Appalachian Trail: Pennsylvania Section 1

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

Spent a nice night at the Deer Head Inn

Spent a nice night at the Deer Head Inn Pre-hike

The A.T. goes right up that road

The A.T. goes right up that road

The Village Farmer in DWG, PA

The Village Farmer in DWG, PA

Fun at the Village Farmer

Fun at the Village Farmer

Starting at Wind Gap

Starting at Wind Gap

Rock town!

Rock town!

Rocksylvania

Rocksylvania

More rocksylvania

More rocksylvania

Aaaand more rocks

Aaaand more rocks

Even MORE rocks!

Even MORE rocks!

Frog Friend

Frog Friend ( a break from rock pics)

Wolf Rocks

Wolf Rocks

Wolf Rocks

Wolf Rocks

Linus on Wolf Rocks

Linus on Wolf Rocks

FIelden Stream on Wolf Rocks

FIelden Stream on Wolf Rocks

Nelson's Overlook

Nelson’s Overlook

The 900 Mile mark from Katahdin

The 900 Mile mark from Katahdin

The Delaware from Mt Minsi summit looking south

The Delaware from Mt Minsi summit looking south

Mt. Tammany, NJ from Mt Minsi PA, DWG

Mt. Tammany, NJ from Mt Minsi PA, DWG

Delaware Water Gap from Lookout Rock

Delaware Water Gap from Lookout Rock

Another view of the gap from Mt. Minsi

Another view of the gap from Mt. Minsi

Delaware Water Gap from Mt Minsi

Delaware Water Gap from Mt Minsi

Lake Lenape

Lake Lenape

Cave near Lake Lenape

Cave near Lake Lenape

Hiker hunger is real

Hiker hunger is real

 

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 6: Delaware Water Gap

And we're off!

And we’re off!

Last weekend we brought our friends out on their first backpacking trip, and first trek on the Appalachian Trail. As they live in Central Pennsylvania and we live in Connecticut, we decided to choose a section right in between.  We were preparing to start New Jersey either this season or next, as we are closing in on the end of Massachusetts. So it seemed a no-brainer to start New Jersey, but from the south, at Delaware Water Gap.

A great idea

A great idea

The area is incredibly scenic, and has 100 miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail. The A.T. section provides some of the best views in the park as it follows the ridgelines of the New Jersey highlands. You are treated to views of the Delaware river and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to the west, and New Jersey to the East. It turned out to be even more beautiful than expected, and a great first outing for our friends.

We started in the Dunnfield Creek natural area, less than 1 mile east of the Pennsylvania border in the DWG National Recreational Area. The Appalachian Trail passes through here after it crosses the I-80 bridge over the river.

Placing stones

Placing stones

The state line is painted on the bridge and many a hiker have a photo there. We contemplated starting on the PA side for this very reason, but ultimately decided that starting right into the woods would be more the experience we were looking for after 2 hrs driving the interstates and just plain needing a nature fix. Shortly after we headed into the woods the red dot trail branches off the A.T. and ascends mount Tammany, the dramatic mountaintop on the east side of the gap. We will come back for that hike on another occasion when an A.T. section isn’t the goal. They had these great carry out bags for trash, which I think we need to employ on our section  and will be recommending to my committee in Connecticut.

Hawk posing at sunset

Hawk posing at sunset

We ascended gently up an old carriage road, passing the creek and then many side trails as we headed to Backpacker’s Campsite. There used to also be a campsite on the junction of the Holly Springs trail, as there is a spring there. Not sure if it was for reasons other than the view that that campsite is no longer and the current one is a mile farther up on the mountaintop with epic views. But either way, Backpacker’s campsite 2 has great views as it rests right along the mountaintop’s western ridge.  Just bring water up for the night. I researched it in advance per usual so we hiked up with lots of water. I knew there would be a bunch of cairns at Sunfish pond but was surprised to find a bunch in the woods just off the Holly springs trail. We had fun adding a rock or two here and taking photos.

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Sunset was dramatic to say the least, and we also saw a hawk land on top of an old leafless treetop at dusk, which made for a great photo. The caretaker told us that all the bare trees here is because there was a fire from an illegal campsite and it burned much of the north side of the ridge. I’ll just leave that there. It made me felt better about why I enforce the rules I do in our part of the trail. There are actually many legal dispersed campsites for thru hikers along the trail here, so I don’t feel it’s out of utter necessity that these problematic stealth sites pop up in most cases. A lot of times, folks see a nice view and decide that they will break all the rules and make camp there, and a fire, and its always been in these instances that devastating results happen.

The Delaware from above

The Delaware from above

We had a nice chat with the caretaker and a thru hiker staying there, and then set up our camp. I helped my friends with their tent and using the stove and the bear box. We took in the sunset view over dinner and had fun talking until bed time. Entertainment included chasing away a black snake slithering around our tents. I believe we must have set up near his home…

In the morning, we were in the clouds we saw hanging over the next ridge the previous night. Any raindrops seemed to fall just on our tent, as they always seem to find it. We had some coffee and packed up and hit the trail, headed for the AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center.

Summit of Kittattiny

Summit of Kittattiny

This day’s hike provided view after view from the ridgelines as mentioned above. They really didn’t stop until we headed down into the gap to Mohican camp road. On top of one ridgeline you got a 270 degree view and a large cairn marked it’s summit. A hawk watching group was stationed there with various telescopes and cameras and a fake owl on a branch to bait the hawks who apparently like to swoop down and taunt their bird of prey rivals. We took some great photos up there and headed down to the road and to the MOC.

AMC Mohican Center

AMC Mohican Center

It’s about a half mile road walk from the trail crossing up to the main lodge. We checked in with the super friendly staff and got the keys to our private cabin, which it turns out is another half mile up the camp road. It was a great cabin with a dividing door but also the option to open it up to a suite until bedtime and for privacy. We had electricity, a fridge, a heater and fan, and a microwave. The rec center next door had full bathrooms with showers and a large room which was formerly a dining hall when this was a Boy Scout camp, filled with AMC pamphlets and miscellaneous educational collections of flora and fauna. The AMC has year round outings and camp type experiences for people of all ages and I imagine this space and these collections are part of that.

Our cabin at MOC

Our cabin at MOC

They had skywatching programs and astronomy lectures on this particular weekend, though we did not end up participating because we were sitting around the large fire ring between the cabin and the lodge with a bunch of the other hikers and families we met at dinner. Dinner was a homemade family style affair, which was quite filling and tasty. Afterwards we got a ride into town to pick up a few groceries and beverages. We got to bed late but it was worth sitting around the fire with new friends and the milky way above. Next time we go back we will take out a canoe or kayak. Catfish pond was very inviting.  With the 3 walks to and from the cabin I’m sure we clocked another 3 miles that day!

Ready for day 3

Ready for day 3

The next morning we had a breakfast of eggs, bacon, french toast, home fries and various breads. And of course, lots of coffee! We picked up some nice items at their shop and hit the trail a bit earlier on day 3 as we had to be back at our cars by lunchtime.  Again we woke in the fog, but today it didn’t break until we were off trail. We climbed back out of the gap and along the ridges; some quite close to the edge and with a significant drop. With the clouds all around it was almost a bit spooky, but eased any real vertigo because you couldn’t see how far the drop was.

Was probably a great view!

Was probably a great view!

We did throw a rock off one though to see how long it took until we heard it land! Far enough… In a few short miles we reached the Catfish fire tower, but it was closed. Still we enjoyed a snack at the picnic table before our final walk out to the road where we parked on the first day. They occasionally have someone there who will bring you up for the views, but as it was a whiteout still, I imagine they waited until later in the day so there was an actual view.

Autumn Sassafras

Autumn Sassafras

Still, we had lots of views the previous days so it was no big disappointment. I look forward to going back to Mohican as well as exploring some of the other AMC lodges in New York, New Hampshire and Maine for family trips. The only downside was there was no signal at all at the cabin so we had to walk the half mile to get wifi. They also had a phone in the main lodge for emergencies.

Our friends also got their trail names: Skippy (for his skipping stones at Sunfish Pond) and Bird Bitch (because she’s really into birds and birdwatching).

It should be added that before and after the hike, we enjoyed spending time in nearby Blairstown, NJ — both on its quaint historic main street and a modern brewery after the hike.

Catfish fire tower

Catfish fire tower

It was a huge success and we are excited to continue the march north through New Jersey together staring in the spring. Now that we know they’re naturals at it, we will do longer miles next time. They were on the short side for this first trip. But not lacking in fun and adventure one bit.

We recently added a video of this hike to our channel. You can watch it here.

Miles day 1: 3.5

Miles day 2: 5.8 (+3 miles in camp)

Miles day 3: 3.7

– Linus