September 23 (11 miles, 5.25 hours) AT PA Sections 1-6
We decided to shuttle ourselves today, and separately drove 2 cars to the section. After a long car ride, it was a glorious brisk morning, perfect for a hike. It turned out that the only people we encountered today was a class of Mennonite school children just emerging from the woods as we parked our car at the lot on the crest of a hill.
We grabbed our packs and made our way to the trail. After a short uphill section the trail follows a narrow ridge for about 3 miles of easy hiking. It was also the prettiest part of this section. Nearly half of the leaves had fallen from the trees, yet there were still nice stands of mostly golden foilage with a few splashes of red. They looked radiant against the vivid blue sky. We stopped at the overlook for lunch about 4.5 miles into the hike. It offered fine views of the valley to the east.
Along the way, we came across a trail mystery. Just beyond the William Penn shelter, a cryptic message written with flat rocks lined the trail. To my eye it reads one thousand feet (1000’). Looking on the map, the elevation at that location is about 1,500 feet, so something other than topography is at play here. We didn’t notice anything extraordinary in the vicinity, but we didn’t look very hard.
The last half of the trail was markedly different than the first. There were lots of rocky sections to navigate. It took much more time to cover the last section than the first. Here the rocks seemed to have been dumped haphazardly down from on high. It’s a jumble of rocky rubble that took time to navigate. It’s sections like these where hiking sticks prove their worth. They stabilize you when traversing awkward and unstable rocks, and save a lot of wear and tear on your knees, especially when going down hill.
This section was overrun with invasive plants, so it doesn’t get high marks for scenic beauty. One large clearing in particular
was choked with “mile a minute.” It’s amazing how these aggressive plants can take over an area. Often these overgrown areas are close to road crossings, where invasives are more easily spread by day hikers, as opposed to more remote sections that get less traffic. A state forester told us that when areas are cleared by disease or storm damage, these aggressive invasive plants can quickly get established. I guess that’s what happened here. The 2 piles of bear scat we passed were reminders to keep a sharp lookout for critters.
There is a long downhill section off the mountain that takes you under the monstrous double span of Interstate I-81. Even from a distance you get glimpses of the highway from the ridge and you can hear the roar of traffic from at least a mile away. However, once passing the interstate, the trail becomes one of the nicest stretches we’ve experienced. You cross a lovely historic iron bridge over Swatara Creek, then walk through an arched grove of rhododendrons. There’s just no telling what you’ll find around the next bend of the trail.