Let's begin this story by telling you that I've "anticipated" this trail section for days. I last hiked this section in 2006- admittedly a long time ago. However, there were notes in the FarOut app from 2019 that said this trail was horrible and impossible to find, so there was a real possibility of a repeat of my previous adventure. Except that my solution in 2006 would not have been acceptable today.
I'm going to start by sharing the story of my 2006 hike with you. This is an excerpt from North Country Quest
. This is from Chapter 82, "Wish You Were Here," written as letters to my hiking buddy Marie, who was not with me on that trip. You can skip to today's story if you don't want to read this much, but it will give you a better understanding of why I didn't want to start this piece of trail at 2:30 yesterday afternoon.
Wish you were here. Another gorgeous fall day with temperatures in the 70's! It's hard to believe that the weather has been so congenial. On the other hand, it's a good thing because otherwise today's adventure might not have been so pleasant.
Can you tell that I've set you up for what happened next? I'm sure you are laughing already! I reached Baker Fork in good time with an easy walk. The trail was marked both with blue blazes and metal disks with the Ohio Historical Society logo. Twice the chance of being sure I wouldn't lose the treadway! I knew that the creek would need to be waded in sandals so that didn't alarm me, although the path on the far side did seem to be less used. At the crossing, huge limestone boulders framed the creek, so I had to take time to snap a couple of photos. Indeed, the trail didn't look very good at first, but then it improved. The treadway was fairly well compacted, and every time I began to get worried about being on the right path, sure enough, I would find a trail marker. Continuing this way, I hiked along for about an hour.
My concept of maintenance is a bit stricter than had been applied here. I often had to push through chest high saplings encroaching on the trail, or find a pathway around toppled tree-tops lying across the way, but I always, eventually, found a marker to reassure me that I was where I desired to be. I was writing the story for this section in my head: "I didn't get lost but I don't know why," when the path ended in a pile of fallen logs at the base of an enormous beech tree. I hunted all around the tree for a pathway, but there was none to be found. As usual, my first reaction was anger. I've learned to deal with this by making myself take a short break and thinking about what to do next. So I sat beneath the huge beech and ate a snack. Looking around, I realized that the beech was so large that it would make an easy landmark, and so I made ever larger circles around the tree, but found only the trail which led me back to the last marker I had passed. But once there, I found another fairly well-defined treadway angling toward the creek, so I followed that, but it soon ended in leaves and weeds. Resigning myself to a different story for the day, I headed for the creek thinking that I would just follow it until the trail came back down to cross it again, heading east.
On the way down a valley to the water I passed more limestone formations, now so large that they could never be called boulders, which implies a separate identity for each rock. They were now cliffs which nearly met above my valley, and on one side a round-mouthed cave bore evidence of use by other "explorers." I wished for you to take my picture in such a perfect protected space. When I reached the creek I donned my sandals again and began the walk south following the creek. There were genuine cliffs on one side or the other, or both, making it necessary to continue wading most of the time. The water was not chilly, and the air was warm, so this was not unpleasant. However, the rocks were slippery as snake oil and just as deceptive as to the angles of their surfaces and their depths. I try really hard to be careful when I'm hiking alone and concentrated on keeping two points (either two feet, or one foot and the hiking stick) on solid footing at all times. It was slow going, but I was making steady progress. I figured at the worst I would have to follow the creek for a bit over two miles until it crossed Route 124.
Suddenly, either from carelessness, or some of that snake oil, down I went into the water, dunking my butt. That was the least of my cares. A sharp rock cracked my right shin, just below the kneecap, and I knew this might be trouble. I stood up, checked to see that the camera was dry, and took a peek at my knee. I could hardly believe there was no blood streaming down my leg, but once again my tough skin came to the rescue. One angry red welt marked the point of impact which was already surrounded by a bruise two inches wide and three inches long. I took a tentative step or two and decided that although it hurt like billy-oh, that there was nothing really damaged. My philosophy is that it's better for an injury to keep it moving than to baby it. This was an especially good philosophy for today, since that was my only choice.
So, for 45 minutes I continued downstream, always looking for that missing trail crossing, while the cool water soothed my aching shin. It was obvious that I was past the trail by now; it must have gone to the creek immediately after the final marker I had passed. When I came to a gully on the east side of the creek which looked like it could be ascended, I made a decision. There was clear sky showing through the trees at the top, suggesting either a road or a field. So I switched back to the boots and scrambled up the rocky gorge to where it met a farm lane leading down to a road. The farmer himself was headed up the lane on his modern green tractor with a hay fork on the front. We met near the cow pasture. "I'm sure I'm trespassing," I began, "but I lost the trail on the other side of the creek."
"No problem," he chuckled. "People get lost over there all the time."
I explained how I came out on his property, and asked him the name of the road below, which he identified as Tanyard Road.
"Just where I want to be!" I promised him, and marched off to continue my journey.
At the corner where Tanyard meets Route 124, a lady saw me. Of course I was still soaking wet, and covered with gray mud. She exclaimed, "Are you lost?" I assured her that I was not, but had misplaced the trail on the other side of the creek for a while. Apparently the local population is used to rescuing hikers from that section. She said that just yesterday a woman and two little girls had appeared at 5 pm; they had been hiking since 10 in the morning, and had no idea where they were. She had taken them back to their car at Fort Hill. She asked me if I wanted a ride.
"No thanks, my car is ahead of me," I explained. She asked what she could do to help me, and I let her refill a water bottle.
"You must walk a lot," was her final comment. She was shaking her head as I marched on.
I reached the village of Sinking Spring at 2:30 pm, and still had six miles to walk. I bought an ice cream sandwich and held it on my bruise for a couple of minutes before letting it fulfill its destiny as part of lunch. I hadn't been the least bit hungry until then, and you know that I don't usually do well when not fed mid-day. Although I didn't think I was still angry, that's often a reason for my hunger sensors to be suppressed, so I suppose I was fuming internally. Well, no harm done in the long run, and I sure saw lots more of Baker Fork than most hikers. The experience was just the sort of wild, lonely adventure I have been longing for. As a planned excursion, it would have been awesome!*
We delayed our start a little bit this morning because it was -4 degrees when we got up. By the time we started hiking at 9:30 it had warmed to +8. I know that doesn't sound like a great improvement, but it was. The snow was crunchy and the air was sharp, but the SUN was shining.
I have to also share our Bible verse for the day. It was custom designed for this adventure. We determined last night that the NCT now follows a different trail through Fort Hill than it did in 2006. We were carefully noting what to do at trail junctions we encountered in hopes of staying on the correct path, which, thankfully, no longer fords the creek. We needed to take a left at the first junction and right at the second. Here's our verse. Proverbs 4:26,27 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left. Keep your feet from evil.
There you have it! Direct instructions to not turn right, and then not turn left!
We entered the Fort Hill property and quickly came to Baker Fork. It's down there between those cliffs.
Imagine our delight and surprise when we encountered trail signs with "you are here" markers at the junctions.
The dolomite cliffs and outcroppings were impressive, as I remembered.
However, today, there was no angst about not being able to find the trail.
What the trail was, however, was difficult. It was constantly hilly, with jumbled rocks and roots under the snow, so we couldn't see the footing. I also couldn't stop taking pictures.
We were moving at just over 1 mile an hour. But we wanted to take it all in!
There were even amenities like bridges and a couple of stairways.
Am I happy? You bet!
We continued past this section into Pike State Forest. The sky was a gorgeous North Country Blue. Hard to beat a day like today!
That said, we did short mileage again. Our later start and slow speed, coupled with the difficulty level, made us decide to stop for the day at the first place we left a car. It was going to involve a lot of extra driving to add another short piece to the day, so we went grocery shopping instead.
Miles today: 7.0. Total miles so far: 842.9.
*North Country Quest
is the book that covers the second half of my first hike of the NCT. It is available only from me. Email me at email@example.com for more info, or see Books Leaving Footprints
for another excerpt.