Trip Report: Appalachian Trail Across NJ

Location: New Jersey

State: New Jersey

Miles: 72

Days: 5

Type: Shuttle

Pre-Trip Bar Night

I busted out of work like a bird from cage at 4:12 pm—a whole 18 minutes early. The week had been an agonized dripping of seconds, all 432000 of them. Finally freed, I hopped on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (that I-76 for those of you who aren’t from these parts) and drove like a solitary snail in a herd of snails until I got to Bethlehem, PA.

Arriving early, I decided to drive around town and check it out. Bad move. I got lost pretty quickly and ended up driving aimlessly around town. It’s a burnt out steel town and I was reminded very much of Lackawanna, NY, where Bethlehem Steel pulled out 30-40 years ago and left the hulking shells of useless buildings, the blackened-rust coke ovens and thousands of unemployed families, lots of run down houses and a whole bunch of bars, the last item a stark reminder of why I was there in the first place!

So I finally got unlost and made my way to the Bethlehem Brew Works. The lovely spindle was sitting at the restaurant’s waiting station with one of those flashy-buzzy thingies, all dressed up and ready to hit the trail. She’s confused, that one. Last time I saw her she was wearing a short kilt, leather jacket and little black boots at the campground. . . So I sat down and we chatted for a few minutes and CrazyPace showed up with Mrs. CrazyPace. We were promptly seated and just after our drinks were delivered Pennsy came in followed shortly by ENS.

We parked a bunch of pub grub and couple of beers, compliments of CrazyPace and the magic gift certificate, and then me and spindle hit the road. We drove about an hour to Delaware Water Gap, dropped my car and then headed up to Waywayanda Sate Park, loaded up our gear and hiked about a half mile in to the Wayawayanda Shelter: arriving at home for the night shortly after midnight. We quickly set up the tent and discovered that the bear box was broken, so we hung a bag and called it a night.

Day 1

We were up early, but it was cold as hell so we hunkered down in our sleeping bag for a while. There was no hurry since ENS and Cap’nBobo were supposed to meet us at the shelter around 9:00 so breakfast and coffee was a pretty lazy affair. After everything was packed and ready I ran back to the car to refill my water and swap out a few gear items while spindle lazed about and read the trail journal at the shelter. I came back and we hung out a bit. ENS and Bobo were running late, but they finally showed up at 9:45, just as we were getting ready to start without them. Introductions were made as neither Michele nor I had hiked with Cap’nBobo. In fact the only thing I really knew about Bobo was this little tidbit of hiker hearsay wisdom: Cap’nBobo packs in the fun! And judging by the size of his pack I was not inclined to count myself amongst the disbelievers.

So we hiked. I was more than a little surprised at the beauty of the landscape and the feeling of remoteness. We were in New Jersey after all, the Armpit of America; yet, the air was serene and pure. It was a perfect day: sunny and cool with very little wind, and even with the late start I was confident that we would make our target before dusk since it was the second shortest day of the trip, coming in at right around 13 miles, and the elevation profile was fairly level, with one big drop followed by gradual climbing for a few miles on the other side of the valley and another descent to the shelter at the end of the day.

The miles passed easily under my feet and before I knew it noon was upon us. We had covered a little over four miles and stopped to lunch in the sun on a rock with a view. The break was short, but fuel is always good, and we started out again, only to find a side trail to a Vista about ten minutes away. When we got to the vista there were some day hikers there, one guy had two toddlers with him. One of the kids was in awe of us as his father explained that we were backpackers and spindle was tickled pink when the lad said, “You mean they sleep outside? Where are their sleeping bags?”

The rest of the day was spent crossing over farms and swamps. I picked a good time of year to do this stretch of trail since I imagine that hikers coming in at the height of thru traffic—late June to early August—must suffer greatly from a constant aerial assault by midges and mosquitoes. On the other hand, we did see two pairs of hunters. I believe it was junior day since they both pairings appeared to be father and son and only the youngsters were armed. Fortunately we had plenty of blaze orange going on, and so we were able to avoid being mistaken for deer . . .

Moving toward evening we topped the last hill and were rewarded with an amazing view as the horizon began to slowly swallow the sun like a snake working on the hindquarters of a frog. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite so violent but it was certainly just as natural.) A quick break allowed us to take in the view and snap a few pictures, but with the sun going down and more than a mile to go it wasn’t very long before we were on our way again.

We moved pretty quickly after that and got into the Pochuck shelter just before the last light of day dropped faded into darkness. Camp was set up quickly and dinner was just starting when a headlamp came bouncing toward us from the trail and in no time at all CrazyPace appeared. He had hiked in about four miles from a road crossing since he’d had other obligations during the day. After CP arrived and everyone had eaten, spindle busted out the Trailgaritas and Cap’nBobo treated us to a potable delight known as TurkeyTea™®: 12 parts wild turkey, 1 part tea and a sprinkle of sugar. Nice! The rest of the evening passed inside the shelter, with some entertaining conversation, including harassment phone calls to Pennsy (who couldn’t make it because of homeowner issues) and PhantomSoul (who couldn’t make it because of hang over issues), as well as the industrious log sawing of ENS who dosed a bit in between servings of TurkeyTea™® . . .

Day 2

I woke up with the first light. There’s something special about watching the light slide over the world with slow increase, and I probably would have gotten up to watch the sunrise had we not been half way down the Western slope of Pochuck Mountain. As it was, I spent a good hour snuggled up in my sleeping bag (is there a common theme developing here?) and listened to the wind and the scuffling as the rest of the crew gradually came alive. I finally got up and CrazyPace was on the move. He had retrieved the food bags from the bear box and I quickly set about making oatmeal, hot cocoa and coffee. ENS was up too, and he was hell-bent on providing some entertainment as he fired up his new white gas stove. The ensuing fireball treated us to a magically dazzling display of light and heat disbursement, and offered a good lesson in priming techniques.

We finally got under way around 9:00: not as early as I had hoped. CrazyPace was only heading back out to the road. ENS and Bobo were staying with us for about 13 miles, but spindle and I were looking to haul our carcasses nearly 17 miles to the Rutherford Shelter. I’m not saying that 17 miles is a monstrous hike, but we were hoping to get in while the lights were still on and avoid hiking in the dark . . .

Anyhow, we hoofed it down the hill and followed the trail into a wildlife refuge area, skirting the edge of a small marsh until we turned onto a brief road walk. The sun was up and the day was warming and we made pretty good time since the trail covered mostly the same rolling farmland/swamp terrain that we had seen the previous day. We were back to CrazyPace’s car in a little bit under two hours. We waited around for a few minutes and PhantomSoul showed up. He had arranged to meet us so that he could pick up some tires that CrazyPace was holding for him, and he brought us a dozen doughnuts and a box of coffee. Second breakfast!! For his efforts, I have dubbed him PhantomSoul, minor god of Food Delivery. (Thanks George, I owe you one.)

Second breakfast complete, CP and PS parted and the four remaining hikers were back at it: more hills and a farms and swamps. At a road crossing we met a couple of dayhikers, one of whom was wearing a suit and tie. He told how he likes to dress up for hikes and has worn Star Wars costumes and such. “Strange guy, I thought. But then again I once hiked in a grass skirt and coconut bra so I guess I’m not one to talk . . .

All day long we had been catching glimpses of the High Point Monument on the ridge in the distance, and now I tried to pick up my pace to match ENS as the looming phallus grew ever nearer, but that boy can really move and there was no way my stumpy little legs could keep up with his long stride. spindle was keeping pretty close behind me, but Cap’nBobo had started to fall back. He’d been out of action for a while, and the big mileage combined with the pack-O-fun was starting to get the best of him.

Stopping at Gemmer Road we waited for him to catch up. We rested up for about twenty minutes and as we started out again, Bobo gave ENS his car keys and told us not to wait anymore because he didn’t want to hold up our progress. I said farewell, since I wouldn’t be seeing him again on this trip, and started the long slow ascent up Kittatiny Mountain.

The terrain began a significant shift at this point, the rolling hills and soft trail turned rocky and hard. The mean-spirited, ankle-biting rocks of Northern Pennsylvania have quite a reputation in AT Lore, but we quickly discovered that the foot-grinding madness begins in New Jersey. The next 56 miles of trail were prepared to bear witness to this simple fact, and neither spindle nor I will contest it.

We climbed on, reaching the confluence with the side trail to the High Point Shelter around 3:30. About a half mile further on there was an intersecting trail that led up to the High Point Monument. A brief discussion over whether or not to take the side trip ensued, and ENS decided that he would run up the hill for a look, while me and spindle planned to skip it in the interest of covering some miles while the light was still good so we said good-bye to ENS . . . and then there were two . . .

Reaching the top of the hill we found a flat clearing and both of us called home to check in. Shortly after that we came to a raised wooden platform so we went up for a view, which we shared with a couple of tourons, just a quick stop to look around and then back under way. About a half-an-hour later we reached NJ Rt 23, which was where Cap’nBobo had parked his truck. We stopped to look around, wondering which truck was his and considering breaking into it since we knew that Bobo had a case of beer inside. We decided against the break-in plan and took a moment to look at the map instead. Three-and-a-half miles to go and the sun already threatening to set, we started out again. But just as we were about to head back into the woods we heard ENS calling us as he came running down the hill . . . WITH THE KEYS!!

Ah, sweetness! ENS opened the truck and as the three of us stood around drinking beer, a little old couple pulled into the parking lot and drove right up to us. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Backseat Bobo!! Everyone’s favorite clown came bounding out of the car and we were all reunited long enough to say cheers, take a couple of celebratory photos and part at the trailhead as originally intended.

Then I grabbed a couple of beers for the road as spindle and I turned tail and headed for the hills. The daylight died quickly and we were soon hiking in the dark. I haven’t done any night-hiking previously, but be could see Lake Rutherford down the hill to our left, sleeping peacefully, and the AT was pretty easy to follow; albeit, the going was slow. But when we got to the side trail leading to the shelter it was an entirely different story. The blue blazes were nearly impossible to see. We threaded our way down the hill slowly, navigating by instinct, a cut log here or there indicating that we were still on course. And after what seemed like an eternity we emerged into a clearing with a picknick table, a bear box and a shelter: 17 more miles down, dinner and goodnight.

Day 3

A thru-hiker had come in during the wee hours. He slogged into the shelter for a nap. He was up before dawn and I chatted with him for a few moments before he was off again. Spindle rolled out of bed and we watched the sun rise over lake Rutherford as we prepared breakfast. We got started pretty early for a change, and that was a good thing since I had planned another big mileage day at about 15 and –a-half.

We took the first four miles rather quickly and stopped at the next Shelter for a mid-morning snack. Ever-curious, spindle went poking around in the bear box and voila! BIG SCORE!! Someone had left a container of lemonade mix behind. We dumped some sugary sweetness into our water bottles and enjoyed cold lemonade for the next few hours.

By now I’d gotten my trail legs on. I had developed a nasty blister and my feet were killing me, but my legs had forgotten their soreness early in the day and I was making pretty good time. spindle was going a bit slower, trying to take it easy on her foot, having just gotten out of her cast the week before, so I broke out my MP3 player and let the Beastie Boys carry me up hill.

The rocky terrain continued as we made our way along the roller coaster ridgeline. We passed a solo hiker going the other way and continued on, the stunted rhythm of occasional gun blasts in the distance reminding us that it was the opening day of black bear season in NJ.

Around mid-day we climbed up the top of Sunrise Mountain and stopped for lunch at the rest area there. While we were there I learned a valuable lesson: do not pack in little plastic jelly tubs stolen from diners. The two that I had left had exploded in my food bag, making a sticky mess of the items that shared zip-lock space with them. L While we were finishing up our lunch another hiker came by, she was playing pass the keys with the hiker we had passed earlier and apparently heading for the road-crossing at Rt 206. She babbled crazily for a bit but eventually she got far enough ahead of us that we didn’t have to deal with her any more.

More hiking and distant gunshot ensued until around 4:00. I stepped out onto Rt 206 and stopped dead in my tracks, struck dumb with awe and wonderment. A single beam of light shot down from the heavens, spotlighting a small, plain-looking building. I heard the chorus of angels singing Hosannas as I read the sign:
Jo-To-Go
coffee, breakfast sandwiches and hot subs

spindle came walking up behind me a few minutes later and stood there as well. After a moment she asked, “Do you want to stop or do you want to keep going?” Hell yeah I wanted to stop. There was no way I was going to pass up a hot sub and a bottle of Gatorade at this juncture. Daylight be damned! Our hot ham subs were amazing, Gatorade is always good and we picked up a couple of bagels for breakfast. Fed and refreshed we started up the steepest climb of the day with the sun going down and four miles to go before we hit the Brink Road Shelter.

It got dark quickly and this was our longest stint of night hiking, probably about three miles in total darkness. The trail was also infrequently blazed in this area, so we were flying on instinct again, looking for sawed off blow downs and open lanes. Our progress was slow but we stayed on the trail and eventually strolled into the shelter just before the rain began to fall. Perfect timing! We snacked and drank trailgaritas and I drank a beer that I had left over from the previous day and fell asleep listening to the rain on the roof of the shelter.

Day 4

We breakfasted on the previous night’s intended dinner and bagels since Jo-To-Go had precluded the need to cook the night before. The rain had all but stopped by morning; although, the wind was strong and there was some occasional drizzle. We packed up and broke out the rain gear just be on the safe side, heading up the mountain with our earliest start yet. We hit the top of the ridge quickly and the wind came at us like the wind. The exposed rock face left us completely unprotected and at times the gusts knocked us off balance as the water continued to blow around, but we could see the lightening edge of the storm to the West and the strong winds promised to carry off the threat of rain if nothing else.

Overall the day was uneventful: a good piece of fire road walking with the big wind keeping us company. The original plan had been to hike nearly 19 miles on Day 4, stopping at a backpacker campsite in Worthington State Forest, but some last minute research before the trip revealed a hostel at Camp Mohican. There were some nice overlooks on this section, and at one point some a hint of snow filtered around us as we crossed a very narrow shelf.

All in all we made excellent time, arriving at Camp Mohican around 3:00. We went to check in and there was a big vat of vegetarian chili on, so we sat down to a second lunch, complete with sodas. Then we trucked up to the hostel building where we took hot showers and laughed at the ‘lightweight’ gear ads in an old copy of Backpacker Magazine from April of 1980. They were also making a big stink about those newfangled internal frame packs. The article brought a smile to my face a few minutes later as I was rummaging through my (virtually frameless) Granite Gear Vapor Trail. After that we ordered a monstrous Sicilian Pizza, drank Trailgaritas and discovered the miracle of the hot Nalgene massage. Now THAT was sweet!

Day 5

We were up early again and had reheated pizza for breakfast along with coffee and hot cocoa. This was the shortest day of the trip and we wanted to get out early in order to complete our shuttle and try to get home before the holiday rush hour traffic settled in. It was also by far the coldest day. As we turned off the road at the trail crossing there were icicles forming on some of the twigs that brushed against a small bridged stream.

The miles passed easily. My legs felt great and I ignored the sore soles of my feet. Once we hit the ridgeline we had fairly constant views of the Delaware River. At one point we climbed a small peak where a pair of photographers had their equipment set up. They were all bundled up in parkas and facemasks and big honkin’ gloves. We stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and say hello but that was it. The wind was whipping through there like nobody’s business and it was cold as hell. I had no intention of standing around and catching hypothermia. Yet despite the chill it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and once we got out of the wind it wasn’t so bad.

So we hiked on down the other side of the hill to Sunfish Pond: a small glacial lake, picture perfect in every way, and a very popular destination in fair weather. On this occasion we had the whole lake to ourselves, and I stopped to take pictures as we scrambled amongst the rocks along the water’s edge.

Beyond the pond we stopped for an early lunch just past the backpacker campsite, which had been our previous day’s destination in the original trip plan, and then followed waterfall-laden Dunnfield Creek out the rest of the way until we hit I-80. As we crossed the Delaware on the I-80 bridge I found myself wishing we had taken a hint from General George Washington and found a canoe to ferry us across. This bridge walking business is for the birds.

That’s all folks!

What I learned:

Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!
New Jersey isn’t so bad after all . . . if you can get past the F***ing jug-handles.
Little plastic jelly tubs explode under pack strap pressure.
My new hand spun wool hats kicks some major ass. (Thanks spindle)
It really is the little things that count, like a ham sub or doughnuts or a hot shower.
You’ll never get cold with 11 pounds of high quality goose down in an REI Quarterdome.
Night hiking sucks when you forget to change the batteries in your headlamp.
New Jersey has its fair share of rocks.
ENS is ALL leg.
All the AT shelters in NJ have bear boxes.
Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!

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