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vernight I was awakened three to four times, maybe more, by trains in the valley below.
The muted noise from their rumbling engines and the shrill sound of their air horns cut through the foggy, cool night
air and reverberated off the mountains on each side of the tracks. Even though the trains woke me several
times I quickly faded back to sleep as I listened to the lonely sounds fading away in the distance.
I woke up this morning around 7:00 a.m. and lay in my sleeping bag until the alarm on my watch chimed one-half hour later.
The temperature probably dipped into the low to mid 40's overnight and it had rained for a while as well. It was still pretty
cool and damp as we made our final preparations and packed away the last pieces of gear. We draped the tent and rainfly over
some branches hoping it would dry out a bit before it was relinquished to the trunk as it would not be going on the hike with
us. In order to reduce some of the weight in our packs we chose to leave the tent behind. We knew we would not be using it
during the week because in order to use the shelters I had to call several weeks ahead of time and reserve one for each day of our hike.
Low-hanging gray clouds blanketed the morning sky as we conducted a final walk-through of the campsite for misplaced items or
garbage. Satisfied that everything was in order we jumped into my car and within minutes were driving through Ohiopyle in search
of the Wilderness Voyageurs building. The plan was to follow their vehicle out to the
Route 30 parking area, leave my car in the lot and then get a ride back to the storefront which was just down the road from the trailhead.
We checked in at 9:00 a.m. but had to stand around for an hour while they
located a driver. During our short delay we were entertained by a group of
junior high school students
who showed up for a whitewater rafting field trip. I say entertained because
we got quite a laugh out of watching them, especially the females, as they
ran around, all giddy-like, preparing for their trip. First they had to locate
an appropriate sized wetsuit from several racks of suits located outside at
the rear of the store. With wetsuits in-hand, it became even more comical
as they struggled to don the protective gear. The students laughed, giggled
and good-heartedly complained about the cold, wet conditions of the suits
as they contorted their arms, legs and bodies in various poses while tugging
and pulling up the tight rubber suits. I didn't know the temperature of the
river water, but with the cloudy sky and temps between 45-50 degrees it was
safe to assume they'd all be pretty cold once they hit the water.
At 9:55 a.m. I finally was introduced to the shuttle driver who I followed for roughly the next 40-45 minutes until we arrived
at the Route 30 parking lot. The drive was easy and relaxing as miles and miles of rolling hills, farms and distant mountains
passed before my eyes. Just before arriving at the parking lot we passed Walat's Tavern. I had read a trip report on the internet
that mentioned the awesome ¾ lb burgers available at this local watering hole. As it turned out, Walat's was only a very short distance
from where my car would be parked as well as from our last night's shelter.
After parking my car I jumped into the Wilderness Voyageurs van for the ride back. The vehicle was occupied by Ben, the driver, and
his small black and white dog. He was a nice guy and we had some good conversation on the way back during which he educated me on
the area's history and local points of interest. On the way back to the business we passed by miles of old houses, manicured yards
and split rail horse fences. Apparently, much of the land in the Ligonier area is owned by "old money" families such as the Rockefellers,
Melons, Carnegies, etc. When we began the drive out to Route 30 the clouds had cleared out to reveal a sapphire-colored sky sprayed
with occasional wispy layers of white clouds, but by the time we returned to the outfitter the sky had once again clouded over.
After returning to Wilderness Voyageurs at 11:40 a.m. we ate a quick sandwich and geared up for the start of our hike. We headed
toward the trailhead which was only a 2-minute walk down the road behind the Wilderness Voyageurs storefront. The beginning of
the trail was clearly marked by a common state park-style sign; a brown plank with engraved lettering highlighted by yellow paint.
At 12:00 p.m. we walked off the roadway and into the wilderness via a short climb up some old weathered log steps set into the side
of a small hill. The first mile to mile and a half passed quickly and although the trail was rather muddy it was, nonetheless, pretty
darn level. The trail ran parallel to and just up the hill from the railroad tracks that pass through town, and just like the previous
night, they were busy with the rumbling iron behemoths that frequent this habitat. Every few minutes we passed by seemingly
random-placed boulders roughly the size of buses which occupied areas on both sides of the trail. The vegetation surrounding us
consisted of maple and tulip trees and the regular forest dwelling ground foliage.
By the time we reached our first 600-foot climb the temperature was probably about 50-55 degrees, but even though it was
still cloudy and cool it didn't take long to work up a sweat. We took a couple very short stops to catch our breath on the way up
and to let some of the lactic acid burn in our legs diminish. As the trail crested we were left standing on a rocky precipice
overlooking the now puny river and train tracks in the valley below. The surrounding panorama looked as though the landscape had
been hastily covered by a large green shag carpet without the creases and wrinkles having been smoothed out. It was an awesome view,
and one we guessed we would see many more times in the next couple days.
From here the trail leveled out for a while before making a steep descent
of roughly 400 feet. We watched every stride as we stepped on and over the
rocks in the trail, careful not
make the wrong move which could potentially lead to a disastrous, trip-ending
injury. As the trail plummeted further downward we realized this descent was
quickly devouring all the elevation gain we had just made, and we were being
set up for our next climb further down the trail. Shortly before the three
mile mark we passed a single male hiker traveling in the opposite direction.
His ultra-light load consisted of only a hydration pack strapped to his back.
We spoke only long enough to exchange the typical trail greetings and to learn
that he was almost finished with his 8 mile out-and-back hike. After passing
this guy I couldn't help but think of the people who participate in the annual
Laurel Highlands Ultra every year. While doing my research I had come across
a couple websites related to this race. It is run every year on the second
Saturday in June. The object is simple, like any other race you want to be
the person and/or relay team to cross the finish line with the quickest elapsed
time. The race begins in Ohiopyle and ends 70.5 miles away at the opposite
end of the trail. Just hiking the trail over several days seems like it will
be somewhat strenuous, so I couldn't imagine how difficult it would be to
run this entire trail over several hours. As it turns out, the winner of the
2007 Laurel Highlands Ultra, Adam Lint, completed the entire course in 12
hours, 11 minutes and 24 seconds! The pictures I saw on one website showed
some monster blisters on the author's feet after running this race. Even the
photos looked painful.
We crossed a small stream (Rock Spring Run) near some waterfalls at roughly 3.25 miles and took a short break to take in the
sights and talk with two other hikers. One of the guys said we had picked a good trail to hike. He said he had backpacked quite
a few Pennsylvania trails and the Laurel Highlands Trail was definitely his favorite. We mentioned that we had only hiked in
Michigan before this trip and that we had been to Isle Royale several times. He said he wanted to hike there the following
month, but it didn't look like the trip was going to work out.
We continued on and immediately began another steep climb. At about the 4.5
mile mark we entered a clearing overlooking a valley, river and mountains
directly across from us. While we watched, the sun appeared through a tiny
slice in the clouds. As the clouds shifted above us, the sunlight moved across
the landscape and illuminated details in the valley below, like the beam from
a lighthouse cutting a path through a dark night sky. Shortly after we passed
the mile five marker the trail began another steep descent and crossed another
river, Lick Run. Within a few minutes we passed the 6-mile cement marker and
finished our day with a .3 mile climb to the shelter area.
We entered the shelter area around 4:10 p.m. only to discover the place deserted.
Shelter #5 was at the opposite end of the camp and only 30 feet from a small
babbling, stream. At
same time, however, it was uphill and as far away from the wood pile and water
as it could be. We left the packs in the shelter and promptly began searching
for firewood. The main pile didn't contain much wood that was dry and suitable
for burning so we scavenged the leftover wood from several of the surrounding
shelters. After today's hike the last thing we wanted to do was exert more
energy lugging several armfuls of heavy wood back to our shelter, but we made
rather quick work of the job and then went to get water from the pump. The
water was tinged brown and contained a little sediment but I'd had worse.
It was now roughly 5:30 p.m. and we were pretty tired so the sleeping pads and bags were unrolled and we rested for a while. I
took a half an hour nap but was awakened by a cold sensation where my shirt had come untucked and exposed my back to the cool air. The temperature was
probably about 50-55 degrees. I wrote in my journal for a while and then reviewed the map for tomorrow's section of trail.
Prior to this trip we had never hiked an area where we had a genuine stone-built fireplace right at our site so this was quite
a treat. It wasn't extremely cold but the fire definitely helped take the chill out of the shelter. It's amazing how something
as simple as a small fire, especially while in the wilderness, can magically lift your spirits and put you in a better frame of
mind. We started cooking our beef stroganoff dinner around 7:30 p.m. A short time later we were dining on a tasty meal in front
of a warm, crackling fire and recounting the highlights of the day's events. We'd collected enough firewood to last us all night
and we strategically stacked the wood at the edge of the fireplace. The idea was to use a stick as a poker to reach out from the
shelter and push a new piece into the embers when the flames began to die down, thus allowing the fire to continue throughout the night.
Even though the sun played cat-and-mouse with the clouds all day we still had very comfortable hiking weather. The temperature
was supposed to drop down to 43 degrees overnight and hit approximately 62 degrees during the day tomorrow. The forecast also
called for rain on Wednesday (the day after tomorrow) which we hoped would change as time progressed. The bugs were virtually
non-existent today except for a couple small winged creatures in the shelter area, but they weren't bad and better yet, they
weren't mosquitoes! Along with not encountering any bugs we also did not see any rattlesnakes, bears or signs of bears like
one of the internet postings had mentioned. Finally, we did not have a mouse infested shelter like I had read about. This
was excellent news!
Before I knew it the time was 10:50 p.m. and I was ready for bed. By now the well-fed fire had been blazing steadily for three
and a half hours so the bricks in the fireplace were searing hot and radiating a healthy dose of heat into the shelter. The
occasional crackle and pop of the burning wood, mixed with the constant white noise of the stream had a narcotic-like effect
on my psyche and eased me into a deep, restful sleep.
Final count for the day: Three other hikers, a few deer prints in the mud, a blue jay and an unidentified yellow and orange bird.
Miles Covered Today: 6.3
Total Trip Miles: 6.3
Elevation Change Today: 3600 feet
Total Elevation Change: 3600 feet
This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:26 AM