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Old 03-12-2021, 11:09 AM   #1
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 5,188
Hickory Creek Wilderness Loop (Allegheny National Forest) 10/15 - 10/18/20

Quick write up for a 4 day trip I did with friends last October- our annual "Columbus Day Duck Hole Trip." This year, we selected the Hickory Creek Wilderness Loop in PA's Allegheny National Forest. At roughly 13 miles, this is the shortest Duck Hole trip we've done in a while. We picked something easy this year so as to accommodate two ability-impaired group members- one who was at the end of the second trimester of her pregnancy, and one who was still recovering from hip surgery.

Obviously, the pandemic was a concern- and for a bit we weren't sure we'd even be able to conduct an annual trip this year (a similar group trip was canceled last spring due to the pandemic). In the end, we dictated that all group members were to isolate for 2 weeks prior to the trip so as to enable us to more comfortably spend time in close quarters with each other.

The Hickory Creek Loop proved to be exactly what we were looking for- while it was lacking in spectacular scenic views, it was easy hiking. We were able to take our time traversing the full loop over 4 days without any rush or concern for the less-abled group members (and 3-4 miles per day proved to the limit for the hiker recovering from hip surgery, so we chose well). The trails were well graded (apart from a couple of short but moderately steep climbs), and passed through beautiful open hardwood forest. Blowdowns were few and far between, and while many of the blazes were faded the trail was nevertheless obvious and easy to follow.

To be sure, the area is definitely a solid one for anyone looking for a beginner-friendly backpacking trip (or for that matter, a kid-friendly backpacking trip). It would be a great area to try to introduce someone to the activity without risking overdoing it (and scaring them away in the process).

The easy terrain also enabled us to include another participant- the canine companion Charlotte. Charlotte was a frequent Duck Hole attendee years ago, but she's aged considerably and hasn't attended in recent years. This was almost certainly her last Duck Hole trip, and she seemed all to eager to take in the excitement with enthusiasm- even if she did need some help getting over the few blowdowns we encountered.

She was also quick to take advantage of any and all opportunities to sun bathe.

A few additional photos of Charlotte in her youth, all taken on Duck Hole trips in years past:

There's a number of established campsites along the loop. We encountered one on the east side of the loop, in the broad drainage that eventually feeds Middle Hickory Creek. We briefly considered staying here on Night #1 (we hiked the loop clockwise), but the nearby stream bed was bone dry so we chose to move on instead.

Instead we ended up camping on the southeast corner of the loop. Where the trail first turns west, it passes around the end of a broad ridge. A short walk uphill here lead us to the top of the ridge, where we found plenty of flat ground to camp primitively.

The site was nice, although the water run could be described as "epic." The nearest source was Middle Hickory Creek, over a quarter mile of bushwhacking away and 200 feet below to boot. And once we reached the bottom of the valley, we also had some difficulty finding running water in the open meadows there (and some of us began to question whether there was even any water to be found at all), but we did eventually find a good spot to fill up at.

That first night light rain moved into the area and we spent the evening hanging out under the group tarp chatting. Some of us hadn't seen each other since the previous year's Duck Hole trip, so there was a fair amount of catching up to do.

The next morning brought with it fog as the rain tapered off and moved out of the area. It made for a beautiful sight in camp.

Sections of the trail parallel both Coon Run and Jacks Run respectively, and both of these drainages had several well-established sites. We elected to eat lunch in one such site on Coon Run.

Coon Run was also running pretty low, but there was enough water there nonetheless to fill up on.

Jacks Run is about the halfway point for the loop, and we chose to camp for the second night in another well-established site there. Jacks Run was also running pretty low, but there were a few deeper pools here and there with plenty of water. We enjoyed a beautiful night under clear (but cold) skies.

Our final site was along the north leg of the loop, which follows the top of a broad ridge. We'd expected to camp primitively at a non-established site again, but to our surprise there's a few moderately-well established sites along this stretch. We found a fire pit decently far off trail (just enough to be out of sight) and elected to camp there. This was a dry site, without any water nearby at all, but we'd planned ahead and carried enough for the night (and the hike out the next day) with us from Jacks Run.

After the light rains Thursday night, the rest of the weekend was gorgeous- and we saw a number of other groups out for the weekend. Clearly the Hickory Creek Wilderness is moderately popular at times. We saw a couple of groups out on Friday evening, and on Saturday the woods really started to fill up. We didn’t leave camp #2 until early afternoon Saturday, and by then most of the other established sites on Jacks Run were already occupied. I’m sure that in our wake, a latecomer group was undoubtedly happy to find our vacated site. I was also glad that we’d decided to camp at a dry site atop the ridge on Saturday night, well away from anyone else.

Continued in next post…
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