I woke up after a restful night tenting next to the shelter and got back on trail pretty quickly. The morning started off pretty easy but after passing the 501 shelter the rocks increased again, and I had to devote all my attention to my foot placement and not tripping. The northern half of Pennsylvania is known for being the rockiest section of trail, with rocks becoming noticeably sharper in this area as well, and I had finally arrived. The weather was hotter than it had been for a while, a high of 89 and humid, but I felt better hiking in the heat than I had when I last experienced similar temps back in Virginia, maybe because there were no steep climbs during the day to wear myself out on. I passed the 1200 mile marker, which was cause for a mini celebration.
I paused for lunch at a campsite by a large stream, and enjoyed sitting on a nice stump in the shade. After lunch the trail continued in the same way it had in the morning, pretty rocky but no real elevation changes. Possibly due to the similarity of the terrain and the lack of any noticeable landscape features the day felt like it sped by, and pretty soon I paused at the Eagle’s Nest Shelter for dinner. There were a bunch of other thru hikers there and I was looking forward to sitting and eating with them, but the biting flies were so bad that I packed up after adding boiling water to my dinner and moved out again. A couple miles later I pulled into my campsite and threw up my tent before diving inside to eat my dinner protected from the flies. I rinsed off my sweaty body in the nearby creek before heading to sleep.
I speedily packed up camp and hit the trail by 7 am. The morning was already warm and muggy when I got started, without even the slightest hint of a breeze. This meant that all the biting flies had no problem following me, and they whined in my ears and bounced off my face repeatedly. Even worse, because of the thick rocks making me carefully place each footstep I couldn’t outrun the flies, it felt like a mild form of torture to be stuck slowly traversing the rocks while the cloud of flies engulfed me. One small perk of only using one trekking pole is that I had a hand free to flail around my head to try and keep the bugs away, but even so I had a hard time fending them off. In addition, the spider webs sticking to my arms and legs, and the sweat from the warm morning made me feel itchy and sticky. I was not having my best morning on trail. Fortunately, I only had six miles before reaching Port Clinton, and after a steep descent, I crossed the railroad tracks and made it into town. I caught the free shuttle to the larger town of Hamburg and began the resupply process. There was a large strip mall area separated by a couple big roads, and it took 15 minutes to walk between the stores and another 20 to get across another big road to the hotel. So much for a nearo when you rack up the miles around town. As I waited for my room to be ready in the hotel another group of familiar hikers trickled in, and we talked and lounged around the lobby for a couple hours before getting into our rooms. I took a nice shower and then headed out for dinner with all the hikers. We spent the meal discussing our favorite parts of the trail while speculating about the sections still to come, and the time passed quickly despite dinner being a long affair (longer than boiling water and waiting for the food to rehydrate like most dinners at least). After getting back to the hotel I hit the hay, ready to rest my feet for the rest of the evening.
As usual I got a relatively late start out of the hotel after waiting for the 10 am free shuttle, and started hiking around 10:30. There was a climb out of town, but it wasn’t too tough, and with the temperature being about 20 degrees cooler than the day before, the morning felt nice and flew by. Pennsylvania has lush, seemingly endless, fields of ferns pretty frequently along the trail, which I enjoy walking through and today was no exception.
Ferns as far as the eye can see
In the early afternoon I passed the pulpit and the pinnacle rock formations overlooking views of the towns and farms below, and paused to look at the views and take some pictures. After descending a little bit from the pinnacle the trail turned into an old two-track, which wasn’t very steep or rocky, and was a very easy hike down along the ridge. The nice road continued for a few miles before switching back to normal trail which then popped out on a road. I turned right and walked along the road for .2 until I reached the fancy Eckville Shelter, which was a shed with bunks behind a caretakers house that had solar showers, running water, a charging station, toilets, and trash cans. It was basically a free hostel. I stopped and made dinner while talking to all the other hikers there, before continuing on. The last climb of the day was a little steep, and I huffed and puffed my way another couple miles up to the spine of another ridge. After the trail flattened on the top of the ridge I found a nice campsite for the night and quickly got settled in.
I started my day under a cover of clouds and some very welcome cool temperatures which felt great. The trail became rocky almost immediately, transitioning from rocks scattered throughout the dirt on the trail to piles of boulders that I had to climb up and down.
Yes this pile of boulders is the actual trail
In addition to the rocks there were tons of blowdowns in this section, and I spent a lot of time weaving my way around logs or carefully high stepping over them. The logs in addition to all the rocks meant that I had to be more careful, and I knew I wasn’t moving as fast as I normally did. After pausing for lunch at a picnic table, the trail led up to the Knifes Edge, a particularly jagged section of rocky ridge with a nice view of the valley below, and I slowly made my way along the huge boulders before descending off the ridge.
A side view of the Knifes Edge street descending a little bit. See the blazes leading up the rocks.
My ankles and feet were definitely feeling sore from all the awkward stepping and angles of the rocks I was going over. I passed the similarly rocky Bake Oven Knob, and paused at the shelter right after it for some water before pushing on. Towards the end of the day the rocks finally eased up a bit and I found myself walking through some very pretty open pine forests and low shrub lands. There were plenty of stealth sites among the pines, and I picked out a nice one covered by soft pine needles. I was very tired and crawled into my quilt right after setting up my tent.
The night was a little cool, and I put on my long sleeved layers for the first time in weeks to stay warm. In the morning I packed up and headed down the trail. The day was going to be particularly challenging due to the trail crossing over the Palmerton zinc pile superfund site, caused by historic zinc mining in the area, which meant that there was about a 20 mile stretch of trail without safe drinking water nearby. Within two miles I got to a shelter with the last safe spring, and I chugged a liter of water before filling up all my bottles and water bags. My pack felt much heavier after the fill up, but I continued on heading down hill. The views in this area were great, and I don’t know if it’s because of the pollution or a natural or ecological change, but it seemed like the usual tall and dense forest had turned to birch and scrubbier pine trees and more open space for grasses and bushes.
A view of Palmerton in the valley below
It wasn’t a huge change but after spending so much time in the woods I definitely noticed the change in the land around me. After descending the trail turned up and proceeded out of Lehigh Gap and up Blue Mountain. The ascent was steep and rocky and quickly turned into some very fun rock scrambling and climbing. I had a good time in this section and enjoyed using my hands to scale the rocks, and appreciated the view of the town below.
A quick break from the rock climbing for a selfie
Surprisingly, right after reaching the rocky top of Blue Mountain the trail turned and suddenly didn’t have any rocks larger than pea gravel, and I zoomed through the easy terrain for a mile and a half. The rocks eventually came back though, and I spent the rest of the day carefully stepping on, around, and over tons of sharp rocks. The terrain must have been wearing me down because I found myself feeling tired earlier than usual in the day, and took a couple long breaks to relax. Finally after 19.4 miles I arrived at the Leroy A. Smith shelter, the first shelter with safe water again. I still had a good amount of water in one of my bottles, so I didn’t have to make the trip to the spring to get water for dinner, which my feet appreciated. I was the only one at the shelter, and after making dinner and getting ready for bed it seemed like no one else was going to arrive, so I spread out and settled in for a quiet night.
I felt a little lazy this morning and hung around at the shelter longer than I normally would’ve, which meant I didn’t get going until almost 9. The trail continued to be very rocky, and I was feeling glad that it was my last full day in Rocksylvania. I made my way carefully along the trail, trying to choose the flattest areas to place my feet, but as usual I took a handful of painful steps where my feet got twisted or crunched by the rocks anyway.
My feet feel like they should be dented like an old soda can from the terrain in this state. Even though I’m definitely looking forward to New Jersey and have complained about the plentiful rocks, Pennsylvania has been a really pretty and fun state to hike through. This section also didn’t have very many water sources, so I was glad to stop at a spring bubbling out of the dirt in the early afternoon. I tackled the Wolf Rocks next, which were similar to the Knifes edge, and required some big steps up and over the piles of boulders and crazily tilted stones. The trail actually became easier for a bit after that, with fewer rocks, and I was able to cruise through this area a bit faster than I had been earlier in the day. The trail also popped out of the woods into small grassy overlooks which provided some nice views of the farms below. The last couple miles of the day were on a nice two track which led to a cell tower, which was just what my feet needed to make it to camp. My campsite had a nice view right next to it, and I enjoyed setting up my tent with glimpses of the surrounding scenery through the trees.
It rained overnight, and I woke up hearing the drips of water onto my tent multiple times. Fortunately, I woke up in the morning to find all of my stuff mostly dry. I got packed up quickly, excited to hike just two and a half miles to get into Delaware Water Gap. The miles passed quickly, especially since the trail usually gets easier close to a town, and pretty soon I passed a large pond with benches and the trail became paved and came out onto a road. I walked into town and made a beeline for the bakery, where I had an AMAZING sandwich, hash browns, and a giant apple turnover.
If you’re ever in Delaware Water Gap, make sure to stop at the local bakery! After breakfast I hung around for a couple hours before getting a ride to the rental car place. I’m going to be taking two whole zeros (!) for a family event, and I think that’s exactly what my feet need before tackling the next few states.
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