Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hawk Mountain (Kempton, Pennsylvania)

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Entrance Sign Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

For our 8th wedding anniversary we decided to go back to basics and instead of taking a vacation we took a hike  We drove about 1.5 hours to Kempton PA to visit Hawk Mountain which, as its name implies, is a “bird refuge offering opportunities to view migrating raptors.”

Looking at the trail map it seemed like a nice hike to begin at the visitors center, hike north to the North Lookout, east along the Skyline Trail to the far Golden Eagle Connector Trail, south to the second River of Rocks Trail, then west to finish up back at the visitors center. Sounds like a beautiful way to spend a Fall anniversary, doesnt it!?
And it really was, for the first few hours.
The hike to the North Lookout was more of a walk. That is, unless you take the Escarpment Trail. According to wiki this is “a transition zone between different physiogeographic provinces that involves a sharp, steep elevation differential, characterized by a cliff or steep slope."
Something else to mention: there were ladybugs everywhere! Landing on your clothes, your hair, your face. Luckily we have a good relationship with ladybugs-they allegedly bring good luck and who doesnt need that?

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

The North Lookout has a really pretty view out and down and there were probably about 50 people sitting about and others sitting out on some very large overhanging rocks. This was clearly the main viewing area for the birds. It was neat b/c someone would call “5 o’clock, right above the puffiest of those three little clouds” and all spectators would spin their binoculars in that direction and awe at the feathery friend in the sky! There were also Hawk Mt volunteers helping to find/track the birds, provide interesting facts, and answer any questions. We brought binoculars but, really, we were there to hike so we left the bird-watchers and continued on to the Skyline Trail.
According to the map the Skyline Trail was supposed to be to the right of the North Lookout. Thats not exactly accurate-it was more "below" than "to the right of" the North Lookout. As in, scrambling directly down those very large overhanging rocks. You serious Clark!?
Skyline Trail Sign Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529
So the scramble down the rocks begins and Im certain all the bird-watchers can hear my heavy, uneven breaths as I desperately search for nooks and crannies to grab hold of. We encountered only one other group during this descent and they were climbing UP. Did not envy them. We didnt see a single soul the remainder of the Skyline Trail and it was clear why. Once in a while the rocks would end and wed reach what I thought was the end of the rocks only to turn the corner and have another huge pile to climb. >sigh<
Mossy Moss at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529
Caterpillar Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

Eventually we reached East Rocks Lookout and it was here we rested for lunch. It was so peaceful and romantic! We had the mountain top to ourselves save for the bird that circled us once when we arrived then disinterestedly glided away.
East Rocks Lookout Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529
After lunch we discussed: should we head back the way we came or continue on to the Golden Eagle Trail? As you can see by the map we were, at that time, about halfway between so we figured wed push on. Just when we thought wed never reach it, we turned a corner to find the next trailhead! I think we might have kissed the thing if our attention hadnt been diverted by the huffing and puffing we heard. A couple, gasping for air and covered with sweat, collapsed on a giant rock. They had just come from where we were heading. They said it was very very steep and laughed that, “during a hike you always gotta climb UP at some point.” We didnt have the heart to describe what they were about to face!
“Steep.” Yes, indeed, the Golden Eagle Trail was steep. We actually wished wed been climbing up not down b/c our feet had had it scrambling over rocks for the past few hours. We were practically sliding down the trail such that our toes were painfully crunched into the fronts of our shoes. What seemed like an eternity later we reached the first River of Rocks Trail-the actual river of rocks was a few hundred feet off the trail.

River of Rocks Trail Sign Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

It wasnt far after that we encountered the second River of Rocks Trailhead.  According to the map we picked up at the visitors center (which “is NOT drawn to scale”) the remainder of the hike didnt seem so difficult, particularly compared to what wed done so far.

River of Rocks Trail Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

By looking at the map it seems wed pass one large rock field then a smaller one later on; it felt like we were forever passing rock fields. It was hard to tell where one ended and another began thus it was hard to tell how far along the trail we actually were. Chris would run ahead to hopefully be able to come back and report: the visitors center is just over this next peak!  During this time I would scale the rocks, watch the chipmunks, and wonder what Id do if a bear attacked.  Luckily I only encountered guys like this:
Green caterpillar Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

Millipede Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Kempton Pennsylvania PA 19529

Just as you are nearing the end of the trail and thinking the hardest part of the hike is over you encounter a steep set of rocky Excorist stairs.  Though daunting let them be a marker to all those who come after us: youre almost there!

The hike was a nice one and the views and the tranquility were definitely worth the effort.

Today was a good day!

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