Duncannon to Port Clinton – What a tough four days it’s been. PA may be flat but it has without a doubt been the most challenging state for me. Leaving Duncannon the sky was grey and had I not procrastinated in town until noon I may have made it to the shelter without getting drenched but alas this was not the case. As I hiked up the extremely steep mountain out of Duncannon, it began to downpour making me completely soaked after I had just gotten everything dry in town. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, the music from my headphones went silent. Once I reached the shelter I was drenched as was my phone. I even tried putting it in my instant rice with no success. It would rain all night and all day the next. Temperatures dropped and at Rausch Gap Shelter everyone’s gear was wet and we were all freezing even with nine of us crammed into a six person shelter. The rocks seem to be getting worse ever since Duncannon, at times completely covering every inch of soil there is. From Rausch Gap Shelter we all planned to go to the 501 shelter where there was the option of pizza delivery for dinner. It was cloudy for the most part but blotches of blue sky throughout the day motivated me to press on through the still rocky terrain. It was all worth it when I got to 501, where the faces of all my fellow thru hikers that I’ve grown so fond of we’re ready to have our pizza party. We sat around the long table in the center of the shelter eating and laughing, happy to be in a fully enclosed shelter with hot food after the previous night. Seriously one of the funnest nights on the trail and definitely one that I’ll never forget. The next day was a long one in order to make Port Clinton. It didn’t rain but it wasn’t sunny, and it was definitely not warm. Port Clinton was the absolute unfriendliest town on the trail so far, everyone who lives there should be ashamed of themselves. Four days to jersey, will I ever make it?
June 5 – I woke up early this morning completely unintentionally and lazed around in my sleeping bag for about an hour and a half, sorting through my food bag and deciding what I did and didn’t need. After getting up the courage to unzip my bag and feel the chill of the morning air I headed down to 3 C’s diner where a large billboard out front proudly announced that this was the home of the best breakfast on the Appalachian Trail. Definitely not the best, but my platter was pretty good by hiker standards. Home fries have become one of my favorite delicacies on the trail and I never pass up an opportunity to get some. I procrastinated for almost two hours in the diner, taking advantage of the free refills and electrical outlet as any thru hiker would. By 9 I was headed back to the trail and soon was climbing an extremely steep and rocky mountain away from the small town of Port Clinton. Since Duncannon, the terrain has become rockier and rockier the further north I head. This really does a number on your feet, and after five miles I was already in need of a break. I pulled into the Windsor Furnace Shelter and was about to just call it a day until I saw the condition of the shelter. Definitely not luxurious by any means. I did my best to pump myself up and headed on as the trail climbed yet again up to Pulpit Rock. I walked through a bit of a boulder maze before finally reaching the top where I was surprised to have a somewhat decent view of the ridge I was headed towards. The sun was out for the first time since I entered Pennsylvania and a rattlesnake was chilling on a rock soaking up the rays much like myself.
There was no trail after I left this view, instead it was a field of boulders with white blazes painted every so often, leaving me to figure out the easiest path through them. I passed many day hikers who all seemed to have the same questions about my hike. It never gets old answering them, only because I know they think I’m a total badass for walking all the way here from Georgia. Soon enough I got to another view known as “the pinnacle”. Hands down best view in PA so far, super panoramic and there were actually a few mountains in sight rather than miles of flat farmland. It would have been a cool place to hang out but it was a total tourist trap so I headed on to knock out the last four miles of my day to the Eckville Shelter, a full enclosed cabin with bunks, a shower, and outlets. I was the first one to arrive but soon enough Happy Warrior and Many Faces caught up, with Clifford, Dosu, Uphill, and Still Bill shortly behind. We spent a good two hours looking for somewhere that would deliver here with no luck. Another night, another pasta side. The shelters have been the only good part about PA, besides one or two they’ve all been extremely luxurious by thru hiker standards, probably to give us a good place to rest due to the ruggedness of the terrain. Should be a cozy night here tonight.
June 6 – It was a long and extremely rocky 24 mile day through Pennsylvania today. I started off the day hiking with Still Bill and Uphill. It was the first time I’ve actually hiked with other people rather than just meet them throughout the day in a long time. Conversation really makes the time go by and it’s always nice to have someone suffering on the hard parts alongside with you. We we immediately faced with a super steep two and a half mile climb which eventually led into a huge maze of giant boulders. Rock scrambling was the only way to get by on some parts and it definitely made for a slow start. The rocks eventually got smaller but would not end for the rest of the day.
We stopped for a break at the Allentown Shelter and were soon joined by Clifford, the only other person I’ve met on the trail who is as young as me. Out next destination was a restaurant right on the trail in four miles. Saw a bunch of snakes on the way there as well as weekend hikers, two of whom gave us some if their extra snacks that they didn’t want to carry. There was a Boy Scout Troop who’s scoutmaster warned us that we hadn’t seen anything of the rocks yet and that they would start in about three miles. We laughed it off afterwards, thinking there was no way possible it could get worse. Oh if only we knew how right he was.
Got an epic burger at the restaurant, one of the best I’ve had in a long time. There was 13 miles left to go and my feet were feeling sore but after the break they were manageable and I headed on my way shortly after everyone else. Sure enough, after three miles the rocks became insane. There was no soil visible for the better part of my afternoon. It began with an insane rock ridge sticking out in the air with cliffs on both sides. It was challenging but also extremely fun. Not so much fun when I got to the bottom and the trail was nothing but fields of rocks, both small and large. I stopped at Bear Rocks where there was actually a side trail with a pretty good view, and it involved rock climbing to get up to. Super fun without a pack but when I get up north and I have to do it with one it’s going to be pretty difficult. Next up was a mountain that nothing but a huge pile of boulders, some of which we’re loose from the ground. At the next shelter, I was considering calling it quits for the day, but the large crowd of weekenders made me reconsider. It’s not that I have anything against them, it’s just that they don’t really understand thru hikers schedules when it comes to sleep. That and the water for this shelter was half a mile away, which I was forced to walk due to the fact that there would be no water sources for the next seven miles.
The boulder fields continued and it soon became hot as I made my way to the next shelter where I planned to stop at for the day. I didn’t have enough water and I soon felt dehydrated. The trees disappeared as I walked down a power line but on the other side I was lucky enough to find a cooler with water and donuts waiting for a poor soul like me to come across it. I pumped myself up for the last four miles of the day and it turned out to be the most enjoyable section of PA yet. I walked through a controlled burn area where the contrast of the burnt forest floor against the green foliage made for a beautiful setting. Soon enough the ridge opened up, giving great views of the town of Palmerton and the Lehigh river and valley. Seriously the perfect way to end a tough day. I’m now camped out right before the George something Shelter with Happy Warrior, Many Faces, and Clifford. It sounds like its raining but it’s just caterpillars falling from the trees, they’ve been dropping in mobs lately.
June 7 – I may have judged PA a bit too quickly. Today was absolutely incredible even though I only covered a total of 6 trail miles. I woke up and headed down to the water source to start cameling up as there would be no more water for the next 18 miles. I headed down through power lines before reaching Lehigh gap where I crossed the Lehigh River and begun my climb up Dante’s Inferno.
Dante’s Inferno is what people have named the climb out of Lehigh Gap. The mountain and surrounding area are government sanctioned superfund sites due to zinc smelting from the 1890s to the 1960s. The results are a barren mountain consisting of nothing but boulders. The trail led straight vertical, pushing me to my limits as I’m absolutely terrified of heights. The reward was more than worth it, it seemed like I was on top of the world as the Lehigh Valley lay before me hundreds of feet below. From here, I walked four miles on what began a a grassy and newly sprouted forest which allowed for great views as I walked above the town of Palmerton. It’s amazing that an area that has sustained such damage can still be so beautiful. Soon enough the terrain became rugged, the trees were all scorched and dead, and rocks stuck up from the ground in every which way. The trail was completely exposed and the landscape was super desolate. At the end of the superfund site, I climbed up a huge pile of rocks which gave me an amazing 360 degree view. The area I had come from was bare while in the opposite direction trees flourished. Happy warrior, Clifford, and Many Faces soon caught up and brought news of Chinese delivery alongside the trail at a road crossing in one mile. When we got there, the information was false but we were determined to get some real food so we hoofed it the 1 and a half miles into the village of Danielsville, where we got a huge lunch and decided that was it for the day. There was a huge car show at the restaraunt and we laid out our pads in the grass and hung out for the remainder of the afternoon while music played and the townspeople mingled. What a carefree way of life this is. It was seriously one of the most relaxing days of my entire hike. Now stealth camping in the pirate ship at a children’s playground in town. What a badass place to camp for the night. Captain Young Blood signing out for the day.
June 8 – Woke up to some pretty severe showers and decide to hang out in our dry spot until the weather improved. More severe storms were predicted for the evening including lightning and hail so we decided to set our sights on Wind Gap, where we could split a hotel room four ways and get out of the elements. Nobody in PA seems to like the idea of picking up hitchhikers so it was a one and a half mile road walk just to get back to the trail. The rocks started back up immediately as we climbed out of the gap where the road crossed through. In my opinion the rock climbing is easier than walking up a super steeply graded trail so I really didn’t mind it but happy warrior was definitely slowed down by this due to a bruised heel. Everyone seems to be collecting injuries throughout PA. Dosu has some sort of fracture in his foot, Clifford’s knee is screwed, and even those of us who aren’t hurt are still hurting because of all these rocks. I think it’s safe to say that every thru hiker can’t wait to get the hell out of Pennsylvania at this point, and we’re so close I can taste it. Despite the tough terrain, I’ve met some really awesome people in this state and the bond you form through suffering is stronger than many. At the end of the day we are all so worn out and it’s great to sit around the shelter and complain about it until everyone passes out from exhaustion.
We hiked in a single file line, making conversation as the miles passed by. The rocks were tolerable after the first climb and before long we only had a few more miles to go. We had remained dry up to this point but dark clouds were looming in the distance so we picked up the pace and got down to Wind Gap, where no hitch again forced us to walk the two and a half miles to the red Carpet Inn, one of the worst hotels I’ve ever stayed in, but to a thru hiker it’s paradise. Stayed up late watching American Ninja Warrior and listening to the apocalypse that was going down outside. 15 more miles to Delaware Water Gap, where I will say goodbye to PA and also be getting off the trail for a few days to visit family in Long Island. Some time off is definitely needed, this state has tested my patience more than any other. The rocks are seriously more challenging than any steep climb, and I can’t wait to get as far away from them as possible.
June 9 – super steep climb out of wind gap this morning followed by a massive Boulder field leading up to Wolf Rocks. Super slow going getting down from this vista, it was a straight up rock scramble that luckily calmed down about a mile afterwards. I took a break at the kirkridge shelter, the last shelter I would come across in PA. The water from this shelter came from a pump located on a road near the shelter and the taste was extremely foul. City water ain’t got nothing on a mountain spring! I checked the weather and saw that there was going to be a heavy but quick shower at one. The time was 12:50 but I decided to press on anyways, not wanting to waste any time before getting into town. Sure enough, as soon as I got far enough from the shelter that turning back wasn’t an option it started to downpour. I decided it was Pennsylvania’s final little “fuck you” and didn’t let it slow me down. I’ve overcome so many obstacles in this state but still managed to come out on top. After about 20 minutes the sun came out once again, making me feel victorious over this state. The terrain began to change as I headed down towards the Delaware river where the down of Delaware water gap is located and soon I would get the best view of PA: New Jersey. Once in town I went to celebrate at the ice cream shop with everyone else I’ve been suffering through this state with and we were all ecstatic to finally be done with it. Soon enough Dosu got into town accompanied by Lifeboy who I haven’t seen in over 1000 miles since Hot Springs, NC. We all strayed at the free church of the mountain hostel and it was an excellent night to end the toughest state yet. Getting off the trail for a few days tomorrow morning to visit family in Long Island, should be a much needed rest and I’ll be looking forward to getting back on the trail Sunday morning.