Though it were thought impossible, I have conquered the highest point in Berks County Pennsylvania! A towering, unbelievable, 1,680'! I even did it without oxygen. Admittedly, this is not quite as impressive as my conquest of the Delaware high point. The Berks high point is on the Appalachian Front Range in eastern PA (the Blue Ridge) just off the A.T., near the western Berks-Schuylkill County line. There's really not much sense of elevation gain on the hike since you start at the crest where 183 climbs over the Blue Ridge and therefore where the AT crosses. Add this to my highest points in: California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, North Carolina, New York, and yes Pennsylvania and Delaware. The green tunnel of the AT is always pretty but you end up worrying about things you don't have to in California like Lyme disease and rain (and it did rain, heavily, as I was coming back out.) Also Rockylvania has its reputation, and although it supposedly gets much worse starting in Port Clinton and going north (i.e. east), it was still plenty annoying just west of 183. Back to California single-track for this guy!
(By the way, at the end of this week there was a report of a mountain lion in Cumru Township, Berks County. Looking at the pictures, probably not, but the lions will be back in PA - my prediction is by 2025 there will be two mountains lions detected in PA with supporting DNA evidence. Wagers anyone?)
Reading online, you get the strong sense that the branch trails to the high point are not super well-marked. It's actually the AT, and not the special high-point sections, that I think are poorly marked. To be useful to other people trying to get to the Berks High Point and searching online like I did, I've drawn a map (not to scale) for other folks looking for directions. Wandering Woodsman (hereafter WW) has a good video that shows turns 3 and 4 very well (which I embed here for your convenience and which I used for this hike, thanks WW!)
Turn #1. A couple hundred yards west of 183, you come to a T-junction at a wide trail. Turn RIGHT (#1 above) onto this wider trail, following the white arrow on the ground. (At that junction, to your left after maybe 10-20 yards is the stone foundation of a cabin.) Below, this is a picture of the trail you're turning onto.
Turn #2. The easiest-to-miss, in my opinion: at the stone marker describing Fort Dietrich Snyder on your left, the AT proceeds BEHIND it. (Pictured below.) It's only about a hundred yards after you got to the T-intersection in #1. So when you get to the Dietrich Snyder marker (#2), turn LEFT to go behind the marker and continue on the AT. (If you continue straight here, past the Dietrich Snyder marker, you will see blue blazes and start downhill, away from the high point.) Once you turn right to go behind the marker the trail is a more typical narrow foot trail with regular white blazes.
Turn #3: Roughly 15 minutes after you turned at the stone marker, you will get to the turn-off from the AT to go toward the high point (#3 on the map above.) No picture here; this is marked with a large white A on a tree that's hard to miss, and you can also see it clearly in WW's video at 1m28s. Turn LEFT here. This is hard to miss.
You will soon pass another sign that says Berks HP 1.6. No turns here, but you'll feel better at this second marker that you're going the right way. Along this trail (closer to turn #4) you will encounter a stand of surviving chestnuts - notice the spiky seeds on the ground, also in WW's video.
Turn #4: Finally you come to the Caleb Frantz High Point Trail, very clearly marked (#4 on the map, also pictured below) and also clear on WW's video at 4m15s. Turn LEFT here. From here you'll be at the high point in 15 minutes or less.
Below are a few other nice pictures I took on the trail, followed by WW's video. For Pennsylvanians it's been an annoyingly wet spring, but for this adopted Californian, we don't see this intensity of green really anywhere, especially not now that we're in a state of perpetual drought.
- I thought the history of Fort Dietrich Snyder during the French and Indian War (North American theater of the Seven Years War) was the most interesting part of the hike to be honest. In general I'm a fan of Ben Franklin but I'm a little annoyed with his playing down in his Autobiography of PA Dutch contribution to defending the frontier during the war (for instance, Conrad Weiser not even mentioned by name; and the British remarked frequently during the war how much more reliable Pennsylvania colonists were than Virginians - search here for the term General Braddock. Let's see, what was demographically different between the two? German colonists in PA of course!) The Captain Morgan named in this description of the forts was not the inspiration for liquor but rather the man Morgantown is named after and one of my ancestors served under him, after fleeing from the Northkill Amish massacre to the southern part of the county where the Crown could more effectively protect its subjects. More here and here.
- Yes, you do have to park down the hill on the Strausstown side and on the other side of 183 0.3 miles. Not that far but do be careful along and crossing the road.
- If you're headed up there from Reading, you'll go by Plum Creek Farm Market, which I'm told has excellent ice cream (closed Sundays.)
OTHER RANDOM COOL THINGS IN BERKS COUNTY
- My favorite discovery this time was Oakbrook Brewing, which has a great crowd, good stuff, very cool building (an old fire company building) and most of all, a selection of innovative and tasty beers. Here was what they had the night I was there. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
- I went into the most prominent high rise of Reading, the Berks County Courthouse - originally for the views, but I'd forgotten (or maybe never knew) what an art deco masterpiece this building was - even the elevators. The law library on floors 10-11 is publicly accessible, ergo views. Reading doesn't have a lot of high rises so I've developed an obsession with figuring out what the few other residential-appearing high rises visible from the Courthouse are; it's odd because they're not that much smaller, but the Courthouse Building stands out so much more as you drive by the city. First image is from goreadingberks.com.
- Santander Arena has an interesting mix of performers; i.e., which one of these is not like the others.
- There's a historical marker for a labor massacre in Reading in 1877 that I (a Berks native and history buff) had never once heard of. (Seriously, read that link if you made it all the way down here.) There's a lot of important industrial and labor and political history in PA that is overlooked (the establishment of the State Police as strike breakers in company towns in otherwise low-population counties with small sheriff's forces is another one; the Johnstown Flood and its relation to the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, and the fact that PA's liquor tax was passed for the purpose of rebuilding Johnstown after this *1889* disaster. (Update: they're finished rebuilding.)
- I visited the Fork in the Road in Centerport, PA, and here's my proof. I understand that Oley has a nice spatula in the road that I plan to get to next. (Little known fact, many towns have chopsticks along the road but they connect them with black wires to disguise them. You can even see one in the background here.)
- I'd had a rekindling of my romance with Berks County over the last several years but it seems to be dying down now; not sure why. The harbinger was that on this trip, I wasn't that excited to get to a Wawa, or to Victor Emmanuel's. That was a sure sign of trouble.