Hiking Coalbed Swamp-SGL 57


As the numerous articles in this blog illustrate, SGL 57 is a place of incredible beauty and diversity. Just when I think I’ve seen all it has to offer, I discover someplace new. That happened to me this past Spring. I’ve long known of Coalbed Swamp, it is one of the most biodiverse places in the region and a favored destination for birdwatchers searching for rarer species.  I’ve explored the northern part of the swamp. But, I didn’t think much else was there. I was completely wrong.

Ben suggested a visit to Coalbed Swamp and we explored it over two hikes. This place blew me away. The rock formations, chasms, caves, and spruce forests with carpets of moss made this an incredibly beautiful destination. The isolation only added to its splendor. This place does not feel like Pennsylvania, but instead northern Maine.

Want to hike Coalbed? You should be an experienced and adventurous hiker. Keep in mind a few things. First, this is mostly an off trail hike. The hike roughly goes around the perimeter of the swamp. Second, the mountain laurel is very thick on the southern part of the hike along the boulders and ledges. Third, it is best to go when the game commission gate on the access road is open during hunting season, typically the in Fall, late September to early January, and mid-April to the end of May. When the gate is closed, hiking up Red Brook from the parking area near Stony Brook Lane makes for an incredibly satisfying round trip. Park at the coal mine, located at 41.472084, -76.205270. Fourth, expect wet areas and wet feet.

From the coal mine, the entrance is now gated, we scrambled to the top of it and walked to an eroded old forest road or ATV trail. We took this to the right and soon turned left onto a more obscure old ATV trail which entered a hemlock forest an a bog. We crossed the bog and continued on the old trail. (It is possible to hike to the left of the bog to bypass it.) It descended at the location of a second mine entrance, which was flooded. Do not enter this mine.

An off trail hike followed to the west as we followed a line of cliffs and ledges. In places the laurel and blueberry bushes were very thick. We dropped down to some large rocks which revealed an amazing rock maze and chasm a few hundred feet long and maybe 30 feet deep. The passages were awesome to explore. We hiked along a cliff wall and some overhangs. Soon, the laurel became very thick and we did our best to hike through it, staying close to the cliffs. It may be easier to hike the top of the cliffs to bypass the thick laurel below, as there is a somewhat overgrown bear path.

The laurel receded and we entered a spruce forest of amazing beauty with mist and carpets of moss. Truly amazing. We also saw some black spruce, rare for this area as it is usually found further north. We could not believe the sublime beauty of this forest. The rocks also amazed us with giant boulders and stacks that loomed through the trees. We came upon Arrowhead Rock, an impressive pedestal with a giant triangular rock on top, perched as if it were about to fall off. Behind Arrowhead Rock was a chasm and one of the larger caves in SGL 57. A couple hundred feet north is Underworld Chasm, a deep, sheer chasm into the bedrock, 30-40 feet deep, only a few feet wide, and was frigid cold despite it being a warm day on our hike. Springs dripped down the sides of the chasm, and part of Underworld Chasm was underground, capped with rock and trees.

On our first hike we continued along the southeast perimeter of the swamp which revealed more spruce, impressive rocks, and amazing habitats. We then reached the old forest road above the mine and returned to our cars.  On the map above, the route from Underworld Chasm to the coal mine is not shown.

On the second hike, we hiked around the west side of Coalbed Swamp, revealing more spruce, moss, and rock balds. The forests were incredibly scenic. It was difficult to get open views of the swamp. We reached the old forest road north of the swamp, took that south to Red Brook with more giant rocks, and back to our cars. You can easily hike 5-7 miles exploring the Coalbed Swamp area.

If you want to explore the swamp when the game commission road is gated, one idea is to hike up Red Brook from Stony Brook and Windy Valley Road.  Red Brook has a beautiful gorge and two waterfalls.  See the Red Brook Gorge Loop hike.

Be careful, bring a friend, treat it with respect and enjoy this special place.

Photos and video:

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SGL 57 rocks, in the boulder mazes.

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SGL 57 has endless rock features.

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Forests of SGL 57.

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Waterfalls of Burgess Brook Gorge-SGL 57


Red is off trail.  Orange is old ATV trail.  Yellow are grades or old forest roads.  There are wet areas on the top of the plateau.  SGL 57 boundary extends further down Burgess Brook than shown on this map.  There are no bridges across streams.  Map is modeled off of one prepared by Ben Van Riper.

Burgess Brook is another of SGL 57’s beautiful places. When I first started exploring SGL 57 over a decade ago, the vista at the top of the brook was one of the first places I visited. I never considered exploring the creek below, thinking there weren’t any waterfalls. As it turns out, there are several beautiful falls in this rugged gorge. The beauty of this area does not stop.

Private land blocks the bottom part of the gorge, so a long hike from the White Brook parking area is required. The hike down into, and out of, the gorge is steep and rugged, although an old grade does provide access. Only experienced hikers should attempt this trek. Ryan joined me on this hike.

Like so many hikes in SGL 57, begin at the game commission parking area at White Brook, along Windy Valley Road. Cross a field to the northwest corner, hike up past some houses, enter a pine forest where the trail became steeper, and then reach the old grade above White Brook, which you should followed up. This hike has choices. Route A on the map is the easiest to navigate, but the climb is relentless. Route C is the most scenic, as it stays close to White Brook with its large boulders and cascades, although the grade can be a little hard to follow after crossing the creek and proceeding north to Route B. Route B is a fine route, offering a more gradual ascent with views down into the gorge of White Brook and a stream crossing with cascades. A good idea is to take C up and return via B. When crossing White Brook, expect erosion and steep slopes from recent floods.

At the top, reach a wet area and follow an old ATV trail as it climbs to the base of the Bartlett Mountain Balds. There forests here are scenic with fern meadows and spruce trees. The old ATV trail fades out and an easy bushwhack is required through open woodlands with spruce and large hardwoods. Wet areas return and another ATV trail makes an appearance, which I followed down to an obvious old forest grade or road. Turn left here.

We hiked out to the vista. Grades also provide access down into the gorge. The top two falls are nice, but can be missed. The remaining falls should not be missed. It is best to hike down the steep grade to the east of Burgess Brook to the bottom where there is a stunning 15 foot falls in a beautiful gorge. We went behind this falls. It is then best to hike off trail up Burgess Brook to see the other falls. Reach a falls with three drops, totaling about 50 feet. Above was a 30 foot falls. There were nonstop smaller falls and cascades. The beauty was incredible. Above the 30 foot falls was an old grade you can use to hike back out. There are two more falls above, one was inundated with trees, and the top falls was unique as it tumbled over a broad ledge, we were able to hike behind this one as well. Overall, however, the falls in the bottom half of the gorge are more scenic.

While enjoying the falls, surrounded by the roar of water. Ryan told me to look downstream where we saw a mother bear and three cubs crossing the cascades on a log. An amazing sight. They didn’t hear us due to the roar of the water. They ambled into the woods as the cubs seem to bounce along, exploring logs and stumps.

We made our way back across the wilderness of the plateau, our legs exhausted from the long hike, as the sun began to set. Once again, we were amazed by the hidden beauty in our backyards. Pennsylvania is an amazing state.

Park at: 41.496512, -76.131986

Burgess Brook Gorge is at: 41.518219, -76.178261

The hike is about 6 miles, one way.  The Loyalsock Creek USGS gauge should read 2.0 feet or higher as an approximate correlation for good water flow.

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Cascades on Burgess Brook, SGL 57.

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Hiking to Cider Run Ledges and Coyote Rocks Vista-SGL 57


Yellow is the unblazed, unmarked trails.

The upper watershed of Bowmans Creek in SGL 57 features an extensive system of trails that lead to vistas, cliffs, cascades, and spruce forests. These trails are not blazed or signed, but they are fairly well established. I believe they were initially created by mountain bikers and have been in existence for over twenty years. This system offers excellent hiking and is an ideal destination for those looking for something different, but do not want to bushwhack.

Over the year, I hope to explore the entire trail system. On this hike, I did a 9 mile out and back hike to Cider Run Ledges and Coyote Rocks vista. I began at the parking area at Beth Run. I walked the road to the east a short distance, to a small pull off on the left, and followed the trail. The trail entered a scenic hardwood forest with ground pine and then made a gradual climb along an old grade. I reached the top, where a small cairn marked a trail juncture. I took the trail to the right, which goes to Cider Run Ledges. This trail may be a little hard to follow but as I hiked it became more obvious. It reached the edge of the plateau for a scenic “ridge walk” as it explored the top of the ledges. There were no open views, but the difference in terrain made for a very enjoyable hike. The trail then meandered near some spruce and then headed north, passing a boulder maze which was off to the right.

The trail descended gradually along an old railroad grade and passed more spruce. I hiked near some small streams and entered a scenic spruce tunnel. I crossed more small streams and passed near a wetland. The trail continued in a hardwood forest as ledges became more prominent. I soon reached the top of the Cider Run Ledges with the white conglomerate rock and spruce forests. There are no open views, but the isolated setting, large ledges, moss, and spruce made for great scenery. The trail continued north and I believe it may connect to Opossum Brook Road or the High Knob Trail. I stopped at the Cider Run Ledges.

I went off trail to explore the base of the ledges, something that I recommend you do. The scenery is excellent with mossy chasms, giant boulders, rock overhangs, small caves, and narrow crevices. I then retraced my steps back to the trail juncture.

I then turned right on the trail to the base of some large cliffs. The trail went around the cliffs and scrambled up some ledges in a tunnel of laurel. I then crossed the bedrock top of the cliffs with some spruce. Another beautiful spot on this trail. There was a view to the east. The trail entered the woods and meandered until it reached the edge of cliffs with views. The views culminated at Coyote Rocks Vista, a breathtaking spot where I could look up the broad Bowmans Creek valley. Giant angled boulders were beneath the vista. This view has no development, feels wild, and is great for sunsets. I then retraced my steps back to Beth Run as the forests faded into the twilight.

Back at the car, be sure to hike to Beth Run and see its cascades and grotto where it flows into Bowmans Creek.

These trails are a pleasure to hike. They are easiest to follow from late Spring, when plant growth begins, to before when the leaves fall in Autumn. The trails will be hard to follow with heavy leaf cover or snow.

GPS coordinates:

Parking at Beth Run: 41.361562, -76.165355

Where trail begins off the road: 41°21’46.16″N 76° 9’52.12″W

Cider Run Ledges: 41.387794, -76.169494

Cliff: 41.363398, -76.180046

Coyote Rocks Vista: 41.358615, -76.189458


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Cave at Cider Run Ledges, SGL 57.

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Chasms at Cider Run Ledges, SGL 57.

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Views across the highlands of SGL 57.

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Big cliffs above the trail. SGL 57.

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Crazy SGL 57 rock formations.

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Chasms in SGL 57, above Cider Run.

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Red Brook Gorge Loop-SGL 57

Click map for a detailed geo-referenced PDF.  Map courtesy of Ben Van Riper.

Red Brook is a gem in SGL 57. It features a rugged gorge with two waterfalls, cascades, slides, large boulders, and cliffs. The forests in the gorge are diverse and beautiful with spruce, hemlock, birch and maple. The rare Canadian yew clings to the tops of cliffs and boulders. Moss and ferns cover the giant boulders. The gorge conveys the feeling of being in a place much further north.

This diversity should not be a complete surprise, as Red Brook originates from Coalbed Swamp, a spruce boreal wetland that is one of the most diverse places in the Endless Mountains. The swamp is home to many rare plants and animals.

This hike is spectacular, and unique in that the vast majority of it follows old grades or trails; there is little true bushwhacking. No trails are marked or signed. The first half of the hike is far more scenic than the last half, but this route does make for a very nice loop offering great diversity. Ben joined me on this hike.

We parked at a small parking area near Stony Brook and walked up Windy Valley Road (SR 3001) (labeled Bellasylvia Road on map) for about 300 feet and turned right onto an obvious grade. This grade offered views of Stony Brook below. The grade turned left with a massive boulder below on the right in a grove of hemlocks. Here, we followed a much narrower grade just further upslope. This narrow grade was tricky to navigate with the snow and ice as it crossed a steep slope, but it was enjoyable with all the ledges. The narrow grade descended and joined a wider grade, on which we turned left.

This grade gradually climbed. Stony Brook was below to the right; the grade kept its distance but the creek could be both seen and heard. We crossed a variety of seep springs and small runoff streams. The hardwood forest was scenic with many large trees. The grade climbed and reached a juncture, where we turned left. After a short distance we turned right onto another wide grade as it continued through a beautiful hardwood forest. We then spied another grade to the right; it was narrower and had trees growing in it, but it was obvious to see. We followed it. This grade descended into the gorge of Red Brook with spruce trees. It was a scenic hike. This grade ended at Red Brook.

Now our short bushwhack began and it was easy, we just followed Red Brook upstream. This creek has flood damage and there were many large boulders and cascades. We soon reached the bottom of the first falls- Lower Red Brook Falls. This falls is about 20-25 feet tall, has two drops with deep pools, and is very beautiful. We climbed above the falls into a scenic hemlock forest. Small falls and slides adorned Red Brook. We climbed to the same wide grade we had previously been on before turning right down to Red Brook.

This grade was a true pleasure to hike. There was spruce, moss, giant boulders, hemlocks, and views of beautiful Red Brook. Soon ledges loomed to our left with ice flows and seasonal falls. We passed the site of an old cabin. We continued up the obvious grade until it crossed Red Brook, which we also crossed. Continuing upstream we soon reached Upper Red Brook Falls, another gem. This is a 20 foot falls surrounded by an impressive semi-circular grotto and superb ice flows. Red Brook is awesome.

We turned around, headed down Red Brook for the second half of the hike. While it is not as scenic as Red Brook, it does make for a nice loop. If you do not want to hike the loop, just return the way you came along Stony and Red Brooks.

We followed the grade as it gradually ascended the plateau. These forests may be logged in the future. The grade joined into a wider forest road that curved to the right. We then turned left onto a newer logging road which descended the ridge in a hardwood forest. (We did go off trail to explore the cliffs to the west, but there were no notable views). We explored some ledges and outcrops to the south of this road. The road then stopped and became a trail. Again, many trees were painted with red marks, indicating this area may be logged. The trail descended the ridge between Stony Brook and Mehoopany Creek, passing ledges and rock outcrops. The trail crossed a newer logging road, marked with a cairn, and continued downslope until it veered into an meadow area and ended right where we began the hike along Windy Valley Road.

We really enjoyed the hike with its diverse forests and scenery. The loop was perfect and Red Brook is such a beautiful place.  If you’re an experienced hiker looking for a new place to explore, be sure to take some time to hike Red Brook.

We parked at about 41.466841, -76.161737.  This loop is about 5.5 miles long.

Hiking Windfall Run-SGL 57

I’ve spent years exploring SGL 57, but have spent little time exploring the southern areas of the gamelands near Noxen. This year, I decided to change that. One hike I’ve wanted to do was a loop along Windfall Run. A few weeks ago, I headed out to see what was there. Ben joined me on this hike.

I parked along Wilson Ayers Road, as named on Google Maps. We then followed a logging road to the right as it gradually climbed through a logged area. The road left the logged area and entered the woods. We were able to follow it with some effort. Below us to the right was Windfall Run. The grade stayed above the run, which did not appear to have any waterfalls. The grade gradually climbed up the glen of Windfall Run and we crossed some side streams and springs. Closer to the top, ledges and rocks appeared on the higher slopes, with some spruce. The grade veered to the left and then crossed a small stream; it became a little harder to follow. The grade climbed to the top of the plateau where we turned left, leaving the grade.

We hiked along the edge of the plateau, battling blueberry bushes and some laurel. We soon reached a cliff rim and some partial views. We continued along the top of the cliffs, as a talus field spread below us. We then reached an outcrop with a great view looking down the glen of Windfall Run and out to Montage Mountain, over thirty miles away. Rolling foothills made this a beautiful vista. Below us were more ledges and a possible cave. We headed south, off trail, to a rock bald. We continued south along ledges and cliffs and veered slightly to the southwest. There we came upon a beautiful mini rock maze that was fascinating to walk through. Within the maze was a porcupine den, so we called in the Porcupine Maze, a highlight of the hike.

Our route continued west along the cliffs and then down an old skid trail to Cider Run Road; this route is not recommended as it is too far out the way and required a road walk. A better route is the one shown on the map. Head east along the ridgeline and then descend along the tiers of ledges and cliffs. Pick up a grade or skid trail and descend to the parking area. No trails are marked or blazed.  The route on the map above is about 5.2 miles.

This was a surprisingly rewarding hike with a great view, streams, cliffs, rock bald, ledges, and rock maze. There is a lot of great hiking to be found near Noxen.

Park at about 41.396906, -76.123028.

Click map for a detailed geo-referenced PDF.  Map courtesy of Ben Van Riper.

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Porcupine rock maze, SGL 57.

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Big ledges above Windfall Run, SGL 57.

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Windfall Vista, SGL 57.

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Exploring Flat Top-SGL 57


Corner Room, Flat Top, SGL 57

Flat Top is a prong of the plateau in SGL 57.  It is notable for its scenic and ecological diversity.  There are vistas, gorges, caves, chasms, overhangs, waterfalls and bedrock balds.  Flat Top is home to hardwood, spruce, hemlock, and pine forests, not to mention wetlands, streams, and bogs.

I’ve been to Flat Top many times, but on this hike we decided to explore the base of the extensive cliffs.

If you want to hike to Flat Top, you should be an experienced hiker with a GPS or other navigational aid.  There are some old forest roads and grades to help with navigation, but there are no marked or signed trails.  Begin at the game commission parking area at White Brook (41.496555, -76.132024), cross the field (no mowed trail) to the northwest corner, climb a bank with some pickers, hike up along two homes, and follow the steep grade into a pine forest.  Leave the pine forest and follow an obvious grade just to the right and hike up it.  White Brook, and its falls, are far below on the right.

We reached an obvious grade to the left and followed it to near the top of the plateau.  We reached a T intersection, turned right, and then left off the trail to begin the bushwhack part of the hike.  We hiked west to the rim of the plateau and reached Conglomerate Cave, a massive overhang with a distinct layer of conglomerate rock.  From here, we followed the rim around.

We were treated to incredible overhangs, mazes, chasms, and caves.  We crossed some small streams and the rocks returned with Skylight Chasm.  We squeezed through the slot at the back of Skylight Chasm to enter the Rock Room, a fascinating overhang and cave feature with ice flows.  Amazing.


P=Parking. B=Bald. Black dots are rock features.  Red is off trail.  Yellow are old grades or forest roads, or other unblazed trails.

The rocks continued along the edge of the rim.  We went up through a rock maze, crossed a bald and reached a cliff.  As we made our way toward Spruce Ledge, there was very rugged terrain and giant jumbled boulders.  We reached the base of Spruce Ledge and marveled at the giant, orangish cliffs.  A quick climb up to Spruce Ledge provided fine views and forests shimmering in a coat of ice.

We returned to the base, to see more caves, overhangs, and giant boulders.  Heading north, we hiked below Preachers Rock and explored more chasms.  Soon we were at the base of a bald where Ryan saw a weasel, which ran under a log, and something rolling down in the snow.  It was a mouse it had just caught, but released after seeing us.  We quickly moved on so the weasel could get its meal.

Giant boulders and passageways loomed in the forest.  We reached the next highlight, the Corner Room, and incredible overhang and cave.  A narrow roof of rock stretched over a giant house sized boulder.  We climbed to the bald, and followed a faint trail to an even larger bald.  Our off trail hike continued as we hiked to two balds, that we had not seen before.  We went off trail through hemlock forests, saw a small rock maze, and dropped down to an existing trail, which we took back down White Brook to complete our hike.

SGL 57 is such a special place and is PA’s best kept secret.  Sometimes I think it should be a national park.  Experienced hikers will want to spend some time here.

Part of this hike is described as Hike No. 14 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

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Bedrock mazes, SGL 57.

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Views from Spruce Ledge, SGL 57.

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Spruce Ledge, SGL 57.

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Cave hunting. SGL 57.

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Flat Top and Mehoopany Creek Gorge Vistas-SGL 57


Mehoopany Creek Gorge Vista, SGL 57

This hike is a classic in SGL 57 and is probably the most “popular” although that is a relative term for this isolated area.  It is unique as it mostly follows old logging roads and grades with little bushwhacking, making it a more traditional hike than others in SGL 57.  However, no trails have blazes or signs.  I had been to Flat Top Vista, also known as Raven Rock or Buzzards Peak, many times.  It is a beautiful view.  I suspected there might be another view further down the ridge, so we decided to investigate.

From the parking area, there is a field.  Sometimes there is a mowed path, sometimes there is not.  Work your way to the northwest/right hand corner of the field, there may be some pickers, go up a bank, and hike up a mowed area next to a house and cottage.  Don’t worry, you are still on game lands.  The obvious grade continues steeply up through a pine forest.  Out of the pine forest, the hike veers right onto another obvious grade and continues to climb.  Below you to the right is White Brook and a beautiful 20 foot falls, but it is off trail.  Continue to hike up the old, eroded grade.  Reach an area with a lot of vines and a grade to the left, turn left.  This grade is obvious and meanders up the plateau.  Climbs are separated by level sections.  On the final climb, hike up with large rocks off to your right.  Reach a T intersection, turn left.  


The trail is now level, and wet in places.  Reach an area with more laurel on the left and a trail, take it (if you continue on the grade you were on, you will cross a small stream, indicating you went too far).  The trail goes through the laurel and soon reaches Flat Top Vista with its commanding view up the Mehoopany Creek and over a steep gorge with an unnamed stream that has seasonal waterfalls.  We sat and enjoyed the view.

Now it was time for the bushwhack and we followed the edge of the plateau down, passing another view.  We had to go through the laurel, but a bear path along the edge made the hiking a little easier.  Just off the edge was a large round boulder, cracked down the middle; it is called Split Rock.  Soon, massive rocks and boulders covered the slope below us, offering more partial views as we negotiated the tough terrain.  We reached a fine view looking up the Mehoopany Creek Gorge and an even better view next to that one.  The view was stunning as it looked right up the gorge, as tiers of ridges and gorges sloped down to the bottom.  Thirteen miles away was the dome at Red Rock. 

We were impressed by the view, which was even more scenic than Flat Top Vista despite being a little lower in elevation.  So, we named it the Mehoopany Creek Gorge Vista.  The view rises 900 feet above the creek, and the gorge is over 1,100 feet deep.  Another view looks up the steep gorge of Kasson Brook.  I can’t wait to return to this view in the Autumn or on a Summer morning when the view is above the clouds and mist in the gorge.  SGL 57 has so many secrets.  

Parking is located at 41.496548, -76.132059.

This is described as Hike No. 14 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.      



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Canyons of rust and white.

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Split rock, SGL 57.

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