I have been slowly accumulating gear over the last couple years to extend my backpacking season through the winter and on March 7 I took that trip this year with Jeremy. I debated on whether to call this a winter backpack since the first day was sunny and close to 45 degrees. The deciding factors: snow on the ground, temperatures dropping to the mid 20’s at night, snow flurries on the hike out and the season was still technically winter. My struggle with calling it a winter backpack was the fact that the conditions reflect many of the late fall or early spring trips that I have taken over the years. Unfortunately because of the mild temperatures I did not get to use most of that new gear mentioned above.
The destination was a quick overnight on the Gerard Trail located in Oil Creek State Park. We had a late start on the day so we elected to begin our hike at the ranger’s office and head straight to the cow run shelter area. This would put the days mileage somewhere around a five mile hike. The trail was an easy hike with some areas looking like the dead of winter while the south facing slopes looked more like early spring. In the snowy areas the trail itself was pretty slushy but not deep.
Friday’s hike was very scenic with vistas over the Oil Creek valley and walking through the picturesque small streams feeding it. I love hiking this park during the “non-green” seasons because of the views. During the green season the park has a lot of undergrowth which limits off trail visability. Although the route this weekend did not take us past them, during the spring when the creeks are full of winter snow melt there are many waterfalls throughout the park as the streams drop quickly to Oil Creek.
Speaking of water, gathering it was not an issue during this trip. I was able to easily break through the ice at Cow Run to dip and filter what was needed. This is good because the only stove that I brought was my Backcountry Boiler which would have been difficult to melt snow at best but most likely impossible. In fact I suspect it would have killed the stove as the water chamber would have exposed metal in direct contact with the flame.
Saturday’s temperatures stayed below freezing which made the trail icy. We headed back towards the park office with the intent following the Pioneer Road cross connector to the other side of Oil Creek. There are very steep sections on the side of Oil Creek valley that were covered in ice requiring the careful placement of hands and feet to traverse . It could have gotten really bad if either of us slipped and fell down the side of the hill. Because of this we elected to not cross the creek and climb back out of the valley to the opposite side of the trail. Our alternate route was to hike the bike trail back to the car.