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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To the End of Pennsylvania

Given the length of some recent race report posts, I'm aiming to keep this one short with more of a "story in pictures" approach.

Throughout this calendar year, I've been hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail in PA in an effort to see every mile of trail before 1/1/2013.  I've walked most of the 230 miles via day hikes and weekend backpacking trips, but several miles near home were also done on trail running adventures.  Many of the longer trips I couldn't have done without the help of a shuttle and I've got my wife to thank for most of those.

When looking at my training schedule through the fall and early winter, there were only a few weekends that might cooperate for my final AT trip.  Even being less than a week from the Hershey Half Marathon, and with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the east coast, this past weekend looked like the best chance to squeeze in the final 70 miles from Hamburg Reservoir north to the PA/NJ border.

To get all of the mileage in before the storm was forecasted to hit Sunday night, I needed to average over 20 miles a day: preferably much more than that on Friday and Saturday, to make Sunday less stressful about beating the storm.  I'd done one backpacking day back in July when I easily managed 24 miles in about 10 hours, but this weekend would be a daunting personal physical challenge (that I was very much looking forward to) putting 3 days in a row with similar mileage.  With only 10 hours of daylight per day this time of year, the biggest challenge would be keeping the pace on the infamous PA rocks.

Day 1:  Hamburg Reservoir to Bake Oven Knob Shelter, 26.8 miles

I got an extremely affordable shuttle from Janet, charging only 27 bucks from the DWG Visitor's Center to the Hamburg Reservoir.  She got me on the trail by 8:30AM and I headed up the lane in the fog towards the Pulpit and the Pinnacle.  There were no views for the entire day, just constant slippery rocks.  In my opinion the rocks in the section from Hamburg to Bake Oven Knob were the most difficult to navigate for the entire weekend.

No views from Pulpit Rock

Socked in on the gamelands road leaving the Pinnacle

Notice the red sign advising southbound hikers.  This is just north of Hawk Mountain Rd.

The Knife Edge.  While not slippery, these rocks were challenging due to the awkward angles and large drops.  There just weren't very many good routes through here.  I'm not one to complain, but this section is also completely unnecessary   The trail actually skirts along the north side of this outcrop for about a quarter mile then suddenly turns up and over it for about a tenth of a mile, only to come right back down on the other side.  Nothing changed about the topography of the ridge during this entire 1/3 of a mile or so.

By 6:30PM, I made it to Bake Oven Knob shelter and stayed inside that night with one other guy who didn't seem very happy with my late arrival (at sunset).  My theory on that though, is that if you're staying in a shelter, you're going to deal with other people.  If you don't want to be disturbed: stay in your own tent, hammock, tarp, or whatever.  To his defense though, he was much more conversational the next morning.

Day 2:  Bake Oven Knob Shelter to Stealth Campsite north of Wind Gap, 29.4 miles

I braved a little bit of mist in the morning, but I could tell immediately that it would be much clearer today and while not sunny, offering more views for all that hard work climbing over them there PA rocks.

Some lovely PA rocks at a powerline clearing just south of Ashfield Rd.

There must have been 10-12 of these boundary markers along the trail during this 70 mile stretch

The trail and trees are all in line.  Just north of Ashfield Rd.

Approaching Lehigh gap.  This is the "lower view" of the bridge.

Interesting "country club" approach to the Superfund Site

The rocks heading north out of Lehigh Gap are like nothing else in PA on the AT.  This is straight up .

This is the "upper view" down to that same bridge, coming out of Lehigh Gap.  Yep, there was actual climbing involved in this spot.

Some pretty rehabilitation at the Superfund site.  I might call these weeds at home, but pink and purple are colors few and far between this time of year, and a very welcome sight.

Fields of Gold near the Superfund detour

There were constant views to the north on the Superfund detour trail.  This trail was also as easy on the joints as it gets: "grassy highway" as I described to a SOBO later that day.

View north to Palmerton and the Zinc Smelting Plant

Getting late in the day I had a choice near Wind Gap: push through and try to find a flat spot to camp on the other side of the gap, or stop early and tackle the climb the next morning?  Based on timely information regarding ample campsites from some SOBOs I passed between Leroy Smith Shelter and Wind Gap, I decided on pushing forward.  Doing so, I faced one of the toughest physical challenges I've had recently on the climb (this includes the finishing miles of two half marathons in the past two weeks).  On paper, the climb isn't particularly difficult but at mile 29 at twilight, it was tough to say the least.  I soon found a flat spot right next to the trail, offering space just big enough for my tarp footprint.

Day 3: Stealth Camp to Delaware Water Gap Visitors Center NJ, 15.6 miles

This was by far the best day of the trip: better views, better (more diverse) trail, and higher spirits.  The trail was still rocky, but aesthetically it was just nicer.  This section has become one of my favorite on the trail in PA.  The pictures tell much of the story here.

Awesome viewpoint just north of Kirkridge Shelter

Some pink foliage along the trail near Totts Gap

Heading into DWG NRA at Totts Gap

Still a rocky trail here, but easier on the eyes with the simple addition of grass in between the rocks

Viewing into NJ from Mt Minsi.  Absolutely the exclamation point to the trip.

The Rhododendrons were plentiful on the descent down to Delaware Water Gap from Mt Minsi

Cascade at Eureka Creek about halfway down to DWG

I-80 and Delaware River

Beginning the long bridge walk over the Delaware

The noisy bridge walk was over a half mile long, but with pretty fall river views

The personal physical challenge was great, but so was the reward.  I'm happy to say I made it to my vehicle in NJ well before Hurricane Sandy showed up.  There are some big blisters on both feet, my left shin is killing me, both ankles were sprained multiple times during the hike, but I'm okay and enjoyed the trip...and the state.  As I wrote earlier, one of my favorite sections in PA is probably Fox Gap to Delaware Water Gap.  The other is much farther to the south: Caledonia State Park to Boiling Springs.  Both of these areas have similar characteristics, atypical of PA trail as they don't generally follow the ridgeline, having nice twisting sections with more diverse plant life.

The next state for me might seem logical to be NJ, but I think I'm going to finish up the 30 miles of Appalachian Trail in MD during some trail runs in December, training for an upcoming race.

PA is completed!

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