Panther Creek Nature Preserve

Waterslide on Panther Creek

Panther Creek is a tributary of the Lackawanna River.  It gathers its waters on the broad slopes of Moosic Mountain before making a mad dash down the mountain along bedrock waterslides and cascading waterfalls in jungles of rhododendron.

The Panther Creek Nature Preserve is privately owned, but it is open to the public for hiking.  To reach the preserve, park at the D&H Rail Trail access in Simpson, and walk north on the rail trail for just over a mile.  There is a sign for the preserve on the right.  Follow the creek up; there is no formal trail system.

The rail trail is not as developed as others, but it is an enjoyable walk.  The rapids of the Lackawanna River roared off to the left, and I could see the whitewater through the trees.  In fact, as we walked out, a whitewater paddler was carrying his boat in to play on some of the surf waves.  I was amazed by how much color were in the trees.  Most of the forests in the area are still mostly green.

The fall foliage on the mountain was nearing peak with the birches blazing bright yellow.  The creek began with some small cascades and slides into a pool.  Up ahead was a huge cascading waterslide with a large boulder in the middle of it.  The sloping bedrock of conglomerate and sandstone create all these waterworks.  Be careful when hiking up the creek, there are many slick spots.  Hiking poles are recommended.

The slides were non-stop as rhododendrons hung over the creek and moss carpeted the ledges and rocks.  The water was crystal clear as it slid over the pebbly conglomerate.

We entered a hidden grotto of gushing water that slid from a tunnel of rhododendrons.  The trail was across the creek on the right and led to more waterfalls and slides.  The scenery was superb.

Beautiful Panther Creek

Up ahead was a 30 foot falls over spring-slicked ledges.  Cliffs and rock overhangs lined the creek, augmenting the sound of the water.  The gradient of the creek became steeper with many cascades squeezing between boulders.  Soon I reached the remnants of a breached dam; most dams arch upstream, but this one arched downstream, a strange design.  Further it could not have held much water back.

The highest falls roared above.  The trail to climb them was steep under hemlocks and large angulare boulders.  I reached the cliff rim featuring a double falls under golden fall foliage.

Falls and foliage

I thought I reached the top, but I was mistaken.  The creek revealed more cascades.  Another long slide appeared as it snaked under an overhanging ledge.  Perfectly circular pools were worn into the bedrock, holding sunken leaves colored brightly with red, orange, and yellow.

The waterslides continued, but became more gradual.  They were hidden in a small glen with birch and hemlocks.

I retraced my steps, amazed by the beauty of this glen. Colorful leaves slowly fell to the forest floor and covered the slick ledges.  Moss dripped with spring water under the twisted, sprawling branches of rhododendron.  The crystalline water magnified the green of the moss and lichens over the gray and white bedrock.

This is one of the best-kept secrets in northeast Pennsylvania.

More pictures.

A video of Panther Creek.

 

 

Hiking the Taconics

At the Riga Shelter for lunch

The Taconics are a range of mountains where the borders of Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts meet.  The Appalachian Trail (AT) explores some of these mountains, which offers crystal clear streams, cascades, and deep forests.  While the Taconics offer only modest elevations, they make up for it with views.  Several mountains have grassy balds and cliffs that offer amazing vistas that rival mountains that are much higher.

This past weekend I met up with Bryan, Ian, Matt, and Pat for a hike through the Taconics, ending near famed Bash Bish Falls.  We began on the AT as it gradually climbed a ridge.  The weather was overcast and humid, although we were treated to sporadic sunshine.  The climb continued to Lion’s Head, an overlook of the Connecticut countryside with lakes reflecting silver in the distance.  Due to crowds, we did not stay long.

The AT leveled off and we were soon at the Riga Shelter, a small shelter with a great view through the trees.  We ate lunch as several monarch butterflies drifted past us, following the mountains to the south. We continued on the AT as Autumn singed the canopies with orange and yellow; ferns were golden.  We reached a stream crossing with several people taking a break.  We asked about the weather and a lady said there was a chance of thunderstorms, but the likelihood was decreasing with the new forecasts.

We would learn much different that evening.

 

Hint of Autumn on the AT

 

Our hike took us off the AT and we followed a side trail to a hut owned by the AMC in a hemlock grove.  We filled up on water, ate, and were soon on our way, with an increasingly steep climb up Round Mtn, with some nice views.  Bear Mountain rose to the east as thickening clouds gathered.  The trail descended and then climbed Mt. Frissell; although the summit is in Massachusetts, the state border with Connecticut cuts across the southern slope of the mountain.  As a result, the highest point in Connecticut is on the south slope of Mt. Frissell.  We stopped at a cairn marking the highest point in CT; not a breathtaking spot, but there was a nice view.  It was odd to be at a state high point when the mountain continued to rise higher.

Sitting in three states- NY, MA, CT

We descended down from Frissell and reached the tri-point marker of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.   A climb followed up Brace Mtn, our final mountain for the day.  As we reached the ridge of Brace, the clouds broke and we were treated to sunshine.  A great view showed valleys and ponds far below.   But the atmosphere was alive; you could feel the moisture as distant clouds slowly gathered across the sky. We climbed to the summit of Brace with an open grassy bald and amazing views.  There was a cairn and a windsock.  The sun continued to shine, but dark clouds loomed to the south and east.  The west was mostly sunny.  I thought we were safe.  We weren’t.

My tent at the summit of Brace Mountain

We pitched our tents and I pitched mine with views of the Taconics and Berkshires.  Mt. Greylock and the Catskills were hidden by distant clouds.  This was the first time I camped on top of a mountain.  My hopes for a great sunset were dashed when a stream of fast moving clouds flowed in a single line to the west.  The dark clouds to the south and east expanded, covering Frissell and Bear Mountains.  Soon the cloud wall reached Brace as the sun was extinguished, leaving us with an odd rose-colored glow in the clouds as the sun tried to fight through.  The summit was socked in as we ate food and put on more clothes in the steady wind.  The wet mist rifled over the bare summit as the wind sock flapped constantly.

There was little point in staying up.  I crept into my small tent around 7:30 pm, wondering if the storms were approaching.  The wind twisted and shook my tent, and I drifted into an uneasy sleep. I awoke to a strange flash.  Was my headlamp on?  Was that a lightning bug?  Car head lights?  It happened again, and again.  There was no noise.  Rain began to splatter my tent.  I realized it was lightning, but took comfort there was no thunder.  The storms must be far away, I thought. Soon the winds raked my tent as it was pounded furiously by a deluge.  Lightning continued to glow through the thin nylon.  The rain was so intense, it sounded as if it was boiling and hissing against my tent.  My poles bent with the howling winds as the nylon flapped and then snapped tight as the wind changed direction.  The only thing saving me was a thin membrane of fabric.  I stayed calm, if the poles held together, I should be safe, I reasoned.  The spikes seemed to be holding the tent to the ground.  My tent fly was also secured.  I was thankful for bringing my one-man bivy tent- the low profile was a saving grace.  The noiseless lightning continued with occasional blasts.  It was as if we were in the middle of the storm, where thunder could not be heard.  The pounding rain continued for about an hour.  The storm eventually abated and I drifted off to sleep.  I looked out once after the storms subsided.  The summit was covered with a veil of ghostly mist; there was just enough light to see the dwarved, twisted trees.

Sunrise from Brace Mountain- the morning after the storm

I awoke the next morning to some faint light.  I zipped open my tent to see clear, cool skies and wisps of mist draped over the mountains.  Fog hung in the deeper valleys and hollows.  The Catskills rose in the distance, capped with clouds.  The sun gradually rose, shining on the Catskills with a pink glow.  The sun rose behind low, distant clouds to the east, and the edges of the clouds burned with electricty before the sun appeared.  The valleys filled with sunlight as Brace Mountain cast its shadow across the lower hills.  The wind was still blowing.  Everyone survived the storm, and the pole holding the wind sock was pushed to the ground.
We ate, packed, and were soon on the trail, heading to Alander Mountain.  The creeks were running strong with runoff from the storm, and the trail was even flooded in one section.  A few hours later we climbed up Alander as the trail tunneled through scrub oak and stunted trees to several vistas.  The trail went up and over several false summits before reaching the true summit from an exposed ridge.  The views were spectacular.  You could see Frissell, Brace, the Catskills, and the Hudson Valley.  The outskirts of Albany were to the north.  Clouds swept across deep blue skies, leaving shadows across the forests.

Summit of Alander Mountain

We hiked down from the summit, passing a spooky cabin that doubles as a trail shelter.  A creek was running in the trail.  The terrain eased as the path explored hemlock forests and reached a creek with small waterfalls.  We hiked across meadows and returned to the car.  A short drive took us to Bash Bish Falls, the highest in Massachusetts.  The rugged gorge is impressive as the bedrock has been sculpted by the power of the clear water.  The falls leaps from behind a spire of rock into a deep pool.  Rapids and cascades roar both above and below the main falls.  A view from the top offered a final view of the Catskills as the walls of the gorge opened up to farmlands below.
Our journey through the Taconics was complete.
More pictures.

Osterhout Mountain

View of Lake Carey

Thirty mile views to the south

Located near Tunkhannock, Osterhout Mountain rises to an elevation of 1,900 feet; it also features a respectable 1,300 foot vertical rise from the Susquehanna River.  The mountain is also known as Shadowbrook Mountain.

We began the hike in late afteroon to enjoy the views with a setting sun.  There were showers earlier in the day; clouds alternated with sunshine and a deep blue sky.

Our route was a dirt road the climbs up the mountain to access some communication towers.  A pipeline clearing created the views.  Although the mountain is privately owned, we did not encounter any no trespassing signs during our hike.

The first view was to the north, as we overlooked Lake Carey and the rolling fields and forests that stretched off into the distance.  Towering, white cumulus clouds threatened with rain.  I would not be surprised if you could see into New York.  The mountain offers 20-40 mile views.

We reached the top and enjoyed a view to the south, the best view from the mountain.  Bald Mountain rose in the distance, and the ridges on the far side of Wilkes-Barre could be seen.  Closer was a mosaic of fields, meadows, and ponds with rolling green hills.  You could even see a part of Lake Winola.

We sat and enjoyed the remarkable view as the clouds shifted over the landscape, leaving draperies of rain showers.

Rain showers to the north

We made our way back down the mountain and came across a semi-tame doe.  She allowed me to get within twenty feet of her before running off into the woods.

We reached the car in the twilight, imagining what the view must look like in the Autumn.

More pictures.

Iroquois Trail

Iroquois Trail

Located outside of Tunkhannock is the new Iroquois Trail, a 3 mile rail-trail that is ideal for walking or biking.  The trailhead parking area is paved and located along Sunnyside Road, near the 911/Emergency Center.

I visited the trail one evening, and was surprised by how nice it was.  The trail follows a gentle grade with thick forests of hardwoods and hemlocks.  It follows the Tunkhannock Creek upstream, but stays high above the creek.  Many ledges and rock overhangs are along the trail, often covered with moss, ferns, or white lichens.  Benches are along the trail.

Although the trail is easy, it does cross above steep banks.  Keep an eye on children if they are riding their bikes.

I did not walk the entire trail, but I believe it ends suddenly since the county only owns so much of the former rail line.  There is talk of extending the trail.

The Iroquois Trail is an ideal place to go for a walk, run, or quick bike ride.

Evening rainbow

 

Backpacking the Ketchum Run Gorge Loop

Cottonwood Falls, Worlds End State Park

South of Worlds End State Park, the Loyalsock Trail (LT) intersects with a variety of state park trails, state forest trails, and bridle and cross country ski trails, providing numerous opportunities to create loop hikes.  One of my favorites is the Ketchum Run Gorge Loop, which is described in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  While the Loyalsock-Link Loop has become popular, this circuit offers more isolation and enables backpackers to experience one of the scenic highlights of the Loyalsock Trail- Ketchum Run Gorge- without backtracking or having to shuttle cars for a linear hike.

Tim and Ryan accompanied me on this hike.  The route we followed is a little different from the one in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  All told, this loop was about 17 miles.  Because there are many different trails you must follow, this circuit is best for experienced hikers.

We began at Worlds End State Park under overcast skies with an occasional ray of sunshine.  We followed the LT west as it climbed steeply out of the park to a narrow view and an old grade known as Pioneer Road, the original road through the canyon.  It is hard to imagine that horse drawn carriages traversed this treacherous terrain.  The LT descended to Double Run, where a short side hike took us to Cottonwood Falls.  Although not very high, the falls tumbles into an impressive aquamarine pool that was crystal clear.  A grotto of spring-slicked ledges encompassed the falls.

We hiked down, and then up the other branch of Double Run, a stream known for its beauty with many cascades and slides.  The mist in the forests seemed to make the air that much more humid.  The overcast skies really brought out the deep green of the forests.

We climbed to Canyon Vista and enjoyed the view as we spoke to a man who moved to Pennsylvania from North Carolina.  He was out exploring the parks in the region, with his next destination being Ricketts Glen State Park.  We told him to check out Cottonwood Falls.

The hike brought us back to the LT along a beautiful treadway through a deep hardwood forest; cliffs and ledges loomed off to the left.

On the Loyalsock Trail

The loop required us to leave the LT as we followed a series of side trails through dense woodlands and hemlock forests; past mossy wetlands and streambeds reduced to a trickle.  Some of these are bridle trails, so we had to clomp through the mud created by horses.

We reached Fern Rock Nature Trail, a beautiful loop that is ideal for kids.  This trail meanders through a forest with every shade of green- from the canopies of hemlocks to moss and lichens on the rocks.  It was a trail we all enjoyed.  A short bushwhack followed along Ketchum Run, where there are two off-trail waterfalls and grottos of cliffs.

Our loop returned us to the LT for the final time as it followed Ketchum Run.  We camped at a large site along the creek as it babbled over rocks.  A woodpecker hammered a tree in the distance.  The sun shone briefly, but the clouds filtered the evening light until it became dark.  An owl hooted in the darkness.  It felt as if we were far from everywhere.

Lee’s Falls

A few light showers passed through the early morning, so I zipped up the fly on my tent.  I woke to a moist world with dew glazing the forest.

We continued down the trail, entering Ketchum Run’s impressive gorge.  Another group were camping near Lee’s Falls, with its curtain of white over ledges carpeted with moss.  We hiked down the now-abandoned RX-4 trail along the creek.

The gorge was impressive with deep pools and several small waterfalls.  The LT climbed the side of the gorge on a new re-route, and then descended to Rode’s Falls and its ladder.

Rode’s Falls

We rested for a few minutes at the campsite below the falls before the climb out of the gorge and to Lower Alpine Vista.  This view is from a large cliff, offering a panorama down a forested valley veiled with mist.

Cali and Tim at Lower Alpine Vista

Another steep climb followed before the trail followed the rim of the gorge, with another view.  Once on the plateau, we hiked through deep, emerald hemlock forests before leaving the LT to continue on the Worlds End Trail.  This trail featured nice woodlands and a pine plantation with a great campsite.  Since hiking it a few years ago, the trail is much better established.

The final descent was very steep, as white and green colored cliffs rose overhead.  We soon were back at Worlds End just before it began to rain.

It was great to see several other people backpacking.  There was a man and his young son, a man and his young daughter, and a group of about ten teenagers.  There was also a couple dayhiking Ketchum Run Gorge; they were from Iowa and New Jersey.

The map of the area where we hiked can be found here.  The approximate sequence is as follows from Worlds End: LT-30-26-25-24-22-21-Fern Rock Nature Trail-bushwhack along Ketchum Run-LT-6-10-11-14-12-Worlds End State Park.

With its combination of vistas, numerous waterfalls, mountain streams, scenic forests, great camping, and fairly good isolation, it would be tough to find a better one night backpacking loop.

More pictures.