NoBo Thru-hike Training – Love and Hate for Pennsylvania Rocks

As a native Pennsylvanian, I used to get offended when I heard other hikers diss my home state – Rocksylvania, Where Boots Go to Die, The Sixth Gate of Hell. Come on, is it really any of those things? I took it personally while chatting with other hikers. There are dozens of Pennsylvania trails from Rickett’s Glen to Hawk Mountain to Nockamixon State Park I had hiked in the past. Three levels of PA hiking that at times took me out of my comfort level, but they weren’t grueling. And my boots were still very much alive.

My First Time on the AT

Embarking on more than a trail

I told you about the first time I set foot on the AT here. However, I didn’t hike it that day. I just marveled at its stunning beauty and wondered how far up it happened to go (I found out a bit later). The first time I hiked on the Appalachian Trail was in August 2020. I’m not entirely sure what we were thinking other than, “Hey! Let’s try this!” We parked along Route 191 – the parking lot fits maybe three cars, but there is lots of roadside parking if you’re creative. We hemmed and hawed over which way to go: up, suffer in the beginning then slide back down or we could go the other way. Our modest packs strapped to our backs, we took to the trail. No trekking poles or walking sticks, no snacks or energy chews. Just us, some PB&Js, and a whole lot of ambition.

Learning Through Practice

One thing I learned in motorcycle riding and in hiking: even if you’re not really going to stop, it is important to have a destination in mind – an end game. Trust me, it makes things easier and often keeps you alive. Once we decided to hike toward Kirkridge Shelter, we embarked into the wilderness. Still hearing the sounds of traffic, we wondered what ‘hiking the AT’ was going to be like. Full of ambition and lacking skill, we stumbled our way down the trail, searching for a place to sit after about two miles. Did I mention everything was wet? Yes, and this would happen often we would come to learn. Rather than sit on a wet rock, we suffered ignorantly as we continued toward our destination. Tripping over rocks, stubbing our toes, and cursing… a lot. In retrospect, a wet bottom is an even tradeoff for rested legs and feet.

These Rocks!

We didn’t reach Kirkridge that day, but having that destination in mind made the hike purposeful. The rocks do stop from time to time, but for the most part, they are constant. While I still love Pennsy, the rocks really can be quite terrible. I have even heard that some people throw rocks onto the trail to keep the PA AT culture true to form. Really? What the heck is wrong with you people? I digress. We could probably do a poll of all the reasons why the rocks are so annoying and come up with at least a dozen answers. But I think we could also do a poll of why they are so great and come up with a few reasons as well.

Cons: they are annoying, painful, and tedious.

Pros: they are annoying, painful, and tedious.

I dislike them because I have to look down all the time and am probably missing out on a lot of critters, mushrooms, and oddities. I love them because I feel like they help me with my technical skills, especially when we get to the bigger ones. The journey is required and suffering is optional. In the end, there is no use in complaining about them because they are there to stay. One thing I have learned in recovery is to accept the things I cannot change. I am learning that on the trail as well.

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Comments 6

  • Tricia : Dec 12th

    I envy you, being able to get some kind of AT training in, being able to actually be on the trail. I’ve been walking to work to get my training in, 12 miles RT, all concrete sidewalk, flat. It’s been 3 weeks and i do see progress. So, there is this small section when I walk and it’s all rocks, i need to take a picture. It’s actually the border of a strip mall. I always think of Rocksylvania and think maybe i need to get off the sidewalk and try those rocks out. I would def need my trekking poles. I love that we will have to learn to accept what the trail gives us. Love the article, thanks

    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Hey Tricia, I hear you! The rocks are a blessing and a curse. I think as long as you are walking every day (or at least almost every day) you are doing better than someone who isn’t even doing that. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Hope to see you on the trail.

  • pearwood : Dec 12th

    Good for you, Darlene. I’m not close enough to the AT to do any prep hikes there. Thankfully, New York has more than its share of beautiful places to hike. Ever been to Letchworth?
    Steve / pearwood

    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Hey Steve,
      I have not been to Letchworth. I do hear that NY has some great hiking. My cousin is in the Adirondacks a lot so I get to hear about it. I am excited to get to hike in a part of NY when I do my thru-hike. Take care of yourself and I will see you on the trail.

  • The Whole Fam Damily : Dec 15th

    I love that you are writing on one of the most feared parts of the trail! Did you hike the entire state? Yes, there were rocks and ankle breakers but of all the trail, PA had some of the flattest and smoothest parts of the AT! The rocks and boulders are short in distance and there isn’t much elevation change to make it that difficult. We as a family went Sobo and found PA to be a wonderful break from the ups and downs. We feared the rocks, but found that state to be one of the easiest but kept it interesting by throwing us a few 1/4 to half miles of rocks. Maybe, a little bouldering, but nothing like our first 3 hundred miles! We loved hiking that state! The one complaint is all the graffiti! It is such a disappointment to walk in nature and come across that! Anyway… keep writing and keep hiking! We loved PA! Actually met a trail blazer and got to paint a blaze there! One of the major highlights of our thru hike!

  • Melissa : Jan 25th

    I was going to thru hike last year, but COVID dashed that plan. I can’t this year because of a ton of family commitments. I do want to section hike a bit. But I digress.
    I have a question – how will you be managing the ‘quarantines’ imposed by most of the northeast states? I haven’t been able to find much information on this issue. Thanks.


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