Tod and I are chomping at the bit to get the Pennsylvania sections of the AT completed. Thus, it may not surprise you to hear that we did three days of hiking in the middle of January. Weather was iffy and we agreed not to hike or backpack in dangerous conditions. However, the forecast brightened and we were off!
The first day was a 5+ mile hike from Lehigh Gap to Little Gap. If you’ve ever read a thru-hiker’s book, they almost always seem to have a picture from the top of Lehigh Gap to illustrate the beauty – and rigor – of the hike. The trail quickly comes to a vertical 1000 foot “hike” that is really rock climbing. As we approached the foot of the trail someone coming from the opposite direction said, “It’s windy up there!” Boy, was she right.
I’m a wimp when it comes to climbing. It helped to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, moving my hand to the next best rock. I didn’t spend much time looking down. I was able to conquer fear and make it to the top. I would have jumped up and down with my hands in the air like Rocky Balboa had it not been for the fact that the top was just as rocky as the face of the cliff. Tod was very supportive as I growled and groaned. I have no idea how solo hikers do it.
The rest of the hike was through a section of the AT that is diverted onto a grassy trail designed to try to avoid a superfund clean up site. I know. It doesn’t sound pretty and it really wasn’t. One quirky thing about this area is that the blazes were, well, interesting. There were lots of double blazes in areas where there was no change in trail direction. Near the power lines we saw some huge, footlong, super wide blazes along the rocks. On a positive note, this part of the trail was really easy and it wasn’t long before we were at Little Gap.
We stayed overnight in a hotel and were back on the trail the next day by 8:15 am. The weather looked good and we were looking forward to a night camping at a shelter. The hike began in a pretty swampy area, but we quickly made it to the top of the ridge. Imagine what a surprise I had when I looked to my left, only to see people skiing a few yards away! (This isn’t something that most thru hikers would see.) I guess the Appalachian Trail goes right by Blue Mountain resort. I felt some kinship with the skiers since they also like to be outdoors in the winter.
We stopped to make lunch at 11:30 am and by 1 pm we had gone at least 8 miles. Then, it started to snow. This wasn’t expected and made things a bit slippery. Had we not been so tired, and had it not been winter, we probably would have gone the whole way to Wind Gap (about seven additional miles), avoiding a night outdoors. Instead, we tried to make the best of the situation by arriving at Leroy Smith Shelter and setting our tent up inside the shelter.
My favorite part of the trip was hanging out at the shelter, drinking coffee, and watching the snow. Everything was silent. Peaceful. It was really beautiful. Tod and I made dinner and were in the tent ready to sleep by 7:15 pm. Even though it was well below freezing I was warm. By the time we got up in the morning it was 11 degrees, not including windchill. Our stove/fuel had frozen, and making breakfast was not possible.
The rest of the trip was a bit like being in survival mode. Packing things up in the cold was not easy. Most importantly, Tod’s fingers were in a lot of pain. (Tod has lived in Alaska and his fingers have had frostbite.) Luckily, the hike to Wind Gap had several things going for it: beautiful views, bright sunny weather, few inclines and manageable rocks. In no time, we arrived at Hahn’s Lookout. We quickly made our way down to the Gap and to our car.
I’m pretty proud of us for doing so well hiking in adverse conditions. Part of the fun of hiking and backpacking is testing yourself and being successful. Certainly, proper clothing and equipment is key. I had five layers on and was toasty warm. In the future, we won’t forget to bring the cooking equipment into the tent with us when we go to sleep so that it stays warm.
Next time? New Jersey, here we come!