“For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”
The very first section I ever completed on the Appalachian Trail was Pennsylvania section 3, from Rt. 309 north to Lehigh Gap near Palmerton, PA. Ever since that June 1989 hike I have expoused my love of this section, calling it my favorite in Pennsylvania, but for some reason never returning. Now as things have come full circle, not only was it the first section of the AT I ever completed, but it currently is the last I’ve completed. On May 3-4, 2014 I had the honor of taking along some of the usual suspects (Paul Cummings along with sons Brian and Joshua, Dave Darrow with son Noah, Josh Gordon, and Brian’s friend and first timer Jeremiah). The coolest part about redoing this hike nearly 25 years later is that I didn’t remember the details. I remembered The Knife Edge, Bear Rocks, and Bake Oven Knob, but I didn’t remember the “in betweens”. It was nice to have to fill the pieces in, so to speak, and it made for a few pleasant surprises and some great new memories.
After shuttling vehicles the trip started around 11:15 am on Saturday morning. The first part of the trip between 309 and New Tripoli Campsite flew by rather quickly and we were taking in the first of many views that day. Beyond New Tripoli the trail becomes very rocky, as should be expected anywhere on the Pennsylvania AT north of Duncannon. Before long we reached an area along the trail known as The Cliffs. This spot has obviously become somewhat overgrown over the last 25 years, and after a climb to the top I was disappointed by the lack of views.
No matter, I still enjoyed the breeze as I sat and enjoyed lunch. I could catch glimpses of the PA countryside through the trees, with the occasional hawk giving us a fly-by. “I’m back old friend. What other changes do you have in store for me?”
Back on the trail we hiked further along the rocky spine of Blue Mountain, until finally reaching The Knife Edge. What great fun to be hiking on the very top edge of the mountain, scrambling over boulders and taking in views.
Once again, the same only different – my memory again left me coming up short. I seemed to remember a slightly shorter version of the real thing. It was actually a good thing since I enjoyed the scrambling all the more this time.
Just about the time I was ready for a break, we reached Bear Rocks. This was the one feature that really showed me how much I had forgotten. In my faded memory I remember walking along and Bear Rocks was next to the trail at trail level. Not so. Bear Rocks actually entails a bit of a climb to the top.
Nothing crazy mind you – just not what I remember. Once up on top the views were just as good as I remembered, with Bake Oven Knob ahead in the distance.
The next stretch of trail was pleasant easy walking until just beyond the parking area for Bake Oven Knob. We walked straight through the circus scene of people goofing off and partying at the parking lot (a dirt lot in the middle of know where, mind you) and reentered the woods. As we climbed to the knob the trail became increasingly more rocky until we at last reached the prize – Bake Oven Knob.
From the knob on a clear day you can see for at least 20 miles to the north, following the trail along Blue Mountain. The only sad thing about this area is because there is a cross mountain road and parking area just 7/10’s of a mile away graffiti has become a real problem. It’s very unfortunate that there are those who, when given easy access, destroy the beautiful things that others work so hard to enjoy. That’s why I rarely hike the AT these days – I like to go to places where only people who truly enjoy the outdoors (and don’t mind a little hard work to get there) seek the solitude that keeps the vandals away. Don’t get me wrong, the AT has it’s place and has some beautiful sections. I just prefer solitude over the social experience the Appalachian Trail provides, but enough of me and my soapbox.
North of Bake Oven Knob the trail is a little less rocky, which was good because the rain the forecasters were calling for finally caught up to us. It started drizzling as we approached Bake Oven Knob shelter, our destination for the day. The shelter was occupied so we set about setting up tarps and hammocks, and just as I helped set up the last of the tarps the rain stopped. Ya just gotta have a sense of humor folks.
After dinner we decided to skip the fire since everything was soooo wet. By night fall everyone was ready to sack out. Just after dark the rain started coming down in earnest, but it was short lived. All in all, it was great night to be in the woods. Our first time hammock hanger, Noah, had the high ground and judging by how hard it was to get him up I’d say he slept well.
Aah, morning, oh precious morning. Never do I sleep as well as I do in the woods in my hammock. When I finally drag myself from my fluffy, downy cocoon, I appreciate what a great night’s sleep feels like. It must be a mutual feeling because I’ve never heard anyone else in our small circle of hangers say they hate sleeping off the ground. As usual Dave was up early, perking up some of his industrial strength coffee. Little by little camp came to life, and before we knew it breakfast was done and all signs of our visit disappeared into eight tidy bundles.
Before heading out Paul shared from 1 Timothy 2:1-7, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” There is no more powerful prayer than selfless intercessory prayer for a lost and hurting world. Intercessory prayer mirrors the very heart of God ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” What a blessing to start our day in prayer!
Once again we started off with my memories of the trail clouded by snippets of a time long past. I seemed to remember the trail being very rocky northbound from Bake Oven Knob shelter, but instead we were marching on very pleasant trail. After a good bit of hiking we hit the rocky section I remember, but that wasn’t until just before Ashfield Road. I had prepared myself for some rough travel, but I have to say most of this day would be very nice walking. After a snack break on a very rocky power cut, we dove back into the forest along some wet, but easy trail.
The trail climbed steadily at an easy grade, eventually reaching the height of the land where it would remain for most of the rest of our hike. At one point during the climb I hit a bit of a low energy wise, but after a little bit of nose to the grindstone effort pushed through and got back into a better state of mind. There’s no doubt that I need to get in better shape so I don’t have these “walls” to push through. That will be one of my goals for our upcoming hikes. Anyway, it didn’t hurt my outlook that the trail was much easier than I had anticipated, and I was rather enjoying the views to the north that were vaguely visible through the trees.
We took a lunch break at a cell tower that I don’t think was here 25 years ago (but I could be wrong), right above the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel through Blue Mountain. It was kinda cool to think that here we were on top of Blue Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, eating lunch, and 1000 feet or so directly below us cars and trucks were flying by on the interstate oblivious to the beauty above. We made it a slightly longer break since this would be our final push back to the trail head.
After passing George Outerbridge shelter the trail takes a nosedive off the ridge on it’s journey to Lehigh Gap. My one memory of this area years ago was that the rhododendron were in full bloom, bright whites and purples adding to the beauty of the day. Unfortunately we were a little early to see the blooms, but it was a nice walk in the woods regardless. As always seems the case, we were suddenly thrust back into a world of man made things as we broke from the trees into Lehigh Gap.
I guess there’s no gentle way to reemerge from a pleasant hike in the woods, but it just seems so abrupt every trip. This one was special for me, and even now I am grateful to look back at the “new” memories I have of what is still my favorite section of the Pennsylvania AT.
Whoops! In my hurry to publish this post I forgot to include this great video of the trip put together by Brian Cummings. He has knack for getting the shots that make for a great trip video. Many thanks Brian!