We hoped to get on the trail by noon, but had to wait out a passing Thunderstorm, so we didn't get on the trail until 1:00. Our goal was to camp on Benner Run. The trail was well marked and the going was easy, however, we had to hike through alternating patches of ferns and blueberries which, despite wearing gaiters, left our boots soaking wet from the passing thunderstorm. Fortunately, the blueberries were ripe in this area, and that made up for the wet boots. The sun was coming out and there was a breeze, which also made for nice hiking conditions. We made great time on this section of trail, and arrived into Benner Run by 17:00. We set up camp, then went fishing which proved to be quite tough because of being in a Rhododendron Tunnel. After fishing, we had supper and sat around a small fire for about an hour before retiring for the evening.
Slept in, then took our time eating breakfast, drinking coffee (backpacking tip: Starbuck's instant coffee is like drinking fresh brewed coffee; no need for filters) and packing up. Got on the trail around 10:00 and hiked down Benner Run. This was one of my favorite parts of the trail. Benner Run is scenic. Arrived at the Black Moshannon Creek around 11:00 and decided to fish for awhile and have lunch. The fishing was great. There were numerous holdover trout and the browns didn't hesitate to take my beetle pattern, or Andy's Stimulator/Green Weenie tandem. After lunch, we were on the trail by 13:00, and hiked along Black Moshannon for about a mile, before hitting our first real climb out of the valley. According to the map, we were to come to a scenic overlook, but after easy hiking on a fire road, we came to a clearing, but not much of an overlook. As we started down into the Red Moshannon, we were afforded a view of the Rt. 80 Bridge, not all that scenic. Shortly afterward, we encountered our first rattler, who coiled up on the trail and forced us off. This was the biggest one at about five feet. Later we would encounter another one in the Red Moshannon Valley.
Upon reaching the Red Moshannon, we were disappointed. Turned out that the red Moshannon was as a dead as a door nail, because of acid mine damage, which was evident by the "yellow boy" on all the rocks, and the orange tinge of the water. The trail in this section was gently rolling, and fairly easy except for the climb out of Sawdust Hollow and Panther Hollow. We arrived into Six-mile Run around 18:30. We made camp, then went fishing. I was pleasantly surprised to catch both wild brown and brook trout. I didn't catch any stocked fish here.
This was to be our long day, and it started out well, but ended badly. The Hike out of Six-mile run was pleasant, scenic and easy. We reached Rt. 504 quickly and pushed on through another easy section of trail through a mixed pine forest. We took a break for lunch after descending back into Six-mile Run. From this point on, the hike was not enjoyable. After climbing out of Six-mile Run, we entered into a section of the forest that was devastated both by gypsy moths, and also clear-cuttings. This opening of the forest canopy allowed brush to grow up, and combined with little to no trail maintenance, made for hours of "bushwhacking." We made it to the State Park boundary around 18:00, but because we couldn't camp in the park, we had to push on 4 more miles racing the setting sun. Another challenge in this section was the insects. We had no problem with bugs on the north section, but every biting/annoying fly - deer flies, horse flies, mosquitoes and gnats - took up residence near the lake at Black Moshannon. We finally got to the east side of the park around 20:30, and found a decent camp just on the other side of the Julian Pike. Our feet were sore and we were tired, so we crashed early. During the night we were hit with a brief thunderstorm.
We wanted to be out early, so we got on the trail by 8:00. The passing storm had everything wet, but the trail was easy going in the beginning until we got to the vista section. Again, the gypsy moths devastated this area, and the brush, which was also dripping with water, was almost impenetrable, especially where the raspberries took hold. Combined with the thick vegetation was the rockiness of the trail, and the trail designers penchant for gaining elevation only to immediately drop back down. When we came out to Rt. 504, we were quite happy to be done with the AFT. Oh, this was the vista section of the trail, and despite all the work, we were not rewarded with many stunning views, because of the haze that hadn't burned off from the storm.
1. We did the trail counterclockwise, and the northern part was the nicest. If we would have started on the southern part, I think we might have bailed. I won't do this trail again in its entirety, but I would do the northern half for the fishing.
2. Bring gaiters!!!!
3. Bugs were bad in the southwestern and southern part of the trail. Andy had a head net, and I wish I would have had one. The gnats, although they didn't bite, were constantly in our eyes.
4. Trail maintenance was poor in the areas devastated by gypsy moths. This would probably not be noticeable in late fall, or winter, but in summer, with all the growth, it was hard going through the brush. Also, there were three different colored markers: Orange (mostly), yellow and red. There was a very confusing section near Smays Run, because a snowmobile trail and the AFT used the same color markers.
5. The clear cuttings that the trail went through were unsightly. Markings on the trees in the southeast indicate more clear cuttings are on the way.
6. This could be an interpretive hike for environmental degradation: acid mine damage (Red Moshannon); clear-cutting; invasive species and I'm sure it won't be long until gas wells start springing up
7. Selinsgrove Brewing made everything better. We were ready to hike the AT afterwards.