Trekking the NCT: Now It’s Getting Real.

April 10, 2022

Slippery Rock Gorge

Trekking the NCT: Now It’s Getting Real.

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 73, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

Osprey coming in for a landing

I’m still out here, walking on the North Country National Scenic Trail. I’ve wondered when it was going to start feeling real—like  an adventure with challenges to conquer instead of just a long series of days on which I get to do my favorite thing—hike. 

Pennsylvania has provided the reality. With fewer road walks, higher hills (although Ohio served up some good climbs), and spring rains and mud, I now feel as if this venture is getting serious.

One of my favorite walks is along Slippery Rock Creek in McConnell’s Mill State Park. There are about five miles of trail that are a definite physical challenge with large rocks and steep hills. However the reward is amazing. Slippery Rock Gorge has been named a National Natural Landmark because of this scenery. It also offers Class II-III paddling. I was most reminded of scenes from epic fantasy films. Seriously, the scenery is as wild and formidable as New Zealand, where many of the “big flicks” were filmed.

There are a lot of State Game Lands in Pennsylvania, and the North Country Trail has been able to secure the right to build trail through many of them. These are wild and rugged places similar in purpose to State Game Areas in Michigan, but with less obvious evidence of human intrusion. In SGL 95, the trail follows North Branch Bear Creek, a tumultuous stream that also invites thoughts of fantasy adventures.

Several miles of rail trail have been added to the NCT since I was last here. This walk includes three tunnels, two of which are long enough that you need a flashlight to get through them. That experience was also new to me and felt a bit epic.

From Cook Forest State Park, through Clear Creek State Forest, and into the Allegheny National Forest, there are 120 miles of trail with very little road or pavement for trail. My first long hike was in 1994 through the Allegheny NF. Although some parts of the trail here have been re-routed, other locations feel like long-lost friends—campsites I recall staying at, even rocks I remember. Osprey nesting platforms are provided at many of the bays along Kinzua Reservoir, and I find myself wondering if the birds I saw this week are the descendants of ones I saw so long ago. With an average life span of 30 years, one of them might be the very next generation!

Boulders from the Allegheny Plateau

Portions of southeast Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a small bit of New York’s southern tier were not touched by the Wisconsin (the most recent) glaciation. These areas are geologically connected, as they are all part of the Allegheny Plateau. This high, level plateau is composed of sedimentary rocks that were laid down as the Appalachian Mountains, once as high as the Rockies, weathered away. This plateau then eroded further with steep-sided valleys being carved into the sedimentary rock. Present-day civilization has built its cities and transportation routes along the floors of the valleys. We look up at what’s left of the plateau and call the remains hills, or even mountains. In truth, there are only valleys. These hills were never created by a geological uplifting. 

This fact does not make them less daunting to walk up and down. Most of the near-continuous climbs and descents are in the range of 300-400 feet. However, yesterday, I walked over a ridge with 700 feet of vertical change. The best part of all this layering and eroding is rocks the size of houses, castles and yachts that have calved from the plateau and tumbled to new locations. As the trail winds between these boulders, in more than one place, groupings have been named Rock City. I love how ancient and wild these places are.

I’ll enter New York this week, my fourth state out of eight along the trail. The un-glaciated hills of that region are awaiting my presence, and they promise to make my adventure even more epic. 

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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