Black Forest Backpacking Trail, Slate Run, PA

By: Keenan Falls

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Red, green, and yellow dot the hillside, but where are the familiar or foreign structural fortresses that modern life has come to know so well? Quickly, as the wind begins to rise, tracing the hillside as I trace my finger upon the map, I forget. Swiveling to the ancestral familiarity of a nipping breeze, oak leaves swirl temporarily upwards in a final attempt to evade their own eventuality. On the far side of the deepening canyon below, a presence towers amidst the likeness of century-old kin. Not here, nor visible in this moment, but among these rocky vistas slithery reminders of renewal lay in wait, patiently for another layer, another season, another sheath to pull back, reveling in softness and novelty.

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An hour and a half drive, but much more specifically, 76.3 miles north, though marginally east, begins a trailhead into Pennsylvania’s woods, however, it leads equally into one’s own renewal. From the concrete sidewalks to the whooshing acceleration of automobiles that attempt to mimic the elegant qualities of a soft breeze, that antithesis to the wild, unpredictable nature of a meandering rocky trail. Do we frequent urban areas that we may return to the woods in greater need of renewal? I seek to justify in this way, on a winter’s eve, when the snow isn’t falling in sacred simplicity, coating the tame and concrete corners that seduce rational lust. It’s all relative, of course, to the outdoors of the Appalachians.

In no specific order, 42.7 miles weave their way into the recesses of memory of those who venture within. Though it may seem fanatical, there are indeed nearly as many vistas as there are miles. I seem to be able to recall, after a late start, and many endured miles, stopping by a creek for water and dinner. Well, it’s well after dark, and the rocky creekside offers no feasible place to comfortably relax. Every bone is aching, from my unconditioned muscles, to the overlooked necessity of utilizing the straps on my pack–actually, standing still is gnawing at my patience. Though, somehow, I have the presence to wonder if there are any native trout amidst our…enduring. Like a petty thief, I creep to the bank, hands t-rexed, though rather raccoon-like. I lean over and peer into the water with childlike wonder. Curiosity ablaze, perhaps equally in my heart, head, and eyes. Movement. I don’t know if the brookie was glad to see me, or as glad to see me, but I had enough joy for the both of us. Perplexed by the aloneness that we shared. Alone with my own thoughts and feelings, alone with its own parcel of stream, no matter how much I talk, I feel best understood once I understand myself. Maybe that brookie can relate, since it seemed to be thriving alone.

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The trail is challenging, but it will keep you young and is recommended for seasoned backpackers and great day-hikers, though, everyone can enjoy this area. The trail is wild, but it will keep you wild. Spring break, post-finals week, a long weekend in the fall, whatever carries your pack. I’d recommend two nights/three days for experienced packers and four days/three nights for those, perhaps, easier on the knees. The longer the better, I mean, for real. You can grab the map and interpretive guidebook at Appalachian Outdoors here. You can also get in-depth backpacking gear, friendship, and genuine expertise at Appalachian Outdoors in downtown State College, Pennsylvania.

Rattlesnakes have been identified at the vistas adjacent to mile marker 41 in the Black Forest Trail topographic map mentioned above. Don’t miss the towering presence of an isolated old-growth Hemlock, but do tread lightly at its base. More specific information can be found in the BFT interpretive guide.

Research has proven time and time again the multifaceted benefits of spending time in nature. Where you choose to “nature” is not as important as “natur-ing,” so bring your friends and always Leave-No-Trace, the trees are waiting.

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You can follow Keenan’s adventures and keep up with his writing @keenzrainbow on instagram

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