[Pssst…A whisper from the shadows? Yeah, I’ve got some news about a book. My first new one in about five years. From Wood Thrush Books… Beautiful Like a Mayfly can be previewed at the Amazon link under “Works” in the sidebar here. I’ll try to feature it, a beauty, in an upcoming post!]
A couple of geezers chanced to meet along Pine Creek, south of Slate Run, Pennsylvania. One of those weary fellows was me. I had just finished hiking into the Wolf Run Wild Area (aka the Wolf Run Wilderness), and the fellow I spoke with had just finished cycling another segment of the 60-mile bike trail along the Pine Creek Valley.
Part of our conversation centered on my description of the Bob Webber Trail which goes up the mountainside and ends at Wolf Bald Vista. The biker claimed to like the hiking trails around here and even hoped to learn how to fly fish as he closed in on the age of 70.
“I have guns at home,” I said, “but why would I carry one into the woods?”
“Well, for rattlesnakes and… stuff,” he answered.
I told my partner in dialogue that I respect the timber rattlesnake and keep an eye out for it when I’m hiking or fishing in its territory, and I reminded him that the snake is, in fact, protected by law in Pennsylvania. It’s never caused me any trouble. It was no reason to carry a gun at my side, or even a can of “snake repellent,” if such a thing existed.
I had Bob Webber to thank for this trail into the wild. The legendary forester had lived off the grid for 50-some years in a simple cabin that he’d built nearby, without plumbing or electric, but he and his wife, Dotty, loved the simple life, the Pine Creek Valley and the wooded mountains. And they wanted others to enjoy the beauty of these mountains, too.
The Webbers had entertained many friends who hiked to their mountaintop cabin, and for many years, Bob developed and maintained hiking trails in the region. He built these trails on public lands with just an axe, and cared for them till his death, earlier this year, at the age of 8o. There was this trail to the Wolf Run overlook, as well as the neighboring Golden Eagle Trail (9.5 miles), and the well-known Black Forest Trail (42 miles) that circuits the mountains and valleys near Slate Run.
My old legs, conditioned by running and by hopping rocks along the trout streams, felt the strain of the Webber Trail that switchbacked up the steep mountain toward Wolf Bald Vista. The ascent reminded me of the Dog Canyon Trail in southern New Mexico, except that here one climbed through a lush pine and oak forest rather than scrambling over rock and desert soil. It was steep, for sure.
Chipmunks chattered; acorns dropped noisily to the forest floor; turkeys scratched for mast. A pile of fresh bear droppings waited on the trail for some drowsy flatlander to smooth it out like mud. Luckily, I stayed awake, eager for whatever moment might arrive. My shoes stayed dry and clean, and I’d see no one else on this trail today.
After a rigorous 90 minute climb, I found the vista and the trail’s end. The view across Wolf Run, across the Golden Eagle Trail on the opposite ridge, and out across the Pine Creek Valley to the hills beyond was wonderful. I ate my lunch on a log seat and watched the monarch butterflies migrating southward past my lookout like slow-motion bats in the sun.
Across Wolf Run I could see the iconic outcrop called the Ravenshorn. The giant rock can be reached along the Golden Eagle Trail. A group of hikers was on the rock. [Note the series of photographs that close in on the group]. I could hear the hikers throwing stones and chattering in what might have been the English language. They didn’t appear to be representatives of a terrorist nation. Through binoculars, they didn’t look like U.S. government officials searching for me in advance of drones and helicopters. I didn’t need a pistol or a semi-automatic to defend myself heroically against some mutant army.
No sir. I was more intrigued by the fact that Ravenshorn is named for the roost it gives to one of my favorite birds. I was more intrigued by the fact that the outcrop is a home for protected rattlesnakes that live among the crevices.
Back in the 1970s, some members of a state hiking club were resting on Ravenshorn while studying the outcrop on the slope across Wolf Run. Someone would suggest to Bob Webber, the veteran mountaineer, that there ought to be a trail to that point. Bob was the kind of fellow who took the hiker’s suggestion to heart. And yes, he built the trail to this outcrop where I ate my lunch and watched the butterflies.
Bob had wanted to name the trail the Wolf Bald Vista Trail, but the state of Pennsylvania named it otherwise, in honor of this woodsman whose skills and love of nature had become well-known across the region.
The only obstacle I could see was the enemy within… My thoughts– when they get in the way of things and fog up the view. If I get lucky, there are ways to clear those thoughts, to see things as they really are.
Unless I was hunting here in season, I wouldn’t need a gun to clear the route. Not when I had trout streams to fish in and trails to explore. Not here in the Wolf Run Wild Area, or in any wild place in the eastern U.S.