Welcome to the Hotel Rocksylvania

A play on the words of the iconic Eagles song. Let’s talk about the mental game required to negotiate the Pennsylvania rocks. The concentration and mental focus required is draining.  It is like a video game where foot falls must be perfectly placed to avoid penalty. A physical rhythm must develop and the pace at which you move must match the ability you have to make the quick placement decisions as the momentum of your movement propels you forward to keep balance. It is counterproductive to try and drudge slowly through the rocks. It is actually dangerous if you miss a placement. You are high on a ridge, miles from a cross road and with a severe penalty possible if you place your foot incorrectly. Couple that with carrying 30 lbs on your back and the weariness of the miles, and this is no joke.  However, many, many hikers have made it through without issue.  Just be prepared for a great challenge both mentally and physically.

You Play Your Guitar While Hiking the Rocks ?

You must let go. You must develop such focus that the rocks seem to tell you where to place your foot in the split second you have to decide.  I actually feel more confident in my footing while playing my guitar as I negotiate the rocks. It is strange, but my mind is so focused on the placement of my steps that my guitar playing takes away any meandering drudgery in the rest of my brain. I am so intense in my hiking that the mindless scale practice gives me a flow of the movement in the rocks. Most folks at the shelters in the evening discussion say “yeah, right”.  However the lack of positive feedback on my method is also due to the extreme exhaustion everyone at the shelters in the rocks feels.  No one escapes the exhaustion.

The Details of Shoes

The soles on my shoes are pretty good as they are soft and have a high friction coefficient.  They are no protection from side hits however and those hurt. The toe box is critical as you will stub your toe many times.  Invest in this detail when choosing your weapon for the rocks.  The toe box probably has a wrap around sole that has a glue point on the front of the shoe. This will ultimately fail. My new hiking shoes, broken in on 10 days of shakedowns, and now at about 250 miles, with the last 25 being in the rocks, have this piece coming apart already.  My shoes are the most popular type on the trail according to the “shelter net”.

Extreme Blister Potential

The physical working of the body to get through the rocks is draining on all parts of the body. It also uses all the small muscles that never usually get exercised as there is very little preparation you could do minus actually hiking these rocks. The constant angles at which your feet strike the rocks also makes the shoes put stress on all of the various parts of the shoe and sock combo. The rubbing is exacerbated and any possible spots that might have maybe been a small blister will bloom into its full blown glory.  I don’t even want to think about if I had to do this in the rain.  Wet shoes, wet feet, angled rubbing, constant changing of friction surface direction between wet socks and skin. It all adds up to a blister disaster.  Not to also mention the rocks are pretty slick in the cool dew of the morning.  I have been avoiding hiking the rocks in the rain. Good time for a zero, in my opinion whereas maybe in other parts of the trail, the “No rain, No pain, no Maine” mantra might be OK, I think the Pennsylvania rocks need extra considerations.

But There are Other Great Moments, Even in the Rocks

The rocks are not all drudgery and exhaustion.  Close, but there are other things that break up the day.  Now a nice surprise in the middle of the hot rocky day was the Eckville Shelter stop.  A shaded picnic table, a solar shower, a charging station and some great John Prine music playing on the stereo greets the hikers that make the short trek down the hill from the trail crossing.  Another great spot along the way is the St John’s Pavilion in Port Clinton. Right on the Schuykill river with picnic tables and plenty of hikers coming in and out for some trail camaraderie.

The people you meet make the struggles of the hike worth the journey. A bunch of us had just dropped down into Port Clinton. We needed to resupply.  It is hard to describe how difficult it is to road walk even just two or three miles between a trail crossing and a resupply store.  This was especially disheartening as we had just battled the rocks all morning. A gentleman stopped and offered a ride.  Turns out he was a past thru hiker when who happened to be passing through the area.  Not only did he give us all a ride to the resupply, he took time out of his day to wait for us to complete our shopping, and he drove us over to another spot to also grab some lunch.  Afterwards he drove us all back to the trailhead.   Great people you meet serendipitously like this is one of the real reasons to come hike the Appalachian Trail.




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Comments 1

  • Cinda Slate : Jun 5th

    Hello Marc,
    I’m not a hiker (anymore) just a reader who tremendously enjoyed your writings! Please continue hiking, singing and writing. Your word-pictures painted wonderful scenes in my mind.
    Thanks, Cinda


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