OLP Thru Hike July 15-17
We intended to do this hike in four days, clockwise, allowing for a half day at the Yellow Dog Run/Rock Run confluence. We changed plans on Day 1 since we were making good time and having a good hike.
My new Salomons…love the look of them but they caused me some grief on this trip.
Day 1: Trail Head to Pleasant Stream 10.43 miles
Arrived at the trail at noon. Immediately noticed a huge difference between this trail and the Loyalsock, my only real comparison. This trail felt easy. Even having a backpack didn’t seem to make it much worse. The first part is all uphill but it is so gradual, I hardly noticed it. We first came to Sprout Point Vista, which was very nice. I felt great from the start until Mile 7. At that point, we had to stop at the water source there or continue to Pleasant Stream at Mile 10. I felt that it was too early to stop and we might as well press through. I also felt with the good and easy time we were making, it would be better to cut our trip down to three days, giving us one day afterwards to recover. Mile 7 to mile 8.2 was the most difficult climb of the trail. I had to pause several times to catch my breath and it was a rather long climb. Sharp Top Vista was well worth the climb, however, Very beautiful spot. From there the trail mainly went along the ridge for a bit then descended to Pleasant Creek. The first campsite was already occupied by a Boy Scout troop, so we crossed the creek (which was very low…we just hopped across rocks), to set up camp on the other side. We set up at 6:45 pm.
On my own note, with my new boots, my heels, especially my left, started rubbing within 2 miles of the start of the trail. I hadn’t broken them in, and to be honest, I feel they were a half size too small. My feet would continue to be a problem for me on the rest of the trail. I was very glad to soak them in the stream and put on flip flops to take the pressure off, then doctor them for night.
Day 2: Pleasant Stream to Yellow Dog Run 9.47 miles
We had intended to try to reach the confluence of Yellow Dog and Rock Run this day by early afternoon. We were quickly passed by both the Boy Scout group and another larger group of college students. We didn’t have much desire to group camp with strangers, so we thought perhaps we’d camp a bit before the confluence and hit the swimming hole early Sunday instead. This day started with a climb, rather steep but not as bad as the climb to Sharp Top Vista. This was the climb up Sullivan Mountain, with a few steep spots but mostly a gradual climb with many switchbacks. All the water sources listed in the guide were just about dry at this date, including Long Run, Buck Run, and Doe Run (I believe Doe Run had some water but was not flowing well, although we still did restock some at this point by necessity). I was hiking alone for part of this section, with my 18 year old son ahead and my husband and 14 year old somewhere behind, when I made a wrong turn. Instead of turning into the woods, I turned onto an old logging road or something. Since it seemed cleared, I honestly did not watch for blazes (bad mistake!). I just hiked on until I felt it was time for a break then stopped and had a quick lunch, figuring my husband and son would catch up with me any minute. When they didn’t arrive, I was a little concerned. I continued along the same road but it started to get overgrown and basically disappeared into ferns. I finally started looking for blazes and realized I couldn’t see any in either direction. Realizing I was likely off course, I turned back. Sure enough, I found the correct turn and made my way up to the top of Sullivan Mountain, where my three fellow backpackers were anxiously waiting for me, ready to send out a search party. (I was never in real danger as I was probably less than a half mile off the trail and was able to follow it back quite easily). Sullivan Mountain had a few nice vistas out on rock ledges, one which was loaded with rattlesnakes. I personally saw at least 5, and we met a man from some official sounding organization (Reptile and Amphibian something or other) who said he had counted 10. We met a couple more thru hikers who were hiking counterclockwise in that spot. We made slow time this day, not really sure why except we just weren’t feeling it. Second day soreness and tiredness I guess. We had no choice but to push on to Yellow Dog Run as we needed the water. The college group actually spotted us some water as they were still loaded up and making better time than we were; perhaps we looked worn and dehydrated. We made camp at the start of Yellow Dog run at 3:45. It rained overnight, starting around 8 pm and seeming to continue through the night. We stayed dry as we were all set up for camp long before that time.
My own note: Nicholas wasn’t feeling good at the start of the hike, and I wasn’t feeling it all day. I hadn’t slept well the night before, for one thing. For another, my feet were really bugging me all day, although it was manageable. The energy I felt on Day 1 had dissipated. I find I struggle to eat enough on a backpacking trip as I am just not very hungry, possibly from drinking so much. I had to force myself to eat, particularly carbs, to get my energy up. Despite that, by the time we made camp at 3:45 pm, I was worn out. We all just ate cold food from our packs rather than cooking, and I headed in to read in the tent by 7 pm. By the time the rain started around 8 pm, I was near sleep, and slept fitfully but mostly straight through until 7:30 am.
Day 3 – Yellow Dog Run to End 7.94 miles
We started to get up sometime around 7:30 am, and I was really concerned I wasn’t going to make the rest of the trip. My ankles looked very bad from the blistering and rubbing, and I had blisters on a couple of my toes as well. Of course, I was also just overall sore, but that I could deal with. I doctored up my feet with the first aid kit as best as I could, but I didn’t have much faith that the bandages would hold. Once I had my boots on, though, I actually felt a bit better. My husband gave me his walking stick (as a crutch, he said). We set off by 9 am, hoping that the campers up ahead at the confluence were gone. We reached the confluence in good time, but the college group was still there. We still sat, ate, and my husband and older son swam a bit in the gorgeous swimming hole. My son also hiked downstream a bit and found several other campsites, along with other swimming holes. We will know better next time, that we can hike up there if the closer campsites are taken and still have an enjoyable time. We really had wanted to relax for a half day or so and enjoy the area, but it was honestly too early (and cool) for me to want to swim. I also didn’t want to unbandage my feet and have to go through that process again. If we do this trail again, I would definitely plan the timing differently and allow for more time at this spot. At 11 am, we started back on the trail, ready for our last climb. The climb up to Ellenton Ridge road was not very difficult at all, with only one steep, short section. I didn’t feel bad on this portion of the trip, although I was glad we were nearing the end. This was a beautiful section of the trail, going through varied terrain, a lot of it nicely shaded by the tree canopy. The last downhill was difficult on my toes, as I was still having trouble with my boots. We arrived back at our car at 2:45 pm, which was a good time for us.
What I look like after 28 miles lol.
Personal note: I am a very slow backpacker on the best of days, but I felt that my pace was fairly good this entire trip. I will note that I am 20 lbs lighter than when I did the Loyalsock two years’ ago, and also probably a little more fit as I do cardio 3-4 days per week. That, combined with the different terrain of the Loyalsock, made this a much more enjoyable experience than the LT for me. At 47 years of age, I am blessed to have the health and strength to be able to do these things with my teenage sons, and hope to continue as long as I can.
I brought too many clothes on this trip, but the weight was probably negligible compared to the risk of needing them if we had gotten rained on and wet. There is nothing worse than being wet and cold, and I like having a dry change of clothing. I honestly never changed on this three days (sounds gross, but those of you who backpack probably understand). I had carried a pair of (lightweight) long pants and an underarmour shirt, in case it got chilly, but I did not need them at all. Again, the weight would have been worth it had the temperature dropped a bit. I used a “pee rag” with success throughout the entire trip (if you don’t know what that is, look it up).
We brought WAY too much food. We carried excess weight that we did not need in the food area. We had planned to stay an extra day, but we still ended up bringing home three dinners, all fairly heavy. Our “personal” snack/breakfast/lunch food was also too much, although had we stayed an extra day, we might have appreciated that. I myself feel that a 3-4 day hike doesn’t even require a stove or hot food, at least not in the summer. If it had been fall/winter, I may have wanted a hot drink in the AM and a hot meal at night, but for summer, I was content with cold, easy food. I myself would prefer to bring some fresh fruit or something, despite the weight, as I craved that over the Swedish fish and trail mix that we did have. Otherwise, I feel my packing was sufficient.
Lastly, my biggest error was in my boots. I bought them at the last minute, and the only breaking in they had was me wearing them around the house for a couple hours. Also, I bought a size 10, as that was the largest size they had, when I really probably needed a 10.5 or even 11. I definitely need to break in boots ahead of time, and make sure they are suitable after a long day of hiking. Now, after three days of hiking, my feet will likely need a week to recover.
On the OLP: perhaps one of the best weekend backpacking areas in the state. It can be done in 2 days by faster, fitter hikers, and fairly easily in three days. It has varied terrain and views. There are vistas and swimming holes and most of it is in the woods so you are out of the sun. It is a beautiful trail. I guess it used to be standard to hike it counterclockwise, but I followed the Gantz guide and did it clockwise, and I feel that is the better way for sure. If you go counterclockwise, you have a major climb right at the start, where clockwise, you have an easy first seven miles, then a hard climb before the end of your first day. You get to enjoy the beautiful Rock Run on day 2 (or 3 in our case), so it is like a reward for making it to 21 miles. Counterclockwise, you would arrive there on the first day. It’s just preference, but I think I’d prefer to stick to clockwise. Another note: the water sources listed in the guide are unreliable. Nothing against Gantz at all, as it was particularly dry, but there are sections where water is rather scarce. Just be sure to plan for that and load up anytime you see a viable source of water. One last thing about the guide. There just aren’t a lot of landmarks, so we spent a lot of time not really sure where we were in relation to the guide and the map. Especially since a lot of the landmarks listed are “seasonal streams”, all of which were dry on our trip. Finally, the trail is in need of maintenance. There are many downed trees over the trail, some of which required me to remove my pack to crawl under or over. The blazes are a little too spaced out. I have always been taught that you should be able to see a blaze from wherever you are on the trail; and this just wasn’t the case. Instead of a double blaze indicating turns, many had arrows, which actually were more deceiving (note that I went the wrong way partially due to an arrow blaze). There was a lot of overgrowth in areas also, which I understand is very difficult for upkeep. This is not a putdown of the KTA or any of the volunteers who work so hard to maintain the trails, in fact, THANK YOU to anyone who participates in that activity. I’m just noting that it could use a little work.
All in all, great experience, and I hope to do it again soon!