AT Day 67 – Evening Bliss
Blue Mountain to Quarry Road
Too Good To Pass Camp to Clean And Muddy Camp
AT miles: 26.8
Total miles: 1356.1
Elevation change: 3898ft gain, 4718ft loss
Without me fully realizing it, the straight and strenuous monotony of northern PA had taken its toll on my mind and body. Even after crossing into New Jersey at Delaware Water Gap, an extension of that same straight and rocky ridge beat me down with a similar mix of bumpy tread and forested uniformity. Not that those many many miles didn’t bring me joy, or that there wasn’t a healthy dose of beautiful variety mixed in. It’s just that since the crossing of Cumberland Valley, it felt like I’d literally been hiking on the same ridgeline for a week. A rough and rocky week. Even if I hadn’t realize it, I was craving a change. I didn’t get it yesterday, but I did for the final several miles this evening. A sharp turn to the Southeast got me off of that darn ridge, and shed the straight-ridge blues before I’d even recognized their existence. The rocks might, and probably will return, but it was nice to feel fast and strong again for a short while. I suspected that there were still some easy miles out here.
Again, I beat my alarm this morning. I don’t know what it is, but my brain has been anxious to get underway these past few days, even though it also needs more sleep than it’s getting. And when I wake up and see the brightening horizon, the temptation to squander those sacred morning hours, snoozing them away, isn’t quite enough to make me roll over and close my eyes again. The day is young, and ripe for the picking, if that makes any sense.
Today, I had the extra motivator of uncomfortable warmth. My tent steamed up pretty quickly in the bright sunshine, and I breathed deep breaths of cool, fart-free air when I exited. It was looking, and feeling, like a warm day ahead. A text from SpiceRack saying that she was parked just four miles ahead also got me moving with the most pep that I’ve felt since turning 32.
I followed the trail along the ridge through pleasant pine forest, replete with bird chirpings and squirrel rustlings. Shortly, I ran into some familiar faces coming my way. SpiceRack and Tango couldn’t wait for my lazy butt all morning after all, and wanted to see the sights for themselves. I turned them around, and we all marched north, stopping for a short fruit and cookie break at an opening in the trees. A mile later, Spice showed me to the trailhead parking lot where Blackbird waited. I dropped my pack and kicked off my shoes. Four miles in, time for a tea break.
Spice loaded me up with food and hot tea as I sat on the couch with my feet up. If she was not offended by the smell of those feet, then she was doing better than I was. I ate a brownie, banana, some granola with yogurt, and then some tomato, bruschetta-esque toast that blew me away. Ahhh, toast. I could have stayed all day, and wanted to, but of course that wasn’t really an option. Miles to hike, things to see. After about an hour, I waved goodbye and left the others to sweep out my stink and get on with the good life.
A hot and rocky ascent was next on the agenda for me, and it went fast after the refreshing break. On top, I cruised along that same old ridge, hiking hard to make up time on the freshest feet that I’d had in days. No blister pain today, just a mild echo reminding me of what might come. I passed another fire tower that crackled with radio activity, then dunked my shirt in the first stream I crossed. The damp polyester chilled me with a gasp when I slopped it back on, and the relief from the heat of the day was instant.
The fabric was almost dry a few miles later as I worked my way up a mix of rock and dirt to the top of Sunrise Mountain. There, I was surprised by not just the long, stone pavilion, but also the number of people. Where did they keep coming from? Of course, on a beautiful Sunday, people should definitely be outside, enjoying the the wonders of nature. It was the vast network of roads and trailheads that confused me. Sure enough, there was a paved parking area just 100 yards further along the trail.
With a belly still full of van food, I hiked beyond my normal lunch time through the warm forest. I had it to myself now, and I hopped and skipped fast across the ever present rocks. These were slightly different from the rocks of Pennsylvania, a little bit friendlier. The corners were rounded, and often the entire trail surface was a smooth slab of stone, which made for easy skipping. This embedded granite also intrigued me, showing evidence of glaciation, with patches polished smooth by ice and grit. I’d learned about the phenomenon as a wee lad in Yosemite, and it was cool to see it here too.
The shade at Mashipacong Shelter was just the ticket for a quick lunch to recharge for the evening push. I made it fast, stuffing my face with each food in the order that I pulled it from my pack. Chips, granola, portabelo jerky, licorice, trail mix, peanut butter, and chocolate. Within 30 minutes, I was back on the trail, hiking my little heart out.
More hot walking followed, cliffy and hard sometimes, as I worked my way along that ridge to the state high point in the poetically named High Point State Park. I squelched across the soggy lawn at the deserted headquarters, then up a steep pile of jagged rocks to a wooden viewing platform. I wasn’t on the actual high point, which was a stone’s throw away, and a massive stone obelisk made the otherwise unassuming hill hilariously obvious. I’d seen bigger and been higher, so I didn’t give it any more thought than a typical obelisk.
The day was cooling down as the sun accelerated its dive to the horizon. I was grateful for the softer light as well. These trees, without leaves, didn’t throw much shade, and my sunglasses could only do so much. Looking ahead at another six miles to make before dark, I skipped the side trail to the high point proper, and sped down the other side of the hill.
This was where the character of the trail changed. I dropped off the ridge on tread of smooth dirt, feeling good about every step, expecting the rocks to come back around every bend. But they didn’t. The trail remained smooth as it flattened out and meandered through a wide forest crisscrossed with ancient stone walls. The scent of a charcoal grill wafted on the breeze from a nearby home. Then the best thing ever happened. The trail crossed into an empty green pasture, then another and another. The walking was sublime, an evening cruise as good as any other. Birds chirped and tall rushes swayed, golden and regal. My feet felt good, my legs a little less so, and my heart was full. I let out a deep sigh. Here we go. Now this is nice.
As nice as that was, my favorite moment of the day was still to come. After filling up my bottles at an unofficial, privately maintained shelter, the trail dipped into a boggy section of the valley. A quarter mile of boardwalk, that I’m sure usually sits above the mire, was mostly submerged under tannin-stained water. They bobbed and shuffled as I carefully picked my way along the watery trail. A fall here would have been a soggy, full-body affair. The water was a few feet deep, the mud below a bottomless ooze. Once I found my balance, it was fun, and I kept thinking that I was playing real-life Donkey Kong. Images of a monkey jumping from barrel to barrel played in the back of my mind. I made it across without drama, pleased with my balance and owner of spiffy clean shoes. Unfortunately, a patch of ankle deep mud immediately ruined that feeling, and I sloshed the last mile to camp feeling the extra weight with each step.
The promised spot was nothing more than a flat patch of leaves next to a road, but that was good enough for me. I kicked away any ticks that might have been lurking in the litter, and pitched my tent. The terrain shift had me in a good mood as I spooned my beans hungrily. Wearing feet that hadn’t been pummeled into oblivion was a nice bonus, too. The rocks might, and will, return, and I’ll probably hop back on another endless ridge, but at least for a few hours today, the trail was different and fun. I wasn’t going to worry about what was coming tomorrow until tomorrow. Tomorrow’s rocks were tomorrow’s problem.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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