The last two days we spent backpacking another section of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. Err.. ROCKsylvania, as its known. And it’s for real. Really real. Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of rocks. Big ones, little ones, medium ones, pointy ones, slippery ones, foot squishing ones, sideways ones… you get the picture. We knew in advance, we’ve been warned for years! ALL A.T. hikers pretty much know this, in fact.
We did the flat section in Boiling Springs in July when we were nursing wounds and it was 95 degrees as day hikes but I wanted to get a good, challenging overnight in in case this was the last overnight for us together of the season. Mission accomplished! (still sore).
I also had to make it to my son’s soccer game in Kent yesterday at 330 so I didn’t want to be a 4-hours-plus drive away. Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap was 15.5 miles, with a shelter 9.1 miles in. The forecast was for 40’s-50’s temps at night and rain most of Monday. We have done our share in rain and that’s fine, but at those temps it becomes a risky combo that we had the luxury to avoid. Plus it was FIelden Stream’s birthday so we usually do a backpacking trip with one night in an inn and one on trail. So we did this again. And since Monday was actually her birthday we had an even better excuse to stay at the inn that night and wait out the rain.
We got a room at the old Deer Head Inn, right on the trail. It looked really cool last time we were in town. We loved it. The only downside was the live jazz and the restaurant weren’t open on Mondays. We will be back for that experience. We can still stay there after another nearby section. The family that run it were very friendly and we got a great rate. We had a really nice room (no TV at least in our room, but who cares!). I sat on the porch with my sketchbook, drawing the beautiful scenes from the porch while it rained, and listened to jazz on my iphone and had a glass of wine.
We got some great dinner suggestions all around the area but we were supposed to meet with a southbound thru hiker for dinner so we picked a place right on the main strip where the hostel and our inn were. As it turns out he was unable to make dinner, so we could have gone somewhere new. But we went to the Sycamore grill last time we were here when we finished New Jersey and liked it a lot. So we were just fine being there again for dinner.
We had a nice dinner and got to bed early after watching some videos on our phone. See, who needs a TV in the room these days! We were up early to get coffee and donuts at the village farmer, and had fun taking our pictures in the pie slice and hot dog portrait sign. We also got a fresh loaf of raisin bread and cider donuts to have for breakfasts before and during the hike, and got an Uber to Wind Gap right on schedule! We had a nice talk with the driver who was also super friendly and helpful and then it was a quick climb up out of Wind Gap.
While it was a brisk ascent it was gentle on the feet here still, and it wasn’t long because we were already at 1,000ft coming up this way to the ridge. The other end is a much longer climb, and we even felt that going down it at the end!
Soon after we reached the ridge, the fields of rocks began. And kept going, and going… Elevation-wise this day was almost entirely flat once we reached the ridge. Wolf Rocks was a fun scramble, with much, much, larger rocks that formed the spine of a rocky ledge, with drops about 30 feet down on the mountain side. The views north were very nice, and we met a few day hikers here (and one backpacker) who were also taking the tricky scramble slowly. We got a few photos here and then finished the challenging technical walk as we re-entered the forest. I’m glad we waited for it to be dry, this would have been tricky and I did not want to miss it and take the bypass!
We had two more miles to go after Wolf rocks to the shelter and thankfully 1.5 miles of it was along a jeep road. We passed Fox Gap at the top of the ridge line and then it was only .5 to the shelter. We were told by lots of folks to camp at Nelson’s Overlook just beyond, and clearly many do as we found many fire ring sites. But I’m a Leave No Trace educator, and not about to break rules I teach, as lovely a spot as it was. We also met 3 southbound thru hikers at the shelter, when we thought we might be alone. And we really enjoy talking to the thru hikers, having a picnic table and shelter roof and privy when possible. So we set up on the hill behind the shelter and the water source was very close. It’s a spigot on the grounds of a religious retreat right on the same mountaintop. Wow what a view they have! Anyway the spigot is on seasonally and I called and asked on forums in advance to make sure it was still on, as that’s the ONLY water source on this entire 15.5 mile stretch except Eureka Creek at 1.2 miles south of the start. So I recommend checking that its on before you go, and if not pack in a bunch of extra water.
We had a nice night at the shelter. We spoke to the thru hikers a bit at dinner, did our best to catch the sunset over the retreat, and then retired very fatigued to our tent. It was cold, but we were close together and warm and all bundled up and tucked in so we stayed mostly comfrotably warm. We needed the rest so getting to bed at hiker midnight was no problem. We slept almost a full 12 hours.
We were up early the next morning and spoke briefly to a man who was staying at the retreat and came out to check out the view at Nelson’s Overlook. We then made our way out of camp before 8 am, as we had 6.4 miles to do before noon so we could make it to Kent in time. The thru hikers had said it was easy and had a long flat road section and the ascent wasn’t bad at all (so our descent shouldn’t be).
Nelson’s Overlook was a wonderful view for sure. Apparently it’s popular with the hang gliders too. We moved on a bit further to a place called Lunch Rocks, where we had breakfast! It too had a great view, including our day’s hike laid out in front of us to the east. The ridgeline ahead stretched south and then east to Mt Minsi, on the Pennsylvania side of the gap. You could see Mount Tammany in New Jersey just behind. We also passed the 900-mile mark to Katahdin, which the thrus make out of little rocks. Always neat to see. From here, it was much less rocky but several uphills caught us off guard because I didn’t have a look at the profile in much depth. They weren’t bad or long but we were tired from the tough first day. But we did eventually reach that long flat stretch of road along the spine of the ridge, and it took us all the way to the summit of Mount Minsi. There was an incredible view south of the Delaware River, and we met two other SOBOs who were friends with the ones we were at the shelter with, and they were planning to meet up. That’s why the thrus were up late and still sleeping the night we were there – they were waiting to catch up with each other as they hadn’t seen each other since New Hampshire.
Just past there was the eastern view directly of the Mount Tammany summit and the gap below. We did that hike last fall. It was so fun to be on the other side of that view. It’s very dramatic from either side. We began the descent that would take hours. While only 2.4 miles, it felt like double that. Now it had MANY incredible views of the gap all along the rocky rhododendron-lined descent. At several points it was very close to the ledge, and the leaves and acorns made it a little sketchy at times. Again I’m so glad it wasn’t wet. It really felt more like northern New England here. There were several scrambles, and it pushed some of our limits as we were getting low in energy. But the views…
Eureka Creek was flowing, and very pretty. I saw a juvenile bald eagle flying above me on the final lookout but didn’t succeed in getting him on camera. Once we reached the road to Lake Lenape and the parking lot, we were happy to have flat ground. The towering rock ledges on the side of the trail featured a big overhang cave with a steep path up to it. I got as close as I was comfortable climbing up while filming and then headed back down where Lake Lenape was and from there it was about a half mile out to the lot and the road and back down to the Inn. We did it in 4 hours which was my long estimate, but we didn’t anticipate how slow the descent would go. We fueled up at Taco Bell on the way back to Connecticut. Hiker hunger is also very real.
Another great hike in the books. We are at 400 miles now. With luck, we will get one more in this season if we get a warm weekend before Thanksgiving. Its always so hard waiting from October until April to go backpacking again! Photos below. Watch the video here.
Miles Day 1: 9.1
Miles Day 2: 6.4
Bald Eagles: 1
Spiderwebs in the face: too many to count, a lot!
Rocks: WAY too many to count, a whole lot!
Views: Plenty of great ones!
SOBOs we met: 5