Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Black Forest Trail


The Black Forest Trail is a 42.5 mile hiking loop in the Tiadaghton State Forest. The trail had been on my radar and I was waiting for the perfect opportunity to hike it.  According to the Keystone Trails Association the BFT “may be the most challenging and rewarding backpacking resource in Pennsylvania”. I found a remote quality to the area where the only sounds were wildlife and the many waterfalls. The guidebook is called “The Black Forest Trail – A Backpacker’s Interpretive Guide” by Chuck Dillon. In it the author states “the BFT is not a novice trail – there are demanding ascents and descents, challenging stream crossings… and rocky, rough sections that will test the quality of your hiking boots.


I left Pittsburgh in a steady light rain and encountered similar wet weather on most of the 3 1/2 hour drive up to Slate Run. Luckily it was not raining when I pulled into the trailhead, and stayed dry for the rest of the day. As chance had it I was starting at about the same time as someone else, an enigmatic former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who called himself Arrowhead.


The first stream crossing was about 1 mile into the hike, and it was a big one. I got there just in time to see Arrowhead wading through. I walked up and down the stream and decided there was only one way across. With my boots off and my hiking poles ready I started wading across the slippery rocks. Soon I was in up to my chest and I almost lost my balance and got swept down.  I decided to back out, and I found a different crossing which was only as deep as my waist. Once on the other side I chatted with Arrowhead about the trail. He broke out the pipe and herb and I decided to hike on. The trail climbed 1500 feet up a rocky ridge passing many viewpoints. At some point Arrowhead caught up to me and we hiked together for awhile and I got many funny thru-hiking stories. I set up my tarp after about 10 miles at a clearing near a small stream.


The second day had me following a stream down into a ravine for many miles.  The only problem was that the trail kept switching which side of the stream it wanted to be on.  There was maybe 20+ stream crossings, each of which involved some serious rock hopping.  I was glad when the trail turned uphill.  Later on I hiked through some wetland alpine areas which were very similar to Dolly Sods.  The wildflowers were all out giving the green and black forest little spots of color. I ended up camping near a nice waterfall that evening and getting into my bag while there was still a little light out.


On day 3 I hiked out under a dense canopy of Hemlock trees that blocked out the sunlight, giving the trail its name.  The temperature had dropped overnight and I experienced some flurries and hail. The trail ended up followed a valley out and there were many cascading waterfalls. At this point the forest was all huge pine trees and the floor was well carpeted with soft needles.


I love backpacking because out on the trail, there is not much else besides the trail. I stopped each day when I didn’t feel like hiking anymore, and didn’t wake up to an alarm. The BFT is a beautiful trail which is the equal of any in Allegheny or Monongahela National Forest. The BFT is crisscrossed by a number of side trails and roads making it possible to do a loop hike of almost any length. Campsites and water are everywhere along the trail. There are more views than I could count. I am definitely coming back, maybe in October?