Thursday, October 9, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 5

PA Hike Day 5
1. Treesday, Winterfilth, 4. Goal - Palmerton, resupply for rest of trip. 18 miles.
2. Day 5
3. Morning temp: 55
4. Weather: perfect
5. Time start: 0620
6. Time stop and miles: 1420 13.9
7. End point: Palmerton
8. Events: Knife Edge, finishing section
Log: loud night with road noise so we were up and out early. Feet were pretty painful, but I soldiered on to get to Palmerton. The knife edge was sick, but the other constant rocks took their toll and I realized I didn't want to do this for three more days, so I decided to bring this section to an end. Sequoia decided to stop too and his wife Smiles A lot came and picked us up at the Jailhouse Hostel in Palmerton. I had enjoyed some ice cream and a beer while we waited around and tended to my torn up feet. Good ride home and now I'm on the couch.

Total hike: 77.1
Good hike. At least I got some of those nasty rocks out of the way.
Shared from home...

We were up even earlier this morning, with the trucks that must climb the mountain to this point and then immediately start using their engines to brake on the down hill.  My feet had ached most of the night.  The rocks had taken their toll and the blisters, although not too bad, could be painful of that area of my foot came up on the side of a rock or root.  We headed out at 0620 by the light of our headlamps.  I had noticed that Sequoia's batteries were much fresher than mine and I knew I would be starting out slow on the climb back up to the ridge top, so I asked him to lead for a bit.  My gait had changed due to the ball of my right foot hurting.  It felt like my tape was messed up or my sock had folded, so after a while we took a bathroom/foot care break.  The tape and sock were fine.  What I was feeling was the beginning of Metatarsalgia, (which I would find out later after using the magical google machine).  The swelling and deep blister can feel like you are walking with a pebble in your shoe.
I took the lead, but felt I was flagging.  Hind site shows that we still moved at a good pace, even though I was favoring that foot a lot and would have a sore calf for a few days after.  We were pretty much going to stay up on the ridge all day until we descended into Palmerton.  What laid ahead was some technical and fun walking across the Knife Edge and Bear Rocks.  The Knife Edge was pretty cool.

Through these bushes lay the Knife Edge
Me working my way up the Knife Edge (photo courtesy Sequoia)

Our original plan was to hike all the way to Delaware Water Gap, another 36 miles past Palmerton, with more rocks on the schedule.  When we stopped for a break, I told Sequoia that I might have to end this section at Palmerton.  What I needed was a zero to tend to my feet, but that is one of the challenges of being a Section Hiker.  Time constraints are usually much more... constrained...  I didn't want to extend the hike into Sunday as I wanted to be home to watch the Steelers play the Panthers (another hind site, maybe I should have kept hiking as that game was more painful to watch than hiking on rocks with blisters).

View from the Knife Edge
After my decision was made, Sequoia checked his guide book and when no alternate plan looked doable, he decided to end his hike too for now.  After our encounter with the W of H, he really didn't want to be sleeping out in the lonely woods and neither would I.

Grizzled Hiker
As we headed out towards Lehigh Gap, he made a call or two and the plan was altered to have Smiles A Lot come pick us up at the Jail House Hostel in Palmerton, sometime that evening.  We made our way down the ridge to the river and crossed the bridge.  We tried to hitch the 1.5 miles into town for a few minutes, but then I just called the Shuttle Service and Brenda was there in about 10 minutes to pick us up and give us a quick tour of the town as she drove us to the Hostel.  We had to really squeeze into her small Scion, but we made it.  She was very nice.

We checked into the Hostel, even though we didn't plan on staying the night and took advantage of their powerful shower.  Feeling refreshed, I took a limping walk down a few blocks and had myself an ice cream cone.  I then crossed the street and topped it off with a nice Lager.  There was an interesting hiker at the Hostel who had made a few gear changes and was heading out shortly.  Him and Sequoia had some pretty interesting conversation.  This guy was carrying his own sprout garden.  Basically a bag with various bean seeds in it that he could use for some nice fresh veggie wraps.  That was a first for me.

Jail House Hostel bunks
A rather large area able to accommodate lots of hikers.
We relaxed for a couple of hours and before long, Smiles A Lot pulled up and we loaded up and headed back West.  It was cool looking to our right and seeing the ridge we had walked for the last five days and were now backtracking in a little over an hour or so.  We had hiked a total of 77.1 miles in those five days.

We headed back to their Gettysburg home where my truck was and I was pulling into my driveway sometime after 9 pm I think.  The next couple of days I would find out what had gone wrong with my feet and I'm now reading the book, Fixing Your Feet to try and learn the proper techniques to try to not have the problem repeated.  The main cause was doing too much too fast.  Once again a problem with Section Hiking.  I usually have no problem doing some longer mile stretches for about three or four days, but if it goes beyond that, it starts to take a toll.  If I plan another long(ish) hike, I will have to up the mileage slowly as not to overload myself.  I am also most likely going back to my New Balance Trail Runners.  I have never had major problems with them and the Merrells may have been just a little too restrictive.  I also am playing with different insoles.  My special made orthotics are wearing out and I'm just not sure the green Superfeet are the right ones for me.  I plan on making a good foot care kit that will be with me on my next Section Hike.

I am almost done with PA and the hikes will continue.  When you are out there, numerous times you ask yourself, "Why am I out here?", but I like to compare hiking to child birth.  It can be truly painful during the process, but once it is over, I start thinking about the next hike.  (mothers may disagree, but that is the closest correlation I can think of)

See ya on the Trail.

Section Hiker
2011 - Present
Thinking about my next hike...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 4

PA Hike Day 4
1. Moonsday, Winterfilth, 3. My 52nd birthday. Goal - Allentown Shelter or spring .3N. 16.5 or 16.8 miles.
2. Day 4
3. Morning temp: 45
4. Weather: cool in am but beautiful all day
5. Time start: 0700
6. Time stop and miles: 1815 - 20.6
7. End point: Blue Mountain Summit B&B. Camping behind
8. Events: turned 52. Blisters.
Log: A crazy homeless guy came in near dark with a dog. Spent the night ranting in the shelter and left us a manifesto of utter crazy. Nice hiking today. Some cool views and two long climbs. Rocks, rocks and rocks, but some good trail too. Got to shelter and decided to move on for water and a shorter day tomorrow. Developed a couple blisters on both feet, but all is good.

Shared from the trail

So I lived long enough to turn 52.  Continuing with where I left off.  I got up about 5:30 or so and checked out the shelter.  On my way there, I found a Ziploc with a notebook page in it.  Written on that paper was the most bat shit crazy stuff.  The Wolfman of Helltown had written a little manifesto when he was ranting in the night and he mentioned things like being Appalachia's most notorious murder suspect and winner of some malicious wounding case.  What a crazy fuck.  He also mentioned how people out here "Obama enablers"??? wouldn't give him or his dog food.  Oh well.  I thanked the gods that the shelter was empty.

We were very glad that he had headed South and we were continuing North.  We headed back up the mountain and before long we were at Pulpit Rock.  This was the location where Lisa and I had did some repelling and ascending during an Adventure Race several years ago.  The drop looked scarier this time.  I could see Blue Rocks where we had camped and the view was nice.  We met a couple who were out on an overnight and they mentioned encountering the Wolfman. 

View from Dan's Pulpit
The rock we repelled off of during an adventure race
After passing the Pinnacle we came to a forest road that made the next few miles very easy to travel.  We eventually moved off of Blue Mountain and up onto Hawk Mountain, then back to where Blue Mountain continued, which would take us all the way to Palmerton.  At Dan's Pulpit there was a register at the view and inside was another rant from our favorite crazy guy.  In this one he mentions not being able to get grain free dog food for his dog or some such nonsense.  It is a conspiracy I tell you.  

At the Pinnacle.  A big ass pile of rocks.
As the day wore on we had decided to move past our scheduled stop of the Allentown shelter, where water was listed as scarce.  Any amount of distance traveled would save us some of our 18 miles planned the next day.  After checking the shelter (another rant awaited us) we headed on and the spring listed nearby was dry.  We didn't bother checking the lower one, but decided to head for Rt 309 and Blue Mountain Summit.  I had remembered that there is a B&B, restaurant, bar at the road crossing and you could maybe camp behind the building and get water if you had permission.  It would make our day a 20 plus miler, but we were feeling ok and the trail was pretty good.  I had developed a couple small blisters, but they weren't too bad (yet) and we made it to the road around 6 pm.

We circled around the building and I found a guy stacking wood.  I asked him if he could grant us permission to stay and he introduced himself as Ken, the owner of the place and yes, we could stay. 

He quickly asked if we would help with the wood and offered some food and maybe a beer if we would.  We agreed and quickly set up our camp and returned to work.  He first said "never mind", but I had already set my sights on a meal that I didn't have to prepare, and it was my birthday after all, so I kind of insisted that we help him.  A B-day beer was certainly called for.  

We spent about 20 minutes stacking and Ken made each of us a very good sandwich.  I enjoyed a nice Yuengling along with the food and we had some nice conversation until about dusk, when we retired to our camping area, finished setting up and hit the hammock.

Selfie: l-r, Sequoia, EarthTone and Ken

My feet were aching this night and the road noise had me putting in my earplugs for the night.  I still slept ok, but needed some Motrin to cut the pain down some.  The ball of my foot was hurting pretty bad.  

So we did 20.6, had a nice meal and were bedded down next to the woods on some nice grass.  All was good.  Tomorrow would be a much shorter hike as we headed to Palmerton, PA.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 3

PA Hike Day 3
1. Sunsday, Winterfilth, 2. Resupply in Hanover scheduled. Goal - Windsor Furnace Shelter. 14.7 miles.
2. Day 3
3. Morning temp: 55
4. Weather: windy but nice. Perfect for hiking
5. Time start: 0700
6. Time stop and miles: 1513. 14.7
7. End point: Windsor Furnace Shelter
8. Events: Bear
Log: Just a little rain last night but the wind dried it all up. Day started out fast with only some rocks then a loong down hill to Port Clinton. Before that I had a bear come face to face on the trail. (20 feet). We both said "oh shit" and he turned tail and ran. Awesome. We dumped our trash in town, then climbed out of the gap. Arrived at shelter. No one else here yet. Early day relaxing.

Shared from the trail

Another nice morning for getting up and out early.  It had rained for a very short time during the night, but the wind that came after had everything dry by the time I crawled out of the hammock.

It was my turn to lead again and  we were pretty much already up on the ridge and would stay there until the steep descent into Port Clinton.  About 45 minutes into the day as we headed along at a brisk clip, I was approaching a turn in the trail.  I caught a glimpse of something black coming along the trail and at first I thought it was a hiker headed our way.  To my surprise that flash of black became a large black bear with a brown muzzle.

We both said "Oh, Shit" and Mr be
ar exchanged head for tail and headed back down the trail.  I swear I heard the bear say "Oh, Shit" right along with me.  At first I quickly reached for my phone/camera, but realized quickly that I had left the phone off this morning to conserve some battery, but there was no way I was going to get a picture anyway, since he was gone in a flash.

I turned to Sequoia and ask if he had seen the bear and he hadn't.  I turned back and there was Mr Bear running across the ridge top in the woods and we both enjoyed his speedy exit.  It was quite an experience and it got my blood flowing for a good amount of time.  Very cool.

By 1100 we had arrived at Port Clinton.  The descent into the town is pretty close to 1000 feet in less than two miles, but it was the last 500 feet in about a half mile that did me in.  Some of the trail was very loose scree and I slid a couple times, going half down once.  But we did make it down without drawing any blood and we rested at the railroad area where some very big pieces of coal were displayed.

Behind those trees is the steep descent
Big ass piece of coal
Our original plan was to carry two days of food and resupply in Hamburg, which was about 1.5 miles or so down a highway.  We had changed that plan before the hike and had decided to carry four days worth of food and not lose any time trying to get a ride into town and back. (We would figure out later that we might not be carrying enough to get to Palmerton, but all would work out as it always does).
"Downtown" Port Clinton
Under bridge art work
Like all gaps, what goes down, must go back up and I slowly led us up the ridge after we had crossed the Schuylkill River.  We passed quite a lot of pokeweed on the way up, but once we finally reached the crest, it was time for lunch and we hung out at one of the trailside campsites to eat our chosen food.

After we continued along, the going was a little more easy, with the occasional rocky area, but mostly good trail and the last of it was pretty fast.  We refilled our water at Pocahontas Spring, which had enough flow to fill, but also had a resident fish and frog.

We arrived at Windsor Furnace Shelter a little after 3 pm and decided to end the day's hike as planned.  It was still early, but we had done 14.7 miles so far and to continue on would have been a climb back up the ridge to an unknown dry camp, somewhere up towards Pulpit Rock.  Today, there was no one already at the shelter, but we each decided to camp across the dirt road away from the shelter.  A fortuitous decision we would realize later.

After dinner we walked back the .3 miles to Furnace Creek that is the Hamburg Reservoir outlet and filled our bottles for the next day.  Back at the shelter area, I was waiting for my Aqua Mira to do its job so I could take my meds, brush my teeth and hit the hammock and in walks a guy and his dog.

It was dusk and we were about done for the day.  I was once again too tired to make a fire and just wanted to text Lisa, write some, read some and sleep on air.  Right away this guy raised my warning flag a little.  Being out here and seeing all the hikers come through the museum, I get a feel for each of them and their situation.  This guy just seemed a little off and after some conversation we learned that he is basically a trail traveller with no permanent home.  His dog was calm and quiet and was just sniffing around for any fallen snack he could find.

The guy (Wolfman of Helltown) hinted that he was low on money and out of food for himself and his dog.  We had just taken stock of our supplies earlier and both of us realized we wouldn't have enough food to get to Palmerton unless we rationed some.

I basically stated that we were low on food too and we took our leave to our campsite.  It seems the Wolfman was quite restless.  I didn't hear him as much as Sequoia did, but there was an uneasiness in the air all night.  Sequoia said he heard him ranting most of the night.  Around 2:50am I saw his red light moving about the area and I watched as he came towards our camp, stopped for a few seconds then proceeded down the road back to the trail.  Thankfully headed Sobo and away from us.

More on that in my next installment.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 2

PA Hike Day 2
1. Starsday, Winterfilth, 1. Goal - Eagles Nest Shelter. 15.1 miles.
2. Day 2
3. Morning temp: 60s
4. Weather: fog in morning then quite nice.
5. Time start: 0700
6. Time stop and miles: 1630ish 15.1
7. End point: Eagles Nest Shelter
8. Events: peanut butter cup s'more
Log: up at 6 out at 7. Foggy morning, but ok. My feet feel beat by rocks and we haven't even made it to the bad parts yet. Ran out of water late in the day after finding a dry spring, but the one near the shelter was great. Met Shamen at the shelter and later Weezie too.

After a night of continuous circles, I heard some drops on the skylight of the shelter.  I thought it to be rain, but it was too sporadic and localized.  Sequoia went outside for a bit and reported back that we were in heavy fog and the drops were condensation from the trees.  It was 6:00am and we were to be on the trail just before 7 this day.  Sequoia is an early riser and I was glad that we had that in common as we packed up and headed into the early dawn mist.  

Wet spider web
I thought it be best to alternate lead, so I asked Sequoia to take the front today.  There was a morning climb, but it was gradual and the trail was not too bad.  I saw quickly that Sequoia was quick on the uphills.  I would only catch up on large rocky areas, but this was fine with me.  I like to spread out and didn't mind that my climbing was slower than his. 

Today I knew that I would be fighting the Day Two Blues.  I have learned to deal with them and sometimes they never show their heads, but today I knew I would have my usual thoughts of "what am I doing out here?" and I knew I could push through it in my own way.  We had over 15 miles to cover today. 

Foggy white blaze
Around 9 am or so, we descended into  a gap that is a camping area.  It was Sunday and there were numerous groups set up around the area.  The first people we encountered were a group of twenty somethings and one of the girls was making a S"more with a Peanut Butter Cup.  I marveled at the concept and she offered it to me.  I usually don't like that campfire favorite, but the Reece's sealed the deal and before long I was licking marshmallow out of my mustache and beard.  Very good.  

We got water and continued on.  Another climb and more rocks here and there.  We had lunch in a campsite near one of the road crossings and then continued on.  Water is scarce up on Blue Mountain at this time of the Year and we found one spring, Sand Spring, dry. I was pretty much out of water by this time, but I hoped that the spring near the Shelter would be flowing.  We headed down the blue blaze towards the shelter and we found the spring flowing good.  We filled up and headed to the shelter where we found Shamen sitting in the shelter.  He was a Sobo hiking home to Georgia and we had some nice conversation.  He was contemplating putting his ENO knockoff hammock up in the shelter and he found a good way to do it without taking away from Sequoia's area as he had decided to sleep in the shelter again this night.  Later, another Sobo came in called Weezie.  

I gathered some wood as Shamen mentioned maybe making a fire, but I didn't feel like using the energy to make one myself, since he wasn't moving to make one himself.  A family came down a trail that was behind my hammock and we had a nice conversation.  He had brought some family up to check out the place since the road was open and he could drive up close to the shelter.  He told us about another spring that is below the Sand Spring we checked and that it sometimes is flowing when the main one isn't.  I had thought about heading down to check lower when we were there, but being out here you measure and contemplate any off trail walking.  I laid my odds on the Shelter spring and it had paid off, but it was good info to know. 

Sally Mander
Before long, I was once again in my hammock, listening to the others chat by the cold fireplace and reading and writing a little before calling it a night.  I had good signal again, so I traded a few texts with Lisa before turning in.  

We had completed our daily walking by 4:30 pm and we had covered the 15.1 planned.  I had once again defeated the Day Two Blues and was ready for another day of hiking.  

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 1

Ready to start the hike.  EarthTone and Sequoia
Note:  Each day I would write a few notes in my notepad and then make an entry in my Google Keep notes using the following template.  I'm not sure exactly where I got the template, but I seem to remember that Earl Shaffer used something similar.  It is a good way for me to gather my thoughts and events of the day for later publication.  I would write up my 8 items and a short log entry and post it to Facebook each night before going to sleep.  This hike was marked by a lot of good signal at our stops for the day and I was able to post each night as we hiked along.  Below are my five posts along with expanded log entries of the daily happenings and some pictures.  I hope you enjoy coming along with me on my hike.

PA Hike Day 1
1. Highday, Halimath, 30. Hike starts. Goal - 501 Shelter. 12.8 miles.
2. Day 1
3. Morning temp: 60
4. Weather: clouds at first then a perfect hiking day.
5. Time start: 0910
6. Time stop and miles: 1600 - 12.8
7. End point: 501 shelter
8. Events: stung by bee.
Log: Nice chat with boy scouts. Some hikers and day hikers out all along the trail. Sleeping in shelter tonight since it is a nice shelter. Two other hikers here so far.

I left home around 6:30am with my full pack weighing in around 37 lbs.  I had packed it up a couple days early with four days of food and just under 2 liters of water and it came in at 38.6.  The next couple days I would think of what I could eliminate to try and get it lighter.  About a pound was all I could manage, but that is better than nothing.

I arrived at Sequoia's house in Gettysburg just before 8am and we were on our way to Swatara Gap with Smiles A Lot (Sequoia's wife) at the wheel.  We got to the starting point where I had finished my last day hike to even us up on the northbound trail and after a couple of pictures, we were on our way with me in the lead.  The morning was overcast, but the temperature was fine, with some humidity in the air to get the sweat flowing.  After a nice walk through the park we started up our first climb.  

We were hiking good when I came upon a hole in the ground right on the trail.  It looked as though someone/thing had dug it up.  Looking inside I saw a mass of yellow jackets.  I also noticed some comb laying about the area.  As I lollygagged by, I felt a sting on my calf.  I guess I went a little too slow and the bees were still pissed off.  I knocked it off and continued on.  

We continued along for a good three hours up on the ridge.  The trail was mostly good, with a few rocky places here and there.  After about six miles, we came on a group of four.  Two scouts and their leaders.  We had a nice conversation about the trail and all.  

Our first "view".  This is near the 1002 mile marker for Southbounders
Boy Scouts took our picture
We ate lunch by the William Penn Shelter.  I went to get water and it was just a trickle.  I only needed to fill my 24oz Nalgene, so it didn't take too long.

We arrived at the 501 Shelter around 4pm after a 12.8 mile day.  It was a decent mileage for the first day.  There were two other hikers there.  Sobo sectioners from Jim Thorpe, PA.  

At first, I put up my hammock in a small area to the west of the shelter, but after some conversation, I decided to sleep in side.  That would turn out to be what I call a circle night.  I would lay on my back, roll to my side, roll to my stomach, roll to the other side.  All. Night. Long.  Lesson (re)learned.  Sleeping on air is worth the work it takes to break camp if the alternative is sleeping on plywood.  

"Famous" 501 Shelter
Interior of 501 Shelter.  My plywood bunk on right.
The other hikers had a nice fire going, so I did some firewood gathering as my contribution and enjoyed the fire for a while.  But as usual, by the time dusk was settling, I was in my bunk, reading and resting.  Day 1 had come to an end.