Dan and Hannah Hike the Rocky, Rocky Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania

Climbing the Appalachian Trail to Hahn's Lookout

The Appalachian Trail near Wind Gap, PA

Among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, Pennsylvania has the reputation of being a trail with punishing, boot-shredding rocks. Hannah and I have no reason to doubt that reputation, but we’ve hiked in Pennsylvania before, once near the Delaware Water Gap in the east and again near Gettysburg to the south at Boiling Springs, and found no such mean-spirited rocks.

Marathon Molly in 2007

Marathon Molly in 2007

It’s a nasty Patriots Day on a mid-April Monday in New England as we travel by way of Pennsylvania to Virginia for Will and Laurel’s wedding.  In Boston, the steady rain is pelting the marathon runners similar to what our daughter Molly experienced running into 20 to 30 mph headwinds from Hopkinton to Boston in 2007.   Today we hope the drenching rain abates and our ponchos will deflect the light rain.

Mom and Dad 1

Mom and Dad

Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York State and heading to Jersey on I-287, we pass the senior living complex where my Mom and Dad lived after moving from their home of more than fifty years in Radburn, NJ. Dad died three years ago while Mom passed on last year; they each lived rich lives into their 90s. As I get nostalgic, I do think how much they enjoyed hearing about the lives of their grandchildren. I miss not being able to call up and talk about Robyn’s recent college degree, Will’s new job, and Molly’s new house. But damn, I had so many good years of calls and visits; we all had a great run together.

Climbing the Appalachian Trail to Hahn's Lookout

Climbing the Appalachian Trail to Hahn’s Lookout

As we cross into Pennsylvania, we learn that this area is called the Slate Belt. That is an ominous sign for today’s hike. Thanks to my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion, we find the trailhead at the far end of the little town of Wind Gap. With the rain now just mist, we pack our ponchos in Hannah’s backpack as I big-heartedly carry our water bottles.

Ridgeline hiking on the AT

Ridgeline hiking on the AT

Heading under Route 33 to the white blazes of the AT, we are set to climb to Hahn’s Lookout, a mile south on the AT. Here the AT is a trail of finely designed switchbacks with the usual run-of-the-mill rocks; but no rockier than other trails that we have hiked up and down the AT.

In the cloud at Hahn's Outlook

In the cloud at Hahn’s Outlook

It’s like we have stolen a day of hiking since it was iffy whether we would be on the trail at all, given the morning’s drenching rain. But no two ways about it, we are hiking in a cloud. Arriving at Hahn’s Outlook there is nothing to see of the valley below. Mist goes from light to heavy; with a wet trail, we step carefully among the rocks.

VCU Ram on the Appalachian Trail in PA

VCU Ram on the Appalachian Trail in PA

Rising to the ridge line after a modest 400 to 500 feet gain in elevation, we start to see that the rocks are having baby rocks. Protruding from the ground like the fins of a shark or the scales of a stegosaurus, they make our foot plants uneven; we find ourselves hiking with swiveling ankles adjusting to the varied, moist rocks from the rain over the last 18 hours.

You want rocks?  Pennsylvania's got rocks for you.

You want rocks? Pennsylvania’s got rocks.

With little to see hiking in a cloud, we set a goal of finding the Kirkwood Shelter 4.6 miles from the trailhead. The rocky trail is very well-marked as we walk single file; we don’t expect to see anyone. Who’d be hiking in the mist of early April but Maine-iacs?  Northbound thru-hikers starting in Georgia are only a month into their hike, spending nights somewhere in North Carolina or Virginia. Southbound thru-hikers cannot even start til next month (May) because of the snowy conditions at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

On the AT near Wind Gap, PA

On the AT near Wind Gap, PA

Still buoyed by the thoughts that this is bonus hiking, we see no signs of the shelter 90 minutes into our ridgeline hike. Due to the rocky terrain, we are hiking at best 2 mph.   This is no trail for sneakers, but our hiking boots provide us with modest protection.  Over the next 20 minutes, we find no blue blaze trail (side trail) to the hoped-for shelter. The rocks are more than annoying as we start to feel it in our knees due to the many angled steps we have taken on the wet rocks.

Shark fins protruding on the trail

Shark fins protruding on the trail

At a clearing of high tension wire towers, Hannah has had enough. She takes off her socks to revitalize her feet, but she says, I’ll go ten minutes more if you want. (We’ve been out nearly two hours.) But I don’t want to and am ready to turn back. A full afternoon of exercise is what we wanted; and in that we have succeeded. There is no reason to subject ourselves to the rocky landscape anymore.

WG 4 H descending rocky trailTurning for home, we still have nearly two hours of rocky trail hiking ahead of us. We are now firm believers in the legend of the rocks on the AT in PA. We are, in fact, disciples.  Three hours of rocks has us swearing we will never return to Pennsylvania to hike. Ever. The Land of Brotherly Love? Not on the AT near Wind Gap!

In a cloud on the AT

In a cloud on the AT

The mistiness has stopped, but the trail remains wet and as you might have guessed, quite rocky. We have no way around the rocks but through them. The rocks rule. I bow to their majesty. I will never trespass their sacred realm again.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Maryland where we will find some of our favorite trails on the AT. Rocks? Sure, but not so sharp, unforgiving, or numerous. This part of the AT in Pennsylvania is the kind of hike that could make you hate hiking.

Hannah’s final words to others: Don’t Do It.   We’ve done it for you; you don’t have to beat yourselves up.

Do I hear an Amen!

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Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Boiling Springs, PA

 

My second cousin Katie, a fulltime weather genius

My second cousin Katie rocking the weather in FLA

Off to Richmond, VA (RVA) to see our son Will and his fiancée Laurel, I have had rain on the brain for days.  I have two weather apps on my iPhone.  On our laptop, the weather channel icon has the position of honor on the tool bar.  I’m all over the weather.  Reasonably, one might suggest counseling.  For the last ten days, rain has been in and out of the forecast for our hiking adventure to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and points south.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

After a day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT) near Delaware Water Gap, PA (see blog for November 1, 2014), Hannah and I sack out at the Comfort Inn in Allentown, PA; the morning forecast is for a 70% chance of rain.  Make it 100%, it doesn’t matter!  We are hiking manana.  Be it with ponchos and/or umbrellas.  I’m serious; I’ll bring umbrellas on the trail even if I look like Mr. Mary Poppins.  Let me tell you, we haven’t driven the long way to RVA by way of I-81 to just drive the long way to RVA.  Fortunately, Hannah is game for hiking among the raindrops.

In the morning, thankfully the percentage chance of rain is down to 20%.  Rain has been pushed back to the afternoon.  Sweet.

Boiling Springs, PA

Boiling Springs, PA

It’s nearly a two hour drive on I-78 and I-81 from Allentown, PA to the AT town of Boiling Springs, PA.  A town of 3000+, Boiling Springs gets its name from its natural artesian wells.  Going right through town, the AT in Boiling Springs is just about the halfway point of the AT’s 2180 miles.

The trail begins across

The trail begins across Yellow Beeches Creek

Once in town, we are directed to the far end of the Children’s Lake, home to ducks, swans, and geese, for trailhead parking.  As we ready for the hike, a few drops fall; the Universe wants our attention.   Dan and Hannah don’t be fools. Pack your ponchos. I’m only going to say this once.  All ears, we pack our ponchos with our water bottles and Nature Valley crunchy Oats ‘n Honey granola bars (a personal favorite).

The trail to the soybean and corn fields

The trail to the soybean and corn fields

Starting at a modest elevation of 500 feet, we have four miles of trail to the Alex Kennedy Shelter.  At our highest point we will climb to the 1060 foot Center Point Knob.  Crossing the bridge over the Yellow Beeches Creek, we cross a railroad and hike for the next two miles through soy bean and corn fields.  How great is it that Old MacDonald lets us e-i-e-i-o through his fields.

Bisecting the Indian corn fields and soy bean fields

Bisecting the Indian corn and soy bean fields

And then light rain starts to fall. Not enough to take our ponchos out but enough to get our attention.  In the lead, Hannah turns and says, Did we pack both ponchos?  A quick check shows that we did not.  Bummer.  What to do?

The AT crosses the Pennsylvania country side

The AT crosses the Pennsylvania country side (Double white blazes mean a turn in the trail)

Hike on and hope it doesn’t rain?  Blame? (always a “go to” strategy in times of stress).  We choose door number three.  Just turn the hell around and go back the half mile we’ve come, get the other poncho, and start again. It is what it is.  Perhaps something new and cool will happen because of this development.  On the plus side, we will get in an extra mile of hiking today.

BS 5A h crossing field

Going back the half mile to get the poncho is like having a generator in New England.  Hear me out.  Today it may not rain and thus we have no need for the ponchos; likewise we may never lose power and ever need a generator.  But not having to think of the possibilities of rain or losing power settles the soul and allows us to be in the moment.

The white blazes guide us on the AT

The white blazes guide us on the AT

As you can imagine, the fields are reasonably level and take us through the country side similar to what we might have seen 150 years ago during the Civil War.  Just 25 miles, as the soldiers march, north of Gettysburg, Boiling Springs was a stop along the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.

You can't keep a good VCU Ram down

You can’t keep a good VCU Ram down

We think back to our chance meeting with T-Bone (her trail name), the thru-hiker we met yesterday. By a fairly direct route, we drove the 145 miles from Delaware Water Gap, PA to Boiling Springs in about three hours; on the other hand she has 173 miles of trails to Boiling Springs that might take her 10 to 12 days. God bless you, Henry Ford!

Atop Center Point Knob

Atop Center Point Knob

With the fields behind us, our early afternoon hike during mid-October takes us into the forest. Climbing 500 feet to the top of Center Point Knob, I take smaller steps as my breathing increases. Under overcast skies, but no longer even any sprinkles, I go from Maine sweatshirt to VCU basketball tee shirt.

Once at the top, we descend the mountain heading north on the AT.  As with most of the AT that we know and love, we have rocks and roots aplenty.  Even so, we do not have the sharp, angular, jagged rocks of eastern Pennsylvania attacking our hiking boots as they did yesterday at the Delaware Water Gap.

Arriving at the Alex Kennedy Shelter after four miles of hiking, we know the rain is acoming.  Of that there is no doubt.

Enjoy the shelter video.

A quick bite of apples and granola bars and we are heading back to Boiling Springs to beat the rain.  Over nine miles of hiking (including the bonus mile of backtracking), we complete our outdoor adventure in three hours.  We now face a choice of how to get to Richmond on this Friday of Columbus Day Weekend.

BS 9D H on trail

We can be idiots and drive directly from Boiling Springs to the Beltway around Washington, DC, and then on through the hell that is I-95 from DC to Richmond during the evening commute.

Or we can add 100 miles to our drive by heading southwest on I-81 and then come in to Richmond from the west on route 64.

We like to think we aren’t stupid; we take option two.  With five hours of driving ahead of us, we stow our packs quickly as, wouldn’t you know it at this very moment (cue B.J. Thomas) the rain drops keep falling on our heads.

By the way, check out this shelter outhouse on the Appalachian Trail

 

 

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Delaware Water Gap, PA

US Map of states

As a youthful parent, I had the goal for our family to visit all 50 states.  To that end, we once drove from Maine to Florida to nick a little slice of northeastern Louisiana to pick up the Cajun State as well as Mississippi and Alabama. To nab our 49th state, over six days we drove 4500 miles in a GMC Van on the very rough and rocky Alaska Highway (two flat tires!).  You might say we were driven.  Hawaii awaits.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Of late Hannah and I are on another mission of numbers. Though we have no interest in being thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine, we do want to day-hike in each of the fourteen states of the AT.  Ten down, four to go: Keystone (PA), Tarheel (NC), Volunteer (TN), and Peach (GA).

AT near the Delaware Water Gap

AT near the Delaware Water Gap

Today we are bagging #11 – Pennsylvania – the childhood homes of my mother Jean (Ben Avon) and father Dan (Sunbury).

Heading south to spend the 31st birthday weekend with our son Will and his fiancée Laurel in Richmond, VA, Hannah and I leave York, ME in the early morning dark of mid-October for the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border some 350 miles away.

DWG 1 town sign

Delaware Water Gap, PA is a little AT town of 700 people. This gap in the Kittatinny Mountains is part of the Appalachian Mountain Range.

Just over the Jersey border, we drive into the State of Pennsylvania Welcome Center for directions to the AT trailhead.  A mere mile away, the AT to Mount Minsi begins with convenient trailhead parking.

Pennsylvania rocks, in many ways

Pennsylvania rocks, in many ways

In Pennsylvania, the AT is known for its boot-shredding rocks.  Sharp, angular, and omnipresent.  After thru-hikers on the AT from Georgia have traveled 1055 miles, the rocky terrain of the Land of Brotherly Love is their overland prize.  Undeterred and strong of boot, we head south on the AT today.

Joe and Hannah

Joe and Hannah

And not a minute later, we hear a little professor-type ask us if we’d like our picture taken.  He introduces himself as Joe Ciaccio who walks this trail every day and welcomes hikers to the AT.  He offers us a tutorial on the white blazes of the trail (white indicating the main trail).  He recommends the two outlooks overlooking the Delaware Water Gap.

DWG 2 H and D at start of trail

He points out a harmless looking white snakeroot. (Click on these links for more information and images.)  That’s the same plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother (She drank the milk of a cow that had eaten the white snakeroot.)  We agree not to mess with it.  Ready to hit the trail, I reach for his hand.  He in turn gives me knuckles, the hiker handshake.

Fire Trail begins our hike on the AT

Fire Trail begins our hike on the AT

On this 64F degree afternoon, the AT starts out on as a fire road.  With Hannah in the lead, our pace is purposeful and upbeat since we have been in the car for six hours; the forecasted rain is holding off until manana.  Soon the trail weaves back into the forest with a promise of high perch outlooks above the Delaware River, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania.

VCU Ram out for some exercise

VCU Ram out for some exercise

From the trailhead at an elevation of 400 feet we are climbing two miles towards 1460 foot Mount Minsi.  On the trail, some people like to check out the flora (trees, plants, and the like) while others seek out the fauna (bugs and animals of all sizes). Hannah and I look for upright fauna with opposable thumbs (other hikers).

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

To make those connections I wear my Maine sweatshirt; beneath is my ever present VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) basketball tee shirt.  Today we first meet a couple married for the second time who just seem so damn happy to have met each other and got it right this time.

Unscripted

Unscripted

A young couple offers to take our picture and candid is what we get.  Later a woman who actually went to VCU warns us of white caterpillars that burn the skin when touched.  I learn later that the White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar is a nasty little fellow.  It’s all a moot point.  Who picks up caterpillars anyway?  I guess kids would be the answer to that question.

At the Lookout Rock we offer to take the picture of a young couple in love.  They decline for they, and the cliche holds, only have eyes for each other.  The October leaves here in the Mid-Atlantic are beginning to turn.  The AT takes us through a forest of rhododendrons; lush, they give the trail a Garden of Eden feel.

A video from high above the Delaware River.

Atop Mount Minsi

Atop Mount Minsi

At Council Rock, we meet a local, who climbs the trail for peace and quiet.  Our 1000 foot ascent on this narrow rocky trail through the Pennsylvania forest never seems perilous as we are rarely cliffside.  Once atop Mount Minsi we return to the easy going fire road with its side trails that overlook the Delaware River Valley.

Up on the ridge fire road

Up on the ridge fire road

We amble down this ridge trail fire road knowing how fortunate we are to have our health and the wherewithal to enjoy the outdoors.  The Minsi Mountain part of the AT is a wonderful combination of a steady climb and mellow ridge hiking.

Liberal weenie tree hugger

Liberal weenie tree hugger

On our return, we meet a young woman with the trail name T-Bone.  Irony all the way as she is a vegan. Having left Katahdin in mid-July with her boyfriend, she was slowed by his injury; eventually he had to leave the trail.  With a pack weighing a mere 15 pounds when most packs are 30-40 pounds and some over 50, she’s taken three months to go 800 miles; it’s not likely she’ll make it to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT, before the snow flies.

We say good-bye to the Delaware River

We say good-bye to the Delaware River

Our descent is satisfying and, as you would expect of descents, all downhill.

After three plus hours of hiking, we drive to the Comfort Inn in Allentown, PA, some 70 miles away.  Showered, we toast the hiking day with a glass of Shiraz to celebrate our 11th Appalachian Trail state.

North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia – we are coming after you.