Sunday, October 13, 2019

Delps Trail to Little Gap; Fox Gap to Delaware Water Gap (Finishing PA)

October 5, 2019
Delps Trail to Little Gap (4.6 Miles)
Fox Gap to Delaware Water Gap (7 Miles)
Tom, Shannon, Wyatt and Mike

Two sections of the trail remained before we could accept congratulations on finishing the Pennsylvania portion of the famous Appalachian Trail.  While Pennsylvania is only 230 miles of the nearly 2200 mile A.T., it’s still a solid 10 percent.  A very rocky 10 percent.

Following recent custom, Tom, Shannon and Wyatt picked me up late on Friday and we drove the 1.5 hours towards Allentown to a local hotel for the overnight.  We were sorry to not have Mona along on this trip—so Shannon graciously offered to drop-off/pick-up for our first leg of the dual section day.

We began at the PA Game Commission parking area called Delps Trail---which is .72 miles from the trail.  I should note here that if you have a car, expect that it will bottom-out a few times on the unpaved dirt road that leads to the parking lot.  Better to take a four-wheel drive vehicle if possible. 

That aside, another thing to mention: when you start hiking towards the trail, it’s .72 miles straight uphill.  We started around 9 a.m., and it surely gets the blood flowing.  The downside is you don’t get any credit for having walked three quarters of a mile up the side of the mountain. It’s part of those “extra miles” you walk to satisfy the actual mileage requirements.  Wyatt made it to the top without any hesitation, and was waiting when Tom and I arrived.  We took a left and headed 4.6 miles to Little Gap. 

Blue Mountain has been our home for much of our walk through northeastern Pennsylvania.  When you’re trekking along, know that you will spend most of your time looking down for the next rock obstacle to avoid or tree branch to step over.  Aside from that,  you’ll also notice how quiet it is on the ridgetop.  Yes, there are the occasional sounds of civilization that make their way up the mountain, but it’s generally peaceful.  And, on this particular section of the hike—we did not encounter a single human being.  That may have been a first for us.

While we usually enjoy the silence of nature, Tom and I found time to discuss politics and political figures, friends, and mentors, and whatever else came to mind.  Tom’s accumulated stories from a life in public service vary from teachable moments to humorous vignettes, and the ones that he has shared along our journey are worthy of being assembled into their own singular collection.   Perhaps that will happen someday. 

Now, a cautionary tale for those who walk and talk:  we each stumbled a little bit (actually more than a little) because we were conversing and not paying needed attention to the rocks below our feet.  So, be careful out there!

When we finished the downhill, Shannon was waiting for us at Little Gap and we leap-frogged over to Fox Gap, which is about 35 minutes by car.

The weather could not have been more ideal as we hiked the last seven miles of the AT in Pennsylvania.  The air was clear and crisp, but not chilly, the leaves were beginning to turn, and the ferns in the woodlands were still in good form despite Fall being in the air. 

From Fox Gap to the Delaware Water Gap, the trail sits mostly at 1500 feet, and the first five miles provide numerous chances to see the farms in the valley below.  I enjoyed my lunch—a Wawa hoagie—at one of the powerline vistas, and the sun was shining on Tom, Wyatt and Shannon as they enjoyed trail mix.  At the powerline too were some overnight hikers.  We thought it was too late for them to be thru-hikers, unless they leapfrogged and were ending at the half-way point.

That said, this section of the trail was pretty busy and we passed dozens of day hikers---and enjoyed conversation with some who were heading the same way.  We also passed two gentlemen you might not consider hikers at all.  In full suits, with dress shoes, they were quickly climbing up the mountain as we were making our way down the rough terrain towards the Delaware River.  What explanation there would be for this---we were not sure---but we speculated wildly to pass the time.  

After passing Eureka Creek and Lake Lenape, we continued past the parking area and into the town of Delaware Water Gap.  It is inviting and wanted for a visit—but we were tired and sore.  The rocks on the way down were challenging—but it was the cumulative 1000 foot decline over two-miles that caught up with us---or more specifically with our ankles.

It was our 25th section hike that came to a close as we approached the Delaware River.   Seven years, seven months and one day after we started at the Mason-Dixon Line, our journey in Pennsylvania was over. We stopped at the bridge and took a photo, and we made a celebratory video for social media.  Uber would take us back to our car, and from there---we would go back to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and to our lives.  We didn’t go into the Garden State---New Jersey would have to wait its turn.  For now, we were satisfied with the milestone that was achieved.  We had taken our 460,000 steps through PA.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Lehigh Gap to Little Gap

May 11, 2019 
Tom, Shannon, Wyatt and Mike
5.5 miles

When you step back and look at the Lehigh Gap, with its exposed rock face rising to nearly 1500 feet, it is easy to understand why most hikers suggest that you make the hike in dry, sunny conditions.   It’s really not the place to be during a storm, or after a heavy rain when the rocks are still slippery.  Thankfully, our Mother’s Day weekend hike was perfect—sunny and dry.

I have not studied extensively the story of the Palmerton Superfund site that envelopes this area, and I know little of the geological or human history of Lehigh Gap---except that ages ago the Lehigh River cut a path through this part of the mountain and humans have likely been inhabiting it for 13,000 years.  It’s not essential to know these things.  But I would suggest that some background reading would help one understand just how this incredibly beautiful area was created, later partially spoiled and eventually remediated.  Both nature and man have played such a visible role in how the Gap looks today.
The four of us started out together around 9:30 in the morning and spent the next hour or so making the initial climb.  Once we cleared the treeline, the views of the river and farmhouses below were incredible and the perspective of the valley below is all encompassing.

As it turns out, Tom and I had the opportunity to see the views twice as we went up and then back down this part of the mountain.  The backstory is pretty simple:  when we made this hike, Tom was a few days away from having surgery on his arm.  We didn’t realize it, but the rock scramble is much safer when the hiker has use of two hands and can utilize the strength of both arms.  Shannon and Wyatt did the scramble up and  after giving it an honest shot, Tom and I opted for the alternate Winter Trail route and eventually met up with Shannon and Wyatt at the top of the ridge.
As the movie title says: “On a clear day, you can see forever.”  The remainder of the hike provided numerous chances to see forever.  The lookouts along the way are incredible and worthy of making this trek for a day hike whenever the weather is nice.  There is a nature center in the area, and much to learn about the raptors above and the important watershed below that provides drinking water for millions.

The hike to Little Gap is mostly level, but the rocks are as numerous as the vistas.  Therefore, much of our time was spent looking down at our feet.  This causes one to expend more energy than you might realize, and it adds a fair amount of time to the hike.  Except for a lunch (delicious Wawa hoagie), we kept moving and thankfully, our dedicated road warrior Mona was waiting for us upon our arrival.  We are always lucky to have her help and support along the way!

One post-script: a few days after our hike, Tom underwent a successful surgery and has regained mobility in his shoulder and arm.

With two more segments to go, we will soon complete the AT in PA.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Route 501 to Route 645

2.2 Miles
September 13, 2018
Tom and Mike

This was our much talked-about “make up hike”.  Four years ago, we had missed these two miles as we pieced together our usual ten mile segments.  So, this missing section was a constant reminder that we needed to do some minor housekeeping first, so that our triumphant walk into New Jersey will, in fact, be the end of our Pennsylvania hike.

Making up the two miles became more of a logistical matter over time, as we have remained focus on knocking down the miles. Finding the time to go back for a few short miles was more challenging than you might imagine.  As it turned out, Tom was speaking in Philadelphia for ULI and a late afternoon pit stop on his way to Pittsburgh was just the opportunity we needed to cross these miles off.   It was also a happy occasion for Monty who was born on the Murphy farm and has known Tom and the family for all of his 13+ years.  So, when Tom stopped by on our way to the Trail, it made Monty’s day.

With convenient parking at both ends, it was as simple and enjoyable as any two miles spent along the AT.  And the lookouts were spectacular, particularly the one named for Bob Fisher, a longtime trail volunteer.  From atop the rocks, a panorama for miles with hardly a cloud in the sky.  In the Berks County valley below, red and white barns and old farmhouses were scattered across landscape.    
One imagined what Indians might have seen from this vista when the first settlers made their way to this region a few hundred years ago.

On the way in and way out, we drove through the little town of Pine Grove.  Tom noted that we’re fortunate as section hikers to see the back roads of Pennsylvania as we go to and from the Trail.  Surely the thru-hikers make better time, but they do often miss seeing what lies beyond. The story of the nation is found along the byways. The picturesque farms--sometimes both perfectly dilapidated and charmingly rustic-- the cluttered antique stores, and the small clusters of company houses built to support a long-forgotten mine or mill.  All these things are out there, and sometimes you find them only when in search of something else.

Our make-up hike complete--we have just a few more hikes to go in this beautiful place called Penn's Woods.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Delps Trail to Wind Gap

10.6 Miles
April 22, 2018
Tom, Shannon, Wyatt and Mike

Our first hike of 2018, the day before my 44th birthday, and the weather couldn’t have been better.  Everything was nearly perfect.  Well, except for the rocks. But we’ll get to that later.

Tom, Mona, Shannon and Wyatt arrived on Friday evening, and Hillary joined us for a dinner at Macaroni Grill.  It was fun to catch up over a good meal before we said goodbye to Hillary and headed up 78 to a hotel for the evening.

We decided to hike from the Delps Trail intersection with the AT to Wind Gap, so that the next segments could include one overnight hike and then the final hike to the Delaware Water Gap.   With this plan in place, getting to the trailhead required that we do a three-quarter mile hike from a Game Commission parking lot---which was not not clearly marked or easily found.  From the parking lot up to the trail was, easily, a 500-800 foot ascent in less than a mile.  

After much effort, we reached the A.T.  Our elation was somewhat dampened, however, a short while later when we came upon a road.  Yes, it was the kind of road that cars travel on.  Had we known of the road, it would have negated the need to hike up the side of the mountain. They say success has many fathers, but the guy who incorrectly reads the map is all alone in taking the blame!  So, I accepted the blame for adding an unnecessary mile to the hike, and my fellow travelers were more than understanding.  They are a forgiving group of friends!

The weather was beautiful, and the 10+ miles were mostly level---but don't mistake level for smooth. It is not a smooth section.  Had the surface of the trail been more like the running track at the local high school, we could have kept a nice pace and enjoyed more of the scenery.  Instead, long stretches were rocky with a few large boulders to climb over along the way.  All of this slowed us down. 

About half-way through we stopped for lunch.  Thank God for Wawa.  There is nothing quite like Wawa hoagie and one of the best parts of hiking in that part of Pennsylvania are the proximity of Wawa stores.

As we got closer to Wind Gap, two scenic overlooks offered sweeping views of the valley below and the Poconos beyon.  Without much forest canopy cover in place, the woods were bright and sunlight streamed down through the trees. Tom pulled a large bark mushroom off a tree trunk and carved our names and the date into it. You can find out more about Polypores here:

It was a full day on the trail, and thankfully Mona was waiting for us after the steep descent into Wind Gap.  The hiking boots quickly came off, and we nursed our sore feet on the long ride home. 

Getting close to New Jersey—just a few more hikes to go!