Exploring winter waterfalls

Our group worked its way up and along both sides of Falls Run searching for the best of many views of the waterfall ahead of us, as well as for the easiest bushwhack forward. Once at the waterfall, Roscoe McCloskey, leader of this Keep It Wild! hike in the Loyalsock State Forest, gathered us together for a group photo next to Gipson Falls. This would be the high point of many hikes, but not this one.

We admired the falls, took some photos, and then continued hiking farther up the mountain to Angel Falls, which have a vertical drop of 70 feet. Local lore has it that the falls received its name after a visitor returned from seeing the world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela.

Keep It Wild! is the Land Conservation Committee of the Responsible Drilling Alliance. RDA is a grassroots education and advocacy group based in the Williamsport area. They strive to educate themselves and the public about shale gas drilling and what is at stake. They also like to get out and enjoy our state forests.

“There are several reasons we lead the hikes,” McCloskey said. “First and foremost, we are trying to pass on our appreciation of state lands in Pennsylvania. Many folks have no idea what is available locally when it comes to outdoor activities. These are open invite hikes, if you hear about it you are welcome to come along. Another reason is so more people are aware of what is at risk when it comes to mixing fossil fuel extraction with these state lands. We started out focused on the Rock Run Area, The Clarence Moore Lands and the McIntyre Wild Area, and this is still the main focus of Keep it Wild.”

Nineteen of us, as well as five dogs, showed up for this hike on a cold, icy Saturday in January. Cold was not an issue for this crew, but the ice-slicked gravel road to the trailhead slowed things down a little. Four of the hikers arrived late enough that I did not meet them until at the end of the hike.

The hike began at a trailhead along Brunnerdale Road. After a short section on the Loyalsock Trail (LST) we left the trail and continued following Ogdonia Run. The pleasant walk along the stream through open woods was as easy as walking on a trail, and in sections it was the old location of the LST.

We left Ogdonia Run at the first side stream we came to, Falls Run, and then worked our way up the hollow to Gipson Falls. Waterfalls are the focal point of many hikes, and in winter there is the added beauty of ice. Even during snowless winter periods, you will find falls and the surrounding features coated with ice. And with no snow you will find it easier to walk to the falls.

Gipson Falls is where we gathered for a group photo, and after taking in the waterfall and its setting we spread out and began the steep climb up to Angel Falls. At times we were again on the old LST. The trail has been relocated because the area around Angel Falls was impacted by overuse. The area is currently closed to camping, rock climbing and rappelling.

As we moved closer to Angel Falls we worked our way along the base of a huge rock face. The steepness was all above us. Our challenge was picking our way through broken blocks of stone. Soon we were standing in front of Angel Falls.

Angel Falls forms an impressive drop. From a narrow pour over the lip at the rim of the gorge the water drops, and spreads across the rock face. The far side of the drop was covered with ice and long icicles. Water disappeared behind mounds of ice on the bottom half of the waterfall. The rock alcove, the falls, ice and craggy stone blocks came together and formed an enchanting setting.

We backtracked along the rock face and then continued climbing. At times we were making use of switchbacks from the old trail location. At Springs Window, a nice view of the falls framed by hemlock branches, the trail was blazed and we followed this short spur to the LST where we headed south.

As the sound of the falls and stream receded we found ourselves immersed in thick fog on this wintry day. The trail from here to our starting point was downhill and sidehill. Much of the time we were on old forest roads. The grade is gentle, the walking pleasant, and soon we were walking next to the stream where we had begun our hike.

Hiking with local groups is an easy way to explore new places. Based on my conversations with people on this hike, about one-third or more were visiting Angel Falls for the first time. Most of them had heard of Angel Falls but had simply never got it together to go and see it.

Jacoby Falls is the February destination for the next Keep It Wild! hike.

It is too easy to fall into a pattern of returning only to the places we know. There are many stunning places throughout our state forests. Angel Falls is worth taking the time and effort to visit. Connecting with people who are familiar with a place, and then hiking with them, is an excellent way to make new friends, discover new places and then to explore and enjoy a special place such as Angel Falls or Jacoby Falls.

Gary Thornbloom is the Co-Chair of the Public Lands Committee, PA Chapter Sierra Club. He can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net


Driving directions: Near Williamsport continue on U.S. Interstate 180/U.S. Route 220 North. Take Exit 21 for state Route 87 North/Loyalsock Avenue N. Go North on PA 87 from Montoursville past Barbours to Ogdonia Road on the right. Take Ogdonia Road until it splits. Take the left hand road of the split (Brunnerdale Road). Parking for the trail is not far past the split and is on the left.

Additional information: There is a kiosk at the trailhead with information and a map.

The DCNR Public Use Map for Loyalsock State Forest gives an overview of the entire area. The Alpine Club of Williamsport sells a guide, available online, to the LST that includes topographical maps. Those are the clearest maps available for this hike.

The next Keep It Wild! hike is to Jacoby Falls on Feb. 21. Information can be found on the Responsible Drilling Alliance website.