November 1 (15.5 miles, 7.5 hours) AT PA Sections 1-6
We decided to tackle 2 more sections in two days, and needed to find convenient lodging. We couldn’t have been happier staying at the Hawk Mountain B&B. http://hawkmountainbb.com This charming inn was just a 10-minute drive to the trail parking area, and our hosts, Judy and Jim, were willing to shuttle us to our staring point each day. It’s a welcoming place with a nice rustic feel and a cozy common room. Innkeeper Jim had the fireplace going and it’s a pleasant place to relax. The help-yourself tap of Yuengling beer is a nice touch, and the breakfasts are satisfying, friendly, and lacking the pompous attitude at some B&B’s. It’s a great spot for a getaway.
We began by parking our car in Port Clinton, in a grassy area near the baseball field just off Broad Street, on the east side of the Schuylkill River. Then we shuttled to our starting point at a state parking area off Pine Swamp Road. It’s a short half-mile walk up a blue-blazed forest road where it joins the AT.
The first part of this section could be called the babbling brook trail. It’s a pleasant walk along a cascading creek. At the top of the climb the AT winds around a ravine in Furnace Creek watershed to the “Pinnacle.” We’re not exactly sure how this stone monument came to be. But just off the trail, near the edge of a finger of the mountain, is a pile of artfully arranged rocks with a stony spire rising from the center. At the base it must be about 25-feet wide and 20-feet tall. It’s very impressive. It also reminds me of artist Andy Goldsworthy work. I wonder if he may have had a hand in it? The only complain Jane had was the wish that even more rocks were removed from the trail for the monument’s construction!
As I was dawdling taking photos at this striking site, Jane was chatting with 2 hikers walking in the opposite direction. They asked how far we were planning to go. When Jane said Port Clinton, the stunned look on their faces spoke volumes. It was noon when we reached the Pinnacles and they estimated at least 6 hours back to our end point at Port Clinton. As an added kicker, they said the terrain was much more difficult on the next section (and they were correct!). Now that daylight savings time was ended, sunset was shortly after 5 o’clock. That meant we had 5 hours to complete a 6-hour hike. We made a hasty departure.
The terrain became much rockier and more difficult to traverse.
We still had an hour to go for our lunch spot at Pulpit Rock. Before reaching it, we passed an interesting and well-maintained observatory complex associated with the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society. The bright white structures and manicured smooth green lawn were a sharp contrast with the rocks and trees of the trail.
We arrived at Pulpit Rock at 1:00. This section of the trail was like the New Jersey Turnpike. Jane counted 118 people (and about a dozen dogs) that we passed in this area. It’s possible to make a 6-mile round trip to Pulpit Rock from a road crossing, and that seemed like the thing to do on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. The allure of the place was very understandable once we arrive there. It’s unquestionably the grandest view we’ve seen in Pennsylvania so far. We had our lunch here along with the throng, but the westward sinking sun prompted us to get moving much quicker than we wanted.
Cognizant of our time constraint, we quickened our pace. But in my opinion we weren’t moving fast enough. I knew that if we had to traverse the end of the trail by flashlight it would turn out to be an ugly experience. In a somewhat passive-aggressive manner I tried to quicken our pace, by either leading at a rapid step, or if Jane was in front, I obnoxiously prodded her on. I knew I was being insufferable, but I also knew we needed to push ourselves to get back before darkness.
We had a few heated exchanges on the trail and afterwards. I think it boils down to physiology. For the longest time Jane was the more accomplished hiker between us, and I struggled to match her pace. But as I put more miles under my boots, anatomy came more in to play. I have a longer stride and I’m able to power up hills. As fatigue set in, it exasperates the situation. In the spirit of matrimonial bliss, and the desire to continue this joint pursuit, we vowed to be more understanding. It also reinforces the importance of planning ahead to know as well possible, what to expect.
Moving on we encountered a surprising number of boggy areas. The mountain was loaded with springs. Hat’s off again to the trail crews who created stepping stone pathways to keep your boots dry. But worst of all were the endless rocks. The final 2 miles were relentless. Big rocks, little rocks, jagged rocks and fickle rocks. Sounds like lines from Dr. Seuss. The path narrowed to a tight ridge that went on and on. Finally as darkness was fast falling, we made our way down the long, steep and winding switchback to Highway 61 and Port Clinton. But it wasn’t over yet.
We unwisely parked in a designated area just off Broad Street in the tiny village of Port Clinton, on the far side of the river. So we had to pass a parking area on the west side of the Schuylkill, cross the highway, and walk another mile to our car on the east side of the river. Even though it was dark by this time, there were enough light for us to see. There were hoots of relief as Jane sat in the car and yanked off her shoes.