Monday, April 30, 2012

Port Clinton in the rain

It's a postage stamp of a town - just a few blocks from end to end, with 288 residents.  It's home to the Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad, and, as far as I can tell, not much else.

This railroad line is an interesting story.  The corporate headquarters looks like a museum of 1800's railroad history, but the company only dates back to 1990 and is freshly viable as a commercial enterprise because of the natural gas drilling that is getting underway in the extensive deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation.  But I digress.

This is, after all, intended to be a report of today's (Sunday, April 22nd) day hike, covering about nine miles of Appalachian Trail.  My walk through Port Clinton came at the beginning and end of the day.  In between I headed south out of town, climbed the steep section up to the ridge of Blue Mountain, and then passed the one nice vista of the day, called Auburn Lookout.  Views north have been rare along the trail since Duncannon, so this was a treat.

There were rocks, of course, but only a few annoying spots.  A big percentage of the trail today was actually rock free.  Otherwise it was the same old semi-annoying pick-your-way-between-rocks sort of walking that has become familiar.  In fact, the only other thing (besides the walk through Port Clinton and the view from Auburn Lookout) that made today's hike special really doesn't lend itself to a photograph - the rain.

Rain was in the forecast.  I expected it by afternoon; but it began early, at 10:15AM.  By 11:30 it was raining steadily and the stiff north wind was picking up.  The temperature was in the upper 40's.  Since I had expected these conditions, I was dressed for them.  And I had my trusty poncho at the ready.   But the rain stayed light enough - at first - that I didn't feel the need to get it out.  As it kept getting steadily heavier, I still didn't see the need for it.

It's like the old 'frog in the frying pan' story.  You put a frog in a cold frying pan and then turn on the stove.  The pan gradually warms up and the frog doesn't notice the change in heat and doesn't jump out.  Drop a frog into the same scalding pan and it leaps to safety immediately.  Same for me.  If you had thrown me out into the rain at 3PM today I wouldn't have been able to get my poncho out quick enough.  But slowly turn up the rain intensity and I never sensed that I was getting seriously wet.  In fact,  I was staying nice and warm despite the wetness steadily encroaching through my clothing.  So in the end I never did break out the poncho.

And what surprised  me most about today's rain was that it made the day fun!  It was something different on a day when the trail was not.  It was an adventure and a challenge.

So in the end, as I straggled back into Port Clinton dripping wet, I didn't even make for my vehicle.  Instead I did the walking tour of the town in the rain.

As I came down Broad Street a black Labrador retriever came sprinting across its yard barking, defending its territory.

"Don't you have enough sense to get out of the rain?"  I scolded; then I muttered to myself with an ironic smirk: "Stupid dog!"  I was talking about me.


Here's the map of today's hiking route with a link to more photos:

AT Day 102 - Port Clinton at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Hats off to the maintainers

This is Dave Coull.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and chatting today (Saturday April 21st) on his section of trail north of Black Swatara Spring.  He's been working this well-kept four miles for 27 years.  Whenever I meet a maintainer I thank them for their work - often taken for granted by those of us who just pass through.  But if it weren't for the hard work of volunteers such as Dave, there would be no Appalachian Trail for the rest of us.

To all you Maintainers: my simple words of thanks are inadequate.

Yet Dave insists that the pleasure is his - a chance to commune with the wilderness and make a useful contribution at the same time.  Yes, I imagine it's a rewarding enterprise.

I hiked most of Dave's section and only about a mile more today - a short day so I could pop down to Oxford PA for a family birthday celebration.  Besides Dave's smiling face, there wasn't much to photograph today - trail crossings, a peculiar trailside tree, and one crossing of a small stream.  I'll post those on the Every Trail link that always accompanies my report, below.

The 'Rocksylvania' update for today: 200 feet of significant rock traversing (uneven rocky footing that forced me to slow my pace) in 4 1/2 miles of trail.  Otherwise there was ample smooth trail and some of the common semi-rocky stuff that makes you pay attention to where you place your feet but doesn't slow you down.

The half day off the trail was a great break - great food and fellowship ... and it assured that I would avoid the late day rain.  Here's the gang gathered to celebrate the birthdays of Dad (89), brother Jim (61) and nephew Adrian (39).

Missing from the shot above is the photographer - yours truly.  Who is this guy?  I barely recognize him with his six months growth of rambling beard and straggly hair!


Here's the promised EveryTrail link and the map of today's hike:

AT Day 101 - PA state Game Lands at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Saturday, April 28, 2012

100 day hikes

Yes, today, Friday April 20th, marks my 100th day hike in 2012.

I'm sorry I have to do this, but time is so short tonight that I'm simply copying my cryptic report from my personal journal.

I was on the trail at 6:45AM, hiking south across the scary, busy highway 183 then past the Fort Dietrich monument and on through a long stretch of eroded ridge-top trail where there are deliberate and ad hoc relocations beside the original eroded trail.  I began to descend from the 1700 foot summit where there are several ‘vernal ponds’, completely dried up because of this dry spring.  The trail drops to 1100 feet at the Hertlein campsite in a pretty valley with a stream springing out of an impressive boulder field. This is the best photo of the day:

Then the trail ascends again, passing Shikellamy Lookout (not to be confused with Shikellimy Rocks on Peters Mountain a bit west/south), which has rocks where birds clearly perch (white poop stains abound) and a great view.

On from there is a long stretch of occasionally rocky winding trail which gradually ascends with ups and downs until you reach the Round Head lookout – another nice viewpoint and the beginning of the Showers Steps side trail.  There’s also a granite monument near there with an etching of the AT logo in stone made in 1934, and it looks that old – precious addition to my photo collection of AT logos.

From there another long stretch of ordinary but consistently rocky trail took me to the vicinity of PA 501 where the trail begins to level out and smooth out.  I decided to visit the Rt. 501 shelter again before turning around, in hopes of talking with caretaker Bob again and getting more detail about his heart attack on his aborted 2007 thru hike.  I found him in the backyard of the caretakers cabin and we had a great rambling 45 minute conversation during which I got the fascinating basics of his heart attack story (published in yesterday's post).  Then I made the return trip.  I had met no one on the trail all day yesterday or on the trip outbound today, but – perhaps because it was the beginning of the weekend – I met 14 hikers on the way back.  The hike back gave me a significantly different impression of this trail section.  I had considered the rocks relentless on the way out.  On the way back only the truly rocky quarter mile section near the former Kessel Trail (now closed by the landowner – the other end is the Showers Steps) was any problem at all.  The rest barely seemed an issue at all – more in line with the way Caretaker Bob characterized it.

Rocksylvania report:  In summary today's hike had 0.25 miles out of about 9 that were rocky.  The rest was occasionally annoying because you have to watch your footing, but the rocks don't slow you down.  Yesterday was similar.  There was just 0.15 miles of big nasty rocks to traverse, 0.1 miles of somewhat difficult medium sized rocks, and two short 0.05 mile stretches of small rock in concentrations that prevented me from going at full stride.  There was an uninterrupted 3.5 mile stretch with NO rock south of PA 645, and the rest of the ten miles of trail beyond the four rocky bits described above was like today's majority - sometimes annoying but not a real problem.

I stopped again to soak up the view at Shikellamy Lookout, something I don’t often do (revisit a lookout that is not directly on the trail) because it was such a pretty day and there as a nice cool breeze there.  I watched the hawks soaring effortlessly in the updrafts – it must be such a joy to be a bird.


Here's the track of today's hike.  And all the photos I've chosen from today are available from the EveryTrail trip link.  Just click on the title above the map.

  AT Day 100 - Showers Steps at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bob's story

It's been a long time since I hiked all day and didn't meet a single hiker on the trail. It happened today.  Well ... actually I'm lying ... I met this very slow hiker.  Obstinate cuss.

Black snakes have a wide variety of personalities.  This guy was a rattlesnake impersonator - even 'rattling' his plain rattle-less tail and coiling up as if to strike when I tried to prod him off the trail with my hiking stick.  He was one of three black snakes I saw today, and I also saw two garter snakes.  The warm weather is bringing them out, it seems.  But where were the people on this beautiful day???

Yes, it was an unusually lonely day on the trail today (Thursday April 19th).  Maybe it was the section of trail I was on.  The approach on the north end is a steep climb up from Swatara Gap with no decent view at the top (little reason for the casual walker to make the effort).  The rest of it is a ridge walk with no notable landmarks between PA 501 and Swatara Gap (almost ten miles of trail).  There is one shelter (the very nice two-level William Penn Shelter) and this one viewpoint south of PA 625 (It's from an abandoned power line.  I know that because there's a sign there that says ... 'Abandoned Power Line'.  And there's the scenic parking lot at 625 too - picture omitted here - you can thank me later.)

North of PA 625 there are two lookout points with similar views, one called Fisher Lookout and the other, which is so close to the PA 501 parking lot that it gets a huge visitation from non-hikers, is called Kimmel Lookout.  The photo at right is a look *at* Kimmel Lookout, but it gives you an idea of what you can see *from* it also.

There were a couple of cars parked at the 501 lot.  Where were the people?  Maybe farther north on trail I didn't hike today.  The Rt 501 shelter was my turn-around point.  And here I finally met someone.

This is Caretaker Bob.  The Rt. 501 shelter is unlike any other between here and Springer Mountain, in that it has a resident caretaker who lives in a cabin next to the shelter.  This is necessary because the shelter is right by the highway.  It's more like a hostel than a shelter.  And Caretaker Bob takes great care of it.  Below is a look inside.
My visit with Bob, trail name 'Popeye' made up for all the lonely hours through the day.  He was a delight to talk to -- couldn't tear myself away, though it was getting late.  Bob has an amazing story to tell, and here it is in a nutshell:

"The Trail beat me in 2007.

I wasn't going to let it beat me again."

 This is the story of a man who had a heart attack while thru-hiking the AT, traveling alone, hauled himself 11 miles to get help, and lived to complete a thru-hike the following year.

Bob had done a thru-hike in 2001.  Before retiring he was a self-employed carpenter, free to hit the trail whenever the urge struck.  It was March 2007 and he had decided to do a second thru-hike.

Maybe he was a little out of shape this time.  No problem.  He'd hike himself back into shape. 

And it seemed he was.  Things were going well.  Bob had hiked 320 miles of trail.  He was through the Smokies.  Now he was making the climb up to the memorable vistas on Big Bald, when suddenly his chest tightened up.  "It felt like an elephant was sitting on it," he told me.  He sat down ... rested ... and the discomfort went away.  No big deal.  He finished the climb over Big Bald, then Little Bald, and down to Whistling Gap.  Normal service resumed.

Wrong.  The next day Bob was climbing up from Spivey Gap alone.  It's not a big climb, but it's steep.  And the elephant returned - sat down on Bob's chest and this time it wouldn't go away.  This time rest didn't help.

Bob's family has a history of heart problems, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.  So he had a pretty good idea that this was a heart attack.

"What did you do?" I asked, thinking the logical move would be to return to Spivey Gap, (US 19W) and flag down the next passing vehicle.

Nope, Bob would do it the hard way.  He had a reservation at a motel in Erwin - ELEVEN MILES the other way.  That's where he decided to go, Elephant and all.  He struggled along past No Business Shelter, climbed Temple Hill, which is not a gentle ascent, then traversed the six up-and-down knobs beyond, finally making the tough descent along the rocky ridge overlooking the Nolichucky.  All these places are etched in *my* memory.  I can imagine how they must be etched in Bob's.

He bypassed Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel.  All his trail buddies were stopping there, and Bob didn't want to bother them.  On to the motel.

In the lobby he collapsed.  The clerk called 911.  The paramedics measured his blood pressure at 70 over 30.  He should be dead.  The cardiologists later said it was a miracle that he could have made it that far with so much heart damage.  Thru hikers are a tough bunch.

They didn't have the facilities to treat him in Erwin, so Bob was rushed to Johnson City and into the operating room where the cardiologist found a plaque-blocked artery and installed a stent.

Three months of sitting - doing nothing - while the heart healed.  "That was the worst - I couldn't stand it." Then Bob started working himself back into shape.  He was going to do a thru hike come next March.

"The trail beat me in 2007.  I wasn't going to let it beat me again."

And it didn't.  Bob's second thru hike was easier than his first.

What's next?  He's planning a SoBo some time in the next few years.  And I have no doubt he'll breeze right through it.


Here's the track and link to more photos from today's hike

AT Day 99 - Blue Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I like

I don't think I'm an exception in this: I'm attracted to things that are different - out of the ordinary. So on this Appalachian Trail sojourn I tend to focus on bits of trail that aren't like most of the rest of it. Today (Wednesday, April 18th) presented me with a wealth of variety. So without further ado, here's a sampling, in chronological order:

Somebody built a nice concrete walkway for the AT under PA 443 through this little culvert.

Then fifty feet downstream, instead of using the culvert to cross the stream, there were a few lousy stepping stones in place - until nature provided a new ad-hoc footbridge, which the maintainers glommed onto like flies to a new pile of dung.

Well, they make you cross busy PA 443 again just a half mile later, this time scurrying frantically to avoid the traffic (it boggles the mind).  But then the tension melts away. You know I love meadow walks. This one, approaching Second Mountain, was a nice one.

Second Mountain ... meh. For Southbounders  there was an unusually steep climb up to it ... by PA standards. Then an old woods road leads you more gradually down the other side to this cemetery at the ghost town of Rausch Gap - pre civil-war.

Rausch Gap puts this part of Pennsylvania's serious environmental problems on full display  (Have you heard about Centralia, PA, where a coal mine fire beneath the town has been burning continuously since 1962?). This is a collapsing railroad bridge over Rausch Creek. The white in the water is limestone sediment coming from a treatment well - deliberately put there. They divert the entire flow of the stream through a bed of limestone to reduce the acidity caused by runoff out of the old mines.

The Rausch Gap Shelter,on the other hand, is a delight. It's scheduled to be replaced from the foundation up before September 1st, 2012 - all the amazing old stonework will be untouched. I sure hope the new shelter has this much character - in keeping with its stone foundation, the rock wall and stepwork, and the built-in piped spring. It's a place you just want to settle into and live!

On south is a gradual ascent up Sharp Mountain to my turn-around. Straight, somewhat rocky walking, quick and featureless, just like yesterday. I appreciated Sharp Mountain just for its easy trail. No photo of my wandering thoughts and daydreams - only possible when the trail is easy and monotonous - fun to make time through, but not the stuff of legend.

So the next bit of variety had to wait until I covered new trail south of the PA 443 parking area. There's a pretty walk through a 'boulevard' of young trees and overgrown meadows. Apple trees were blooming and showering the trail with their falling petals.

Then you reach Waterville Bridge, moved here from Lycoming County for the AT to cross Swatara Creek in the 1980's, built in 1890.

From there you go under I-81 and climb up to good ol' Blue Mountain (named for the hiking club, right?) I turned around soon after taking in this vista of I-81 and the truck stops at Lickdale.

It was another Camelot day for me - a few sprinkles of rain ended before I started hiking this morning and then it rained again after dark. When the trail wasn't offering variety, I had a chance to compose a few silly poems in my mind. I'll leave you with this as a closing thought:

Roses are red.
These Bluets look white.
I was hiking all day.
So I'll sleep well tonight.


Here's a map with the track of today's hike plotted on it.  Click on the map title line to go to my Every Trail page for today's hike.  There you'll be able to see more photos and GPS track information:

AT Day 98 - Rausch and Swatara Gaps at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Fast lane

Wow, the trail was fast today (Tuesday April 17th). No Rocksylvania to speak of. Particularly on Sharp Mountain where the ridge is broad and flat, and the trail is straight and level and free of the kind of rock that gets in your way.

I didn't take many photos today. Sorry. The one impression I couldn't capture in a decent photo was the side-slope traverse of Stony Mountain. First of all you are passing beside DeHart Reservoir, but there were no more than poor winter-view glimpses of it. More immediately, you are walking the remarkable north slope of this mountain, which is entirely covered, from ridgetop to valley, and for miles on end, with medium sized boulders - tumbles and jumbles of them - only trees managing to stick up through the maze of rock.

Fortunately the AT follows a wide bulldozed former road along this entire stretch - no actual rocks to scramble over. The AT picks up this road after a preliminary meander through the more gently sloped but still stony apron of the mountain, up from PA 325. The road then passes old coal mines, one with a horribly contaminated stream gushing out of the hillside.

There are chunks of the hard coal along the road for the interested rock hound. And there are stumps of the former telephone/power poles that somebody cut down, perhaps to pilfer the copper wire. Finally the road ends at a summit with an old fire tower foundation just beyond the terminus of Horseshoe Trail.

Next (for the northbound hiker), the trail crosses over to Sharp Mountain, crossing a little stream on big stepping stones (the trail builders through this area seemed to enjoy hefting huge rocks - see another impressive example of their work below).

There on Sharp Mountain the fast lane begins, only interrupted by a small ravine just before the 'ghost town' of Yellow Springs. I've visited ghost towns in the Rockies. South Pass City, Wyoming stands out in my mind at the moment, where you could still go in the buildings and rummage around - at least in the 1970's you could. Here there were barely any stone foundations to see - rather a let-down - though I did not take the blue blazed Yellow Springs side trail, which reportedly leads past some 'good stuff'.

Back the way I came, as usual, I was enjoying a brisk walk in near-ideal hiking weather. An all-around fast-lane day.


Here's the track of today's hike with link to a few more photos:

AT Day 97 - Stony and Sharp Mountains at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Dragon of Shikellimy Rocks

The young Dragon of Shik'limy Rocks
Hates when hikers start passing in flocks.
-----Last week he, in ire
-----Set the AT on fire,
So NOW they'll get ...

.................. ... ash in their socks.

You see ... he lives directly on the AT, at a ridgetop rock outcrop on Peters Mountain with a half-decent view called Shikellimy Rocks, and he doesn't like to be disturbed when he's sunning himself.

So here's the result of his little temper tantrum: The fire was under control by last Tuesday, and was reported to me last Thursday by the receptionist at the ATC regional office in Boiling Springs, but she said not to worry, the trail was open. When I passed, it still smelled of smoke, but I couldn't see anything smoldering.

OK, I can't prove that our little dragon friend actually started it. But since the fire is reported to have started on private land down from the trail, my guess is that he's actually innocent.

No, I couldn't see any smoke or embers, but the whole trail felt like it was on fire today (Monday, April 16th). Under a relentless sun the temperature reached the upper 80's by early afternoon and stayed there until sunset. Thankfully I had a short day planned and was off the trail by 2:30PM.

In the morning I met my three North Carolina NoBo section hiker friends again. They had stayed at Peters Mountain Shelter, a near-palatial structure by comparison with the PA shelters I've visited so far. It has two huge sleeping levels and a partially enclosed picnic table area. The guidebook says that the trail down to the spring has 270 rock steps, but I didn't personally check that.

I hiked the remainder of Peters Mountain today and dropped down to PA 325. The ridge walk was easy - there were only three or four very short sections where the footing was difficult, and worthy of the 'Rocksylvania' reputation. I'm talking a few hundred feet total in seven miles of trail. One of those short sections was, of course, where I encountered our little Dragon friend.

But there were two better spots to view the Clark Creek Valley than Shikellimy Rocks. One is called 'Kinter View', with the vista shown here. The other is Table Rock, at the north end of my walk today.

After my hike I drove back to Duncannon and visited the Municipal Building, where I bought an AT hat and got the official word on where AT hikers can park in town -- the municipal lot on the south side of town near the tracks (between the old train station and the ball field), and the park and ride lot across the river on the east end of Clarks Ferry Bridge:

(The preceding has been a public service announcement brought to you by 'Seeks It', who always seeks the most useful information for AT day hikers and other strange animals who may wish to bring their vehicles along on their hike.)


Below is the map of today's route and vicinity, with link to a photo at every spot marked with a red 'pin'.

AT Day 96 - Peters Mountain north at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

No Theme

Today (Sunday, April 15th) was no ordinary day. I hiked a lot of interesting trail, met interesting people, had a great time. But reflecting back on it, the pieces of today don't seem to form a whole.

Perhaps I'm just lacking inspiration. Maybe I've hiked too many miles in too few days and am suffering from some subtle form of burn-out. Maybe I'm just over-analyzing, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. What law of nature is there that says that a certain bit of time and space has to have a theme? None! It is what it is.

Okay, fine. I'll just let the description flow and forget about trying to find a 'big picture'. I probably ought to do that more often.

It rained overnight - the kind of light, pattering rain that comes with a warm front. So not surprisingly, today developed into a muggy, almost summer-like day. I started hiking with a sweat shirt on because the temperature was cool. But I hadn't accounted for the humidity. I shed the sweat shirt within five minutes and dragged it around in my backpack all day. End of weather theme.

The trail presented me with tremendous variety. From south to north it began with the nearly half-mile walk over water on concrete - the Clarks Ferry Bridge. There's a parking area on the east side which was full up with day hikers this beautiful Sunday. It's probably used by 'park-n-ride' types during work days, but it seems a good safe place to leave your car.

Then the trail crosses three sets of railroad tracks, enters the woods, and begins to climb Peters Mountain. There's a vista point that lets you see Shermans Creek and the south end of Duncannon, but not the interesting center-town section. In fact there is never a good vista of the town spread out before you - just wishful glimpses. The best of these, of the south end of town, came from the top of Peters Mountain. So I'm breaking the south-north spatial continuity theme by presenting it here. Gahhhhhhhhhh!

Back to the ascent. The trail passes an old stone foundation, seemingly intact without mortar, kind of like an inferior form of Inca stonework - interesting, but doesn't integrate with anything else on the trail today - see what I mean? Near there I had my first "You're 'Seeks It', aren't you" moment (Ahhh! a possible theme!) It was the receptionist at the Boiling Springs ATC regional office, out hiking with five friends. I was surprised that she remembered me, given all the faces that must pass through that office. People's recall for other people (ones they don't even care about) astounds me. I'm horrible at it. More than once, I've wondered if I have a mild form of Aspergers Syndrome - which itself is a mild form of autism. I couldn't place her very familiar face because she had her long straight blond hair tied up behind her today. Okay, I've totally trashed the potential theme. It was nice to chat with her again, but I wish I had asked her about her hike, about her passion for the trail, if she'd done a thru-hike ... a million possible things I'd like to learn.

On up the side of Peters Mountain the trail begins to switch back and forth and begins to get rocky. When you emerge on the ridge top, there's a pretty woods that was full of blooming red bud trees with the Susquehanna River as backdrop.

It was there that I had my second "Are you 'Seeks It'?" moment. Three guys with full gear were coming up the trail northbound. The last one spoke the surprising question. This time it was someone I had never met, and I knew it. He said he had been following me on Trail Journals. Wowzer! I was flattered. We chatted for a goodly time and exchanged photo-ops. They are from southeast North Carolina and are out for a week doing the section from Duncannon to Port Clinton. It's likely I'll meet them again as I work my way north in parallel with them. Meet (left to right) 'Cool Hand', 'Desperado', and 'Solar Speck'.

Now the theme turns to 'Rocksylvania'. In roughly nine miles of trail I hiked today, this 0.7 mile section was the only part with honest-to-goodness rocky footing. It starts as you reach the top of the ridge and continues past a couple of popular day-hiker destination vista points with views of the Susquehanna River to the south:

The vistas to the south abounded. After the rocky section, and a temporary descent to pass the Clarks Ferry Shelter, there's another viewing opportunity from a power line clearing. Here you can also get a look at the countryside to the northwest, including pieces of the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers. Then you follow the power line access road - great smooth footing - for nearly half a mile and from there the woods walking is rocky but mostly level and mostly tolerable - meaning not bad enough to slow you down. There's another vista to the south from a campsite.

Another two miles of woods walking on the ridgetop, often with no rocks at all, leads you to the nice new pedestrian overpass of PA 225. After that comes a section of down-and-up trail that bypasses a communication tower. Many day hikers still follow the road past the tower, which the AT takes to farther north, once the tower is out of sight.

Finally my tale without themes ends with a vista with nothing much to see. That is Table Rock. It looks out over a wooded valley to the next mountain south, and that's it. It's a great spot for a viewpoint, 'all dressed for a party but with no place to go'. Kind of a fitting way to end my description of a day full of interest but without a theme. So now it's onward - time to carpe another diem andtry to artificially assign *it* a theme!


Below is a map showing the route of today's hike.  The title is a hyper-link to the site, where I've posted more photos and the GPS data:

AT Day 95 - Peters Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Duncannon, town of contrasts

Good news - bad news. First impressions count. My first experience with Duncannon, PA was the idyllic view from Hawk Rock, shown above - the Susquehanna River flowing serenely in the background on this Saturday morning, April 14th.  Good thing, too, because when I got into town coming Northbound the sights and the sensations were not pleasant. It was ugly, as the photo at right attests. It was noisy, dirty and deteriorating. The trail markings were so poor, especially at the right turn under US 11/15 (there are no double blazes, in fact no blazes at all, on either side of that turn), that a hiker without a map or guidebook would have a hard time figuring out where to go.

But once you reach the Doyle Hotel ...

And turn onto High Street ...

... the small town charm kicks in big time!

 Just before the NoBo hiker reaches the Doyle, s/he passes the not-to-be-missed town mural. Unfortunately, the mural is facing north. I missed it completely. Thank goodness that I hike the trail both ways!

My gosh! That's me! LOL

It gets kinda ugly again once you cross the city limits on the north end. There's a narrow, dark railroad underpass and then a crossing of the Juniata River on an aging, deteriorating bridge. My turn-around point today was the west end of the much nicer Clarks Ferry Bridge. And then I got to walk the town a second time. No change in overall impressions this time, but I came away very happy to have visited Duncannon PA.

Now to the bigger picture: the remainder of today's hike (Today being Saturday, April 14th) was consumed by 'Rocksylvania' in the form of Cove Mountain. Frankly, the rocks (at least here) seem overrated. Yes, they are a constant presence. But my definition of a rocky trail is one where you have no options but to put your foot on uneven rock. There were maybe five times in the five miles along the ridge of Cove Mountain where I had to do that. The rest of the time, by *seriously* concentrating on my footsteps (not being distracted by scenery or anything else), I could keep up a steady full-speed cadence, always finding a smooth, comfortable place to land my feet without breaking stride. In fact, I found that I walked faster here than I would have on trail with no rocks, because of my singular focus on the process of putting one foot in front of the other.

Cove Mountain Shelter is a bit of a downhill detour, but an interesting place to visit. It is built like an old barn, and seems to have been built using actual old hand-hewn barn timbers, jointed with wooden pegs - the whole nine yards. This shelter and the Darlington Shelter have recently been invaded by porcupines, who are literally eating the floor away. Seems they crave the salt from perspiration and/or grease drippings from careless eaters over the years.

Finally, my hike began and ended with another kind of contrast - it was out of the woods again -- a pleasant hayfield walk to and from the rural AT parking lot on PA 850.

At the parking lot I met and chatted with a hard working maintainer from the Mountain Club of Maryland. He was happy to get my report of trail conditions; and I was happy to hear that the extensive (hundreds of acres) hay fields here on either side of the highway are publicly owned and leased back to the local farmers for a few hundred dollars a year with the requirement that they keep them mowed - hay harvesting about 3 times a year.

The AT is a patchwork of thousands of such parcels, each with its own peculiar history and issues. As hikers passing quickly through, probably never to return, it's easy for us to forget all the behind-the-scenes politicking, negotiating, and just plain hard work that goes into this remarkable experience called the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. I've happiily shelled out my money to become a life member of the ATC - it's the least I can do as a way of giving back - a woefully inadequate "thank you" for the many months of life-enhancing experiences I've had on the trail. And I'm nowhere near done.


Here's the map of today's hike, with link to more photos (click the title):

AT Day 94 - Duncannon, PA at EveryTrail
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