Trudging Through The Snow On the Greater Hazleton Rails To Trails

Trudging Through The Snow On the Greater Hazleton Rails To Trails

Rails to Trails (20 of 49)
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December and early January  were mild here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. There was little snow and almost no ice on our ponds, lakes and rivers. I missed the snow storm last week when I was away in Costa Rica. However when I returned it had already melted. This is very unusual and I knew we would still get more of the white stuff and cold before the  Winter ended. Well we got some more this past week. Two small storms   dropped a couple of inches of snow. There was about 4 inches on the ground when I awoke Saturday morning.  It was partly cloudy and frigid. . The temperature was 9 degrees with a 15 mph wind. 

I decided to stay close to home and hike on the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails. I didn’t think any birds or wildlife would be active in the frigid temperatures and wind. I drove to the eastern access to the trail near the village of Hazle Brook in Foster Township. I was the only vehicle there when I arrived around 8 a.m.  I was dreading trudging through the 4 inches of snow. I once enjoyed hiking many miles  in snow up to my knees. When I was young I would spend entire  Winter days roaming the woodlands near my home on snowy, frigid and  windy days. Not anymore, I am no longer young, and  it is hard to walk through the snow with my old bones and muscles. I know I will be very sore the next day, and I am,  as I write this blog.

I was glad to see they  were footprints  on the trail. This makes it much easier walking then being the first to break a trail through the snow,   But they were a day old  mostly covered by drifting snow, However it was better than nothing and I appreciated  the efforts of the brave soul who made them. . It looked like one person and his or her dog. It wasn’t the best trail  but at least the snow was somewhat broken making it s little easier walking.

I will admit, the snow covered woodlands made   a pretty Winter scene. It was like walking in a Winter wonderland.  The gray and brown tree trunks and bare branches contrasted with the white snow. Occasionally breaks of sun created shadows on the snow.

Besides the shades of grey, brown and black  on the naked trees the only other color was the greens of  the curled and shriveled  mountain laurel,

sheep laurel, and,

rhododendron leaves. The leaves of these evergreen plant curl in the cold. The colder it gets the more they curl. They will uncurl as soon as the temperatures rise. They will provide hikers on the trail with  more beautiful scenery when the bloom  in late Spring and early Summer.

The snow covered pine trees also provided some more green color to the otherwise bland Winter scenery. 

The snowy scene was beautiful, sort of, if you are a Winter and cold weather lover. I am not and would rather be hiking on a 90 degree Summer morning.  But  I still love the outdoors and was determined to get my seven miles of hiking in ( I had already walked two miles near my home. I do every morning for over 30 years now.)

The other thing I  noticed as I hiked through the deep mixed hardwood/pine forest and through the mine reclamation areas. was the silence. I did not hear the sound of a bird and did not see any wildlife. 

I saw a lot of tracks, mainly rabbit and deer, but I didn’t see a single bird, chipmunk, squirrel, deer or bear. They were are huddled up somewhere staying warm. They will get active if the temperatures rise above freezing even in  the Winter months. They weren’t active on Saturday.

The partly  cloudy skies, and snow covered trail, made for some nice Winter  scenery  as I walked through the reclamation area along the trail. As I have pointed out in many previous blogs from hikes on the trail, there were once deep anthracite coal mines in this area. Later, they area was strip mined  leaving abandoned and dangerous deep pits or “stipings”. These deep  pits near my home were   one of our favorite  playgrounds as a child.

These pits or stripings in the area along the trail we filled in and  “reclaimed” . Birch, pine, poplar, locust and alder trees were planted and created a young  second growth forest.  As I walked through the reclamation area I found that the winds caused snow to drift over the  footprints I was re-tracing making walking difficult in spots.

I walked to the bridge built over an active railroad right of way. The trail was once a railroad and this bridge was constructed on the old stone foundation of an older bridge long abandoned.

Before I crossed the bridge I noticed these tracks. I know very little about animal track. I can tell a deer, rabbit or bird and that is about it. So I wondered what animal made these tracks. At first I thought a deer. However, as you can see, the animal was able to squeeze between the openings in the fence. I am thinking it was a fox or coyote.

After crossing the bridge I soon discovered this is where the person who’s  footprints I was following turned around. . The path they forged through the snow ended and I was now trudging through the four inches of cold white stuff. It isn’t a lot of effort for a block or two but walking five miles in even a few inches really takes a tool on me anymore.

But I trudged on. I was now walking through a strip mined area where the old strip mined pits can still be seen.

It was still very quiet . I had only heard the distant call of a blue jay and a few black-capped chickadees. I walked for about a 1/2 mile through the snow when I came to the abandoned road that once accessed the nearby  Beryllium plant  that  was  abandoned  and  declared a hazardous waste superfund site.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the road plowed and cindered. I thought it had to be the local Water Company. They have  a right  of way to their Dreck Reservoir over the trail. However, they seldom use it so I was wondering why it would be plowed.

I was now able to hike at my normal pace for the last mile of my hike. I  walked past the pine barrens,

and continued for another 1/2 mile on the plowed and cindered trail.

It was my good fortune that the  plowing and cindering ended just where I turn back, at  2 1/2 mile from my Jeep.

I am not sure why the trail was plowed only to this point but ot may have something to do with the private hunting clubs that now lease the adjoining lands. It is sad all of this land is now posted and private yet for many years I have seen hunters hiking our trails during hunting season. They apparently still do but  will not extend the favor to the public.

I began my hike back but now I was walking into a fierce northwesterly wind, it was a lot  more difficult,

and even more so when the plowed trail ended and I had to trudge the last  1 1/2 miles back through the snow. 

It was now mid-morning and I finally saw a flock of black-capped chickadees,

and black eyed junco foraging together in the trees and grass. They are both seed eaters and they,  along with tufted tit mice, white- breasted nuthatches and  various species of woodpeckers often flock together for safety  when feeding.

It was windy and cold and I did not spend much time photographing the chickadees  and juncos and I wasn’t going to be patient and look for the other birds, I just wanted to get out of the cold and wind. 

However, I still noticed some of Winters. beauty such as a red oak leaf blown on the snow,

a  pine cone  on a snow covered pitch pine tree, and 

black alder, and closely related

gray  gray alder seed stalks.  In the Summer, with all of the lush green vegetation, the wildflowers   birds, insects and wildlife these items would go un-noticed. However, in the white, gray and brown world of Winter they provide some intricate beauty to the dreary scenery. There is always beauty in Nature if you walk and, as my dad used to say. you keep your eyes peeled. 

It was mostly cloudy for the remainder of my hike, but occasional the sun broke through the clouds, creating more beautiful Winter scenery. It was a cold and exhausting five mile hike. it was not pleasant, like a hike in the Spring, Summer or Fall, but it certainly was better than sitting in the house.  I only hope it will be the coldest and most exhausting hike of the season.  I am ready for Spring.  Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos from my hike.  Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails January 20 2024 

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” – Lewis Carroll