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PA Black Forest Trail
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Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
PA Black Forest Trail: Part 1 (2009) on 12/31/2009 06:11:56 MST Print View

Over the holidays I did a ~24 mile 2-night trip with my brother-in-laws along PA's Black Forest Trail (in north central PA). Thirteen of the miles were actually on the BFT, while the remainder were on ski trails, service roads, and bushwhacking. Although it was on the flatter portion of the BFT, it did include a section with ~23 water crossings. The weather was wintry for PA (8 deg F), high/gusty winds, and ~4" of additional snow on top of a crusty base.

The nice part of winter hiking is that the leaves are off, and the snow base creates a good contrast to see the geography of the surrounding hills. We went through numerous large stands of rhodies and mountain laurel bushes, that must be georgeous during peak season! We had some ups & downs (~200-500') since there are numerous creeks & runs in the areas that have countless ravines carved out during the last ice age.

Me & Ron

Loc & Ron are not lightweight backpackers, but have certainly lightened up over the years. There is plenty of wildlife in this part of PA, so we had Bear Vaults and Ursacks for our food at night.

The Chuck Dillon trail guide reads "The BFT is not a novice trail-there are demanding ascents and descents, challenging stream crossings, and rough sections that will test the quality of your hiking boots."

Ron & Loc

As I said, we didn't have enough time or energy to do the whole challenging 42.5 mile loop, so did the northern and western section by doing some roads. We didn't see anyone on the trail or the roads except for three other that were just starting their hikes since it is just empty hunting cabins and the roads were iced up from previous storms where the sun had not melted it yet.

Some icy road walking

We were glad to have brought crampons for the road sections since it would have slowed us down picking our way across the 4 miles of state forest service and back roads that we took...or the potential of several falls on the very slippery ice.

We got good at putting on and taking off the crampons.

Putting on crampons...again.

The road sections did give us some nice views of the eastern portion of the BFT trail, which both Ron & I had separately done 20-30 years ago during hot, humid, buggy conditions. It brought some relief that as 40-50 year olds we were suffering less now than we had back then with heavier packs and less experience.

More road walking

We rejoined the BFT and climbed some more through rhodies and mountain laurel (state blossom of PA). We had crossed bear tracks earlier in the day, but I had not thought to take any photos. I did think you all would appreciate some photos of bear scat.

Bear scat

We hit camp 2 miles later in time to set up shelters and find some firewood to stave off the chill and dry out socks.

Cutting wood

Rather than bringing a tent, Loc just brought the fly from his tent, which worked well for them since they each had bivies.

Loc's & Ron's shelter - just a tent fly

I could see Orion & I didn't think the snow was supposed to start until mid-morning, so I just cowboy camped in my Oware epic/spinnaker bivy. I later rethought the wisdon of that choice.

Cowboy camping in my Oware epic/spinnaker bivy

At 3 am I woke up to snow pushing down on my face and excessive condensation on my Western Mountaineering down 20 deg sleeping I got up and started looking for a good/flat spot to set up my BMW Stealth spinnaker tarp...that was fun. :(

Snow covered tarp (BMW Stealth)

It wasn't a textbook taut pitch, but it kept additional snow off me. It was noisy with the wind sounding like a freight train and some big gusts. I kept warm with two hoodies (BMW and R1). Won't win a fashion contest, but it was nice to have the lower part of the hoods to breathe through.

Me in the bag.

Hard to tell how much new accumulation we got since there was also some wind that night, but I'm guessing ~2". Everything was covered with new snow.

Snow covered fly

These other two guys really like their fires, so they had done a good job the night before to make sure that there were some hot coals (even under that snow) to warm up socks and thaw out water bottles for the next day's hike.

Snow covered fire pit

The temperature was ~18F with some steady breeze and little promise of sun, so we were eager to get breakfast and start moving again.

Ron getting up

Beaking camp with the the wrestling of winter bags and small stuff sacks helped warm us up.

Stuffing bags in to sacks

We had steady flurries that morning, but still got some nice views down into the ravines and hollows.

Loc and Big Dam Hollow

Lots of tracks in the newly fallen snow (birds, vole/mice, rabbits, bobcat/coyote/fox?, and bear).

Rabbit tracks

It was hard to tell what some of these feline/canine tracks were since the snow was blowing and had filled in some of the details, but we saw lots of these tracks.

Bobcat/fox/coyote???  tracks

Loc & me

We saw this cool log with the bark and heartwood stripped away to show the chiral spiral of it's wood. The wood fiber itself can have a right or left handed chiral twist, which affects the overall growth pattern of the tree.

Cool log

The BFT is blazed with orange rectangles, and the intersecting ski trails had blue rectangles.

BFT orange blazes

After the last road crossing (only one with any traffic) and talking with three other hikers getting ready to start their own 2-night trek in the other direction, we entered pine and Norway Spruce Plantations that were planted by the CCC in the 1930's. It was a nice break from the typical ~60 year old PA hardwood forest that we had been hiking through through. It was also nice to finally get some sunshine.

Pine & Norway Spruce plantation


We got to a decision point..the main BFT route or the high water route? Since Ron & I had been wanting to finish this trail, we opted for the main trail. We later had opportunity to rethink that choice.

Choices, choices, choices...

This was one of the earlier and easier of the 17 water crossings in this section. Since there were feeder streams, the creek kept getting bigger and the crossings kept getting harder to find. It started out as jumping 2-3 feet, progressed to rock hopping, and then scouting up & downstream for large trees across deeper, faster, and colder water.

Hunting and easy water crossing

Loc jumping over the creek

Ron crossing a fallen tree

Loc crossing a fallen tree

Ron on a large log

We have bushwacked for awhile, then we realized that we had to make one last creek crossing, so we looked around for our best option and found a very icy set of logs that seemed best to slide down on our bottoms since we were eager to go swimming at this point of the day.

Ron & Loc carefully sliding down the last creek crossing

Loc found this deer carcass that was completely cleaned. I can't believe that when I took the photo I cut off the rack (5 points). There were lots of tracks around the carcass, but the recent snow had covered up the details, so I can't tell if it was feline or canine (any thoughts??).

Deer carcass

We left the creek and climbed up through a bank of rhodies, which must be very pretty in May or June.

Up thru the rhodies

Loc climbing (slowly) up

The view from the top

I used my Bushbuddy, but have decided that I need to refine my technique (using more lacey branches once the firestarted catches, not feed sticks too quickly to get a good flame, and use more of a wind block) since it took me forever to get the water heated. Otherwise, I might just switch to another stove. It's not worth the trouble in wintertime, and a open fire worked better than what I had going that night.

Bushbuddy in action

Loc & Ron's camp second night

Ron tried to warm by the fire since we hadn't seen the sun for some time in that little hollow (even though it was only ~7 pm).

Ron warming by the fire

The wood was wet & frozen so it never got to be very productive.

Ron fighting the fire

Loc didn't have gaiters or waterproof shoes, which really made a differnce once we stopped hiking and had dinner. He tried drying his stuff by the fire, but quickly decided to retire to his sleeping bag since the wind was blowing through and the fire never really generated much heat.

Loc warming under the fly

I found a nice (but narrow) spot for my tarp (purchased from Pedro off Gear Swap) that night, and was happy with a tauter pitch since we continued to get snow flurries (another ~2"). It was COLD & WINDY that night with temperatures getting down to 8 deg. F and gusts that blew the tarp into my face. I know that may be mild compared to what the folks in New Enlgand and the upper penisula get, but it was quite a bit below average conditions for us.

Better tarp pitch tonight!

"Rhodies are ‘thermotropic’; sensitive to temperature changes and respond with leaf movement. Charles Darwin wrote a book in 1880 titled ‘The Power of Movement in Plants’ in which temperatures causing movement is covered. As air temperatures drop below 35 degrees, the curling and drooping begins. The lower the temps drop, the tighter the curl and more vertical the hanging leaf."

However, we didn't need Darwin or rhodies to tell us that it was cold after leaving camp that morning. I thought that I would just need my Possum Fur gloves once I started up that steep trail out of the hollow and stowed my silnylon mittens from Cedar Tree (Packa Poncho manufacturer) in my backpack. Once we hit the top of the ridge and the wind hit us, my fingers were curling into my palms as much as the rhodie leaves in an unsuccessful effort to get warm.

Rhodies curled up

The good thing that that wind did was to blow out the clouds and snow to provide some nice views in the morning. Unfortunately, the temperatures and our half frozen boots kept us from admiring them long.

The Barrens

We had a fairly easy morning hike (even with some misdirection and an extra mile of hiking from my map reading) so got back to the car before our water even had a chance to thaw inside our jackets.

The 3 brother-in-laws back at the trailhead

It's always nice to find the car at the trailhead with four tires, all of the windows, and many good memories.

I highly suggest the Black Forest Trail to anyone that has a chance to hike it, but it's a rougher trail thatn most in PA.

Edited by TomClark on 01/20/2011 06:09:24 MST.

Joe Geib
(joegeib) - F

Locale: Delaware & Lehigh Valleys
Great on 12/31/2009 09:21:30 MST Print View

Nice TR.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: PA Black Forest Trail on 01/01/2010 02:14:50 MST Print View


Great trip report, love all the photos you have of your adventure in the snow.

Can you tell us more about your night getting snowed on and setting up your tarp?

Did you have to wake up later in the night to brush off snow accumulation on the tarp or did it slide off on its own.

What clothing were you wearing in your bag/bivy to enhance your sleeping system?

Lots of questions on a great adventure.

Thanks for taking time to post them up.


Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"PA Black Forest Trail" on 01/01/2010 08:32:21 MST Print View

Brrrr, looks downright cold! Awesome trip report, thank you for sharing. Your buddy looked like he had a lot of cotton on in the pics, was he able to dry out his gear before night fall? If anything you guys all had big smiles on your face and that's all that matters.

christopher shive

Locale: Along the AT in PA
Re: PA Black Forest Trail on 01/01/2010 08:44:45 MST Print View

Nice trip report Tom. I hike about 25 miles of the BFT several years ago on a Memorial Day weekend with our scout troop. It's a nice wild area up there and I really want to get back to do the whole trail.

Was it difficult to find the trail under the snow? I remember wandering off trail at several locations.


Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
PA Black Forest Trail on 01/01/2010 17:57:10 MST Print View

I'm planning to do the BFT with my daughter this May when she's home from school. Your pictures and commentary were great, but the number of stream crossings (especially in winter) is way more than I had anticipated. I'll keep it in mind as we plan our trip.

Thanks again for the photos and detail from your trip. If you have't already done it, the Old Loggers Path would be another good (27 mile loop) candidate for you.


Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Re: PA Black Forest Trail on 01/01/2010 18:21:36 MST Print View

"Can you tell us more about your night getting snowed on and setting up your tarp?"
While I fall asleep within 5-10 seconds within settling in, I can't say that I sleep well..especially when I have to constantly moderate the temperature. I felt the snow hitting the bivy, but didn't get up until I had a very vivid dream about a search pary coming through and a guy tapping on the hood of my bivy saying that we need to get up. Then I realized that an inch or so had accumulated. I didn't really enjoy looking around in the PA undergrowth for a reasonable flat spot with two trees since I wanted at least the ends of the tarp to be firmly held. I was happy to find one reasonably close. THe good thing about using a bivy is that it's easy to move the whole things, with everything in tact.

"Did you have to wake up later in the night to brush off snow accumulation on the tarp or did it slide off on its own."
Much of the snow would slide down or be blown off, but I did occasionally hit the tarp with my hand to help things along when it started sagging toward my face. It was not a stellar pitch the first nigth, but on the second, ther was no problem...lots of wind!

"What clothing were you wearing in your bag/bivy to enhance your sleeping system?"

First, let me say that I am a sissy about the cold...
Bag - Western Mountaineering 20 F bag
Bottom- lightweight baselayer & Montbell Thermawrap (this was two hot, so I ended up pulling the Thermawaraps partially down the first night, but not the second night)
Top - BMW hoodie, R1 Hoodie...I pulled teh bag tight, and breathed through the hoodie material to warm up the air a bit.

Edited by TomClark on 01/01/2010 18:49:18 MST.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Re: PA Black Forest Trail on 01/01/2010 18:34:28 MST Print View

"Was it difficult to find the trail under the snow? I remember wandering off trail at several locations"

Not at all. There are lots of orange blazes, and the trail is worn down so that it's visible through the snow (a bit narrow of a rut, so it's actaully annoying).

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: PA Black Forest Trail on 01/01/2010 18:42:44 MST Print View

I'm told the High Water route (Sentiero Di Shay) is also a nice path, but would miss some of the campsites. In the spring the water would probably be high at times an sketers busy, but wading would be warmer.

Get Chuck Dillon's map & guide from Pine Creek Outfitters.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: "PA Black Forest Trail" on 01/01/2010 18:45:09 MST Print View

"Your buddy looked like he had a lot of cotton on in the pics, was he able to dry out his gear before night fall? "

The first night when temps were ~25F before bedtime and a good fire made it easy to dry things out. The last night didn't work. We need to work on getting him more synthetic or wool gear, along with waterproof shores, gaiters, and down booties. Regardless, he was warm once he got into the sack.


Andy Clark
(AndyClark) - F

Locale: East Coast
PA Black Forest Trail on 01/04/2010 21:11:20 MST Print View

Tom - Nice trip report. Looks like you guys had a great hike. Nice detail on the scat, I would recommend you put something in the photo to give some perspective of size, your face would work well. Also, I believe the tracks in the snow are snipe.


Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: PA Black Forest Trail on 01/05/2010 04:26:45 MST Print View

Andy, Andy, Andy,
If I put my face next to the scat as a fiducial reference, it would only confuse things. I see you captured your Starbucks hiking spirit with your avatar. ;)


Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
PA Black Forest Trail on 02/01/2010 10:23:09 MST Print View

I really enjoyed this trip report, especially the details on tracks, scat, snow accumulation, and rhododendron.

Daniel Masek
(Dannoh) - M

Locale: NE Ohio
Pa Black Forest Trail on 02/27/2010 15:46:04 MST Print View

Tom, Great trip report. I hiked about 30 miles of the BFT in mid January, just a couple weeks after you. Unlike you, I decided to take the High Water Route. After seeing your pics, I'm kind of glad I did.
I used microspikes and there were many places they just weren't enough. I'm thinking about getting some crampons before next year. Any recomendations?
Really enjoyed the photos and report. Thanks.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Pa Black Forest Trail on 02/27/2010 19:29:18 MST Print View

I have the Katoola KTS Steel crampons, which worked great and fit well over trail runners (much bette thwan 4-point crampons). Sorry to hear that the microspikes didn't work for you on this trip. I looked at them, and thought they'd be a great option.

Any photos from your trip to share with us?


Daniel Masek
(Dannoh) - M

Locale: NE Ohio
Black Forest Trail on 02/27/2010 20:02:11 MST Print View

No photos, I didn't pack a camera. That's why I'm enjoying sharing yours with my family!

Jamon Andrus
(backpackerJ) - F
re: BFT on 01/03/2011 20:13:23 MST Print View

I love the BFT. Thanks for such a thorough expose of your trip. I hiked the BFT on one of my "first" trips (backpacking in early Jan) a few years ago. Interesting to hear and see all of the snowmobiles activity in that area. They seemed to run nearly all night. I have hiked the stream-crossings on the county-line branch in spring and fall. The water can get really high. (I also hiked it with my wife in the summer and saw the largest rattle snake I have ever seen. It was seriously huge! We walked very attentively through the remainder of that hike.) That is a nice area for fishing in the spring, if you bring your fly rod(those brookies love the hair's ear nymph). The Senterio Di Shay is a nice dry alternate route. There are some really neat mountain top bogs off the Senterio Di Shay on the George Will trail, if you're ever back to the area.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
thanks on 01/03/2011 20:28:47 MST Print View

Thanks for such a nice report. Looks like it was quite an adventure!