The faint morning light slowly illuminated my tent. I zipped it open and looked out. Light began to rise through the bare forests, as the sky above resembled, for a few moments, the dusk from the prior evening. The second day had begun.
I got my things together and was on the trail first. I was feeling good. The trail made and increasingly steep climb up to the ridge of Jacks Mountain. At the top, the sun rose above the ridges to the east as heavy fog hung in the valleys below. A light breeze played with the leaves on the forest floor.
I passed a log caked with congealed blood and tufts of fur. I looked at it for a split second. Nothing else remained.
The trail reached Shorb’s Summit with its fine views to the west. The Juniata River twisted within its deep valley, partially veiled by mist. The blue morning skies met growing clouds on the horizon.
This would be a day of contrasts- blue skies to clouds, roads and towns to steep climbs and isolation, soft breezes to howling winds, the present to the remnants of our past.
The trail descended to phenomenal Clark’s Vista. Both Kevin and Amanda were immediately impressed. Symmetrical ridges expanded like waves towards the horizon. The trail then followed a series of narrow switchbacks on old dinky railroad grades that were once used for quarries. In places, moss covered ties were embedded in the grade.
We reached a flat area carved into the side of the mountain along the dinky grade. It was once used for the quarry operations. Cliffs and ledges towered over us. There were two men dayhiking up from the Thousand Steps. One man asked about our hike and the trail, his eyes widened with a desire to explore more of it. He was amazed we had hiked all the way from Greenwood Furnace. He said he wanted to hike it someday.
There were more great views down into Mapleton as rock outrops capped the side of the mountain. Over a thousand feet below was the Juniata River as it flowed through Jacks Narrows, one of the deepest water gaps in the east. We soon reached the Dinky House where the trains were repaired. I took a picture into the vast chasm that is Jacks Narrows.
We reached the famous Thousand Steps with its long staircases across talus slopes and forests of pine and hemlock. The steps were built for quarry workers a century ago so they could climb the mountain to work the quarry. It is now one of the region’s most popular hiking destinations. In summer, there are thousands of little lizards along the steps. Today, there were several dayhikers, each striving with a personal challenge to climb the steps. We had the luxury of descending the steps, although our knees didn’t think so.
At the bottom of the steps the trail followed a grade high above US 22. Rust colored cliffs rose hundreds of feet above us. We also passed a multi-colored outcrop that once reached the river, but had been cut back by the canal, railroads, and highway to its present location.
We reached Mapleton as the skies began to cloud over and crossed over the beautiful Juniata River, its clear aquamarine water flowing over cobblestones. I’ve paddled much of this wonderful river with its stunning gorges, viaducts, and ancient canal walls, islands filled with birdlife, and water brimming with smallmouth and rock bass. This journey was different, instead of lush, temperate jungles along the river with herons and bald eagles, I would visit windswept vistas and rock-strewn ridges. Part of me wanted to go down the river, but the trail took me in a different direction.
We crossed into Mapleton when I noticed an animal wandering around. It was small, dark colored, four-legged. It was a chihuahua running around town. It’s the first chihuahua I’ve seen on the loose, and the first that didn’t bark. I half thought it was feral. I laughed to myself with the thought of packs of wild chichuahuas roaming the woods, chasing hikers, creeping around tents, stealing food, speaking in a Spanish accent, talking about tacos.
Mapleton was a nice town, but didn’t have a single restaurant. We did pass a mother trying to teach her teenage daughter how to parallel park.
The trail then entered watershed lands and followed scenic Scrub Run. The run entered a shaded, narrow gorge through which a cold wind blew. Moss covered rocks and the stream banks. The gorge suddenly opened up into a beautiful wooded valley with aromatic pine trees and small, clear streams. This bucolic setting was the calm before the storm, for the trail went straight up the mountain. It was an unrelenting climb of over a thousand feet to the top of the ridge and Windy Vista. The vista lived up to its name. The clouds had moved in and shaded the endless ridges purple; scars of talus draped the mountains. A light drizzle sporadically blew through the air. The thought of reaching the shelter became even more enticing, but it was still miles away.
The trail explored the wide, forested ridge. It wasn’t even that rocky. I could feel myself grow tired, my legs felt heavier. The trail descended to a pipeline, followed it, and crossed a small stream. A short, steep climb led to a series of dirt forest roads to cross private property. The trail returned to state forest land to begin another steep climb to the highest ridge and one of the trail’s highlights- Throne Room Vista.
I pulled myself up the mountain, my poles scraping the rocks. The winds picked up. The winds swirled and contorted, heavy with the darkness of the late afternoon. I reached Throne Room, buffeted by winds as the ridges stretched into the distance, fading into a cool, autumn twilight. The diversity of terrain was breathtaking, from wide valleys to rugged water gaps. From here, I could see almost the entire distance I hiked. Winds raked the ridge, as the trees creaked and moaned. The speeding clouds seemed so close.
At the western horizon, the clouds began to break and sunlight filtered through. I knew light was fading fast. I continued along the ridge with views in all directions, and carefully crossed Hall of the Mountain King, a saddle between the ridges covered with boulders.
New trail was contructed to Butler Knob as it explored thickets of laurel. As I reached the knob, I was treated to an amazing sunset, the last light of the day.
Butler Knob offers an amazing view to the south, but it was masked in twilight. The lights of Orbisonia twinkled in the valley below.
The trail switchbacked off the ridge and reached the new Butler Knob Shelter, embedded in a birch forest. It was dark and Kevin and Amanda had a fire going. It was a beautiful shelter, featuring cut firewood, a fire ring, picnic table, even toilet paper. It was nice to be in the comfort and safety of the shelter. We ate our food as the winds whipped the trees. I crawled my sore, aching body into my sleeping bag to get some sleep. We hiked about 22 miles today over the biggest climbs and descents of the trail. My body begged for rest, my muscles seared with exhaustion. We all tried to sleep as fierce winds roared along the ridge.
We were over half-way, but the end still seemed so far away. The trail wasn’t done with me yet.