Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania Northbound from Swatara Gap to the Blue Rocks Family Campground
I have talked with many Appalachian Trail thru hikers, and each of them have told me how hard it is to hike the rocky areas of the AT in Pennsylvania. In the past I have envisioned hiking the entire AT in sections at my own walking rate. I am over half way finished hiking the entire AT and I have recently come to the realization that at age 70 the vision may not become a reality. About 20 years ago I was diagnosed with severe knee loss of cartilage due to many years of overuse and abuse running marathons and ultramarathrons. Three doctors told me that I needed immediate knee replacements in both knees and that my long distance outdoor activities of running, bicycling and walking were a thing of the past. I refused to give in to an inactive life of being a couch potato. I vowed to become even more active than before the doctors' diagnosis. I knew that running was no longer an option, but bicycling and long-distance walking seemed real and viable to me. I began bicycling to and from work and started hiking small sections of the AT. My first real test was to bicycle 470 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I completed the trip in six days and since then I have not looked back. I have completed many 100 and 50 mile bicycle rides, bicycled to and from work for ten years, as well as hiked portions of the AT and the Continental Divide Trail. Last summer I hiked Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon. I thought that I would have enough time to finish hiking the AT before I physically would have to quit. My latest adventure was to hike 75 miles on the AT from Swatara Gap to Lehigh gap in Pennsylvania. I divided the hike into two parts. The first part was from Swatara Gap to Port Clinton and the second from Port Clinton to Lehigh Gap.
Swatara Gap to Port Clinton Hike
At Swatara Gap a hiking friend joined me as an encourager and as a safety precaution against me falling and being left all alone injured on the trail. The AT is a well-maintained trail. Hikers have a very small chance of becoming lost in the woods. The chance of injury comes from falling while walking long distances on basketball-sized wobbly rocks up and down the mountains with a 35 pound pack. During the month of April in Pennsylvania there are only a few thru hikers on this portion of the trail and an injured solo hiker may lay unattended for hours or even days. We hiked together for three days before he had to quit to attend the Penn Relays in Philadelphia.
Along the trail we passed groups of young couples trying to find suitable areas to view the meteor showers expected that night. Our first stop after 11.2 miles was the 501 Shelter. The 501 Shelter is one of the only shelters that are enclosed with a roof and four walls. The shelter is maintained by a caretaker who lives in a house less than 100 yards away. The shelter ceiling is composed of a skylight covering the entire roof. If we had not been so tired we could have viewed the meteor shower without getting out of our bed. It was great to be able to sleep inside without the worry of bears or other larger animal visitations looking for our food. Of course, one has to worry about mice in the shelter trying to sneak a morsel of food or steal something to line their home from a chewed piece of coat or sleeping bag. It was 29 degrees that morning, making it hard to roll out of our sleeping bags to starte on the new day's hike. I dined on a breakfast cookie and some hot instant coffee. I usually pack only very light items for a long hike, but my pack was much heavier this trip. Although the mountains of this section of the AT in Pennsylvania are only 1500 feet high they are challenging because of the very rocky trails.
Port Clinton to Lehigh Gap Hike
I planned to continue solo hiking for four more days to Lehigh Gap. Since I had come down in elevation to Port Clinton that meant I had to go back up the same distance to the trail again. Somehow the breakfast cookie I ate did not have that lasting energy it had the previous morning. There were many great views of the valley below on the way up the mountain.
I believe that I need to look at each section of the AT that I have not hiked yet and pick the hikes that are the most representative of each state section. I will not rule out slack packing or day hiking some of the more challenging sections. Let me know your ideas on my plan and post then in the comments section of this blog.
Psalm 40:2.............God set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.