Into an Emerald Forest: Scouten and Kasson Brooks (SGL 57)

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Rock shelter with caves

 

You know you lived a day to its fullest when you create a memory, an experience, a feeling that will forever stay with you.

For me, that was this hike, this place…

Over ten years ago I hiked up Scouten Brook in SGL 57.  I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this stream, as the water slid over red bedrock and tumbled down small cascades under a hemlock forest.  This off-trail hike was only the beginning for me, the first of many beautiful places I would see during my exploration of SGL 57.  This past weekend, I returned.  And it was amazing.

I’ve spent little time in this area of the SGL 57.  Recently, I’ve become intrigued by what might be there.  Google Earth revealed a vast, deep green forest, even in winter.  I suspected it might be a spruce and hemlock forest.

Our plan was ambitious.  Hike up Scouten Brook, explore the cliff rim of the spruce forest, find a vista, descend a side stream of Kasson Brook, visit Kasson Falls, and hike back out.  This rugged hike would be about 17 miles.

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Looking through the cave.

 

We followed an old grade along Scouten Brook as cascades danced far below over the deep red bedrock I remembered from years ago.  Large boulders adorned the creek. The hemlock forest was not as verdant, dying from the woolly adelgid.  The creek was beautiful and pristine as it flowed through a gorge of towering hardwood trees.  Ryan mentioned there was a sidestream falls and iceflow across Scouten Brook.  We scrambled up the steep glen and a grotto soon appeared with a 20 foot cascade and columns of melting ice.  The day was warm under overcast skies and Ryan had to jump across the stream when an icicle suddenly collapsed.

We continued up this rugged gorge, climbing over large boulders under towering old growth white pine and dead hemlocks.  At the rim were jungles of mountain laurel and a cave formed by boulders that Wes explored.  We continued along the rim, following a bear path, but the thick laurel made it slow going.  We descended steeply back to Scouten Brook to see a beautiful ice covered waterfall.  Upstream were more waterfalls, all adorned with ice.  It was a beautiful, serene place.

Easier hiking was provided by an old forest grade that gradually climbed the plateau.  The hemlock and spruce forest that was the goal of this hike soon came into view.  We left the old grade and climbed to this evergreen forest and were greeted with a massive rock overhang with a cave behind it.  The rock was made of pebbly conglomerate.    I reached the overhang by descending through the cave, where one hanging rock looked like it was about to fall.  We sat there to enjoy the scenery as spruce trees surrounded us.  The best was yet to come.

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Incredible forests of spruce, hemlock, and moss.  One of the most scenic forests in the state.

 

We left the overhang and cave to the plateau rim to be immersed in an amazing forest of spruce, hemlock, and carpets of moss.  It must be one of the most scenic forests in Pennsylvania.  The greenery was simply incredible, invoking a forest from the Adirondacks or New England.  Despite it being winter, when most forests are bare brown, this one was an endless green.  We were awestruck.  Carpets of moss spread through the forest, harboring countless spruce saplings.  We could have been in the Pacific Northwest.  Massive boulders comprised the forest floor, and in a few places, the separated boulders created long, straight chasms.  Stunning.  Moss and lichens covered the boulders.  We pushed on through this sylvan wonderland.  The cliff rim provided some views through the trees from the exposed boulders, as more caves and crevasses hid beneath our feet.  The bedrock had separated, creating mazes of passageways and narrow, deep crevices that we had to be careful not to fall into.

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Exploring the chasms.

 

As we made our way around the western edge of the forest, the clouds cleared, offering deep, blue skies and warm sunshine.  A strong westerly wind filled the spruce forest, as shafts of sunlight pierced the canopy to electrify the forest floor.  It was a complete sense of wildness as the wonderful aroma of the spruce filled our lungs.  Few people have ever seen this place.  The rim featured more boulders and crevasses, and tangled, fallen spruce trees.  We continued along the rim and soft carpets of moss.  I saw a slight rise ahead of me and I climbed up to it.  The spruce forest separated to reveal a beautiful view to the west, with vast plateaus, and the canyons of Mehoopany Creek, Stony Brook, and Red Brook.  The view was untouched, with no sign of development.  We were all impressed as we enjoyed the warm sun and blue skies.  We knew we had found a special place.  We weren’t the first ones here, but few have ever seen what we saw.  I imagined what the sunset must look like from here, it must be beautiful, I thought.

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Views of the vast plateaus to the west, with no sign of development.

 

We pulled away from the view, each of us burning it in our memories for a future return.  Our hike continued on the southern edge of the “emerald” forest, the boulders were not as big, but it was scenic nonetheless.  We found a tributary of Kasson Brook, and descended along it.  The creek was filled with boulders and frozen cascades.  As we descended, the creek became much steeper, with many slides and frozen waterfalls.  It was too steep and icy for us to explore so we left the tributary and reached Kasson Brook.

By this time we were exhausted.  The climb up Kasson Brook was tiring, even with the fine scenery.  We hiked over fallen trees and loose rock above a streambed torn from prior floods.  The amazing iceflows of Kasson Falls came into view and I was speechless for a second.  This grotto is truly impressive, and even with the warm weather, there was still a lot of ice.  The ice had a bluish hue and descended like draperies.  Springs tumbled from the edge of the grotto.  The falls itself were frozen as well, next to an ice cave.  Everything was dripping and melting.  We were happy to see it before it collapsed or melted away.  What is most beautiful about this stunning place is not the falls itself, but the surrounding springs that descend for the cliffs and freeze in winter.  So much beauty in one place.

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The incredible ice flows of Kasson Falls.

 

We hiked out to the road, passing more falls and pools along Kasson Brook.  Twilight soon came as we flushed some wild turkeys from the pine and hemlock trees.  The dark, bare tree branches reached across the last light of the day.  The air was warm and still, making it feel like April and not January.  Darkness surrounded us as we completed our hike on the road.  The rapids of the Mehoopany Creek filled the isolated valley, the air had the scent of woodsmoke.  An owl hooted in the distance.   I slipped through the darkness, walking quickly along the road and startling deer in the woods.  Constellations filled the clear sky, with Orion being the most vivid.  We felt alive, seeing such a new and beautiful place, a place to which I must return.

We lived this day to the fullest.

More photos.

Location of the Emerald Forest.

Location of the vista.

The chasms are located approximately here (can’t see them through the trees).

First Day Hike 2016

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The group at Coyote Rocks Vista

 

Over the last few years, it has become popular for state parks to offer guided first day hikes (on the first day of the year) to get people outside, and to start the year off right.  This year, I decided to jump on the bandwagon with my own first day hike.

After a little advertising, I was surprised to find 9 people wanting to go on the hike.  They made a good choice.  I decided on a 6 mile loop with moderate terrain and great scenery; it follows Wolf Run, Bean Run, and Bowmans Creek in SGL 57.  It really is the perfect dayhike, with tumbling mountain streams, big rocks, streamside hiking, a view, beautiful forests, isolation, and a stunning hike along Bowmans Creek.  Part of our hike is described as Hike 29 (White Gold Loop) in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

After a drive deep into the gamelands, we reached the parking area along Wolf Run.  Our hike follows unblazed and unmarked trails that are well-established and just a pleasure to hike.  The trails are also used by mountain bikers.  We climbed up along Wolf Run as boulders and cliffs adorned the woods.  At the top of the glen, there were red spruce trees.  We left the loop for a hike to Coyote Rocks Vista.  The view was forbidding with a cold wind, flurries, and dark skies.  Everyone liked the view, but we did not linger.

Our hike continued as the trail crossed the plateau west to Bean Run.  This is a superb woodland hike that everyone enjoyed.  In summer there are meadows of ferns and ground pine under stately hardwoods.  It is simply beautiful.

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Boulders along Bean Run

 

Next was our descent along Bean Run.  The trail followed this pristine stream along an old grade with more spruce.  Huge boulders soon crowded the trail, making it a beautiful place.  One angled boulder created a small cave.  Bean Run was higher than I expected and it took time for everyone to cross on a fallen cherry tree.  No one fell in the water.

Our loop continued by following Bowman Creek, where two mountain bikers passed us on bikes with large, fat tires.  This was everyone’s favorite section, with comments such as “it’s like a rainforest” or “it’s like a jungle”.  It is simply a sublime hike.  The trail closely follows scenic Bowman Creek through tunnels of laurel and rhododendron.  Hemlocks tower overhead as the creek danced over rapids and swirled in pools.  It’s the type of hiking you wished never ended.  Everyone was impressed.  People had the look in their eyes that said I never knew this was here.

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Trail along Bowman Creek

 

We reached the end of the loop.  Everyone enjoyed the hike and wanted to go hiking again.  After a quick stop at Beth Run Falls, we all headed our separate ways.

2016 is off to the right start.

More photos.

Hall of Hemlocks, Cherry Run, and Beech Lake Loop

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Cherry Run

This is one of the most diverse dayhikes in the region, following both official and unofficial trails in SGL 57 and Ricketts Glen State Park.  This hike offers a taste of everything, from views, big rocks, lakes, wetlands, mountain streams, hemlock forests, gorges, and small waterfalls.  And the terrain is moderate in difficulty.
I started at the parking area along Bowmans Marsh and crossed the road into the state park, following an obvious, unblazed trail.  I continued along an old railroad grade with ties still in the ground.  The forests through here were very scenic, with deep hemlocks, carpets of moss, and ground pine.  Springs bubbled from the earth.  The trail followed the rim of the plateau, offering views through the trees.  I left the hemlocks and entered a bare hardwood forest, only to return to the hemlocks.  A gradual descent brought me to Cherry Run, where I followed one of the state park’s yellow blazed trails.
Cherry Run is a highlight of the hike as it tumbles down a gorge with rapids and small waterfalls.  It is very beautiful with hemlocks and moss covered boulders and ledges.  I took photos of a falls and pool under a huge overhanging ledge, before leaving the gorge and turning left onto a red blazed trail.  I hiked above Bowmans Creek and saw Mountain Springs Lake through the trees.  I was surprised; the lake had been drained, but does refill when enough water enters it.  The lake was peaceful as a fading sun reflected off of the water.
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View of Mountain Springs Lake

I explored some old foundations, remnants from the ice industry that existed here a century ago and hiked down the road to another trail.  I hiked back up the plateau through scenic woodlands as large boulders and ledges loomed to the right.  I looked across the valley to see a large cliff rising through the trees; I made a mental note to explore it in the future.  I reached the top, hiking along the top of the cliffs with several views of the valley below.  Mountain Springs Lake reflected like silver in the setting sun as clouds spread across the sky.
My next stop was Beech Lake, a special, hidden lake that is one of the few, undeveloped natural lakes in the state.  The clear water revealed the rocks and gravel at the bottom.  The sun faded into the bare trees as I hurried back to the car, trying to keep at bay the cold, crisp temperature.
More photos.
Parts of this hike are described in MidAtlanticHikes.com and Hike Nos. 27, 28, and 29 of Hiking the Endless Mountains.

Bartlett Mountain Balds, White Brook Falls, and Bowman Hollow Falls

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Bowman Hollow Falls

A couple years ago I met Mike at Prowl the Sproul.  We hiked Round Island Run in the Sproul State Forest, which remains as one of my most memorable dayhikes.  Rhododendron was in full bloom, filling the forest with white and pinkish blossoms.  The blooms covered the entire mountainside.  The gorge was deep and green, feeling like a rainforest.  Crystal clear waters danced between moss covered boulders as Round Island Falls tumbled over slick ledges.  And just in case the hike wasn’t beautiful enough, there were impressive views over the winding canyons of the Sinnemahoning Creek.
Mike recently mentioned he was coming up to SGL 57 to do some hiking and wanted to see the Bartlett Mountain Balds.  It doesn’t take much for me to want to hike up to the balds, so I was happy to lead him.  The weather was warm, misty, and humid.  It was summer in December, with temperatures near 70 degrees.  As we made the long hike up the mountain, we were soon sweating.  White Brook roared below.  Using my new route that follows trails almost all the way to the balds, we made good time.  However, huge puddles covered parts of the trail, resulting in wet feet.
I have been to, and described, the balds many times.  For me it is a special place, a place set apart.  We poked around the base of the balds, under rock overhangs, between jumbled boulders, and past caves.  A scramble up a ledge brought us to the balds.
Compared to my October hike, when the balds were filled with color and carpets of bright red, this hike was stark but no less beautiful.  The spruce trees added a deep green to the bare trees and exposed white bedrock.  The air was warm and moist as clouds sailed overhead.  We sat to eat as the wind whispered between the spruce trees.  The silence was incredible, with only the distant tapping of a woodpecker.
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Bartlett Mountain Balds

We continued along the north rim of the balds.  I love it through here.  Spruce forests surround smaller balds above chasms and cliffs of bedrock.  It does not look like Pennsylvania.  SGL 57 has the largest mountaintop spruce forests in the state.  We turned around.  The white conglomerate bedrock was wet, reflecting like silver in the muted, misty sunlight.  We followed bear trails, featuring depressions where the bears have consistently stepped for generations, following the same routes to look for food.  This place is wild.
Our next goal was to see Spruce Ridge, but the short daylight would not allow it.  So we headed back down and decided to check out White Brook Falls.  White Brook is a beautiful, tumbling mountain stream featuring non-stop cascades over and around moss covered boulders.  The water was incredibly clear and pristine.  The bushwhack down the stream was tough with fallen trees and unstable, slick rocks.  We soon reached White Brook Falls, notable for its spout of falling water.  It is a very graceful falls.  In high water, a curtain of water also slides down to the left.  We continued down the creek, enjoying all the cascades and water slides.  The hike back to the car flushed a ring-neck pheasant that avoided us by running through the fields with remarkable stealth.
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White Brook Falls

Our final stop was to see Bowman Hollow Falls outside the village of Forkston.  This is an impressive 40-50 foot falls in an even more impressive grotto of white cliffs.  The creek features non-stop slides, pools, and cascades over red bedrock.  A true gem.
We soon went our separate ways.  I think Mike really enjoyed this journey through SGL 57, and I’m sure it will not be his last.
More photos.

Somer Brook Falls and High Knob Trail (SGL 57)

Ryan, Wes, and Ed at the bottom drop of Somer Brook Falls

Ryan, Wes, and Ed at the bottom drop of Somer Brook Falls

As you can tell by the posts in this blog, I spend a lot of time in SGL 57.  It is not just close and convenient, it is also one of the most unique and beautiful places in Pennsylvania.  It features vast, elevated plateaus with balds, deep spruce forests, rimrock cliffs, and hidden glens with waterfalls and bedrock cascades.

I recently learned the High Knob Trail was cleared, so I decided a hike was in order.  I last hiked the trail about 10 years ago and it was in rough shape.  I also hoped to find a series of cliffs I remembered from my last visit.

Wes, Ryan, and Ed joined me and we met up at the stone cabin.  We decided to check out Somer Brook Falls, which is a couple hundred yard east of the cabin, off the trail.  We soon reached the top of the falls which was covered in ice.  It was a beautiful sight.  The falls are between 75-100 feet tall and have a couple of drops.  We hiked to the bottom of the falls and Ryan led us on an old railroad grade.  We followed the grade and then reached Southbrook Road, where we turned left.  We walked up the road a short ways and then turned right onto another old grade, the start of the High Knob Trail.  If hiking from the stone cabin, the trail will be on your left.  The trail did not have a sign, but there was a small sign post.  The trail had faded yellow and white blazes.

The trail was easy to follow as it kept to an old forest grade.  We passed through a meadow and forests of hemlock.  Much of the forest was beech saplings and some huge cherry trees.  The trail began to head south as we wrapped around the north end of the loop.  I kept my eyes on the right, to see if there was any sign of the cliffs.  I noticed what appeared to be a drop off and some large mountain laurel bushes.  After a quick walk off the trail, we reached the rim of cliffs and boulders.  What an impressive place.  There were caves, crevices, maze of boulders, and massive overhangs.  We got a bite to eat as we enjoyed the scenery.

Massive overhang off of the High Knob Trail

Massive overhang off of the High Knob Trail

Our hike continued on the trail, which passed through four deer fences in areas that were logged.  We hiked across a meadow and soon reached a gravel road.  The trail crossed the road and soon entered a deep and beautiful spruce forest.  The emerald green was a stark contrast to the bare, gray woods.  The High Knob Trail crossed another gravel road and we made our way around the southern end of the loop.  This was once a railroad grade and there were many ties still in the trail.  The trail through here was narrower, but we were still able to follow it.  This would be a great place to hike in July due to all the blueberry bushes.

Spruce trees still accompanied the trail, but most of the forest was hardwoods.  We reached another deer fence, which we followed to the right.  The perimeter of the fence soon brought us back to Cider Run Road, which we followed back to the car.  If hiking the High Knob Trail clockwise, it can be difficult to tell where the trail begins off of Cider Run Road.   The entire loop, not including the falls or cliffs, is roughly 7 miles long.  The trail is easy with virtually no climbing.  Everyone had a great time and I’m sure it won’t take 10 more years for me to hike it again.

More pictures.

Location of the trailhead.

Location of the stone cabin.  Somer Brook Falls is located just east of the cabin, off the trail.  The High Knob Trail leaves Southbrook Road, to the left, on an old grade north of the cabin.

 

Kasson Falls

Christian and Ed at Kasson Falls

Christian and Ed at Kasson Falls

Sometimes it is the season that defines a place.  While Kasson Falls is surely beautiful anytime of the year, it is in winter that its splendor is truly revealed.

Hidden deep in a gorge, surrounded by mountains, Kasson Falls is a hidden wonderland.  But it is not unknown, for even its isolation cannot keep its beauty a secret.  The falls are located on private property near State Game Lands 57, however, the falls and its gorge are regularly visited.

On a cold, overcast winter day as light flurries drifted in the fleeting sunshine, under patches of disappearing blue skies, we made our trek up Kasson Brook.  The floods of two years ago still left their mark with massive trees embedded in the stream bed, and piles of cobbles pushed deep into the forest.  It is hard to imagine a stream of this size could cause such damage.  We hiked out of the valley and into the gorge, passing the collapsed remains of a schoolhouse and a small cemetery hidden in a grove of white pine trees.  We left the old logging road and traversed off trail through the forest before descending back to the creek.  There was once a dirt road along the creek that went to a cabin; it was obliterated.

The beauty of Kasson Brook soon became apparent.  The towering plateaus squeezed the gorge with ledges and talus.  The creek was filled with boulders and cascades.  The creek swept over smooth, sculpted bedrock into deep pools.  A side stream cascaded from the side, next to a boulder sitting improbably upright on its end.  My nephew Christian climbed the boulders and poked at the ice with sticks.  Small waterfalls, waterslides, and boulders continued upstream.  We had to cross the creek, tip-toeing on ice-covered rocks.  The creek flowed over blood-red bedrock as snow dusted the bare forest floor.

Approaching the falls

Approaching the falls

The terrain surrounding the creek forced us to cross again as cliffs blocked our way.  One by one we crossed the surging creek, balancing on angled rocks.  To the right was a deep side-gorge, carved by a tributary with non-stop waterfalls, dressed with gowns of ice.  It begged to be explored.

The creek continued to roar over rapids and ledges, constrained by grottos of bedrock.  We had to take an old logging skid trail concealed by hemlocks on the south side of the gorge.  We climbed higher and higher up the gorge.  The incredibly steep terrain was impressive.  Kasson Brook’s current filled the gorge with the sound of its rapids and falls.  Forests of pine and hemlock covered the rim of the gorge.  I looked across this chasm to the other side, to see another steep tributary plummeting down a ravine for hundreds of feet, completely covered in ice.  Kasson Brook was barely visible through the trees; I could see the occasional boulder, pool, or cascade.

Windmills were recently constructed on the tops of these mountains and several were visible from the trail, towering into the sky, standing silently.  We could only imagine what the effect of the run-off and loss of hundreds of acres of forests in a place that was once vast and pristine would have on the streams like Kasson Brook.  Even green energy comes at an environmental cost.  In the end, the best solution is to use less.

We turned off the skid trail and made our way back down to the creek.  We picked our way down the gorge.  And soon it came into view- the incredible grotto of Kasson Falls.

Frozen grotto

Frozen grotto

Glacial blue ice flows covered the one side of the grotto.  We were surprised to see several ice climbers there, setting ropes and practicing their craft in a stunning setting.  A friendly dog greeted us as she tried to walk on the ice.  The falls were completely frozen over; they are about 50 feet high and are a steep, curving cascade that drops into a pool.  The ice formations at the bottom of the falls were impressive, with tubs of ice, filled with water.  To the right of the falls were more ice flows that partially concealed a cave, a deep overhang, that was encased in ice.  An amazing place.

Ice cave

Ice cave

We stood there, taking it all in.  Christian had grown a little frustrated from the long climb, but quickly decided to love the hike again as he explored the ice cave and marveled at the ice formations and falls.  No video game could compete with Kasson Falls.

Ice climbers at Kasson Falls

Ice climbers at Kasson Falls

Our time at this winter paradise had to come to an end and we began the much easier hike down the gorge, back to the cars, our lives enriched by what we had experienced.  Whether privately or publicly owned, I hope places like Kasson Falls and Gorge will remain as they are for generations to come so that Christian will be able to share them  with his children or grandchildren.

Tim, Christian, and Aaron at the entrance of the ice cave

Tim, Christian, and Aaron at the entrance of the ice cave

More pictures.

Beautiful Kasson Falls

Beautiful Kasson Falls