PENNSYLVANIA ROCKS

Pennsylvania Rocks
MILES 1,147-1,294
Duncannon, PA to Deleware River Bridge and the Pennsylvania/New Jersey State Line

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The second half of Pennsylvania, north of Duncannon (Mile 1,147) and specifically north of the 501 shelter (Mile 1,193), is where the tread of the trail is littered with rocks. It’s a noteworthy section that gets a lot of hype because it is known as an ankle-twisting, mind-warping wobble and it encompasses a significant portion of the daily regimen, all the way across the border and into New Jersey. I found it to be a highlight of the trail thus far, one that certainly demanded my focus and required strategic and meticulous footing, but it was a like a game of human tetras.It was fun.

I would divide the rocky segment into two styles, though I’m sure some hikers will speak, or curse of, more.

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The Boulder Fileds: It traverses long boulder fields, where gunmetal gray and aquastone green lichen cover the rocks, their huge shape and size balanced on top and beside of other boulders whose size is like that of a microwave oven, small dresser, or refrigerator. For the most part, these big behemoth rocks are firm in position, but not always, and their wobble can strike a wave of shock, excitement or terror as hikers navigate across. White blazes are painted on trees and boulders, helping us navigate as efficiently as one can through a sea of boulders.

The Shrapnel:
I like to think of this style as a Chocolate Chip Explosion, perhaps because of my incurable hiker hunger, or perhaps I was trying my best to look on the positive side of things. Instead of boulders, the earthen trail is littered with smaller rocks, the size of a shoe, a mug, or a spear-like shape that looks like an ancient artifact. I think this is the more challenging of the two styles, it’s unpredictable rhythem causing hikers to almost dance the miles away, ankles twisting and turning in the most disbelieving fashion. 

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The Knife Edge and the PA Hiker

The segment north of Port Clinton (Mile 1,217), became a favorite of mine. The weather was pleasant, a low cloud obscuring the view across the valley floor below, and this combination always lends itself to creating an enchanted, mystical feel in the forest. I walked across boulder fields, brilliant in that aquastone green color. I was fortunate to run into a day hiker and we shared a few miles walking together, and he was helpful to take a few photos of me traversing over the rocks. I hiked past places like Pulpit Rock and The Pinnacle where the views remained mysterious, and the following day I had sweeping views and an even more extraordinary scramble along a ridge called the Knife Edge. There I met one of my followers, which was a pleasant suprise for both of us, and the PA Hiker gave me some snacks and a bottle of water, which I was thankful for as this is a dry section with water sources being few and far, or located off trail and down a steep side trail.

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Sunrise above Pennsylvania.

And then the cherry on top: Lehigh Gap and Blue Mountain. Ten years ago, when I hiked the AT for the first time, I hiked up out of Lehigh Gap and at the top, I was fascinated by the terrain. It was a total contrast to everything I’d seen to the south, the landscape looking barren, dry, devastated. Which it is, as the mountain suffered from a century of zinc smelting in nearby Palmerton. It was in the 80’s that the furnaces were shut down by the EPA, and placed on the Superfund Clean-Up list. But revegetation doesn’t happen overnight, and takes decades to regrow. But I like barren environments, and I loved the trail on the north side of the mountain. I had the most phenomenonal view, where the valley sat in a sea of clouds, while all the mountains floated above. I’ll let the photos and video say the rest.

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