Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Superfund Site


Day 111

Location: Wind Gap, PA

Miles hiked today: 20.4

Miles from Springer: 1,266.0

Miles to Katahdin: 910.2

Elevation: 980′

I zeroed yesterday at the jail in Palmerton, which was a very relaxing town. I did not expect to like Palmerton, since it is a factory town with its factory shut down.

Palmerton is the location of a zinc smelting plant, which for decades spewed toxic chemicals into the mountainside above it and the hills around town. The result was an ecological disaster, including a complete deforestation of the mountain, and contamination of the soil. The plant was finally shut down in 1983, and the mountain itself was declared a superfund site, putting it on an expensive, long road to reforestation and clean-up.

This is the mountain the AT goes over. Everyone has really been dreading this section, for a number of reasons. The climb itself is supposed to be the hardest yet, ranked as the most difficult climb south of the “Whites.” The fact that the mountain is deforested means that this climb is exposed to the heat and sun, and we have been amidst a severe heat wave lately. There is little shade for almost five miles, and only bare rocks which intensify the heat. Finally, there are no water sources in theis section for 20 miles. I was really dreading this day!

The first break came last night, when a cold front moved in and broke the heat spell, even bringing some rain. By the morining, the air was fresh and cool and there was a nice breeze. I was further surprised by the climb itself, which turned out to be exhilarating. It was indeed a steep and difficult climb, but it was a fun vertical handhold to handhold climb towering above the Lehigh River a thousand feet below. There was a panoramic view in all directions the entire way, a true “mountaintop” experience that is so rare on the AT. I would have to rate it as one of my favorite climbs yet. There was also that cool breeze and clear visibility for at least 50 miles, which would not have existed yesterday. The five mile exposed ridgeline only meant that I got to enjoy it that much more for that much longer. They should really deforest more of these mountains! (Just kidding)!

It was still a long, tough day, as the rocks were more consistent than ever and we ran really tight on water. I had bought over 5 liters of water, weighing over 11 pounds. My friend, Y2K had forgotten to bring extra water, so splitting everything we had, we only barely made it into Wind Gap with enough. My friends had left some awesome trail magic for me, in the form of a bottle of water with my name on it at a road crossing. It is a true testament to how awesome the people on the trail are, that this water sat untouched for two days in one of the dryest sections, simply because it had a name on it!

For the final 10 miles or so we were really cruising at a fast clip over very tricky rocks, which made for very bruised feet and sore knees. Wind Gap offered a real reward for the effort, as it was a town with a Burger King, McDonalds, and a ton of other comforts. So we were justly rewarded for our hard day. Y2K re-introduced me to slurpies, which I have neglected since I was a kid. How wondrous is that cup of bright red cherry limeade frozen ice! I don’t think I’ll be able to pass up another slurpie machine again!

The best thing about Wind Gap was our stealth camp site. Not wanting to eschew the advantage of close proximity to McDonalds in the morning (egg mcmuffins), we decided to look for a covert place to camp among the stores of the shopping center. After some scouting, we found a real gem behind the Blockbuster Video store. There was a fenced-in swamp just behind the building, and behind that a beautifully manicured lawn big enough for 20 hikers to set up their tents, and surrounded on four sides by trees. We were completely undetectable from any road, and the property did not appear to belong to any specific building. Best of all, it was located in the center of all of our shopping and eating needs. We celebrated with a trip to the grocery store to load up on junk food and a key lime cake. It was really a great ending to an awesome day on the trail!



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