This morning I set out to scale the side-wall of the west rim of the Pine Creek Gorge near Barbour Rock from the bottom up, to traverse the Owassee Slide Run ravine from the top down, and to experience five different habitat types during the course of a six-mile saunter. When I say EXPERIENCE five different habitat types let me just say that I'm not content to traverse the fringe of it. No, I want to be totally immersed in and get the full winter experience of the best the canyon has to offer. I didn't want to miss out on the amazing treasures that were sure to be found in some of the hard-to-reach places I intend to pass through today.
|Today's route, zoomed in|
10:00am- It began easy enough, at the northern terminus of West Rim Trail. As I prepared to take to the trail, snowmobilers were gathering in the lot getting ready to ride the roads along the canyon's west rim. As there has been for the past week, a crusty snow covers the ground all around.
|Young hemlocks along the trail|
Where West Rim Trail intersects with Owassee Road, I turned left on the road headed down towards Pine Creek. At the bottom of Owassee Road I experienced the second habitat type of the day, as hemlock-oak forest gives way to tall pale barked sycamore trees that line the banks of Pine Creek. One of the rather unfortunate variables about this creekside habitat is that much of the banks as well as the islands are packed with dense stands of knotweed.
|Sycamores at Pine Creek|
|Geese on a gravel bar in Pine Creek|
I continued along Owassee Road until I reached the point in the road that I guessed was close to being directly downhill from Barbour Rock. It's a long way from the bottom to the top, and difficult to figure out which canyon-wall-cut to settle into since the view of the top is blocked by the masts of many trees. A herd of eight deer were foraging along the powerline cut, which would make my third habitat type of the day. The relatively high rate of disturbance that is imposed upon the vegetation growing beneath the powerlines sets the stage for honeysuckle and staghorn sumac, both of which are present there in abundance.
Roughly two-thirds of the way up the canyon wall, things got challenging as I entered the fourth habitat type of the day; the land of dwarf juniper and red cedar. The thing about dwarf-juniper and red-cedar is that they do well in loose nutrient-poor soil. As you can imagine, loose nutrient-poor soil is not good for footing. But today I was helped by the fact that temperatures were in the low twenties and that meant the ground was also frozen; not frozen solid, but frozen crunchy, which makes some otherwise impossible hillside maneuvers doable; especially when one embraces the mode of transportation that is scrambling on all fours!
I knew I had entered the land of dwarf-juniper and red-cedar when the vertical face of a mansion sized rock stood in the way of my current trajectory. Looking up from the base of this mammoth hunk of sandstone I could see both cedar and juniper protruding from its top like spiky tufts of hair.
|Icicle fangs of the canyon wall!|
|The land of dwarf-juniper and red-cedar.|
I proceeded north on West Rim trail, through more hemlock-oak forest until I reached the point where West Rim Trail meets Owassee Slide Run. I veered off of West Rim Trail, entering the fifth habitat type of the day; hemlock and striped maple dominated ravine. Following the watercourse that cascades along the ravine's contours was easier said than done. While the ice formations in an around Owassee Slide Run were not as varied as that of Strap Mill Hollow three days ago, there was one ice formation in particular that caught my eye. It caused me to think of the chrysalis of a butterfly; a long thin strand of ice secured tightly to the bottom of a flat rock that extended out over and perhaps four feet above the waters of Owassee Slide Run. This long thin strand of ice had developed a thick bulbous bottom that dangled just inches above swiftly moving waters.
This particular waterfall was a little less than half-a-mile from Owassee Road at the bottom. It would definitely be easier to access this waterfall from the direction of Owassee Road, but even then, easier in this case does not mean easy. Once I followed Owassee Slide Run to Owassee Road it was just a matter of walking back the road and then the northern-most section of West Rim Trail back to the trailhead where I started. My walking, hiking, scrabling, climbing saunter was finished at 2:30pm, four hours after it began.
|The falls of Owassee Slide Run.|
All in all, an excellent adventure today.
Scale the side-wall of the west rim of the Pine Creek Gorge near Barbour Rock from the bottom up- CHECK!
Traverse the Owassee Slide Run ravine from the top down- CHECK!
Experience five different habitat types during the course of a six-mile saunter- CHECK!
The Pine Creek Gorge seems to me to be one of the most unique places in the Pennsylvania landscape, and I find the northern part of the Pine Creek Gorge between Ansonia, Leonard Harrison State Park, and Colton Point State Park to be one of the most ecologically, geologically, and environmentally interesting of all the places in the Pine Creek Gorge.
|Pine Creek Gorge looking south towards Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks from Barbour Rock Vista.|