An Aborted Trip Through A Swampy Forest, or Face-To-Face With A Porcupine

backpackingwildlife photographypinchot state forestpinchot traillackawanna county patrails

One of many NO TRESPASSING signs marking the boundaries of the Pinchot State Forest.
One of many NO TRESPASSING signs marking the boundaries of the Pinchot State Forest.

I've done most of my outdoor learning through reading things on the internet. I can find a lot of knowledge that way, but it's no substitute for actual lived experience.

So, I try to know what I don't know, and remain cautious. I want to avoid putting myself in bad situations, and ensure that I'm as prepared for conditions as I can be, whilst also not overburdening myself with unnecessary weight. It's a delicate balance.

This post is about a trip that I bailed on, as well as some porcupine photography.

Ready and Unwilling

Ever since my last trip to Old Logger's Path, I had been waiting for the right opportunity to go on another solo backpacking trip. Except, shortly thereafter it was winter time.

When March came, temperatures were still too cold in many of the northern areas I wanted to check out. When April started, I was sure I would get out somewhere, but each successive weekend was either filled with rain, forecasts of rain, or pesky other plans like birthdays and vaccinations.

Finally, towards the end of April, things were looking good. Mostly.

Then, one of the plastic lugs started peeling off the bottom of one of my shoes. I had hiked in them for fewer than a hundred miles. I shipped the defective shoes off (at my expense) to see if the shoe company would deem it a "manufacturer error" and give me some credit, or leave me high and dry for my postage.

In the meantime, I went back to main outdoor goods shop where I was intent on trying out other brands. Almost none of them fit me, being too small in my regular size (13), too large a size up (14), and not offering a size in between (13.5).

A lot of the larger felt really comfortable... if I was standing still. I bought a pair, thinking I'd hopefully figure something better out and return them.

Then I decided to try hiking in them anyway. Is it any wonder I bailed?

The Pinchot Trail - First Few Miles

The Pinchot Trail is considered to be among the easiest, but also among the least scenic of Pennsylvania's backpacking routes. It's about a twenty mile, double loop, nearly in the shape of a figure eight. A partial route is easy to decide on and complete.

I decided to start with the south loop, going clockwise from the intersection with Bear Rd.

From what I saw, it was a really enjoyable trail. Buggy, but sunny, with a very different set of terrain than I'm used to. This is especially true, thanks to the fact that it mostly meanders along a plateau.

For example, there were lots of areas where the trail traversed thick undergrowth and shrubs, while the surrounding forest was quite thin and sparse, sometimes allowing for clearings.

A view off to the side.
A view off to the side.
A view off to the side.

At some points, the mountain laurel was so thick that it was easily growing over my head. I can understand why certain online reviews complained of too much bushwacking in the south loop. If this is not tamed, it will easily swallow the trail.

Thick mountain laurel

The trail is composed of a number of named segments. One of them, the Stone Lookout trail, went up a rocky path to an open field -- the highest point on the trail. There, there was a tower someone assembled out of stones. I'm not sure why, but from reading about the trail on the internet, I can tell the stones have been stacked there for at least a decade.

See the orange blaze there?
See the orange blaze there?
The clearing and the stone tower
The clearing and the stone tower
A closer view of the stone tower.

"A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations"

(Section title is a reference to this song.)

I realized as I was walking that I my heels were chafing. Different knots, and adding liner socks provided no relief. Rather than pressing on and pressing my luck, I opted to turn back.

I headed down Tannery Rd. for a few miles a flatter, less harsh path without much vehicular traffic. As I walked along, feeling sorry for myself, I spotted a large rodent in the distance. Its quills shone in the sunlight.

The porcupine, as I first saw 'em, looking for food.
The porcupine, as I first saw 'em, looking for food.

Hello, Porcupine!

I pulled out my camera, while keeping my distance on the other side of the road.

(I was using a telephoto lens, meaning that my photos may look like I was much closer to my large subject than I was.)

Still searching.

I had never seen a porcupine in the wild before, and I struggled to identify it. I didn't realize that they grew so large, or that they could do things like... climb trees.

Still searching.
Still searching.
Nom nom nom nom.
Nom nom nom nom.

As I stayed far away, continuing directly on my path, the porcupine seemed utterly nonplussed. I don't think I caused 'em any particular agitation, which is good.

The porcupine slinked back into the underbrush, and proceeded away from me too.

Bye-bye, Porcupine.
Bye-bye, Porcupine.

Aftermath

Going home was the right choice. I wasn't prepared to hike 20 miles if I was going to do serious damage to my feet. Quick action with liner socks and a road route prevented pain, and allowed for a really fantastic porcupine encounter.

My previous shoes' manufacturer determined that the issue was their fault and issued me a gift card towards a new pair. I'm really glad, because they're one of the few brands that do fit me.

I will make sure I have all the right pieces in place before I hit up Pinchot again.

In the meantime, my feet are mostly unscathed and ready for their next adventure.