Hike the Quehanna Eastern Loop
I got out recently for a relatively high mileage weekend trip. My goals were to complete the Quehanna Trail, to test out some wet condition hiking adaptations, and to fine tune my iPhone battery management. My hike took place in mid May, following a week with several inches of rain.
Where and What is Quehanna?
For those of you not familiar with Quehanna, it is an area and trail system in west central PA, in the Moshannon State Forest. The main Quehanna Trail (QT) is roughly oval and is about 75 miles long. There are both West Cross-Connector (WCC) and East Cross-Connector (ECC) Trails that cut off the ends of the oval to make shorter loop hikes possible with no car shuttles. The eastern Quehanna region has quite a few additional trails that create even more possibilities. In winter, it's a nice venue for snowshoe backpacking trips.
Quehanna is mostly a raised plateau, about 1000 feet higher than the surrounding country. As drainages come down off the plateau, fairly steep-sided valleys have been cut over time. The QT ranges from up on top of the plateau, where the hiking can be nice and easy for a bit, to descents down into or ascents up out of the hollows and drafts. There is little or no switchbacking, so the trail is a good workout, though the most you have to go up or down at a time is about 1000 feet of elevation change.
One of the things I love about Quehanna is the variety of ecosystems you pass through, including low scrub, bogs, forest, and open meadows. Water is plentiful and the drainages are often very pretty. Wildlife is abundant, and includes elk, deer, black bear, porcupine, grouse, and turkeys.
Hiking Plan and Gear
To complete the QT, I needed to hike some segments that could all be covered while hiking the 41 mile "Eastern Loop", combining the eastern 31 miles of the main QT oval and the 10-mile ECC. I planned to drive in on a Friday night to a trailhead in the middle of the ECC, hike south on the ECC then counterclockwise on the QT for 27-28 miles over a full day Saturday, then finishing the rest of the QT and northern ECC miles on Sunday, before heading home.
To do this, I needed a light kit and an early start on Saturday, or I'd be night hiking for sure. For a light kit, I used my Murmur Hyperlight Backpack, a minimalist tarp, a poncho groundsheet, and a sleeping quilt rated to 40 degrees. Because temps were predicted to get into the 30's at night, I added a down vest at the last minute and was glad I did. I wanted to have a hot dinner and hot coffee in the mornings, so my cooking system was a simple Esbit tray and titanium windscreen paired with an aluminum greasepot and Reflectix cozy.
Wet Feet Plan
The conditions were very wet, with raging streams and standing water frequently encountered on trail. Perfect for me to test a couple ways to deal with wet foot woes. I've found in the past that my feet blister nicely if they get macerated in wet shoes and socks for very long. For the Saturday miles, I used Hydropel ointment to coat my feet when I woke up, then put on my usual sock liners and wool hiking socks inside mesh trail runners. My feet were in and out of water all day long, including one above-knee-water crossing of Mosquito Creek and two drenching thunderstorms. While my feet were often cold from fresh cold water entering my shoes, when I checked my feet at the end of 15 hours of hiking I was pleasantly surprised to find no blisters and minimal "pruning" of the skin. On Sunday, I tried Sealskinz "waterproof" socks over liners instead of the Hydropel. While these were not, in fact, waterproof for me, they excluded much of the water and kept my feet considerably warmer with the frequent stream crossings I encountered. I'd use both systems again.
iPhone Battery Life
I normally use an iPhone 5 on trail to check my position with the Gaia GPS app, to take photos, to read books, and to listen to music. On this trip, I was careful to make sure I always put the phone back into airplane mode after a GPS check, and was able to determine over the 2 days that with this care, checking position every hour or two, and taking quite few photos, that I used just a bit less than 1% of battery life for each hour the phone was turned on (turned off at night in camp). On Sunday I additionally listened to music for 3 hours, and found that I used 5% of battery life per hour of listening. These parameters will help me plan for how to manage battery life for a JMT thru hike I have planned in September.
As it turned out, I hiked south from the trailhead about a mile on the ECC by headlamp on Friday, cowboy camping in a pine grove. I woke up on the early side, feeling chilly, and was on trail with a misty rain starting to fall just after 5:30 AM as dawn was breaking. Turns out there was a frost, so I experienced colder temps than predicted. In those early hours of the day, wildlife viewing is best, and I saw a half dozen deer and a few turkeys in the first hour on trail. Eventually the sun came out briefly mid-day, just after I had forded raging Mosquito Creek, where it looked like a bridge used to exist but had been washed away by some of our big spring storms.
With the arrival of afternoon, the clouds came back, and I had a couple thunderstorms come through, so that I had to get out my poncho-groundsheet and use it in poncho mode. The rain brought out the colors of spring flowers like my favorite trilliums, and also some rain-loving salamanders. It was good that I had started so early, as I was able to get to my intended destination without needing a headlamp, although I did use one to set up camp and get dinner prepared.
On Sunday I did not get going quite as quickly, but was still on trail by 6:30. The cool grey skies of Saturday were replaced by sunshine and gentle breezes for just perfect hiking weather. I navigated Laurel Draft (an up), Saunders Draft (a down), and Porcupine Draft (an up), before getting back up onto the plateau for the last few miles. Had a nice overlook view along the way. All in all a great weekend to be back on trail, even with the wet conditions.
This post was written by former Trail Ambassador Rob "QiWiz" Kelly.