Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — August 2004

Quehanna Wild Area — Laurel Draft, Gore Vista, Foley Draft

by Gary Thornbloom

The decision of where to hike usually involves spreading out maps and allowing a name, a set of contours, a stream, or something unique on that particular map to grab my attention. Hiking with the season means that in mid-summer I often look for a hike that promises some relief from summer heat. So, when I recently spread out a map of the Quehanna trail system the word draft jumped off the map — what better place for a mid-summer hike than in a draft! And, the drafts followed streams in terrain with steep contours on both sides. This meant a cool canopy of hemlocks was likely to add to the shade promised by steep terrain with a stream at the bottom. The map listed the trail as skiable, so the grade was not likely to be severe. This seemed like a promising way to spend a day.

As we pulled into the parking area along Wykoff Run to begin our hike up Laurel Draft my friend Jason, who was visiting from New Jersey, asked “what is a draft?” According to Ralph Seeley in Greate Buffaloe Swamp, the word draft is an interesting one that seems to appear only in northern Pennsylvania, no doubt given by loggers: The best analysis heard so far is that a person could feel a draft created by the cooler air above, falling down the sides of the plateau.

To experience a draft, begin hiking up Laurel Draft on the Quehanna Trail — orange blazes — where the trail crosses Wykoff Run Road. The trail passes near the remains of a small brick structure with its fireplace and its arched brickwork intact. A small springhouse is also near the trail.

The trail stretches up the draft shaded by a thick hemlock canopy. While it is a steady uphill climb of about 1,000 feet in elevation from the parking area to the top, the grade is gentle. The trail often stretches long, for a woodlands trail, into the distance. Much of this section is grass or moss covered. Laurel Draft is a very bucolic setting. Simply walking for 10 or 15 minutes up the draft and sauntering back and forth between stream and trail would provide a gentle afternoon activity for folks in all degrees of physical condition.

The woodlands below the trail are very open. There are signs of earlier wild flowers, but ferns are everywhere, including the lovely Christmas fern. Laurel Run splashes as it drops through large boulders into shaded pools. The trail parallels the stream, but does so above, and a bit away from the stream. As we moved up the draft the soft gurgle of water would return again and again, interrupted by splashing as water dropped through boulders and over small falls.

A small delight that we encountered all along the trail is Indian Pipe. Indian Pipe is a parasitic plant that, due to its lack of green leaves, must get its nourishment from the roots of other plants. The waxy white stems are covered with white scales and extend 6–8 inches from the forest floor. The nodding white flower forms the bowl of the pipe. Close examination will sometimes reveal the yellow glow of stamens in the bowl.

In Nature’s Corner, a CDT column, Mark Nale recounted a Cherokee legend about Indian Pipe. Several chiefs spent seven days arguing and smoking pipes but failed to resolve their dispute. To remind the people that pipes should only be smoked as a sign of peace after settling a dispute, the Great Spirit turned the chiefs into these white pipe shaped plants.

Rhododendron was in bloom when we hiked this draft in early July and it provided one of those unexpected high points that make spending a lot of time out in the woods so rewarding. I have seen banks of rhododendron in bloom and hiked beneath bowers of rhododendron and both present quite a spectacle. In Laurel Draft we looked across the stream at a mountainside covered with rhododendron, but each bush was sparse because of the dense canopy above it. The blossoms were also scattered rather than en masse. The effect was of a galaxy of dark green embedded with white stars stretching across our field of vision. It was a stunning, surprise display.

At the top of this enchanting draft, a carpet of teaberries gives way to blueberry bushes thick with berries as the trail moves into an open meadow dotted with pine trees. Coyote scat dots the trail. In one spot a bobcat had covered its scat. The trail crosses a gas line right of way. Off to the left of the trail two raptors called from snags standing stark and rising above wetlands. Elk footprints dotted muddy spots in the trail. Songbirds called throughout the hardwoods we now hiked through.

At Hoover Road follow the Foley Trail — blue blazes — and head south for _ mile until the trail turns left into the woods. At the gas line we saw more elk sign. A muddy pool of water at the far side of this break in the woods was teeming with frogs, tadpoles and dragonflies. Once back into the woods songbirds again filled the woodlands with their delightful melodies. About _ mile past the gas line is the junction of Foley and Sevinsky trails. Either follow Sevinsky Trail out to Wykoff Run Road and back to your car or continue on Foley Trail to visit Gore Vista. A visit to Gore Vista involves hiking a bit over 2 miles and then retracing the 2 miles back to the hike out on Sevinsky Trail.

On our hike to Gore Vista, Jason and I spoke with a couple from Canton, Ohio who were enjoying a couple of days of backpacking. When I asked if they had seen any interesting wildlife, they excitedly told us about seeing two rattlesnakes on top of a boulder less than 100 feet from where they had spent the night. They described one of the snakes as “certainly as big as rattlesnakes get.” Minutes after continuing on our way to Gore Vista I managed a quick series of backward stutter steps as an eight-inch long garter snake streaked away from where I had been about to step.

A little over a mile from the Sevinsky Trail junction is the spur to Gore Vista. Look for it on your left. A little less than another mile brings you to Gore Vista which offers a nice lunch stop with a beautiful view out over Wykoff Run. You will then have to retrace the trail back to Sevinsky Trail. The trip to Gore Vista and back, with a lunch stop, should take 2.5 hours or less.

Sevinsky Trail follows Foley Draft, and because it is not part of the main Quehanna Trail it is not heavily traveled. While overgrown in places the trail is easily discernable. This draft is wilder in character than Laurel Draft. The sides are steeper and the draft is narrower. The hemlock canopy, while thick, has enough hardwoods intermixed to allow for more undergrowth. The trail follows an occasionally steep grade, and drops off quickly to the stream below. This is definitely the more rugged section of this hike.

Just as I was deciding that the constant small “biting insects” I thought were attacking my bare legs was actually due the plants we were walking through, Jason commented that something was attacking his feet and legs. Jason was hiking in a sturdy hiking sandal, and with no socks and bare legs he was even more exposed to the stinging nettle that we were walking through. Fortunately the couple from Ohio had walked through before us and had broken many of the plants. This is one plant that is good to recognize! This section of trail offers numerous chances to confirm the plant’s identity.

Sevinsky Trail ends on Wykoff Run Road and it is about another mile of hiking down the road to the parking area at the beginning of this hike. With a visit to Gore Vista this is a hike of about 11 miles. Laurel and Foley Drafts are a cool way to beat the summer heat and to explore a small corner of the Quehanna Wild Area.

If You Go: Just north of Karthaus, at the junction of Route 879 and the Quehanna Highway (SR 1011), drive 9 miles north on the Quehanna Highway to Wykoff Run Road — it is another 4.1 miles on the Quehanna Highway to the Forestry Headquarters parking lot where you can find free maps including all the trails in this hike. Turn right on Wykoff Run Road and it is 5.3 miles to the Parking Area at Laurel Draft.

Resources

Greate Buffaloe Swamp — A Trail Guide and Regional History by Ralph Seeley offers an excellent guide to trails in the State Forest and gives many insights into the history of the area.

The DCNR Public Use Map for State Forest gives an overview of the entire area, while the DCNR Quehanna Trail map covers the area of this hike in more detail.

Information on the Quehanna Trail and on purchasing Ralph Seeley’s book can be found at Keystone Trails Association or the book is also available at local outdoor stores.


Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of the Moshannon Group of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net.