Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hiking New York

Even though the section of AT in New York is pretty short (about 90 mi) it certainly is diverse. The southern half (up to Bear Mtn.) is very choppy, with lots of steep and rocky ups and downs. Even though there's not a lot of elevation change, the constant scramble can be challenging. My knees were not happy after a couple days of this. This section includes the "Lemon Squeezer", a tight passage through some cleft in a rock face.

The Lemon Squeezer

Lemon Squeezer inside

 Into the second day the AT makes its closest pass to NYC--hard to believe you're only 30+ miles from the biggest city in the US.

After many rough miles the southern half of the NY section culminates at Bear Mt., a popular and well-developed park area on the AT. In addition to miles of new trailwork (stone stairs, crushed gravel trail bed, accessible ramps) there are several observation points including the Perkins tower. Unfortunately, I hit it on a hazy, overcast day so I missed out on many of the fine views of the city and the Hudson valley. In spite of the weather, it was still an impressive sight.

Hudson Valley looking north

East of the Hudson the AT takes on a different character. After climbing "Anthony's Nose"-- a pretty steep and rocky climb on the east bank of the Hudson--the AT levels out and follows a lot more established trail bed. Blessed relief for my aching knees and feet. The picture below shows some wonderful stonework, possibly done by the CCC back in the 30s as part of the original AT construction. About 10 miles north of the Hudson I stayed at the Greymoor Spiritual Center, a Franciscan monastery that has been hosting AT hikers since 1972. Unfortunately I didn't take any pics of this wonderful spot.

Excellent trail work

US 911 Flag on Shenandoah Mt.

Ringneck pheasants

I must be in the right place :)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Into New York

Yesterday (Su 9/23) I crossed the border into New York state on a cool, crisp Fall day. I was glad for cooler weather--the last couple days in NJ were very humid and buggy making hiking a chore. After many miles of relatively smooth trail passing through Wawayanda SP (another beautiful preserve in NJ) I popped up on the rocky ridgeline just below Prospect Rock (highest point on the AT in NY).

Fortunately, I lucked out that with such a clear day I had visibility to see the skyline of Manhattan off in the distance. It's truly an awesome sight, to go from such seemingly remote and wild surroundings to viewing the biggest city in the USA. It reminded of how far I've walked the past few weeks (340 miles) and just how amazing the Appalchian Trail is.

New Jersey Nice

I guess like most people I had no idea that New Jersey had such beautiful lands within it's borders. The AT leaves PA at the Delaware Water Gap, a rather spectacular cut through Kittatinny Mt. on the PA-NJ border.

Bakery in the town of Delaware Water Gap
Hiker Hostel
The view

Of course I had to stop in town for a snack--that's what hikers do. I was glad to be done with the rocks of PA and the first few miles of AT into NJ were smooth and full of surprises--rushing mountain streams in rhododendron grooves, majestic vistas. But as the trail proceeds NE up the border it gets rougher and, you guessed it, more rocks! I began to see a lot more wildlife, particularly in the Delaware Water Gap NRA and High Point SP areas. It is migration time for many birds including the broadtail hawks--saw dozens playing in the aerials atop the rocky ridgelines. Saw many other birds (geese, ducks, kestrals), lots of deer and my first couple bear.

 And in the northwest corner of the state is this 200' tall tower marking the highest spot in NJ. Even though the NJ section of AT is pretty short, it's filled with a lot of variety and challenges. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


So, Pennsylvania has a reputation for some very rocky terrain and it is well deserved. It wasn't quite as I expected: not so much dramatic, dangerous climbs as just a constant, tedious assortment of talus and scree, buried rocks and things in general to bang up your feet and shred shoes. The lack of elevation change is a mitigating factor. Much of the AT is ridge walk, but the relatively level walking still can get bogged down by picking through the rocks.

I found three basic type of rock configurations that I started to look at like puzzles to be solved. The first I call the "mine field", the second the "hully gully", and the third bouldering. They are not always separate, can appear as hybrids or often run into each other but the common theme is: rocks.

The "mine field" is the most plentiful obstacle; sometimes the fields could go on for miles. The "land mines" are the seemingly infinite array of flat, triangular, or pointed stones that are mostly buried except for a sharp protrusion anywhere from an inch to a foot out of the ground. While not life-threatening at all, they are a constant nuisance. I don't know how many time each day a stubbed a toe or tripped on one of these "land mines." It's even worse when the late summer brush partially obscures these little stinkers.

The "hully gully" is what I call the trail sections that look like a dried stream bed or gully full of loose rocks resulting from erosion. Most often the rocks are golfball to hockey puck sized, occasionally as big as a football. Although not as common as the mine field, the hully gully was the most difficult for me to negotiate because there's no solid footing. Everything is kinda wobbling and sliding around. Busted my ass a couple times doin' the hully gully.

The third rock configuration consists of much larger stones from suitcase to SUV sized that were probably the least frequent. While you can pick your way through these mazes of stone, I found it easiest. most efficient, and the most fun to get up high and hop stone to stone using bouldering technique. Once you get a groove going, you can make pretty good time through the boulders (unless climbing is involved) but beware: one slip up will probably mean a ride out of the woods on an EMT helicopter ride.

So, with only 16 miles left until the New Jersey border I think there's a pretty good chance I'll make it through PA but sadly one of my shoes won't-- shredded after a couple hundred miles of Rocksylvania. Ouch.

Duncannon to Wind Gap

Cranked out a pretty good week of hiking, covering 131 miles from Duncannon to Wind Gap (about 20 mi north of Lehigh Gap). Although mostly ridge walks through some beautiful land, I experienced first hand much of the rocky terrain PA is famous for.

In Duncannon, I stayed at the famous Doyle--a 100-year old hotel that now serves mainly as a hiker hostel. Although the town's heyday was many years ago during the coal-mining era, it's still a beautiful setting in the gap where the Susquehanna cuts through Cove/Peters Mtn.

During the 100-plus mile stretch of AT, the trail mostly follows the ridge line of Blue Mountain, punctuated occasionally by a climb down and up the gaps. Although a lot of it is the typical "green tunnel" of summer AT, some of the rock outcrops have exceptional views. A couple highlights for me were Pulpit Rock and The Pinnacles. It's pretty scary going with a heavy pack, but besides the rock climbing and rattlesnake, the views are awesome.

The trail continues to get rougher as one approaches Lehigh Gap (where the Lehigh River Gorge cuts through Blue Mtn.) Occasional rock scrambles and jagged stretches become pretty consistent. For me, all this culminated in the climb up the north side of the gap. It's a very steep up, mostly over exposed rock, that involves some hand over hand climbing. But once at the top there are some spectacular views back down to the valley.

Glad I didn't wimp out on this one.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Personal Journey

Aside from travelogue items and hiker lore, my journey up the AT has had a very personal side to it as well. I realized today that over the past year I have walked from my mother's place of birth to my own place of birth, or close anyway. Plus I have walked through my father and siblings' places of birth as well.
Starting at Bland VA (20 mi from Bluefield WV, mom's POB) I've hiked past Lynchburg VA (dad's POB) past Washington DC (my brother and sister's POB) and now in Duncannon PA, I'm about 15 miles from Harrisburg, my city of birth.
No wonder I feel such a draw to the AT. For most of my early life it was never far away. It's been interesting to reflect on how Appalachia has defined my family including my grandparents and other extended family.

Cumberland Valley

The Cumberland Valley is part of the Great Valley going from PA all the way down to TN, used by settlers for expansion to the interior. The AT jumps from the eastern range (incl. the Blue Ridge) back to the main Appalachian range at Boiling Springs.
This makes for a nice 14 miles flat hiking through the lush valley. I had pictured it much differently--dryer, more austere, even urbanized. But what I saw were miles of verdant farmlands, full in their late-summer foliage. The AT manages to maintain a narrow but cloistered right of way through much of this corridor. Then it's up Blue Mtn. and back to the hills.

I have many great photos coming as soon as I can transfer them from my camera. Hike on!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Boiling Springs

Headed into town to dodge severe storms with chance of hail and tornadoes. But what a treat! The Allenberry Playhouse and Resort is the best hiker-friendly place I've stayed at so far.

The town of Boiling Springs is home to the ATC mid-Atlantic Center and sits right on the AT.

Southern PA

Even though it's been hot and humid, Southern Pennsylvania is a beautiful section of the AT. So far I've hiked from Pen-Mar to Boiling Springs and watched the forests gradually fill with more hemlocks, firs, and laurels. Caledonia SP and Pine Grove Furnace SP are both gorgeous specimens of parklands.
And of course I passed the AT midpoint at mile 1090.5

Made a couple town stops, mostly to clean up from such sweaty, smelly conditions.
Fayetteville PA is a few miles off the AT and is pretty spread out. But Leroy's Original Jerk Chicken made the trip worthwhile. Curry chicken, red beans&rice, fried plantains and fresh collards. Mmm, mmm. Tell Dave and Paula AppMan sent you.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Devils Racecourse

I was pleased to discover that, though decommissioned, the Devil's Racecourse shelter hadn't been removed yet. I spent many nights there back in the 70s doing shorter hikes on the AT. Shout out to all my buds that used to hike with me there.
The racecourse itself--a glacial morraine-- is pretty amazing in itself.
And all of this of course in proximity yo Catoctin NP and Cunningham Falls SP, two of my favorites.

Maryland, my Maryland

Hiked through Maryland in a few days (it's only 37 mi) but it was a section filled with memories for me. Having grown up in MD, I visited many spots along the AT, hiking and sightseeing. It's always fun to see it from the backpacker's perspective.

The first couple pictures are of the Washington Monument (the original) in Washington Co MD. The other is the pavillion at PenMar park at the border. Note that the total mileage is off by about 180 mi, particularly SB.
Beautiful views to the west and Hagerstown valley.

Setting Forth

Headed out from Harpers Ferry on Sunday September 2nd on a rainy, muggy late summer day. The thousand foot climb to the top of Weverton Cliff was a good tune up for the first day, but the reward is an awesome view of the Potomac Valley back to HF.

The trail was packed with people, some hikers, some daytrippers, being Labor Day weekend. Looking forward to quieter times and cooler weather as Fall comes.