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.”

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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

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

Resting In The Unknown

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The Four Geezers (Matt, Dave, Paul and George)

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Paul approached me a while back and said, “What about a trip just for the geezers?”, meaning all of our cohorts in the 40+ age range. Now if you’re over 40 we mean no harm. This was just our tongue in cheek way of saying we’re going on a men’s only trip. Fresh air and fellowship, food for the geezer’s soul. Something within a few hours of home, with some degree of solitude. We wanted to do reasonable mileage – not too hard, but not a lollipop hike either.

In the planning stages I first thought about Harriman Park in New York, but while I was doing my homework instead came upon the Shawangunk Ridge Trail. This trail seemed to fit the bill – it was 2 1/2 hours from home and it was a ridgeline trail so it should have views. The only real issue was a lack of info. There were no topo maps to be found, so I had no idea of how rugged the terrain was, and I deducted that water was going to be an issue. Because of the unknowns, and the fact that we were looking for a leisurely (or was that geezerly?) stroll, I kept the mileage down to about 5 miles per day. On top of that we were able to cache water at the halfway point, sooooo, problem solved.

After hiding water at Ferguson Road we went in search of the trailhead where we were going to leave my truck. I am so spoiled; between the Appalachian Trail and the Adirondacks I’m used to having good trailhead signage. Don’t count on that on the SRT. We spent a good half hour or better looking for the yellow blaze side trail where we were to park. We only found it by God’s grace because the only yellow blaze was 4/10 of a mile down from the trailhead, and Matt and I almost didn’t go that far looking for it.

After driving back to our starting point we had a short road walk and then finally, the journey began. We encountered a large blow down about 100 yards in and I thought, “I hope there’s better maintenance than this or this is going to be a long day!!!”. Thankfully, that was the only real blow down we would see all weekend. As we left the road the trail climbed higher and higher, trying to gain the ridge in earnest. Upward we climbed leaving the hardwood behind, until we finally we claimed the ridgetop with it’s covering of scrub oak and blueberry bushes. Somewhere near the top Dave and I were taking a breather and talking when all of a sudden Dave took off running, yelling something like “I gotta get outta here!”. He was standing on a ground nest full of angry yellow jackets and they decided to chase poor Dave down the trail. He got away, but not before getting stung about a dozen times. For whatever reason they never even gave me a look. We wound up taking a long break at an overlook while Dave got sorted out.

 

View toward Wurtsboro, NY

View toward Wurtsboro, NY

It was an idyllic spot for a break. There were views of the valley, and we could see gliders riding the clouds after being launched from Wurtsboro airport, climbing the same breezes that were cooling us after our climb up from the road. I haven’t been on a mountain hike in quite some time and this was a nice change of pace. Even so, my lack of conditioning was evident. I wasn’t dying, but I wasn’t leading the pack either. As long as I kept my own pace all was well.

A nice walk along the ridge was soon interrupted by a steep dip into a col, followed by a gentle climb back to the ridge. The payback for the effort was another nice view.

Dave taking it all in

Dave taking it all in

At some point along the ridge Dave and I caught up to Paul and Matt who were trying get a picture of the biggest porcupine any of us had ever seen. This critter looked like he was 40 pounds and stayed just far enough ahead of us on the trail to avoid our feeble attempts at becoming trail paparazzi. He finally bid us adieu and disappeared into the scrub as we descended into Roosa Gap. Down, down, down, and then finally back up to Ferguson Road. As we recovered our cached water we had a decision – climb up the ridge not knowing if there were any decent campsites, or double back (downhill, no less) to Roosa Gap. The decision became easier after consulting the weather; 100 percent chance of rain with thunderstorms. No one likes to retrace their steps, but fewer still want to be on top of a ridge in a thunderstorm.

Three hammocks and a tent

Three hammocks and a tent

While Dave pitched his tent the rest of us decided on hanging spots. Paul was spending his first night in his new Warbonnet Blackbird (very nice rig, if I do say so), while Matt was spending his first night hanging in my Hennessey Hammock Expedition Asym. In the meantime I hung my Warbonnet Traveler and cuben Hammock Gear tarp. After dinner Matt got a small fire going to cut the inky blackness, and as we were taking it all in the first drops of rain started. By the time we our hit respective bunks it started to rumble and pour. And pour it did for most of the night. I know I mention it every time, but I love the rain on a tarp. Everyone slept comfortably; even Paul, who is typically an early riser, couldn’t resist the comfort of his hammock.

Day 2

After breakfast and packing I had the pleasure of sharing from Hebrews 3:7-11,

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”.                                                                                                                                                                   This is an exhortation to be faithful and not harden our hearts. Weary and heavy laden? Jesus promises in Matthew 11:30, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”. We can only enter into God’s rest through faithfulness and obedience.

Climbing out of Roosa Gap

Climbing out of Roosa Gap

After packing up we once again started the climb out of Roosa Gap. The morning was cool and the sun was fighting a losing battle with the clouds. After a mile we reached the ridge top, with it’s cooling winds and awesome views.

Views south, with High Point, NJ some 35 miles in the distance

Views south, with High Point, NJ some 35 miles in the distance

Once again today would be dominated by a beautiful ridge walk. Scrub and blueberry lined trail gave way to the occasional view north toward the Catskills. Once again we dipped into a col, and stopped to snack at the base of an escarpment.The weather had turned decidedly cloudy and as we sat a chill started to settle in. A pack on one’s back does an amazing job of retaining core heat, and we decided to saddled up before we cooled too much.

Escarpment and stone walls

Escarpment and stone walls

A pleasant walk through hardwoods interspersed with the forgotten remains of old stone walls gave way to a gradual climb to regain the ridge top. At one of the last views we took a break as Dave took care of a cut he received after his foot lodged between two rocks. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s say I might have been a little less sympathetic than I should have been . Dave’s a good sport, evidenced by the fact that he hikes with us.

As we started down off the ridge for the last time I remarked to Dave that the trail reminded me of hiking in Maine, and he agreed. The Appalachian Trail in Maine follows some very similar looking terrain including stunted conifers, and views while walking over canted slabs of bare rock.

Descending trail with views toward the Catskill Mountains.

Descending trail with views toward the Catskills Mountains.

Down we went, steeper and steeper, until finally we hit bottom at the yellow blazed trail that led to my truck. A short walk to the road and this trip was history.

The Shawangunk Ridge Trail turned out to be everything we wanted and more in a geezer hike. The weather was great, the fellowship was sweet, and the challenges were just enough to satisfy that itch to get out.

 

 

 

The End of the Trail For End2End Trail Supply

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End2End Trail Supply Gram Weenie PRO

Some of you may know that I am the founder/owner of End2End Trail Supply.  I just wanted to pass on the news that I finally decided that the trail has finally come to an end for that entity. For those of you who did not know, you are most likely confused to be here. Welcome to my (somewhat) new home. No more stove sales, just the amblings and ramblings of a Christian backpacker. While closing was not an easy decision, I’m somewhat relieved and excited at the prospect of a little more free time to do the things that are most important in my life. I look forward to more family time. I look forward to more amblings (and ramblings). I have become involved in a chaplaincy program that I am especially excited about. While the drive to continue selling outdoors gear may have faded, I am especially grateful to my customers, some of whom I can honestly call my friends. To all who came to visit End2End Trail Supply, thank you. That path was good, but I’ve decided to take the path less taken, so, welcome to Walking With The Son!