Cooper’s Gap Goes Under the Microscope (map)

Vince came down to visit for the weekend. Based on a tip from site visitor and trout fisherman “Chris” from around Bellefonte, PA, we headed for Cooper’s Gap off of Stone Creek. I had scouted it out some weeks ago on a cold, blustery, snowy day, so I knew just where to start our expedition. We just didn’t know how far it might extend… Looking at topos, it seemed possible that vast areas might be accessible on the other side of Cooper’s Gap! I prepared my mind for a loooong day.

Notes for the Feeble Minded

We parked at the new faux-stone bridge on Cooper’s Gap Rd just off Stone Creek Rd. Crossing the bridge, we picked up the RoW, which is roughly parallel to the road and would almost intersect the bridge span if intact. The first bit along the road is somewhat sketchy, and road construction has disrupted a section near the shale pit. As we neared the new (2009) gas pipeline RoW, the roadbed becomes much clearer in a swampyish area. Crossing the pipeline, we found my orange markers tied in a white pine tree and picked up the RoW again just behind them. We followed the track through a stand of small white pines (we like to start things off piney fresh) to a switch at a large downed tree. We elected to head up the branch to the left (curving NE), since I had previously explored some of the other branch. The branch under exploration quickly curved back towards the gas pipeline, crossing just a bit downhill from the stream that crosses the pipeline swath at the base of its really steep section. On the other side of the pipeline, we picked up a fairly clear track heading into the “yard” of a hunting camp. Bypassing a stand of large pines next to the camp, we picked up nice rocky RoW headed upgrade towards the horseshoe in Cooper’s Gap Rd.

Eventually we came to a water crossing with some bridge remnants, which moved us to the opposite shore of the stream. We stayed there and found that the RoW begins to essentially be the Chestnut Spring trail until it intersects CG Rd at the horseshoe. I commented how I couldn’t believe we hadn’t spotted that RoW after several trips around the horseshoe.

We crossed the road and found the RoW mostly invisible near the camp, but shortly afterwards we picked it up again veering to the right alongside a trail. We followed it upstream a ways until it seemed to extend into the base of a steep sort of slide/stream thing. Hmm. Poking about showed that the hollow became way too steep for the railroad to have continued. We elected to cross over the ravine to the north face, figuring we had possibly missed a split. Sure enough, a short distance north I spotted clear RoW along the stream. Vince departed back towards the camp, reporting via radio that he had a small bridge remnant in the bushes and that he was tracking back up to me. I removed rocks from my boots and pulled up my socks. I also pondered Chestnut Spring Trail. It’s possible there was a loadout or siding or something in the area. There just seem to be excessively orderly rocks about.

We continued ENE up along the small stream, enjoying clear rock RoW only intermittently blocked by dastardly undergrowth. At several places we marvelled at the steepness of the grade. The dinkies were undoubtedly huffing in here. Once past them, it appeared a large area was going to be easily accessible. Could it be that there was RoW out towards Conklin Rd and Lingle Valley…? My imagination began to work overtime. Then our rapid progress began to peter out… the track was less clear. After examining the GPS device, Vince made a disturbing proclamation: county line. It seems likely that–despite having reached a vast new area of potential timber–the builder’s were stymied by a simple ownership barrier, and built no further.

Determination. Despite Noisy Birds.

Nevertheless, we continued to scout about a bit on the fairly level ground near the county line, hoping we might pick up something concrete. We didn’t. Eventually we reached a trail going to the south along the county line, which probably goes to CG Rd. We debated what to do. We were considering going a bit further ENE, but were a bit alarmed by a racket coming from that direction. It sounded like thousands (and I mean thousands!) of crows were roosting in that direction. I pointed out to Vince that Penn State recently dislodged large quantities of crows from campus; maybe they were living here now? I didn’t have much desire to be ‘aerially decorated’ by crows on such a fine spring day.

Eventually we steeled ourself and headed ENE. After a short ways, the croaking of the crows began to change in character. It also began to get closer to the ground. Were the crows not in trees??? A bit further and it became clear… the crows were on the ground. And they were very hoarse crows, even as crows go. Finally we realized these ‘crows’ were not only small and green, but they were swimming in a small pond with hundreds of their compatriots. Never have I heard such harsh sounding frogs! As we got closer, they ducked underwater one by one, eventually leaving silence. Well, silence except for the noise from another evident frog pond a short distance through the woods! Feeling a bit sheepish about being fooled, we decided to head back to the right leg of the grade. What’s that? Forgotten the right leg already? 😉

Back to the Right Leg

We followed Chestnut Spring Trail back down to CG Rd, then the road to the vicinity of the hunting camp. We cut through the camp, back across the pipeline, and down to Fallentimber Switch. I warned Vince that we were in for some rhododendron, and off we went.

We quickly came to the crossing of the trout stream which Chris apparently fishes, and Vince admired the nicely squared timbers as I had on my last visit. We then plunged on into increasingly dense rhododendron. Before long, we were remembering just how much we despise it. And we were still in the thin parts! Despite the blasted rhodo, we continued to make our way upstream, tracking clear rock RoW. Eventually, the ravine became so narrow and the stream banks so choked with vegetation that I elected to climb up the bank to the SW. There I found clear signs of a convergence of log slides, some of which seem to have been used rather heavily.

Vince elected to continue trying to go straight (roughly south) into one ravine, while I headed up a diverging ravine (roughly southwest). This could well be the most rugged place we have been in our logging railroad explorations… when I say ravine, I mean ravine! My ravine quickly became too steep for a railroad grade, though there appeared to be evidence of logs having been slid down the ravine. I elected to try to again climb out of the vegetation and up the hillside, cutting over to the ravine where Vince was. I couldn’t really hear him on the radio due to the stream crashing down the narrow crevice, but it seemed he thought I should come visit him. Finally I made it over to ‘his’ ravine, only to learn that there was no way any railroad went up it, even before all the trees blew down into it! If you want to practice your bushwack skills, I suggest you start here.

We elected to get out by climbing up into the area of the major log slides, and Vince noted a couple of them on the GPS. We angled downstream and descended back to stream. At Vince’s urging, we then headed for the next ravine to the east, though it too seemed awfully steep. At its base the rugged rocks and dense vegetation dissuaded us from attempting exploration. Vince pointed out that there was one more ravine even further east, but thankfully he succumbed to practical time considerations and we got the heck out of rhododendron for the day. Despite our frustration in the ravines, we had undoubtedly logged some nice mileage for the first survey of the year!

Note: If anyone finds a squirrel in this area listening to weather service reports on a Motorola walkie talkie… it’s probably Vince’s. The radio, that is, not the squirrel.

Here da map:

Cooper's Gap survey

Afterthoughts

I was just pondering the name “Cooper’s Gap”… I wonder if there was someone named Cooper involved, or if they were harvesting wood for barrel-making in this area. Interesting possibility!

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