Thursday, September 17, 2009

Duncannon to Delaware Water Gap: A hike through Northeast Pennsylvania

Sorry that I haven’t been around regularly reading up on people’s blogs. I was out of town for two days and have been busy the rest of the time. I did finish this post on another segment of my Appalachian Trail hike in 1987. I think the photo is of Port Clinton (if not, it’s Duncannon, PA). I need to copy some more photos from this section of the trail, but I didn’t get many good shots as the air was often hazy (or it was rainy).

I ran into Slim Jim and Daddy Long-Legs at Peter’s Mountain Shelter. It was good to meet them, as they seemed to know a lot about me. They’d been reading my adventures in shelter logs since I got on the trail three weeks earlier at Swift Run Gap in the Shenandoah National Park. For the rest of the trail, we’d often hike together and a couple months later, Jim and I would both finish our journey on the same day at the top of Mount Katadhin in Maine.

That morning, Jim (my friend from Harrisburg) had dropped me off in downtown Duncannon, where he’d picked me up two days earlier. I set out hiking north (at this point the trail actually heads northeast). The heat and humidity was almost unbearable. Thunderstorms started moving in that afternoon and, after only twelve miles, I decided to hold up at the shelter. A few minutes later Jim and Daddy Long-legs joined me. Other hikers keep stopping by, including a nine member group from a hiking club (thankfully, they all stayed in tents, a couple from Colorado who was hiking the trail and an African American guy who was at least 100 pounds overweight. He’d started hiking in Duncannon, going north in the hopes of making it to Katadhin and losing weight. He carried with him a half-gallon canteen filled with rum and coke, which he kept offering to the three of us.

With so many people in and around the shelter, I didn’t sleep well and was on the trail by 6:30 AM the next morning. It was June 21, the longest day of the year, and I made good use of it, hiking twenty three and a half miles. This section of the trail was beautiful as it snaked along ridges of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite coal region. The unbearable heat of the past several days didn’t return. Although still warm, it was pleasant hiking weather, with a light mist that kept the temperature down. I passed the site of Yellow Springs, a former coal town that seemed haunted in the fog. At Rausch Gap, I took advantage of the shelter to take a nap out of the rain. Later, at Swatara Creek, where an old steel truss bridge had been restored for use by hikers, I fixed my dinner. Afterwards, I hiked another couple of miles, crossing an interstate and climbing the ridge out of Swatara Gap, pitching my tarp for the night at level site on the top.

It continued to rain the next day, as I made my way north. Mostly it was a light drizzle, interspersed with several drenching downpours. I secured everything in the pack, wore only a t-shirt and a pair of lightweight running shorts. My socks were thoroughly soaked and it would be days before my boots dried. I noticed a rip in one of the seams, where water oozed out with each step. The hip band on the pack began to rip out where it was attached to the pack. Every time I hosted the pack, I had to be careful that I didn’t rip it further. Early in the morning, I stopped at Pilgrim’s Rest, a place where Count Zinzendorf, a Moravian missionary to the native population, had camped centuries earlier. Before heading out, Slim Jim and Daddy Long-legs came hobbling in. Daddy Long-legs was also having problems with his boots. We camped that night Ney’s Gap Shelter with Larry and Mo (they’d left Curly at home), two girls from Maine who are on a trip from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to New York State. We learn that the Brits are not far ahead, as they’d been camping with the Brits for the past couple of nights. (An interesting side note: a few years after the trail, one of the Brits would marry Mo). The sound of rain on a tin roof was pleasing to the ears and I spent much of the evening in the dry shelter stitching my hip band back together with dental floss. It was suggested that my trail name should be "Dental Floss."

It was still cloudy and foggy when I woke early the next morning. I wasn’t too anxious to get an early start, as the rain of the previous day was still falling from the trees, so I stayed in my bag, and finished reading On the Road. When the rest started to stir, I got up and fired my stove, listening to the complaints. I was using a new MSR multi-fuel stove that burned gasoline (which made it easy to resupply my fuel) and could boil a pot of water in three minutes. Unfortunately, it also sounded a bit like the Space Shuttle taking off, and while it was running, it drowned out the sounds of nature. Sitting a pot of water on my stove to boil, I stuffed my sleeping bag, rolled my pad and began to pack up. When the water began to roll, I fixed a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea. Jim and Daddy Long-legs were also fixing their breakfast and we ate and discussed the day. Like me, Daddy Long-legs was having problems with his boots. The three of us decide to hike to Port Clinton, a small town along the Schuylkill River, some seven miles away. From there, Daddy Long-legs and I would leave our packs with Jim and hitch into Hamburg, a town a few miles further away which has a cobbler.

A couple hours later, we arrived in town and set up camp at the picnic shelter in the park, where they allowed hikers to camp. I took the waistband off my pack and, with it and my boots in hand, took off to Hamburg, hanging out a thumb every time a car approached. After covering about a mile, we were given a ride and arrived in the city just in time to catch the cobbler before he took off for lunch. We heard great things about this cobbler, but he seemed rude and bothered by our appearance. Looking at Daddy Long-leg’s boots, he shook his head and handed them back, saying they couldn’t be repaired. But he took my boots and my waistband and promised them back by 5 PM. Next stop was a pub for lunch and a few beers. Then we headed out to search for Daddy Long-leg’s some boots. Finding none that fit, he purchased a pair of red Converse high-top sneakers, hoping they’d make do till the next town. At five, I picked up my shoes and waistband and was surprised when he refused to take payment for his services. Instead, he gave me a wooden nickle, advertising his business, and asked that I send him a postcard from Maine. I felt bad that I had earlier judged him so harshly and when I completed the trail, I did send him a postcard.

Getting back to Port Clinton, the three of us headed to the local bar for dinner. With the exception of the bartender, an elderly woman, we were the only people in the joint. Looking at the menus, we began to make our request, only to be told she didn’t have any of this and that. Finally, we asked what she had, and she listed several sandwiches that she could make. We decided the menus were just for table decorations and ordered sandwiches and beer. She suggested Yuengling Beer, a local brand brewed in Pottstown, PA and reported to be the oldest brewery in the United States. She poured each of us a twelve ounce glass, which cost 35 cent each. An hour later, after having finished our sandwiches and having down three glasses of beer, the woman cut us off. We thought his was a little strange as the glasses were small and we were walking. We headed back to the town’s picnic shelter, where I spent the evening reading Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary.

I set off early the next morning, leaving Jim and Daddy Long-legs behind. The climb out of Schuylkill Valley was relatively steep, 800 gain feet in a little over a mile. The day was clear and warm and I made decent time. At Pulpit Rock, I stopped for a catnap. Jim and Daddy Long-legs caught up with me and we had an early lunch and an afternoon nap, soaking up in the sun. I’d heard horror stories of hikers who’d fell asleep on a rock, their white feet exposed to the sun, and waking up a few hours later with their feet burnt and in no condition to hike. I was careful to keep my feet covered. After an hour nap, I headed on north, leaving the two of them behind. I passed along the edge of the Eckville Hawk Sanctuary, and then down into a hollow. There, near the bottom, Cindy Ross and Todd Gladfelter had a hostel for hikers. The two of them had hiked both the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest Trail. Cindy was home when I arrived, but going into town, so I just got to say hello. I’d known of her from her book on the Appalachian Trail, which I’d given to a former girlfriend. I realized I’d never see the book again. (A few years after this time, I’d read Cindy’s book on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is still on my shelves. She also has another book out on the Continental Divide Trail, a trip she did with her husband and their children).

I’d arrived at the hostel at 4 PM, too early to call it a day. I lounged around, reading a magazine article about hiking the Shipwreck Trail along the British Columbia coastline and from The Genesee Diary. Jim and Daddy Long-legs still hadn’t come in and I was worried about where they were as the seven or eight miles of hiking from lunch had been relatively easy. I decided to fix dinner and then hike on and to camp on the top of the ridge. In my pack there was a can of tuna and a package of tuna helper. It was my heaviest meal, so I prepared it knowing I could leave my can in the trash at the hostel and not have to haul it anymore. Having meat on the trail was a luxury. As I finished dinner, the two wayward hikers stumbled in, having spent several hours napping on the rocks. We talked a bit and then I headed out a little after 7 PM. The trail out of the hollow was steep, climbing 1000 feet in two miles, but it seemed easy. In an hour, I’d covered the 3 plus miles from the hostel to Dan’s Pulpit, a rock outcropping with a view to the east. There, I made a dry camp (with less than two quarts of water), and as the skies promised to continue to be clear, camped under the stars. Snacking a bit before bed, I was shocked to see a mouse run between my legs, looking for a handout. I chased him away and hung my food from a tree and then collapse for the night. I’d hiked 19 ½ miles.

The next morning I was disappointed that the sun rose too far to the north and wasn’t visible from the outcropping. Leaving early, I hiked a little over a mile to a spring where I fixed breakfast: Oatmeal, hot tea, and a cold glass of strawberry instant breakfast mix, made with powder milk. When a spring was available, this was a real treat which I made by adding the mix and powder milk and spring water into a wide mouth water bottle and shaking. Throughout this area of the trail, there are many examples of early iron works. The iron industry got its start here in the Revolutionary War, when the British embargo forced the colonies to become more independent. In these hills, charcoal operations along with coal mines and pockets of iron ore provided the materials for a cottage industry to develop and eventually grew into the steel industry that, even in the late 80s, were dying. I continued on north. Before reaching Blue Mountain Summit, Jim and Daddy Long-legs caught up. To our surprise, there was a German restaurant at the summit, where PA 309 crosses the mountain. Although it was early for lunch, just a bit after 11 AM, we decided to stop. I had sausage and sauerkraut and a salad and several glasses of ice tea. The restaurant had German beers on tap and I’d decided to shun them knowing I still need to put in some miles before stopping. We loitered around as long as we could in the air conditioning, learning from the television behind the bar that Jackie Gleason had died.

With our stomachs’ full, the three of us hike together through the afternoon. It was hot, humid and there was little breeze. Although I had filled all three of my water bottles, I found myself drinking constantly, trying to quench my thirst. Although lunch had been delicious, I paid for the salty food all afternoon in the heat. We didn’t make very good time, stopping several times to nap and to explore the rock outcroppings along the knife edge and at Boers Rocks. We decided to camp to Bake Oven Knob Shelter, six and a half miles from the restaurant. By the time we arrive, about 6 PM, I’d gone through two bottles of water and was into the third. To our horror, the spring at the shelter, which requires a steep climb down into a draw, was dry. We had no choice but to continue hiking. The next water and shelter was eight miles away.

That evening, the three of us stay together, talking and nursing our water, taking only sips. None of us had any to spare. The heat continued as the sun sank in the west. We hiked on the ridge, high over the northern extension of the Pennsylvanian Turnpike that ran through a tunnel underneath us. It was dark when we approach the George W. Outerbridge shelter. Near the shelter, we heard running water and found a pipe spring gushing with cool water. The three of us dropped to our knees and scooped water up with our hands, drinking and splashing ourselves. Water never tasted so good. Afterwards, we set up camp in the shelter with another hiker.

The other guy in the shelter was allusive about who he was or where he was heading. He mostly sat in the corner and smoked cigarettes. We gathered he was going southbound, but maybe he told us that because we’re heading north. He constantly got up in the night and looked around, while smoking a cigarette. I woke up during one of the episodes, having dreamed that I was in a house fire. The next morning was foggy. We headed out early, with thirty six miles separating us from Delaware Water Gap. My boots have again ripped and Daddy Long-leg’s feet were hurting from hiking in his Converse High-tops. Jim was meeting family at the Water Gap and Daddy Long-legs planned to tag along with them to a backpacking store in New Jersey, where he hoped to replace his boots. I was also meeting a friend at the Water Gap, who was going to try to finish the trail with me. We hiked in the fog and a light drizzle, crossing Lehigh Gap. The climb up the other side was sickening. We’re heard about this stretch that is void of trees from the smelters in the Lehigh Valley. The rocks were sharp and slippery. We talked about the other guy in the shelter and wondered if he was running from the law.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Leroy Smith Shelter. Wet and cold, we prepared a hot lunch and built a fire. We decided to make for Wind Gap, a little over three miles away, where we knew there was a motel, deciding to split a room and enjoy a warm shower. A room at the Gateway Motel, with two beds and a roll away, cost us $36. We struck up a conversation with Ray, a construction worker in the next room, who seemed interested that we’d come in all muddy and with backpacks. He called us over to his truck and opened a cooler and offered us a Straub Light, a local beer. After talking a bit, he offered us the use of his truck so we could drive to a restaurant for dinner. We tried to talk him into coming along with us, but he refused, so we accepted his offer, but first showered and cleaned up.

The next morning, Ray offered us a ride into Delaware Water Gap. Although we had fifteen more miles to go, we took him up on the offer, knowing we could come back and “slack pack” the trail between Wind Gap and Delaware Water Gap. It was a Saturday morning and I hoped to find a cobbler to once again sew up my boots. Jim’s family was coming in that afternoon. We drove into the Gap and dropped our packs off at a hostel in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. I learned that the closest cobbler is in East Stroudsburg and we catch a bus there, arriving just before the guy closes shop at noon. He said he was in a hurry, but grabbed my boots and stitched them back together in just a couple of minutes, charging me fifty cent. Afterwards, the three of us washed clothes and spent time in a bar named Rumors. We had several drinks, and then I retreated to the hostel for a nap while Jim waited for his family. A number of other hikers stumbled in, including the Brits and Doug, a hiker who has been hauling a fly rod from Georgia, fishing at every stream that appears worthwhile. (In the book the National Geographic Society published after the 50th Anniversary of the trail, there was a picture of Doug in Damascus, Virginia). That night, a group of us headed back to Rumors, where a rock-and-roll band was playing. Several times that evening, I found myself dancing with a girl named Michelle, who was with a group of friends at the next table, celebrating her 21st birthday. We all arrived back at the hostel around 2 AM, and only then I realized that I hadn’t eaten lunch or dinner.

The next morning, I got up early and fixed breakfast. Doug and I decided to go upstairs for Sunday School. A few more hikers joined us for worship. That afternoon, the church had a potluck on the lawn and invited us all to attend. We feasted and talked to folks and, to show them just how uncouth we were, we held a watermelon spitting contest. I also arranged a lift back to Wind Gap early the next morning (Jim and Daddy Long-legs had hiked this section on Sunday). Later in the day, Doug and I walked down along the river and I watched him fish. It felt that the Water Gap, where the Delaware rushes through the mountains, was a special place. That night, Shari came in with her dog, Bowser. The next morning, I left my pack at the hostel and taking only water and a couple of granola bars, caught the ride back to the Wind Gap and quickly did the 15 or so miles. I then picked up my pack, crossed the Delaware into New Jersey and headed north to catch up with Shari.

Other stories from my hikes on the Appalachian Trail
Duncannon, PA
Getting to the trail in Georgia
Folks along the trail in North Georgia
Folks along the trail in North Georgia and Southern North Carolina
Hiking the Berkshires, Massachusetts
Sugarloaf Mt, Maine
My Hiking Stick


  1. I enjoy reading about your adventures on the trail, Sage. Have you kept up with anyone you met back then?

  2. For awhile, I was thinking the subtitle to this story should be "The Tortoises and the Hare" with Jim and Daddy Longlegs being the tortoises.

  3. Sounds very pleasant. You can see from the comments about the "stranger" that when folks are close to nature and to each other they develop a deep curiosity about the other people in their world.

  4. It's really sad that it's impossible to capture in words the true experience of a long through-hike like the AT. By that, of course, I mean the smells one emits after about a week of sleeping in damp crap. God love the people who pick up hitchhiking AT hikers.


  5. Great tales, Sage.

    I am pretty sure I had a pair of old-style Red converse high-tops around that time. Although I never hiked in them.

    Would that be waxed dental floss or unwaxed?

  6. Kenju, for a few years I kept up with Jim and Randall (DLL) and Dave of the Brits. I did exchange a few emails with Jim last year.

    Ed, they were actually quite fast hikers, so I had to start earlier! I'd been on the trail since April (I'd done the southern part in pieces over 3 years)

    Charles, he was weird, but you're right, we did share a lot with each other while hiking and camping together

    Randall, some people are probably glad to experience it without the smells!

    Bone, those shoes would have hurt to hike in... And unwaxed--it was not only good for the teeth but also for sewing up things.

  7. Went to camp near the Deleware Water Gap--every New Yorker seemed to

    As an adult one of my best friends had a house in Carbon County--just in back of the Poconos--Jim Thorpe is probably the best known town. Wonderful times--great swimming lakes made by the Army

    Loved this post. I know the towns!

  8. What memories you have, and I think...what new memories your journeys are creating, Sage! I wouldn't have the slightest clue how to pack and hike as you do. What an art! :)

  9. I am thoroughly enjoying your Appalachian adventure!

  10. Hiking in the rain? Dude, didn't anyone ever teach you that rainy days are for laying around and sunny days are for hiking?

  11. Pia--it's amazing just how close the trail comes to NYC!

    Michael--I am trying to recreate memories, using my journals, my AT data book and maps... it's kind of fun

    Kontan--I'm glad.

    TC--walking in the rain can be fun, don't you kow that! :)

  12. Got to have good boots and dry socks. I always carried a dozen pair in the deepest part of my pack. Keep the journey going Sage.

  13. I don't mean to diminish your wonderful story, but the part about ordering food off of the menu at the restaurant and being told they didn't have those items, only the sandwiches the bartender offered to make - reminded me of an episode of I Love Lucy.

    As always, I enjoy reading about your hiking adventures. If I had more time, I would look up a map of the trail and follow it along as I read your post.

  14. I'm always amazed by the friendly people you meet along the way, like Ray who let you use his truck to get dinner. WHO DOES THAT NOWADAYS??

    Also, I can't help but wonder how long a pair of hiking boots last before they wear out completely. I can't imagine hiking 23 1/2 miles in one day in anything!

  15. Started to feel part of that journey- really nice. Loved the cobbler memory with your shoes.

  16. The Walking Man, I carried 2 pair of heavy wool socks, 2 pair of sock liners and a heavy synthetic pair of socks that I often wore in the rain. By this point on the trail, my feet were tough and walking with wet socks no longer bothered them.

    Dan, it was a pretty funny exchanging. We all ended up asking for the same sandwich--but she didn't have enough, so one one us had to have another kind of sandwich

    Scarlet, there were lots of friendly people (and a few not so friendly ones) along the trail. Most people use 2 sets of boots along the trail

    Beau, I'd continue to have problems with my shoes until I reached Hanover NH where I finally found a pair that fit.

  17. I'm enjoying these hiking memories of yours, Sage.
    About feet burned: I've had mine burned at the beach a few years ago and had to walk on flip flops and sandals for a few time.

    Take care and always carry a pair of socks with you!

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.