Our Trail Guru doesn’t remember how he first learned of the 42 in 24 challenge, but it is something that he has attempted several times and completed three times. This challenge, known to Central PA locals and especially Penn State Outing Club alumni, has been a sort of right-of-passage for many aspiring long-distance hikers in the region. The challenge sounds simple: hike the 42-mile Allegheny Front Trail in under 24 hours (41.75 miles to be exact). This pace is less than 2 miles per hour on a hiking trail that is generally given a “moderate” difficulty rating, but the task isn’t as easy as some would expect. Yet, the challenge isn't as difficult as some others would expect, either. What does it really take to complete the 42 in 24 Challenge?
Again, this isn’t the hardest trail a hiker will ever encounter. But it is a long loop. The route includes multiple climbs, rocky terrain, and year-round muddy sections of trail. You'll need to be prepared to night hike for several hours to complete this challenge. You'll also want to be prepared for beautiful scenery; including vistas, mountain streams, and wild flora.
Our Trail Guru once completed this challenge as an overnight adventure beginning at Six Mile Run, heading counter-clockwise. He immediately came across a few backpackers heading the opposite direction, “Do you know of a campsite nearby; we’re ready to quit for the day and it’s about to rain?”
“Sure! Cross Route 504, walk another mile or so and you’ll see some campsites.”
“Thanks, ummm, what are you doing out here? It’s about to storm all night and you’re carrying a very small pack”
“It’s okay. I’m prepared for the weather too, but thank you.”
“What are you up to?”
“Well…umm…I’m hiking the trail tonight.”
“The whole part.”
“No way; good luck man!”
Roughly 20 hours later, as our Trail Guru was about to complete the 42 in 24 Challenge for the first time, he passed a tent located just a couple miles south of Route 504 along Six Mile Run. As he walked by in the early morning light, delirious, cold, and soaking wet from several hours of rain and wet trails, a hiker emerged from the tent, “Holy S&*t! No way, YOU MADE IT! Way to go man!”
You’re not going to see a bunch of other people out attempting this feat - there is good chance you won't actually see another human being, and you won't even hear about this feat unless you're in contact with a select subset of people in the local outdoor community. Or if you follow the quirky Purple Lizard blogs!
This isn’t about the fame. It’s about you. It's simply a personal challenge - a very personal challenge, and one that anyone can attempt. It's not impossible, but it's hard enough that even if you think you can do it, there is a good chance you will fail. Along the way you may learn a few things about yourself, sort out some existential feelings about your place in the world, and have an epiphany or two. Or, your mind won't go that way at all; instead you'll experience overwhelming feelings of misery and despair and curse yourself for attempting such a crazy hike. This is yet another great thing in a long list of great things about the trails in Central PA. Hike your own hike. Enjoy the deep woods we are surrounded by, and get to know yourself while exploring in Pennsylvania.
Don’t do this alone. Even if you think you can. Yes the blazes are bright yellow, but the trail is still difficult to follow when you're thirty miles deep and the dark night rules the skies. It is a solo challenge but one that should be done with a partner of similar mettle, or insanity, or fortitude - your choice of descriptive words will change throughout the 24 hours!
There is a section of narrative we include on every Purple Lizard Map: Be safe; tell someone your plans, talk with people who have local knowledge and stay within your physical and mental limits. This particular hike stretches that a bit—but finding, or redefining, your physical and mental limits can be most rewarding in ways that are difficult to describe until you've been there.
A hiker definitely needs hundreds if not thousands of miles of experience before tackling a 42-mile day hike. Even more importantly, be sure to backpack this trail in a two or three day weekend to get a feel for it before attempting to complete the whole route in under 24 hours.
Be sure to sign all of the trail registers as a matter of safety and record keeping. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best along this loop, so be prepared to handle any on trail emergencies on your own.
Alpine start (of course). Begin at the Route 504 trailhead with Rock Run Trail System. Head clockwise to experience the early morning sunrise east of the Allegheny Plateau. Stop to enjoy several marked viewpoints (lizard spots!) looking into Bald Eagle Valley. This section includes multiple climbs and descents on a very rugged trail with loose rocky terrain. Overall though, the trail descends a few hundred feet off the Allegheny Front into Black Moshannon State Park. Take care along the steep and rocky sections, it is a rather difficult emergency access point along this section of the challenge.
Once you cross Beaver Road you begin walking along Moss Hanne Trail. This trail is low lying and relatively smooth and flat as it winds around Black Moshannon Lake. Take care walking on the bog bridges and wet sections of this trail. Slow down and enjoy the marsh. Or speed up and run for a bit. Whatever you prefer. This section of trail at times becomes close with the lake, but please be sure to stay on the single track treadway as this section can sometimes be muddy. If your feet aren't already wet, they will become wet later. Embrace the moisture. This is Pennsylvania of course. After a few miles, cross Clay Mine Road and a spring near a hunting camp, then continue on.
Be sure to slow down and notice Wolf Rocks. Do you see porcupine droppings scattered about the area? How about fisher tracks? After a couple tough miles through logged forest, the trail again becomes very quiet and soft. Your feet will enjoy this, although the path is still difficult to follow. Soon the AFT roughly parallels Six Mile Run for several miles. It is a wonderful, yet sometimes wet section of trail that gets frequent use from trout fishermen.
Red Moshannon is not an easy section! Also do not drink water from the Red Mo! It has been poisoned by the mining industry - it can't support fish or humans. The trail crosses several small streams running to the Red Moshannon Creek. You'll also walk past some old growth trees, so keep yours eyes up, even when it seems like you're doing more climbing and descending than expected. This is a very remote section of forest, and you're tired by now, so caution should be used. Eventually, the trail climbs past a viewpoint of the I-80 bridge spanning Red Moshannon Creek and continues back to the plateau.
Now you follow the trail as it descends into Benner Run. Next it climbs along Benner Run. Don't worry, the rhododendron tunnel is beautiful. And finally, you can drink the water again.
This last beautiful section of trail was built in the interests of cross-country skiers. The trail is narrow, rocky, and heads in a general uphill direction. Yep, this is going to be tough. Please stay on trail and keep the path beautiful for others to enjoy. About half way along this section is a trail register. After signing in, take a right to continue on the AFT. Soon enough you'll be back at your starting point.
What if something goes wrong, or you find yourself just flat-out exhausted and unable to achieve the goal? Break out your Moshannon-Quehanna Lizard Map and take note of various short cut trails and roads that can get you out of the woods quickly. The most popular cut-off trail for this loop is Shingle Mill Trail, which leads from Black Moshannon Creek directly to Black Moshannon State Park.