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Loyalsock Link Loop

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This past Sunday/Monday I got the opportunity to get out for a good hike in the Loyalsock state forest. After several months of researching different trails, and going back and forth on where I wanted to go, I decided to go with this one. This was to be my first solo overnight trip, so I wanted something that would be challenging but had opportunities for bail outs in case something went wrong. So, up at 5:30AM to leave my house by 6AM.

On the way there, I took the Throgs Neck Bridge. I had just put money on my EZpass the night before, but it hadn’t registered yet. So now I’m sitting in the toll booth with the gate not opening. A cop starts busting my balls about it. Eventually he comes and takes my money, but really there was no need to be such a prick. Then as I’m coming down I-80, a cop comes flying up behind me while I was doing 75. He starts tailgating. Uh-oh. I decide to switch on my blinker and move over a lane. He takes off down the road. Phew. Close one. Anyway, back to the hike.

I arrive around 10:30 at the trail head. Finish talking to my wife, use the bathroom, double check my bag and what I have in my car, read the info at the kiosk, take a map, and I’m hitting the trail by 11AM.IMG_0288IMG_0286

The trail then begins a rocky descent. This follows its way down until it meets an old railroad grade. There was a couple ahead of me going on a day hike. At some point, I notice that the Loyalsock trail branches off to the right while the red-x trail continues ahead. the couple goes straight, I go right. I would later come back that railroad grade on the return. This path then continues down getting closer to the Loyalsock creek. Cross a few streams, and then I’m hiking along the water’s edge.

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Following the creek, you then come out to they Haystacks rapids.

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Pretty awesome. The trail then makes it way back away from the creek. I come upon a trail register, sign my name, then encounter the first climb. Not very long, but pretty steep. No worries, at the top I am rewarded with a nice waterfall.

IMG_0273IMG_0271 Despite it making its way into the 70’s today, there’s still ice around. At the top, the trail continues to follow the railroad grade for a while. It’s here that I encounter the only other hiker’s I’ll see for the entire day. First, 2 guys come walking by. A minute later, 2 more, who said they spent 2 nights out. Then another minute later, 4 more guys. Weird to see that many people, then NOBODY. After another mile or 2 along the grade, trail branches off and heads down hill. This brings us out to the Iron bridge, which begins the actual loyalsock loop. Right after the bridge, the trail follows a road for a short distance before turning off.

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Once the trail turns off the road starts the first serious lung buster. Quads burning and lungs puffing, I trudge my way to the top. I’m beginning to realize how awesome trekking poles are. This is my first trip using them, and wow what a difference they make. The biggest thing is I feel they enable me to maintain speed when normally I might start slowing down. It’s like having another set of legs. Once I get to the top of this hill, there’s a little bit of rock scrambling, and a lot of big rock formations that have some caves big enough for a bear in them. I call in, but no bears come out.

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Then the trail gets a little boring for a while. Just trees and dead leaves. One thing I find strange- the trail is all mud. Literally. There’s water like every step of the path on the trail. But, surrounding the trail, everything is bone dry. The DCNR says no fires allowed anywhere on this trail at this time due to fire risk, and the dryness to everything shows why. Why must the trail be covered in water then?

Eventually, the trail ends up crossing a road, and leads up to Sonne’s Pond. Absolutely beautiful spot. I break for lunch for about 40 minutes. Summer sausage, cheese, and peanut butter crackers. And some trail mix. Here’s the pond, and the log I sat on to eat. The forest around the pond here was enchanting. Several small streams running into the pond made good sources to refill my water bladder before heading out.

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Now I’m filled up, both the belly and the water bottles. Onward. My original plan for today was to make it to somewhere halfway to 3/4 of the way through the northern section of the loop. I ended up pushing much more than this, unexpectedly. More on that in a minute. So after more wandering the forest after the pond, crossing several more streams, next point of interest is this waterfall I come across. There is a slight hill to get down to it, and really steep. I slipped coming down and ended up rolling on my back. The waterfall was still about 6 feet away, so luckily there was enough bottom that I didn’t slip off the edge. I had to cross the stream, then climb a very steep hill at the other side. This took me down a ways, and I passed a few nice campsites by the creek.

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More stream crossings.

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My goal for the day was to hike until about 6pm. I figured by around 5:30 I should start looking for a suitable campsite. I passed one right by one of these streams I was walking parallel to, but it was at the bottom of a really steep hill. It had a stream next to it, so it would’ve been a good spot, but I didn’t want to have to climb hands and knees down and back up the next day, so I figured I’d press ahead. Well, up ahead there was no suitable spots. Then it starts getting rocky. At about 5:45pm, I emerge at the Rock Run vista, overlooking World’s End state park’s visitor center. Crap. This means that I’m now going to have to climb off a mountain before finding camping.

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This turns out to be the toughest part of the trail yet. The descent is incredibly rocky and steep. A winning combination for sore and tired legs. Many parts I had to turn around and hold a rock with my hands while stepping down to the next rock. Trekking poles are probably the only reason I didn’t fall flat on my face. I imagined a few times climbing down, missing a step, falling and getting knocked out. I thought about waking up in the dark with a bloody wound on my head. I’d probably just take my sleeping bag out, crawl in and wait until morning. Oh well, I made it out ok. So I figured I’d walk up to the visitor’s center. They had just locked up. I was able to knock and get the lady who worked there to answer the door. I ask her where the nearest place was you’re allowed to set up camp. She was trying to show me a place on a map another 1.5 miles walk away. It’s already 6:15pm, I really don’t want to be looking for a camping spot in the dark. Then a park ranger comes out. He tells me if I back track, there’s a side trail called the butternut trail that leads up to some designated primitive camping spots. They’re usually used by boyscouts, but since nobody’s there I’m welcome to set up camp. Sweet. Well, this also means one more big hill climb. At the top, there is a sign that says “Primitive camp sites 1-8”. The ranger told me to use #3, so that’s what I did. There were 4 picnic tables and a bench there, with several flat spots that were perfect for a tent. Awesome.

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 I’m using a TarpTent Contrail for the first time tonight. Set up is fairly easy, although it takes me a minute to figure out how to set up using double trekking poles. This was a nice method though, as it left the entrance unblocked. The tent comes with 4 stakes. I added 3 MSR groundhog stakes. 2 for the sides and one for a ridgeline. Paracord is too thick to use in the adjuster, I’ll have to get some thinner string for that guy line. This was also my first time using my new sleeping bag/pad. The pad is a Therm-a-rest Neoair, and the sleeping bag is a Sea to Summit Trek II. I also have a thermarest packable pillow. The sleeping pad made a world of difference in regards to comfort. It felt like sleeping in a regular bed. (almost). The bag was very comfortable as well. The first half of the night the bag was actually too warm. I ended up unzipping it and using it as a blanket until about 1AM when it got much colder out. My wife had taken a bunch of time and effort to hide notes throughout my bag that she had intended on me finding at different times, however I found them all the same day, and out of the order she wanted me to find them in. It was very nice having something like that to read as I was trying to fall asleep. I must’ve read them like 5 times each. Then I played some solitaire on my Ipod, and listened to some music to fall asleep to. Dinner was a Knorr cheddar broccoli pasta side with a pack of salmon mixed in. While eating, the ranger drove up and did a loop and waved at me. I guess he wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing anything I wasn’t supposed to. good thing I kept my Jim Beam in the bag instead of out. Also, at this camp site there was a hook I figured I could hang my food. Now, it was only 6 feet high. So if a hungry bear came through, he would have no problem taking it. But I didn’t see any bear signs on the way in, no tracks, no droppings, nothing. There were no trees close either with good branches for bear bagging, so I figured whatever, at least no mice raccoons or critters will get into it. If a bear takes it, at least I get to see a bear, and then I’ll just try and hitch a ride out of world’s end park tomorrow instead of finishing the trail.

But I get up the next day at 6AM and everything is still there. Breakfast is Emerald Breakfast-to-go packs and a honey bun. I cook a cup of water for coffee too. Can’t hike without caffeine. I’m on the trail by 7AM. World’s end visitor’s center says someone will be there by 8. The parking lot is empty. I start searching for the Red-x trail, which is literally right behind the visitor’s center. This trail immediately takes you down by the Loyalsock creek where you spend a good part of the hike. Awesome.

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Then meanders up through the mountains. Water is still very available.

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At the top of this mountain is the Loyalsock Canyon vista. It looks towards the World’s end state park visitor’s office from the opposite side as the last vista. I think this one is much, much better. Nobody here today! Actually, my 2nd day of hiking, I don’t see a single person on the entire trail.

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The trail then cuts off through the woods. Signs posted all over saying hikers should wear orange to avoid hunters. Oops. Hopefully its either not hunting season, or the hunters around here practice proper target ID before firing. The trail joins forces with a bridal trail used for horseback riding at some point. More mud. The trail really wants to test how waterproof your boots are.

After branching off the bridal trail, the trail heads up to an area that looks like a small road right along side a fence. You follow this fence for about 30-40 minutes or so. I actually missed where the trail turned off and kept following the path. The whole trail was marked so well, I created a rule for myself. Any time I felt like I may have missed a turn and was off the trail, I would count to 30 while walking and if I didn’t see a blaze, turn around and head back. So that’s what I did here. Still no blazes, so I turn around. As I walk back I see where I missed it. One of the blazes had been painted on a tree but was nearly rubbed off. Turning your head to the right you saw more discs, so this was the right spot. This takes you down through a hemlock forest that felt very enchanted. Lots of moss covered rocks everywhere. This trail then crossed a dirt road, went back to the woods and began a descent down. Another nice stream ran next to the trail until dumping you out on a highway.

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Now the trail goes along side the creek. There’s a huge drainage point where a stream dumps out into the creek that you have to cross. There was no way to do it other than to get calf deep in the water, so my feet are once again wet. You stay against the creek for a while, before doing a switchback up the mountain to walk next to the highway again. This is only for a short time before descending back down to the creek and pass some of the best campsites I’ve seen on the whole trail. I really need to get better at choosing where to camp.

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The creek turns a bend, and then I see it: The iron bridge. The loop is over, and I’m now finishing up the tail to head back to the trail head. First up: Going up the hill that I had to walk down originally to get to the bridge. My legs are TIRED. I must be moving at a snails pace. I’m just staying completely in tune with the rhythm of my steps along with the poles hitting the dirt. More mud. This time, I decide to hike the railroad grade instead of following the Loyalsock trail down to the  haystacks again. I’ve already seen them, and I know that going this route means adding a steep decline and another incline to the walk which my legs just can’t handle.

Finally, I’m back at my car. I sit and read the notes my wife wrote me once again. She’s so thoughtful. If only I was that thoughtful. I change into some fresh clothes, and use some baby wipes in my car to wipe off some of the grime, take my wet boots and socks off and throw on sandals, and hit the road. Another trail completed for the books. 27 some miles in 2 days. 11AM Sunday until 1:30 Monday. Had I paced myself a little more, I’d probably be able to walk today. I’d also have run into rain on the last day, which I missed just in time by leaving Monday instead of Tuesday. Had I had company, I may have been more inclined to pace the hike more and stay out 2 nights, but being at it alone just made me want to get back. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I realized I can handle a night out in the woods alone alright, thus eliminating some fears and insecurities about myself. I also came to the conclusion that while solitude has its benefits, so does having someone to talk to. Would I go out again alone? Definitely. But, I’d probably try a little harder to get someone to come along first.

Final notes on gear used:

I would still desperately like to find some ways to reduce pack weight further. Here’s what’s in my pack, from the bottom up.

Pack: Kelty Lakota 65. I like it. It’s comfortable and seems to hold everything I need. I feel like it might need to be just a tad bit bigger, if I was going to go out for 4 or 5 days I don’t think I could fit everything. Maybe I should take the clothes out of a stuff sack and just stuff them in the bag.

Sleeping bag: Sea to Summit trek II. GREAT bag. Can’t say enough good things about it. It’s a hybrid mummy/rectangle bag, which makes it far more comfy for people who may get claustrophobic in the restricting spaces of a real mummy, while still only weighing 2.5lbs.

Sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir. Awesome. Very comfortable. Took a little while to inflate and to pack away, but the comfort is well worth the extra effort over a foam pad. Many ultra-light backpackers would scoff at me carrying a pillow as well, but I really think it’s invaluable for getting rest. I just can’t sleep on a rolled up jacket. I would like to see if there’s a pillow that’s smaller/lighter though.

Tent: TarpTent Contrail. Great tent. I didn’t get to test how well it shed rain. One thing I will say: TarpTents require seam sealing when you get them. I set up my tent at my parent’s house, sealed the seams the way they recomended using mineral spirits and silicone, then painted the inside and outside. I was unaware how long it needed to dry, and I had to go to work, so I only left it out for about 15 minutes. Well, when first pitching the tent, I thought I may have ruined it. It was all stuck together from the wet silicone! I had to peel it apart. It was a mess. So, make sure you let your seam sealant FULLY dry before packing it up. The sides and rear of the tent can be raised/lowered, so I’m sure it would shed rain fairly well.

Water filter: Katdyn Hiker. I love this thing. It takes a while to pump, but seriously- there’s nothing better than taking a huge gulp of freshly filtered mountain spring water. It’s so cold and refreshing. Tabs leave an after taste. So, this is staying. For carrying, I have a 100 oz camel back that goes in the pack and I carry an empty gatorade bottle that I fill right before going into camp.

Stove: Coleman foldable. It’s basically the same thing as the MSR pocket rocket, only cheaper. Many people would knock coleman stuff, but, this little stove is portable, light weight, and works really well for me. I could probably get by just carrying one fuel canister instead of 2, so I might try that for the future.

Cook set: Snow Peak trek 900. It’s basically a titanium pot with a titanium lid that doubles as a frying pan. Lightweight and efficient. Unless someone convinced me there was something lighter/better, this works for me. I have a snow peak long handled titanium spork with it, I would like to trade for a folding spork so it fits inside the cook set. I also put an MSR coffee mug in the pot, along with 1/3 of a scotch brite pad and a camp towel.

Clothes: For hiking, I wore a pair of Columbia water resistant pants. They say they’re for hiking, but they’re made of like 60% cotton.  I want better pants. These shed light water that might drip on the outside but overall just don’t dry fast. Day 1 I wore Lorpen hiker socks. These rocked. Day 2 I wore smart wool socks. I don’t know which ones, but they were very thin. The Lorpen’s were better. Mainly due to the extra padding in the heel and toe. I also wore an Icebreaker merino wool t-shirt. This thing was awesome. First, after 2 days of sweating, it didn’t smell. (my wife wouldn’t agree, but any hiker would.) I also had on a cotton bandana and Merell gortex mid top hiking boots.

In my pack I had a set of HeatLast mid-weight thermals I got as part of a 3 pack from Cabela’s. They work. I’d like to upgrade to wool, but its expensive. Some day. I also had a pair of fleece pants, a Columbia fleece and a northface fleece beanie. That’s it. Maybe I could ditch either the fleece pants or the thermal bottoms, since I didn’t wear the thermals. The fleece pants look better and are more comfortable, but if it got really cold I wouldn’t been glad for the pants. My rain jacket is a North Face resolve. It’s a cheaper jacket, but no complaints from me.

Other stuff: I carry a Black Diamond Spot headlamp. Good head lamp. I also carry a SureFire G2 as a backup. I have a LG and an XL sea to summit stuff sack I use-one for food and one for clothes. The one for food has a carabiner on it and some paracord in for hanging. In my pack I keep a toiletries kit, which has a travel toothbrush and a small size toothpaste, gold bond powder, campsuds, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and baby wipes. Then I keep a plastic trowel for digging cat holes. I have a first aid/survival kit in a zip lock bag which probably has too much stuff.

Food: I brought food for 3 days, but only ended up needing for 2. For 3 days I figure 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, 3 lunches, and 3 snacks per day. Breakfast was oatmeal with cinamon, truvia, chopped dates and protein powder one day, emerald breakfast 2 go packs (2) plus a little debbie honey bun day 2. Lunch was summer sausage, cheddar cheese and peanut butter crackers one day, and a thomas cinamon raisin bagel plus Justin’s almond butter for the other 2. Snacks were a cup of trail mix per day, a cliff bar and a snickers bar. Dinner is a Knorr pasta side plus a pack of salmon.

The only other comment I have is about the trekking poles. They were amazing in helping take pressure off my knees and hip which don’t feel good, and helping me maintain a steady pace despite difficult terrain. However, they caused blisters to develop in the space between my thumb and pointer finger. Not sure what to do about that. Well, until next time.

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