Through this point in my thru-hike, the weather had been very pleasing. Temperatures had ranged from highs in the 70s to lows in the 40s, and the few rain events had been brief. That would change as I worked my way through more AT miles in Pennsylvania. Here’s the summary:
Day 16 – In my cabin at Blue Rocks Campground (0 miles)
Day 17 – Blue Rocks Campground to Allentown Hiking Club Shelter (15 miles)
Day 18 – Allentown Hiking Club Shelter to Outerbridge Shelter (18 miles)
Day 19 – Outerbridge Shelter to hammock site on Blue Mountain ridge (8 miles)
In my last post I noted the challenges I faced in finding a place to take a rest day. Ironically, the one day delay worked in my favor as the rain started overnight on Day 16 and would steadily come down for the next. sixty hours.
Hiking and Rain
Many of you who are not frequent hikers may think that hiking in the rain is awful. I personally don’t think that’s always the case. A light summer rain on a heavily forested trail can actually breathe air and life into the surroundings.
From my standpoint, there are three cases in which hiking in the rain really IS awful:
- The rain is a torrential downpour
- The rain continues night to morning so you need to pack up everything wet
- There’s enough total rainfall to turn the trail into puddles and streams.
This particular rain was not torrential, and I actually avoided #2 by sheltering for the first 36 hours. But – my oh my – number 3 was a huge factor with this storm!
Emerging from the cabin
I spent Day 16 resting my body, repacking my newly washed clothes, and writing a blog post. I’d also get my first opportunity to don headphones and play some music. I chose Arcade Fire’s newly released album WE – and was completely blown away! It was my Day 16 Most Memorable Moment (MMM). There are many “ic” words to describe their big, sweeping indie style: rhythmic, symphonic, apocalyptic. It is a beautiful, artistic album and it made my day!
When I emerged into steady rain on Day 17, I’d hike the entire 15 miles with Shingo. The day was wet and very cold. The MMM for the day was putting my warm gloves on during lunch break at Eckville Shelter! Here’s just a couple of pictures of the waterlogged trail we dealt with all day:
Hiking with a partner
I’d spend most of these four days with Shingo, the retired thru-hiker from Japan that I’d met a few days earlier. This would include two full days of hiking together on the trail. To this point in our AT hikes, neither he nor I had hiked with a partner.
For those of you who are not avid long-distance hikers, the dynamics of thru-hiking with another person can be a bit tricky. In order for it to work well, the two must hike at a very close pace and have a similar routine for taking breaks. Shingo and I were quite compatible in this regard, and I enjoyed hiking with him. Since this synergy is hard to find, most ATers (even friends or couples doing the trail together!) will hike solo.
Shingo is amazingly fast and sure-footed. He probably weighs no more than 130 pounds soaking wet and carries a homemade backpack that sits slightly askew. (I find the homemade backpack thing astounding. It’s like attempting to run the Boston Marathon with homemade shoes!). Regardless, he hikes faster than I do on most terrain. I never saw him winded, tired, hot or thirsty the entire time we hiked together. As of now, he’s about a day ahead of me on the AT.
Here he is in action with his yellow sun hat on:
After the rain day
I made an awful mistake in judgment by wearing my thermals and long pants on the trail that rainy Day 17. That move meant I had no dry sleeping clothes for a cold night. I got by (thank you, puffy coat) — and the rain finally stopped at 5am that morning – allowing my tarp to fully dry!
Shingo was off early as I ate breakfast. We’d hike solo from that point, both covering the 18 miles to Outerbridge Shelter. I honestly wasn’t sure that morning I’d make 18 miles that day but when the first four miles were on dry dirt roads (in fact, much of PA “hiking” is on old roads), I definitely knew I’d make. it. A half- hour later, struggling through impossible jagged edge rock peaks, I thought “no way I can make it.” Those rocks five miles in were my Day 19 MMM – they were so tough to scale!
Ultimately I felt true accomplishment as I stated up at the clear, starry night from my hammock.
Nearo via Palmerton
I decided to spend the morning in Palmerton getting a big breakfast and then visiting the library to do some blogging. For those that were wondering, I can write and publish a blog post with just my cell phone – but it is arduous. The most challenging part is trying to get pictures uploaded and into a post with limited cell service. So a library is a much better option. Also it gave me a fun flashback of my pre-trail life for a few moments, I used to do this keyboard and mouse thing every day, didn’t I ?
I basically accomplished all that I wanted to in town:
- Bert’s served up a delicious big breakfast and I ate every bite, along with four cups of coffee!
- I spent a very productive two hours at the library completing a blog post.
I had hoped to get a beer or two as I left after noon but I screwed it up! I passed up an open pub for one closer to the trail, but was surprised when it was not open until 4pm. But perhaps the trail gods intervened for my safety – because as I rejoined the trail I faced the toughest, rockiest climb so far.
The climb to Blue Mountain ridge was about a thousand foot vertical rise, with rock slides on both sides. Especially at the top the footwork on slanted rocks was very delicate – something that may have been hindered by two brews.
That guy is smiling because he made it to the top! The peak climb represented the middle point of perhaps the nicest 8 mile stretch of the AT I’ve seen in Pennsylvania. On both sides of Palmerton, the trail ran against a wide open ridge with expansive views to the North and Northwest. On both days the sky was crystal clear blue. A cool breeze blew in as I gazed out over the extensive valley.
For some reason, the Foo Fighters “Monkey Wrench” was the song looping through my head. On the surface that angst-driven song didn’t make sense, but I think I figured out why it popped up:
- The guitar intro just seemed to fit with the constant panorama view on my left. I envisioned moving high-speed across the ridge to that riff.
- At the end of the Dave Groehl rant the line “I was always caged but now I’m FREEEE ….” kept resonating. I think I just felt such freedom up on that ridge, in week 3 of a hike I’d wanted to do my whole life. The joy was rocking right through me!
At the top of the ridge as I concentrated on more rocks, I stirred up a large animal behind some bushes about 20 feet away. It bolted loudly downhill sending rocks flying. I can only guess that it was a bear, since it was wide and not deer-like. When you scatter deer, their white tails visibly bounce up and down. If that’s my only bear encounter on this hike, I’m very satisfied with that!
I set up camp in a wilderness spot in the ridge, thinking I’d be sleeping solo, but another hammock hiker named Straps joined me for another clear starry night in the woods. It thankfully did not look like this scene from two days prior:
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