Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, May 2008

Day 6

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I woke up once during the night because my arms were outside of the sleeping bag and I had become chilled. I grabbed the make-shift fire poker, a long sturdy branch, from the edge of the shelter and leaned out toward the fireplace. I eased a couple pieces of wood, which had been strategically placed on the edge of the fireplace, into the glowing embers and gave it all a couple quick breathes to stoke the flames. As I peered outside at our surroundings I noticed that everything was eerily still. There were no animals noises, absolutely no breeze and the full moon hung high overhead in the frozen, black sky. If it hadn't been for the occasional crackling of the fire I would have sworn that I was in a soundproof room.

At 9:00 a.m. I opened my eyes and caught a face-full of the brightest sunlight I had seen in days. Even though the sun was shining brightly out in the east it was still cold enough to see my breath so I stayed in my sleeping bag until 10:00 a.m. While I was laying there I noticed a thin layer of snow covering everything inside the shelter. "What? This can't be snow" I thought to myself, especially since it's only on the inside of the shelter. Closer inspection revealed the true nature of the fragile white flakes. The powdery white stuff was fine ash from the fireplace. Apparently, the chimney had an extra obstruction and whatever ash would have normally gone up the chimney had been spewed out into our shelter. Everything inside was covered with ash - the floor, our sleeping bags, backpacks, boots and anything else which was out in the open. At 11:30 a.m. we set off toward my car which was only a couple minute's walk away. The service road was a quicker, more direct route than hiking the trail so that's the way we went. The sky overhead was a brilliant shade of blue and there were only a few puffy white clouds drifting by. It was going to be an awesome day; too bad it was our last.

Route 30 led us northwest a few miles to 381 which then took us in a general southwest direction back to Wilderness Voyageurs. 381 is a very scenic road, especially near the town of Ligonier, which winds its way through some very picturesque areas of Pennsylvania. The area is home to some of the nation's more wealthy families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Melons. In some areas the asphalt was lined on both sides by old trees which had grown tall and practically touched over the center of the roadway to form a green, leafy tunnel. The road brought us past sprawling properties with perfectly manicured lawns surrounded by what seemed like miles of split rail fences. We saw beautiful stone-built homes, old barns, pastures with grazing horses and a small stream flowing gently alongside the road. We stopped a couple times along the way for various photos and eventually made it back to Wilderness Voyageurs around 1:00 p.m.

Across from the main building is a pair of men's and women's locker rooms/showers. Customers of Wilderness Voyageurs use them to change into their wet suits before going out on the Youghiogheny River and for showering when they return. I took advantage of the facilities before changing into my only remaining clean outfit for the ride home. The hot, running water was refreshing after several days on the trail.

We walked around the town of Ohiopyle, watched people kayaking on the river and took a few more photos to document the trip. On the way out of town we made a final stop at Cucumber Falls and then began the drive home.

All in all, this had been a great trip. The monster blisters on my heels were not enjoyable and neither was my sore knee, but the scenery was spectacular. My only regret is that we had so much rain, although, that was outside the realm of my control. It's not even the thought that our clothes seemed to be wet more often than they were dry, that is just part of the experience of backpacking. Rather, it's the fact that I was not able to take as many pictures as I had hoped. It's always nice to share my experience with family and friends afterwards through the photographs I take. I guess this time they'll just have to be content with reading the trip log and relive the experience through some hopefully colorful, descriptive writing.

If you are even slightly interested in exploring the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail I would highly recommend it. You won't be disappointed. I didn't find an overabundance of information about the trail on the internet, but what I did find was helpful. One website, created by Dane Cramer, had quite a bit of information about the trail, as well as several well-written trip journals. I printed all the trips and read each one carefully for insight into what we could expect. I even took them with us on the trip to use as a reference in the field. Dane's site also has a web forum where visitors can post questions and answers reference the LHHT. I posted several questions and even conversed with him via email several times before and after my trip. Dane proved to be a genuinely nice person who always responded quickly and with good advice. He is also the author of "Romancing the Trail: Six Days Atop Laurel Ridge" which chronicles his thru-hike of the trail. His online journals made for great reading so I'm sure the book is just as good if not better. It's on my Christmas wish list and I'm eagerly awaiting the read!

Final count for the day: One very scenic, winding road, many beautiful homes, miles of split-rail fences, horses and a powerful river with a violent waterfall and raging rapids.

Miles Covered Today: 2.0
Total Trip Miles: 49.1
Total Elevation Change: 13,900 feet

If you'd like to learn more about the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail
then visit some of these links: