Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cowans Gap State Park

We just returned from two nights camping at Cowans Gap State Park with the Whelan and Emery families. (The Wolfes were supposed to join us, but they opted to spend the weekend with a houseload of stomach viruses.)

The park was amazing! This is the best park we've ever stayed in. The bathrooms were absolutely sparkling clean, not a trace of spiders, and the tile was so clean, you could eat off it!

The campsites were really large, spread out, and nicely leveled for the tents. There were very large fire-rings in every camp, and the trees were all very mature. For $17 per night per family, it was also quite a bargain!

On Saturday, we all took off for a hike. Scott (or should I say, Survivorman?) led the way with his GPS guidance on the trails. This didn't prevent us from embarking upon a trail which was altogether much more than we intended. As we went wandering down the Aughwick trail, we came upon a ruined Civilian Conservation Corps camp incinerator which the kids got to explore. Then, after the lookout on the Aughwick trail, we quickly crested the mountain and began descending on the other side.

Everything seemed peachy, since we were now heading down, but Scott mentioned to me quietly aside that he was concerned that we were descending quite far down the backside of the mountain, on the far side from our camp. Clearly, we were going to have to go back up and over this mountain to get back home.

We stopped everybody and asked them if they wanted to venture forward, or if they thought it best to turn back.

"No, go forward," everybody agreed. So we did.

That's when we came upon the Horseshoe Trail, our only option for getting back to camp.

The Horseshoe Trail was a nearly vertical sheer climb and subsequent descent. At times, during the climb, we were hands-and-feet on the ground climbing up the trail. On the descent, we were concentrating on each footstep to make sure the loose scree and gravel didn't send us tumbling down the hill. A few times, each one of us landed on our asses to slide down the hill a ways.

It was a miracle we made it with the kids in tow. Ronan insisted on running for a good portion down the hill, because he was unhappy being number four in line, wanting instead to walk beside Luke. I swear, I was worried about that kid tumbling head-over-ass down the hill. Luckily, Ronan's guardian angels were on high alert. I kept yelling at him, "Ronan! You have to walk! You are going to die!" He didn't seem to mind.

Only after we got back to camp, did Becky read this in the trail map guide:

Horseshoe Trail: 0.6 mile, very difficult hiking. This very steep and very rugged trail passes over a lot of loose stone on steep slopes. This trail starts along Aughwick Road below the park dam, crosses the creek and climbs to the top of Cove Mountain ending on the Knobsville Road Trail. Experienced hikers only!

So I guess we're all experienced hikers now. As best as I can estimate, I think we went 400 feet up and back down again in the 0.2 mile segment that was the steepest. That was quite a workout. But the views from the mountain were spectacular, and totally worth it!

After the hike, Scott, Eddie and I ran into town to get some firewood and live bait so Scott could fish. Never in my life did I think I would find a live bait vending machine. Yes, I am not making this up! See for yourself! Twenty-four hour fishing convenience!

The other notable tidbit about Cowans Gap was the numerous legions of walking sticks around the camp. I'm referring, of course, to the insect walking stick, not the walking implement. The camp was crawling with the insects. They were all over our tents, our chuck boxes, the grounds, the tables--everywhere!

The rest of the camping turned out to be quite uneventful. The kids found some old deer bones in the woods, and spent most of the weekend filing them into necklaces. (Luke wants to wear his to school--the little caveman!) The kids also tormented a family of salamanders and newts, with the Whelan children insisting on bringing some home for "pets."

Apart from that, the food was great, as always. Leslie and Scott made the most delicious breakfast burritos, and Sharon and Desi made some wonderful flank steaks on the camp fire. My boys and I tucked in early each night, exhausted from the days' activities.

Work hard, eat hard, and sleep hard. That's a good recipe for camping.

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