The climb out of Lehigh Gap is regarded as one of the most technical segments of the Appalachian Trail south of New Hampshire. At 8:00 this morning Speck and I crossed the bridge over the Lehigh River headed for that ascent. Speck had a smile on her face anticipating some real rock climbing. I had the feeling I sometimes get before a dental appointment. I just wanted to get it over with. Before the scrambling was finished, however, I was smiling as well. After all, a good hike in Pennsylvania wouldn’t be complete without a section that requires the use of one’s hands.
So after encountering a steep, wooded uphill for the first half hour, we came face to face with the boulder field. With the bridge over the Lehigh River in the background, Speck and I took aim on the final ascent. We telescoped down our poles, and Speck placed them in the back of my pack. Considering the rock face we were approaching, poles were more of a hindrance than a help. The higher we got, the more I needed to concentrate. Each upward movement required me to find the appropriate shelf to place my hands and feet. It took time, but the slower pace was necessary to ensure my safety. Speck again called the climb exhilarating. Today I called it exhilarating as well.
When we finally crested the apex of the mountain after a 1000 foot elevation gain, we found ourselves at the south end of the Superfund Detour. For the next three miles the trail stretched along a ridge line that afforded a beautiful view of Walnutport and Slatington, PA. The views were so gorgeous that Soeck and I stopped often to enjoy. Once the trail headed away from the edge of the ridge we had to walk over a rock bed for a short while. The detour trail not only presented better views but also steered the AT away from the old zinc mining fields.
For much of the rest of the day the trail was comprised of a variety of rocks. We hiked over some short sections of rocks about the size of our packs. At times the trail became a path of pointy rocks often protruding through the grass. To put it simply, it contained rocks and more rocks. A stiff neck can be the result of having to continuously hike with your head down. Otherwise, an ankle injury, trip, or fall might be the result. Speck and I conversed some, but mainly we just concentrated on getting through these rocky sections without getting hurt.
Like yesterday we saw no thru hikers. We did see a few section hikers like Andy, a young lad from Newcastle, England. When Speck asked him if he had a trail name, he didn’t know what she meant. Dressed in a purple fleece and long, heavy looking camo pants, Andy said he started in New York and was ending his hike in Charlotte. When I told him that Charlotte wasn’t exactly on the AT, he replied that he realized he would have to leave the trail eventually and walk east. We wished him well before hiking on.
As the afternoon waned we saw one extremely long black snake. He had to be seven feet in length. It was the second snake we’ve seen this week. I forgot to mention on Wednesday the timber rattler that was curled up about a foot off the trail. At first I thought he was a black snake as well until Speck pointed out his markings underneath. In addition to the snakes, we’ve also seen some wild turkeys, hawks, and a few other familiar critters. And we continuously hear the incessant singing of the cicadas. Speck seems to like their song. I wondered if Odysseus’ Sirens may have created a similar sound.
Hiking at about 2.5 miles per hour throughout the afternoon, we finally reached Hahns Overlook, the first view since early this morning. With only a mile left in today’s hike, we only paused briefly to chat with ridge runner James. From the overlook we quickly hiked the final mile into Wind Gap, finishing the 20.8 mile day at 5:30. For the three days I’ve hiked with Speck, we have averaged 20.1 miles per day, a very good pace, especially considering the rocky terrain. It’s good to have some tough sections behind me as I hike my last day in Pennsylvania tomorrow up the Appalachian Trail.