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Pennsylvania We Heart You…Most of the Time

2011 July 11
by Elizabeth

Welcome to the north!

Pennsylvania. It was a love/hate relationship.

The entire trip up until then, we had heard the rumors and horror stories about how rocky Pennsylvania was. “Rocksylvania”, as it had been deemed, struck fear into our hearts and pain into our feet. Once we got to Harpers Ferry and really started moving, our apprehension grew. We crossed West Virginia and Maryland so quickly that suddenly Pennsylvania was upon us.

The first sign after crossing the Mason-Dixon line. You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

The first thing we saw upon entering Pennsylvania was this fantastic sign. This was just after the sign marking the Mason-Dixon line. Simply amazing. Muggle being a grammar-nazi made this a difficult experience. Remember, you never have a second chance to make a first impression…

The elevation profile looked pretty flat, but we were NOT going to be lulled into thinking it would be an easy state. Almost literally tip-toeing across the state line, we were prepared… but for what exactly? The first day wasn’t so bad… and then neither was the second. On the third day we just figured we would plan on some big miles and see what happened. In fact, we were loving Pennsylvania, happily hitching into all the close towns for lunch and/or dinner, enjoying subs, shakes, and cold drinks nearly every single day! Sure, we had rock fields and nasty stretches, but it wasn’t worse than anything we had already done in our opinion.

Climbing out of Palmerton. Notice the blaze and the arrow? It was quite the experience.

That is, until we hit Palmerton. The old zinc-smelting-turned-superfund-restoration site is where the tide turned in favor of PA. The climb (“climb”, not “ascent” — there’s a difference) out of Palmerton was steep and rocky. Tucking away our treking poles to leave our hands free to scramble, we spent the morning climbing and crossing the mostly-barren superfund site. From there on, the days were rough–quite literally. While we were still able to walk long days, our feet smarted at the end of each one.

Desolation after the peak of the climb. This is the superfund site detour trail. Makes me wonder what the actual trail currently looks like.

From Palmerton, PA through High Point State Park in New Jersey, we endured “the nastiness.” We shipped our replacement shoes to the last stop in PA (Delaware Water Gap), which was a little late based on mileage. However, we wanted any rock-caused wear and tear to happen on our old shoes rather than have it initiate our new shoes. That proved to be a good decision–our shoes were both pretty shredded.

But quite honestly, Pennsylvania wasn’t as bad as the hype. The last four to five days were tough and rocky, but before that we were able to do 20+ mile days with stops in towns for food and resupply. It was flat, the trail was mostly nice, and the weather was cooperative. I believe we hiked the entire 229 miles in around 10-11 days.

The PATC has really nice shelters.

Pennsylvania also had some very nice shelters and hostels. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains the trail and shelters. It’s like they were trying to make up for the rocky terrain with such nice shelters! In fact, several had their own caretakers. Eckville shelter was one of the nicest shelters we stayed in–not a common shelter experience, but we had pizza (and shakes!) delivered, it had four walls, a solar shower, and one of those fancy flushing privys. Pretty swanky.

Company at Eckville Shelter. R-to-L: Portrait, MeHap, Timber, Tigger, Tom, Survivorman. Playing home-made Settlers of Catan!

We noticed that once we passed the halfway mark in Pine Grove Furnace, we started seeing fewer thru-hikers. Partially because a lot drop out around the half way point and partially because we focused on miles rather than shelters or campsites and ended up staying in hostels or random flat spots that had water. :) We would sometimes go days only seeing one or two other hikers, but generally we would see groups of them in town, so we know we’re not the only ones out here. However, Muggle and I have had more time to ourselves, enjoying the solitude which has been a nice change.

Palmerton Jailhouse Hostel -- completely free!

Having crossed into “the north,” we noticed a steep decline in hostels, inexpensive hotels and restaurants, as well as trail magic. At first we thought the north is less hospitable, but now we think it just has to do with the smaller number of hikers. It seems like fewer locals are aware of the trail, but we’ve found some really great people here in Pennsylvania too. A past thru-hiker grilled us up burgers at the side of the road and the city of Palmerton opened up a hostel in the basement of their city hall building. It certainly wasn’t a five star accomodation, but it had a shower, no mice and was free!

Last stop on the way out of town . . . old fashioned ice cream shop.

We spent a half day in Delaware Water Gap, enjoying beautiful weather, fantastic food and our new shoes. Eventually though we had to force ourselves to walk across the Delaware River and into New Jersey. One more state down and seven more to go!

Walking across the Delaware River.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Just another trail angel permalink
    October 2, 2011

    From near Palmerton, I do try to tell all that I pick up to bring or a lift out of town to wear their boots for that “Climbing out of Palmerton” you mentioned, because many just have on flip-flops, sloppy worn out sneakers and could really end up in need of a visit at our hospital if they try that accent wearing what they came off the trail wearing again on the way out! Glad we got passing marks for the Jail…thanks!

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