So, someone somewhere somehow got the notion that MST 3 would be easy. They didn’t get that idea from me, by the way, for the record. Perhaps they got that idea from the elevation profile. I cannot say.
It certainly wasn’t easy to set up. It was a rare event for DC UL that we had plenty of cars, but not enough cars to make an early group. So, Thursday night, I changed my mind (U-Turn) and just had everyone come to the RV-campsite at Duncansville, PA. This was a pleasant spot. No doubt the RV campers are still talking about us. Blue Blazes built a bonfire to amuse herself. Shuttle rolled in with the DC crew round 9:30pm. We were off to sleep early.
Saturday morning, 5am. We were up and rolling north to meet Turbo and Pringle at Galbraith Gap. The anchor vehicles established, it was back south to Williamsburg and the Lower Trail Parking lot. After admonishing the assembled hikers to “beware trail hookers,” we were off along the Juniata towpath, pleasant in the early morning. It was about 8:15am.
The miles flew by, interrupted only by the occasional call of “bike!” I took texture photos for my composites, and chatted. The flat miles wore on some folks; I had a traumatic flashback to the one-day hike, but we reached the Juniata Water Gap by mid-morning. After a quick ice cream break, we left the Lower Path, and (at last!) enter Rothrock State Forest. This was a relief to me, as an organizer, as it means that we will have much easier camping options for the remainder of this section-hike.
A few trail miles went by, then we walked along RR tracks into the village of Barre, PA. Folks waved as we passed. We arrived at the trailhead near the Lower Juniata. The trail got serious about getting us back up to Tussey Mountain. It was hot. Steamy. Steep. The line strung out. I reached the summit with Blue Blazes. Face Plant and B.A. were already there. We discussed plans for the evening. There was a breath of wind and a dramatic view. I settled into take some photos and wait for the Shuttle, B~~~, and the others. It was a good spot and a good moment.
With everyone accounted for, we started off along the rocky ridgeline. It soon became apparent that this would become the tale of two trails. The ridgeline was flat enough, yes, but it was wicked rocky footing, as bad as the worst of the Massanutten, and tougher than anything we’d seen on the MST. I’d still say there were worse sections of the Standing Stone Trail and the Tuscarora Trail, but make no mistake, this was tough footing. The rockfields gave us occasional views; we passed a fat black snake sunning itself; Shuttle attacked a rock with her knee; we admired the elaborate cairns.
We hiked some with B~~~. We had all tanked up before the climb, but we were all dripping in sweat and guzzling the water. B~~~ wasn’t worried. The springs were just a few hundred feet below the ridgeline. I pointed out that the contour lines were in metric. A few hundred meters is not a few hundred feet. His face contorted in a curious mix of agony, dismay, and pain. We walked on. At last, at a trail register, B.A. had left a note that the campsites were ahead. Thank goodness! There was little suitable ground atop that ridge. We all rolled in. 22 miles for the day.
But water? Shuttle and I had enough for the night, but that was about it. Either today or tomorrow, I figured, so I saddled up again to head for one of the springs. B.A. came a long in his flip flops. We descended down the Tussey Mountain Trail, which had a very steep pitch on it, and found a beautiful spring near a camp. B.A. and I guzzled this pristine water, then loaded up my pack with 11.5 L–my little frameless pack isn’t meant for that chore. B.A. and I then returned to camp and distributed water. I think I’m calling that a 24-mile day for me.
We planned for another 5am depature. Aileen asked, “Are you serious?” Yes, I am! Texas State Fair chili for me, a drop of whisky, and then we were out. 5am comes around quickly.
I screamed everyone awake, and, as we hit the trail at 6am, it started to rain, a light consistent rain that would last until the afternoon. We were soon soaked and we had 19 miles to walk … on slippery PA rocks. We got moving, passing viewpoints, clouded in with rain. Aileen and I walked some together. We passed PA 26, descending briefly into the valley, where we re-grouped. Brian C’s feet were blistered up. We gave him some tape. I think all of our feet were suffering from the battering. Climbing back to the ridge, Shuttle lost her normally calm demeanor, and starting dreaming of titles for the hiking book she would never write, “PA: No Switchbacks”! That little climb ends in a boulder field. Shuttle was pissed. I told her, “C’mon! It will be great practice for climbing other boulder fields.” She harrumphed.
Ridgeline. More rocks. Will it ever end? The rain stopped. I hiked with Brian C. His feet were bad, but he wasn’t going to stop. Aileen became hhomicidal briefly. I got pissed off when I realized we weren’t going to be done by 2pm. I ate some cheese and felt better. As we neared Galbraith Gap, the trail left a pleasant forest path to follow and old RR grade–piled with rocks!!!!–oh, the agony! We re-grouped where we would leave the MST–near Little Flat Tower. The camraderie made us all feel better. Of course, there’s a perfectly good parking lot there, but why would we use that?
We descended, first by trail, then by road, then by trail, then by road, to the cars. 4:30pm. And splits of 23 / 19. Given the conditions, 19 miles by 4:30pm is just fine, but I think we were all a little battered. With no time for a pub visit, we drank a few beers in the parking lot (I had stocked up on summer shandy), reversed the shuttle, and headed home.
Make no mistake: we got a tough section of trail done here. The MST is no joke, but we’re doing it for the challenge. I imagine we all have our aches and pains this morning, but it really was a fun weekend, with a great crew! Bravo to the 11 who started, and the 11 who finished! Well done!