July 29

Hike the Quehanna Eastern Loop

I got out recently for a relatively high mileage weekend trip. My goals were to complete the Quehanna Trail, to test out some wet condition hiking adaptations, and to fine tune my iPhone battery management. My hike took place in mid May, following a week with several inches of rain.

Where and What is Quehanna?

For those of you not familiar with Quehanna, it is an area and trail system in west central PA, in the Moshannon State Forest. The main Quehanna Trail (QT) is roughly oval and is about 75 miles long. There are both West Cross-Connector (WCC) and East Cross-Connector (ECC) Trails that cut off the ends of the oval to make shorter loop hikes possible with no car shuttles. The eastern Quehanna region has quite a few additional trails that create even more possibilities. In winter, it’s a nice venue for snowshoe backpacking trips.

Quehanna Trail

Quehanna is mostly a raised plateau, about 1000 feet higher than the surrounding country. As drainages come down off the plateau, fairly steep-sided valleys have been cut over time. The QT ranges from up on top of the plateau, where the hiking can be nice and easy for a bit, to descents down into or ascents up out of the hollows and drafts. There is little or no switchbacking, so the trail is a good workout, though the most you have to go up or down at a time is about 1000 feet of elevation change.

One of the things I love about Quehanna is the variety of ecosystems you pass through, including low scrub, bogs, forest, and open meadows. Water is plentiful and the drainages are often very pretty. Wildlife is abundant, and includes elk, deer, black bear, porcupine, grouse, and turkeys.


Hiking Plan and Gear

To complete the QT, I needed to hike some segments that could all be covered while hiking the 41 mile “Eastern Loop”, combining the eastern 31 miles of the main QT oval and the 10-mile ECC. I planned to drive in on a Friday night to a trailhead in the middle of the ECC, hike south on the ECC then counterclockwise on the QT for 27-28 miles over a full day Saturday, then finishing the rest of the QT and northern ECC miles on Sunday, before heading home.

To do this, I needed a light kit and an early start on Saturday, or I’d be night hiking for sure. For a light kit, I used my Murmur Hyperlight Backpack, a minimalist tarp, a poncho groundsheet, and a sleeping quilt rated to 40 degrees. Because temps were predicted to get into the 30’s at night, I added a down vest at the last minute and was glad I did. I wanted to have a hot dinner and hot coffee in the mornings, so my cooking system was a simple Esbit tray and titanium windscreen paired with an aluminum greasepot and Reflectix cozy.

Be sure to read part two of this article