Hiking the Appalachian Trail #4b

Harpers Ferry WV to Lincoln NH

AT Section Hiking

44 days, 777 miles, Apr-May 2016


Falls Creek. I should write a small book about how to hike and camp without treating your water. Step #1, learn to recognize water that is so polluted that it can't be safely treated with any device carried by a hiker. This Creek for example. In early season I don't carry treatment. Instead I use my eyes and brain, and have not had any trouble finding pure water and staying hydrated. NOTE: Later in the year I would carry a filter.

This camp had no nighttime. After eating dinner I fell asleep, then very soon woke up to find that dawn was breaking. I hate it when I miss an enjoyable night's rest. I just finished a long day of hiking, and now I have to start another one. Fortunately I enjoy the hiking, also. But rather disappointing nonetheless. (Note: not to be taken seriously. I'm just making fun of the situation.)

I passed by the Deer Lick shelters and talked with the guy breaking camp, the one with two dogs. I had met him yesterday, and he had a sad story. He started hiking in Georgia last fall with his two dogs, and took the winter off somewhere along the way. Now on the trail again, one dog had injured her foot, and he was thinking of taking her to a pet shelter. Very sad to think of splitting the pair up like that. It would be hard on both dogs. I met him again later that day, and the dogs seemed to be doing fine and full of energy - so maybe they can carry on.

Old Forge Picnic Grounds. The small building has a water spigot. I always get water here. Note the blazes.

Thru-hikers at Tumbling Run getting a late start. I wouldn't have the patience to stand around like that. Come crack of dawn I gotta be moving. Each day is brim-full of adventures, and I don't want to miss any of it.

The steep hill out of Tumbling Run. There are two ways of hiking such hills. 1) Thinking to yourself "Man, this hill is steep!" Or 2) "Nah, this hill is not steep." A simple shift in perspective can make a world of difference. Facing the hill, if I can reach out and touch it, then it's steep. Otherwise, nah.

The restrooms at Caledonia State Park were open, and had water and electrical outlets - so finally I got to charge my phone and meanwhile I took a short nap on the seat of a picnic table, like a hobo.

While ensconced, I noticed a gentleman pull up in his truck, get out, and proceed to get all decked out in fishing gear - hip waders, multi-pocketed vest, fishing hat and what have you. Then fishing pole in hand, he proceeded to the river (Conococheague Creek, about 15' wide). At first it looked pretty silly, armed to the teeth with gear. But then I thought: he's not sitting at home watching tv or browsing the internet. Instead, he's out here doing something fun; something he loves; something in the great outdoors where you can hear the birds chirping and breathe the fresh air. And maybe, who knows? even catch a fish. If anyone is reading this, I'm looking at you.  

The caretaker of the Quarry Gap Shelter (calls himself the innkeeper) is a very nice guy, but also a bit eccentric. I didn't take a photo of the Shelter because no one would believe me.

Day's end found me at this campsite where past campers had scraped the beneficial duff and leaf litter away. Sometimes you gotta tough it out with a hard bed.

At the Birch Run shelter, the snoring would have scared the moose away. Three tents pitched close together. How can they sleep like that? I prefer the quiet of the woods, where any noise wakes me instantly.

I don't know who this is, but it's not me.   Someone camping under a Ray-Way tarp, hidden off the trail in the woods. I quietly approached and took this photo. Note: I'm not a fan of the side guys sharing a single stake.

I like to wash my feet at least once a day. Keeps them hiking happy. I'm once again thinking of making shell pants kits. These pants are wonderful. This particular pair I wore on my AT thru-hike of 2010. They have a lot of miles on them and are still going strong.

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

"Hiker Burger" at Pine Grove Furnace Store. Bacon and eggs, avocado, cheese, hamburger, lettuce and bun. Basically everything but the kitchen sink.

The AT museum at Pine Grove Furnace. I would have loved to visit, but the museum was not open at the time. I've been thinking of donating my first homemade lightweight backpack, which I carried on the AT in 1993. That pack spawned a revolution to lightweight gear. Back then, no one was backpacking with anything like it.

At Pine Grove I passed by a group of a dozen volunteers hand-picking, I believe it was Garlic Mustard, to control this invasive plant species. My photo of the group itself didn't come out, which is a pity because I meant to use it to stimulate interest in volunteer work. You know, doing light work in the great outdoors where you can hear the birds chirping and breathe the fresh air, and actually make friends with like-minded individuals.

Rambling through beautiful Pine Grove Furnace State Park, headed for the visitor's building which someone said had free showers. Nope, no showers.

After Pine Grove the hiker is faced with this long climb, which the same someone (met back at the store) said was flat and level. Nope, not level. But not steep either. Couldn't even begin to reach out and touch the slope.

In lieu of a free shower back at Pine Grove, I enjoyed a sponge bath on the bank of this creek, reaching up under my clothes with a wet hand-towel and scrubbing vigorously; rinsing and repeating. I wouldn't want to treat this water for drinking, but it was not sufficiently polluted to preclude a sponge bath.

During this hike I'm walking the entire distance, but at times not following the white blazes. Been there, done that - and after two times of following every white blaze I received my trail slave award and went on to become more of a free spirit.   As such, descending to the junction at Pine Grove Road, I followed Green Mountain Road six-tenths of a mile to the Green Mountain Store (only a few tenths off the trail). Along the way I passed by this interesting place.

The Green Mountain Store, long may it remain in business. They make great subs.

This is called Rocky Ridge. Rather than the trail turning left here and leading through gentle terrain, which would make for enjoyable hiking, the trail instead leads into the big rock garden. And the rocks themselves are festooned with white paint in order to mark the route.

These photos were taken in 2010, but little has changed. I don't mind the occasional white blaze painted on a rock, where necessary and beneficial. But this much paint seemed excessive.

Where the trail crosses Whiskey Spring Road, I stopped late in the day for a short sponge bath. The water looks good, despite it coming out of a culvert.

The trail descended to a creek called Little Dogwood Run. I was looking for camping, and found a few good sites, but the katabatic wind was blowing strong and cold through the deep valley, so I decided to press on and started climbing the next mountain in hopes of finding a warmer site.

A ways past Alec Kennedy Shelter the trail started to descend, and I found a nice place to pitch the tarp with the setting sun.

Reaching the town of Boiling Springs PA, I stopped to photograph Children's Lake.

The c-store at Boiling Springs. Time to stock up on food for the next stretch of hiking to Duncannon PA.

Traversing the Cumberland Valley, the hiking is easy and very pretty. The early season hikers gets some greenery for a change.

I'm walking on the bridge crossing U.S. 11, and looking through the chain-link fence at the highway below. I usually reach here late in the day, and walk west half a mile to a good motel (one that has guest laundry) and the 24-hour Middlesex Diner which has excellent food. But now the day is yet early, so I will keep on the trail.

Got my finger in the way of the lens. Here the trail follows Conodoguinet Creek. Very pretty and nice hiking.

Eventually the trail reaches the far end of Cumberland Gap, and climbs up to this rock bench with a view. It was too hot to sit here in the sun, but I did take a few photos.

From the viewpoint, looking back at the Cumberland Gap. The mountains in the distance are the same ones I came down this morning on the way to Boiling Springs. It was a rare opportunity to see how far I have come today, and I'm not finished yet.

Late in the day I reached the Hawk Rock overlook and had my first view of Duncannon.

Eventually I reached town, and paused to take a photo of my reflection in a store widow. I had hiked 29 miles today, which was a few more than usual - owing to the easy hiking.

I stopped at this c-store to buy dinner and food for the next few days of hiking. There are two c-stores in town, and this one has the best food.

I managed to grab a room at the Doyle just as the owner was closing. To save weight I'm using a phone to take these photos, and haven't yet learned to use it very well.

The Doyle is very basic; some might call it squalid, but I love the place. It's clean and bug free, the showers are hot, and it's quiet this time of year. In fact I'm one of only two guests this evening. No laundry but you can't win them all. They have a bar and restaurant but I missed that today. My room is on the fourth floor and on the corner, so the two windows look north and west. Pretty classy. After taking a shower, I've got the towel on the floor for treating my feet. I've got the drawers open to hang socks, hand-washed in the sink. I have my food spread out on the bed, for picking and choosing. While on journey I tend to eat only one meal a day, and always sleep with my food nearby in case I wake up hungry - which happens some nights. Turns out I don't have enough food for the next few days of hiking, so I will visit the nearby c-store first thing tomorrow morning.

A few words about my style of hiking: I'm averaging about 25-27 miles a day, and this is the fourth time I've hiked this section. Every time I'm down a mile or two from the previous time. In 1993 Jenny and I hiked 34 miles to Duncannon. I have quit comparing that hike to this one because our former selves left my present self in the dust every single day. Kinda disappointing but I'm well past retirement age (71) and glad to still be able to cover the mileage at all. With this hike, I'm starting later than before, 5 am compared to 4:30 am, and ending sooner, 7:30 pm compared to 9 or 10 pm. What hasn't changed is my style of hiking. I hike slower than most other hikers, but I don't stop and rest. I hike 13.5 hours usually without sitting down. I don't need to sit down because I'm in shape (I trained for this hike for 5 months) and because I hike slow. I listen to my body. I can hear my heart beat and feel my pulse throughout my body. So at any moment I'm super tuned to my cardiovascular system. This allows me to hike at a sustainable pace, even while going steeply uphill. Hiking uphill, my heart rate does not change very much. So I don't get tired. This allows me to enjoy the hiking more, and that is a big reason I keep coming back. Enjoyment.

Enjoyment is the main reason I train for my hikes beforehand. I enjoy the training. To me, training is not a job; it's a lifestyle. I'm an endorphin junkie and always have been. While training I feel so much more alive. But more, I have chosen to live the vigorous life.

"I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph." -Theodore Roosevelt

Also this present hike is thanks to the Blood Cleaner for curing me of Lyme and its Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The Blood Cleaner restored my energy and allowed me to start training again when I thought for the world that I was done for. And yes, I'm carrying a Blood Cleaner on this hike and using it often. And I believe that it will be of immense help to other people who use it, giving them a huge boost to the immune system, and giving them much more energy in body and mind.

Leaving Duncannon and crossing the Clarks Ferry Bridge over the Susquehanna River.

Mountain top view of Duncannon and Juniata & Susquehanna Rivers

The privy at Clarks Ferry Shelter. An advantage of an early season hike (of a great many) is that privies are little used so a visit is not that unpleasant.

The AT follows an extra-long ridge known as Peters Mountain. Looking south from the ridge at the Susquehanna River downstream.

The footbridge over Pa. 225. Before the bridge was built, crossing the road used to be quite dangerous. The road makes a hair-pin curve, the cars and trucks travel at high speed, and you couldn't hear them coming. I almost got nailed here once.

The spring above (north of) Clark's Valley.

Toxic contamination on Stony Mountain due to extensive mining in days gone by.

This is I how I get my water. From the trail, this spring looks like a wet spot on the ground below. But I could see the possibilities, so went down to investigate. Sure enough, good water flowing out of the ground - in a place where other hikers can't contaminate it. I make a second test by taking a sip. If ice cold, then bingo! I have found pure spring water. At this point I drink my fill, then fill a pair of one-liter bottles for the night's camp - coming up shortly.

The Yellow Springs Village Site. The day is late and it's time to find a place to camp.

I accidentally slept on my phone, and woke up the next morning to find the battery had discharged. That meant I couldn't take any photos today. Bummer!

Arriving at the 501 Shelter late in the day, I finally found an electrical outlet to charge my phone.

The infamous rocks of Pennsylvania. I would like the reader to notice in this photo - taken at random - that most of these rocks could be easily removed from the trail. Moreover, in many areas, if not most of them, the trail could have been re-routed to avoid the super-rocky sections. Also, every year, some sections of trail in PA are being re-routed to make them more rocky. For example, the new trail from Highway 501 leading north is super-rocky, but the old trail was quite smooth. You can hike both trails to see the difference. It's amazing. And I noticed half a dozen more examples of this, from when I hiked the AT last (2010). They are making the trail through PA more rocky, and it looks like on purpose. (Or perhaps just out of incompetence?)

A nice creek a ways beyond Hertein campsite. I stopped here to wash my feet. I don't recall seeing this creek on previous hikes, so I wonder if they dropped this section of trail down to this area.

See page 307 of Tarp Book Essential. It's still here! (I have a photo of that blaze in the book.)

Nearly to Port Clinton, I left the trail and walked the bike path (John Bartram Trail) three miles SE and eventually found the Microtel and the usual cluster of stores. There I took a layover day.

Returning to the trail was a simple matter of following Highway 61 for 1.5 miles. This photo shows the bridge over the Schuylkill River. At the far end of the bridge, turn right.

Pocahontas Spring.

At the Blue Mountain B&B, I pulled in late and rented a room (the only one, it seems), had a steak in the restaurant, and the owner gave me a free bowl of ice cream. I had never stopped here before, but I liked the place very much.

By the way, this is not a serious hike bent on impressing anyone with the miles per day, or the lightness of my pack, or anything like it. Instead it's a fun hike where I'm doing things for enjoyment. I enjoy the hiking, and enjoy the camping, and once every few days enjoy a shower and bed, and maybe a nice meal. NFT = Next FUN trip.

Sunrise on the trail.

Sunrise with a view.

I think that all precarious sections, where someone might get hurt, should have a foul-weather (or don't-want-to-do it) go-around, and that once again, these go-arounds should be dual-white-blazed.

After dealing with rocky sections, this trail feels like heaven. Nice hiking anyway, and interesting ecology. These blueberry bushes sometimes produce an amazing quantity of fruit in the summer.

Bake Oven Knob Shelter. "One of the original Pennsylvania shelters."

This is a pipe spring below Bake Oven. It empties into a cut-in-half beer keg made out of aluminum. It's been here at least 23 years, which was when we first saw it during our 1993 thru-hike. It's good water, as long you catch it running out of the pipe.

Lehigh Gap and the next mountain to climb.


Nice hiking near Leroy A. Smith Shelter.

Here I met a pair of middle age hikers headed north, and stopped to talk. I didn't take their photo because I am reluctant to stick a camera in anyone's face, and I wouldn't want to dishearten anyone by the size of their backpacks.   Suffice it to say, they were huge. But what impressed me was their attitude. The woman said her trail-name was "Happy" and indeed they seemed to be. I always learn something from people I meet along the way, and this time I learned - or re-learned, that it is not the size of the pack that brings happiness, but the size of the attitude. I've seen this time and time again. Someone enjoying the hike while carrying a heavy load. I thought of them often throughout the rest of the day, for having the gumption and courage to get out of the easy chair and go have an adventure.

Pennsylvania loose rocks.

At Wind Gap I needed water, so went into a mobile home park and found a couple of workers building a wheelchair ramp at one of the trailers. They kindly directed me around the back to the owner's garden hose. After filling up, I chatted with them for a while. They said they were having a rough time boring the footing holes with a jack-hammer, because of the rocks. "Look at the hillside," one fellow pointed, "you see all those rocks? That's the way everything is here."

The AT headed for Wolf Rocks. Note that they routed the trail over the areas that have the most rocks.

The blue-blazed alternate trail bypassing Wolf Rocks is not rocky. I suggest that with a little re-routing, most of the AT through PA could be nice hiking like this.

Mt. Mist is where the trail drops down to Delaware Water Gap.

Funny story:

Before telling this story, please note that I don't consider myself to be superior to any other hiker - by any means whatsoever. My trail name is "Plain ol' Ray;" I'm just another hiker, nothing special. Granted, I might be more experienced than most, so sometimes do things differently based on the experience of what works better for me. But my hat is off to anyone who hikes the trail. And also those who are planning to hike the trail. If you are out here hiking, or just making plans, you are doing it right!

Anyway, on the weekends I'm meeting lots of hikers on the trail. On the week-days, only a few thru-hikers. Maybe two or three per day. Thru-hikers all look much the same to me. Same gear, same clothing, and same mad pace. They all use trekking poles and go like the dickens. They almost always leave me in the dust, but even though they don't realize it, I'm actually passing most of them. Because of their mad pace, they get tired in the afternoon and quit hiking. And by the way, I have noticed that among the weekend hikers, the use of trekking poles is subsiding.

A few miles before Mt. Mist, I met a young thru-hiker taking a break at one of the clearings. I had been following him since Wind Gap, which is where he got on the trail. (I'm good at reading tracks.) So we had a short chat (abbreviated because of his arrogance - and that's just an observation not a judgment) and then he took off at warp speed. I hung back to give a little extra space. An hour later I arrived at the frog pond, just a few tenths from town, and took a break on a picnic table to eat the last of my food and drink my spring water. By and by, the fellow came limping along, and stopped in front of me with a bewildered look on his face. "How did you pass me?" he asked. "I used a helicopter," I quipped. "I didn't see you pass me. How did you get here before me?" I shrugged it off, but he persisted. Finally I said "I know the short-cuts, and you don't." That seemed to bring an end to his arrogance.   Moral of the story: There are many ways to hike the trail. They are all good, but using trekking poles to go at warp speed is only one of them.

The shortcut I took today used to be the old route. We hiked it back in 1993. I doubt that is much shorter, but certainly easier, vasty more enjoyable and just as scenic. And it offers access to a beautiful and rarely visited spring. If I hadn't taken the old route, I might have caught up with the young thru-hiker again, anyway, like I did back at the clearing before Mt. Mist. But I certainly don't want to race anyone. I hike at a sustainable pace, and that means slow but steady.

Arriving Delaware Water Gap, I made a bee-line for this place.

That night I stayed in the Pocono Inn. Wow! Did I ever feel unsafe. My standards are pretty low when it comes to old motels; I'm comfortable with just about anything, as long as it is clean. But I don't want to stay in this one again. The problem is not the people in town, but any riff-raft that might come off the nearby freeway, combined with the motel's lack of security. For example, the rear entrance was unlocked.

I was not carrying a sewing kit, so had to buy one at the nearby c-store. I wear these bicycle-type shorts under my shell pants, and have used the same pair during many trips, long and short. They are home-made but not made correctly, and finally the seams starting to to come undone. Live and learn.

I ate breakfast in the Apple Pie Cafe. The food was excellent. The place had opened just a few days ago. It had been closed since 2010 because the owner had passed away. It used be called the Water Gap Diner, and we had eaten here in 1993 (and caught the flu and were sick for the next week). That was just a few months before we started using the Blood cleaner.

Beautiful blossoms on a fruit tree in Delaware Water Gap.

Getting an early start, I'm headed for the Delaware River Bridge. This photo shows a common mistake among those who blaze the trail. Two blazes together, one on top of the other, but both are in line. This year I have seen hundreds of examples of this. It's like turn signals on a car positioned in the center of the car. They are onmi-directional. The car is turning, but you can't tell if left or right.

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