Bartlett Mountain is a section of a vast high plateau that spreads across Wyoming, Sullivan, and northern Luzerne Counties. What makes Bartlett so unique is what lies at the top of it- a series of windswept balds. I have known about these balds for a few years, and this past weekend I was able to explore most of them. It proved to be one of the most challenging, diverse, and beautiful hikes I have ever done, even if the weather did not always cooperate.
I met Wes, Ryan and his dog Cali at the gravel game commission trailhead at 8 am. It was a cool and cloudy morning, as fog hung to the higher elevations. We decided to make our ascent via White Brook. The hike began across a meadow and up through a pine plantation before reaching an old forest grade that steeply ascends the mountain. We left the grade and dropped to the creek, so we followed flood-torn White Brook up. We hiked along the creek and traversed waterslides over red bedrock exposed by the floods. The first feature was White Brook Falls, which appeared more beautiful than I remembered. It is about 15 feet high. It spouted down a ledge into a deep pool; large boulders were further down below. In high water, the falls also features a steep slide on the left.
We slowly picked our way up the creek, which only grew more beautiful. The steep glen was filled with huge, white boulders with curtains of small waterfalls between them. Deep pools hid among the jumbles of rock. At times, it felt more like rock climbing than hiking.
Our goal was the top of Bartlett, not White Brook. So we eventually left the creek and made a steep climb to a rock ledge with a view through the trees where we took a break. I was sweating hiking up along the creek, but at the ledge it was much cooler as I felt my sweat evaporate into the chilled air. We headed west to reach the top and soon there were cliffs, small caves, and huge boulders. On top was the first bald with a small sign commemorating it to the memory of Tom Sands. We explored tops of the surrounding cliffs and then headed west to another outcrop, and further west into a thick hemlock and pine forest that was very green with a beautiful scent. Ahead was an even larger bald as some ice droplets began to fall from the heavy, rolling clouds.
It is easy to get lost on the top of these plateaus with no obvious peak to orient your direction. I felt we were too far west, and I knew we needed to head east with the hope to find the cliff rim, which we would follow north to more balds. That was easier said than done. The forests were incredibly diverse with white pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, laurel, and blueberry. This diversity also made the forest incredibly thick and at times we spent most of our hiking hunched over, trying to avoid branches as our feet sunk into the sodden carpets of moss.
We fought through the forest and reached some small balds where teaberry was trying to grow over the exposed bedrock. Some berries were ripe, so we ate them and enjoyed the sweet, minty taste. We soon pushed on.
We fought through the forest again, but it soon became more open. We soon reached the cliff rim as a grove of spruce hid large boulders. Relieved, we proceeded north over the barren bedrock and under windswept spruce and pine.
The cliff rim revealed overhanging cliffs, and small caves and crevasses as boulders calved from the caprock of the plateau. The conglomerate was pebbly and bleached white. Thick groves of spruce bunched together as heath-like barrens stretched into the distance. There were some views to Firetower Mountain; even Elk Mountain could be seen despite the clouds and mist, almost 30 miles away.
The scenery was impressive, although the weather was cold and raw. Short showers would pass and I soon put on a rain jacket as we got a quick bite to eat.
We then headed west, keeping along the north rim of the cliffs. The balds were not as large, but the forest was impressive and diverse. There were also some huge rock outcrops and deep chasms. Hardwoods became more common, but the rocks were still unique. I passed what I call Jigsaw Puzzle Rocks where all these boulders heaved, separated by narrow passageways and crevices- resembling pieces of a puzzle. We also reached a cool overhang and more narrow passages, resembling a maze.
The next highlight was Burgess Hollow Vista, offering a wide panorama despite the clouds. Nearby was an old fieldstone foundation. We began our return by following an old forest road. Sadly, someone is turning this into a rutted, muddy track for a big wheeled truck and many trees were cut. This is not allowed on game lands.
We made our way back to Big Deer Swamp as the rain showers became more frequent. We moved to stay warm. We decided to extend our hike by heading down Big Deer Run to show Wes the Flat Top Cliffs. This trail was beautiful as it tunneled through thick, healthy hemlock (an increasingly rare sight), crossed a bald, and followed the creek down to a small falls. We left this beautiful trail and climbed to the Flat Top Cliffs.
As we traversed the rim of the cliffs, fighting through spruce and fir, the rain fell more heavily. The views were socked in. As we fought through the trees, we became soaked and hypothermia became an issue. We had to keep moving. I had to focus and watch my step as we crossed the tops of the cliffs and crevices.
We bushwacked to the east, following the contour around the plateau and passed a huge cliff and a smaller bald. Next was a descent to Flat Top Vista, also known by Ravens Rock, and other names. The view was amazing as wisps of fog and mist draped over the Mehoopany Creek Gorge and side hollows. The rain ceased as the fog began to lift towards us. Tiers of mountains dissolved into the distant fog. We soon became too cold from being wet, so we resumed hiking.
From there, we hiked down an old forest grade back to the car, bringing an end to our amazing journey. We hiked 14.6 miles. But we still need to go back. The balds would be phenomenal in clear weather, and I realized later that we also missed a series of balds to the south as we fought through the forest.
I look forward to my next adventure in the wilds of State Game Lands 57.
For more pictures, click here.
For a Google satellite image of the Bartlett Mountain Balds, click here.