Black Forest Trail 28M, Slate Run, PA
Max Elevation: 2100'+
October 30, 2011 - After a day of wet snow and cold temps I awoke early    
to make the two-hour drive to run one of my favorite trails in Pennsylvania,
perhaps the toughest of them all, the Black Forest Trail.  With brother Don
and Matthew, I had backpacked the BFT in its entirety eight years ago and
had great stories.  I always wanted to come back and run it, so despite
the snowy, chilly weather, I aimed to check this one off my bucket list.

With frosty snow coating every sign and surface, it took me an hour to
locate the two trailheads along Highway 44, where I would begin and 
finish my adventure.  A little after nine in the morning I set out in four
inches of wet snow in gloves and snow pants on a level stretch of snow
draped trail.  Snow hung heavy from all of the mountain laurel, hemlocks,
and white pines, bending their limbs across the trail to sometimes almost
occlude it entirely.  The temperature at the start was 30 degrees, so the
snow would not stick to my clothing as I bulldozed through down the trail.

The first two miles were above 2100 feet atop the Allegheny Plateau.  The
sun was making its way above the distant hills, making everything sparkle
on this crystal clear, blue-sky morning.  I quickly came upon a campsite that
we had carved out of the laurel previously.  Now it was a bit more developed
than before from regular use. I ducked through hanging limbs and parried
around heavily laden laurel before descending a drainage area for a thousand
feet into a mixed hardwood forest.  As the sun warmed the air I was
getting snow bombed with clumps melting off the tree limbs above.  This
would continue to some degree all day.  As the trail wound downward, the 
snow on the ground lessened and lessened until there was no snow at all 
by the time I crossed over the stream at the bottom and changed direction 
to begin the long climb up Hemlock Mountain.

I remembered making this nearly three-mile ascent while backpacking with
Don and Matt and how challenging it was going to be.  There was plenty of
juice in my legs so I was able to pull most of this climb at an easy shuffle -
except for a narrow section of perhaps three hundred yards where trees
were blown down, apparently from a recent micro-burst.  Given the steep
slope on both sides of the climb it was a bit challenging navigating sideways
to circumvent this mess.  It would take two guys at least a whole day to clear
trail of these trees.

Hemlock Mountain at an elevation a bit over 2000 feet has wonderful vistas of
Pine Creek winding through the hills far below.  The one thing about the BFT
that perhaps is most notable is the wealth of views from on top.  Gorgeous
country!  I was a bit late to enjoy the peak of fall color, but the views were
still worth taking pause to enjoy the mountain view fringed with snow.

All systems were good as I made the steep descent off of Hemlock, following
switchbacks mostly, but on some occasions having to drop straight down.  On
a good day a sojourner would have to hold onto trees to make this descent.
With snow on the leaves and rocks, it was down-right treacherous at points.
I moved with great deliberation and took care not to fall despite the given
dynamics of physics.  I remembered from before that I wouldn't want to
climb this pitch to the top of Hemlock.  Bloody steep!

At the bottom I diverted from continuing on the BFT trail to bail out on a
forestry road as it followed Naval Run down to Pine Creek at the bottom.
This bail-out was all part of the plan to keep my run to 28 miles instead of
running the entire trail for 42 miles.  Following a roadway parallel to the creek,
I passed maybe thirty river-front homes and camps before reaching the
paved road that would take me uphill to the main trailhead at Slate Run.

This point marked about ten miles into the adventure; I was still running up
the hills comfortably.  Immediately upon reengaging the BFT one must ford
Slate Run for about twenty-five feet.  I pulled my pantlegs above my knees,
found an area that was rocky and less than knee deep and waded across to
the amusement of half a dozen Sunday hikers enjoying a sunny morning
along the creek.  Given the air temperature, the water was probably warmer,
so it didn't feel too bad actually.  I emerged on the other side of the run, 
adjusted my pantlegs, and began to run as the trail started up the long climb
to the Quarry Overlook.  This was an exhausting climb with a forty-pound
backpack, but running with just a waist-pack was do-able.  Except for walking
the steepest sections, I pulled the entire two-mile hill at a pedestrian shuffle.
My legs were strong, breathing was good, and I was feeling "fine in the

I was forged in the fires of a more innocent age, and think the child in me will
forever love to run in the woods.  I had the trail all to myself and was in my
glory as I reached the top and stopped to enjoy the magnificent views while
having a gel and some electrolytes.  Below are some file photos with the views 
in the summer and the flat rest area at the quarry on top.





By this time, shortly after noon (though I didn't wear a watch), the air
temperature was up to the high thirties and the sun was making what snow
remained very wet.  For the next three miles I headed north across the flat,
realtively non-descript Plateau above 2000 feet through extensive laurel.  
The wet snow hitting my pant legs made me soaked this time and was sucking
the heat out of my legs.  Both legs felt freezer burned for most of an hour.
Melt water then streamed down my legs into my already soaked shoes.  The
cold must have constricted blood flow because my legs and feet were both
getting uncomfortably numb.  I was glad when I finally got out of the laurel
to make a rocky descent into the upper Slate Run basin.

The only downside to the change was that the rocks on the steep slope
were as slippery as if they were ice-covered.  All the rocks were covered in
lichen that was wet; add to that wet shoes with snow embedded in the
bottoms and it makes for skating rink conditions.  I slowed for this descent
to a crawl.  I killed some time here looking for water too as I had missed a
spring along the way and was out of fluids for most of an hour.  I was
able to locate the purest of springs and generously rehydrate before


The two side streams flowing into upper Slate Run are classic catch and 
release fly fishing creeks with many pretty waterfalls.  I enjoyed this area
before and was glad to be able to appreciate it once again.


At eighteeen miles the trail continues by climbing out of the valley for five more
miles back to Highway 44.  By this point I was feeling tired of dancing with the
rocks and so mostly walked up the mile-and-a-half grade to the top of the 
Plateau.  The sun was behind the ridge, so temps were migrating back toward
30 degrees.  I was anxious to get back into the sunlight, but was too tired
to hurry.  When I reached the sunny top I was rewarded with golden leafy
beech trees everywhere and another great vista to the north.

Once on top I took up running again at a 4 to 5 mph tempo.  There was some
sign of deer scratchings in the leaves, but I didn't see or hear a deer the entire
day - only a surprised porcupine and a grouse and two hearty backpackers.
That was it for the wildlife of my adventure.  It felt pretty good the last couple 
miles through the mixed hardwood forest.  When I reached the highway, I
retrieved my stashed bottle of Propel and immediately hit the pavement for
the final five-mile push back to the car.

The highway undulated up and down as I increased my temp to a 6 mph pace.
The legs were very good, but my feet were somewhat bruised and my back
was sore from so much vertical - maybe about 4000' feet of rocky climbing  
and descending.  I was glad to be back at the car finally, strip out of my wet
clothing and eat some carbs and protein.  It was not surprising that the venture
took seven-and-a-half hours.  The Black Forest Trail is a tough challenge,
whether hiking or running.  Add to that the temperatures and slippery snow
conditions and I had a formidable day.

None the worse for wear, not even having leg cramps, I headed home very
pleased with still being able to rise to such challenges.  Winter is fast
approaching, so I will imminently need to back off working on my bucket list.
I'll maybe try to squirt in one of two more adventures before winter takes
over.  My body is fit and spirit is ready to tackle whatever challenge I can