A recent question addressed to the STC asked whether going clockwise or counterclockwise on the loop was the more advantageous for the hiker interested in gravity-assisted backpacking. In other words, which direction on the trail goes downhill the most?
Let’s start with this basic fact and observation: The Northern Gateway of the STS, on Denton Hill, is at 2450’ elevation. Cross Fork is at 1060’ elevation. Consequently, any trail heading for Cross Fork is likely to be more descending, and any trail heading for Denton Hill will be gradually ascending.
Cross Fork, with the low point being the bridge over Kettle Creek, is at STS mile 49. Therefore, the east side of the trail will have 49 miles that overall descend, whereas the west side of the trail, with 35 miles, will overall ascend.
On the east side, the following sections will descend:
* Ridge Trail to Lyman Run
* Crooks Trail to Sunken and West Branch Rds.
* Cherry Springs Fire Tower to Short Run Rd.
* Hungry Hollow Rd. to Ole Bull State Park
* East Ole Mountaintop down to Impson Hollow
* Morgan Hollow to Young Woman’s Creek
* Bobsled Hollow to Greenlick Run
* Two sections of the gas company pipeline
* Lieb Run Trail down to Cross Fork
Of course, it’s not all downhill on the east side. Ascents include
* Lyman Run to the Ewing/Crooks trails plateau
* Cardiac Climb from West Branch Rd. to the plateau
* Cherry Run up to Hungry Hollow Rd.
* East Ole Mountain switchbacks up to Impson Hollow Trail
* Impson Hollow Trail to Twelve Mile Road
* one ascent on the gas company pipeline
* gradual ascent in the Porter Run area to Shephard Rd.
On the west side of the trail, going clockwise, the hills go like this:
* up Twin Sisters Trail, then down Elkhorn Trail to the Hammersley
* up from the Hammersley to McConnell Rd.
* down Gravel Lick to East Fork Rd.
* up from East Fork Rd. to the Three Quarries Trail
* down to Stony Run, then up again before descending to Wild Boy Run
* gradual ascent to Rock Run Rd., then down on Prouty Trail and up again
* down into Hockney Hollow before ascending to Patterson Park on Kerr Trail
* dip on Plantation Trail, ascent on Hribar Trail, then descent on Splash Dam Trail
* a final climb on the White Line Trail to Denton Hill.
Merely listing ups and downs does not tell the whole story, of course. Some elevation changes are much steeper than others. Jon Dillon’s maps, which are included with Chuck Dillon’s guidebook or can be purchased for $5, have elevation charts, as do each of the seven section openers of the Ben Cramer guide. The charts are most helpful for evaluating the depth and slope of elevation change.
The best gravity-assist plan would be to do the trail in two sections, both starting on Denton Hill and ending in Cross Fork, doing an east-side hike and a west-side hike, but since that is not possible for someone wanting to do a consecutive backpack of the loop, a clockwise hike is the easier.