Trail of Happiness

accounts of our journeys along life's path

Some Things are Best Viewed from a Distance


Mountains are the means, the man is the end. The goal is not to reach the tops of mountains, but to improve the man.  ~Walter Bonatti, Italian Climber

“The Mountain’s out today,” citizens of the Seattle area will remark when the elusive volcano emerges from its Pacific Northwest haze. I experienced this on my first trip there in 2010 to visit Jo. She would point across a field from Wax Orchard Road on Vashon Island and tell me Rainier was there, but can rarely be seen. One day I saw it and we jumped out of the car to take photos. It was surrounded by a pink glow, and its monumental magnificence fascinated me.

Then, in March 2013, Jeff and I met an RMI guide at a Wilderness First Aid training program. He talked about the experience of the technical climb to the summit of the highest peak in Washington, and encouraged us to try it one day. That planted a seed that was fed by hearing of others’ experiences and encouragement to set this goal. Since that time, we have climbed the 35 Catskill High Peaks multiple times, including in winter, completed hundreds of miles of the Appalachian Trail, and made the trek to Everest Base Camp, among other hiking challenges.

We signed on in the summer of 2014 to make our bid at the Rainier summit in July 2015. It would be a five-day program, giving us a day at Camp Muir for acclimatization and additional training. RMI provided extensive guidance for training, including cardio, strength and stretching, as well as regular hiking. I focused mainly on the hiking aspect, but increased my cardio training and began running regularly.

We attended Winter Mountaineering School with the AMC in March 2015, to include a summit attempt of Mount Washington. I felt that I was well prepared from my Catskill winter hiking experience, but my fitness level was not strong enough to get me to the summit in the allotted time. I was terribly disappointed in myself, and took it as a wake up call to step up my training. I continued to run and hike with heavy pack weights. Jeff and I hiked wherever we could find significant elevation gain, as often as possible.

Our preparation culminated with a week in New Hampshire, on the Appalachian Trail and in the White Mountains, in early July. We summited 11 peaks in 8 days, and I felt pretty good until the last day on Mt. Adams. The last .8 miles of the summit cone required navigating a steep pile of rocks, challenging my insufficient balance and agility skills. I completed the hike with a couple of scary falls and shaken confidence.

We planned to arrive in Washington several days early to spend some time in Seattle. We toured REI, Feathered Friends, and multiple other gear shops in the city; visited the original Starbucks, the Gum Wall, and had a wonderful dinner with my great friend, Jo, and her husband Brian. Jo is a strong runner with no desire to hike, but in the months leading up to our climb, she took interest in my training and became my cheerleader.

We visited Rainier National Park before our climbing program began to hike the Burroughs Trail. We walked about 8 miles along the Burroughs range with stunning views of Mount Rainier along the way. We saw mountain goats and chipmunks, wildflowers in the fragile alpine meadows for which the park is known, and enjoyed expansive views down to Sunrise. I would love to return to this beautiful park one day and hike more of its trails.

The following day, we met our shuttle to Ashford and the Whittaker compound. We enjoyed meeting other climbers there to participate in various programs, and talking with them about their experiences. Celeste, from San Francisco, who rode in on the shuttle with us, had attempted to summit Rainier the year before and turned back with bad blisters. She was back with her own (not rented) boots, to take an extensive mountain rescue course including her second summit attempt via the Emmons Route. She had lots of great advice and positive encouragement, and became a friend over the next several days. Courtney, from Denver, a social worker, yoga instructor and personal trainer, was on a four-day program via Camp Muir that coincided with our five-day program, going for the summit one day earlier. She has a great sense of humor and boundless energy; and we were glad to share part of our climb experience with her.

On Thursday, we met our climbing team and lead guide, Billy, who reviewed our gear, gave us packing suggestions, and a full overview of what to expect on the climb. On Friday, we clambered on the bus with our gear for our training day. Billy and our second guide, Katrina, led us a mile or so up the Camp Muir trail to a snowfield, where we learned the ropes, so to speak. They taught us to hike in snow, properly put on our crampons, practice self-arrest, and hike roped together. We returned to Ashford and prepared to begin our climb the following morning.

As we checked out from Whittaker’s, we learned that the group attempting to summit the night before had been turned back due to wind and poor visibility conditions. Although conditions had been favorable this summer, and most teams had been able to summit, the weather in the past week had turned. We were hopeful that conditions would improve for our summit attempt.

It was rainy and misty on our arrival at Paradise with Courtney’s four-day team. We set out up the Muir trail in full rain gear with our heavy packs. The rain let up before long, but the conditions were still misty and the winds picked up as we ascended. We approached the Muir snowfield just below 8,000 feet, where visibility was poor and the winds grew stronger. By the time we arrived at Camp Muir, at just over 10,000 feet, we were exhausted.

The accommodations at the camp were basic but satisfactory. There was a composting privy and several bunkhouses for climbers. The RMI bunkhouse provided space for 18 to sleep, five to a “shelf,” stacked 3 deep, with 3 other spaces along the ceiling, all lined with sleeping pads. The guides provided hot water from melted snow for our dehydrated meals. The cloud deck rose up and down over Camp Muir, offering spectacular views of Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens.

Around dinnertime, the two lead guides came in to talk to Courtney’s group about plans for their climb. The guides would watch conditions and wake the group sometime around midnight to dress and begin their trek in the dark. They gave everyone a good idea of what to expect, what to bring, how to dress and what the options would be for turning back if the going got tough. As promised, the wake up call came at about 1am and we watched as the group hurried to dress and rope in for their adventure.

Later that morning, our group geared up for a practice hike to the first stopping point of the summit journey at Ingraham Flats, 11,200 feet. I was roped in with Jason and Andy and our guide Blake. We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and climbed over the steep and rocky Cathedral Gap, still in our crampons. From there, we continued on the Ingraham Glacier, and stopped at Ingraham Flats before turning back. The scenery was beautiful.


That afternoon, the four-day group returned from the summit. Eight of the nine made it to the top. Exhausted, they packed up the rest of their gear, wrapped their blistered feet in duct tape, and headed back down to Paradise. Shortly after they left, the next four-day group arrived, a group of nine gregarious men from Texas, Chicago, and Pennsylvania.

Our guides gave “the talk” at dinner to both of our groups, after which we ate and settled down to try to sleep, though few of us did. The wake up call came at 12:30am. Our guide Billy said it was cool with a light wind and we should be able to make it to the summit. It was interesting trying to make and eat breakfast, dress and pack up with 17 other climbers in the cramped bunkhouse. Somehow it all worked out and Jason, Jeff and I roped in with Katrina around 1:30am, and started off in the lead, our headlamps lighting the way.

As we crossed over Cathedral Gap, the winds picked up considerably. It was cold. Really cold. It had snowed the previous evening, and several inches had drifted along our path. In some areas, I was post holing in my crampons. I struggled a bit to keep my footing, and remembered Billy’s advice to “reset” when that happens, remember the rest step; remember pressure breaths. But it was tough. I thought of the Disappointment Cleaver, and how that would be so much more difficult than Cathedral Gap. I was questioning my ability, my resolve, my desire to reach this goal that I had trained for over so many months.

As we reached the Ingraham Glacier, a gust of wind dislodged my right contact lens. I tried to reposition it with my gloved hand and it blew away. I considered whether I could see well enough to continue with only the left lens, and at that moment, another gust of wind blew that lens out of my eye. It was dark and cold and I was nearly blind in my myopia.

I focused on the rope in front of me, as I wasn’t able to make Katrina out very clearly anymore. I wanted to be sure the rope was straight in front of me, on the ground, not loose enough to trip anyone, but not tight enough to be considered “water skiing.” It was about 20 minutes more until we reached Ingraham Flats for our first break. The winds were howling. Katrina came back to me and nearly shouted over the wind, “are you okay?” She seemed surprised when I answered, “No! I have to go back.” She asked if I had glasses with me and of course I didn’t. I usually do carry them in my pack, but I didn’t foresee needing them.

As it turned out, there were five people out of the 18 that turned back from there. The guides took some time to figure out who would return with the five of us, and how to reshuffle the rope teams. I was shivering in my parka and heavy mittens as I waited. It occurred to me how easily I could lose my life on the upper mountain, yet I felt safe in the expert care of our guides. Katrina offered some hot tea to warm me. I kissed Jeff and told him to be safe; and Andy and I followed Blake back on the rope. I was very slow trying to go back over the rocky Cathedral Gap in the dark with limited vision. Blake was patient and shortened the rope so he was close enough for me to see him better.

We arrived back at Camp Muir at 4:45am. I drank a cup of hot water and climbed into my sleeping bag to try to get warm. A few hours later, three more climbers returned after reaching Disappointment Cleaver. As the morning stretched on, we waited outside the bunkhouse in the sun and watched the activity around the Camp. Blake made chocolate chip pancakes for us, which was an unexpected treat. Two runners came up from Paradise and celebrated before running back down. The rangers stationed at Camp Muir were receiving rescue training. The rosy-breasted finches (found only at high elevation) hopped about busily. Occasionally we could look up to the summit and see the rope teams beginning to work their way back down. We had our packs ready to go for the return to Paradise.


I never doubted that Jeff would reach the summit, as long as the guides would take him. He is physically and mentally the strongest person I have ever known.  He returned with the group mid afternoon and they proceeded to get their packs together. We began our slippery descent of the Muir Snowfield. It was misty and hard to see too far ahead, but the winds were light and it wasn’t too cold. We were told not to glissade, but on one short steep drop, the person behind me slipped and took me down with him into a slide. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but Billy shouted, “NO!!” and rushed up to stop our slide, pushing me and Karel uphill with all his strength. He said we should have used self-arrest and called us knuckleheads.

After that the rest of the descent was uneventful. We had beautiful views dropping down into Paradise. There were many “tourist hikers” on the trail. And I finally got to see a marmot. When we reached the parking lot, the bus driver had lemonade waiting for us. We loaded up our gear, and returned to Whittaker’s, where our shuttle back to the airport hotel was waiting. We weren’t able to stay for the post climb dinner with our group, so we said some quick goodbyes and headed off.

Following the many months of preparation for this experience, I felt immensely deflated by my failure to achieve the goal. It was hard to accept that I would not be in that summit photo, that I missed the opportunity for those incredible views, to see the stars and the sunrise from 14,410 feet. It was interesting and fun on some level to learn and practice mountaineering skills, but I have no wish, as some in my group did, to return for another attempt. Some things are best viewed from a distance.

The Trail is my Church


Walter’s Wiggles – the trail to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah

Happy Easter!  Since my children are grown, this holiday has become mostly irrelevant to me.  I no longer attend church, and have no need for fancy hats and dresses.  I will spend this Easter the same way I spend most Sundays:  on the trail.

I find spiritual connection in the natural environment.  I love to breathe in fresh air (surprisingly, my allergies rarely bother me when hiking), hear the birds, and wonder about the ancient history reflected in rock formations.

Last Saturday, we had time for only a short hike.  We covered about five miles in Wawayanda State Park, in Northern New Jersey, near the New York border.  We climbed the mountain, then ventured along a former, rerouted section of the Appalachian Trail.  I loved the challenge of searching my surroundings for signs of the faded blazes and seldom used trail.  We found a frozen salamander in a patch of remaining snow.  We scrambled down a steep rocky drop along a stream with waterfalls, navigating icy sections through the boulders.

As we shared this experience together, I turned and said to Jeff, “This is so much fun!”  I realized I am truly happy in my “church,” and that all the other “stuff” of life that wears me down doesn’t really matter.






Dates completed: June 29-30

AT Sections Completed: 6, 5 and 4

Trail Miles: 32.5

Elevation Gain: 6,700 feet

Hiking Time: 13 hours

Weather: Hazy Hot and Humid (HHH)


We had been looking forward to this weekend since we ended our southbound journey in the spring, but it got off to an ill-fated start.   After a traffic-snarled slog up the New York Thruway to Route 17, we were hungry and tired upon our arrival at the Stokes Forest Campground.  Jeff had forgotten that he reserved a campsite with a lean-to, so at least we didn’t have to set up camp.  We had dinner at a local tavern, got our packs ready and settled in for the night.

Frustrations continued Saturday morning as our hunt for the Blue Lakes Road trailhead seemed fruitless.  We finally, with spotty cell phone service, were able to contact our shuttle driver, Bob, who came to us and led us back to the right location.  Bob was one of our more interesting drivers, as he has hiked most of the AT and does trail maintenance on some of the New Jersey sections.  He shared a lot of helpful advice as he shuttled us back to Kittatinny Visitors Center, where we had ended our Pennsylvania trek nine months earlier.  We were on our way!

We started off energetically down the road to the Dunnfield Creek trail head, and proceeded up toward Sunfish Pond.  We had hiked parts of this section back in December, and it was fun to revisit it in summer.

Sunfish Pond

As the morning waned into afternoon, the heat set in, as did the mosquitoes!  Throughout the day, along with the buzzing of skeeters in our ears, we were serenaded by the 17 year cicada emergence, which sounded like an alien invasion.


We planned to stop for lunch at a fire tower with a picnic, but it seemed to be a longer way than it should have been, so we stopped at a campsite along the trail and fired up the jetboil for our favorite freeze-dried lunch, beef stroganoff.  It turned out the fire tower was only minutes further along the trail, but it was obscured by trees.


Reenergized after our lunch, we made good time heading down hill, along service roads, past a pond, and on into the swamps of Jersey (land of mosquitoes).

We reached the Pilot in good time, and decided to venture down a gravel road, where Bob had told us we would find a beautiful lake.  Along the bumpy way, a huge bear crossed the road right in front of us!  When we found the lake, it was indeed beautiful, with a number of families spending the day swimming, picnicking, fishing and boating.  One of them invited us to have some water and grilled sausage as we chatted with them about our hike.

We returned to camp and showered.  Then we filled our water bottles for the next day at the Park’s refreshing artesian well before starting the campfire and our dinner of salmon and asparagus.  We turned in as darkness fell to rest up for the next day’s hike.

Sunday morning we had a short trip to the top of Sunrise Mountain to meet Bob, who shuttled us back to Blue Mountain Lakes Road.  Jeff hiked behind me to let me set the pace.

Sunrise Mountain Sunrise

Less than an hour into our morning, I looked up as we moved from a clearing into woods and stopped in my tracks.    About a hundred feet away, I found myself gazing into the face of a very large bear!

Black Bear on AT in Delaware Water Gap

Jeff and I snapped a few photos from a safe distance and then considered our plight.  The bear was in the middle of the trail, and our car was a good 12 miles away, down that trail.  And he was not moving.  He just stood there panting in the heat and looking back at us.  We put our cameras away and began talking loudly.  He just stood there.  So we took a few cautious steps forward and began singing American Pie at the top of our lungs (it was the first song I could think of that I knew all the words to.  We stopped abruptly when we got to the line “this will be the day that I —”).  That seemed to do the trick.  The bear (Jeff named him Toby) turned and slowly walked down the trail away from us.  We walked slowly behind him, continuing to sing, and he finally turned off the trail.  We walked past him quickly without looking in his direction and that was the end of our bear encounter.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.  It felt longer, and as the hazy hot and humid conditions intensified, our (my) pace slowed.  We stopped for lunch at Culver Gap, only a few miles from our ending point at Sunrise Mountain, before taking on our final elevation challenge of the day.  When we reached the Pilot, we were tired, footsore and soaked in sweat.  But we headed home, feeling the accomplishment of completing our first 32 miles into New Jersey.




Dates completed:  July 4-7, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 4, 3, 2, 1 in NJ/NY 13, 12

Trail Miles: 57

Elevation Gain: 14,100

Hiking Time: 30 hours

Weather: HHH – extreme heat and humidity


We celebrated our independence by hitting the trail four straight days in a heat wave.  We drove north to Mt. Vernon, NJ for an overnight at the Appalachian Motel on Wednesday.  There we met M-80, Spoon and Willow Walk On (their dog), through hikers from Texas, who were taking a few days off to recuperate from a tough stretch on the trail (the one we were headed to).

Bob met us at Wawayanda State Park, where we left our car, and shuttled us back to Sunrise Mountain for our sunrise start.   We hiked from Stokes State Forest through High Point State Park and on northward.  The terrain ranged from rocky to swampy, and was consistently buggy.   We carried our heavy packs loaded with our sleeping bags and extra food.  I felt fatigued from the heat by mid-morning, but we forged on, and I was energized after our lunch break.

AT through High Point State Park

By early afternoon, we arrived at the Murray property, which Bob had promised offered a shelter, fresh well water and an outdoor shower.  The afternoon stretched out before us with not much to do.  We organized our packs for the next day, showered and changed, and watched the groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels and turkeys go about their business on the large property.

Secret Shelter

A bit later, a large group of through hikers arrived.  They took advantage of the shower and the water, then decided to hike another couple of miles to the town of Unionville to celebrate the July 4th holiday with some drinks and fireworks.  So Jeff and I had the place to ourselves.  We passed the evening with a jet boil dinner, visiting the donkeys on the property and spreading out our sleeping bags in the shelter for an early bedtime.

We rose early on Friday to start the day’s 18 mile trek with headlamps.  The mosquitoes were particularly bothersome in the swampy heat. By mid-morning, Jeff was already running low on water, and stopped at a house at a road crossing, where the resident kindly gave us a few bottles of cold water.   Much of the trail was over boardwalk through wetlands, and I wore my bug net for most of the day.

By lunchtime, we had traveled only about 12 miles, but were exhausted from the heat.  We cooked our lunch in a trailhead parking lot at the base of Mount Wawayanda.  Robin and Melissa pulled in for a day hike and shared their extra water and a bag of ice with us, for which we were deeply grateful.  After lunch, we started our climb up the mountain.  We only had a few miles left to reach the car, but the heat and humidity were so oppressive we thought we would never make it.

Climbing Mt. Wawayanda on a very hot day

As we hiked into Wawayanda State Park, a young woman and her father asked if we had seen the shelter.  They had apparently passed the blue blazed trail leading to it, going back and forth several times, but it was not well marked.  When we finally reached our car near the park office, they came along to refill their water and we chatted with them a bit.  The father was spending his vacation joining his 19-year-old daughter for part of her through hike.  We drove up Route 17 to the Tuxedo Motel, where we settled in before scouting the next trailhead and finding dinner at the Hideaway Bar (good stout, mediocre food).

We met our new shuttle driver, Dorothy, at the Lakes Road trailhead on Saturday morning.  She drove us back to Wawayanda, where we made breakfast in the dark before beginning the next leg of our journey.  This day would be a milestone for us as we crossed the border from New Jersey into New York.

Rock scrambles escorted us across the border and into New York.  We were happy to be leaving New Jersey and its mosquitoes (although they followed us into New York for the next couple of days!).  The high heat and humidity continued to dog us.  I stopped at a stream crossing to splash cool water on my face, and managed to slip off a rock into the stream.

As the morning progressed we enjoyed the views from Prospect Rock and soon found ourselves entering the “ladder” section.  The scrambles across the pudding rocks were challenging, and would have been more fun had we not been crossing them in the oppressively hot mid-morning sun.  We plan to return and tackle them again.

Prospect Rock

Jeff recognized how much I was struggling with heat and fatique and transferred much of the weight from my pack into his while I was on a separation break.  But we both were feeling the effects of the heat wave and were very happy to see the Pilot at the end of the trail.  We retreated to our motel room to shower and prepare for our fourth and final hiking day.  We drove back to an ice cream shop near the Trail crossing at Route 17A, and bumped into many of the through hikers we had encountered over the last two days.

Sunday was expected to be a short, easy day.  We started early, with only about nine miles to go, expecting to finish before the heat of the day set in.  From the Lakes Road trailhead, we shortly arrived at a beautiful waterfall.  The day continued with significant, steep and rocky elevation gains, given our relatively short distance, and our progress in the heat was slow.  This section of the trail continued to be extremely rocky and challenging, ending with a very steep and rocky descent to Route 17.  We crossed to Arden Valley Road, which took us over Route 87.  We reached our car, exhausted, but happy to have completed an ambitious four-day trek, covering more than 50 miles.




Dates completed:  July 13-14, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 11, 10 and 9

Trail Miles: 25.7

Elevation Gain: 8,400

Hiking Time: 12 hours

Weather: humid, a bit rainy on Sunday


We returned to the Tuxedo Motel on Friday night, and dined at the Tuxedo Junction Inn, where we enjoyed some live music and good food.

We scaled back our mileage goals, as there still was considerable heat and humidity.  We met Dorothy on Saturday at our ending point on Lakes Road, and she shuttled us back to last week’s ending point at Arden Valley Road.  We fixed coffee in the parking lot and hiked off in the early light into Harriman Park, deferring breakfast until a bit later in the morning.

Lemon Squeezer

The first landmark of the day was the lemon squeezer, a narrow crevasse within a huge rock formation.  There we met a through-hiker named Woodman.  He was making his journey slowly, with an artificial knee, but he progressed steadily.  On the northern end of the lemon squeezer, he opted for the “easy” blue trail around a steep, high ledge, while we puzzled how to get over it.  In the end, we also took the blue trail, but vowed to return another time to conquer that ledge (which we did the following November!).  Later that day, we met an elderly couple completing a long section hike.  They said when they passed that ledge, a through hiker tossed his pack over the rock and jumped up to scale it.

A bit further down the trail, we saw a doe, practically on the trail and too curious about us to move away.  We walked practically right up to her and she stared back as I snapped her photo.

We had breakfast at a road crossing and continued on through the misty morning.  Along the way we encountered Revolutionary War structures, including an AT shelter, many ancient stone walls, and a number of challenging rock scrambles.

As the day wore on and we increased our elevation, the weather was moist and misty, and the viewpoints were shrouded.  But the Trail offers its own beauty regardless of the conditions, if we allow ourselves to appreciate it.


At one point, I tripped and skinned my shins on the sharp rocks, but otherwise our hike was uneventful.

We spent Saturday night at the Bear Mountain Bridge Motel, with dinner at a nearby second-rate barbecue place.  Sunday morning, we met Dorothy at a local convenience store for coffee.  She followed us to our ending point at Graymoor Village, a hiker friendly monastery, and drove us back to Lakes Road.

Hessian Lake

Our morning took us through the Revolutionary War history and beautiful scenery of Bear Mountain State Park and the Fort Clinton area. For most of the early morning we had the place to ourselves.  By mid morning, we descended to Hessian Lake, the lowest point of elevation on the Trail, at 160 feet.  The AT then passes through the Park Zoo, but only during the hours of 10am to 5pm, so once again, we found ourselves taking a blue trail around the zoo.  At one point, Jeff was sucked into deep mud, resulting in a rare fall for him.  The misty morning, high fences and smell of the animals were reminiscent of Jurassic Park.

Bear Mountain Bridge


Shortly we emerged from the zoo, and reached Bear Mountain Bridge.  We crossed the Hudson at a brisk pace and moved on to climb the mountain.  The trail reached a poorly marked mountain road, and we lost a bit of time hunting for blazes, but soon were on our way again.

We hiked on until lunchtime, when we reached the Appalachian Trail Deli.  Jeff suggested we stop for a cold drink, and we ended up getting sandwiches and making a lunch stop out of it.  We met a brother and sister taking a break there.  They were section hiking for several weeks to celebrate her recent graduation from Rutgers University.  From there, we had a brief hike to Graymoor, where we climbed into Jeff’s Pilot and began the drive home.




Dates completed:  July 20-21, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 8, 7, 6 and 5

Trail Miles: 23.9

Elevation Gain: 6,900

Hiking Time: 10 hours

Weather: still hot and humid… adjusting trail miles to cope with heat


Unable to secure a shuttle driver local to the Fishkill area, Jeff and I drove to New York separately in order to post our cars at the trailheads.  We met Friday evening at a Ramada, with a king-sized bed and a pool!

We enjoyed a nice dinner in historic Fishkill, with jo-mama stout, at Eleven-11 Grille before returning to the room to ready our packs and turn in for an early start on Saturday morning.


Saturday’s hike took us from Graymoor Village to Clarence Fahnestock State Park.   We set off at a good pace, and the Trail soon led us across Old Albany Post Road, one of the oldest unpaved roads still in use in the US.


We continued on amidst old stone walls, and I wonder about the people who built them and how much work it was.  Frost wrote, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down,” but these walls continue to stand, just rocks stacked neatly one upon the other, hundreds of years later.


Old Stone Wall & Mining Railroad Bed



Further on, the Trail followed an old mining rail bed, then led to a brook and a pretty waterfall.  With the continuing heat and humidity, we had a shorter mileage goal, and reached our car before lunch.


We returned to Graymoor to retrieve the Pilot, and made a return visit to the Appalachian Deli for lunch.  Then we headed back to the Ramada to spend the afternoon by the pool.  Dinner was Italian, with a nice bottle of wine, at Trattoria Locanda, in Fishkill, followed by a visit to Paula’s Stone Cottage Wine Bar, a delightful place with a delightful hostess.


After posting cars, we hiked from Clarence Fahnestock State Park on Sunday morning, strapped on our headlamps and gained elevation steadily, to a view of Canopus Lake in the morning light.

Canopus Lake


The highlight of our morning was arriving at the summit of Shenandoah Mountain, where we enjoyed a spectacular view and took photos with the American Flag painted on the rocky peak.

Shenandoah Mountain

Along the Trail, we came upon Ralph’s Peak Hiker’s cabin, with fabulous accommodations, including well water, several bunk beds, a picnic table, a garden and a well-maintained composting privy.  No one was staying there at the time.

Ralph’s Peak Hikers Cabin

We crossed under the Taconic Parkway, gained elevation to some lovely views, and eventually descended to our ending point at Route 52.  We grabbed some sandwiches at a nearby deli, and began our long drive home, already making plans for the next hike.



Dates completed:  August 2-4, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 4, 3, 2, and 1 NY/5, 4, 3 CT

Trail Miles: 55.8

Elevation Gain: 16,500 in only 3 days

Hiking Time: 26 hours

Weather: heat wave broken – making up trail miles big time


Jeff had hoped to mark his 50th birthday by completing the state of Connecticut, but it was not to be.  We were behind schedule and still had New York to finish.  With the break in the heat and humidity, we planned an aggressive hiking schedule to make up some ground over our three day weekend.


Again, we did not have a shuttle driver, so we drove our cars separately and met at the Dutchess Motor Lodge in rural Wingdale, New York, site of the former Harlem Valley State Hospital.  We dined at McGrath’s Tavern, and set about the usual routine to prepare for the next day’s hike.


Early Friday morning, we positioned our cars for starting and ending points at Route 52 and the Appalachian Trail Train Station on Route 22, respectively.  We began with headlamps and paused to admire a beautiful old tree along the trail in the early light.  The morning passed pleasantly with fun rock scrambles, some easy elevations, and a walk along Nuclear Lake, where we met our first southbound through hiker.  We passed an even older white oak tree as we crossed West Dover Road; and continued on through meadows and marsh lands until we reached a boardwalk through wetlands to the Appalachian Trail Train Station, where our car was parked.



Having completed this planned 14.8 mile stretch with energy to spare, we retrieved Jeff’s Pilot, posted my car on Hoyt Road, and returned to the parking area by the train station for a revitalizing lunch.  From there, we began Hike B, a seven mile walk through meadows and woodlands to the Connecticut border at Hoyt Road.  We had officially completed New York and almost 22 miles!



Saturday was Jeff’s 50th birthday and we had another ambitious day of nearly 18 miles to cover.  We started from Hoyt Road, again with headlamps, hiked along the Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers, and climbed to some scenic vistas.  We met a through hiker named Story, having her breakfast at one of them, and prevailed upon her to take our photo.




The day continued with steady gains and losses of elevation.  After lunch, we continued to progressively gain elevation until we reached Caleb’s Peak.  As we began to descend, we met Matt, an AMC Ridge Runner heading southbound, and chatted with him a bit.  He cautioned us to take our time at St. John’s Ledges, where we found a very steep and rocky descent.  We rose (or descended) to the challenge, and reached River Road, and our last mile of the day, by early afternoon.



Caleb’s Peak

St John’s Ledges


According to Jeff’s GPS, we had logged more than 6,000 feet of elevation gain to mark his 50th birthday!  Two AMC trail maintenance volunteers were in the parking area by our car, and we talked with them for a while, before finding our evening accommodations at the hard to find Amselhaus Bed and Breakfast.


The hunt for the Amselhaus was worth the effort, very private and cozy.  We enjoyed Jeff’s birthday dinner with a second night at the Fife and Drum Restaurant.  While the long miles and challenging elevation were Jeff’s preference to celebrate his 50th birthday, I was exhausted and happy to crash for the night before another early start on our third and final day of hiking on Sunday.


We anticipated an “easy” day on Sunday, which started with a four mile flat walk along the river.  Eager to set a fast pace, with my headlamp, I plunged along, tripped and fell flat on my face 10 minutes into the hike, an inauspicious start to say the least.  Just before a road crossing, we stopped to check a sign on the trail that said a brook up ahead was unsafe to cross and recommended a blue trail detour.  We probably should have checked out the brook first, because the blue trail added about three quarters of a mile to our day’s walk.


Our trek continued on, up and down elevation, over and through rocky ledges.  The miles of the past two days caught up with me and for most of the day I was ready for the hike to end.  My pace slowed and we arrived at Route 112 a half hour or so later than planned, but we made it, happy to see the car and head home.






Date completed:  August 10, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 2, 1

Trail Miles: 13.4

Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet

Hiking Time: 4 hours

Weather:  Perfect!  Cooler temperatures with low humidity and blue skies.

We had only one day to hike the AT this weekend, as we were signed up for a Catskill bushwhack on Sunday.  Jeff found us a lovely place to stay with an Austrian woman named Maria who hosts hikers in her home and provides breakfast.  We enjoyed chatting with her on Friday night and then grabbed a nice dinner and bottle of wine at the Country Bistro in Salisbury.  We particularly enjoyed dessert!  Jeff had strawberry rhubarb pie, which brought fond memories of his grandmother; and I had a delicious lavender lemon cake.

We planned to cover about 14 miles from Route 112 to Bunker Hill Road, which was less than a mile off the trail.  The morning started with a fairly easy, flat walk along the river to Falls Village, where there is a hydro electric plant and beautiful waterfalls.  After spending a few minutes taking in the views and snapping photos, we moved on to a bit of elevation through the woods.

All in all, the day went smoothly (I didn’t fall once!).  Before taking the blue trail to Bunker Hill Road, we continued on the AT for another two tenths of a mile to Lion’s Head Peak, where we enjoyed a clear and far reaching view, and a picnic lunch, before descending back to our car and heading to the Catskills.




Date completed:  August 23-25, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 1 CT/10-5 MA

Trail Miles: 53.2

Elevation Gain: 15,900 feet

Hiking Time: 26 hours

Weather:  Beautiful – blue skies and low humidity

We arrived in Massachusetts on Thursday evening for the start of three days of hiking.  The weekend got off to a frustrating start, as we attempted to have dinner at the Barrington Brewery, but left after an hour of waiting for our entrees.  We learned that a hiker had died from a fall that day on a side trail to Race Mountain Falls near Sheffield, Connecticut, where we would be passing on Friday.  It was a sobering thought to begin our weekend.

We had both our cars, so we posted mine at the “stretch” end of Friday’s hike at Kellogg Road – about 20 miles from our starting point at Bunker Hill Road.  Marilyn, our shuttle driver, met us at Jug End Road, where we left Jeff’s Pilot at about the 15 mile point, and drove us to the Bunker Hill Road trailhead for an early morning start.

From Bunker Hill Road, we retraced our steps from two weeks before for about a mile, arriving back at Lion’s Head Peak just in time for sunrise and breakfast.  Then we moved on to Bear Mountain, which offered a challenging but fun steep and scrambly descent.

After a few short miles, we crossed the border into Massachusetts!  The trail led us along a beautiful brook with waterfalls before ascending to a rocky ridgeline with beautiful views.  We passed an 87 year old German through-hiker named Harry here.  We had heard about Harry when he passed through Pennsylvania, and were glad to know he was still heading north (“nord” as he said in German) toward Maine.


We continued on, down one mountain and up another until we reached a pleasant lunch stop in a park.  We hiked a few miles further after lunch to Jug End Road, where we refreshed our water supply at Jeff’s car, took some weight out of our packs, and set off at a brisk pace to complete the last five miles.

Saturday presented a similar challenge of about 20 miles.  We posted our cars at each end and did not use the shuttle.  The terrain was similar, up and down elevation, rocky scrambles, and stunning views.  I was a bit more tired than the day before, but overall, we made good time and the hike went well.

We stayed in Becket, MA on Saturday, and made a long drive back to Lee for a late dinner, after we spent considerable time trying to locate the County Road trailhead where we would end on Sunday.  We never did find it.  After contacting Marilyn, she agreed to meet us at a nearby intersection and lead us there.  We left my car along Route 20, where we could pick it up on the way back to Route 90 to head home.

We shortened our hike on Sunday, from 18 to 14 miles, in order to get an earlier start to the long ride home.  Our hike took us through forests and along Upper Goose Pond, with some moderate elevation.  It was a bit warmer on Sunday, and after two long days, we were happy to see the Pilot when we reached County Road.





Date completed:  August 30-September 1, 2013

AT Sections Completed:  5, 4, 3, 2 MA

Trail Miles: 37.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 9,400 feet

Hiking Time: 18 hours

Weather:  More humid, rainy, foggy

This was to be our final weekend of our northbound journey on the AT this summer.  We planned to hike a few miles into Vermont on Labor Day, September 2, and celebrate our accomplishment.

We arrived Friday night in Dalton, and checked in at the Shamrock Village Inn, which offered friendly, cozy accommodations.  Marilyn met us at a parking area along the rail trail in nearby Cheshire, and drove us back to County Road.  Our plan for the day was aggressive, nearly 23 miles.  It was a bit rainy as we started and the rocks and plank walkways were slippery.  We reached Dalton around noon, and stopped for lunch along the road.  The highlight of the afternoon stretch was the cobbles, a rocky section of the trail approaching the town of Cheshire.  We scrambled over the rocks and tackled the steep descent, ending with a road walk of a mile or so back to the car.

Once again, we found ourselves challenged to locate Sunday’s ending trailhead on Route 2 Saturday afternoon.  We finally gave up and headed to Bascom Lodge, on the summit of Mount Greylock, where we would hike the next day.  We drove up the mountain as fog and heavy rain set in, soon giving way to strong thunderstorms.  We talked with our bunkmates at the Lodge, who helped us locate the trailhead on their map.  We had a delicious, but late and long dinner, turned in for the night and woke early on Sunday to begin our trek.

Dave, our new driver, met us at the community center on Route 2.  He drove us back to Cheshire, and gave us some advice along the way, as he was well acquainted with this section of trail over Greylock. The day was misty and foggy.   But the climb was not difficult and the air was filled with the scent of balsam.  We reached the summit (3,961 feet, but had no views due to the heavy fog.  We continued on to Mt. Williams, where we stopped for lunch and chatted with other hikers.

After lunch, we completed the rest of our 15 mile trek for the day, up Mount Williams, and on to a very steep descent.  It was at this point, and many tumbles on the steep footing, that I accepted the fact that I needed new hiking boots.  The traction was completely worn off of my year-old asolos after hundreds of miles.  Fortunately we had completed most of it before the rain began.  We reached the car and checked in down the road at the Williamstown Motel.  Heavy thunderstorms continued into the night and threatened until mid morning.  With heavy hearts, we canceled our plans to finish our 2013 AT journey on Labor Day and drove home. 





Date completed:  September 14, 2013

AT Sections Completed: 1 MA/9 VT

Trail Miles: 18.4

Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet

Hiking Time: 9 hours

Weather:  Misty, rainy, foggy

Our plans to cross the Vermont border on Labor Day, having been thwarted by violent thunderstorms, we were unable to return for our 2013 finish for two more weeks.  Again the weather was questionable, as we made the long drive north in heavy rain on Friday evening.  But the forecast indicated that we would have a clear day on Saturday.  Although our plan for two weeks ago called for a brief seven mile walk just past the Vermont border, we extended the day’s journey another ten miles or so to make the trip worthwhile.

We spent Friday night in the charming town of Bennington, and enjoyed dinner, and big stouts, in the bustling Madison Brewing Co.  Dave met us at our final trailhead in the pre-dawn darkness, and took us on a long ride back to North Adams.  We were still waiting for that clearing weather, but hiked most of the day in alternating light rain and mist.

We stopped for photos at the Vermont border and the start of the Long Trail, which joins with the AT for 105 miles.  The trail took us into Vermont, through bogs, over split log bridges, along a beaver dam and rushing stream, with early views of New England fall foliage.  The trail was very very wet – practically a stream itself for many miles.  As we neared our destination, we reached a viewpoint overlooking Bennington, as the skies finally cleared.  It was exciting to know we had achieved our goal!


JEFF’S FINAL AT NOBO 2013 STATS: 320+ miles 87,000 ft elevation gain 9 weekends (2 o/w were single days) 20 hiking days 150 hiking hrs Avg 16 miles day. Avg pace > 2.1 mph 4 –  > 20 mile days.   High was 23 miles 12 – > 15 miles days (9 o/w 17+) Only 1 day < 12miles 9 days hikes > 8 hrs in day 2 -three day weekends > 55 miles. (55 and 57) Daily Elevation- 11 days > 4,000 ft 6 days > 5,000 2 days > 6,000.  Highest 6,300 From Aug.2 weekend to end was 10 days, 178 miles = 17.8 miles/day and 51,000ft elevation. Mileage+elevation equivalent was 494 miles (1000 ft = 2 miles) …. Need to check calc. Most awesome sight – huge black bear on trail in Delaware Water Gap, NJ. Hiking this journey with the love of my life…….. Priceless!




Dates completed: March 28-31, 2013
AT Sections Completed: 1-7
Trail Miles: 41.5
Hiking Time: 18 hours
Weather: Chilly with some residual snow cover

Our southbound journey began back at Pen Mar County Park in the early morning on Good Friday. It was a bit nostalgic returning to the starting point of our northbound AT journey across Pennsylvania, which had been eight months ago. We took the obligatory photo with the AT sign, and turned around to head south into Maryland.

Friday’s trek stretched 19 miles through beautiful rocky terrain, stream crossings, pastures, and past the historic Black Rock Hotel. We had three big ascents, including South Mountain. For lunch, we picked a large rock with a beautiful view and fired up the jet boil. The weather was somewhat chilly, but dry. Shortly after lunch, we passed three backpackers, one of whom we had hiked with last fall with the Delaware Valley AMC. Small world…

Saturday took us on another long 19-mile journey, beginning with crossing the footbridge over Route 70. We paused to climb the steps of Maryland’s Washington Monument, and take in the spectacular view from the top.

We stopped for lunch (another gourmet jet boil hot meal), at Gathland State Park. There weren’t as many steep ascents, but the trail was long and rocky, and ended with a sharp descent from Weverton Cliffs to the parking area.
Easter Sunday plans were to complete an ambitious 15 miles before driving home, but a rainy forecast interfered. Instead, we got an early start with headlamps from Weverton Road, and hiked five miles into Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The towpath along the Potomac offered spectacular views of the high cliffs on the opposite side of the river. The AT passed through the center of Harper’s Ferry, and we took our time taking in the historic sites. As it was still quite early on Easter morning, we virtually had the town to ourselves.


We arrived back at our hotel room before 9am, checked out and returned to the quaint Towns Inn in Harper’s Ferry for a decadent late breakfast of hot chocolate and apple pie. We enjoyed chatting with our server, in full colonial dress and character, and some other guests, before heading to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Office on Washington Street. The staff person on duty was extremely helpful in advising us as we plan our continued journey, and encouraged us to complete the entire trail in sections. We just might get it done eventually!




Dates completed: April 12-14, 2013
AT Sections Completed: 1-3
Trail Miles: 32.8
Hiking Time: 16 hours
Weather: Clear and cool – perfect for hiking!

We drove to Harper’s Ferry Friday morning in a heavy downpour, doubtful whether we would be able to hike the few miles we had planned for the afternoon. But the clouds cleared as we met our shuttle driver, Justin, at Keys Gap. He cheerfully chauffeured us back to Harper’s Ferry, chatting about his work running the Bear’s Den hostel with his wife, Patrice. He and Patrice quit their jobs in 2011 to through hike the AT, after which they were presented with the opportunity at Bear’s Den. They are now transitioning to a new assignment in marketing for Backpacker Magazine, which sounded like a dream job, trying out equipment and scouting hikes!

We strapped on our packs and headed over the bridge across the Shenandoah. After a fairly steep ascent on the other side of the river, the rest of the afternoon was a pleasant spring walk in the woods.
We encountered a black snake sunning himself on the trail, and met a man who called himself Friday and said he monitors the trail in that area, picking up trash.
Saturday morning, we drove to the Bear’s Den, where Justin shuttled us back to Keys Gap. It was a brisk spring morning, and we shortly found ourselves at Sky Meadows, surprising a few Virginia white-tailed deer, who bounded away into the woods.

The trail meandered back and forth across the Virginia-West Virginia border for a number of miles before we finally entered Virginia for good.

Along the way, we found beautiful views, and a number of climbs. We arrived at our destination, Bear’s Den Hostel, where the accommodations were ample and comfortable, in a beautiful setting. There were a few other hikers staying there, and we enjoyed trading trail stories.

We strapped on our headlamps and resumed our trek south before dawn on Sunday. We had 14 miles to cover, which isn’t unusual for us. But this section, affectionately dubbed the Roller Coaster, boasts a series of challenging ascents and descents, totaling up to about 6,000 feet of elevation gain. We ended our day at Ashby Gap and drove home making plans to return the following weekend for the last leg of our 2013 AT Trek South.




Dates completed: April 20-21, 2013
AT Sections Completed: 4-6
Trail Miles: 25.8
Hiking Time: 10 hours
Weather: Clear and cool – perfect for hiking!

We looked forward all week to returning to complete our 2013 southbound journey this weekend. Our Friday evening drive was somewhat harrowing, in a fierce downpour on Route 81. Jeff got us safely to Front Royal, where we found cold stout and sandwiches at the Royal Oak Tavern. After dinner, we checked into our hotel room, got our packs ready for the next morning, and turned in for the night.
Saturday morning, we met our driver, Sharon and her border collie, Sam, at the Manassas Gap Trailhead, where we would end our day’s trek. She drove us to our starting point at Ashby Gap and left us with directions to her home where she and her husband Tom run a hiker hostel.

Saturday’s hike was an easy 12 miles through woods and meadows. It was a beautiful morning, and we took our time and enjoyed our walk. We arrived at Manassas Gap at lunchtime, fired up the jetboil at the conveniently located picnic table, and tried to decide what to do with the long afternoon ahead.
We settled on driving into Shenandoah National Park, where we cruised along Skyline Drive to take in the views, and stopped at the visitors center to chat with the ranger about our hiking plans for the next day. We decided to post our car just inside the park at Compton Gap, since we had already paid the weekly admission fee of $15. While we were there, we took a short hike on the Dickey Ridge trail from Compton Gap to explore Wyndham Rocks.

We arrived at the beautiful mountain home of Sharon and Tom for the night’s accommodations. We sat and talked with them about hiking over a bottle of wine before turning in for the night. Sunday morning, Sharon prepared a delicious breakfast feast before shuttling us to the trailhead.
We passed a through hiker in the morning who was excited to have just encountered a bear. He said it ran from him and stopped a short way into the woods and stood up, taller than he was. We forged ahead, looking for the bear, but saw only footprints along the trail. We hoped to see a bear on the trail at some point on our journey, but it would not be this day.

The trail took us for several miles along an old fenced off government research facility, before leading us into Shenandoah National Park. The elevation climbed steadily for a few miles before we stopped for lunch at a scenic overlook and contemplated our return trip to backpack Shenandoah in 2014. After lunch, it was a few miles to Compton Gap, where we celebrated the end of this journey and began to anticipate the next stretch north from the Delaware Water Gap.


Our Journey Begins – July 28


  • Date: Saturday, July 28, 2012
  • Pennsylvania AT: Section 14 – Pen Mar to Caledonia SP
  • Trail Distance: 17.9 miles
  • Hiking Time:  10 hours
  • Total Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft.
  • Pack Weight:  34 lbs. (Barbara), and 43 lbs (Jeff)
  • Wildlife Spotted:  Just a naked guy in the Pen Mar parking lot, and a white tailed deer running away.
  • Weather: Hot, humid, partly cloudy, looming thunderstorms.

We drove to Fayetteville, PA, Friday evening, registered to park at Caledonia State Park, checked in at the Rite Spot Motel, had dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s, and settled in for a good night’s sleep before our adventure.

After shuttling from Caledonia to Pen Mar, we began our 230 mile journey at 7am just south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Our plan was to hike an aggressive distance for our first venture into backpacking together, but anticipated the terrain and elevation would be mild enough to cope with it. 

Our first encounter with another hiker was a young woman hiking part of the Pennsylvania AT on her vacation.  She was heading south to meet an old friend in Maryland to go sailing.  She asked us if we had trail names (we didn’t) and told us hers was Hot Stuff.

After 4.7 miles, we came to the Deer Lick Shelters, where several people were still sleeping or just getting started on their day.  We took a short Cliff Bar break and met Mornin’ Joe, who was hiking along the AT for a week on vacation.  Later, we saw him again at the Antietam shelters and he took our photo.

There was a bit of uphill early on, but mostly smooth going until lunch time.  We took a short break at Tumbling Run Shelters, 8.3 miles into our hike, opting only for Cliff Bars and Trail Mix for lunch (we would later regret this).  Immediately upon leaving, we learned that our expectations for little challenge on this section of the trail were unrealistic.  Over the next 1.5 miles, we ascended 1,000 feet, climbing uphill over rocks, rocks and more rocks.  Jeff scuttled up easily, but I was sweating, huffing, blowing and whining profusely.  At one point, a young thru-hiker carrying a guitar case strolled by me and remarked, “Some hill, huh?”

The trail continued like this for several miles.  Every time I thought we were back to the flat, easy footing that had been billed for this section, we found ourselves gazing up another rocky hill.  Jeff was having the time of his life conquering the steep hills.

As we continued along, we met a few interesting people.  There was a couple taking a break on a rock, airing out their feet (I was jealous).  They were hiking to Tumbling Run from Caledonia, camping in the shelter and returning the next day.  It turns out they climbed Kilimanjaro last year, and were planning a trip to Machu Picchu next year, so they swapped stories with Jeff, who had previously done both. 

Then we met two young British women resting by the trail.  One had done the first half of the AT four years ago, and was back with a friend to finish.   She hoped to reach Georgia by late September, in time to return to London for a wedding.

Then we passed the dude with the guitar, sitting on a big rock, smoking a joint.  This was shortly before we stopped to chat with an AT Ridge Runner.

About the time we started to hear the thunder rumbling, we started anxiously looking for our shelter.  Based on time and landmarks, we knew it should be coming up soon, 15 miles into our hike.  We were tired, hungry and worried about thunderstorms.  My feet hurt. My shoulders hurt. My back hurt.  I was yearning for my Jacuzzi and a bottle of wine.

We passed a group of women setting up camp, and asked them about the Rocky Mountain Shelter.  They pointed down the trail and said, “right around the corner.”  Sure enough, we turned a corner to find a sign directing us to the shelter, DOWN a steep side trail.  One sign said .3 miles, and another said .03.  Of course it was the longer distance.  So I staggered down the trail and we found the shelters.  We were joined shortly by the guitar carrying guy.  Before long, it began to rain.  We tried out the new jet boil and made freeze dried chicken risotto, and had freeze dried ice cream for dessert. 

After eating, getting halfway settled into the shelter, taking off our boots and relaxing a bit, we contemplated the pros and cons of sleeping in the shelter versus lacing up our boots, hoisting our backpacks back on, and hiking out the last three miles to Caledonia.  Jeff consulted the elevation profile, and determined the rest of the way should be easy going.  Guitar Guy agreed and set off quickly, saying he planned to “stealth camp” under the pavilion at Caledonia.  We packed up and headed out shortly thereafter. 

Almost immediately, the thunder started rumbling in the distance again, and drops of rain began to fall.  We stopped and put on our rain jackets and pack covers.  Then the rock scrambles started again.  We plunged on, determined to make it to the end.  A couple more thru-hikers with their long beards passed us on the way.  We made it to Caledonia by 7pm, changed clothes, packed up the car and headed home. 

Jeff felt great the entire day and could have gone on.  Having just come off two serious injuries, he was thrilled to hike 19 miles for 10 hours with more than 40 lbs. on his back.  He is now obsessively focused on completing the entire PA AT.

We plan to return to Caledonia to start the next leg in two weeks.

‘Til next time….

And This Was Suppposed To Be Easy? – August 11


  • Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012
  • Pennsylvania AT: Section 13 –Caledonia SP to Pine Grove Furnace SP
  • Trail Distance: 19.7 miles
  • Cumulative Distance: 37.5 miles 
  • Hiking Time:  8.5 hours
  • Total Elevation Gain: 1800 ft.
  • Pack Weight:  24 lbs. (Barbara), and 28 lbs (Jeff)
  • Wildlife Spotted:  One angry looking spider
  • Weather:  Gorgeous!  Sunny and low humidity

Our expectations of Section 13 were that it would be “easy” to accomplish all 19.7 miles in a day hike.  But I am learning that every hike will present new challenges, which will keep this journey interesting… and get us both into shape.

We arrived in Pine Grove Furnace State Park Friday evening and checked in at the Ironmaster’s Mansion.  Jeff looked up to see a rainbow greeting us over the parking lot.  Hostel accommodations were $20 per person – $25 if we opted to take their meals.  We decided to drive down the road to the Twirly Top ice cream stand for burgers for dinner, as recommended by Stephanie at the hostel.  The burgers were fine, although the fly-infested outdoor dining left something to be desired.  We did enjoy a fine bottle of pinot noir (BYOB, of course) with our burgers.  We had the hostel mostly to ourselves, and the accommodations were clean and comfortable.

As we met Mike, our shuttle driver, at 5:30am, it was drizzling, but thankfully it ceased before we began hiking.  He chatted with us about our plans, offered helpful suggestions and made sure we found the trailhead before he left us at Caledonia.  Jeff, wanting to be a purist, led us walking south a few hundred yards to start precisely where we had left off the last time.  By 6:15am, we continued our northbound journey heading today for Pine Grove SP.

There was about 600 feet of elevation gain over the first 2.7 miles to the Quarry Run Shelters.  Jeff and I tackled it energetically, and to our surprise, arrived there in only 55 minutes!  After those first few miles, the elevations weren’t quite as challenging and we continued at a very rapid pace throughout the morning.  The trail transported us through old growth forests with dense canopies.  As the morning fog burned off, sunlight streamed through the leaves.  Cool raindrops from the previous night’s showers shook loose and ran over my face, washing away my sweat droplets, as summer breezes moved through the trees. 

At 10am, after hiking a brisk 10 miles, we stopped for a quick snack at the Birch Run shelters and hurried on, given our initial goal of making it to Shippensburg Road by noon, which we actually achieved by 11am. 

By lunchtime, we had already hiked more than 15 miles.  I was rapidly losing steam from our fast-paced morning.  We stopped along the trail at a dirt road named Woodrow Road and feasted on peanut butter sandwiches and apples.  I took my shoes off for a while and tried not to fuss too much over the blisters.  I donned a fresh pair of socks before we continued on to the last five miles of our hike. 

 We slowed our pace in the afternoon and soon reached Tom’s Run Shelters,where we chatted for a few minutes with a man and his son.  We thought we were getting close to Pine Grove Furnace around 1pm, when we reached the official Appalachian Trail halfway marker.   And, just as thousands of hikers before us have done, we took our photograph in front of the sign.  As we would meet hikers coming the opposite way, they told us “two more miles.”  These assurances were repeated by others for the next two hours, which turned out to be more than just “two miles.” 

The trail led us through a section that was poorly maintained. We were practically bushwhacking through overgrown grasses, and white blazes were scarce.  We forged ahead, eventually came to a road and checked in with a pair of bicyclists to make sure we were still on course.  That course carried us over a couple more miles of rocky footing, across a stream (where we met a family with a playful German Shepherd), up some more elevation, then back down again.  We passed a man and his daughter who said they had left Pine Grove Furnace only 10 minutes before.  We repeatedly checked our watches as we hiked out that last “10 minutes,” because it felt so much longer.

We finally made it to Route 233 and the end of section 13, but still had another quarter mile to hike on the road to get to Pine Grove  Furnace SP. Upon arrival, we stopped at the General Store, famous for the half gallon ice cream challenge. We passed on the challenge, but could not pass up a dish of their home made mint chocolate chip. The man from the end of the trail and his daughter returned and took a photo of us with our ice cream.  

Hiking nearly 20 miles in a little more than 8 hours was a huge physical challenge for me.  I’m looking forward to next weekend when we have a few days to take a little more time to appreciate the beauty along the way. Jeff was thrilled with our accomplishment and said it is merely training for our next leg of the journey.

Things Don’t Always Go As Planned – August 17


  • Date: Friday, August 17 thru Saturday, August 18, 2012
  • Pennsylvania AT: Sections 12 thru 9 – Pine Grove Furnace SP to Route 850
  • Trail Distance: 36.3 miles
  • Cumulative Distance:  73.7 miles
  • Hiking Time: 17 hours
  • Total Elevation Gain: 3,700 feet
  • Pack Weight:  31lbs. (Barbara), and 40 lbs (Jeff)
  • Wildlife Spotted:  Deer, tiny toads, black snake, rabbit, and box turtle
  • Weather:  Warm days, cool nights, heavy showers Friday night

 The “Plan” was to complete Sections 12, 11, 10 and 9 backpacking Friday through Sunday.  We were determined to be more realistic about our daily miles and to reduce our pack weight.  We allowed for some contingencies by taking both cars and leaving one at the Route 850 parking area (loaded with extra water and our day packs for a lighter load on Sunday) and the other car in Duncannon where we hoped to hike to Sunday.  We also managed cut a little weight by carrying less water, and identified spots to resupply along the way.

We drove to Duncannon and had dinner at the Doyle Hotel Thursday evening.  We enjoyed meeting Pat and Vickey, the Owners, and John, the Bartender, as well as an excellent meal (and beer).  Then we left Jeff’s car at the hotel, and took my car to Route 850, where we met our trusty driver Mike.  Mike drove us back to the Ironmaster’s Mansion, where we last finished our hike the week before.  Mike entertained us with stories of his passion for square dancing with his girlfriend.

We shared the mansion that night with a family on vacation from Florida.  Their 11 year old son told us they hike 100 miles of the AT every year for vacation, and proudly announced going from Caledonia to Pine Grove Furnace in one day.  We later learned that until this year, the boy always insisted on hiking in bare feet.  Sleeping in the mansion that night with the windows open, we realized we were unprepared for the fact that the nights are getting cooler in the forest (about 58 degrees).  We addressed this by purchasing long-sleeved shirts the next day at a camp store off the trail. 

We began our weekend hike as early as we could see the blazes and before too long we began our ascent upward through the mountains.  After hiking 11 miles (completing section 12) in a rapid 4.5 hours, we took a short detour from the trail to the Deer Run Campground to have lunch and replenish our water supplies.  After about an hour we were eagerly back to racking up trail miles. 

However, the afternoon brought tougher terrain, steep climbs and huge rocks over which to be scrambled.  In fact, we had boulders as high as our chests to climb up on. 

It was fun, and Jeff of course was in his glory, but it was tiring for both of us. 

This significantly slowed our pace and took us nearly 3 hours to hike just over 5 miles.  We did manage to see a long black snake slithering around on the trail.  We were also trying to stay ahead of the looming clouds and thunder.  Exhausted, we reached the Alec Kennedy Shelter just before the downpour began.  The shelter sleeps seven, with a fire pit (which we didn’t get the chance to use), a picnic table and a composting privy.  While Jeff followed a path to a spring for additional water, it turned out to be dry.  Shortly after, a family of four came hurrying in from the rain.  This family was hiking their last sections of the Pennsylvania AT with their 11 year old son and 7 year old daughter. We were impressed that the children were such troopers hiking this distance and terrain with their packs and still found energy to amuse themselves playing board games.  We chatted and compared notes, had our dinners and laid out our sleeping pads.  We had brought only sleeping bag liners to save weight, so I was glad we got the long-sleeved shirts at the campground.  Jeff and I were turning in as darkness fell, when a thru-hiker hurried in from the rain, and we made room for him in the shelter.  The rain continued steadily throughout the night.

We got up at 5am, as the rain finally let up. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and left at first light expecting an 18 mile day.  There was a bit of up elevation gain to Center Point Knob, before descending to corn fields and into the town of Boiling Springs at the end of section 11.  We stopped at the AT Regional Office and once again refreshed our water supply before continuing on.

Section 10 consisted of minimal elevation gain and traversed meadows, cornfields, and wooded areas, and crossed over and under major roads. It did provide some interesting bridges and eco boardwalks.   The high grasses were quite wet from the night’s rain.  With many miles to still hike, Jeff noticed his trusty hiking boots that had carried him to the summits of Kilimanjaro, Mt Fuji, Machu Picchu, and hundreds of miles in “Rocksylvania,” were somehow no longer waterproof.  As the sensation of blisters emerged, he stopped to dry his feet, put on dry socks and slipped into gallon-size ziplock bags before putting his boots back on.  Fortunately, we carried extra bags because you never know when or how they may be needed.  This worked perfectly to keep his feet dry the rest of the day, but the existing blisters would plague him the remaining 14 miles.  Section 10 finally ended through a tunnel under Route 944, where we took a break to rest our feet before embarking on the steep climb up Blue Mountain in Section 9.

We had planned to spend the night at the Darlington Shelter which was only 2 miles away.  At this point, Jeff and I rethought our plans and decided to hike on to the car, knowing that our shelter-mates at Alec Kennedy also planned to bunk at Darlington, and that it was only an additional 2 miles past Darlington and mainly downhill to our car at Route 850.  Although we had vowed not to hike another 20+ mile day (especially with full packs), our feet were sore (especially Jeff’s), and the lure of the car with fresh water and a short drive back to the Doyle was compelling.  It was a tough hike up the mountain to Darlington, very steep and rocky, but there was beautiful view from the top. 

Those last 2 miles from Darlngton to the car began with a turtle sighting.

Then we descended rapidly except for one “bump” in the elevation profile, as Jeff calls it.  That bump seemed steeper than what the stats would indicate, especially after carrying nearly 40lbs for 10 hours with sore feet.  Jeff would have finished faster if he hadn’t patiently waited for me to inch down on my ouchy feet.  When I saw how bad his blisters were, I didn’t know how he got through the day.

Once we finally arrived at the car, we rehydrated with the still icy water in the cooler, pulled off our hiking boots, and made a bee-line for the Doyle Hotel, where we had another good dinner and caught up with the Florida family from the Ironmasters Mansion, as well had laughs with Pat, Vickey and John. 

We still had visions of finishing the last 10.3 miles to Duncannon on Sunday, and hoped our feet would sufficiently recover, so we rented a room for the night, showered, and slept soundly.  In the morning, we dressed and headed to the diner across the street for breakfast.  We were back in our hiking boots and eager to finish, but we would make the decision not to take chances with our feet, still tender from Saturday’s wet trek. 

Even though our AT hike this weekend didn’t necessarily go as we expected, we were well prepared for this and many other contingencies that could have arisen. So our feet will survive to hike another weekend… next weekend, when we will finish off Section 9.

 “Be Prepared”
– Boy Scout Motto –

Making Up Last Week’s Miles… And Them Some – August 24



  • Date: Friday, August 24
  • Pennsylvania AT: Sections 9 into 8 – Route 850 to Route 225
  • Trail Distance: 17.5 miles
  • Cumulative Distance:  91.2 miles
  • Hiking Time: 8.5 hours
  • Total Elevation Gain:  2,100 feet
  • Pack Weight:  Approximately 15 lbs. (Barbara), and 21 lbs (Jeff)
  • Wildlife Spotted:  water fowl on the Susquehanna River, and LOTS of spiders
  • Weather:  hot and sunny

We originally intended not to hike this weekend, as Jeff had family plans (his son became an Eagle scout!)  However, the remorse of not finishing the previous week’s miles plagued our thoughts.  So we took Friday off to make up last week’s 10 miles.  But we brought two cars (one, at end of Section 9 – 10.3 miles) and the other at Route 225 (nearly half of Section 8) to provide options for a more robust hiking day of a mere 17.5 miles.  The only question we had about completing the distance was how our feet would hold up from previous blisters, and whether Jeff’s new hiking boots truly did not need to be “broken in,” as the REI salesman had assured him.

Once again we began hiking at first light, this time from the Route 850 trail entrance. After a brief meadow, we crossed a log bridge and began ascending on a path through the woods.  We kept our headlamps on until the morning light penetrated the leaves.

The trail was laced with spider webs from the night before, which became an annoyance, especially as they caught on our faces.  Nevertheless, we hiked briskly with ease, and by 9am we had completed 7 miles to reach our first landmark, Hawk Rock. Although the view is supposed to be spectacular, it was hidden behind the fog that hadn’t yet burned off.  Being ahead of schedule, we took a short break and refueled with trail mix.

From Hawk Rock, we began a rugged, sharp descent toward Duncannon, and hiked across a very sloped rock bed (referred to as a rock slide in the ATC materials).  It felt like we were on a ledge, to the right you look up and see a massive hill of loose rocks.  To the left you look down another steep slope of rocks.  Here we met two men, one with a toddler on his shoulders (why one does that on this terrain is beyond me), who took our photo.

After that we continued our journey, soon hearing the noise of trains and a small town.  We entered Duncannon, where the Appalachian Trail includes roads and sidewalks through the town.  On High Street, you pass several blocks of row homes.  Jeff joked that real estate sellers can market “easy access to the AT.”  The town hike is roughly 2 miles and, while interesting, is not picturesque.

We finally made it to the end of Duncannon, and the end of Section 9.  We then crossed a small road bridge over the Juniata River, and turned right to cross the Route 322 highway bridge (on a walkway of course) over the Susquehanna River.  To our surprise, the annoying spider webs from the woods seemed trivial compared to the countless thick webs, many with spiders in them, which we encountered on the walkway.  It seemed as though no one had crossed this walkway in a long time.  While neither of us is terrified of spiders, we don’t necessarily wish to experience them by dragging their homes along.  Jeff began swinging his poles ahead of his footsteps (I was glad he was in front breaking them up for me).  By the time we reached the other side, his poles were nearly covered with webs.  After removing the webs and shaking off a few stragglers, we sat down to have lunch at the side of railroad tracks about 11am. 

After lunch we began our steep climb up Peter’s Mountain (1,200 feet of elevation gain over 2 miles).  It brought to mind a few months ago when Jeff and I were driving on Route 322 to visit my daughter at Susquehanna University.  Jeff looked up at that mountain and said, “I’d love to climb that someday!”  And here we were.

The mountain was rocky, with lots of scrambles and steep elevation gain.  Jeff raced up the hill with a smile, every so often stopping to check on my whereabouts.  Jeff said he was impressed that I was able to stay close, meanwhile I was breathing heavily, but felt in much better shape than weeks before.  We passed a gray long-bearded hiker (he must have been 70 years old) sitting by the trail on the on the way up.  He said, “This old man needs a break!”  I answered, “This old lady needs one too!”  But I kept going… still with a smile!

Similar to other weeks, our pace slowed as the miles racked up.  But the rock formations were beautiful, and as we hiked along the ridge, we glimpsed stunning views of the Susquehanna Valley through the trees.  In many parts, we had to scramble or navigate rocks, which was fun but tough on the feet.  When we reached the power lines, about 4 miles from our ending point, Jeff scrambled up the rocks beneath them, while I took the opportunity to rest my feet and take some photographs.

Once again, those last two or three miles felt to be the longest, partly because of aggressive expectations with regard to when we would finish.  We find ourselves looking at our watches much more frequently.  Compounding that, Jeff was on the lookout for a pipeline signaling we had 2.5 miles to go.  He somehow missed it, but the longer we hiked, he was praying not to see it knowing how much more distance we would have.  Instead, we noticed a radio tower nearby, which Jeff recognized as being in proximity to Route 225.  Shortly thereafter, we crossed paths with two men, who confirmed we were very close.  Finally, within 20 minutes we crossed the walkway over Route 225, and collapsed into the car just after 3pm.  Our feet were a little sore, primarily from the rocky terrain; but we felt a sense of accomplishment….  And Jeff’s boots proved to be “broken in.”  We were also pleased that we took advantage of last week’s mileage deficiency by blazing a few extra miles and putting us at a better starting point for next week.

Our journey continues next over Labor Day weekend, where we will camp and hope to add significant miles hiking north, closing in on the Delaware Water Gap at New Jersey.


Not Always “Just About the Miles” – August 30


  • Date: Thursday, August 30 – Sunday, September 3
  • Pennsylvania AT: Completed Sections 8 through 6: Route 225 to Route 183
  • Trail Distance: 47.6 miles
  • Cumulative Distance:  138.8 miles
  • Hiking Time: 21 hours over 4 days
  • Total Elevation Gain:  4,600 feet over 4 days
  • Pack Weight:  Varied. Day packs with lots of water and food.
  • Wildlife Spotted:  deer
  • Weather:  spectacular blue skies Thursday through Saturday; Sunday it rained

It was Labor Day weekend and our expectations for mileage gains were high.  The initial plan was to hike the remainder of Section 8 and all of Sections 7, 6 and 5 – a total of 62 miles to Port Clinton.  Rather than post two cars 62 miles apart, we played it safe and built in some flexibility by repositioning the cars at the end of each day.  We still desired to forego many comforts via tent camping, so we set up “base camp” at Twin Grove Campground near the town of Pine Grove, and day hiked for four days.  This turned out not only to be a wise choice, but also offered a perfect balance of strenuous hiking, flexible mileage strategies, relaxing atmosphere, and the “luxuries” of a fixed campsite.

Well, much to our disappointment, we would not make it to Port Clinton. Our planned hike on the third day of nearly 21 miles had to be converted into a two day hike (details to follow); thus Section 5 will wait for next weekend.  However, the fact that we did less miles than hoped was greatly overshadowed by an absolutely AMAZING weekend.  Our campsite had the feeling of being in the forest and was somewhat secluded at the end of the campground.  Jeff planned romantic dinners for each night consisting of salmon, steak, chicken, and grilled veggies cooked on an open fire; and of course… a bottle of wine.  Adding to the “romance-ticity” was that each night the sky was clear with the full (blue) moon brightly shining overhead. 

In the evenings after our hikes we would relax and soak up the beauty of our surroundings, sit by the campfire and make s’mores.  Over the last few weeks of hiking the AT, we’ve learned that “hikers’ midnight” is 9pm.  We easily fell into this regimen after long and fatiguing days that began at 5am, thus we would “sleep like a rock” (how fitting given the PA AT terrain). 

The title for this week’s post, “Not Always Just About the Miles” is certainly applicable as we had a wonderful weekend with no regrets about not achieving our mileage goal. Despite sore feet and strenuous days – we had so much fun; a big part of which is relaxing (even while hiking) in a peaceful and picturesque environment.  Given our primary goal is to complete the PA AT on weekends in two months; we frequently don’t stop long enough to admire the surroundings.  At scenic overlooks we employ the “click and go” approach.  However, we also feel it is just as important, as we strive to reach the AT PA/NJ border, to slow down once in a while and marvel at the beauty before us.  This weekend, we did just that!

Below is a day by day account of our Labor Day weekend hike.

Thursday – Route 225 to Route 325:  By design, this was planned to be a short 9.5 mile hike in the morning in order to keep the afternoon free to set up camp.  We drove out early Thursday morning, positioned our vehicles and set off at first light.  The morning was misty, and there were pretty views of the valley.  We passed a couple of thru-hikers, one of which had spent the night at the impressive Peter Mountain Shelter, and complained bitterly to us about our Pennsylvania Rocks.  Highlights of the day included the view from the Table Rock Overlook, and Jeff’s quick side scramble on rocks under the power lines.  He loves scrambling up the cliffs of rocks.  Once we reached Route 325 we would come to realize that this was the first time we finished a hike not thoroughly fatigued.  It may prove to be the only time on this journey.

Friday – Route 325 to Swatara Gap (Route 72/443):  This was a long day of hiking, but intended to be a precursor for an even longer stretch of 21 miles on Saturday.  We completed 17.5 miles in 7 hours, reflecting a respectable pace of 2.5 miles per hour.  We started from the Route 325 parking area, where we met a Ridgerunner. He advised us of his concerns about water availability at the springs (most thru hikers are concerned about this, but we brought plenty of extra water).

We crossed the bridge over a stream and headed down a wide trail, which quickly ascended toward Yellow Springs.  We found the copper colored mine-contaminated water gurgling from the spring (this is what the Ridgerunner had cautioned us about), and moved along the rocky trail toward the ghost town at Yellow Springs, where a coal mine operated in the 19th century.  There was little remaining from the original structures. 

 All in all, this was a fun day of hiking with varied terrain, rising and falling elevations that were challenging without being exhausting, and interesting historic points along the way.

 We stopped for a quick lunch near the newly reopened Rausch Gap shelter, opting not to hike down the side trail to check it out.  We made lunch in our jet boil, reapplied bug spray and sunscreen, and continued on our way.

The trail to the abandoned village of Rausch Gap was littered with sparkling coal chips and followed an old railroad bed for a mile or so, before heading back into the forest and up Sharp Mountain. Here we marked the approximate halfway point of our journey, 114.9 miles between Maryland and New Jersey.  We met a  young woman southbound thru hiker, and admired her for her journey in celebration of her graduation from college.

I saw a deer on my steep descent from the mountain (Jeff was quite a distance ahead of me, as usual).  It’s interesting to see how surprised the deer in the deep forest seem when they encounter humans, as compared to the ones that casually graze in our backyards.  As we came to the bottom of the mountain, a young man who had passed us going the other way earlier caught up to us and asked if we had lost a lip balm.  Jeff had just mentioned that he’d lost his second lip balm on this trip, so he was happy to get it back.  Jeff remarked on the hiker’s fast pace, and the hiker told us  he had been a forest firefighter in California, where he had to learn to travel quickly through the woods.

Toward the end of section 7, we traveled briefly through meadows in the hot sun.  There were a couple of interesting bridges to cross, including a massive fallen tree trunk with steps cut into it, connected to planks over a creek.  Fun!

Saturday – Swatara Gap to Route 501:  Given today’ distance, we positioned one of our cars at our aspired endpoint at Route 183 (21 miles) but, as a bail out option, positioned the other car at Route 501 (11.4 miles).  We used a shuttle service, Joyce, to drop us off at the Swatara Gap trail entrance, I felt confident that we could achieve the nearly 21 mile goal to Route 183 that we had set for the day.  After all, Friday’s hike had gone so smoothly.  We arrived early, and had about half an hour to wait for sunrise.  Recognizing the long day ahead of us, we strapped on our headlamps and headed down the wide, grassy trail in the darkness.  We were impressed to find the white blazes were supplemented with reflective dots, which made it easier to follow the trail in the dark.  Soon we reached Route 443, and crossed the historic Waterville Bridge over the Swatara Creek (see online excerpt below).  

In the graceful style of another century, the Waterville Bridge carries the AT over Swatara Creek on curving, pale green, wrought-iron trusses and under ornate, pointed spires. Built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co., of East Berlin, Conn., in 1890, the bridge spanned Little Pine Creek at the town of Waterville until 1986, when increased traffic heading for Little Pine State Park and Pine Creek Gorge, known as “the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” required its replacement. It was scheduled for demolition, but the state’s environmental agency intervened, moving it 75 miles south to Swatara. It is a fine example of the lenticular-truss (lens-shaped) bridge, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its use as an AT footbridge spans more than Swatara Creek, appropriately carrying the trail from some of the youngest rocks it crosses in Pennsylvania (300 million years old on Stony Mt. and in Rausch Creek Valley to the south) to some of the oldest (over 430 million years old on Blue Mountain to the north).” 

Soon we found ourselves taking on the most significant and steep elevation gain of the weekend  Of course, Jeff made it to the top long before I did, but I made it all the way without stopping, and it didn’t feel as difficult as it has on other days.

Once we reached the top, the trail was pretty flat for the rest of the day.  We hiked along a rocky ridgeline, with a view still shrouded in the morning haze.  We crossed paths with a young Canadian couple of thru-hikers, who were getting an early start all the way to Duncannon that day.

At this point, the rocky trail bed and the miles from the two previous days hit me like a ton of bricks. Fatigue and foot pain overwhelmed me.  My steps shortened and the rocks pounded the soles of my feet.  Jeff was finding that he had to wait for me to catch up more frequently.  Less than halfway to our bail-out point at Route 501, I cried “uncle!” and needed to stop for a break.  I told him I hated Section 6 and never wanted to do it again. 

But, having no choice, I trudged on, doing the best I could to finish out the 11.4 miles to reach the car.  As we approached the end, we could hear the road traffic to our left, and see spectacular views of the valley to our right.  However it seemed to take forever to reach the trailhead because the AT runs parallel to the road for a mile or so.  Just before exiting the woods we stopped to rest at an overlook, and a Mennonite couple strolled along (Jeff remarked to me later about how, on such a muggy day, with him in his long blue jean pants and her in a long skirt, they weren’t even sweating).  We asked them to take our picture, and chatted with them for a few minutes, before finishing the short distance to the trailhead. We had lunch by the trail sign (after I nearly started a forest fire with the jet boil), before we headed back to the campground to rest.

We prepared steak over the campfire for dinner, which we enjoyed with some sautéed spinach, caprese salad and Java Head Stout, beer made in Pennsylvania.

Sunday – Route 501 to Route 183:  Although we had originally planned to stay another night, we decided to forego camping Sunday night to return home a day early.  So we rose early and broke down our camp before starting the day’s hike. 

We returned to the Route 501 parking area bright and early to resume our journey.  I felt refreshed, and we only had a little more than 9 miles to complete for the day.  My feet felt okay, and Jeff worked with me on some skills to improve the efficiency of my stride and in navigating the rocks.  We started with headlamps again, as the forest was dark under a heavy cloud cover. 

After a little more than an hour, it began to rain.  We broke out the rain coats and pants, reluctantly because it was quite warm.  But they kept us dry (except for the sweat), and Jeff’s new hiking boots held up well.

We only met two other hikers that day, a man and his son.  He told us about the “four state challenge.”  This involves starting on the AT in Virginia, near the West Virginia border.  Hike into WV, which the Trail only passes through for a few miles, then complete all 43 miles of Maryland, into Pennsylvania.  Or do the South bound version, nearly 50 miles “ALL IN ONE DAY!”  Jeff was intrigued and talks about this for next year.

 We hiked in the rain for more than four hours.  The forest has a certain softness when it is cloudy and wet, and we virtually had it to ourselves.  Despite the weather (we were fortunate it was only rain and not thunderstorms), I thought it was a pleasant day, and we reached the car in the early afternoon.  We were happy that we had decided to pack up the campsite before the rain started.

In conclusion, although we did not complete the full distance we had hoped for this weekend, we will make it to Port Clinton next weekend, and move on from there.  On balance, it was a fabulous Labor Day weekend, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Made It to Our Hiking Backyard – September 7



  • Date: Friday September 7th – Sunday, September 9th
  • Pennsylvania AT: Sections 5 and 4 – Route 183 to Route 309
  • Trail Distance: 41.1 miles
  • Cumulative Distance:  179.9 miles
  • Hiking Time: 21 hours over 4 days
  • Total Elevation Gain:  3,600 feet
  • Pack Weight:   Day packs
  • Wildlife Spotted:  Deer, toad, snail
  • Weather:  hot and sunny Friday, threatening storms on Saturday, spectacular on Sunday


Since we did not make it to Port Clinton last week, we decided to extend our weekend hiking plans from two days to three.  After positioning a car in Port Clinton, we began our trek, early as usual, from Route 183.  The distance was 14.4 miles, and fairly uneventful as we traversed State Game Lands, had little elevation gain, and saw no other hikers until the very end. However, the scenery was very beautiful against the back drop of the clear blue skies.  Most noteworthy of our Section 5 hike going northbound was the steep descent into Port Clinton (1,000 feet over one-half a mile).   


As we arrived in Port Clinton, which sits on the Schuylkill River, we saw the old railroad, and remnants of a once bustling center for coal transportation.


While there, we took the opportunity to check out the renowned Cabela’s mega outfitter store on Route 61 in Hamburg. It occurred to me that this is the only store I’ve ever been to where it is acceptable to go in carrying a gun.  (I assumed the person I saw was making a return.)

Our research of Appalachian Trail hikes suggested a stay at the Port Clinton Hotel, so we couldn’t pass on the opportunity.  It is a typical backpacker’s hotel, but very rich in history.  We also had dinner in the hotel, which lived up to its reputation for good food and sizable portions. And the staff was very accommodating.


The next morning we would start a lengthy Section 4 (26.7 miles).  Saturday, we hiked 15.2 miles from Port Clinton to Eckville, near Hawk Mountain.  We began even before it was completely light. The crystals in the quartz rocks on the trail sparkled under the light of my headlamp.  Before we left, we had noted the weather forecast indicated severe conditions in the afternoon; hence the early start. 


This would set the tone for much of the day’s hike as we wanted to finish ahead of any storms.  After hiking about 5 miles we reached Windsor Furnace in Hamburg.   This made us smile as we felt we were entering our own backyard, having completed many day hikes previously in this area.  We felt a sense of drawing closer to our goal of New Jersey. 

 Once again, we would hike over many rocky paths and make further elevation gains up to the Pulpit (1,567 ft).  But we missed out on the familiar gorgeous view, given the thick overcast skies. 


At 10 miles, we would reach the Pinnacle, another overlook with great vistas.  By this time, it was a bit less hazy, so we could experience a scenic view, and took a break for lunch on the rocks. 


After lunch, at 11:30, we checked the forecast again, which alerted us to severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes by 1pm.  Fortunately, much of the remaining 5 miles were on an old woods road.  We hiked at well over 3 miles per hour, and made it to Eckville by 1pm.  We would position the cars for Sunday’s hike just as the severe storm hit the area.

Sunday’s hike started from Eckville en route 11.5 miles to Route 309. Not long after we began (again with headlamps), we were climbing steep slopes ultimately to Dan’s Pulpit (1,580 ft). 


It was a beautiful day, cloudless blue skies, low humidity and temperature in the 60’s. This part of Section 4 runs along the ridge of the Blue Mountains; and every overlook had stunning vistas.  There were a number of other hikers out enjoying the fair weather.  Some were campers, who had hunkered down through the previous day’s storm.  We encountered new examples of the AT Motto: “Hike your own hike,” including one man who said he had been hiking for nine days.  I asked him how far he was going, and he answered, “Until October.”  Another man told us how his annual AT journey has continued every year, since 2003, for the entire month of September.  I asked him which was his favorite state, and he quickly responded, “Virginia!”  We also saw several members of the Allentown Hiking Club doing trail maintenance.


The other feature of this hike, much to Jeff’s pleasure, was very rocky sections that involved bouldering, scrambles and, well… more rocky sections! I feel that I am either getting better at navigating the rocky trails, or adopting a more stoic response to the pain they inflict on my feet.  I can’t count how many times I have cursed these Pennsylvania rocks.  But I am now recognizing that it is I who am the visitor to their world.  Their beauty, history and challenge deserve to be appreciated rather than scorned.  I only fell down once.



After about 8 miles, the trail became another forest road but we would take our time and enjoy the beautiful nature and weather.  We are really pleased with completing 41 miles this weekend and about 180 miles since beginning in early August. Only 3 sections remain. We are eagerly anticipating next weekend, when we will hike on another familiar section, Lehigh Gap, with even more challenging rock scrambles. 



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