Big Pocono State Park

Despite knowing we might run into some lingering snow from the unrelenting winter, Stubbs and I headed north to Big Pocono State Park in Monroe County, PA for a short day hike.

We parked off of Railroad Rd at the parking area known as Riday’s Gate. I’ve done this hike a few times and have never seen more than one car at this parking area.

The first 1.5-2 miles of the trail is along an old railroad grade. Even though the trail is steady uphill, the gradient is easy and the hiking was pretty fast. We did reach a 1/4 mile or so where the trail became part of the runoff of the mountain. We declared this new trail stream/hybrid a strail (stream + trail).

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Strail

We reached the intersection of the North and South Trails where there is a register. We signed in and I found the page from when I was there in October. That day was in the low 70s with beautiful sunshine and near peak foliage. This day in late March was grey with highs around 35.

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Trail register from October.

We decided to take the North Trail up to the top of the mountain. A decision I question knowing what I do now. After the split, the North Trail moves through a beautiful area where cliffs grow on both sides. We’d hiked this way in the winter a few years ago and found traces of snow in this area. Today we found snow 6-8 inches.

Snow and cliffs
Snow and cliffs

The trail continues on and gradually makes it way up the mountain on old railroad grades. As we gained elevation, the snow grew deeper. At some points, drifts along the trail measured well over a foot and probably close to 18 inches. We were gracious that someone had previously hiked our route in snowshoes. We were forced to trace those steps on steep sections. My friend’s dog failed to see why we were struggling.

The North Trail eventually butts right up to one of the ski slopes of Camelback Mountain. We paused and caught our breath as skiers and snowboarders coasted past on early spring snow.

One last push up a steep trail with icy snow granted us the amazing views from the top of Camelback Mountain. There is a picnic area on the top of the mountain that you can drive to during warmer months. But the seasonal road to the top was closed and we had the peak all to ourselves.

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View to the north

We stopped for a short while at a picnic table that looks north over the Poconos. The view was nice, despite the grey skies and stiff wind. Interpretive signs warned that the mountain had a healthy rattlesnake population (which I do not doubt) but we laughed thinking of the snakes still warm in their dens.

We continued on and made our way to the top of the mountain, where 360 degree views greeted us. The sky was a light, indifferent grey and it even flurried for a few moments. We stopped at a bench with a nice view to the west of the mountain to have a snack. But it was a quick break when the wind picked up and blew regularly at what felt like 30-40 mph. My friend and I had both broken a sweat on the last steep inclines to get the top and the cold wind went straight through the both of us. We did not linger longer than to finish our snacks and snap a few pictures.

View from the top
View from the top

We made our way back to the trail from the parking area and started to slowly descend the mountain. With my friend having to be home early for a previous commitment, we were short on time and skipped the hike on the Indian Trail to the beautiful view that looks east toward the Delaware Water Gap.

The South Trail was almost a completely different experience than the North Trail. The path had clearly seen considerable more sun and was more or less free of snow. We moved quickly down the mountain, going probably close to twice the speed as we ascended.

We reached a low point along the trail where a pond had formed and then frozen over. The ice was still relatively thick, despite the obvious sunlight the pond had seen.

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We reached the intersection we passed earlier with the register. The slow downhill along the occasionally wet railroad grade followed. The sun tried to make an appearance as the day wore on, but was stunted by low clouds.

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We did about 6 miles in the end, with the North Trail feeling about twice as difficult as the South Trail. I’ve hiked this area a handful of times and have seen a grand total of three people on the railroad grade that leads to the “official” trail system of Big Pocono State Park. While the areas on the top of the mountain are usually crowded during warm months, the trails leading to the top are fairly deserted.

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