The Grand Canyon of PennsylvaniaPosted: May 31, 2013
For Memorial Day weekend this year we did one of the things we love best: head out into the woods. I had been waiting for this weekend like a little kid thinking about Christmas, jittery and overwhelmingly excited. Two reason this weekend felt so special, it was our first time full-on backpacking since leaving Alaska and my dad was coming with us. And the trip certainly lived up to my expectations!
We made a plan to head north and hike the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, which, ironically, we learned about while traveling through Canada last summer. After a little reasearch, it was clear that the 30 mile West Rim Trail would be our route for exploring the “grand canyon,” otherwise known as Pine Creek Gorge.
Fortunately, Pine Creek Outfitters, a local guide and rental shop, offers a shuttle service for backpackers so we could do the trip in one straight shot with no back tracking, ideal hiking. So after a three-hour drive, we parked our car at the north trailhead, hopped on the shuttle and headed south. We hit the trail just after 1PM and managed to pack in 10 miles before we made camp for the night. It was a strong push to start our weekend!
The first ten miles slowly rise to the ridge and include meandering streams with baby waterfalls, thick waves of fern undergrowth, and a mix of pines and deciduous trees. It felt great to be out in the woods and the weather was perfect, cool with a light breeze to keep the bugs at bay. We also got our first glimpse of the gorge. Although the vista’s get better as you head north, even on our first day you could see the curving, thick-green walls of the gorge mounded on both sides of Pine Creek. It is vastly different then the true Grand Canyon, but certainly beautiful in its own right.
My favorite vista on the first day was just north of our little campsite and we could see the rapids of the creek, the Tom Sawyer-like islands that speckled the gorge, and the sun just touching the top line of trees in a milky-orange. It was a perfect cap to the day and set the stage for a great dinner around the campfire.
Day two we completed the middle, and longest, leg of our journey, leaving us with a quick six miles for the final day. One of the best parts of day two was our lunch vista. The vista was the first place that really allowed us to see north up the gorge and we had a blast watching canoers and kayakers try to navigate the rapids far below us. We even got out the binoculars for a closer look. One guy lost a paddle and had to jump out of his canoe to get it back. It was a day of enjoying the peaceful way light filters through the leaves of trees making a polka dot-pattern on the trail and, once again, great weather!
Our second campsite, again we had the place to ourselves, was right along a creek and a waterfall rushed behind our head all night. Greatest white noise ever! Another campfire and cards and quiet. There is nothing like sinking into the woods so deeply you forget about the fast pace of everyday life. Instead, you eat when you are hungry and rest when you are tired and spend your day looking out because everything happens and exists independent of you. It is almost a relief to be so insignificant in the face of nature.
Our final day, an easy, short (6 miles- everything is relative!), mostly downhill, light-pack kind of hike, brought the best views of the trip. The trees gave way to vista after vista that allowed us to see the rim we had just hiked and north to a place we wouldn’t set foot on. It made the gorge feel large and deep in a way I hadn’t yet felt. I almost wanted to slow down, to make it last a little longer. I think we all did.