Hiking Pennsylvania: 11 Miles on the Conestoga Trail

One of the most challenging parts about training to climb Mount Rainier is finding training hikes close to home that incorporate the kind of elevation change I need to be prepared for; forget the actual elevation. With our schedule for the Summit for Someone climb, we'll gain 5,000' the first day, and the remaining 4,400' or so to the summit the second day. The highest point in Pennsylvania is Mount Davis at only 3,215'! There are certainly some challenging hikes with a lot of hills within a few hours' of Philadelphia, though, and we found a doozy this weekend.

I had the pleasure of venturing out on to part of the Conestoga Trail with the Wilmington Trail Club (WTC) this Saturday. The trail runs north-south for 63 miles in a beautiful section of south-central PA. I didn't know the trail existed until a friend forwarded the WTC's list of spring hikes, and suggested I choose one to do with him. I learned after that the WTC typically hikes 10-20 miles on one weekend day, depending on the hike leader.

Looking down at the beautiful Susquehanna River from one high point on our hike. Gorgeous, no?

We left several cars at the Pequea Creek Campground, which would be the end of the hike, and drove to a nearby park in Holtwood to start the day. The beginning of the hike was deceptively flat, then sharply turned downhill as we wound along the Susquehanna River. Of course, if you descend from where you started, it eventually means going back up! I stopped counting the hills after number three, and tried my best to push the burning sensation in my legs out of my consciousness. 

I was impressed with how quickly the group moved and did my best to keep up with my 30 pound pack on. I was pouring sweat by the end of each steep incline, and grateful when we stopped for lunch along beautiful Kelly's Run.

Thankful for a break, we stopped along Kelly's Run. So beautiful!

The second half of the day was by far the most rewarding. We were treated to some incredible views of the Susquehanna River. The neatest part was what group leader Jim March called Wind Cave. When I heard the word "cave," I envisioned something I'd boulder in - not deep, something you could sit in, maybe fit a tent in. On the contrary, it's a relatively narrow, but incredibly deep crack in the beautiful rocky hills. One group member mentioned it ran all the way down under the river! With cool air pouring out of it, it was a perfect place to stop and take another midday break and do a little exploring. I didn't go in far, but far enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Wind Cave. I ventured in a little further than this, but not much!

Sometime midday, I definitely made a mistake during the hike that had a big affect on how I was feeling, and I should know better. I ate a big roast beef hoagie on white bread for lunch, and felt my energy level take a nose-dive. I felt sluggish and a little dizzy, despite staying hydrated. I don't typically eat giant sandwiches full of meat on white bread, and have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to do it on a day when I needed good clean fuel.

One of the best pieces of advice I got for extended trips is to create meals and snacks out of things you normally eat, are good for you, and like. If you don't like almonds, even if they're the best hiking snack in the world, don't take them with you. You won't eat them, or you'll eat them and hate it. If you rarely eat meat, but bring a giant stick of pepperoni backpacking with you because you heard it's good to nosh on, you're going to have an uncomfortable few days.

I'm not a fan of white bread. I don't eat it often, and know what it does to my energy level. But white bread hoagies were all they had at the grocery store the morning of the hike, so I ate one, and paid the consequences. I definitely could have avoided that problem with better preparation. Lesson learned, and on to the next adventure!

By the time we made it back to the Pequea Creek Campground where we'd left the cars, we'd covered just over 11 miles and climbed 2,400'. It certainly satisfied my hike requirements for the weekend. My friend and I devoured apple pie and a chocolate peanut butter sundae, respectively, after the hike - a day's work well done!

Have you been on the Conestoga Trail? Have you seen the Susquehanna River? We'd love to hear from you!