June 27, 2018 / Comments (1)

Week #17—Rocksylvania

Week # 17

6/11 – B & B to George Outerbridge shelter with Rob
6/12 – Outerbridge shelter to Leroy Smith shelter
6/13 – Leroy Smith shelter to Delaware Water Gap
6/14 – Zero at Delaware Water Gap
6/15 – Southbound from Mohican Outdoor Center to Delaware Water Gap
6/16 – Zero at Mohican Outdoor Center


Rob Smith, my good friend and business partner at Randolph Square, selected the first part of this week to come out on the Appalachian Trail a “guest hiker” for 2 ½ days. As should become apparent, he selected these days not because of the portion of the Trail I was planning to pass through those days, but based upon which days were most convenient for his family.

He drove 6 hours from Richmond in a nasty rain while I zeroed. After a pack “shakedown” (where we shed at least 5 pounds of gear and clothing Rob was thinking about carrying, we enjoyed some good wine and a fine dinner at The Summit B & B. The next morning we were off early for a 13-mile hike that we knew would include the infamous “Knife Edge” and the frustrating rock covered hiking trail. We had good weather by midday, survived the Knife Edge (which requires 20 – 30 minutes of walking a precarious ridge line of various shaped, large rocks with difficult and sometimes dangerous hand and foot holds (as well as a careful eye watching for rattlesnakes).

After lunch at Bake Oven Knob we had to navigate down a similar boulder field that added the challenge of a steep descent to rock scrambling. The “rocks” in our footpath were difficult and frustrating at times, but there were breaks in the ordeal where the trail was pleasant. Our final challenge of the day was finding (which we failed at) a couple of reasonably level tent sites. (We both spent a big part of the evening sliding downhill in our tents.)

Day 2 was anticipated to be a very difficult day, consisting of a nearly vertical climb out of Lehigh Gap (over a boulder and scree field), 17 miles without a good water source to replenish (thus, requiring us to carry even more weight than usual out of the Gap, and foot-bruising encounters with miles of rocky trail. When we arrived at the shelter area at the end of the day, fortunately there were many good tent sites, but unfortunately we had a half mile hike to get water. Rob had also carried a bottle of fine wine, so our Trailtopia meals were enhanced by the great beverage. It was a treat after a very long, difficult day – certainly not one I’d recommend for many “guest hikers.” And I’m still not sure if Rob was awake for the entire dinner. We both checked into our tents long before nightfall.

The final day of Rob’s visit was just 5 miles, but we were unsure of how difficult the rocks would be (and trying to meet a shuttle to help Rob return to Richmond) so we started fairly early. We were greeted by light rain and encountered plenty of pesky rocks but we still made good time and had Rob very early for his shuttle (which we were able to move up).

After congratulating Rob on a job well done (certainly no other guest hikers had to work as hard), I continued to head north. After a steep climb out of the gap to return to the ridge line I was greeted by both a harder rain and rocks. Because Rob and I made Wind Gap much sooner than expected I considered trying to push through all the way to Delaware Water Gap, but I needed to see how fast I could move through what I anticipated would be slow going. (Scars had said the worst rocks were between Wind Gap and Water Gap.)

I started into the rocks, and now (after the fact), if I had to pick, I’d say the worst rocks in Pennsylvania were after the climb out of Wind Gap until Wolf Rocks (about five miles where there is little reprieve AND the rocks are particularly difficult due to their size, shape and abundance). With the rain, the severe rocks, no company, and the uninteresting environment I had to set my mind to just getting through this part of the hike. (In Pennsylvania I have said often the terrain is “uninteresting” or even “boring” (or “monotonous”). Earlier today I read a post from a trail friend that suggests a nice contrast between “uninteresting” and a more exciting walk in the natural world:

And the sights today, oh wow. I tried to capture what I could in photo/video, but an iPhone could never do it justice. My day was simply full of natural wonder and beauty. Today’s breathtaking moments consisted of standing at the top of Bromly Mountain Ski Resort, ridge walking Baker Peak, walking along the edge of Little Rock Pond (above), following the edge of Big Branch River, and even walking through a Rock Cairn Garden …

(Courtesy: Sharkbait)

I did put on some music (and listened to a Freakanomics and an RZIM podcast). The rocks WERE terrible and I rarely picked my head up. More than once I would set my foot only to have it involuntarily shoved or slide into a sharp edge of a neighboring rock, bruising some part of the sides or top of my foot (any portion not protected by the sole or toe cap). It continued to rain so the rocks were wet, which called for even more patience, which somehow I seemed to conjure up. Although I had had a few moments of anger and frustration over the rocks while hiking with Rob, I did not let myself give in to the frustration.

A couple of younger thru-hikers passed me, but otherwise it was a depressing and solitary afternoon. I did listen to Mighty Blue’s most recent interview of me and (because I have been trying to manage actively my emotional state) was encouraged by his observation: “Your personal management of your hike is almost as if you personally intervene in your own psyche, . . . you manage your own psyche on the trail, don’t you? You know what should be coming, you make those changes to your expectations. . . . For me everything was new.”

After Wolf Rocks I noted that I still had 8 miles to go to get to DWG. The last shelter was coming up soon, so I had to make a final decision. At my usual average of 2 to 2.5 miles per hour I could get to DWG, provided the rocks were not too bad. I decided to go for DWG and get finished with Pennsylvania. The rest of the Trail was a mixed bag of beautiful soft pathway, a number of small but seemingly pointless ups and downs, more troublesome rocks, a long stretch on an old road bed (where I could make good time) and a 2.5 mile steep, difficult descent into DWG. I did fall coming down a makeshift stone staircase when a flat rock tilted forward, making the wet surface slanted. I twisted my right ankle, banged my right elbow and wrenched my right shoulder a bit. Picking up the pieces, I seemed to be alright – nothing hurt seriously.

With four miles to go I noted that I was fatigued. I was starting to feel the weight of the pack and my legs were tiring. I had no choice now but to press on. The weather moderated and the sun tried hard to appear. There were a few views down towards the Delaware River and the narrow gap it had dug through the low mountain ridge.

I pressed on. The descent was arduous physically because of its steepness and duration, mentally because of the wetness of the rocks and terrain, especially at a time when I was nearly exhausted.

I forced my way down and was delighted to finish at the Deer Head Inn. After a quick shower I enjoyed dinner at the Sycamore Grill. I all but collapsed into bed with a belly full of food after – perhaps – my toughest one day of hiking. (I even noticed my hands were sore and swollen – I guess from the long day of gripping strongly to help maintain balance through the rocks, to help power up the inclines, and to help ease me down the long, steep descent. I’m going to need my zero day, but there is a great deal of satisfaction having completed Pennsylvania – a state (and almost 230 miles) that may have created more stress (and therefore required very focused management of my emotional/mental state) than any task to date. In reality, the rocks of Pennsylvania were not fun (although some of the very large rock scrambling was fun – and some was harrowing), were extremely difficult and/or frustrating at times, but in the final analysis were not as bad as the hype or as bad as I had anticipated.

This week ended by formally getting out of Pennsylvania and entering New Jersey, which greeted me with a wonderful hiking day, interesting trail, great views from the ridge line and a visit to Sunfish Pond – a beautiful glacial pond (and the most southern such tern on the AT. In preparing for my effort to cross through New Jersey and head further north, I took a zero at the Mohican Outdoor Center to better pace myself for some family meetings planned for the upcoming week(s).

Next week – New Jersey.

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Last modified: July 5, 2018

One Response to :
Week #17—Rocksylvania

  1. You’re rollin’ right along, Bruce.

    I confess I experienced some bemusement at a recent episode of RTK, the podcast, during which you seemed to suggest that PA was perhaps not as onerous as its reputation suggests.

    But I see from this post, and hear from the last episode, that the, uh, cumulative effect of PA (or, as I call it, PennsHELLvania….) is something of a grind.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that it’s not just the rocks. The rocks are a pain, to be sure, after Duncannon (and, as you note, perhaps accelerating toward the eastern end of the state), but it’s the combo of rocks, heat and humidity, green tunnel—no breeze!—and relative lack of eye-popping scenery that really got to me (not to mention a lovely case of Lyme disease).

    In truth, NJ and NY are quite rocky as well, and difficult, as you know now. But the ratio of difficulty to reward (varied features and terrain, water, delis, etc.) is much lower.

    I’m enjoying your progress. Any chance you can update us on the progress of the fundraising campaign?

    ~Pony (CT’15;AT’16)

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