Hiking the West Rim Trail

Stretching along the western edge of Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Gorge is the West Rim Trail, thirty miles of lush trail that stretches from Ansonia to Blackwell.  Offering many spectacular vistas and mild heart-thumping climbs, the WRT is a weekend backpacker’s dream.

Stink Bug and I took a trip to the WRT this past week and started our trip from the northern terminus at Ansonia and started out around 1:00pm.  We headed out at a solid pace and signed the register about a hundred yards in.  The day’s weather was clear and mild, and the forest had a glow to it which made the trail look as if it were taken from Middle Earth itself. It wasn’t long before we climbed up Barbour Rock to the set of four glorious vistas, all overlooking Pine Creek Gorge – it was simply stunning.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat here and afterwards pushed on to our camp for the night.

We’d hiked the WRT about two years ago so we knew about the campsite at mile 6 where Painter Leetonia Road intersected the trail.  The campsite sits alongside a healthy stream which makes it a welcome spot for hikers.  We quickly set up camp and halfway into hanging our hammocks another couple appeared from the south.  We learned that John and his [new] wife — I don’t remember her name — were hiking the WRT northbound and they definitely looked weary.  We offered them some space in our camp to pitch their tent, and we quickly acquainted while making a fire.  It was their anniversary so we offered our congratulations and shared stories of hiking and backpacking trips.

The night grew cool as the hours rolled by and our group of four talked and shared follies of trails and of life, and Stink Bug and I reveled in tales of the Appalachian Trail.

We hit our hammocks hard at dusk, and at just about hiker midnight — which was roughly 7:00pm that night — and the evening got the best of us.  No sooner had I pulled my bag around my feet and over my arms than I was out cold.  There must be something magical about mountain air because it’s like a sleep elixir – like a Tyson one-two punch.

Both nocturnal and a bird of prey, the owl and it’s solemn HOO was indeed a forest lullaby.  She rocked me to sleep with a metronome of owl song, such bliss.

Waking at 6:30am it was time for breakfast and breaking of camp.  I love my hammock and how quickly it packs away.  While I boiled water I packed away my hammock and tarp, and I was enjoying a Mountain House’s Breakfast Skillet rolled up in a delicious tortilla – make that two.

We were on the trail by 8:20am and had agreed that our day would be a rolling 17-miler.  Whilst the trail hugged the rim of the gorge’s canyon, our journey also took us inland and around valleys away from the views.  However, these miles were full of deeply colored tree cover and the trail laced with reds and oranges; it was gorgeous.

We stopped for lunch at mile 15 and hung our hammocks to enjoy some zeds; sleep on the trail shouldn’t just be for the nighttime.

After about 40 minutes we headed over and through the Bradley Wales Picnic Area and along a very dry seven miles to our next campsite at mile marker 23; not having the luxury of useable streams or creeks to refill our water bottles became a hindrance.  Even an October day can be warm, and this trip’s daytime hours didn’t disappoint with regard to temperature.  Reaching the mid-70’s and no water while maintaining a 3/mph hiking speed isn’t conducive to comfortable long distance hiking.  We arrived at camp around 4:30pm, and we were both starving.  A tiny trickle of a water source was enough for us to gather water for boiling to turn our freeze dried packets into 5-star gourmet meals.

We didn’t bother with a fire that night, and we were hanging in our hammocks by 6:00pm.  WHAT?!  Earliest I’ve ever been to bed on the trail.  Long day, though.

I was woken around 1:00am by a deer that came sniffing around my hammock — presumably trying to ascertain from where the smell of dirty human was emanating — and I shooed it with a grunt as I perched my chin over the edge of my hammock.

Poor deer.

The next morning was blue skied and chilly, a perfect start to a day for our final seven miles.  We hiked through a thick and narrowed rhododendron-trimmed trail; me at the front brushing the morning silky spiders’ webs/lines away from my face while pushing through the rhody brush.

Soon we came across the final vista on the trail (mile marker 27.5) after a few nice climbs and we took a short break of water and mini Baby-Bel cheese.

The next 2.5 miles were a treat: 1.5 miles of spruce forest and easy flat trail leading to a prolonged 1 mile downhill to the southern terminus at Rattlesnake Rock parking lot.  Reaching my car (Stink Bug’s was at the northern terminus in Ansonia) I changed into clean clothes and we drove north to pick up the other car and grab lunch.

Burgers at the Burnin’ Barrel Bar is what’s good in the world; meat, beer, and good convo.

The West Rim Trail is stunning, and if I get the time to hike it again in 2013 then I’ll be a happy man.

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