Monday, July 30, 2012

Pennsylvania: Come see our rock collection (June 26th - June 30th)

Leaving Hamburg, PA I took awhile since I was having a problem getting out of my comfy bed. I finally got out of town at around 10:30am, assuming I wouldn't catch the group that day.  Well I probably could have caught them if it wasn't for the two hour break I took on the Pinnacle - a rocky scramble that resulted in a gorgeous view.  The Pinnacle was a series of small cliffs - each hiker could scoop our their own little spot. I found a nice quiet nook, made some lunch and watched turkey vultures float over the PA valley below.  The trail after the Pinnacle goes through hunting lands (not currently hunting season, thank god) but the terrain was easy as the trail was simply one of the hunting roads.  I crossed Hawk Mtn. Rd., passed Eckville Shelter, got some water from a stream and found a place to set up camp around 6:30pm.  It was kind of early to call it a night (we usually hike to 7:30-8:30), but I just didn't feel like hiking anymore.  I built a little twiggy fire to help with the bugs, made dinner and called it a night.

I got going around 9am the next morning and hiked up to Dan's Pulpit.  There was a nice view that had a mailbox with a trail register in it.  I opened it up to check the news - and read a pretty horrifying story of two hikers a few weeks ago who found another hiker up there sick and passed out.  They had called in a rescue squad, which turned out to be a lot of out of shape guys who were going to take hours to climb up the mountain. One of the hikers ran down the mountain to meet them, quickly realized they were going to take awhile to get up it,  so ran back up the mountain and fashioned a gurney out of tree branches.  The two hikers carried the sick hiker down the mountain to meet the rescue squad. They met them about 2/3 way down where they administered an IV and oxygen.  The sick hiker's name is Coffee To Go, and I was happy to see he had recovered and returned to the trail and had signed this register only a few days before me.  I realized how important it is for us hikers to look out for each other.  Very few people actually understand what we're going through out here, and at this point in our hiking careers, very few people can actually do what we do (though you would think the rescue workers would have the capacity...)

I continued on to the Allentown Shelter to have lunch with Bullet who had caught up to me at Dan's Pulpit.  Bullet gets his name from the simple fact that he is one of the fastest hikers I have met.  We had a long lunch wasting time and chatting - then hiked another .4 together to a spring.  After he got his water he was off.  I took my time and eventually continued on my way.  The hike was pretty and uneventful, until I hit the Knife's Edge.  Just before I was about to climb the rock scramble I heard a holler from behind.  I had actually gotten ahead of Daystar, Pants and Gribley as they had decided to take a side trip into some town for a meal, which worked out perfectly as I no longer had to play catch up. Knife's Ede was basically a very skinny steep ridge line rock scramble that we had a lot of fun with.  We eventually made our way across the ridge line and down to Bake Oven Knob Shelter - which was a piece of crap with an even crappier water source. Informed by the register and the poor saps coming back up from it, the water was a 1/2 mile hike downhill to a stagnant pool.  Not wanting to bother with that, I opted to ration my two liters of water that night so it would get me the six miles to the next shelter tomorrow.  Pants and Gribley being out of water had no choice.  Daystar and I left them to go in search of a campsite,  as even being near the pathetic, buggy shelter made us sad.

We found a great spot a few miles down the trail.  Daystar wanted to build a fire on her own, so I sat back and relaxed while she built what I would call a five star fire.  The boys showed up and we had a great night around the fire eating and frankensteining my feet.  A blister on my heel had grown to the size of a small appendage.  I'm not prone to getting blisters, so I was just hoping it would go away. Instead, it was taking steroids and applying for it's own zip code.  No longer wishing to walk on it, I peeled off my sock to show everyone and get some advice.  It was greeted with a multitude of alarming gasps and swear words before it was determined it needed to be threaded.  Threading is when you pop the blister, drain it, then pull a needle and thread through it, leaving the thread in the blister overnight. The thread acts as a sort of support system for the dead skin on top to keep it from adhering to the slimy new skin below, allowing the new skin to dry and and harden without having an open wound on your foot.  So I laid by the fire, closed my eyes, pretended I had a different life for a moment as everyone else gathered round to watch Daystar operate.

The next morning Lighthouse, Pace, Hungus and Jaybird caught up to us while we were eating breakfast.  Pace gave us the lowdown on their Jersey plans - Pace and Hungus are from Jersey and the trail runs close to their house.  They were planning on staying at home every night and slackpacking all of Jersey, and invited us as well.  I was a bit leery at first, as I hadn't yet slackpacked, but the opportunity to chill with some awesome friends at their home and grill out every night was too good to pass up.  First, we had to hike to Jersey.  We all packed up agreeing to stop at Leroy Smith Shelter that night, 21.5 miles away, which seemed very attainable at the time....

So Pace, Hungus and Jaybird took off while we were packing up and stayed ahead of us most of the day.  The rest of us eventually started hiking, heading toward the Lehigh River, where we had been warned the climb out was one of the toughest we've had in awhile.  We had also been warned the six mile exposed ridge walk following it was treacherous to do in the heat of the day, as there is nowhere to take shade.  It didn't look like we were going to have a choice.  After we crossed the river Daystar and I started our vertical ascent, the first part of our climb was actually really fun.  We broke down our poles and put them away as this mile was hand over head climbing.  We all hung out at the top for a bit, until we realized we weren't actually done, we still had a lot of rocks to get through and the day wasn't getting any cooler.  Little did I know this was to become one of my worst days on the trail.  One of the biggest issues with rock scrambles is, it is often hard to find the blazes. There is no trail, and it becomes a scavenger hunt to find the next blaze and figure out where to go.  This mountain became nothing but a pile of baseball to basketball size rocks, with relatively few to no blazes. I got to a point where, I for the life of me, could not find another blaze.  I scrambled up to the top to get a better view only to discover there was no trail up there.  At this point it was 1pm and almost 100 degrees, I had been exposed to the sun for over 3 hours and had just climbed up the wrong mountain.  Cursing myself, I slid back down the rock hell and desperately started searching for the trail.  I finally found a blaze leading left that was hidden on the back of a rock that I couldn't see from the angle I had originally approached (Gribley and Pants later shared the same misfortune I did). I was relieved to find the trail but devastated that I still had the six mile ridge to walk across.  I was dying for a tree and shade. 

To top it off, the heat was drying up all the springs.  I don't know what's going on out there people, but there is some droughtage happening over here.  From where I was, there wasn't water for another 15 miles.  All I wanted to do was guzzle all of my water but I knew I had to ration it so I continued on very miserable indeed.  Like ten times more miserable than the hike through the white out blizzard on Roan Mountain.  Cold I can deal with, but this heat was killing me.  I hiked on feeling a mental breakdown coming on.  This was the first time I really let the difficulty of the trail get to me.  We've all had our moments out here when we wonder how much more we can take, and I suppose this was my turn.  I finally got to a shady spot and sat down and cried and threw things at the trail.  I felt better after eating a bunch of wild blueberries and a few phone calls to friends.  Though I was starting to feel more like myself again, I opted to camp alone 11 miles short of our goal. Everyone else only made it another five miles from where I was before they succumbed to the heat and exhaustion as well.

The next morning I woke up at 5am to lightening and thunder.  I made a mad dash to put my tent away before the rain hit (wet tent = heavy tent) and was hiking by 5:30.  I was working with about 1 liter of water and I was pretty sure I wouldn't come by more till the shelter, 11 miles away.  I cruised, passing a dried up Metallic spring and stopping only to watch a porcupine climb a tree (was not aware they did that) and arrived at Delp Spring (also dry) at 8am.  Delp spring, minus the spring, was where everyone else had camped.  DS, Pants and Gribley had taken off early but everyone else was still there taking down camp.  Thirsty, I left them and headed to Leroy Smith Shelter, another six miles where I hoped there was water flowing.  The shelter was .2 off the trail, the water source even further. I know all these little .2 and .3's don't seem like much, but they add up.  To get water at Leroy I walked almost 1.5 miles round trip off the trail.  When you're already walking over 2,000 miles, it sucks adding 'non-trail' miles to your legs. 

Gribley and Pants were hanging out in the shade of the shelter. Daystar had moved on, she had a package waiting at the PO in Delaware Water Gap and needed to be there by noon on Sat. before the PO closed, so she was hoping to make it there that night.  The rest of us were aiming for Kirkridge shelter, six miles short of DWG, making it a 20 mile day (25 for me).  But first - the water.  I trudged down the hill, found an awesome spring, and also a black bear to go with it.  He was treating the spring as if it was his own personal bathtub.  I cautiously started to back up when it occurred to me that this was the only water for the rest of the day unless I wanted to walk into the town of Wind Gap.  Even if I did decide to go into Wind Gap, I currently had no water and needed something to get me the six miles there.  Bear or no bear I need this freaking water.  Now with all my other bear encounters, the bear has either run away from me in fear, or as in the Shennies, basically ignored me.  This bear had registered my presence, and chose to ignore me.  Not wanting to be bathtub buddies I decided to try and chase the bear away.  This being the first time I had made the decision to attack a black bear holding nothing but a flimsy piece of fabric (my empty water bladder), I tried not to shit myself as I ran towards it yelling and flailing my arms. I successfully scared away the bear and any other creature who was thinking of using that spring.  Satisfied, I took my time getting water and washing my face before heading back up the hill.  Lighthouse had arrived while I was gone, and not wanting to be bothered with the climb down or the bear, took a liter from what I had gathered.  We had lunch and headed out.

By the time we got to Wind Gap, I still felt pretty confident with my water supply and decided to skip the pit stop everyone else was making at the motel down the road.  Pace, Hungus and Jaybird went there because they didn't get any water at Leroy and they heard the motel sold Dr. Pepper.  I continued on and started the climb out of Wind Gap by myself and what turned out to be the WORST nine miles of trail thus far.  Now the climb wasn't that bad, but the heat was.  I could have been in a Gatorade commercial, the beads of sweat all over my body were so thick.  I passed Headin Out and Taggin Along slumped on the side of the trail, wanting to go no further.  When I got to the top, I stopped to take a break and fix my water hose which seemed to have a kink in it. I opened my bladder to let some of the extra air out, and proceeded to successfully dump the entire water contents of my bladder inside my pack. 

There are no words to describe the utter agony that followed.  Total despair and heartbreak.  Why why why.  I quick took stock of any water I had left, maybe 1/4 liter.  I quickly put the cap on to protect the precious water and began trying to dry off my things.  Not only had I dumped out all my water, I had dumped it on all of my belongings soaking everything.  FML.  I mean I chased a fucking bear for this water.  After this was done, I assessed my situation.  I could go the mile back down the mountain and get water at Wind Gap, then reclimb it and continue on. Or I could just deal with it and continue on.  My elevation profile told me the next eight miles to the shelter were flat, but I had received a text from DS that it was the worst rocks we had seen, she had to stop twice and compose herself (she seemed to be having the kinda day I was having yesterday). She was right.  Deciding the theme of my day was 'thirsty', I chose to ration my 1/4 liter and try to do these eight miles quickly.  I managed to walk the opposite of quickly, as this was, by a landslide, the worst section of trail ever in the history of trails.  Though it was completely flat, the eight mile stretch consisted of nothing but sharp, tiny, pointy knife rocks.  There was no where to put your foot down without stepping on a jagged spike.  I could feel the bottom of my feet bruising only two miles in.  Not only was it painful, but it slowed you down, a lot.  We normally hike an average of 2.5-3 miles/hour.  I was lucky if I was going 1.5/hr.  But the worst part was that the trail was one big straight line.  When the trail bends out of sight, one can maintain some semblance of hope that it will get better around the curve.  But no, every time I looked up from the rocks, I could see my whole miserable rocky fucking future ahead of me for miles.  You'd look behind you and it was the same thing. I felt like I was in the twilight zone, was I even going anywhere??  I had made the decision to move ahead despite my lack of water thinking I could do these eight flat miles pretty quickly.  At this pace I would be out here for days.  Fighting the urge to sit down and cry again, I pushed on determined to get out of this rock hell if it took me all night.  Plus I had already used up my one allotted mental breakdown for this trip. 

I passed a few campsites I pretended not to see, a dry spring, climbed up Wolf Rocks to register the view for a second and was finally out of the rocks!  I hiked the last smooth mile to Kirkridge shelter ready to end my 25 mile day.  I had tried to ration my water by taking small sips every 20 min., but now I was out.  When I saw the sign for the shelter I was so happy someone could have just given me a million bucks.  I dropped my pack, ignored everyone there and ran up to the spigot.  This shelter is right next to one of the ATC caretakers house so there is a spigot that pumps out clean water.  I shoved my face under it immediately.  After I had drank about a pound of water I finally started to look around.  Assuming DS pushed ahead to DWG, and with everyone else behind me, I didn't expect to see my friends, but I also did not expect to see 25-30 Mennonites.  God must really hate me today.  Now I have nothing against Mennonites, but when you've just been through 25 miles of hell and you just want to lay down and relax, but there are 30 people with their stuff literally everywhere (they may as well have sent out invitations to the bears and mice to come eat their shit), well you might get a bit perturbed.  Large groups are not suppose to commandeer shelters.  This would not do.  I filled up my water, adorned my headlamp, and even though it was already 9pm, hiked back out to the AT in search of a campsite with less people.

I only had to go another 1/4 mile before I came upon a grassy clearing with a great view, and ta-da! - Daystar.  The rocks had done a number on her as well and she decided to stop short of DWG and sprint down there in the morning to get to the PO.  The large gathering of adolescent Mennonites had also scared off two other hikers, Domiono and Froth.  Everyone was about to go to bed and I went about setting up my tent.  I was too exhausted to be bothered with dinner.  As I blew up my still wet sleeping pad I reflected on my long day - starting at 530am with a lightening storm, chased a bear away from the only spring, climbed up a mountain only to dump all my water from that spring into my pack, hike through rock hell only to be greeted by 30 Mennonites at the end.  Well screw that day.  I started to drift off and heard Pace, Hungus and Jaybird hit camp around 945pm.  Gribley, Pants and Lighthouse gave into the rocks and camped a few miles back.  I put that day behind me, got excited for Delaware Water Gap (there was a pie store there), leaving the horrible state of PA, crossing into Jersey and getting picked up for four days of slackpacking and sleeping at the Hungus Hidaway!!!!  Peace out Pennsylvania.


  1. Is that your purple butt in the picture? We need to plan a celebration for the return of the two happy hikers - don't you think?
    Promise not to take up bear wrestling next.

  2. um how do you know that's her purple butt? weirdo.

    also, I agree with mom. don't wrastle the bears.