This was supposed to be the year I got out and did some multi-day backpacking trips. I thought by this point I would have 3 or 4 under my belt. Unfortunately, the weather never panned out for the days I could go… that is, until this past weekend.
My normal days off are Fridays and Saturdays, a friend took Friday off and wanted to get out and do something… no need to try to plan anything out, I already had several trips planned that I could never get to. We decided to do part of the Quehanna Trail out in the Moshannon State Forest, Clearfield County, PA. This
was the first multi-day trip with the new gear, so we didn’t plan on huge mileage. There is a 20 mile loop we wanted to complete, starting at Parker Dam State Park, taking the QT to the West Cross Connector and then back to the park.
We got an early start, leaving home at around 4am (would have been 3am if I would have checked that I set my alarm correctly) and got out to the Benezette area around 7:40am. We were lucky enough to spot some Elk before heading to Parker Dam State Park to register at the park office and hit the trail.
We geared up and got under way. We both had similarly stocked backpacks. I had my hammock set set up (hammock, bug net, under & top quilts and rain fly) mess kit/stove, freeze dried meals and trail snacks for 2 days, water filter, first aid kit, ax,
3 liters of water, hoodie, flint, trekking poles and camera gear (GoPro, 2 spare batteries, Anker charger, pole).
In the excitement of getting out on the trail, we ignored the fact that we hadn’t eaten since 4am. We just started going, starting on the trail at around 9:45am and stopping about an hour and a half in to have a cliff bar and then stopping for lunch at about 2pm. This is not something I would suggest doing… we were wiped out by that point and lunch only helped out a little bit. We continued until about 3:30pm when we came across the first camp site that we saw about 8 miles in.
We were attempting to make the first vista along the West Cross Connector that was marked on the map, to our understanding there was a campsite there as well.
So, we dropped the packs at the site we found, I decided that I would hike ahead (sans backpack) to the vista and scout the campsite, if it was better than what we already had we’d forge on. I hiked up to where the vista was supposed to be, but it appeared to be overgrown. I also could not find any campsites around it. As it turns out, this was probably for the best. So I headed back to the original site, unable to find the vista but having found a water source fairly close to camp.
We set up our hammocks and relaxed for a bit, headed up to the stream I found and got some water to filter and cook with and then ate dinner… for me it was Mountain House Chicken Breast with Garlic Mashed Potatoes!! Afterwards we secured all our food items in a bear bag, for this I don’t use the typical method of tying off the rope to a tree to secure the bag. What I do instead is called the Pacific Crest Trail Bear Bag Method and relies on a toggle to keep the bag aloft. This eliminates the possibility of a clever critter breaking the tie-off and liberating your food. A quick web search will give you all the information you need if you want to give it a try.
Deciding to forego a fire, we both headed to our hammocks at sunset to just relax and enjoy the solitude. As the sky darkened, the forest changed shifts and the songbirds gave way to Owls and Katydids and then… Coyotes, lots of Coyotes. At first it sounded like maybe 10 or so and they appeared to be in the general area of the vista I couldn’t find. After 10 minutes or so, they moved off over the ridge. I drifted off to sleep, occasionally waking up, either by the hoots of nearby Owls or acorns bouncing off my half deployed rain fly or my own snoring. Then a few hours before sunrise I woke up to the howl of a Coyote, then 2… then 3… then by so many it sounded like they were right next to me. There had to be dozens of them all together and if they were indeed near the non-vista… they were less than 1/2 mile away. I have never heard anything like that in my life… definitely an experience I’ll never forget.
The next morning over breakfast we weighed our options. We had hiked 8 miles, part of that was a slight detour for water… so, we were about 7.25 miles along the 20 mile loop, not quite as far as we had hoped for… but we were doing this for the trip… not the miles. So, we decided to double back instead of do 12+ miles before a 4 hour ride home. We packed up and started heading back, surprisingly feeling pretty good considering how tired we were the previous day. We both agreed that we could have probably made the 12 miles back around the loop, but we would have been exhausted for the car ride.
Even though we didn’t do the full loop, we learned a lot about our gear. Things we needed and some we didn’t. We learned to not let excitement beat out common sense – food is important. We gained invaluable experience with our packs, how to balance them and distribute the weight. Sometimes, solitude is a necessity and it’s always better to be with the wild than against it.
I did manage to get some GoPro footage of the trip and some audio from my phone of the first Coyote experience. Watch the video below to check it out. Enjoy.