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

Archive for Pennsylvania

Delaware Water Gap

Day 112

Location: Delaware Water Gap, PA

Miles hiked today: 15.6

Miles from Springer: 1,281.6

Miles to Katahdin: 894.6

Elevation: 400′

My phone has died again, which is beginning to become an annoyance. I use it to type these journal entries, paired with a portable keyboard. When I am out of batteries or it is broken, it is easy to fall far behind. There is an AT&T store in the shopping center we were camping in, which seems a perfect solution. I left the store not with a new phone, but with a growing idea that I should cancel my account altogether and send my phone home. I do not think the Appalachian Trail was meant to be hiked with a cell phone. However, up until lately it has not bothered me too much to be carrying one. I view it merely as another tool in my backpack – a means to write this journal efficiently or to avoid needing to spend extra time during the town stops searching out a computer for use of email. But recently I have felt too connected to the outside world, too easily distracted from the hike and the unique atmosphere of trail life. Within a mile hike today, I had resolved to send it home.

After a nice ala-a-carte breakfast (Dunkin Donuts, coffee, and McDonalds sausage and egg biscuit) and some more dallying around town, we finally made it to the trail around noon. It is amazing how these towns can suck you in. Of course, we stopped for another neon cherry limeade slurpie before hitting the trail. As it was the last section of Pennsylvania, the rocks were at their worst and most continuous yet, and it was a pretty tough day.

Delaware Water Gap is much anticipated bacause it is kind of like the light at the end of the Pennsylvania tunnel. PA has been awesome despite the rocks, but it is also one of the longest states – 230 miles of trail. New England is getting so close I can almost taste it, and there are only four very small states (trail-wise) before we are in Vermont. Mt. Washington will be here before I know it, and Delaware Water Gap definitely has that jumping off point feel to it.

One of the best hostels on the trail is in DWG; The Church of the Mountain. It is one of the oldest hostels on the trail, having put up hikers for over thirty years. Pastor Karen is extremely friendly and we all felt very welcome there. The town has an unbelievable bakery, which offers a hot dog and a slice of pie for a dollar and fifty cents. Overall, it was a wonderful place, and there was even a movie on the lawn behind the outfitters, projected on some white sheets hung from the trees. Not a bad exit, PA!



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!


PA Rocks!


Day 109

Location: Lehigh Gap, PA

Miles hiked today: 17.7

Miles from Springer: 1,245.6

Miles from Katahdin: 930.6

Elevation 380′

Apparently, yesterday’s rocks were only the beginning, as they are getting steadily bolder and more numerous. Supposedly, they get worse and worse until Delaware Water Gap, at the NJ border.

There was a water spigot this morning at a restaurant, which of course means I was greatly tempted to get more than water there. It was a good thing because the only thing I was carrying for food was another instant potato, which is what I had thrown up last night. The quesadilla was excellent!

As I got closer to Lehigh Gap, the trail started to get more beautiful. There were several places with grass instead of trees, and even a few places with dirt instead of rocks. After a very tricky section called Bake Oven Knob, which was basically a pile of boulders, I was rewarded with some very beautiful sections of forest and views off the mountain. Looking down, I discovered that I was walking through an entire field of huckleberries. Berry picking has been one of my favorite activities in the past weeks, and I have become quite prolific at it. Red rasberries are my favorite, followed closely by huckleberries. Huckleberries taste just like blueberries, but are very small and can be tedious to pick in great quantity. I did not let that stop me, and proceeded to start pickin’. I was little aware of the magnitude of this undertaking, as I later discovered that the huckleberry bushes covered the next six miles. Did I mention how much this state rocks?!

I was really pleased by the town of Palmerton, where I stayed. I was picked up on the road by a member of the city council, who was really nice and drove me right to the city hall, where they have a hostel in the basement. The building used to be the police station, so the basement is jokingly called the jail. As we were driving into town, the council member flagged down a cop, and chummed it up, saying he’s got a hiker in the backseat but no handcuffs, and would he (the cop) have time to process me? The “jail” is an awesome place, and this town has everything a hiker could need or want nearby. I’ll zero here tomorrow, which should be real nice.


Pulpit Rock

Day 108

Location: Allentown Hiking Club Shelter, PA

Miles hiked today: 22.6

Miles from Springer: 1,227.9

Miles to Katahdin: 948.3

Elevation: 1,350′

I was delayed a little bit getting out of town because there was a really excellent diner that I had to check out, and I also made a stop at the outfitter to buy some socks. Somehow or another this took until 11 a.m. which I still don’t fully understand.

It was yet another brutally hot day in a section with very few water sources, with some big miles to do. The big attraction here is Pulpit Rock and The Pinacle, which both offer spectacular views of Pennsylvania farmland, while not being too hard to climb. The Pinacle even offered a nice, wide dirt road to walk on (blazed white as the Appalachian Trail), on the way down to the next shelter, which was a very nice respite from the rocks I have been walking on.

PA is known for its rocks. Mostly this is because the A.T. in PA follows just one mountain for most of the way; one long, continuous ridge stretching from Duncannon to the Delaware River and even into “Jerzy”. This ridge happens to have a consistent gelological feature of being very rocky. As long as the A.T. sits atop this ridge, it will have lots of rocks.

I had experienced these rocks since leaving Duncannon in samll doses, as it seems the mountain has only patches of them. But tonight, as I left one shelter around 6 p.m. to make the 7.4 miles to the next, I discovered why every hiker hates PA. The rocks tonight were brutal, ill-hearted, mean spirited gremlins that sprawled themselves about every available footstep, ready to roll unexpectedly or bruise with a sharp edge. They seemed to grow in one great garden, leaving me to believe that the tales about Pennsylvanians growing more rocks really is true!

I ended up night hiking the last two miles of rocks in the dark, and was very thankful that I had procured a good headlamp. I was so exhausted and worn out when I got in, that once I summoned my energy to cook some food, I threw it up agian, I think because I was so tired. Or was it because I was so hungry?


Port Clinton


Day 107

Location: Port Clinton, PA

Miles hiked today: 23.7

Miles from Springer: 1,205.3

Miles from Katahdin: 970.9

Elevation: 400′

I really had the breakfast of champions this morning; even more pizza. It is a cruel fact of the trail that as soon as you eat so irresponsibly, you will most likely be pushing a very long day the next day, in the worst heat and with very few water sources. This turned out to be the case.

We are having another very severe heat wave, with the temperatures going to the mid 90’s and above. It is not only taking its toll on the hikers, but even worse than that, the water sources are drying up. I hiked almost 24 miles today, and only came across one water source. The one I did find, at Eagle’s Nest Shelter, was only a very slight trickle that took a long time to fill even one liter from. I have a water report that was conducted by a ridgerunner a couple of days ago on the status of all of the various springs and water sources, but it has proved only about 70% accurate. Apparently, several of the springs have dried up in just the last two days.

One really neat historical marker I passed today was a plaque for Fort Dietrich Snyder, which was a defensive fort that the British manned during the French and Indian War in the 1750’s to defend against Indian attacks. The fort is gone, and I did not see any evidence of its existence in the immediate vicinity. However, the sign is a cool reminder that this was once the edge of the frontier. The town of Carlisle, which is just to the west of where the trail crossed the Cumberland Valley, had no westward road. One was eventually built by the British and Provincial Army so they could reach Fort Duquesne, later known as Pittsburg.

Port Clinton is one of my favorite towns on the trail. I knew this ahead of time, as I intentionally drove through here last November so I could check out what a trail town is like. It is an elongated, skinny town squeezed between two mountains, the Schuylkill River, railroad tracks and a highway. It was named Port Clinton because it was on a canal, and in honor of DeWitt Clinton, the builder of the Erie Canal.

The town generously turns over its large pavillion to hikers which remains a perpetual mess because of that, and therefore unusable by the town folk. It had been another strange day of not seeing any other hikers. I was beginning to think that I was completely in between groups, having left one behind and not due to see the next for some time. When I got to town, it was a let down to learn that the hostel is out of commission this year, and that left staying either at the pavillion or the hotel. I was beginning to think it was time to splurge on a hotel room, since I didn’t want to hang out by myself at the pavillion, and besides that, I was anxious to get a look at my cell phone, which was broken again.

When I entered the bar in the first floor of the hotel, I was pleased to see my good friend Chipmonk there, whom I hadn’t seen since way back on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Before he and I could even trade stories, the door opened and the room started to fill with at least two dozen dirty, stinky hikers. What a crowd!! The party had arrived. It was dinner time, and I was sitting in what turned out to be one of the best places to eat on the entire trail. One girl was leaving the trail the next day, so they were throwing her a birthday party. (Which is just the kind of party you get for leaving the trail). I immediately forgot all about staying at the hotel, and instead was surrounded by new and old friends, who of course were staying at the pavillion.


501 Shelter

Day 106
Location: 501 Shelter, PA
Miles hiked today: 17.4
Miles from Springer: 1,181.6
Miles to Katahdin: 994.6
Elevation: 1,460′

I had camped several hundred yards closer to the AT than all the people at the shelter, so I did not learn until later that I was actually the last one out of camp. I kept expecting to be passed by people who I thought were behind me, but I was actually the last one.

In the morning, as I climbed down into Rausch Gap I started seeing major signs of an old community here. It was like walking through the ruins of some ancient civilization, with only crumbling stone structures to mark that anybody was ever there. There were what seemed to be old roads, yet were impossibly strewn with giant rocks and difficult to even walk over. There were two massive stone walls on either side of the creek, as if the creek had been a canal and this was an old lock of some sort. Those were all crumbling, and there were more of the giant mounds of earth. There were some foundations to buildings, but no standing structures. There was an old cemetery, which had two legible headstones, describing two men who died young in the 1820’s and had immigrated here from England. This was the town of Rausch Gap, which the sign says was a mining town and railroad repair depot, but did not survive past 1910. How interesting it would have been to see this place in the 1920’s when they first started building the Appalachian Trail through here. I’m sure there must have been more standing buildings here, and maybe even some artifacts laying around.

Somewhere around the William Penn Shelter, I passed the 1,000 miles to Katahdin mark. They do not mark these things of course, but it is just another mental milestone that I can chalk off in my head, and remind me that I am indeed making progress.

And what better way to celebrate a mile marker like that than one of the awesomest shelters on the entire AT? The 501 Shelter is a real piece of work! The shelter itself is a very spacious old building, with one of the best sky lights I have ever seen. Something like 30 percent of the roof is taken up by this skylight, and the book says that the owner had put a potter’s wheel under it. Now it is a picnic table, and the site of much hiker gluttony, because this shelter has pizza delivery! The 501 Shelter gets its name from the road it sits on, and they deliver to the front door. We’re talking a full italian menu, from manicotti to calzones the size of our backpacks!

The shelter also has a shower, and a running water spigot. Does life get better on the trail? Well, yes. Crew Coach, whom I had not seen since the night before, stumbles in looking like a dead man walking. He has just come from town, which is several miles away. His backpack is monstrous. He proceeds to disgorge the contents of said backpack on the table, which we quickly see is stuff from a local store. He starts pulling out an unbelievable amount of juice, gatorade, water and even Ruby Red. He has two 32 ounce gatorades, a 32 ounce V8, a gallon of water and a gallon of Ruby Red. Like a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, there is still more. There is a pile of gatorade packets. There is candy and snacks, and all sorts of other things. But for the finale, Crew Coach goes beyond the call of duty. He pulls out his sleeping bag, and buried deep in the bottom is a gallon bucket of Superman flavor ice cream! I wanted to hug the man. Crew Coach is definitely the hero of the hour here tonight, and I’ll never figure out how he got nearly 70 pounds of jugs and buckets into his pack! May his name be whispered with awe and respect at every shelter.

I have not witnessed such gluttony on the trail as that which I participated in at the 501 Shelter. The ice cream came long before the pizza delivery, so naturally we ate until we were full. It was a heavy ice cream, with a lemon custard swirled with fruit punch ice cream. The entire bucket contained something like 10,000 calories!

Only after we were sick with ice cream did the pizza come. I had ordered a whole large to myself, with six toppings. Sunny ordered a large calzone (the size of a backpack) and also split a pizza with Barfight. Crew Coach seemed to be the only sensible one, eating merely a foot long sandwich.

Of course, I now have enough food for breakfast and lunch the next day, and can sleep contently! It is too bad about all that ice cream that melted, however, as we couldn’t finish it off. Maybe next time…


Rausch Gap

Day 105
Location: Rausch Gap Shelter, PA
Miles hiked today: 20.4
Miles from Springer: 1,164.2
Miles to Katahdin: 1,012.0
Elevation: 970′

It was a really interesting hike today, and I would say almost a very strange hike. For starters, I saw no people for 20 miles, with the exception of two guys who were dayhikers and magically appeared twice. I saw them once on the trail, going the other way. One guy had a fanny pack on, the other guy a very small daypack. They were both wearing cotton, so obviously were not out for any serious length of time. However, a little later I saw them in the parking area at the next road crossing.

To add to the twilight zone atmosphere, I passed by a couple of old mining towns. The trail followed an old road up the side of a mountain, where I encountered a very strange spring. The rocks and ground where the water flowed was a bright orange, and the rocks appeared to be rusty. Sure enough, the water was very heavy with iron. As I understand it, these were iron mines up here. However, the strange part was that this spring seemed to have been developed by trail builders for easy access by hikers. It had a nicely built stone bed for the water to flow down, then at the bottom there were some stones in a semi circle creating a pool for you to dip or filter out of. Apparently, the iron did not contaminate the water until after it was built. This mountain side was called Stony Mountain, and it was somewhere around here where I started hearing the sounds.
I knew from the map that there was something called the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation on the other side of the next mountain, so when I first heard the sound I immediatly decided it had to come from there. I can only describe it as a low, rumbling foghorn type sound, that vibrated with such bass that I could feel the vibration several miles away. It was a very eerie sound, and knowing it had to come from several miles away, I couldn’t imagine what kind of device was making this noise. I don’t think that even an explosion would carry such reverberance so many miles away. If you have seen the new version of the movie War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, and remember the sound the Tripods made, it sounded just like that.

As if that weren’t strange enough, I next started hearing another sound coming from the direction of the Military Reservation. This sounded more like a jet taking off, yet it had a strange sequence to it. There was the starting of the engine sound, a double sonic boom (or artillery boom), followed by a high pitched version of the ‘falling bomb’ sound, that would first wind up and then down, as if there were an object that were first going up and then falling down. This was all accompanied by the sound of jet engines, but the whole sound would stop after about a minute, and a few minutes later the whole sequence would start again. I could not see anything, but I was envisioning something like a jet-powered artillery round, which was first fired from the gun and then took its own propulsion, falling back to the earth.

So on I hiked, to the almost endless music of whatever weapons testing they were doing over there. It made me imagine that they had invented some really wild science fiction stuff, and who knows? Maybe we have built one of the tripods from War of the Worlds.

When I finally got to the shelter, I was relieved to see some faces, and friendly ones at that. There was Terry7, Sunny, Barfight and a guy named Crew Coach. The shelter was in an old coal mining camp, and it seemed that we were on one of the main roads of the place. It was perfectly flat and smooth, but other than that looked like a forest trail. There were giant mounds of earth on all sides, but it almost looked like the mounds were made of charcoal. The place where I set up my tent was certainly covered with charcoal, and my guess was that it was one of the sites where they would burn wood to create charcoal, which I know was used to fire iron furnaces, but I’m not sure what application it has to coal mining.

Water is getting a little scarce in this section. I actually ran dry 3 miles before the shelter, and was dissapointed to find that the shelter itself did not have a working spring. That left the creek back a quarter mile or so, so I was thankful for that. I will have to be a lot more careful about where water is available.