Duncannon to Rt. 850

September 27 (9 miles, 5.5 hours) AT PA Map 1 

Stone rubble on steep side of trail
Stony scramble

After a bit of thought and discussion with our shuttle driver, Michael, we decided to start in Duncannon and make our way southbound to Rt. 850. We began in the municipal parking lot in the center of town. The AT cuts through the city past the Doyle Hotel and ascends a steep rocky path up to Hawk Rock on Cove Mountain. We’re been hearing a lot about how rocky Pennsylvania is, and after seeing this, we’re beginning to believe that there’s not a lot of hyperbole. This is one rocky hill! It seems like the mountain belched out tons of loose, jagged, ankle-twisting rocks of every imaginable size. Its sole purpose is to dash the spirit of those who dare climb it. Despite the hour-long trek to Hawk rock at the top, the struggle is rewarded by a grand view of the wide Susquehanna River. Even in today’s overcast weather it’s a fabulous sight.

After pausing to catch our breath at Hawk Rock it was another hour along the gentle ridge, but still rocky trail, to the Cove Mountain Shelter. There we had a chat with another thru hiker from Georgia. His approach was different from others we met. Although he logged in a record 29 miles the previous night, primarily so he could stay at the Doyle Hotel, he said his average was about 11 ½ miles a day. He hoped to finish by Christmas. He seemed fit and was traveling light, but I wonder whether he’ll pull it off.

We’ve been hearing tales about the Doyle, so we’ll have to make an appearance when we complete our next section and end in Duncannon. Although Mike described it as the only place you have to walk upstairs to enter hell, referring to the sparse accommodations and unbearable heat in the summer, he did rave about the burgers and fries. His mother who runs the B&B in Boiling Springs, views it as a den of inequity, even though she’s probably never been there. Stay tuned for our assessment.

There were a lot of downed trees in this section, a marked contrast to the generally excellent condition of the trail in other places. It’s a good reminder of the hard work and dedication of the trail crews who lug the equipment and put lots of time and energy in creating the wonderful footpath we all enjoy.

There’s a power line break about 2 miles farther that we found simply enchanting. A short side trail to the east leads to a fantastic view of the Susquehanna valley. We enjoyed it so much, we slipped off our day packs and spread out on the ground. The warm sun, green meadow sprinkled with white asters, was like a calming salve applied to our bodies. I’m sure we nodded off for a bit, and were very refreshed after the stony encounters of the previous route.

Jane walks in wildflower-laced meadow

Surprisingly, after the break, the character of the trail changed to a nice woodland, with mercifully less rocks. Then it’s a gentle descent around the mountain to wet bogs at the bottom. Finally, a nice field leads to the parking lot at Route 850. We think we made the correct decision hiking this section north to south. We tackled the most strenuous part first when we were fresh and enjoyed the more pleasant trail at the end.

A wooden bridge across a boggy area

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