After logging the Firetower cache, I continued my weekend hike southward with the intention of covering the 25 miles to the Ohiopyle shelters by nightfall. From the Firetower to this cache is about 9 miles through Seven Springs.
I arrived at about 1pm, which meant that my ambitious goal was beginning to slip. But first, a digression:
When dinosaurs ruled the Earth and the Atlantic Ocean was just new, the Appalachian mountains were already old. To say that they had been born one hundred million years before when North America plowed into Africa and life was just crawling out of the oceans would be an understatement as by that time they had already been tectonically born and erosionally worn down three times. The sandstone so commonly found along the Appalachian ridges are devoid of fossils, being made from the previous incarnation of the Appalachians, once rising higher than the Himalayas, washed into shallow seas when life was little more than a thin ooze.
Yet, for their great age, it is geologically recent events that give the mountains their unique Pennsylvanian character. The ice sheets of the last ice age didn't get quite this far south but the effect was profound. The harsh cycle of freeze and thaw across the Pennsylvania tundra broke up the Appalachians into jagged, oddly angled fields of rocks. Huge blocks that seem as if dropped from the sky. On the plus side, these rocks provide interesting formations and spectacular vistas of the type Questmaster has pointed out with this cache.
But, as anyone who has hiked long distances on the Laurel Highlands or Appalachian trail or gone after caches such as Brush Mountain (GC281C) can attest, there is a price to paid for that history. I've heard Pennsylvania ridges described a the place where boots go to die.
And die mine did. Shoelaces broke spontaneously. An eyelet pulled out. Threads broke. My toes pounded against the front. The boots and my feet inside took an absolute pounding and taught me a valuable lesson:
Lesson Number Eleven: K-mart is not to place to buy your hiking boots.
Don't by cheap equipment. I murdered my boots in a single trip. I was also disappointed in my backpack. The waist belt was too close to the shoulder straps, preventing my from putting enough of the weight onto my hips. If I had a properly sized pack and good boots I might have been able to cover the distance I had initially intended. As it was, I arrived at this cache about half an hour later than my minimum time. Loosing half an hour here meant that, if my pace didn't slip any further, I'd be hiking the last two miles in the dark. I remembered my Boy Scout days of twenty years ago and that last mile into the shelter area is a brutal, steep mile. And that's assuming my time didn't slip further. Unlikely.
By the end of the month, I'll be riding my bike down to DC. On the way back I'll be stopping at the College Park REI store to get professionally fitted for new boots. (The REI website has coordinates for each of their stores!)
After logging the cache (TNLNSL) I made my way to the 653 Shelters. I could have hiked further but I couldn't have covered the dozen miles in the time allotted. Perhaps it was good that I stopped, not only for the sake of my feet and shoulders, but at about 6pm, a thunderstorm rolled in and dumped heavy rain for a full hour.
I had called Kyrie, who was my ride back, but was unable to keep cell signal to give her directions to pick me up. I figured that when I got to the parking lot at Maple Summit Road on Sunday morning I would be in a better position to give her a call. Coincidentally, I ran into a Boy Scout troop that had just hiked from the Ohiopyle Shelter. As they were being picked up to return to New Stanton, I hitched a ride to Donegal. I was going to try hitching a ride from there up the mountain to my car but Kyrie called and told me she was ready to leave where she was and pick me up.