I just came back from running the Brown Loop Trail in Mocanaqua. The Brown Loop shares much of the same
Route as the XTerra course.
The land is nothing new to me. In fact, I grew up a stones throw from “the woods” as I called them as a little boy. I fondly remember picnics and walks in the woods (now part of the Earth Conservancy) growing up. As a young man, there is barely a ridge or a hollow I haven’t mountain biked, hunted, rock climbed, rappelled, hiked, drove my CJ-5 Jeep, or explored. In fact, you may say this is hallowed ground as a great-grandfather of mine suffocated underground somewhere beneath our feet escaping a mine collapse with his friend and neighbor back in October of ’32.
Even given this familiarity, I am always struck by the brutality of the first 2 miles of the trail. Of course, the first gain in elevation is a kicker, but this is only the beginning. The worst parts come when the trail runs along the steep ridge overlooking the river and Route 11 North of Shickshinny. The best way I could describe the trail is effing stupid. I am not sure why the trail was even built; most of the double track was established for mining operations and ‘maintained’ by ATV traffic. However, this section appears far from any former mining activity, and it seems too rough for an ATV trail. Pictures do no justice to the steepness and looseness of the trail. Suffice it to say, many of the sections are difficult to walk up for large stretches. Most trail runs I have done have short sections where climbing/walking is necessary. This race has repeated prolonged sections that redline your heart rate walking up them. I would guess there are about 10 kickers that are steep, loose, and long within a mile or two. One can barely recover before the next kicker arises before your disbelieving eyes.
There is quite a rewarding view at the top.
Unfortunately, the downhill sections are so rocky, they offer no respite, but rather a potpourri of large, medium, and gravel sized rock ready to twist an ankle (or hide a prolific black rat snake).
Also, your lungs will either be choked with hot coal dust from some of the roads, or your feet will have jungle rot if there was a recent rain from a putrid puddle (also prolific in the area).
As mentioned above, black rat snakes are common, as are black bears. In fact, within the last decade (as with all legends, the exact year is unimportant), the largest black bear of the year was taken over the mountain from the trails, probably with 3 miles of the trails. As anyone that knows bears knows, this is well with a bears range. This big bears off spring surely still wander the former coal lands. I wonder if the bear skirting the puddle before me is a relative of the legend bear?
So how to prepare? First, if you train solely on roads, be able to run near 20 road miles to be equivalent to 13 Mocanaqua miles. Be prepared for heat reflecting off the dark waste coal that makes up many roads (but enjoy the cold breezes you feel coming up from unseen mines or vent holes along trail). Wear shoes that are flexible to grip the rocks and do not have a high sole. I think it’s best to keep the foot low to the ground minimizing the torque from the jagged rocks. Have a hydration plan. I would recommend some sort of system such as hydration pack, or hydration belt. Lastly, bring your ability to suffer. Just as the miners suffered long days with a pick in hand underground in the dark, you will be suffering above the ground in the scorching sun come June 15.
On a historical note, if you look straight up the slope from the parking lot (above the blue DPW building), you may see the old foundation of the West End Colliery breaker building. This is where young boys and disabled men would usually hand pick the “culm”, or waste coal that now makes up the various “culm banks” in the area. The first breaker burnt down, and a new one was built near the same site. At one time, there was a covered bridge spanning between Shickshinny and Mocanaqua. The previous concrete bridge to the current was located a few hundred yards upstream, between the last house and the parking lot.
If you look across the river, you will see waste culm from the Stackhouse Colliery operation. It is now State Game Lands and offers a beautiful 3.5ish mile totally unmarked running loop that goes past several open mine shaft and runs along an old railroad bed in many parts. The loop offers great views of the river valley and Mocanaqua. It also climbs a powerline, offering other great views. The Stackhouse Colliery foundation can be seen at the end if the bridge on the other side of the river. This breaker is known for shooting it’s anthracite over what is now Route 11 and into car on the canal and railroad. The canal bed can still be seen along Route 11 in several spots.
Lastly, the towns have both been hit hard by flooding of the Susquehanna. There used to be a telephone pole in Mocanqua on Lincoln Street that had flood levels from the last few decades. I am not certain it’s still there.
If interested in the flooding, check out the back room of the Wagon Wheel Restaraunt in Shickshinny (at the red light). There, you can find a plethora of photographs, and you can see the water level on the building.
If you want to reward yourself with a great cheesesteak that rivals anything in Philly, check out Mil and Jim’s Parkwayon your way back to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. Simply continue straight through Mocanaqua, through Glen Lyon, and into Alden.
Mil and Jim’s will be on your left. Interstate 81 isn’t too far from the