AT hike, Bear Mountain Bridge to Palmerton PA, 9/3/06 – 9/13/06
Sunday, 9/3/06. East end of Bear Mt. Bridge to Fingerboard Shelter. Breakfast at some diner with Mitko. False start, but then I realized I needed to walk along the E. edge of Hessian Lake. Rain ended by the time I was halfway up Bear Mountain. The tower at the top reminded me of Franklin’s Tower. It was closed. No Big Deal. I must have missed the zoo, somehow.
By the time I got to the summit of West Mountain the sun was out and it was almost hot. Passed a number of day hikers and a few people camped in the woods. Traffic noises from Palisades Parkway down below. Uneventful hike from there to O’Brien shelter which I hit around 3:30. 5 miles to go before dark. Hard climb after crossing 7 Lakes Drive above Tiorati circle. [Never did get a view of Lake Tiorati.] Then it’s a fairly easy 2-3 miles along the ridge to Fingerboard. Lots of glades and open grassy meadows on the ridge. Very pleasant hiking all around. Water is plentiful.
Arrived at Fingerboard around 6:45. Lots of folks camped down below the shelter. Two middle-aged gents camped just behind it. They disappeared into their tents just as I was finishing dinner. So… I had the shelter to myself.
Monday, 9/4/06: “Late” start, hit the trail around 8 AM. Trail (sobo) soon leaves the ridge and descends into ugly woods. Lost the trail for a few minutes. [Trail follows an old road, I missed the place where trail leaves the road and ducks back into the woods.] Back up on to grassy ridge again and a long break. Then down through the Lemon Squeezer (sonofabitch!) and Island Pond. Here the hike turned into a ball buster and didn’t let up until the end of the day. All told I’ll bet there was at least 2000 feet up and another 2000 feet back down. The trail crosses a number of roads at right angles and between any two roads is a kickass (300’-400’) ascent and descent. After crossing the Thruway I met an old geezer coming NOBO. [On “Agony Grind.”] He was using an old-fashioned hiking stick (rather than trekking poles) and wore sandals and socks. On one of the next ascents I met a fit middle-aged section hiker. Chatted for a while. He gave me a half-full pack of cigarettes that had been left behind at a shelter by…?? Mentioned the long uphill climb [to Wildcat shelter] after Fitzgerald falls.
Mombasha High Point? No view. Booked on down to the Falls. Found myself a nice campsite above the falls. I think the sound of the water kept me up, though. Otherwise, a very pleasant night at camp.
Tuesday, 9/5/06: Haven’t seen a soul on the trail since about 4 PM yesterday. Not one single hiker seen today. Did the long slog up to the ridge, but there the trail gets real easy for a few miles, except for these insane rock escarpments – knife edges, really. It was about 65-70 degrees, but 100% humidity. By 1:30-2:00 the humidity was turning to light rain, making the rocks especially treacherous. Greenwood Lake sure is a long lake!
After following the ridge above the lake for about 2/3 of its length, the trail turns westward and is generally quite mellow. A bit dark and gloomy and boggy. Several swamps, pogue, and a very wet trail, but not much for vertical. Around 3:30 I crossed the NY-NJ state line. Checked the map and was surprised to see I’d done 10 miles. Only 4 more miles to Wawayanda Shelter. Decided to HOOF IT. Glad I did. Got to the shelter at about 5:30. It started pouring rain about ½ hour later. I’m warm and snug. Life is good! Talked to MK for a while – great reception from the shelter. Tomorrow night: Pochuck. Also on 9/5: fresh bear tracks, in at least two places!!
Wednesday, 9/6/06: Pochuck. A gloriously early arrival. Not surprisingly, I have the place to myself. There’s a picnic table, a citronella candle, bear box and privy – but no water, and not much view.
It was hard to get started this morning – I allowed myself fresh socks but not fresh undies. Of course, nothing had dried overnight. It rained most of the night and looked to be (another) gloomy day. I wore the gators and the rain jacket for a bit of extra warmth.
The walking was easy and within an hour it was time to take off the rain top. The walking wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as expected. On the descent off Wawayanda Mountain I could hear what sounded like heavy trucks and loud banging noises. Turns out there’s a quarry down below, just off the trail to the right (facing sobo.) At the Rte. 94 trailhead there were two older men chatting. Humans! At last! One was a local, and was showing the trail to a friend from some place distant.
I sauntered over to the Heaven Hill farm stand, just off the trail, and availed myself to an ice cream cone, orange cream soda, and a plum (eaten a bit later on the trail.) During my break at the farm stand the sun came out and it started feeling pretty hot and humid. The next few miles were dead flat, first through overgrown meadows and then onto this incredible boardwalk thru a reedy marsh, where I encountered a half-dozen or so strollers, joggers, etc. Quite an amazing feat, this boardwalk – it goes on for a mile or more, maybe two. But the sun was bearing down – no shade whatsoever – so I didn’t feel like stopping all that much.
The flat stuff ends where the trail crosses Route 517, and the trail resumes its more typical character, thru woods (thankful for the shade now) and with a good deal of ups and downs. There were a couple of nice views along the way and a couple of rocky sections reminiscent of two days ago. Met one older gentleman walking north (no backpack, just out for a stroll) – stopped and chatted, mooched a cup of water from him because I realized I was very low.
Encountered a “Trail Angel” water supply, just off the trail, in a bear box. Inside was fresh water, fruit drinks, granola bars, and other sundries. I downed a fruit drink in about 15 seconds flat. Got to Pochuck around 5:00. There’s a picnic table, at which I cooked dinner and wrote this diary entry. I hung out wearing just my (clean) skivvies for a while, but it soon got chilly – so now I’ve got on flannel pants, polypro shirt, and rain top over that. I did dinner right this time – cooked up half the container of minestrone soup – it was delicious, and just enough. Supplemented by cheese and sausage as an appetizer, and a few oatmeal raisin cookies (and pieces of dark chocolate) for desert. Very nice scene. A little company would have been even better. Oh, well.
Thursday, 9/7/06: Up at 6:30, on the trail by 7:10, easy walking down the mountain and past the Walkill River wildlife sanctuary, except my boots got soaked in the dew-covered grass.
A short roadwalk (cars going REAL fast) then another couple miles of woods and meadows to Lott Road. Unionville! Hurrah!
In town I had a fine breakfast at Sara’s place. After b’fast, stopped at the supermarket (Horler’s) but all I got was four AA batteries – for $7.00. Back at Sara’s, on the porch, tried to arrange for a ride from the trailhead at a B&B off of Rte. 23 near High Point State Park. They’re short-handed today, can’t help with the shuttle but they have a room.
While sitting on the porch, rolling a cigarette, a gent in jeans and an orange sweatshirt said hello and introduced himself as mayor of the town. Asked if there was anything he could do for me. Well, yes, I said… shower, laundry and a room would be really great. No problem, says he – let me take you to my place, I’ll be just a minute.
NEway, at the mayor’s house we chatted, I got a shower and got my laundry done, and then the mayor (Dick Ludwick) had an engagement to go to (a funeral) so I hastily packed and then he dropped me right back at Sara’s Café, where I had a strawberry milkshake that was DELICIOUS.
Well, don’t you know, on returning to the trailhead (on Lott Rd.) I went right by it, walking uphill, no less. The day had gotten quite warm and I had to use sun block for the first time on this hike. Moving “southbound” briskly [but in fact toward the northwest now] I got to Goldsmith Road in an hour or so and just had to check out the “secret shelter”. It’s beautiful, and as a special treat I had a looong chat with Jim Murray who owns the place and built it. He’s a photographer (of dancers). So we chatted about that…
Next thing you know it’s about 4:30 and we’re chatted out and Jim’s got to go (and my legs were itchin’.) My legs felt fine and – as beautiful as it was – it was too early to call it a day. I started hoofing it down the trail, racing the clock – and actually made it to High Point Shelter just as the light was fading – five or six miles in three hours. Slightly uphill but nothing too serious. A few meadows and cow pastures. Several well-marked road crossings so I was able to track my progress. At the shelter – I have company!! Her trail name was Spaghetti-O due to a certain dinner incident on her attempted thru-hike earlier this year (she quit in Erwin.) We talked and talked till midnight. It was wonderful trading AT stories, and I’m sure she was into it as I was. This was her first night out on a short section hike – she’s a local, knows the terrain really well.
Some time around midnight the conversation ended (reluctantly). I had NO luck getting to sleep. Around 3:30 AM I finally took a Benadryl. I maybe got 3 hours sleep, I dunno. The full moon was incredibly bright – casting shadows. It was beautiful.
Friday, 9/8/06: Up at 8 AM or so, on trail a few minutes before nine. Generally uphill walking for the first ½ hour, then came upon this raised platform thingy where about 15 young kids were breaking camp. Princeton “Freshman Orienteering.” Wonderful views in all directions, I got a couple of pix. It would have been even better at sunrise. The valleys below are all covered in fog and cloud.
Onward. Another 45 minutes to Park Headquarters (Rte. 23.) Nothing much doing, but I filled up with water at the spigot there. The day’s walk was relatively uneventful – none of it was really hard. A short downpour at Sunrise Mountain – followed by my miraculous arrival, a minute later, at a roofed pavilion, where I waited out the storm.
From there, only three more miles to Gren Anderson Shelter, once again solo. The Liptons was fine. Saw a porcupine on the trail ahead of me, all puffed up. I shoo’ed him away, though it took some doing, because at first, he just waddled slowly up the trail. Eventually I got him to scamper off the trail and into the woods so I could pass.
Saturday, 9/9/06: Gren Anderson Shelter to a campsite near Blue Mountain Lakes Road. Flew down the mountain after an early start. Passed a site where some ham radio operators had set up a slew of antennas and were [car] camping next to them. [This probably should not be happening, but who am I to say… It was commented on by a trail maintainer that I talked to the next day.] Arrived at Culver Gap around 9:30 AM. There’s not much doing there, but at least it’s not far from the trail. A five-minute walk got me to a pub where I ordered a cheeseburger and fries and snarfed down a couple of draft beers. Charged up the cell phone while I ate and almost forgot the phone there. Oops! Beautiful view from out the back, overlooking a small lake.
Breakfast done. No place to buy any kind of “real” portable food. So, on up the trail. It’s sunny and hot. Realized I was low on water, so at Brinks Road Shelter, I stopped and filled up all three bottles at the spring. Jeez, the pack felt awfully heavy after that.
Typical day on the AT – a number of nice views, and at least a half-dozen 300-foot ascents and descents. There were places where the trail was a perfectly smooth, wide road, but then the trail would leave the road and dive into thick, gnarly, rocky woods, only to rejoin the road (or some other road) a mile later. [Eg., the passage past Crater lake to the campsite for that night near Blue Mountain Lakes Road.]
ALDHA guide mentions some “grassy meadow” south of Blue Mountain Lakes Road. I’m sure I chose the wrong meadow, but what the f***. Food was real low, and I was a bit paranoid about bears, so I didn’t bother cooking, just ate cold snacks. Slept well, and up at dawn.
Sunday, 9/10/06: Nabbed a couple of pix of the sunrise [this campsite was facing east with a good view off the ridge toward NJ.] Broke camp, quickly and on the trail by 7 AM or so. Starts off smooth – on one of those gravel-road sections – but then reverts to ragged rocky trail. For a couple of miles, the trail hangs right at the edge of a cliff facing the NJ side of the ridge. I was a bit low on water – I had about 2/3 of a quart, left over from the day before. Met a few other hikers along the way – not really backpackers though.
At one road crossing there was a fellow at a picnic table cooking oatmeal on his Jetboil stove. We chatted for a bit. He had a Fuji S3 camera with some huge lens sitting on the hood of his car. I asked him if he hiked with that thing and he said yes.
Eventually came to another road crossing that was lively with hikers just setting out on day hikes. There was a bridge over a stream there. I didn’t take any water there – even though I was plumb out – because I intended to stop at Mohican Outdoor Center, which was a short distance (the sign said ¼ mile) uphill. Well, as luck would have it I completely missed M.O.C. and found myself up on a high, dry ridge without water. I mooched a few sips from a guy among a group of bird-watchers. A few minutes later I came upon a group of young, friendly hikers and mooched some more water. Hurray! I’ll live. This latter group mentioned that I was just only a mile or two from Sunfish Pond, and I was a bit startled. [I’d overshot M.O.C. by about 3 miles!] Holy shit, it’s only 1 PM and I’ve already walked 10 miles! I can make DWG tonight! I met the group again at Sunfish Pond, hung out with them a bit, and then onward. Five more miles! And all downhill. A bit rocky, mind you, but no more uphills between here and DWG.
Got to the bottom of the state park – big, overflowing parking lot. (I’d met dozens of strollers and day-hikers walking uphill toward the pond.) From the parking lot to DWG you go under I-80, along a paved road parallel to it, then cross the Delaware over the I-80 bridge. (Traffic flying by at 60 MPH.) The trail hangs a left at the toll station and waddya know? There’s a jazz festival going on – literally right on the A.T.!! And good food, of which I availed myself immediately. Sausage and onions. Caesar salad. Rice and beans. Strawberry ice cream. Hung out eating and listening for an hour or two and then mosied up the “trail” another hundred yards or two, to the church hostel at which I’m writing this. The hostel’s pretty full – there are a bunch of SOBOs here, all youngsters.
Not much going on in town, though. No supermarket, no Laundromat. A couple of gas-station mini-marts. There are a couple of decent places to eat, and an amazing bakery.
Monday, 9/11/06: The gods are with me today. Settled in at Kirkridge shelter, about 7 miles south of DWG. Very nice new shelter, once again all to myself. There’s a fire pit and I’ve gathered some fire wood. Water is from a spigot, slightly uphill from the shelter. There’s some sort of Christian retreat center up there, but no sign of human activity. There are cell towers and an access road also, but because of the Xian retreat, the road isn’t too worrisome.
The day’s hike began at around 2 PM. Of course, I mis-judged the trail through town – it doesn’t go there. Instead, it doubles back almost exactly in front of the church hostel. (Damn, I forgot to get a picture of the hostel.)
In spite of my fear and loathing, it turned out to be a beautiful, nicely graded climb, with awesome views of the Gap, and the sounds of I-80 gradually fading as I ascended.
I stopped at the base of some old fire tower. All that remained were the three anchor points and these three stone stair steps (to nowhere) which made me think of Amon Muin (?) in Lord of the Rings – near the end of Book One, where Frodo puts on the ring and sees Sauron and the Dark Tower.
Moving on a bit I stopped at “Lunch Rocks” for another short break and a grand view back towards DWG.
After the climb, the first few miles were a piece of cake – some old abandoned roadway, not unlike some of the walk along the Kittatinny. Lost the trail briefly… trail dumps into a meadow, with a road and microwave tower on the far side, and confusing signage. Followed the road (downhill) for a short ways, and then where the road come to a “T” I spotted the trail again, just to my left.
The last mile or two on the way to the Shelter started getting rocky, but not unbearably so. The temperature was a perfect 70 degrees. The air was dry and the occasional faint breeze felt absolutely delicious against the skin.
I got to the shelter at almost exactly 5:00. So how in the hell did I do 7 miles in 3 hours, including a 1200 foot ascent and two snack breaks?
Sleep at the hostel [last night, at hostel] was fitful. It was lights out at around 10:30 but I was still tossing and turning at 12:30, at which time I took the usual meds (2 Ibuprofen and a Benadryl) and dozed off. Most of the campers were awake by 8 AM. I grabbed my clothes (laundry) bag and sauntered down to “the Pack Store,” a canoe/kayak outfitter down the hill, just past the diner. Pack Store wasn’t open yet so I went to the diner for a light breakfast. After b’fast they were open, but was told the shuttle to Stroudsburg would have to wait till 10 AM. So I checked out the camping gear (a bit meager) and chatted with the old geezer behind the counter.
Eventually I got my ride (all five minutes of it) and the driver showed me both the supermarket and the Laundromat before dropping me off. An hour or so later, with both tasks done, I summoned the driver back and was returned directly to the hostel. Total cost: $4.00. I gave the driver a $1 tip.
Back at the hostel, an hour or so to re-pack and then it was hasta-la-vista DWG, and headed uphill with a bit of dread – which, it turned out, was entirely unfounded. It’s now 6:50 and there’s still good light and a beautiful view (SE, I think) from the shelter. Time to start dinner.
Tuesday, 9/12/06, 8:30 PM: Leroy Smith Shelter. 14.5 miles today. The water at this shelter is a 45-minute round trip.
OK walk today. Nice views early in the AM, and on the ascent out of Wind Gap, where I stopped for lunch. Otherwise, just woods. Not much for ups and downs (thank G*D for small favors) but lots of ROCKS. Felt pain in my right foot from a bad mis-step – not twisted, but strained. Met DWG’s slack-packers coming north, plus one or two faces I didn’t recognize. A young couple coming up Wind Gap as I was going down.
Bad karma on the trip for water [at Smith Shelter] – as if Spring #3 weren’t enough of a slog, I missed the sign for it and walked all the way down to the road. All told it was a 45 minute round-trip – to fill two Nalgene bottles. The ridge today was bone-dry. Good thing I started the day with three full bottles (tho I arrived at Smith shelter with one of these three untouched.)
Temperature never got much over 70 degrees F and sky was clear all day. Weather-wise it was perfect for hiking. But last night and this morning it was downright chilly, in the low 40s.
So ANYHOW, yesterday was just sooo perfect – it would have been impossible to top it today. Oh, forgot to mention the salmon-juice incident. There is indeed some oily fishy-smelling juice in that foil packet, and a bunch of it ended up on the shelter steps. It was a holy mess, and I had to use precious water (and sacrifice one bandanna) to clean it up.
It must be said, Leroy Smith Shelter is a big come-down from Kirkridge (last night’s shelter.) Pretty old-school and plain. No view. I didn’t find the privy until the next morning. No picnic table. But a nice new hard-cover register. There’s a big old fire pit here but I’m in no mood to gather firewood and do that whole trip again. Too tired!
Wednesday, 9/13/06: At the Palmerton Pizza Restaurant, 6:30 PM. Did a cool 16 miles on the trail today from Smith Shelter to Lehigh Gap. Aside from the PA rocks, it was a straightforward though soggy hike. I wore polypro top and bottom, which kept me warm in the steady light mist and drizzle. But my shoes, socks and feet were soaked from the get-go and remained that way all day. I carried two quarts of water and used about 1 ¼. Trail Angels had left jugs of water at Little Gap.
Vegetation by the trailside is overgrown, at times nearly or almost completely obscuring the footpath. Plus, of course, the wet grass gets the boots even wetter. Seattle Sombrero all day. No sun at all, but no hard rain, either. Just a slow, steady mist-like drizzle.
I got to Little Gap at around 1:30 and wondered for a bit whether it was Lehigh Gap. No Way! The next five miles – from Little Gap to Lehigh Gap – were unlike any I’ve seen on the A.T., anywhere.
After a short easy climb (maybe 300 feet) out of Little Gap, you’re on a smooth (sorta) path on a strange, blasted, barren plateau. Dead trees, some standing, but mostly flat against the ground. The ground itself consists of jagged rock and slag. There were some live trees and bushes (occasionally) along the A.T. footpath, but most everything else was dead.
The last mile and a half – the descent into Lehigh Gap from the ridge – was equally outrageous. Very much vertigo-inducing. Straight the eff down the face of the mountain, over massive boulders. The trekking poles were useless. Arms and hands most definitely needed.
While on the last part of the plateau, I was playing leapfrog with a young lady SOBO by the trailname “Mordecai.” She had been just behind me, I guess, since Smith Gap. [She’d been deposited at the Smith Gap trailhead by car, after some time away from the trail.] PA is her home state. She’d started a SOBO thru hike, taken some time off, and was now out simply to finish hiking PA, with no plans beyond that.
Down at the road, off that blasted mountain at last. Very easy hitch into Palmerton. Checked in at the Palmerton Hotel (and pub.) Got the “deluxe” room for $75. It had a bathtub, in which I had a good long, hot soak.
[I wasn’t able to finish the pizza I ordered. The other half was carried back to my room in the pub, left untouched, and abandoned the next morning.]
Thursday, 9/14/06: The trip home. That list of shuttle providers that I got off the ‘net [prior to the start of the hike] came in handy. Ms. Janet Goloub picked me up promptly at 8 AM this morning in her Subaru and drove me to the Trans-Bridge bus terminal in Allentown, in time to catch the 9:00 bus for Port Authority.
From there it was a 2 ½ hour bus ride to Port Authority in New York City. Dreary, rainy day. The bus winds through strange New Jersey towns before taking Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan. I strolled around Port Authority for a while wondering where the train terminals were. I stopped and asked for info and was told that trains go from Grand Central Station, which is somewhat across town. So, I had a stroll across Manhattan. Grand Central is at 42nd on the east side, an easy (and entertaining) half-hour stroll. A young lady with an oversized umbrella came up alongside and shared her umbrella with me. What a day! At Grand Central, I quickly located the right track and got a ticket for the 12:15 MTA train to Peekskill. The train arrived in Peekskill in an hour or so. Tracks run along the east bank of the Hudson, so I got a good look at the mountain from where I’d started the hike. At the station, I called Toby, and she arrived to pick me up in another half hour. So, by about 2:30 or 3:00, I was back at Sheila’s house. I hung out there till five o’clock, until Sheila and Mitko had both arrived home from work. Eager to hit the road for Boston, I declined the dinner offers and took off at 5:00. Nasty traffic almost all the way home. The drive took 4 ½ hours, about an hour longer than usual.
My best section hike, ever. Seemed almost everything went well. I used a lot of the old gear: Camp Trails pack, SlumberJack (summer-weight) bag, ThermaRest, Whisperlite, Seattle Sombrero. The (new) Vasque canvas boots were quite comfortable but feet got wet whenever I had to walk in wet grass for even a few minutes (eg., at the Walkill River Wildlife Sanctuary near Unionville, at dawn.) The ThermaRest may have a slow leak – need to check it.
Weather was very cooperative. Most days were at least partly sunny, but it never got hot. A bit humid, and sometimes cool. But never uncomfortably hot. Not to say I wasn’t sweating pretty hard on the ridge, the afternoon above Culver Gap. I never used the gloves but I did wear the fleece hat a few times at camp or while sleeping.
I never had to walk in heavy rain except for about a minute or two on Sunrise Mountain. There were a few soggy days with light rain that were no problem – the first day, over Bear Mountain, the day ending at Wawayanda Shelter, and the final day leaving Smith Shelter. I had no rainproof pants – a calculated risk that worked out.
New camera (Canon A620) worked well, notwithstanding a strange moment on the 2nd day where it looked like it had somehow turned itself on “accidentally” and drained its batteries. I’m not sure what exactly happened there, but the incident was not repeated and the batteries held up just fine. (I got spares in Unionville but didn’t need them.)
The Whisperlite seemed to get a bit wimpy at the end – I’m not sure if that was just because the bottle was low on fuel, or something else. Even so, it did not fail me. Just took a wee bit longer to cook those last two or three dinners.
For whatever reason, I had almost no company in the shelters, and there was a nearly 48-hour stretch of seeing almost no other humans. In other words, it was a bit lonely at times. On the other hand, I wasn’t competing (distance or mileage-wise) with anybody, and that was good.
No massive complaints about the PA rocks. They are what they are, and I certainly had ample warning. Every hiker who’s ever done PA has pretty much sung the same tune. Let’s see how the rest of PA works out. I would not have enjoyed going down Lehigh Gap in the rain.
Cell phone (Moto V210, with extended battery) worked great, and I was able to call Merry every night. There were only a few attempts to call out that didn’t succeed. The only trick was making sure the phone was completely “off” before putting back in the pack. And… not forgetting it in places where I’d left it charging (eg., the pub at Culver Gap.)
Insomnia was a minor issue – I dealt with it by taking two ibuprofen and one Benadryl each night before lights-out. The night I left High Point Shelter was the only night I had company in a shelter. I left the next morning quite sleep-deprived but still managed to make 14 miles or so to Gren Anderson shelter that day.
I carried too much food at the start, and not the right kind. The praline walnuts, dried apples and beef jerky were disappointing. The oatmeal-raisin cookies were great. On hot days, cheese and sausage is still where it’s at. For dinners, the Alesso soups were fine, but one package made more goo than I could eat. The trick was to make half. In truth, my appetite was pretty subdued through most of the trip. Even in town, I didn’t gorge (much.) Couldn’t eat but half of that Palmerton pizza.