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PA Black Forest Trail: Part II
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Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
PA Black Forest Trail: Part II (12/2010) on 01/02/2011 12:45:47 MST Print View

I had posted a trip report last year about a 24 mile backpacking trip I did with my two brothers-in-law (Ron & Loc) on Pennsylvania’s Black Forest Trail. This region was so named because the tree canopy was so thick that little sunlight reached the forest floor. .

This current report is about another 17 mile section on the southern section of that trail. Since it’s a bit of a drive to get there and it was a very hilly section (~3000’), we decided to make it another 2-night trip with the short amount daylight this time of year. We got up early to escape the snow/wind storm that pounded the east coast the night before, and soon got away from most of the snow, but not the cold weather. It was ~15F & windy (probably -7 to -9 F wind chill) when we started hiking. We were all wondering what we were thinking about going out into blustery weather like this, and thankful for the extra layers we had thrown into our packs after listening to the weather report the night before. Nothing new for the Upper Peninsula or Montana folks, but cold for us nonetheless.

At the Trailhead

Tom, Ron, & Loc

The area had gotten a few inches of snow, so we could see evidence of the many forest creatures. Although we only saw 3 deer, a few birds, and heard a grouse(?) explode out of a Mountain Laurel bush we saw literally 100’s of tracks for deer, small birds, mice/voles(?), rabbits, and fox/coyote(?). It was educational to see how the smallest animals would take the shortest distance between fallen logs near the trail to avoid hawks or owls. We also saw evidence of a large black bear that was able to scrape the back off a tree up to ~6 ft in search of a treat.

Orange BFT Blaze

This orange blazed trail is a mix of woodland trails and old jeep/cart roads. We started off with a nice warm-up along a seldom used road where the sun was turning the snow into a sparkling highway studded with tiny multicolored jewels, then headed into the woods and out of the wind. We intersected another jeep road with a nice view of where we were headed for our first rocky 1000’ downhill into Callahan Run.

View of Callahan Run

Me & Ron

Heading downhill

We followed a feeder stream on the way down. We were treated to some very pretty ice sculptures.

Ice - 1

Ice - 2

Of course, to paraphrase that old song, “what goes down, must come up.” As soon as we got down to the bottom, we headed back up 1000’ along Callahan Run. When I first heard of this 42 mile Black Forest Trail, I thought it would be a nice 3 night trip…wrong! It’s a tough hike, with lots of elevation gain/loss, steep & rocky trailbed, and many stream crossings. Luckily, the water crossings on this section were pretty easy, with enough rocks to hop across.

View back from whence we came

I like winter hiking. There are no bugs, more views, and crisp air. Winter also creates some unique scenes of its own. I saw this ice pushing up from a small seep along the trail as we were pounding down switchbacks on the last 1000’ loss of a ~7 mile day.

ice - 3

My BPL merino hoody and Montane hooded windshirt were nice since I could pull the hoods on or off, depending on the slope of the trail and wind, to help regulate the temperature.

Me hiking

We scouted out a few campsites, but settled on this small site along Naval Run. It’s always nice to be able to quickly grab more water.


Loc left his tent at home, and just planned to use the fly to keep the wind and snow off him & Ron (I think I’ve had some good influence on him in terms of lightening up). It looked like it would be a clear night, so I just laid out my bivy sack. However, after being surprised last year, I did tie up one end of my tarp in case I woke to a face full of snow. We just had time to set up camp and get firewood before it got dark down in that valley.

Ron cutting firewood

First campsite

Ron & me

Some Cajun spiced Ramen noodles quickly hit the spot, but Loc heated up some Italian sausages over the fire to really fill us up. Although we were under trees, we could see lots of starts in the secluded part of north central PA. I even spotted a satellite shooting across the sky. This was my view in the morning.

Looking up

It wasn’t as cold as expected and actually warmed up from the day before to ~20 F. The alcohol based Caldera Cone was a little slow heating water, but still worked well and was lighter than Ron’s white gas stove. I had gotten Loc some gaiters and warm clothing (Thermawrap jacket/pants, down vest, and down booties) so he was warmer than last year. We all agreed that down booties are VERY nice at the end of the day.

Me in my bivy

Ron under the fly

The trail designers were thoughtful enough to have the “7 switchbacks of Hades” to quickly warm us up once we got out of camp. We passed a young guy (one of only two people we saw on the trail) out hunting for squirrels; although he said he was mostly taking a hike like us. At the top we were rewarded with great views of PA’s Half Dome (at 2060’ elevation and 1360’ relief, not quite as impressive as CA’s version but still nice). Perhaps equally rewarding was the stretch of level trail we had for the next section.

Coming up

further up

PA's Half Dome

Loc during break

Ron at break

There were views down both sides of the ridge, here is the Naval Run side.

View into Naval Run

Here is the view down into Pine Creek Gorge.

Pine Creek Gorge

We got on another jeep trail where more animal tracks littered the recent snow. We surprised an older gentleman, who was using a chain saw to cut up a fallen tree. There is a small piece of private property in this part of the Tiadaghton State Forest, so I assume he lived there.

Jeep road

More tracks

Animal tunnels in the snow

We then headed downhill (again) into Little Slate Run. This was another pretty section with lots of unusual icicles along the creek. Water was plentiful and clean on this whole section, with all streams starting from springs partway up the isolated ravines.

ice -4

Going down to Little Slate Run

There was a short (0.14 mile) detour onto the Bicentenial Trail that took us to a very small grove of virgin hemlocks. We ate lunch under a 4’ diameter hemlock, and could see 2-3 smaller Hemlocks. I’ve seen large virgin Hemlock stands with no undergrowth and a soft carpet of fallen needles in Oregon, which took my breath away. It’s sad that there are only tiny stands like this on the east coast. However, it was still worth the detour to get a small glimpse into why the original European explorers called this area the Black Forest.

4' diam Hemlock

Lunch at the Hemlock

At the bottom of the trail we got to Little Slate Run (not sure why the streams here are called “Runs” rather than creeks, brooks, or the Dutch “kill” as in the Poconos). This site must be a popular spot in summer since there were 5 fire rings. We settled into a spot at the edge of a Hemlock stand…trying to enjoy them before the wooly adelgid kills all of PA’s official State Trees.

Trail sign near campsite

Camp Second Night

We had gotten to camp early this second night, so had time to re-arrange the fire ring, collect firewood, and set up camp before dark. We all got condensation in our bivys and sleeping bags the night before, so decided to air them out a bit.


I have a prototype bivy from Oware that seems to have been the BMW version with a “breathable” Pertex top. However, even when I use the screen opening there is moisture build up between the bivy and sleeping bag, so I’ll probably just use it with the top folded back in the future to help keep the wind off me some. However, I do wonder why I bother bringing it since it just adds weight and confusion when answering the call of nature in the middle of the night.

It was nice to have the hemlock cover above me so I wouldn’t have to worry about any snow and could leave the tarp in my pack.

My bivy

Dinner was more Ramen and then instant mashed potatoes. Loc had been carrying a couple of steaks, which were very welcomed. Glad I haven’t been able to completely switch him over to lightweight philosophy. Just so you didn’t think that, I made him carry all of the extras, I brought in the tunes and dessert (raspberry filled chocolate bars). I was going to bring some Rita mix that my BPL friend Angelo in Arizona had introduced to me, but had used up the Tequila entertaining over the holidays, so settled on SUL Makers Mark.

Tom, Loc, & Ron

We had another nice night around the campfire talking about work, spouses, kids, past and future backpacking trips. We might have been the only people camping in that area, which was nice. The weather was mild that night, and the breeze was blowing the smoke away from us. Good times…good times!

Camp fire

Ron had a Bearvault and I had an Ursack for the food since we were definitely in black bear country, but I once again learned not to leave even a small amount of food in my pack and unzip all pockets. Some rodent was able to find my bag of sunflower seeds that I had forgotten in my Gossamer Gear hipbelt pouch…aaarrrgggghh!

Hole chewed in pouch

Little Slate Run had more pretty icicles that had formed on branches.

ice -4

ice - 5

ice - 6

The next morning we ate, then packed up for the short 3 mile hike out. Most of the hike took us through endless Mountain Laurel (PA’s Official State Blossom) thickets. Surprisingly, we only saw this one bunch of Rhododendron bushes among the Laurel.

Rhodies in front of Mountain Laurel

Not sure why the Laurel dominated the Rhodies here. The fact that Mountain Laurel is poisonous to most animals explained why the deer haven’t eaten them. The forest was a mixture of Hemlock, White Bitch, Black Birch, White Pine, Pitch Pine, Maple, Oaks, Ash, Basswood, and American Hophornbeam…never heard of that last one.

On the hike out, we continued to see numerous tracks and signs of where deer had rooted for food. We had an easy last 1.5 mile on jeep trails back to the car.

Deer rooting for food

Loc at end of loop

Last stretch

On the way home we stopped in Lock Haven, PA for cheeseburgers and drinks.

Lock Haven, PA

We made a small detour to Brian Vargo’s retail store in Lewisburg, PA (just south of Rt. 80). It’s one of the few stores that have a significant selection of lightweight gear. Although Brian started with his Vargo Alcohol stove, he’s expanded to other items (stakes, utensils, pots, etc.). His newest stove is his Titanium Hexagon Backpacking Wood Stove that has multiple hinges to fold up flat…very slick!

During campfire dinners, my brothers-in-law were having spoon envy, so I got them each a long handled Ti Vargo spoon for our next trip.

We used Chuck Dillon’s 2008 “The Black Forest Trail: A Backpacker’s Interpretive Guide” that did a nice job describing the hike with topo and profile map.

Edited by TomClark on 01/20/2011 06:10:09 MST.

JJ Mathes
(JMathes) - F

Locale: Southeast US
PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/02/2011 16:17:24 MST Print View

Tom, nice report and pics, looks like you guys had a great hike. And it's good to know that PA has trail w/o rocks like those on the AT, or were they hiding under the snow? :^)

Michael Schwartz
(greenwalk) - MLife

Locale: PA & Ireland
PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/03/2011 04:36:38 MST Print View

Tom, Thanks for posting your trip report which brings back many good memories of hiking and backpacking in PA, especially winter trips. Like you, I enjoy winter backpacking which offers many advantages: few to no people, no bugs, testing camping skills and gear, the beauty of a winter landscape, and just appreciating the way winter brings a new focus to those who venture out of doors. Thanks for your trip report from Penn's famous woods. Love the last pic too, which says so much. ~Mike

Ruan Kendall
(Ruan) - MLife

Locale: UK
Re: PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/03/2011 06:54:46 MST Print View

Common names for plants often confuse me. I always think of 'hemlock' as a green bushy herbaceous thing, the idea of one with a 4" stem that people could sit under is certainly a strange one :-)

Looks like a nice trip; excellent conditions. I think we're due another cold snap in my end of the woods soon... everything has just turned to mud after the Christmas thaw, and walking anywhere has not been particularly appealing.

Eli Smucker
(Smucker) - F

Locale: Cross Fork
Re: PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/13/2011 05:37:47 MST Print View

Sounds like a great time. The BFT is a trail we never get tired of, we've done the entire loop a number of times in differant day hikes. My wife Betty and I and several friends have camped on top of Hemlock several times in the dead of winter, SPECTACULAR ! The gentleman you met cutting wood was probably Bob Webber who spends a lot of his retirement time maintaining the BFT, so if you happen to see him again, thank him ! If you are interested in old-growth hemlocks you may want to check out the Beech Bottom Trail which is in the Hammersly Wild area just south of Cross Fork.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/13/2011 13:02:53 MST Print View


Great trip report and loved the photos of the ice formations along the trail.

Thanks for taking the time to share with us your adventure and showing us how you are spreading the UL disease to your family. :)


Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Thanks Tom on 01/13/2011 18:03:22 MST Print View

I had often considered hiking that area, if I could get time off from work.
I keep saving my time off for when the days are longer.
Your report reminded me that hiking this time of year can be a joy.

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Nice! on 01/13/2011 18:18:20 MST Print View

Thanks for the nice trip report and pictures. I really appreciate the plant descriptions, too.

Joe Geib
(joegeib) - F

Locale: Delaware & Lehigh Valleys
Re: PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/13/2011 19:31:20 MST Print View

version 2.5 this summer?

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Re: PA Black Forest Trail: Part II on 01/14/2011 03:58:31 MST Print View

Thanks for the nice comments. Yes, we are planning to finish the loop during some warm weather to get a bit of contrast.