Gimme Shelter: Week One in Pennsylvania

The April Fools (me, Gail Barrett and John Barrett) set out from the Maryland Pennsylvania line early the morning of April 1, finally done with all the “rehearsing and nursing our parts,” bound for Tumbling Run shelters.  No good reason for starting at 7 a.m., given the shelters were only 8 miles away, except, of course, the nagging fear of a complete and utter meltdown.  After months of preparation, that level of failure –way more than a broken shoelace or a forgotten lighter– was unlikely, but when you put a couple of avid planners together, you tend to have a lot of “just in case” space.  And of course we arrived at the shelters just after noon, leaving us with hours on our hands.

Tumbling Run


Clearly it takes a village to raise a shelter, because within short order we met two trail maintainers, the couple –Kurt and Tanya– who caretake the shelter, and Kurt’s father.  These people are serious about shelter upkeep.  Even the privy was well-stocked, with four rolls of toilet paper, a bottle of hand sanitizer and two “New Car Scent” air fresheners. I thought we’d be in serious need of those fresheners when a swarm of Boy Scouts arrived, but they marched dutifully to the group area, and we barely saw them again that day. The nicest part of the day, for me, was following the blue-blazed trail up the creek to an Appalachian-Potomac Trail Club cabin. There’s a porch swing under the cabin, where I sat and studied the forest.  There isn’t a lot to see in early April: some rhododendrons, a lot of oak leaves on the ground, and hundreds of leafless trees.

By the second day, I was starting to notice some patterns in the forest. I work as a research ecologist in Montana, but my “home forest,” so to speak, is the northern forest of Quebec and Vermont, so I could make up the story of this particular forest from the leaves on the ground and the bark of the trees. And when I looked overhead, I could tell the trees were pretty much all in trouble: the hemlocks were nearly bare of needles (wooly ageldids), the ash and oaks (emerald ash borers and gypsy moths, respectively) had broken limbs everywhere, and all across the forest, pitch pines were growing up into the light created by the declining canopy.  But woodpeckers are thriving: we saw their work everywhere, and heard pileated woodpeckers overhead all week long.

Woodpecker work

After night one in the tent, I opted for shelters. Except for one bad night with a visiting lunatic –you can read the details in Gail Barrett’s blog — the shelters were roomy, clean, mouseless, and airy. I know this won’t be true for long, as more hikers join the throngs, but this week they offered a nice time-saving option.  And they’re kinda quirky, especially the well-loved ones.  At Quarry Run, you’ll find little duck carvings, potted plants, and a park bench that had to have been airlifted up the horrendous hill leading to the shelter,

Overall impression of the southern 65 miles of Pennsylvania? Some really beautiful elements:

Rhododendron tunnel     A rhododendron tunnel leading up out of Caledonia State Park


Pine forest       A pine corridor on the way to Tom’s Run shelter


This way for rocks      Helpful suggestions on the boulders.


No fly rod     Stream after stream that made me regret leaving my fly rod behind, although I know if I hadn’t I’d be making 2 miles a day.


Spring daffodils      Remnants of prior settlement in the farmland corridors; those are daffodils among the trees, a decidedly non-native flower. We saw grape hyacinths and anemones as well.


So what did I learn this week?  Besides discovering that shelters are way nicer than I remembered from my younger hiking days:

  • It was a really good idea to wear my pack, almost fully loaded, and take near-daily 5 mile hikes when I was in Florida this winter. It did nothing for my quads or calves, given how flat the trails were, but the pack sits well and I’m accustomed to the weight on my hips.
  • My food setup is perfect. I spent days dehydrating and preparing my meals. They were all delicious, and I was so satisfied with them that when we got to town, I chose to have the last one for dinner because I felt no cravings at all for anything else.
  • My gear is almost perfect but still too heavy.  I’d send home a couple of shirts this week, but there are really cold nights predicted, so I’m hanging on to all the clothes. Everything else is going to get careful scrutiny. I want that pack under 30 pounds now, and under 25 when it warms up (it’s at 32 right now, with food and water).
  • Umbrellas rock. I have a MyTrailCo umbrella–it’s a Golite Chrome Dome, just rebranded by the successor company–and it cut the misery factor of hiking in the driving rain down to nothing. It doesn’t keep me absolutely dry in a downpour, but it keeps me from having freezing rain drops running down my nose.  It’s a keeper, at least til the end of April.
  • If you ever hike through Boiling Springs, and you see a 1931 Model A Ford in the parking lot of the Boiling Springs Tavern, go in and get a drink, and chat up  the other customers. Trust me on this. In fact, even if you don’t see the Ford, have a drink there. It’s a nice bar, and Michael the bartender is a great guy.
  • The Days Inn North in Carlisle is clean and friendly, and convenient to the trail (about half a mile) if not to the town and P.O.  The owner went out of their way to accommodate us, and I watched him inspect every room after the cleaners went through.

Next town stop: Pine Grove. Please, no more lunatics between here and there!

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Comments 5

  • Linda Gryczan : Apr 7th

    Love this blog in a type of forest I don’t know. I look forward to reading future in stalments, though you forgot to mention how the ground is so much harder than it used to be.

  • Speedbump : Apr 7th

    I agree about the Days Inn. Close to the trail!

  • Sandra : Apr 7th

    Great Blog. My 20+ year dream is to Section Hike or Flip-Flop on the AT.
    I was all ready to go in Feb 2016 but my husband quietlt showed me how he didn’t want me to hike alone…mainly r/t my rare heart diseases.
    So, I caved & stayed here in Helena while he went on his annual ski trip.
    Boy, am I still feeling the “need” to hike the AT so am looking for a friend to hike with me. I am fully self-sufficient when I have angina but hubby may be less inclined to “brooding” about me hiking.
    Until then, I will live vicariously through you.
    Well Wishes from this Montana gal.


    • Sandra : Apr 7th

      Correction to Post: “vicariously through you”


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