forest, both known for their scenic beauty.  Before either of these, it was the name of a creek that flowed through a deepening gorge with rapids and side stream waterfalls. A few weeks ago, a couple friends and I met to kayak the creek from US 220 to Worlds End State Park.  The weather was incredibly sunny with a deep blue sky.  We felt the warmth of spring.  However, the Loyalsock is known for its clear, frigid water, which reminded us winter was not that long ago.

The level was about 4 feet on the USGS gauge.  We paddled over some ledge rapids below US 220 that had surf waves.  Soon Dutchman Falls appeared on the left as the creek burrowed through hemlock forests.  The bouncy rapids grew more significant with longer wave trains.  More side streams cascaded into the creek as we floated over deep clear pools.  The famous Haystacks soon appeared and we got out of our boats to scout.  Everyone ran the rapid successfully.  The Haystack are always a little intimidating from the water.  A maze of boulders appeared before me and the current through them is very tricky with boils and crazy currents.  I tried to paddle into an eddy, but the current deflected me,  I was about to go over the drop backwards until I paddled furiously to get into the eddy.  I turned around and attempted a diagonal line over the drop.  However, I clipped the hole at the bottom of the drop and  flipped over.  Thankfully, a roll saved me from having to swim in the freezing water.  The powerful water roared between the rounded boulders.   More fun rapids awaited us downstream, but the creek mellowed out as we reached a bridge, where we got out to eat.  I drained my boat and was surprised to see how much water it had.  As we relaxed in the sun, a large group of backpackers hiking the Loyalsock Trail passed above us on the bridge.  We waved.  Everyone loves the Loyalsock.

After returning to the water, we passed a cliff with cascading springs and towering ice columns.  We soon reached the beginning of S-Bend Rapid.  Here, the creek is incredibly beautiful as slanted cliffs loom over a swirling pool with a small beach on the opposite shore.  Ahead, the creek flowed along the base of a cliff that rose over 200 feet.  S-Bend Rapid has changed from the floods, making it an even more fun, and challenging rapid.  A powerful slide shot me into a wave as I paddled to reach a pool.  Below there was a steep boulder rapid with large waves and a hole that could flip a kayak.  Massive boulders littered the shore, tossed into place by the floods. I began in the center of the rapid and gradually moved right, punching through the big waves as I paddled between two boulders.  Looking upstream, to see the whitewater rapid and the massive cliffs, was a memorable sight.

The fun wasn’t over.  Another challenging rapid was just downstream where I nearly missed a tree that had fallen into the creek.  My boat felt heavy and sluggish.  As we entered Worlds End State Park, the rapids picked up, as did the scenery.  This is such a beautiful state park.  Multi-colored cliffs rose above us as springs tumbled into the creek.  High Rock Falls roared above us as we paddled through waves.  My boat was so heavy, a wave nearly made my boat stand on its end.  I got out and looked into my boat, it had several gallons of water in it.  It appeared the hull was cracked.

We got changed in the state park as the steep mountains rose around us.  The Loyalsock, whether it be the creek, state forest or trail, is such a special place.  We are blessed to have it so close.  The roar of the creek filled the gorge as the bright sun filled the azure sky.  Days as perfect as this are few and far between.

A video of the paddling trip down the creek, courtesy of Steve Graley.