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Trip Report Hawk Mountain

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For our 8th wedding anniversary we decided to go back to basics and instead of taking a vacation we took a hike :) We drove about 1.5 hours to Kempton PA to visit Hawk Mountain which, as its name implies, is a “bird refuge offering opportunities to view migrating raptors.”

Looking at the trail map (http://hawkmountain.org/media/trailmap.pdf) it seemed like a nice hike to begin at the visitors center, hike north to the North Lookout, east along the Skyline Trail to the far Golden Eagle Connector Trail, south to the second River of Rocks Trail, then west to finish up back at the visitors center. Sounds like a beautiful way to spend a Fall anniversary, doesnt it!?

And it really was, for the first few hours :)

The hike to the North Lookout was more of a walk. That is, unless you take the Escarpment Trail. As we were about to take the “normal” route to the North Lookout a large group of kids herded by. Now, they seemed well-behaved enough but we were in the mood for a quiet day of nature so we decided to take the road less traveled: the Escarpment Trail. Oh you dont know what escarpment means either? Well, according to wiki, its “a transition zone between different physiogeographic provinces that involves a sharp, steep elevation differential, characterized by a cliff or steep slope.” My hubby told me wed have to “climb over some rocks.” Maybe for his slender 6’3” body it was “climbing over some rocks” but for my 5’3” not-what-it-used-to-be body it was a test of endurance. I wouldve taken some pictures but I was busy fighting for my life.

Something else to mention: there were ladybugs everywhere! Landing on your clothes, your hair, your face. Lucky for everybody I have a good relationship with ladybugs. I once heard they bring good luck and who dosnt need that?

Anyway, once you get there, however you get there, the North Lookout has a really pretty view out and down and there were probably about 50 people sitting about and some others sitting out on giant scary overhanging rocks (I was perfectly happy staying “inland” as Id had my fill of rocks for the day). This was clearly the main viewing area for the birds. It was neat b/c someone would call out “5 o’clock, right above the puffiest of those three little clouds” and all spectators would spin their binoculars in that direction and awe at the feathery friend in the sky! There were also Hawk Mt volunteers helping to find/track the birds, provide interesting facts, and answer any questions. We brought binoculars but, really, we were there to hike so we left the bird-watchers and continued on to the Skyline Trail.

Now, according to the map, the Skyline Trail was supposed to be to the right of the North Lookout. Thats not exactly accurate… We had to ask about 3 people in order to locate the trailhead. It was more below than to the right of the North Lookout. As in, scrambling directly down those giant scary overhanging rocks the people were sitting on! “You serious Clark!?” (National Lampoons Christmas Vacation).

So the scramble down the rocks begins and Im certain all the bird-watchers can hear my heavy, uneven breaths as I desperately search for nooks and crannies to grab hold of. We encountered only one other group during this descent and they were climbing UP. Did not envy them. We didnt encounter a single soul the remainder of the Skyline Trail and it was clear why. Once in a while the rocks would end and wed reach what I thought was the end of the rocks only to turn the corner and have another huge pile to climb. >sigh<

Eventually we reached East Rocks Lookout and it was here we rested for lunch. It was so peaceful and romantic! We had the mountain top to ourselves save for the owl/hawk/giant bird that circled us once after we sat down but then disinterestedly glided away before we could even get out our camera. By the way, that was the one and only bird we saw all day, hehe.

After lunch we discussed: should we head back the way we came (even HE was getting tired) or should we continue on to the Golden Eagle Trail? As you can see by the map we were, at that time, about halfway between so we figured wed push on. Just when we thought wed neeevvver reach it, we turned a corner to find the next trailhead! I think I might have kissed the thing if my attention hadnt been diverted by the huffing and puffing I heard. A couple, gasping for air and covered with sweat, collapsed on a giant rock. They had just come from where we were heading. They said it was very very steep and laughed that, “during a hike you always gotta climb UP at some point.” I didnt have the heart to describe what they were about to face, hah!

“Steep.” Yes, indeed, the Golden Eagle Trail was steep. I actually wished Id been climbing up not down b/c my feet had had it scrambling over rocks for the past few hours. We were practically sliding down the trail such that our toes were painfully crunched into the fronts of our shoes. “Shoulda cut my toenails” I quipped, har har har. What seemed like an eternity later we reached the first River of Rocks Trail. The actual river of rocks was a few hundred feet off the trail but I couldnt be bothered to go look at it b/c any unnecessary steps could spell disaster for my mutilated feet.

Amazingly, it wasnt far after that we encountered the second River of Rocks Trailhead. Oh happy day! According to the map we picked up at the visitors center (which “is NOT drawn to scale”) the remainder of the hike didnt seem so bad, particularly compared to what wed done so far. But something about running out of water and the setting sun can elicit a certain sort of panic.

By looking at the map it seems wed pass one large rock field then a smaller one later on. Can I just tell you it felt like we were forever passing rock fields. It was hard to tell where one ended and another began thus it was hard to tell how far along the trail we actually were. NB singing my balogna has a first name o improve our moods didnt help things, hehe. Hubby would run ahead to hopefully be able to come back and report: the visitors center is just over this next peak! Hes so sweet! During this time I would scale the rocks, watch the chipmunks, and wonder what Id do if a snake or bear attacked.

Just about the time I was hoping the worst of the trail was over I saw a steep set of rocky Exorcist-ish looking stairs. Though on their own I imagine they wouldnt have been so daunting but my body had simply had enough! I pushed myself up the steps then grabbed some slab for a rewarding break. Just then hubby bounds back into sight! “Only 237 steps from where Im standing to the visitors center!” Hallelujah. Although it was more like 337 for me. Anyway, let those exorcist steps be a marker to all those who come after me: youre almost there!

We viewed ourselves as experienced hikers so werent concerned about the trail descriptions (“most difficult”). And we *are* experienced hikers, generally speaking. Its just been a few years :) And, to be honest, despite my grumbling in this trip report and my intensely sore body, it really and truly was a fantastic day together and we were laughing and smiling the whole way-plus its always fun to push yourself once in a while :)

Hawk Mountain: Would recommend!

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