Labor Day weekend. My buddy and me set out for the rolling hills of PA’s endless mountain region. Destination: Masten. Masten is a ghost lumber town located somewhere in north central PA. I guess back in the 1800’s they used to chop down lots of trees around here, but the town has been long since gone. All that really stands now is a big chimney at the start of the trail.
The road to get there was absolutely treacherous. We drove through a quaint little town that was really awesome, drove down an alley, and then there was a forest kinda like right behind a row of houses with a road going through it. Turn up that road and it was an instant transformation into the boonies. Great stuff! Except the road was narrow, and felt like it was falling apart. There was no guard rail, just a really steep drop off where parts of the road were eroded away. I drove very slow, and it took us about 35 minutes to find the trail head once getting on that road. Park the car, hop out, and begin the journey.
The trail starts easy. You’re basically walking along a railroad grade for a majority of the way. A very overgrown railroad grade. The forest was quiet, and we didn’t see a single person the entire day of hiking. We covered about 10 miles on the first day. Sometimes it would cut off the grade and go onto trails, crossing an occasional road.
We encountered the first serious climb right before the first vista. A steep hill that kicked our asses. It’s all good though, we were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful vista at the top, looking out over plenty of rolling hills.
After breaking at the picnic table at the top for lunch, (I had skippy natural peanut butter on a cinnamon raisin bagel, mmmm) we headed back for the trail. It wasn’t much longer until we got to our first camp site, just across pleasant stream. It was here we encountered our first people. Right before crossing the stream, a couple had set up a tent at a really nice looking camp site, and they had a big fire going. We really wanted that spot. We asked them where the next spot was they said about a mile or 2 up there were more sites. Screw that, it’s already late, the sun’s going down, and the water is right here. Why does it seem we can go all day without seeing anyone, and then when we finally see someone, they’ve taken the best camp site? The same thing happened to us on the West Rim Trail. So we crossed the stream, and there’s another couple who set up on the opposite side. Damn. Well, we did end up finding another camp site near by, so we rejoiced.
We got to setting up the tent and sorting gear while my buddy Christian attempted to make a fire. This was probably not the best idea since everything was very wet, and I still haven’t developed good wet weather fire making skills. We ended up wasting quite a bit of time trying to shave the inside of some logs to make tinder, we tried lighting leaves, nothing worked. I had meant to bring some Vaseline soaked dryer lint, but totally forgot. I got sick of it, so decided it was time to go filter water while Christian kept working on the fire. I walked down by the stream, and the guy from the first couple we had passed was coming down too. He was from Massachusetts, so we’ll just call him Mass. I asked Mass how he got his fire started, he said heet. Then he offered to give me some. Freakin sweet, people can be so awesome, and this totally redeemed him in my eyes. Before he was just that guy who took the best camp spot, but now he was the guy giving me some lighter fluid for free. Splashed some on our twig and sort of tinder pile, everything went right up. I gave the heet back to the guy. I really wanted dinner now, but the fire kept threatening to die. What the hell. All the branches and logs were just too wet, and it was hard to keep it going. Eventually we gave up and started cooking dinner. This always happens, we end up cooking and eating dinner in the dark. Now we have to go hang a bear bag in the pitch black.
You know the coolest thing about trying to find a good branch in the pitch black darkness? When you turn on your headlamp, every moth and flying insect in a 500 yard radius zeros in on it and tries to fly into your face. Once we find a branch, we take our headlamps off and set them on a log, shining up at the branch so the bugs go there instead of in our faces. Then comes the fun part of trying to find your tent in the pitch black darkness. Success! So we hang out for a little while longer, then retire to the tent for the night. Several cool new things here, first, I put an episode of the Unit, a show about special forces soldiers, on my IPOD that we watched for a bit. Second, I discovered a new trick to get better sleep in a tent. Ear Plugs! This was Christian’s first time using an inflatable sleeping pad, and he slept like a log. I on the other hand, had decided that since it was warm out, I would bring my Woobie instead of my 18 degree bag. A Woobie is a military style poncho liner, basically a big blanket that’s camouflaged. It has strings all over the sides. I kept getting woken up, because I thought something was crawling on me, and instead assumed that it was the strings on the blanket. Well, at first light, there’s a huge daddy long leg on the inside of the tent. What a bastard. Time to break down camp, after breakfast of course.
Now, our original agenda for day 2 was to hike an additional 10 miles up the north side of the trail and set up camp at Rock Run, supposedly the nicest stream in PA. But it started raining. HARD. So we decided to bail. We had covered the south side of the loop so far, and could see on the map that there was supposedly a bail out trail that led back to Masten. So we hiked up the OLP a little ways until we got to what looked like a railroad grade. We could see the trail went left, and this grade went right. We decided to go right. If this was a trail, it was unmarked and massively over grown. But it was awesome. With the thickness of the forest, the rain coming down, we felt like we were in another world. Many places where we couldn’t decide to go left or right. Were we heading in the right direction? I had been using the TOPO maps app with the GPS on my IPhone so far, but just at this point it decided not to work for us. It was too thick to get a bearing on the map, but the compass said we were heading in the right general direction.
Something really cool about hiking in an area that used to be a logging town is finding weird shit. Like, the middle of a deep dense forest, and there’s a well. Obviously there must be trolls or goblins living in it. Then we get to a stream, and there’s like a 7 foot high rock wall on either side, which obviously used to be a bridge over the stream. We’d been bushwhacking about an hour or so here, and were starting to really wonder if we didn’t just totally get lost. Somehow we got off the railroad grade as it was very overgrown, and we were now at the bottom of a hill which led up to it. I ran up the hill, and immediately saw a road about 100 yards to our left. Oh! That’s where we are! It must be Pleasant Stream Rd.
According to the map this road will take us right back to Masten and get us home. It took about 3 hours to walk down the road to Masten. In the pouring rain. It was awesome. The forest on both sides was just glowing with a mystic feel to it. To the left, a steep uphill into the forest. To the right, a downhill to pleasant stream. We saw lots of waterfalls through the stream. I really had an awesome time on this walk. Finally we emerged back to the car. I don’t think I would’ve been as happy had we tried to press on, and had to set up a tent in the pouring rain. Here’s an awesome shot of the stream we walked past day 2.
Now comes the extremely difficult task of finding time to go back and finish the north loop.