Monday, April 13, 2015

Mt Penn

This hike combined two things I really enjoy. Three actually. 1) I enjoy hiking 2) I enjoy research and 2) I enjoy road trips with Dave.

When I heard that Dave's softball game in Reading originally set for Friday was rescheduled for Sunday I wondered how close the field was to Mt. Penn a spot that's been on my hiking list for awhile. It turns out the softball field is just under a mile from the western edge of Mt. Penn. So a Dave & Paula road trip was possible.

But most of the trail maps I could find were for trails on the eastern side of Mt. Penn. Could I get over it by way of the mountain not the street? For the purists in the group of course the answer is yes but I wanted to know if there were identified trails to do it rather than bushwhacking and trailblazing my own path. Ahh a chance to do some research. After entering the parameters several different ways I stumbled across a mountain bike forum where one of the posters put up this map.

That white trail appeared to be perfect for what I wanted to do. A zoom into Google Maps Street View showed me that Richmond Street intersects Oak Lane at just the right spot. A few more searches and I found a 2009 article in the Reading Eagle which spoke about that white trail being a great way to get from Richmond Street to the Reading. Pagoda.

Now I needed to see how easy (or hard) it would be to get from the Pagoda to that yellow trail you see there which is the Ferndale Trail up to the Antietem Lake Reservoir in the top right of the map. Some more mix and match searching and I found a trail runners blog indicating that about a quarter mile down the Skyline drive from the Pagoda was a model airfield and the yellow Ferndale trail come off there. I don't know the blogger personally but I recognized him as a friend of several of my trail running FB friends so that gave his account lots of credibility. I wanted to limit my time on asphalt in hiking shoes. They are not very forgiving on paved surfaces. All signs pointed to a good hike!

Dave and I arrived at the softball field just before 11. If both games went full term he estimated he'd be done by 5. My goal then was to aim for a 4 p.m. return which allowed some wiggle room for getting lost or underestimating my ability on the hills I was going to find here. So I had 5 hours to work with. I'd hike out 2.5 hours and turn around.

The walk from the softball field to the entrance to the trail was all uphill; as was the hike up to the Pagoda. This would bode well (or so I thought) for a tired return trip downhill. The start of this white trail was well marked. About halfway in though the blazes were badly faded or nonexistent. I had to turn around frequently to check for return blazes to see if I was still on the trail. It was not well traveled so I often thought I was off the trail. I had printed the map I found and it is now all torn up from going in and out of my pocket. It proved very useful though and the intersections with other trails were pretty accurate and helpful. I also figured if I kept the city of Reading on my right and the rise of the mountain on my left I'd eventually get to the south side. I didn't want to be down on the street though and have to walk back up to the Pagoda. I did make one wrong turn somewhere and ended up on the blue/white trail but the map showed that it would re-connect with the solid white so all was good and I made a note not to make that same mistake on the way back.

I arrived at the Pagoda around noon. It is only open 12-4 on Saturday and Sunday. I had originally though I'd take a tour on the way back if there was time. I'm proud to say I changed my mind and decided to take the tour right then. I need to work on enjoying the hike and be less focused on how much distance I cover. For that goal alone this hike was a big step. Here is a photo of the Pagoda as i came off the trail You can click here to see it's history. It's over 100 years old. Older than me! And I'm ashamed to say I've lived in PA all my life and never heard of it before.


Inside on the first floor is a gift shop. Being the non shopper that I am I had no trouble skipping that. I headed for the steps to walk up to the 7th floor for the view. For those that know me and my fear of heights; a) it was not an elevator ride b) the stairs were indoors so I couldn't see how high I was and c) the observation deck was indoors and only 7 flights up so less scary. However, would like to say that one should never underestimate the amount of work that goes into climbing steps. I was more tired after 6 flights of these steps then the 3 mile hike up the mountain I had just completed. Here is one view from the top.

To the left of the parking lot is the trail I had just come up

Next I was off to find the Ferndale Trail. It was were it was promised to be just off the edge of the model airplane field. On the way back, btw, there were some men setting up to fly planes. But they had just arrived and still had a lot of work to do before flying so I didn't get to see any.

The Ferndale Trail would eventually take one to the Antietem Lake Reservoir. I was about 1 hour and 15 minutes into the hike plus 15 minutes at the Pagoda so I had an hour left before I needed to turn around and come back.

A half hour later I came to Kuechler's Roost and the abandoned wine cellar. I chose not to go in because my gut told me not too. I couldn't see if there were any animals 4 or 2 legged hiding in there.

It was here that the Ferndale Trail separated from the Gravity Trail. The Gravity Railroad is another piece of interesting history in this area. I decided to continue on the Ferndale Trail. It was unlikely I was going to get as far as the lake at this point but since Ferndale took less twists than the Gravity I figured I had a better chance if at all going that way.

The trial continued behind this wine cellar and went straight downhill for about a mile. Actually it went down hill some more but I had reached 2.5 hours and need to head back. The going down was harder than going back up. Going back up was hard. I was fighting hard all the way but going up did not make me feel like I was going to hurtle down head over heels. The incline plus that rocks made me very unsteady on my feet going down. :( I have been debating getting trekking poles for hiking and I wonder if they would have helped. Here is a photo I took on the way back up...about halfway up. If you know it's there you can see the serpentine shape of the trail lined with boulders as it goes up. Ok, well I can see it cause I was there. You may have to take my word for it.


The good news was that I knew there was an identifiable landmark (the wine cellar) at the top and until I got there I had to keep going and once I got there the rest of my journey was not nearly as steep up or down.

So if you haven't fallen asleep yet reading this long post you will recall that I figured the trip back down the mountain would be a welcome downhill trek and that I would avoid the wrong turn. Well I did avoid the wrong turn but it turns out the piece of trail I had missed earlier goes way up the side of the hill and then back down (twice). In general the trip down the mountain was difficult because of all the leaves covering the rocks. It was impossible to tell where the rocks were. I didn't twist an ankle to the point of injury and I only slipped once and saved myself before hitting the ground. But my ankles, knees and hips were already beat up from the first 8 miles of the hike so it was a bit of a rough trip down.

All that said, I very much enjoyed the hike. About 1950 feet of total elevation over 11.6 miles. Not bad for an old lady. I'm looking forward to going back to these trails some day to try some other options.  I got back to the softball field at the bottom of the 3rd inning and got to see Dave work the bases for an inning and a half before it ended on an 8 run mercy. We both changed into clean clothes and stopped at the Queen City Family Restaurant (Diner) for dinner.

Keep smiling and keep moving.
-Paula

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