Saturday, November 11, 2023

Rothrock for the Weekend

I graduated from Penn State back in May, and one of the biggest changes is not having Rothrock in my backyard anymore. I took for granted having Tussey Ridge as part of an easy hour loop, or sharpening rock skills on John Wert multiple times per week. All that is to say, I'm going to take every chance I get to head up to State College and ride those northern Appalachian trails. 

Last weekend, Stick and I were planning to bring our tents and camp somewhere in Rothrock. I had some ideas of where to camp, but nothing that seemed to be perfect. I texted Brad to ask if he knew of any popular campsites near Galbraith Gap (a spot in Rothrock) that I might be forgetting, and quickly he texted me back that Erik offered to let us stay at his cabin. If that's not perfect, I don't know what is.

The cabins in Rothrock are pretty neat. It's all state forest land, but the state offers land-leases where people can buy cabins on the leased land. Most of the cabins don't have septic systems, and instead have good 'ol fashioned outhouses. Luckily, Erik's cabin, which he co-owns with Bob, has a septic system, electricity, and even running water. Even so, it's still very rustic. The floors are raw, rough-cut lumber, and you can see the downstairs through gaps in the floorboards from upstairs. There's a wood furnace in the living room, firewood piled on the floor, and there isn't a TV within several miles of the place. In other words, it's exactly what I like. I've always thought it's strange to build a cabin and then turn it into some five-star penthouse. You're in the woods. 

I'm a pretty eccentric person, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't start making plans to build my own cabin in the future. I really can't stress enough how much I enjoyed staying at Erik and Bob's cabin for the weekend. But I digress, back to last weekend.


Stick and I headed up to State College Friday evening, and we got to Rothrock a little after 8 o'clock that evening. We met up Brad at the Galbraith parking lot, and we followed him up Bear Meadows Road and onto Treaster Kettle Road to get to the cabin.

Brad hung out with us for a little as we got settled into the cabin, and we made plans for riding the next day. I'd been talking to several friends in State College about riding the next day, and it was looking like a nice crew was going to be getting together.

Also in the cabin was a guitar, albeit missing the low E string, but it provided some enjoyment. More on that later.

Stick and I got out for a ride a little before 10am on Saturday, and I plotted us to go ride some of my favorite trails. As it was a weekend of classic rock, I'd perhaps describe some of these trails as "deep cuts". I tried my best to show Stick some new-to-him trails, and I think I succeeded.

After heading up John Wert, we climbed Gettis Ridge and attempted to ride on the forbidden trail. Perhaps I won't mention its name, but it's really rocky and offers a great view of Bear Meadows. See the picture below on the right.

Alright, I need to add a little aside here. I always thought the name "Bear Meadows" is a bit funny. Maybe I'm not entirely correct in my understanding of the term "meadow", but I always think of a meadow as being dry and grassy. Bear Meadows, in fact, is a bog. Almost a swamp, even. Looking at it from above, you can get a pretty good sense of the geology/geography of it.

Surrounding the meadows (or bog, as I'd say) is an almost complete ring of mountain ridges, forming a kind of pool. It's not hard to imagine how, over time, the meadows got filled in with eroding sediment and eventually formed completely flat terrain. The creek flowing through it, Sinking Creek, is actually the primary inflow for the man-made Colyer Lake, just a couple miles downstream. The creek, of course, is what provides the water to the meadows and turns it into a bog. Maybe this is more geology and hydrology than you'd like, but still, I think it's really fascinating to try and understand.

Back to the ride. For an undisclosed reason (i.e. not wanting to get caught), we abandoned the forbidden trail and instead rode to Wildcat Trail. It's well-known as one of the gnarliest downhills in Rothrock, and for good reason. It's a mixture of some technical rocks and insanely steep chutes, and it makes for an adrenaline pumping several minutes.

The bottom of Wildcat

After Wildcat, we headed over to Sand Springs Trail. The trail actually has two downhills - going down each side of the ridge from the Mid State Trail - and we rode the side that goes down to Lower Trail. I think that's the harder side.

The next trail on the agenda was Spruce Gap. It's sort of the Holy Grail of Rothrock downhills, at least to me. I first rode it with Will in my month up at school, on my 100mm Epic with two-piston brakes. I vowed to never ride it again in such configuration, and now, on my hardtail with a 140mm fork and four-piston brakes, it's actually very enjoyable.

You may remember (but probably not) back in July that I took my brother and Simon down Spruce Gap. Simon crashed and bent his finger. This time, I was careful to warn Stick about the dangers of the trail. The trail itself is only moderately technical (relatively, very relatively), but its steepness and length is what makes it challenging. The bottom half of the descent is sustained grade over 30% steepness, and some loose rocks and small drops mean you have to totally commit to the descent. It's one of my favorites in Rothrock, and I think Stick enjoyed seeing the gnarly side of Rothrock as well.

Most of the crew at North Meadows/Bear Meadows

After Spruce Gap, Stick and I met up with Brad, Tanya, and Anders in the Galbraith lot. It was my first time seeing Anders for a while (I'd seen Tanya a lot at NUE races this summer), and it was great to hang out again.

We climbed up Lonberger and headed out onto my favorite trail: Tussey Ridge. We stopped for some pictures, I ate a ham sandwich, and we chatted a bit before going on our way. Unfortunately, shortly after, Anders punctured his tire and it wouldn't seal. He had to put a tube in, so he turned around and rode back to the parking lot while we continued on.

I really do love this trail. The views are incredible, and the rock riding is just the right amount of technical for any ride. Plus, I think there's something really special about riding along a ridge.

In the distance, you can almost see Colyer Lake. Of course, there's also the iconic beer tap at the end of Tussey Ridge.

Anders has been letting his hair grow out for a while, something I can certainly get behind. Unfortunately, my long hair days may be temporarily put on hold while I get a teaching job, but I'll see. Maybe long-haired-hippy-people may now apply.

After the ride, Brad met us back at the cabin to hang out for the night. He brought his own guitar, and we had a lot of fun playing around on that, listening to music, and discussing all important aspects of life. But seriously, it was a really great time hanging out. Brad is pretty awesome at guitar, and he knows lots of Led Zeppelin songs from memory.

Hanging out all night in the cabin also reinforced my belief that I need to get my own cabin eventually. I loved not having a TV and some of the other distractions for a weekend.

The next morning, Brad headed home and I took Stick out for a ride to show him some more new trails. We first did an obscure trail off of Boal Gap Road that isn't named, followed by Hessick Trail, a fun downhill back down to Boal Gap.

Next up was climbing Thickhead - like in the Wilderness 101 - but we turned onto Long Mountain Trail part way up. Long Mountain Trail isn't very popular, probably because of the 200 foot hike-a-bike at the start, but it's rewarding descent.

Unlike most trails, Long Mountain isn't particularly technical. In fact, I don't think you have to ride over more than a handful of rocks the whole way down. At times, it's almost doubletrack. Still, I love it. It's long - over 1200 feet of descent - and it feels pretty remote.

The final part of the day was climbing Detweiler up to the very top of Thickhead Mountain, ripping down Thickhead, and making another journey up John Wert. It was a fantastic cap to a fantastic weekend.

Leaving State College and Rothrock is always a bit hard, but I'm planning to make a lot more trips up there in the near future. Plus, I'll be applying for teaching jobs next spring, and State College is on the top of my list. We'll see how it goes, but those Appalachian mountains keep drawing me in.

One of my favorite views from the top of Thickhead Mountain

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