Coming Full Circle on the Appalachian Trail

Numbers 23:9

“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.”



Click Here To See All Trip Photos

Day 1

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.


Old friends circa June 1989

Old friends at New Tripoli circa June 1989

Old friends circa 2014

Old friends at New Tripoli circa 2014

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.

Joshua posing like a BOSS on top of the cliffs

Joshua lookin’  like a BOSS on top of the cliffs

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.

Paul on The Knife Edge

Paul on The Knife Edge

Dave on the Knife Edge

Dave taking in the views from The Knife Edge


Along The Knife Edge

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.

Climb up to Bear Rocks

Climb up to Bear Rocks

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.

View from Bear Rocks

View from Bear Rocks

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.

Bake Oven Knob

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.

Three hammocks in a row, with the tarps down low

Three hammocks in a row, with the tarps down low

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.

Jeremiah rising to join the morning

Jeremiah rising to greet the morning

Day 2

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.

Ready for a new day

Ready for a new day

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!

Noah leading the way

Noah leading the way

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.

Nice steady climb

Nice steady climb

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.

Views to the north

Views to the north

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.

Lehigh Gap

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!





Ghost Writer In The Sky (with apologies to the Outlaws)

Mountain of God by Third Day

“Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
Well, the One who’s gone before me
He will help me carry on
After all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God”

Due to some issues with my knee, which never fully stopped hurting after my West Canada Lake Wilderness trip, I asked Sean Cummings to recount his thoughts and  experiences on our group’s latest and greatest adventure. I was surely with them in thought and prayer, and am happy to recount the trip along with you, here and now:

On Saturday, November 20th I got the opportunity to hike up in Port Clinton, PA to Eckville along the Appalachian Trail.  Ever since my first time hiking with George in 2009 I have jumped at every opportunity I can to trek in the great outdoors.  As George wasn’t able to go this time due to knee problems, he asked me to be his “Ghost Writer,” to which I happily obliged.

Day 1 

Before officially beginning our hike, we carted up some firewood in a wheelbarrow on a short, three-quarter mile path up to our campsite and stored it for later.  We then proceeded to drive around to the entrance of our trail, which was about five miles away.  We started hiking around 9:30 am, and almost immediately, the trail became a steep incline.  Online, the description of this particular path was described as “strenuous,” and I was certainly not disappointed.  It felt almost like we were walking directly up the mountain itself.  After about an hour of gasping and bumbling around, we took a short break at a small outlook, giving us an idea of our altitude. 

First views

 We had some snacks and cooled off for about a half hour.  Some of us sat down together on a log, which was funny because since we were balancing the log with our weight, every time one of us got up, the rest of us would fall (kind of like a teeter-totter).  After discussing our first destination, which was Pocahontas Spring, we continued down the trail, which flattened out considerably shortly after.  The air was fresh and damp from the recent precipitation, and the ground was covered in wet leaves, giving off an earthy, sweet smell.  The sky was bright blue and almost completely free of clouds; the air was just chilly enough to keep us moving.  In other words, the weather couldn’t have been better.  We stopped at the spring to refill our water supply, and the water was fresh and cold.

Getting some fresh liquid hydration

The path eventually turned into flat, hard rock, which was easy to walk on, but broken in places; we had to watch our step.  The trail eventually seemed as if it couldn’t decide between incline and decline, and by the end of the first five miles, it was only by the grace of God that my legs could move; they seemed to be fighting me every step of the way.  Some of the others seemed to be dealing with similar ailments, and before long we reached our campsite at Windsor Furnace.  We grabbed some of the firewood we had stashed, and before long we had a cozy blaze going.   

Nothing like a campfire

After eating a delicious dinner of mashed potatoes and tuna (cooked on my Gram Weenie Pro stove), I was ready to get some sleep.  I decided to hit the hay early on so I could get extra rest for the eight miles tomorrow, but after a few hours I woke up with excruciating pain in my back and chest, unlike any I’ve ever felt.  After about four hours of tossing, turning, walking around, and growling in frustration, I finally got to sleep.

Day 2

I awoke the next day to less pain than the night before, to which I was grateful.  I heated up some instant oatmeal with my Gram Weenie stove and enjoyed the morning.  The air was chilly, and the sun was just beginning to make light in our camp.  I devoured my oatmeal like a hungry bear, and chased it with a cup of hot chocolate.  After packing up and looking over our map, we hit the trail, feeling refreshed and ready for anything. 

Windsor Furnace lean-to group shot

We hiked for the first few miles uphill, until we got to the general apex of our altitude for the day.  We made our way around the trail, which led to almost the outer side of the mountain.  It was pretty precarious, and I had to fight not to look down for some of the way; I tried to remember to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated.  Eventually, I was able to look down and realize how high up we really were, and I started to get really excited at the amazing views we were going to see.  I was not disappointed either.  Out first stop was Pulpit Rock.  After scrambling up a steep rock face (me trailing behind) we finally saw the breathtaking view that pulpit rock jutted out to.  I was reminded of Amos 4:13 – For, lo, He forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares unto man what is His thought, that makes the morning darkness, and treads upon the high places of the earth, the Lord, the God of host, is His name. 

Pulpit Rock

 We refreshed ourselves and enjoyed the view.  To my surprise, my back and chest pain had gone down considerably, and I walked around on the cliff with ease.  Coming down off of Pulpit Rock, we walked between two rock formations that led straight to a body of water, where we refilled our water supply and marched on.  I was excited about visiting the Pinnacles for the second time, as we had camped in the area with George last year.  We finally got there and I was astonished- I had forgotten how amazing it was! 

We could see for what looked like 20 miles

Beautiful Pennsylvania farmland

After some lunch, my dad, Paul, led us in a devotion in Philippians 2:12-18: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.   But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.   So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” 

My brother (to the left) and I eating some lunch at the Pinnacles

My Dad with his bible in a waterproof bag (pretty resourceful)

Before long, it was time to hit the trail once more.  I felt refreshed and re-energized, but before long, the trail became a steep decline, and remained that way for the last few miles of the trip.  I hung back with my dad, mainly because our legs were killing us!  We slowly made our way down the trail as our legs screamed in protest; I found myself wondering how it would feel to be doing this with the body of a fifty-year-old man.  I think I’ll try and find out when the time comes.  We didn’t realize how far we were trailing behind until we finally reached our car- everyone had been waiting for at least a half hour.  I like to take my time when I hike; it’s much easier to enjoy the scenery that way (and easier on the legs too!).  All in all, this trip was one of the best yet- 15 miles of ups, downs, and great scenery- and I can’t wait for the next one.  A trip during the winter would be sweet.

 George’s note: I have the body of an almost fifty year old man – that’s why you’re writing this one 🙂 ! Thanks Sean!

A Weekend on the AT

Matthew 28:19

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Unfortunately I had to bail on the last hike due to knee problems, but my buddy Brian Cummings came ot the rescue with an awesome video of the trip. The guys decided to hike on the Appalachian Trail from Port Clinton, Pa. to Eckville with an overnight at Windsor Furnace Shelter. A trip report will be coming soon!