Let’s end this blog series with a big one. A real one. A true outdoor adventure where you can get lost in the wilderness and completely forget the outside world. Let’s spend a week in the woods.
A bit of advice I’ve learned from experience before we dive deep into planning: when you are planning a trip for a week or more, be flexible. A week is a long enough time for weather to fluctuate and injuries to happen. When planning mileages for a long trip, its best to plan two routes. One route is a long, challenging trip that is your goal for the week, and the second is a modification of that route that decreases the mileage by about a day’s worth. This modification allots for a day spent in your tent escaping heavy rain or bad weather. It makes sure you can finish the hike in a week if you have to spend a day resting an injured muscle. It allots for a day that you wake up to a beautiful vista and have the urge to never leave this campsite so you just sit on top of the mountain and stare down at a valley of streams and wildflowers and watch deer graze and birds ride the breeze until night has fallen and you feel like you’ve been a witness to the fullness of creation.
Believe me, that day worth the missed miles.
Now, on to Allegheny National Forest.
Allegheny National Forest is Pennsylvania’s only National Forest. It contains nearly 517,000 acres of land clustered in the northwest corner of PA. It has an interesting breakdown of 463,000 of forest, 42,000 of non-forest, and 11,000 acres of water. A really cool feature of this National Forest is that the North Country National Scenic Trial runs the entire north-south length of the reserve. The NCNST is part of the longer, 3,200 mile National Scenic Trail that starts at Crown Point, NY and ends in Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota. All in all, the NCNST runs 96.3 miles through the Allegheny National Forest and provides us with ample distance to walk in a week.
I normally shoot for about 10 to 15 miles a day in my hiking. So, if we say we want to go 15 miles four of the days, and 10 the other three, our goal will be to hike for 90 miles total. It’s up to you if you want to add those 6.3 extra miles to complete the entire trail that lies within the Allegheny National Forest boundaries. Our backup plan will be an 80 mile hike that ends at a convenient parking lot.
Let’s start hiking at the south end of the trail (just for fun). This trail is not a loop, so you’ll need a ride to drop you off, or atlas pick you up at the end of the trail and drive you back to your parked car. Make sure the person you choose to pick you up is very reliable. Set a time frame for this person to meet you at the end of the trail in a week. Cell service is often spotty and phones seem to be out of batteries when you need them the most so a predetermined meeting time is important to have. I say set a time frame because you should give yourself a few hours of leeway to reach the meeting point. Also, let the person picking you up know about your backup plan ending spot. Let them know that if you don’t meet them at either spot in the time you decide that you want them to contact the park rangers.
Here is a map to help you through the upcoming directions.
Start at Amsler Springs. There is great drop-off parking area and, of course, a fresh water spring to fill up your water bottle. I’m not going to provide a lot of further direction because I’ve taught you how to plan your own trips in previous posts. Plus, if you are on the trails for a week, the plans you make at the beginning won’t be relevant at the end. I will tell you that to make 90 miles, you have to reach the first parking area off of 321. If you only want to do 80 miles, the parking area off of 265 is where you should meet your ride.
In the past posts, I’ve suggested fairly elaborate meals for sustenance on the trail but, those were short hikes. If you are carrying food for an entire week on your back, simple is best. Here are few of my favorites: Oatmeal or cold cereal for breakfasts (with powdered milk), poptarts and cliff bars as great light and calorie dense snacks, hummus and pita or peanut butter and bagels for lunch, mac and cheese or rice pilaf for dinner. My favorite place to shop for backpacking dinners is the ethnic food aisles at the grocery stores because there are interesting rice, noodle, and curry dishes in minimal packaging.
I hope you have a great trip! I hope you tread lightly and breath deeply. Enjoy this bountiful gift of the Earth that we have received.