Thursday, October 12, 2017

A - Maze - ing Rocks

The creative visionaries who laid out the Trail in the Cumberland Vally must have decided that stumping along the borders of miles of farmland would be tedious qnd might dilute Pennsylvania's reputation. They fixed the problem by routing the white blazes over and through a remarkable boulder maze.


Pretty cool, actually.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Shelter from the storm

Up before dawn again, carefully gathering my gear and trying not to disturb the southbound tramily scattered over the shelter floor in their bags. Last night, I offered to leave so that they would have more room, but they said it wasn't necessary ... later, I wished that I had insisted on moving out to my tent. It's hard to fall asleep to the sounds of a half dozen squeaky air mattresses.

Four miles downhill, mostly open tread with few interfering VERTZ (Vertically Embedded Rock Trip Hazards). Trail construction quality and care improved when I reached the section maintained by the Cumberland Valley ATC.

Sophos, the fastest of the tramily, finally caught up with me at Scott Farm an hour later while I was waiting for the shuttle.

As the driver took me south across the valley, heoffered an answer to confusing information we had about the Trail in this area. The Trail's old route had indeed run along fourteen nauseating and terrifying miles of narrow, diesel truck jammed, two lane traffic, but a recent reroute slipped along the wooded strips between farmers' fields. Given the drizzly weather, I still felt that the shuttle fee was worth the price and damage to my AT hiker purity.

In Boiling Springs, I found a coffee shop that serves white chocolate mochas, so I had one to go with a second breakfast. Then, looking outside at the wet gray road, I ordered a second one with a carnitas taco lunch and busied myself with finding a dry place to spend the night.

Not that I didn't want another night of companionship with the SOBO tramily. Strictly out of support for their higher goals, wouldn't want to disturb their morning repose again.

The McConnells rented me a bunk in a backyard shelter and made me welcome. Mixing Scriptural metaphors -- safe in the company of their animals, I passed through the night on dry land.

Kind of me to bring along such a nice cat bed
Tomorrow, back on the trail headed for Mount Holly and the last campground I plan to stay at this trip. That will likely be a wet one.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Taj Mahal privy

Bonus photo ... interior view of the "Taj Mahal" privy at Darlington shelter, considered to be the largest such structure in the area.
Note dual toilet seat and tank design

Rocking the Rubble

She said I needed the practice, and she was right.

6:20 a.m. goodbye to the Doyle, leaving the key in the door and slipping out the back door. First climb, 800 feet.

Three younger and less burdened climbers with Mediterranean features climb past me in lightweight tennis shoes, pausing only to ask how much farther it is to the Hawk Watch. About half way, I reply ... when I reach it, they are admiring the view and taking selfies.

View from Hawk Watch

Onward. Energy fades, ankles grow sore as I climb toward Darlington Shelter. A sign at a stream warns that Darlington Shelter's spring is unreliable, that hikers should get their water here ... four miles and five hundred feet away. So I carried four liters up the mountain, recalling my climb up the Priest last year.

How about a phone for a delivery service?

The Mountain Club of Maryland seems to have the same attitude about rocks as the Keystone Trail Association out east. Trails are routed up boulder rivers, across fields of rock shards. 

Darlington Shelter

Sign inside Darlington Shelter

Attention Hikers! 

The state of Pennsylvania apologizes for all the rocks you will or have experienced.  
So we started a new program.  
We ask each AT hiker to move some rocks. 
If each hiker moves one rock per mile to the side of the trail we will have a decent trails sometime before the Sun turns into a red giant and engulfs the Earth.  
Your help is appreciated.

Another clutch of SOBOs swirled into the shelter here (no guitars, though). Tomorrow, Scott Farm and a shuttle to Boiling Springs, bypassing the walks along two lane roads with diesel-belching trucks going by.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Après le déluge

Not that this sort of weather is unhikeable or anything, but it does limit the oppotunities to enjoy the view.  Other hikers are champing at the bit, heading out today as soon as the rain eases, but I am waiting for tomorrow morning.

Duncannon -- Indigenous Peoples Day

Reflecting on Life &c in the 2nd floor foyer (sans towel)

With the usual shipyard disclaimer that plans are most important so that we know we're not following them, here's my intentions for the last week of this wander.

Date Day Goal Notes
10/10 Tuesday Darlington shelter Hawk Mtn views? And, rocks.
10/11 Wednesday Boiling Springs Shuttle past hwy shoulder walk
10/12 Thursday Mount Holly Springs
10/13 Friday Pine Grove Furnace St Pk AT Overnite Parking lot, est mid p.m.

Time to get off the Trail for a while! Pennsylvania will not be formally done until I complete a small bit from PG Furnace to Caledonia State Park, but a weekend ramble will take care of it. In any case, the trees, rocks, and white blazes will still be there when I return.

The posts for the two missing days before I reached Peters Mountain are published, detailing trail guide unreliability in identifying useful water sources. Here are links back to those posts.

Moss Removal: Swatara Creek crossing

Moss Removal: Got water?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Rocked out

Rock hopping along a ridge spine, I can't help but wonder about rumors that the Trail maintainers in this State actually sharpen rocks when they can't find paths that are naturally difficult. At least SATC seems to lead more trails over boulders conveniently arranged as stepping stones or stairs, rather than through the random rubble that KTA prefers.

Charles Ferry Shelter, on time, two hour lunch break, still enough water. Duncannon visible down below, almost there! But the Trail leads away along another rocky ridge, dives down and climbs back, and finishes with a half mile stretch just about the thundering trucks on US 322.

Duncannon, just a few short miles away ...

Susquehanna River

Clarks Ferry Shelter

Finally. Across the bridges, double frogger through Friday traffic and then down the streets of Ducannon like an unwashed bum, collecting a resupply package from the post office and limping uphill to check in at The Doyle.

With a brief stop for recovery, of course. The creator cautioned me that the fudge might be hot.

3 B's Ice Cream

Large S'more Sundae

Forecasts of heavy storm activity on Monday have leaned in on concerns that certain joints need a recovery time out. I do not plan to leave here earlier than Tuesday, October 10.

I plan to post backdated trail notes and photos from the week later.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Water, water everywhere... UPDATED

Raining in torrents outside Peter's Mountain Shelter tonight ... ironic, someone just headed down the three hundred stone steps to the only viable spring in this stretch of trail.

Water is pouring out of the shelter's gutter. The two Army vets and I, having already stumbled down to fill up, smile and wave to the latecomers who see the sign and look back at us for hope and courage. It's down there, really.

Not to mention the part without steps

... and these are the steps!

While rehydrating to make up for several days of short rations, I bemoan my slow progress to my companions. No worries, they say, only 11 miles to Duncannon, now that you've got water. Even a Navy vet can make it tomorrow, you're doing fine. Actually, since there's a storm coming in and no more water sources until the doubtful one at Clark's Ferry, you really should make it tomorrow.

Ohh-kay. Tomorrow (Friday), I will push on toward Duncannon, aiming to arrive and go to ground before the weather hits. Could delay my arrival at Pine Grove Furnace by an additional two days or more. Then, time out.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Got water?

Another slow start from a beautiful forest grove, this time with a pleasant, clear, acid-contaminated stream bearing away leachants from coal tailings.

So, water rationing rules dropped when i found this camp last night have been reinstated.

After a hard climb and six hours hiking, I reach the "highly reliable" water sources where I was looking to refill my water supply.

Reliably muddy?

Chem quiz- contaminants with orange oxides?

Better than none

Another four hours to Peters Mountain Shelter, two hours' rest and refilling of water supplies, then on towards Duncannon for as long as daylight allows. It's a plan.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Swatara Creek crossing

Today started with water ratìoning in effect:  no tea, trail bars instead of oatmeal. Bleagh. Ahead, Swatara Creek, where I can draw and treat enough water to rehydrate and bulk up for the climb to the ridge.

The Swatara Creek bridge looked to be the most overdesigned pedestran bridge I have seen. Maybe it serves as forest access  for emergency vehicles? No, something more unusual -- trucks filled with crushed limestone that haul their burden up creek to a rock pile just above a curiously shaped dam molded around two large open cylinders.

A sign offers enlightenment; they are reverse creek diversion wells, used to treat acetic coal runoff? Guess I won't take water out of that source!

So, another night and more miles to go without water. Time to look for bailout options? All are limited, long descents onto county roads, no towns of any size.  

Good that the guides show several water sources as I continue up the ridge to Peters Mountain Shelter. Onward.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Another day lost to the rocks

A relatively flat trail and cool temperatures helped make up for a very late start, waiting for the newly formed Two Guitar SOBO tramily (trail family) to  stop playing old folk and rock, get organized, and depart. A couple of rock rivers and climbs, though, kept me from making my target of crossing the Swatara today. Shi kata ka nai.

New target for my zero day at Pine Grove Furnace is Octber 14. Ice cream lovers welcome!

 Great views all along the ridge! We politely slipped by two Mennonite teenagers sitting next to each other (with a good air gap between them) enjoying the view.

 One of the tramily -- 1000 miles done!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trail magic

Breakfast done, everybody gathers their gear, trying to think of a reason to take another zero day. Kitten says I will pass her by on the trail, but I disagree -- Snail here, you will pass me.

As it turns out, we pass each other several times. We talk about the northbounders praising the 501 Shelter. Skylight, rain cistern, and pizza delivery? Kitten wavers, hikes on. Bye, say hi to Springer Mountain for me!

I walk on. My ten mile fade mark is at the 501 Shelter, but maybe I should push on to the next shelter?

When I turn off the Trail to take care of biological necessities, I finish and turn to find an older couple looking at me from the Trail. I apologize, with smiles. District supervisors, it turns out. The man asks how I have found the Pennsylvania trails; I reply that I have enjoyed them, but, well, rocks ...

A few more ahead, he says, which makes me wince. Onward.

More recidivism
2:40, turn for 501. I could go on. I turn up the trail. 

Housekeeper greets me. Kitten is here, just stopping by, not staying. Pizza order, says Housekeeper? No, Kitten says, wavering ... I need to get past the Smokies before the snow starts. Here's an extra pack of apple cider mix, says Housekeeper, this hack of a gatorade bottle lets me listen to NPR orchestra downloads while I hike. You should Youtube that! I say. No, I'll be doing it at Trail Days, he says. 

Two High, Tom, and Ruby the eleven month dog come in bringing guitars. Fire, Housekeeper asks? We scramble for blowdown wood.

Everyone's fed, fire is going, two guitars and a crisp alcohol free evening. Kangaroo and Jupiter show up.

501 Shelter October 1, 2017
Serendipity, Dr. Christman's ghost whispers to me. New Orlean, forty eight years ago. Don Mclean, Beebe Hall, Ithaca. Christ the King, Norfolk. Bread and Roses, Oakland. Trans Siberian Orchestra, Newark, New Jersey. Dover Mountain warmup session, Delaware.

Magic times. Deo gratias.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Rest & relaxation

Fun crowd filling the bunkroom last night, all southbound. U-turn and her father the Colonel, Barry the lawyer headed back to Chicago in his Ford Expedition. Stern-faced Squirrel, redbearded Wolfman, and Wild Child headed south toward Duncannon. Everyone raved about Jill's good cooking at dinner and a breakfast this morning, then packed up and left.

I put on scrubs, turned my laundry over to our hosts ($5 per smallish bag), and showered thoroughly in the plywood outdoor booth. Their hot water supply uses the direct-heating system we enjoyed in Japan decades ago; turn on the water, wait a minute, and you've got all the hot water you could ask for until the propane tank runs out. 

Today for me, another shopping foray, time to relace my shoes and let my toes heal a bit more. Another excellent dinner, another collection of thru and section hikers, and quickly into bed in the gathering chill. 

The next two nights on the ridge will be a chilly sleep, good test of the new sleeping bag. 

Life is so difficult

Friday, September 29, 2017

Managing my hiking environment

 Very lazy start this morning, making sure that Just Bob was well on his way before I hit the trail. That plus my zero day at Rock 'n Sole Hoatel should put enough distance between us that we won't become, as he said, "likw a small bubble floating south". Sorry, understand that you like having an audience, Bob, but ...

Fortunately, that the hostel owner's dog is apparently not trained fro drug detection, I can still smell traces of Bob's pipe smoke in my clothing. Craig, the hostel co-owner,  is a recently retired state police commander and a staunch Republican. We'll get by.

Wishing there was a way to save these fern covered woodland fields fron the invasiive stiltgrss coming in on hikers's boots. Too late now.

Another friendly visitor this morning.

Shopping run this evening for boot laces and Next trail day is Sunday, October 1.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Recidivist Rocks

Out of the hotel a bit too quickly this morning, leaving behind a tarp and some of the few clothes I have that will not send people upwind of me. Sigh.

Almost perfect hiking weather today, mild temperatures, brisk winds to keep the bugs grounded. The Trail had some long sections with severely misaligned rocks again, but I managed to get over them without incident. 

Biggest challenge today was finding the Trail! I wandered the streets of Port Clinton to find the way across the Little Schuykill, then another part of the town to get across the (bigger?) Schuykill, then to find the AT trailhead. The latter was conveniently located in an active railroad switching yard, pointed out to me by a genial engineer who was clearly used to AT acolytes.

Perfectly obvious where the trailhead is

"You know how to cross a track?" he asked.

"I do! Check both ways for moving trains, stand facing along the line of the rail, step across one foot at a time without placing my foot on the rail. Thank you!"

I am dining by firelight tonight with two fellow southbounders and a local. Life is really good, and the rocks on this side of the state aren't that much more difficult than some of Virginia's trails.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Rocking into Port Clinton

Hiking plan did not seem challenging enough for today, so I turned the wrong way and walked downhill for half a mile first.

Ecology note -- the fields of invasive stiltgrass brought in on hikers' boots and replacing the forest ferns have one big groups of supporters. Gnats have taken over the airspace above the stiltgrass and keep close surveillance on every inch of any passers-by, including daring ear canal approaches and suicidal dives into eyelids and nasal passages. Walking through the waves of stiltgrass encroaching on the Trail, one has to wonder how the timber rattlers feel about all this.

In spite of improved rock arrangement and modestly reduced temperatures, trail conditions were the most difficult. I gave up on plans to stagger another mile north to the hikers' pavilion and registered at the Port Clinton Hotel for the night.

Some photos from the last few days

View from the Pinnacle

Some more orderly rocks

Somewhat like the Strawberry Mtn scree slope

Appalachian view

Bridge installed by local hiking club- steel beams!
Tomorrow, across the Susquehanna and onward!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Well Stacked Rocks

Two more first time social events for me on the Trail this morning. First (hopefully only), eating breakfast with two SOBO hikers while they medicated up  for the day: bootleg antibiotics, "vitamin I", and a bowl of marijuana. One of them was definitely old enough to know better. Chronologically speaking, at least.

Second, meeting a black woman of my age who stayed in the shelter last night. There's hope for diversity on the Trail yet!

The climb to the Pinnacles was less difficult than I expected. Trail surfaces were mostly free of rock scrabble and a layer of cirrus cloud reduced the trail heat load. The Pinnacles were definitely the best use of Pennsylvania Rock I've seen to date, nicely layered and stacked. Magnificent views, well worth the climb.

I met a woman with a full backpack and daughter who identified as a 2013 NOBO. She was taking her daughter up to the Pinnacles to see the sunrise. Good parenting, yes?

Near the Pinnacles, confirmation of my suspicions; here's one place where they collect the rocks to put on the trails 

My intended shelter site to end this day is in extreme disrepair, smelling of an overflowing privy. I continued on to a  tent site next to a stream, no problem. 

Wait, the purifying filter has clogged and will not backflush! Easily resolved, I switched to my backup bottle of chlorine tablets. 

That's how I keep moving. Tomorrow, Port Clinton, Thursday the Rock & Sole Hostel for two days' R&R.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rox Redux

One degree cooler today, so I hiked 1/90 better ... for about four hours. Then it was time to stop.
View from Dan's Pulpit was impressive.

Quick solar shower at Eckville Shelter (guess why it was quick!) Up and down for the next two days, when I will reach Port Clinton and the shores of the Schuylkill.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Torrid Rocks

I celebrated completing the Lehigh Gap section last night with a NY strip steak dinner and some cheery conversation with one of the owner's lifelong friends. Said friend was needling Ken by disapproving of his new girlfriend, declaring that someone who was almost sixty and had been through a divorce and a bad breakup should reconsider his priorities ... Ken and said girlfriend Amy gave back as good as they took; I enjoyed the show for a while, and then withdrew to my room by 8:30. Too tired to pack up, I set the alarm for an early wakeup and fell asleep.
Different from the scree in Oregon

Wait, the trail goes where?
Ken looked a little disheveled at 8 in the morning, and was surprised to find me packed up and ready for breakfast. Amy joined him later to help him work out my bill and to keep my coffee cup full. He told me that after twenty-one years, he is ready to sell the restaurant and move on. Likewise, he says, she is ready to quit teaching. 

They haven't decided where they are going yet, though. I wish them well.

With a forecast high in the low nineties, I planned to climb quickly to the next shelter/spring and go to ground before the mid day heat set in. In spite of the stone-covered trail, I made good time to the shelter. Tent site, check, bear bag hanging tree, check, privy, check. Half a mile downhill, though, the spring was dry. 

So I walked on, sipping from my dwindling water supply and taking long breaks in shaded areas. 

A trio of local hikers who I met yesterday near Knife Edge came up as I was standing in a cool grove. As he trudged by, the one whose trail name is Slug observed that it had taken a longer time to catch up with a Snail than they expected.  

What could I say? Yesterday was a good day for Snails. They forged onward, I rested a while longer.

Shortly after noon, I made it to the trail turn leading downhill to Dan's Spring. Third time the charm? It was! I filtered and hauled water back up to the ridge, and set camp.

Hunter orange is suddenly very fashionable on the trail, and the woods are echoing with rifle shots as the apex predators prepare for the season's opening in two weeks. I'll be wearing my orange vest, and putting an orange rain cover over my pack.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rocks, rocked

How much stuff does a man need? That is, really need, enough to carry it on a dash through boulder-strewn country before sunset? Sort, check ... too heavy, try again.

Enough. Ready as I'll ever be, off to the other side of Lehigh Gap. Ken's banter on the way over has an underlying theme of tips for the hike, concerns about my ability to do it. Well, yes, but I have a headlamp if it takes more than ten hours, and a ceĺl phone if I need to call for a pickup.

The climb up the west side is gentler than the eastern cliff, and I average two and a half mph up to the ridge rubble. Yes, more rocks.

Bake Oven Knob at noon lives up to its name, but my water supply holds out.

Skipping along the tops of the boulders in the trail is easier than yesterday because the rocks are larger and flatter, more like the arroyo boulders that my sister Laurie and I used to scramble over in Arizona during our childhood. Still, ankles, calves, and toes grow sore.

A quick lunch, and up onto the rock pile known as the Knife's Edge.  Some overzealous person has painted the white blazes for us to follow along the very top of that edge, which makes progress interesting.

Balancing on narrow rock ledges being an issue, I was glad that my pack weight was below 30 pounds.

In the end, I finished fifteen miles of rocky trail in seven hours. I count that as a personal victory!

Tomorrow, westbound again with a full pack. Goal: Port Clinton and crossing the Schuylkill River on September 27th.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Back and forth

"You can fold your sticks for the first part," John said,"you won't need them. Gloves, yes, sticks, no."

"Gloves I've got," I replied. Ha, more of Pennsylvania's signature trail features? So, I climbed.

Lehigh River

Okay, follow the blazes

Follow them where?

West side of the Gap - not today!

Raider, the SOBO hiker who got me headed the right direction, decided to leave Indy with John and his two Dobermans for a few days off trail. She asked me for a text report on how the dog was doing that evening, and I agreed to do so, with reservations. 

Personally, I would  be a bit slower to board my dog with a new acquaintance. John seems an intensely honest person, but sometimes very casual about his stewardship, My text message will, I think, only be a small fig leaf for the owner's concerns about five days of boarding with him.

As part of my preparations for the slackpacking hike from the Lehigh River back to Kunkletown, I went through my pack to weed out any unnecessary weight that I could leave with John Stempa. Tent, pad, and bag? Leave. Food? Lunch only. Emergency phone and GPS? Keep. First aid and snakebite kit? KEEP.

Water weight? A careful tradeoff decision between backpack burden and hiking with a tongue trying to stick to thr roof of one's mouth. I chose to take only 1 1/4 liter, about a third of my usual load. Part of my plan was to resupply at the spring my host had located, developed, and submitted to the AT guidebooks. 

After clawing my way up the east side of Lehigh Gap today, I followed the Trail past warning signs and aged barriers surrounding the valley-wide 1983 Superfund site near Palmerton. 

Zinc containment ridges to the north

From the top of the southern containment ridge

The production mill

Editorial comment follows. For more travel tales, please skip ahead. 

Every generation has people who make honest tries at solving problems created by the previous one, it seems, and winds up leaving new problems behind. It seems to me that our early 70s era wave took the environmental remediation movement and to a great degree made it happen for the USA -- not to say the efforts were perfect, complete, or even parrtially reversed those efforts, but the way ahead is clear.  Similarly, the desperate use of the mutual assured destruction paradigm to hold terror weapons in balance as the world evolved to its current multilateral condition with our support at Reykjavik and elsewhere. 
Are there terrible flaws in the world we are turning over to our grandchildren? Yes -- Chernobyl comes to mind -- but there are many things we have at least temporarily put to rest. 
Okay, enough editorial rambling.

After I had walked a few miles more, the trail surface grew rocky again. That made foot placement as I was trying to keep up a reasonable pace, and the care I was taking kept me from stepping on a nonvenomous and not especially agressive black snake! 

Not the best snake photo ever taken
Not actually needed, but I was glad to have the snakebite kit along. Since it also has arrangements for suctioning spider venom, my thoughts also turned to it when one of several full facial spiderweb treatments turned out to have a live occupant. How do the trail runners doing thirty miles a day deal with this sort of thing?

Water turned into a more difficult problem, a recurring one for me. When I found the trail down to Stempa's Spring, my reserve was down to about six ounces, and half of that I sipped away during the half mile boulder strewn descent ... to another dry spring. Welcome to Pennsylvania's autumn trails.

Fortunately, John was able to guide me the rest of the way down the mountain by phone. He picked me up from a forest road, we returned to his house, and I washed the difficult parts of the day with a hot shower and another fine dinner at the Kunkeltown Pub,.

Life is unpredictable some days, but I just keep moving. Good times are always just over the hill.