After a few failed attempts to get an overnight hike with some of the BPLer’s here in the eastern PA & NJ area, Joe Geib & I finally got out for a quick day hike along the AT in PA last Sunday. While our first face-to-face meeting was not as remarkable as Ryan & Alan’s GPS aided meeting in the Wind River Range, it was nice to finally meet Joe after wrestling with work & family schedules. As someone once said…it’s a shame when life gets in the way of having fun.
I learned that Joe is working on sections of the AT (between work, family, and school), so we decided to do the ~12 miles from Rt. 309 to Hawk Mt. Road (just northwest of Allentown, PA). Since we dropped off cars at both ends and started at the higher end, it provided us with an overall ~800 ft loss of elevation. In northern PA, the AT follows rocky ridgelines, with occasional descents into “gaps,” so the going was generally level until the very end. While this wasn’t the rockiest section of PA, it was close. PA is known to AT thru-hikers as “the place boots go to die.” Our trail runners seemed to hol up quite well, and I was happy not to have to swing a heavy boot as I picked my footing over the rocks.
After shuttling cars, we got a 7:30 am start at the northern end of the route. The expected rain held off, and the overcast skies kept the temperature at a very pleasant 40-50 F range for the whole hike. We made good time, with Joe’s 20-something legs setting a respectable ~2.5 mph pace over the mix of rocky single track and abandoned woods roads. I kept up, but my 40-something legs were a little sore the next day.
The trees were just starting to populate with leaves, so we were rewarded with views that were more expansive than will be possible within a few weeks along the “green tunnel” of the AT. Regardless, much of the time our eyes were on the ground, picking out the next step. The occasional blossoming Dogwood trees provided an occasional splash of white to our hike, but it would be a month or so before the Rhodos and Mountain Laurel blossom. Not much route finding skills needed with the ubiquitous white blazes, as seen next to me here. However, there was one exception to that later in the trip.
We made it to the relatively new Allentown Shelter while a very pleasant mother & son couple were making breakfast. This is a nice shelter, which I have been to before, but it’s nice to see it at a different time of the year.
Most of the time was spent getting acquainted, with talk revolving around family, gear, and backpacking trips (past and dreamt of). We were both very happy with our Montane windshirts which were ideal for the conditions, despite out spouses’ complaints of them being too wrinkled for more civilized outings.
We passed the side trail to Hawk Mountain, which is one of the main stopping grounds during the migration of hawks, eagles, and falcons along the east coast. An average of 20,000 raptors pass through here each fall. Here Joe is pointing the correct way to head. He saved us some miles at the end of the trail by finding the proper blue blazed trail to the parking lot. I of course never get lost, but I have been known to explore a few places that I hadn’t planned to.
We passed a few vista points, with the most prominent being Dan’s Pulpit, which provided a nice view of farmland and an example of the usually straight ridge folding back on itself to form the Pinnacle. Unfortunately, between signing the register, having a snack, and airing out our Injinji-clad feet I forgot to take a picture of the best view on the trail.
The last leg of the hike came once we dropped off the ridgeline and passed through a rocky, swampy area which provided a more boreal type of environment. After Joe found our way back to the parking lot, and recovering my vehicle, we each returned to our normal lives…Joe studying and me doing daddy-duty.
I hope this was just the first of many hikes with other regional BPLer’s. We did lament our lack of drama that our Yosemite brethren experienced during their winter trip, but it was great to compare notes on gear and meet each other. Stewart, Brian, Tom, & Nathan…we hope you can join us next time for an overnighter where we can pull out all of the toys to play with.