A Golden Afternoon at the Hammersley Wild Area

The odds seemed to be against it earlier in the week. My husband and I have been talking about going to the Hammersley Wild Area, a favorite backpacking spot of his (and the largest roadless tract of land in Pennsylvania), for weeks and weeks. But on Tuesday morning, I had dental surgery, for which they knocked me out and I missed a full day of work.

As I wobbled around WalMart and my husband finally parked my body on a bench that morning, things weren't looking good for the Hammersley. "Maybe we can car camp Thursday night?" I said hopefully, thinking fondly of how easy that would be. You just toss your gear in the car and go.

But I had a quick recovery from my dental surgery, and with beautiful weather looming in the coming few days, I told him I would go wherever he wanted to go. "Let's try for the Hammersley," he said happily on Wednesday when he called me at work from home.

I told him that worked for me, as long as we went just to the first campsite, not the upper one (the one where we saw the coyote, which is a much longer walk). I had a check-in appointment with the oral surgeon at 8:45 Thursday morning, so we'd have to be packed up, out of the house, and on the road well before that.

Wednesday night I packed up all my gear and by 6:30 p.m., I had all of my gear bagged and my backpack packed, and everything in the car and ready to go. It's PRACTICE that makes it easier. And we've been getting lots of that. With two Quehanna backpacks (here and here) and a Pine Glen backpack under our belts already this fall, the packing comes easily now.

The next morning found us making sandwiches, packing the cooler, and stowing the remaining gear in the car. My husband went to start the car and realized he hadn't put his backpack in yet. That would be a pretty serious omission!

My visit with the oral surgeon took about 10 minutes. He had to change the packing on my tooth, which meant pulling out the packing that was there and adding some more. A thing they do not tell you when you have such surgeries is that you will be tethered together for days, your surgeon and you. I have yet another appointment Monday morning to have the packing removed for good.

I have to admit that it was my first ever backpack trip that started with a dental visit! But quickly, we were on our way up the valley, heading for the northern tier. My husband asked for a quick pit stop at Bald Eagle State Park along the way, and I walked out to see the mist rising on the lake; I would have given almost anything to be on that tiny boat amid the mist (see extra photos for an enchanting boat in mist scene).

By around noon, we were parked and packed up and crossing the Hammersley Fork. In springtime, such a crossing will curl your hair. The water runs high and the current threatens to spill you into the water with all your gear. But in the fall, it is usually just fine, no biggie. So we put on our water shoes and crossed, and changed into our hiking boots on the other side.

It was a several-mile walk in, and as I have said before, I do not recommend it to anyone. It is a very difficult hike; the hardest backpack we do. It features more than a dozen stream crossings, as well as mud pits to traverse. In parts of the year, the path is covered in prickly nettle, though we did not encounter any to speak of this time.

On one of the last stream crossings, my husband and I both got in over our boots. I walked into our campsite with a wet right foot. The creek will get you every time! As we meandered into our site, we talked about the difficulty of the hike in; we didn't expect to see anybody, and in fact, we didn't! No people at the cabins. No fishermen. No other backpackers. We had the entire Hammersley Wild Area to ourselves for the night!

I live for the autumn color change, and I am happy to report that it is starting in the northern tier of Pennsylvania. Above is a photo of the long hole in the creek by where we camp. We spent a lot of happy time on Thursday afternoon walking in the creek in our water shoes amid the golden reflections. (Klimt would love it here!)

The water is cold and clear and beautiful, and there were cute little fish or amphibians of some kind in the creek. I spotted the largest crayfish I've seen in years, and heard the hoot and holler of a kingfisher overhead.

Also, the campsite is the prettiest one I know of anywhere. I always nab the spot by the creek, so that its music may put me to sleep at night. You may see a photo of my tent (with Tiny Tiger and Alex the Alligator on top, enjoying a very fine view indeed) in the extras.

My husband put his tent up not far away and we set up a group area to hang out at in the middle, and that is where we spent our evening. He lit two LED lanterns and the nearly full moon rose behind them. On my tent, my string of blue Christmas lights sparkled and shone under the moonlight.

"I'll give you the toughest girl of the fall award," my husband finally said. "If you saw yourself in the dentist chair and wobbling around WalMart on Tuesday, you wouldn't have given much for your chances of getting here, yet HERE YOU ARE," he said proudly. And as I fell asleep in my tent, lulled by the sweet song of the creek, under the moon and the stars, I was very glad indeed.

Here is a song for a wild child who sleeps by the creek after enjoying a beautiful, golden autumn afternoon in the deep, deep wild woods of Pennsylvania: Iggy Pop, with Real Wild Child (Wild One).

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