Category Archives: Hiking & Camping

Backpacking in the Otter Creek Wilderness Area

The boys and I have been wanting to try backpacking for the last year or two, but we have been slow in getting it done.  The main reason for that was the cost of all of the necessary equipment. We had plenty of camping gear, but none of it was small and light enough for backpacking. But this year Landry’s school teacher invited all of the boys in the class and their fathers on a three day, two night backpacking trip.  So that was the motivation I needed to spend the money and get geared up.  Sometime in a future post I’ll give you a run-down of all the equipment I purchased.

A test run

Being new to backpacking, I decided to take a short one-night backpacking trip just to test my equipment in preparation for the longer trip.  I took all three of my sons on a 1.5 mile trip into the state forest near our house and we camped for one night.  My friend and his son also went along.

Everything went well, except that our 2-3 man tent was very cramped with myself and my three boys.  But that was to be expected.  Only Landry and I were going on the longer trip, so we knew tent space wouldn’t be a problem.

Day 1

About a week after our test backpacking trip, we arrived at the parking lot for Otter Creek Wilderness Area to start our three-day, two-night adventure.   The trail started by crossing Otter creek on a suspended bridge.  Then it was a rugged hike for a short distance until we got to what appeared to be an old railroad bed running along Otter creek.  The trail was relatively flat, but muddy in places and there were a few small streams to cross that flowed into Otter Creek.  When we reached the first creek crossing, I removed my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes and wore my Crocs for the remainder of the day.  They were not the most comfortable shoes to walk in, but thankfully we had only planned to go 3.2 miles on the first day.

Our campsite was a flat, dry area on the banks of Otter Creek.  We reached it around lunchtime, so we had plenty of time to hang out and explore.

As far as scenery goes, Otter Creek was the highlight of the trip. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, except perhaps in some Montana trout fishing videos.  It was one waterfall or white-water area after another, with water crashing over huge boulders.  Some deep pools in-between looked like perfect places to hold trout. Several of our group who were under 16 (no fishing licenses needed) fished for a time, but we didn’t have any success.

Day 2

We packed up camp after breakfast and resumed our trek along Otter Creek.  The trail was a slight uphill grade and followed Otter Creek for about 6 miles.  There were several large waterfalls along the way. We forded the creek a total of four times.  One crossing was a little treacherous, and I wouldn’t have wanted the water to be any higher.

Somewhere around mile nine the trail left Otter Creek and headed up the mountain.  I was glad to finally be able to put on some dry socks and shoes and be able to keep them dry for a while.

The trail flattened out when we reached the top of the mountain, and we had an easy hike through the hemlocks to our campsite beside a spring at mile 12.

We hung-out for a couple of hours and had a good supper, and then escaped to our tents at dusk just in time to escape the rain that continued into the night.

Day 3

The rain stopped sometime during the night, and day three was another great day to hike.  It started with several miles of hiking a slight downgrade on the top of the mountain, so I assumed it would be reasonably dry in spite of the rain.  I was proven wrong when we slogged through mud again and again.  The thick rhododendron was nearly overgrowing the path and was wet from the rain.  Add in a few rocks and roots to trip over, and it made for some treacherous hiking.  It was especially difficult for the two younger boys.  For them much of the rhododendron was head level, making it difficult to watch for obstacles.  Landry fell at least five times, but thankfully didn’t have any injuries.  I was relieved when the trail opened up and then headed sharply downhill.

At around mile 16, we rejoined the trail along Otter Creek that we had started on, completing a loop.  From there we retraced our steps about four more miles to get back to the vehicle by early afternoon.

Lessons learned

Here are a few things we learned on our first multi-day backpacking trip

  • Blue jeans get really heavy when they are wet.
    For this trip I wore lightweight hiking pants that I was very happy with. Landry, on the other hand, wore blue jeans. Everything was OK until we crossed the creek a few times and he got wet up to his waist. At that point the denim got heavy and began to chaff his legs. Thankfully, we had an extra pair of pants for him. Next time, denim clothes will be left at home.
  • Paracord and carabiners are very handy for all sorts of things.
    Take some of both along when you go backpacking.
  • Take extra socks.
    An couple extra pairs of socks take up very little space and you will be glad for them if the trail is wet and muddy.
  • Bacon & Cheddar Cheez-it crackers are a very tasty trail snack

All-in-all, we had a great time.  Our equipment worked well, in spite of the fact that we were pretty frugal in the products we selected. Luke and Jared did a good job of planning the trip as well.  The hike was difficult and long enough to be an adventure, but not so much to cause many aching muscles.

Canoeing the Pipestone River

This trip was designed to be a father-son retreat and a time of refreshment and renewal. After much planning, eleven of us were finally able to make the trip. The group included myself (Elijah) and my son; Duane Roth and three sons; Lester Weiler and two sons; Christian Horst; Daniel Miller

Monday, August 1

8-1-16-23We met at Stirland Lake in northwestern Ontario at the old Wahbon Bay Academy (a former school for first nations high school students). We left at about 4:30 p.m. in five canoes after final goodbyes and encouragement. The first task this afternoon was about a one hour paddle across Stirland Lake and then a short portage across the rapids there and then onto the North Pipestone River. As we started down this river we encountered a intense rainstorm that soaked all of us (in spite of raincoats and gear). We finally made camp this evening at about 8:00 p.m. just below the fourth rapids from Stirland Lake.

Tuesday, August 2

Today was ideal weather with a high around 80 degrees and no rain! We got to the entrance to Yates Lake by lunchtime. Then we had a stiff wind coming from the south that was stirring up occasional whitecaps. But, nonetheless, we made it safely across the lake and proceeded over a few more rapids before making camp for the night. The water level is quite low compared to several times I made this trip before, so we often wound up needing to drag our canoes over rocks. Our campsite tonight was not ideal, but we did find an area that had some moss, whereas last night we pitched our tent mostly on a rock and had quite a hard night of sleep!

Wednesday, August 3

I got up early this morning and canoed back up to the last rapids to try my hand at early morning fishing. Had the best fishing of the trip so far: 21 walleye and pike in about an hour and a half. Mostly I caught walleye between 16-18 inches and a few pike up to about 24 inches. We crossed Sasiginaw lake and are almost to the entrance to Kecheokagan Lake. We stopped a bit earlier this evening (about 3:00 p.m.) and made camp. Some of us went back out to the last rapids to do some more fishing, and some sat around and relaxed and talked. A few did some swimming. Also each evening one of the Dads gives their life story and spiritual journey to the group.

Thursday, August 4

Today was a big day: First we crossed Kecheokagan Lake. This lake is known for its moose, though we were not fortunate enough to see any (probably we are too loud!). We have seen quite a few bald eagles out here — probably a few every day. Other wildlife so far: loons, otter, mink, red squirrel, and an assortment of other birds. Going out of Ketcheokagan Lake is a fairly lengthy and quite violent rapids: though with the water lower it was not nearly as intense as I remembered it previously. Most of us used ropes to make our way way down through the rapids, though Duane Roth decided to portage the entire section. He (with his son) got to the end about the same time the rest of us did. Part of this rapids had a nice chute of water that provided a fun place to drift down and swim and frolic. We ended the day by going through Frog Rapids of which we were able to canoe through mostly. This is a series of about 8-9 short rapids in progression that then empties into Horseshoe Lake. We are camping at the entrance here to Hoseshoe Lake. We had excellent fishing all along today through the rapids.

Friday, August 5

We caught a lot of fish here at the entrance to Horseshoe Lake, though the walleye were a bit smaller: mostly under 16 inches. Lester Miller has caught the largest walleye of the trip so far: 24 inches. The largest pike has been 28 1/2 inches long. The weather today (and yesterday also) was a bit unpredictable. We would have a short quick shower and then sun again. At one point today, crossing Horseshoe Lake, I could see three or four showers/storms on all sides of us while we had sunshine! It didn’t last long, though, and soon we were getting soaked again. Today we saw the only other person on our entire trip so far: a lone camper/canoer who is out here just to be by himself. We sighted a black spot way off on an island, and thought it was a moose or bear at first, but it proved to be a fellow human! We camped tonight about a mile out of Horseshoe Lake on the Pipestone River. The weather today was a bit cooler: upper 50’s in the morning and maybe a high of about 70 degrees.

Saturday, August 6

We paddled the rest of the trip out today to Baker’s Landing – about two hours of paddling with no rapids. We did have several interesting encounters: We saw a big bird sitting on a rock along the shore. It turned out to be an immature bald eagle that finally lazily flew up into a nearby tree when we got within about ten yards of it. I was afraid for a few minutes it might decide to just jump into our canoe! We also saw about four or five wolves (mother and cubs) along the shore (quite a distance away) and the last canoe (behind fishing) saw several black bears. We got picked up at noon at Baker’s Landing.

Day Trip to Seneca Rocks

Somehow on the eve of Memorial Day we still didn’t have any plans of how to spend the day, so I took to the Internet to find a good day trip. I ran across Seneca Rocks, a hiking and rock-climbing destination in West Virginia. I don’t have interest in hanging from a rock face on a rope, but we enjoy hiking. I remembered from a field trip our school had taken there years ago that there was a nice hiking trail and a lookout.

So I gave each family member a motion sickness pill and headed out immediately after breakfast on the winding 3 hour trip into the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. Upon arrival we ate a snack and then headed up the mountain. The trail to the top was about 1.5 miles with a 1000 ft elevation gain, so it was good for the cardiovascular system. At the end of the trail was nice lookout and a sign admonishing non-rock climbers not to go any further. Rock-climbers, of course, don’t bother with the hiking trail at all but scale the rock face directly from the bottom.

We finished off our picnic lunch and then hiked back to the bottom. Then we paid a visit to the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center where we watched a video about how the area was used for rock-climbing training during WWII. The building also had a large deck where those with good eyesight could spot some rock-climbers on the rock face above.

This destination is definitely worth a day trip. Be aware that there are only a few nearby places to eat, so you might want to pack a lunch. Also, you might want to pack a fly rod and enjoy the nearby trout stream.

UPDATE 06-27-2016: Landry put together some footage to create a nice video of our adventure. Take a look below.

Return to the 1000 Steps

After a few cold weeks, Sunday we had some spring-like weather. My family and I took advantage of it by taking a trip to the 1000 steps.  As it turned out, a lot of other people had the same idea; the parking lot was nearly full.

In spite of having to pass a lot of other hikers going up and down, it was a great hike.  Upon reaching the top, we hiked out to the locomotive shed and the western overlook.

The trail-head for the thousand steps is located on route 22 about two miles west of Mount Union.  This is where the road follows the Juniata River through a narrow gorge known as Jack’s Narrows with high ridges on either side.

This was named for a trader by the name of Jack Armstrong who lived in the 1700s.  It was near this location in February of 1744 where Jack and his two servants were killed by Indians after a dispute over a horse.

1000Steps 12The steps were built in the 1930s by miners who climbed the mountain each day to work in the quarry. Sandstone mined from the quarry was taken to Mt Union where it  was made into  bricks. At one time Mt Union was the largest producer of silica bricks in the world.

1000Steps 4How long it takes to climb the steps depends on how physically fit you are but for most people will take between twenty minutes and one hour. At each 100-step interval you’ll see a number of painted on the rocks to tell you how many steps you’ve climbed.

Turn right or left at the top of the stairs to  continue exploring. Turning to the right will take you to a lookout that will allow you to catch a glimpse of the town of Mt Union.  If you turn left the path will lead you to a concrete building. This building housed the locomotive that moved the sandstone from the quarry to the bottom of the mountain.

If you still have some energy left, climb the steps beside the building that lead a little higher up the mountain. After a short climb you’ll come to trail that  leads further west along the mountainside.  After walking about half a mile you’ll come to a lookout that allows you to see the town of Mapleton along with the railroad, route 22 and the Juniata River.

If you’re in the south central region of PA and you’re looking for interesting hike, you definitely will want to visit the 1000 steps.  In fact, you might like it so well that you’ll find yourself making the trip every year.

 

A Night in the Igloo

Tent camping in cold weather never seemed very appealing to me, but for a long time I’ve wanted to spend a night in an Igloo.  Thanks to winter storm Jonas, I finally got that opportunity this year.

The 2010 Igloo

The 2010 Igloo

The first time I built an igloo was after the blizzard of 2010.  The snow was powdery and it took several hours of spraying down snow with water and packing it before I got it constructed.  That structure was too small for camping, but Landry and I were able to have a picnic inside.

When the forecast called for a blizzard this year, my boys started talking about building an igloo.  I told them I wouldn’t be doing it unless the snow was wet and packed easily.  But after Jonas dumped two feet of light, powdery snow, I changed my mind and built it anyway.  Igloo 4Like before, it took a lot of water and a lot of work.  This time I made it large enough for three people to spend the night. The end result was a bit odd-shaped; it wasn’t perfectly round like the igloos you see in a story book.

At first the igloo was not very sturdy, but as the week went on we got a few days of warmer weather that caused the snow to soften and then harden again at night.  I also took some opportunities to pack more wet snow onto the structure.  But the end of the week, the igloo was very sturdy.

Igloo 1On Friday night we decided it was time to put it to use.  The nighttime temperature was forecasted to get down to about 15 degrees, so the challenge was going to be staying warm.  Our sleeping bags were cheap ones, not rated for winter weather, so I wasn’t sure they’d keep us warm with each of us in separate bag and not benefiting from each other’s body heat.  So we used blankets instead. I covered the floor of the igloo with a piece of plastic, and then put a piece of egg-crate foam and a blanket on top of that.  Landry, Camden, and I laid on that and used three more heavy blankets on top.  I also draped a folded blanket over the doorway tunnel to help keep the cold air from coming in.  Cullen, our youngest son, wanted to join us, but there wasn’t enough room, and I wasn’t sure if he’d stay still enough to stay under the blankets.

It turned out to be a reasonably comfortable night.  Our body heat warmed up the interior to the point that a few drops of water fell from the ceiling. Igloo 3 A more perfectly shaped ceiling would have caused the water to run down the walls instead of dripping, but it wasn’t enough to cause a problem.  But by the middle of the night the dripping stopped, meaning that the interior temperature had fallen some, but as morning came it started again as it began to warm up.

Igloo 5I’m not sure I’m ready to strike out into the wilderness to go igloo camping, but as long as I’m a short distance from a warm house, I’ll be ready to do it again the next time winter sends us a bunch of snow to work with.

 

Hiking the Kerper Tract

The Kerper tract is a parcel of the Buchanan State Forest located near Big Cove Tannery. It has two hiking trails, one easy and one difficult, that will keep you occupied for a couple of hours.  There are also some picnic tables and a charcoal grill if you want have a picnic or cookout. Cove Creek runs through the Kerper Tract and is a great place to fish for trout. Click the video at right to learn more.

A visit to the “1000 Steps” in Mt Union, PA

On April 6 some friends and I made our first trip of the year to the thousand steps in Mt Union, Pennsylvania. The steps were built in the early 1900s by miners who wanted to make their daily climb to the quarry a bit easier.

For an office-dweller like me, the first time up the steps usually means three or four days of aching legs, but the good views and the sense of accomplishment you get from the climb make it worth it. Two years ago I visited the 1000 steps for the first time and made an informational video that gives some of the history of the area. Click on thumbnail to the right to check it out.

Raystown Lake Scenic Overlooks

If you’re in the Huntingdon, PA area and you have a little time to kill, consider paying a visit to the Ridenour and Hawn’s scenic overlooks. The lookouts are only a short walk from each other, so you can visit both with one stop. Here’s the map that should get you there.