I had originally planned to hike alone but a friend from HammockForums decided to come with me as I had posted up a thread on HammockForums of my intent to hike this trail, his name was MML (this is his trail name). I always enjoy his company, the conversations that usually ensue are always strange but truly enjoyable, laughable and usually PG13 (sometimes "R") and this time it was nothing less than expected, which was a good thing. He was hiking from 56 to 31 with me and then would return later to finish the rest of the trail as he had a prior family commitment.....
The planned route was hiking southbound, staring at mile 70, which apparently I found out was the opposite that most hike this trail. My reason for this direction of travel was to end the hike in OhioPyle as it is a town, which had some places to get a bite to eat (burger and a beer), rather than just ending at a road (parking lot) like one would ending at 56. I had planned to hike the entire trail but due too some family stuff I decided to end the hike at Rt653 shelter (mile 18), so I ended up only hiking 52 miles of the 70.
My itinerary was:
8/4- start at PA Rt 56 and hike 5.1 miles to 56 shelter area
8/5- start at 56 and hike 8 miles to 271 shelter area
8/6- start at 271 and hike 11 miles to Rt 30 shelter area
8/7- start at 30 and hike 14 miles to Rt 31 shelter area
8/8- start at 31 and hike 14 miles to 653 shelter area (this is where I ended my hike)
8/9- start at 653 and hike 12 miles to Ohio shelter area
8/10- start at Ohio and hike 6.3 miles and end the thru hike of the LHHT at Ohio St Pk
This trail has 8 shelter/camp areas spaced along the trail, my plan was to do the trail in 7 days. In order to stay overnight one must register and pay for each night planned to stay on the PA DCNR web site http://www.pa.reserveworld.com/SelectCampArea.aspx?PK_ID=6219. This was the first time I have ever had to pay a fee on one of my hikes (for overnight camping) and while strange I feel that the fee that was paid was well worth it for what you got. Each shelter area has 5 actual lean too wooden shelters, each can hold 5 people. Inside each lean too there is a fully functioning fireplace, each camp area has a wood pile which is a huge pile of chopped wood (unsure who does this) that is available (for free) for use in either the fireplaces or the tent site fire rings. In addition to the shelters there were also tent site's available for reservation, which is what I used for my hammock (plenty of tree's in the areas for hanging the hammock). Each Shelter area has a water pump (not all worked though) and a few had a stream/creek which one could get water (all water must be either filtered or treated to make it safe for drinking).
Through the wonderful help of a great person/trail angel (HappyCamper is her trail name) she gave MML and myself a ride from the places we dropped our vehicles off to the trailhead at 56. She also was doing a food drop for me so that I only had to carry half of my food for the entire trip. What a wonderful person......
|Trail Angel HappyCamper|
|MML and myself at the parking lot just before take-off|
At the Rt56 entrance to the trail there is a trail register for hikers to sign and enter their info about how long they will be out, and to signify their existence on the trail. To my understanding it is also used by the Park Rangers to verify whom is staying the night and for safety in case you don't return by your expected exit date.
|MML adding his name to the list|
Trail conditions were very good, aside from a few blow downs which appeared to be done recently enough that the trail maintainers had not had an opportunity to get out there and clear them. At certain spots along the trail there were wooden seats that were made by the maintainers out of the blow downs, which was really neat and seemed as though they took pride in the appearance and accommodations that they provided and made available to hikers. All along the trail there are mile markers like I have never seen before, they are little concrete pillars, almost resembling the Washington Monument in DC...These markers were spaced every mile, which made knowing where you were on the maps super easy. I feel that the trail was very well marked, yellow blazes were painted on the tree's to signify that you were on the Laurel Highlands Trail which I felt were nicely spaced and easy to follow. I have done quite a few night hikes, or ended up hiking at night due too long days and high mileage and I feel very confident that I could find my way on the LHHT at night.
|Mile marker 70, either the end of the trail for some or the beginning for others (like us)!|
Views along the first part of my hike were really sparse, despite the maps showing a decent amount of vista views, the foliage was in full bloom to the point that one couldn't see through them to see the vista views. But despite this, the trail was beautiful! There were occasional spots where the trail growth took over, but it was not the norm.
|here is an example of a yellow blaze signifying the LHHT|
|here you can see some of the over growth, they were thorn bushes and nettles|
|entrance into a rhodo tunnel|
Each shelter area also has a bathroom, yep thats right a bathroom, men's and women's.....not a privy like those used by hikers on the AT. A bathroom that has toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a trash can....... How wonderful it was! The bathroom was not piped, so no flushing toilet, but it was still the best trail bathroom I've ever seen. The first night we were greeted by one of the rangers, he was checking the site (or sites??) and he immediately pulled out his list and asked for our names. Spot checks, hmmmmmmmmm! This actually was a nice thing, very different than what I'm used too, but alas that was the first and only time we would see a ranger while on this trail.
As I described earlier each shelter area has lean too wooden shelters (5 total at each site), each with it's own fully functioning fireplace. As well as tent sites which were the spots where we set up our hammocks. Each site had the same stuff (shelter's, tent sites, bathrooms, and all).
|my sleeping set-up for the trip|
Everyday was pretty much the same, wake up, get food bag from tree (all food and smell-ables were hung in a tree PCT style) and eat breakfast. Get things together, filter water, pack up and get onto the trail for the days hiking. Each day we would see the trail mile markers (which I took a picture of each one), and followed the yellow blazes which marked the LHHT (blue blazes marked other side trails, and shelter areas). The days were pretty straight forward, hike till we came to the shelter area side trail at the mile marker we were staying at for the night. We did see some cool things in the next few days though.....We also ran across several other hikers, some day hikers but most were other thru hikers, all of course heading in the opposite direction we were going, strange I know.
|trail goes through the rock tunnel|
|rock we found on the trail|
|we saw many, many of these hand made tree bridges throughout the trail|
|water pump at the shelter areas|
|our hammock set-ups|
On 8/7 around lunch time we were scheduled to meet HappyCamper at Laurel Summit StPk as she was being so wonderful and hand delivering me my food box, with the food for the rest of my trip. Little did we know that she was bringing us a secret surprise, "WATERMELON" .......how awesome was that, yuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. It was super yummy, and hit the spot, thank you again HC you are so awesome, a trail angel is she!
|our trail angel left us a sign on where to go|
|the wonderful treat she brought for us|
|us enjoying that treat|
|she was kind enough to walk us back to the trail, and we said our good-byes and thanked her again for everything|
We hiked on the rest of the day, and we came to one of the coolest features of the trail, the LHHT bridge! Which spans over the PA Turnpike, which is super for hikers as that means that we don't have to try and dodge traffic.
|took pic through metal fencing|
|I made it|
|MML taking his leisurely stroll across the foot bridge|
After some hiking we came to one of the most significant points on the trail......the halfway marker!!!
|trail register inside the mailbox|
|---half way mile marker, yea baby---|
The next big highlight of the trail was the entrance into the Seven Springs Resort area, WOW it was cool. I have been skiing there before, but this time there was no snow to be found, and it was such a different feeling while there, walking that is....
It was really neat to see the lift's, machines, and the snow makers. The view at the top of the resort and seeing all the hills and valleys was truly the vista view that I had been waiting for, and missing from previous supposed views that the map said were there but alas did not see. It also marked the highest point on the LHHT, which proved to be a leg burner but wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be.
The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is a beautiful trail, I truly enjoyed my time on it and look forward to returning to finish the remaining 18 miles I have left for my completion of the Laurel Highlands Trail.
It is the journey that we should enjoy and the processes that take place during that journey. Walking in the woods gives one a sense of peace, mentally and physically if you can embrace what it has to offer. Peace and tranquility are ever present...one just needs to find it. There is a saying that the trail will provide...this is ever so true, may not be what you expected at first, but it is always whats needed! See you next time Betty (inside jk).....
Do or do not...there is no try!