Backpacking in the Hammersley Wild Area

"In wildness is the preservation of the world." - Henry David Thoreau.

I fell asleep Thursday night under moonlit skies, lulled by the song of the babbling brook that ran not far from my tent. It was a pretty sound night's sleep, and I awoke to hear a strange, loud noise in the woods. I wasn't sure if it was a bird or a coyote; probably a bird. I checked my watch. 6 a.m. I was up for the day.

A thing you may not know is that morning light does not come early to the hollows of the Pennsylvania back country. It was several hours, in fact, before sunlight even touched our campsite. Mist rose out of the main creek and crept up the side streams, lending an ethereal element to things.

I was sitting in my tent with both side doors open, enjoying the view, when my husband exclaimed and pointed at a huge bird that was flying through the woods behind us. Bigger than a heron. Bigger than most raptors I know of. Bald eagle, maybe? Neither of us got a good enough look to be sure.

My husband and I spent the morning in our campsite, slowly packing our gear up for our walk out. It took a while to dry everything out in the late-arriving sun. First, out comes the stuff from the tent. I pile my sleeping bag and blankets and pads atop the tent to air out, and lay all of the other stuff on a blue half-groundsheet that I always have with me.

When dry, that gear goes into stuff sacks and the tent comes down; I flip the tent to dry out the dampness underneath. When the tent is dry, I stow it in its bag; flip the ground sheet to air it out. We pack in little bits. A few minutes here, a few minutes there.

The weather was just about perfect for backpacking: sunny, perfect blue skies, clear nights, in the 60s during the day, in the low 40s at night. No hard frost, like that amazing, chilly night in Quehanna last week, not even seven days ago! I can hardly believe we managed to fit TWO backpacks in the same week; this just might be a recent record. Heck, it might even beat any OLD records.

Just as we were finishing packing up, a bit before noon, two men appeared, crossing the stream carrying fishing poles. My husband chatted with them by the creek and learned they expected to spend the night; were we planning on staying, they asked?

This is, for the record, a very strange coincidence: two backpacks in a row, we have met the people who wanted to be the next residents of our campsites. This is not a thing that has EVER happened to us, so for it to happen twice within the same week is truly noteworthy.

And then they headed on up the creek, and we put on our packs and set out, back the way we came. I headed out with confidence. Aside from one damp stream crossing, the water wasn't so high that I was intimidated or afraid. I thought back to that one spring backpack trip when the water WAS high and I WAS afraid the whole time, knowing I'd have to traverse the main creek again before I could go home.

We decided to actually count the stream crossings on our way out, and somehow we managed to find a way back that did NOT involve getting water in our boots. We must have taken a slightly different path. And for the record, we counted FOURTEEN side creek or major stream crossings.

Friday was just perfect, a little warmer than Thursday. The sun shone through the trees and lit up the foliage, and everything seemed golden. I took a ridiculous number of pictures, and you may see two of them in this blip. Above is a shot of my husband walking ahead of me with his pack on. This is the quintessential backpacking shot: heading up the hill straight into heaven, or so it seems!

In the extras, I've included a shot of the path in front of us, with all the trees lit up and shining with gold. It's a very difficult hike but I can't remember a more beautiful backpack in the past 20 years. The scenery is gorgeous, but you will pay the price to get there; this I know for sure! Then again, what is it worth in life to learn that one CAN do hard things?

And then there was the final crossing of the Hammersley Fork, and we were back at the car. We stowed our gear and took our chairs and went over and sat by the main creek for just another 20 minutes or so in the warm sun of what felt like a summer afternoon, not wanting to leave. (Though eventually we did, or I wouldn't be sitting at home typing this now.)

So farewell, for now, to the Hammersley Wild Area, the wildest place I know of; where the hiking is tough, but the scenic beauties lure us into braving its hardships to go there and back again. Wherever I go, I will always carry inside me something of these deep woods: something completely untamed; something beautiful, wild, and free.

Here is a second song for a wild area, and for those of us who stayed there and carried some of its wildness along home with us: Starship, with Wild Again.

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