So with the last run being the New Years Run and nothing seemed to be planned for a while; I wanted to do a trail run with snow. And being late Feb, I wasn’t sure if it could still be found. So I figured we’d try anyway. And also considering we haven’t been to Casparis in a while, and the first time we ever went was in Feb as well with about 6 inches of snow on the ground, I figured I’d test that luck again. And as luck has it, the area got dumped with about 3-4 inches of snow on the ground during the week before heading to Casparis, giving us a nice winter run.
For this trek we had the following brave souls sign up:
And even then, it took several tries and a lot of mud-slinging to get over.
- Alex Hinson with guest Steve
- Dave Nichols
- John Tompkins
- Paul Lepine
- Walter Forlini
- Gary Owens
- Loc Pham
- And two guest from the JK-Forum
The trip to Connellsville, PA where the trails for Casparis are located is a rather long drive. Its 3 hours for me in Gaithersburg, and even longer for our members in NoVA and southern Maryland. So to make things easier, we did 2 meeting spots before Connellsville. The first meeting spot for a few of us was at the Waffle House in Urbana, MD just off I-270 for breakfast at 6:30 and left around 7:00. The 2nd meeting spot where we picked up a few more attendees was the Sideling Hill Center on I-68 just past where I-68 starts from I-70. We met up at 8:00 and left around 8:30 to finish the final leg of our journey. And we made it to Connellsville around 10:30.
The trails start at the south end of Connellsville on the east side of the river. You follow Baldridge Ave till it turns into McCormick Ave and then follow that till it takes a sudden hard right onto a gravel road. This is Casparis Rd and the main trail for the entire area.
We all gassed up, grabbed some food, went over the game plan for the trip and then headed out around 11. This put us on the trails around 11:20. As with our normal tradition of going to Casparis, we first went to the old mines. We did air down at a flat about ½ miles along the trail from the entrance. It is a little ruff getting up the steep hill at the beginning, but it soon level’s out long enough to give everyone room to air down and disconnect. We noticed that on this part of the trail which is more heavily used, there was no snow, but the ground was still frozen.
The branch that leads to the mines is an ok trail. It immediately starts with a creek crossing and has several small mud puddles along the way, which in this case were almost dried up and those with any mud left in them were frozen over. That’ll happen when it’s only 23 degrees outside.
We arrived at the mines with no problems and got some pictures of the group. As always with a group of more than one, parking was hard to come by at the end of this trail. The trail dead ends at the mines and you must turn back around to get out. Years ago, there used to be a trail leading along the ledge, but it is now closed to vehicle access. We opted to not do the hike out to the overlook due to the temperature. We did however go up to the top of the dirt mound and looked into the mine’s. That constant 64 degree atmosphere inside blowing out felt rather nice and warm in the cold of winter. A few of the folks who had never been here before went in to explore a little. The rest of us got an early start on lunch.
Once the explorers were back and had their lunch, we packed everything up and headed back down the trail to the main road. After that, we did a quick stop at Foley’s Dam and got some pictures. Paul proved the ice was rather thick by walking right out onto the lake. Not long after this is where the main road that is used the most stops as well as any maintenance, and this is where the real fun trails begin.
The first part is mostly small short hill climbs and with the more predominate snow fall in this area, it made things a little more tricky. It really added to the excitement when we reached the 3 big climbs. The 3 big climbs are spot on the trail where you have 3 options of hill climbs to take to get to the rest of the trail. The trail on the far left is the easiest and only has a few small rock steps to deal with. The one in the middle is a straight line climb but has a number of larger tree roots across the trail making it difficult for the inexperienced driver. The trail to the right has a very larger and off camber rock ledge plus hill to climb over. It does have a bypass which is easier then the far left trail.
A few of us tried doing the right hill climb, only a few with success. The slick snow, mud, and ice made it impossible to those without lockers. And even then, it took several tries and a lot of mud-slinging to get over. The rest of us took the bypass or the straight hill climb. Once at the top of the hill we headed left along the trail and up another hill climb to a large collection of mud holes. All of where frozen over. Now the one bad thing about being the trail leader is that you get to be the tester for everyone else. You get to see how deep the mud hole is, or how strong a piece of ice is. So throughout the day as I became the ice breaker, I had to keep a mindful foot and not just plow through any in order to keep the chunks of ice from slicing my tires open.
After the mud pits we came to the first 4 way. From here, going left will be the top of the easy hill climb from earlier, straight is the way out, and right is what I call Cherokee Loop for the old 1970’s Cherokee sitting on the side of the trail about a third of the way in. After turning, we start going down a bunch of hills; a few of them rather rocky and steep. Having 4 low with engine breaking was a good thing here because it was slick and very icy. Also along this section of hill descents, there is a rather deep washout that is the trail and causes you to lean very far over. So far in fact that at times, the mirror on your passengers side will rub the wall of the washout on the other side. It will definitely make you hang on to the steering wheel.
Shortly after this, and a few more hill descents, we came to the next 4 way. The left trail from here will take you down a series of rather hard hill descents with a number of rock ledges and will ultimately end at Hawkins Hollow where you can find the old railroad bridge, but that’s another trail and story. The trail heading straight will take you about 3-4 miles along the mountain side before dead ending at an ATV trail that is barely big enough for an ATV. We went right to finish the loop. From here till the Cherokee is very twisting and tight trail. It has several small washout ditches, a few small creek crossings, and some small rock steps. With the snow, it got hard to see the trail in some parts and we had to stop once in a while to make sure were still on the trail.
Once we got to the Cherokee and snapped a few pictures, we trekked on. From here we started climbing back up the mountain again, but this time only in short burst of steep hill climbs. There were a few switch backs before the abandoned ranger’s station but after that was the major hill climb. The major hill climb is a long, maybe a mile or so, steep hill which has a deep washout rut zigzagging in the trail. It makes it rather difficult by giving you a steep hill, mud, off camber spots, full flex spots, and more. A few of us were getting stuck in the ruts due to the slick nature of the snow. But it was nothing a little momentum couldn’t overcome.
Once at the top, the trail begins is winding, tight path through the woods till we come back to the top of the 3 hill climbs from earlier, thus completing the loop. From here we headed towards the exit. Now, the exit isn’t just down the trail, no, there’s still several more miles of trail left. Shortly after the turn off we did earlier for the loop on the exit path there are several mud pits, the last of which is known for being surprisingly deep. And me being first got to break the 3 inch thick ice of all three mud pits.
Once we were all at the 3rd and final one, I slowly crept out. Everything was fine, and the ice seemed to be supporting me. About one and half car lengths in, the ice suddenly gave way and the jeep went down. The front end was over the deep section and proceeded to drop under the mud. At this point I threw it in reverse and got out as fast as I could and opted for the bypass. I didn’t like the idea of using my grill as the ice breaker.
One of the guys from the JK forum with us was lifted a lot more and decided to break the rest of the ice while the rest of us took the bypass. This was also a lesson to a number of us about one of the dangers of ice. While he didn’t slice any of his tires, he did get several large chunks wedged in his steering components. If we didn’t inspect his jeep before continuing, he would’ve done some serious damage to his front axle. We cleared all the ice out and inspected everything to make sure it was all in working order. After this, the trail starts opening back up to a wider, easier dirt road. And after a while we arrived at the rock play ground. This is a larger clearing with some rock mounds, and hills to play on. We took turns going up and down the big hill and playing in the mud there.
After we all had our fill we headed out to the exit only to find that it’s no longer an exit. Apparently, and I found this out later, a development company has brought a strip of land there to put some new houses in and is now closing that part off. While the gate was still wide open, there was a big bulldozer blocking the entrance. So it was either push him out of the way, knock down some tree’s to go around, or head back out the way we came. This was a no brainer. We turn around and head back out via the Connellsville entrance.
After a few wrong turns and some dead ends, we finally found the correct trail heading back down the hill climbs and back onto the main road which we followed back to Connellsville. We stopped at the Sheetz in Connellsville to air up and reconnect before saying our good byes. It was a fun day with fun people on a fun trail with plenty of snow. We all made it without breaking anything. It was a great day for all of us. See you next time!
Trail report written by Alex Hinson. Pictures courtesy of Alex Hinson and Loc Pham.