This turned out to be a double run, and quite an eventful day. We had an early start for the long haul out to Connellsville, PA with our first meeting spot being the Maryland Welcome Center on I-70.
“This turned out to be a double run, and quite an eventful day.”
For this trip we had:
- Alex Hinson (CORE) & Dan Cole (guest) in a JK Unlimited
- Gary Owens (CORE) in a TJ
- John Tompkins and his son (CORE) in a TJ
- Bob Weaver (CORE) in a TJ
- Jack and his wife in a JK Unlimited (From JK-Forum, JacksJeep)
- Peter in a JK “X” (From JK-Forum, Jeepin Dad)
Myself, Gary and Peter met up around 7ish at the Welcome Center, I got there a tad late due to an unexpected delay getting breakfast, but we got out of there on time and headed to the Sideling Hill Center were we met up with John and his son. Along the way, I got a call from Bob saying he had gotten a late start and would catch up with us at the Sideling Hill Center, which he did and right on time. From the Sideling Hill Center to Connellsville is the long haul portion of the trip, just over 100 miles. We arrived at the Sheetz in town around 10:30 where we met Jack and his wife. After all of us stopped off, and grabbed lunch, we headed for the trails.
We followed the same course that I’ve done in the past, first we headed to the mines for lunch. All of us but Jack and his wife went exploring in the mines. We got in a good ways before stopping and getting a group photo, after which we headed back out. It still amazes me how big those mines are.
After getting back out to the vehicles, we aired down, and some put their tops down before heading on out. Along the way, John and I took a dip in the mud hole, but it didn’t mean much when we crossed a creek not long after washing us off again.
We continued along the trail pausing briefly at Follys Dam for some photos. After this is where the trail starts making your frame twist and bottom bump. I think Jack and Bob were the only 2 that never had a clearance issue since they were the only ones with lift kits installed.
This brought us to the hill climb area where you have 3 options. The far left is easy with a small rock to hop over, the middle is what I’ve heard called the axel breaker because several people didn’t pay attention and snapped an axel trying to climb it, and the right one has the rock climbing obstacle with a by-pass. I chose to do the by-pass, and so did John. Everyone else came up the middle path.
Not to long after the hill climb, we came to the first set of mud holes along with the first 4 way. The left path leads back down the hill; this is the top of the easy path on the left when at the bottom. The path leading straight away goes to another set of trails and also is the way out to Sandy Flat Rd. The right path also leads to another set of trails and what I know as the “loop”.
This part of the trail turns into a washout, and due to all the recent rain, it was very muddy and worn down a lot more this time. We all had to take it slow and just crawl our way through. After a little of this, we came to the 2nd 4-way, where we made a hard right. I later confirmed with the same locals that gave me directions to the bridge that the path off to the left from this 4-way is indeed where the railroad bridge trail comes out, or can come out. The path going straight is still a mystery; we’ve only gone a few miles on it before having to turn around.
The path going right didn’t get any better; it had deeper ruts, debris laying in the road, mud pits, etc. After going for a bit a call came on the radio that Jack had a problem and needed to stop, it turned out that he had lost a tire. It seems that his Jeep slid sideways into a rock or stick punching a nice 3 inch gouge in his sidewall. We swapped his spare out along with putting some more air in his remaining tires. It was also learned that a LOD front bumper or any front bumper with D-rings can support a high lift jack. Once Jack was back on all four wheels we were rolling again.
We kept winding through the woods, stopping now and then to clear large branches and such from the path. We finally came to a familiar land mark, the old Cherokee. After a few quick pictures we moved on with all of us taking a dip in the mud pit. From here the path is rather over grown and can be hard to see sometimes. It ultimately clears away as we get to the switch backs going back up the mountain. Once at the top, its a few more turns and we are back at the rock climb from earlier in the day thus completing the loop.
Bob decided that he would try the rock climb this time around and headed down the hill to get in position. After looking it over a bit, picking a path, he made his way up. The path he picked was doing good and he was able to make it pretty far up on the first get go, but snagged a rock and lost momentum. The 2nd attempt got 3 of his wheels over the rock face with the 4 th not pulling over since everything was to slick. After seeing his wheel pinned between two rocks and not wanting to add another tire to today’s carnage he stopped and asked to be winched up having made it to far to back safely down. Gary opted to pull him up. We had to be careful not to pull Gary down since it was still muddy out. But with a nice tug, Bob was up and over the rocks with no problems. We packed everything back up and headed on to the mud holes.
These are the same mud holes from last time, but now they were deeper due to all the rain. Also, this time, I knew my Jeep would suddenly drop in like it did last time making me prepared. We all wallowed through with ease, almost too easy.
After this the path comes to a 2 way split, and just like last time, I went left instead of right. Good thing we caught that within the first 100 feet not the first couple of miles. So with a quick turn around, we were back on the “right” path heading for the ATV play ground. Once there, Jack decided to do some flexing and rock climbing of his own.
After this, the path is nothing more than a dirt road, much like you find at GWNF, only with more rocks. The path eventually comes out on Sandy Flat Rd right in front of a white house. From here, you go left to get back on PA-711 towards town, but this time, we went right in search of the rail road bridge. I almost missed my turn, but my GPS suddenly start alerting me about it. This trail is a simple turn off the road into the woods, but you’ll probably miss it if you don’t know where it is.
Jack and his wife decided to call it a day from here and said there good byes. The rest of us continued on and a little faster than normal since we were running out of day light. This trail was nothing compared to what we had been doing. It was more or less a rocky road with small mud puddles scattered about. Along the way we saw some campers and also ran into a pair of Jeep Cherokees who recognized me. It turns out, they were friends of Jenn who I’d been talking to about the area. She and 2 friends were going to join us but she backed out earlier in the morning while we were on route. Apparently her two friends still wanted to go off roading. They gave us very detailed directions to the bridge and some tips about up coming obstacles. Hopefully next time I do a trip up there, they can join in since they are locals and know some other trails around the area.
After following the river that this trail parallels to almost the entire time, it finally comes to the crossing. The river is about 300 feet wide and at the time, had a depth reading of 1.9 feet. Where we were crossing used to be some sort of breaker, to slow the river down, but has since given way in some places. The guys that we ran into told us to stay on the right side, and that the further out we go, the shallower it’ll be. I went first, almost hugging the barrier. The river is lined with rocks that I could hear beating the bottom of the jeep as I rolled over them along with the lapping of the river against my door.
Peter went out further then I did, thus not getting such a beating. Bob just wadded right on through, I don’t even think he got the bottom of his jeep wet. That’s the advantage of a lift kit. Gary and John decided not to come across, despite trying to convince them. Gary was worried about water coming in since he had cloth doors on at the time. John wasn’t feeling comfortable about crossing safely. So we agreed that the 3 of us that got across would go find the bridge and come back while they waited. We kept going and after a bit of navigating through the woods, there it was.
It was the original railroad bridge but they’ve since built a newer, bigger, better one. The bridge is nothing more than two steel beams, heavy duty steel, with trestles on them. The tracks themselves have long since been removed. As you cross you can feel the loose trestles moving under the wheels causing you to shift ever so slightly. Half way across, you can look over the left side and see the remains of a box car that fell off years ago. This was the highlight of the trip, we finally found the bridge we had been looking for since the first trip here in February.
Once across, there is a nice turn around spot, and a trail leading off into the woods. This trail follows the river for a bit, then gives you the choice of crossing the river again, getting back onto the trail we used to get to the bridge, or go up the mountain on a series of switch backs that I’ve been told is suicide without rock sliders. That will dump you onto the 2nd 4-way split I mentioned earlier. We decided to head back across the bridge and down the trail we came in on so that we can hook back up with Gary and John who instead, met us going the other way. They had decided to cross the river anyway having seen a pair of ATV’s go across and figured they could make it after all if they stay way out where it wasn’t so deep. Bob led them to the bridge and got pictures of them crossing. Once we were all back together having crossed the bridge, we headed back down the trail to the main road. The sun had already set past the mountains, so there was still light out, just not much. I got to use my off road lights for once, and I’m glad I had them.
Once back on the main road, we headed to the Sheetz where we could air up. Sadly the air machine there is a push a button, get air type of setup, and lasts just long enough to get one tire done, which is about 5-7 minutes. It was here that we discovered Gary had a problem with his springs. His TJ was leaning to the right side quite a bit, and preventing him from reconnecting his swaybar. We ultimately used a high lift to pick the sagging side up to where he could reconnect his sway bar. Once that was done, it was back to being level again. Still wondering what was wrong there, it looked like an over compressed spring.
Bob and Peter took off early, while the rest of us went to Wendy’s for a quick bite, and then began the long ride home. I’m liking Gary’s idea of camping there next time.
What a day, great times, good friends, and new trails! See ya next time!
Trail report written by Alex Hinson. Pictures courtesy of Alex Hinson, Bob Weaver, and John Tompkins.