I first visited the balds a few years ago. It was a grey, cloudy, raw day with freezing mist. We battled through the thick brush as the forests separated to reveal bedrock slabs and stunted vegetation. We all knew, even on such a forbidding day, that this was a special place.
Several posts in this blog describe this place. It is unique for Pennsylvania, having an alpine feel to it, with a sense of wilderness. The forest opens up, revealing skies framed by spruce and pine trees. Here you feel you are on top of a mountain as compared to simply being in the woods. There are a few places on the balds to see across the Mehoopany Creek valley, and even Elk Mountain, almost thirty miles away. Lowbush blueberry bushes carpet the balds, surrounded by red spruce trees. Trees exhibit flagging from high winds. Caves and overhangs lie underneath the balds. This is true bear country. The paths that do exist on the balds were first created by bears, and bear scat is a common sight.
One Autumn a few years ago, I climbed to the balds to be surprised by the deep red carpets from the lowbush blueberry. Even on a cloudy day, the colors were impressive. I have always wanted to return on a clear day. Recently, I was able to do just that.
I climbed up along White Brook as gold filled the forest canopy. Higher elevations had orange and red foliage. At the top of White Brook, I turned right (north) on another jeep trail or old forest road. After a half mile or so, I turned left (west) and bushwhacked through the forest. I soon reached the rim of white cliffs marking the balds. I found a deep cave, but decided not to enter in case there was a bear. I was able to scramble to the top, fighting through spruce, to see views of Elk Mountain. I was a little worried, some the lowbush blueberry were stripped bare of color. I headed north to the largest and was happy to see the blueberry bushes were still red.
The colors were amazing. Red covered the bedrock balds, as trees were gold, yellow, and red. The skies were deep blue and the bedrock was white. The spruce and pine were green. My eyes were overloaded with color. I sat there and took it all in; there was only silence and serenity. A hawk flew overhead, turning between the spruce.
The sun was setting, as shadows stretched across the balds and the colors grew deeper. Only pictures could do this diverse, beautiful place justice. I forgot to bring my headlamp and I needed to get off the mountain before it became dark. I headed east back into the woods. I soon reached an old trail or forest road, close to the balds. I turned right and followed it. This trail led me back to the jeep road or old forest road, which I followed back to White Brook. I found a fairly easy and direct way to hike to the balds.
I hiked back down the mountain and I could hear White Brook Falls in the gorge far below. This would be a hike I would not soon forget- an amazing kaleidoscope of colors in a mountaintop wilderness.