Locust Springs/Laurel Forks Virginia Backpack

Up in the furthest regions of Virginia, deep in the George Washington National Forest, so far in that you have to go through West Virginia to get there, sits a little area called the Warm Springs Ranger District. This area is the headwaters of the might Potomac. Now if you are looking for beautiful vistas, rocky outcroppings, and scenic sunsets, this place isn't for you. If you are looking for a set of creeks, rivers, runs and streams that resemble a multi-highway interchange, look no further. You'll need your water shoes.

I got to the Sykesville I-70 park and ride promptly at 7AM on Saturday. Since it was a 3 day weekend and with perfect weather forecasted, the park and ride looked like a who's who of local hikers and backpackers. The Mountain Club of Maryland, The Howard County Sierra Club, and The Outdoors Club all were meeting simultaneously to begin three separate outings. One wanted to be sociable but we all also needed to get going too. This Laurel Forks hike was sponsored by The Outdoors Club.

This time I chose to ride with Lisa and her two pugs since my car stunk of pee (I probably need to get this bladder problem under better control ;) ). After a few miles on the road I realized that I had left my food bag in my refrigerator at home. Lisa was kind enough to stop at a supermarket in Charlestown so I could quickly restock. Special thanks to the nice manager of the Food Lion there who helped me out.

Slowly but surely we joined various other members of our group who were coming in from various points so that we all converged at the trailhead. We had Tuna, Keith, Lisa, Jada, Kisses, Justin, Judy, Terry, Ted and Mary. The trailhead is at 4000 ft so it still seemed like early spring up there, the leaves no fully developed yet. The campsite was going to be at a lower elevation than the trailhead so we descended into the forest along the Buck Run Trail.

At the bottom was the intersection of Buck Run, Locust Springs, Christian Run, Bearwallow Run, Laurel Forks, and a few others too numerous to mention. Needless to say we had to do a lot of deep stream crossing in some not-so-warm water.
Lisa had to carry Kisses and Jada across the water since the water was too high for them.

The area is a labyrinth of trails, many of them not in very good shape. But if you are a seasoned hiker, don't mind a little bushwack, and can handle sparse trail markings you will have no problem here. We all had a great time in the forest for 3 days, hiking every day along the streams. The area is not flat but the rises are very gentle. Keith saw a snake but was okay after he had a chance to calm down.
We saw some amazingly well-constructed beaver dams that would put those sloppy Maryland beavers to shame.

Tuna and Keith provided much of the entertainment on the trip and this same gang will turn up again at an Assateague trip planned for July, so keep posted. I hope the Mountain Club and the Sierrans had a great weekend as well.

Jim Thorpe(Mauch Chunk), Lehigh River Gorge, St. Clair, Pottsville, Minersville, Pennsylvanina

Jim Thorpe(Mauch Chunk), Lehigh River Gorge, St. Clair, Pottsville, Minersville, Pennsylvania

The weekend’s adventure is wrapped around two words, “Anthracite Coal”.  I’ve traveled to coal country  several times for one reason or another, usually in winter, and I have never taken enough time to devote to this wonderful area of Pennsylvania.  Basically, what happened was at the beginning of the 19th century somebody discovered the mother lode of a high-grade of coal, anthracite, in mountainous Eastern Pennsylvania and then next thing you know the place was overrun by the Irish, Italians, Slavs, Greeks and everyone else that wanted a job but didn’t have one to work in the dangerous but lucrative coal mining industry.  Fortunes were quickly made and much of the money was spent on building grand edifices out of heavy stone, since the miners knew how to reposition a stone or two.

However, all good things must come to an end, and in the 1950s the lode has pretty much run dry.  The rich and the poor and everyone in between fled the area, leaving several coal towns frozen in time.  Each town seemed to take a different path to enter the 21st century with varying results.

I have visited the wonderful town of Jim Thorpe a few times,
about 20 years ago my friend Denise and I stumbled upon this ramshackle place, which looked like it was going to fall apart from neglect.  We stayed at a flop house there for $10 which bought us a room with 15 beds.   A few years ago I had to return to there and looked into room rates at the same place which had turned into a very fancy B&B, they started at $105.00 per night.  By the way,  Jim Thorpe never set foot in Jim Thorpe, PA.  The town, originally named Mauch Chunk, managed to get their hands on his name after he died in order to boost its fortunes in the 1950s once the coal miners left, figuring it might attract someone’s attention.  The publicity stunt might have worked but that is not what draws the crowds now.

Jim Thorpe, PA pulled itself up by its boot straps for other reasons.  1)  The mountains around there are stupendous,
2) The yuppies in Philly were dying to blow their money on a nearby weekend retreat 3) The town has charm, not doubt about it.  The mining town was built on a steep hillside and funded primarily by Asa and Harry Packer, mine owners.  The place is adorable.  Now there are coffee bars and craft places galore, and I certainly can’t afford to sleep in its hotels anymore but I do like to visit.

The reason for my return this weekend was that somewhere in the last few years the State of Pennsylvania built a 26 mile bike trail in the Lehigh Gorge State Park.
    I had read quite a bit about it and decided I had to try it.  Click here for the map of the area.  The biggest problem by far for this scenic state park is that there are so many great things to do there it is heartbreaking to have to pick only one.   I had my heart set on biking but when I parked my car at the southern Glen Onoko, the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club was assembling for a hike and invited me to go along.  I had to decline.  When I started biking on the bike path I noticed the Lehigh Gorge River was running fast and I wondered where the rafters were.  I didn’t have to wonder for long, hundreds of rafters in the company of several outfitters were enjoying the river.   Unlike last year’s experience on the Yough, these outfitters seemed like they knew what they were doing and if they didn’t the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources seemed to be everywhere ensuring that nothing went wrong.  The Lehigh looked to me to have some Class II & III rapids,
nothing too treacherous.  

The bike trail was very enjoyable, it stretch from Glen Onoko up to White Haven.  There are very few places to park, I guess since the place is a gorge and there is little access.  This means that much of the trail is sparsely populated with hikers and cyclists, you have to be willing to bike 8-10 miles to get from one parking area to another.  Also, the surface is a sandy crushed stone, making it difficult to peddle.  I did an up and back total of 52 miles, stopping often to take pics.  However, the rafting outfitters are willing to rent you a bike and put you on the rafting bus so that you and your bike will only have to travel downhill.  I have some philosophical issues with this, but I guess going one way downhill is better than watching TV.  In my mind you should earn that downhill ride.

After I got done with the bike ride I headed east to enjoy Schuylkill County.  I’ve always liked it out there and never had a chance to really look at the area.  I spent the night on the street in St. Clair.  St. Clair has only about 3500 people but it has more than 15 churches by my count.   Obviously, this place was home to many Russian, Slavic and Ukranian people because I counted 4 churches with rounded domes.  I then got the idea that I had to take a picture of all the rounded domes
and onion domes in the area because they are so neat looking. There were the dome churches of St. Clair.  Minersville had rounded dome churches too.   St. Clair and Minersville seemed a little forlorn but I liked the wooden houses that still stood.  It also seemed like many

inhabitants were busy “supporting the troops” with flags and yellow ribbons.  I guess when the local economy sucks you have to join the military and fight senseless wars for a ruthless dictator in order to earn a buck, leaving your mom and dad home waving the American flag.    It was Sunday morning and I noticed many of the churches either had almost no congregation or weren’t open at all.

There were no rounded dome churches in Pottsville, I guess other types of immigrants settled there.  Pottsville’s economy also didn’t look too vibrant with the exception of Mahantongo Street where there is an abundance of beautifully maintained homes built probably in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  For all those of my friends and acquaintances who complain incessantly about the steep price of real estate, you could go to coal country,
PA and find an amazing house for almost nothing.

Here are the dome churches of Minersville.

Big Schloss, Virginia, Halfmoon Lookout, West Virginia

This was an Outdoors Club backpacking trip hosted by Lisa, check the Northeast Section.

After returning from my vacation I was just dying to hit the trail again. I decided to change up my strategy a bit and explore new horizons. Since I have all this neat backpacking gear now I figured I would put it to the test locally with a weekend backpacking excursion. This hike was advertised as a 20 miler with about 2000 feet of elevation. We started at Wolf Gap in the George Washington National Forest where Lisa, Bristol, Heather and I gathered at 10AM Saturday. We were to do an initial ascent to reach the lookout over at Big Schloss and then head north on the Mill Mountain Trail to camp at Halfmoon Lookout.

I've been to Big Schloss before and it is definitely one of the most beautiful vistas on the VA, WV border, I highly recommend it for those that don't want massive elevation changes yet crave pleasant scenery. BTW, that is Lisa enjoying the Big Schloss overlook. Lisa and I got off to a strong start, where Heather had some technical issues that were quickly rectified.
Since Lisa and I had reached the Halfmoon lookout first we snagged the limited campsite availability at the top, where Bristol and Heather had to make do at the lower site.
We had a nice campfire and I watched Lisa cook expertly on her campstove. Although the day was a bit cloudy the sunset was still very impressive.

We returned southward on the Little Stoney Creek Trail. Once we were at the bottom I decided I would change up plans a bit and practice my bushwacking skills on Poplar Run, Heather reluctantly agreed to go with me while Lisa and Bristol scurried back on the Big Schloss Cutoff Trail. Heather proved to be an excellent bushwacker and beat me up the stream run. That girl has serious hiking potential.

Once we got back the car it started to rain so we were very glad we had an early start.Lisa did an excellent job planning this trip and coordinating things with all involved. She was also quite pleasant about my insistence on bushwacking. Thanks Lisa!!

I really need to quit using Wal-Mart as my fashion consultant.