The Rachel Carson Trail Challenge is a 34-mile endurance hike from Harrison Hills Park to North Park. There's also an 18-mile Homestead Challenge and an 8-mile Friends & Family Challenge.
Running as they leave Agan Park in Springdale are, from left, John Bongiovanni of Aspinwall, Kate Bender of Fox Chapel, and John's sister Dana Bongiovanni of Allison Park, as they take the 16-mile option during the annual Rachel Carson Trail Challenge in 2009.
Donna Stolz/Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy
People walk along train tracks in the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge.
By Bob Batz Jr. / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On June 18, nearly the longest day of the year, 600 people will attempt the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge — a 34-mile hike on the trail from Harrison Hills Park to North Park. Another 300 are signed up for an 18-mile hike that begins near the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale.
Those two group endurance hikes filled to capacity by the first week of April, earlier than usual in part because this is the event’s 20th year, says organizer Steve Mentzer. But you still can join the 8-mile Friends & Family Challenge from Hartwood Acres to the park picnic at the finish.
The 34-mile challenge has left some hikers hurt and/or hospitalized, especially those who haven’t properly prepared and packed for it. When Mr. Mentzer did it the first time in 1999, he twisted an ankle around mile 4 and limped the remaining 30 miles to finish what felt like dead last.
Other problems have ranged from dehydration to a broken wrist -— nothing too serious. But the trail is challenging, both for its ups and downs and its twists and turns. Hikers must be careful not to miss a yellow blaze and wander off the trail.
Or slide off of it, as participants did last year when heavy rains made trail sections into what Mr. Mentzer likens to human bobsled runs. “People will remember that one.”
Adding to the challenge are the time limits -— 15 hours, 4 minutes for the full challenge and seven hours, 46 minutes for the half. The family hike starts at noon, leaving plenty of time to finish before the sun sets.
These days, smart hikers join organized training hikes on the trail run by the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy and other groups, including Venture Outdoors.
As a 20th anniversary celebration and fundraiser, the group is holding a party from 5 to 9 p.m. June 11 at White Oak Farm in Hampton and Indiana Township. They will celebrate standout hikers — the oldest to finish, the youngest, etc. -— and swap war stories while enjoying food from Casa Reyna, beer and soft drinks as well as live music. Tickets are $20.
The cost to do the Family Challenge is $85 per group of five (the same as its costs individuals to do the full and half challenges). You can also get a feel for the event by volunteering to run the hike checkpoints and otherwise help out on hike day.
Twenty years after the challenge helped put it on the map, the trail is in fine shape.
“We see it as kind of a backbone connector trail for a lot of other recreational opportunities,” says Mr. Mentzer, who notes that more spur trails are planned to connect to more parks.
You can hike it anytime, but some people prefer doing it as part of an event, he says. “They want something that motivates them to get outside.”
Serious endurance enthusiasts might want to sign up for the conservancy’s UltraChallenge, a solo or group relay hike over 50.6 miles in under 14 hours on the Baker Trail.
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