November 2 (12 miles, 8 hours) AT PA Sections 1-6
After a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage for me and pancakes for Jane, Judy, our gracious innkeeper at the Hawk Mountain B&B, http://hawkmountainbb.com lead us to our end point at a parking lot off Pine Swamp Road, the place we started from yesterday. We parked our car there, and Judy shuttled us to our staring point at Rt. 309 for our trek. We started hiking southbound shortly after 9:00. We thought it would be a cinch to complete this 12- mile section with time to spare before evening. We expected to be done around 3:30 to 4:00 in the afternoon. This being bow hunting season in Pennsylvania, as a precaution, we donned our finest fluorescent orange garb.
The first 3 miles were a very easy and pleasant romp though the woods. In contrast to the high volume of hikers the pervious day, we passed only 2 hikers today, including one guy who was prepared to relate his life story, if Jane didn’t cut him off after 5 minutes of babble. She said we were pressed for time and had to go. Little did we realize how prophetic a statement that was. Unexpectedly, this turned out to be the most arduous and time consuming section we tackled to date.
Once we reached the Allentown shelter, after 2 hours of hiking, the trail turned nasty on us. Jane would later call it the rocky road, and she wasn’t referring to the ice cream flavor.
There were lengthy sections of rocks. First we passed beside a mile-long section of boulders creating the ridge. Although the trail skirted the side of the ridge and missed the worst of the boulders, the going was rough. By the time we reached the Balanced Rocks overlook after nearly 4 hours of hiking, we were pretty tired, and we were only half way to our destination.
Despite the rough terrain, there were plenty of sights to savor. On top of the ridge nice undisturbed stands of laurel and rhododendron nestled in the understory. While most of the trees except the oaks have lost there leaves, some of the small maple saplings still added a splash of color.
The worst part was a long section of small grapefruit sized rocks. The stony path was uneven and the rocks heaved in every direction. They turned this way and that, and were loose and unstable. To say we walked on the trail doesn’t capture the reality. It was more like a partially controlled stumble. As your foot landed, it was never on firm ground. If you tried to brace yourself with the next step it was equally precarious. You could never get solid footing and were constantly knocked off balance. Walking sticks helped maintain balance, but the jagged edges of the uneven edges knifed into the soles of your feet and twisted your ankles. The thick covering of leaves just made it more slippery and obscured hidden danger. We both took tumbles and were thankful not to twist an ankle. The process takes a lot of time and wears you down. My heart goes out to the thru hikers who have to schlep a heavy backpack across this treacherous terrain.
Dan’s Pulpit provided a sweeping view of the valley, even on this overcast day. The overlook is named for Danny Hoch, a hiker who often conducted Sunday services on the rocks.There’s a mailbox where a logbook is stored. where Jane left a comment. She complained about the rocks, and suggested that they really should do something about them. Despite the hardship it was a beautiful section and was very tranquil and quiet. There were long stretches with nothing but the natural sound of the wind and rustle of leaves.
We were pleased to pass stands of young pines on the ridge and as we came down off the mountain, the forest transformed into a hemlock grove. A fast moving clear stream winds through the forest, creating a nice moist environment. There was a gorgeous campsite nestled along a bend of the creek. It was almost, but not quite enough, inducement to make you want to camp out. There were several stretches where young 6-foot tall hemlocks were getting established. It was nice to see healthy trees unlike those farther south that are infected with the insect, hemlock woolly adelgid.