This year’s Memorial Day hike is in the bag! It was the tenth one, and our first venture into Pennsylvania. After having to travel over six hours down to Damascus last year, the two hour trip was a refreshing change of pace. The company was great, with Vapor (Firestarter?), Trout, Compass, Dreamer, and myself in attendance. Factor was notably absent for the first year in ten, but for good reason: he recently welcomed a little Factor into the world! I’m sure he had his hands full with that.
Unlike the years before, this year we had several conflicts on the actual holiday weekend. We chose to hike the week before instead. This particular decision had a huge and unfortunate impact on us: the forecast was for rain all weekend. Noting this we all packed with various items in anticipation of a rainy Saturday and Sunday. Dreamer packed a tiny umbrella, a rain jacket, and a pack cover. Compass packed a poncho and an umbrella. I went with a poncho, a rain jacket, and some 33-gallon clear trash bags. We all hoped for the best.
Day 1: Mountain Creek Campground to Boiling Springs, PA (12.7mi)
We made arrangements to sync up at the northern end of the hike in Duncannon, PA on Friday morning for the first leg. From there we’d travel to Mountain Creek Campground in search of parking. Compass and I were the only ones to car pool, with the others coming from all sorts of directions. Vapor had the best commute, having stayed with family in Lancaster the night before. We all congregated at the Southern terminus of the Clark’s Ferry Bridge around 9AM. Surprisingly enough everyone arrived within 15 minutes of each other. We left Dreamer and Vapor’s cars there and went south.
We arrived at Mountain Creek in short order and with little difficulty. The attendant inside was very helpful in letting us park behind the welcome center and also in letting us all fill up our water bottles on the premises. I arranged a portrait with a timer to capture everyone in their happiest state, then set off down the road to the trailhead.
After some walking on the road, we turned onto the trail. The going was relatively easy compared to Virginia, but there were a fair amount of rocks obstructing the way. I quickly got into the habit of looking in front of my feet to avoid tripping. At least my new hiking boots - Keen Targhee II’s - seemed to take to the terrain very well. We had a few ups and downs rolling up to the Alec Kennedy shelter where we chose to have lunch.
Shortly thereafter we came upon Center Point Knob, which was the original Appalachian Trail midpoint.
At some point we came across an elderly gentlemen who warned us of rattlesnakes on the trail. He himself had one lunge at him a mile or two behind where we were at that time. He showed us a picture of it on his phone and our jaws dropped - the thing looked to be as thick as our forearms! We set off after wishing him well, then not a half an hour later we came across a huge rat snake laying directly across the trail. Trout had been leading the pack and was looking for a nearby woodpecker, thus missing the snake entirely. Dreamer, following just behind, happened to be looking down and shouted in surprise as the snake slithered its way to wherever it was going.
Coming down from Center Point Knob we began what would be 13 miles of flatland. Most of these were through farmland and corn fields, so given the time of year it was pretty barren. We powered through the three miles to Boiling Springs in no time. Boiling Springs greeted us with a beautiful, clear lake populated by ducks and swans of all sorts. The town itself was situated all around it. A small clock tower marked what we thought to be the center of town.
After peeking into the AT Concervancy for a bit we ambled over to the Boiling Springs Tavern for dinner. Having thought it was a burger-and-fries type place, we quickly came to realize that it was quite an upscale establishment. The owner/proprietor was kind enough to let us in to eat, but only after we stashed all of our packs in the bushes at the front. We were then (understandably) ushered into the back room of the place for seating.
All of us were wide-eyed when the menus were placed in front of us. It had tons of premium entrees and beers. Most of us ordered IPAs from Victory and relished every drop. Just as we were finishing these Dreamer excused himself from the table and came back some minutes later having “found” another friend of ours - Jeremy! He’d driven the two and a half hours from Drexel (in Philadelphia) to join us for the evening. It was a great surprise and I enjoyed his company.
After stuffing ourselves at the tavern, we ordered a couple of six packs from the bar, grabbed another 12 pack from a local beer store, then headed to the camp site to hang out for a while before Jeremy had to leave. The temperature dropped into the 50s quickly, and around this time I realized that I’d left my fleece outer layer sitting in Compass’s truck at the beginning of the trail. Thankfully he had an extra one that I could borrow for a bit, so I wore that until I called it a night. We played a few games of cards until dusk and nestled into our hammocks thereafter. With the help of all the beer we all passed out hard. I was particularly loopy, given my inability to drink these days!
Day 2: Boiling Springs, PA to backcountry campsite (~20mi)
We woke up on Saturday to the sound of rain assaulting our rainflys. Most of us reported a decent night’s rest (my Fitbit reported 7 hours and 42 minutes of sleep that night) that was interrupted starting around 3AM. The campground was situated at the corner of a railroad line, and the trains seemed to start running hourly around then. The horn blasts and screeching weren’t things that you could sleep through even if you had ear plugs, and since we weren’t going to depart any time soon we just had to endure it. Despite my good total of rest, I blame the four hours of intermittent noise for my fatigue for the rest of the day. Perhaps if I could have gotten out of my hammock without getting soaked things would have been better. For a town that purportedly supports the AT (it does house a conservancy after all), you’d think that they would have situated the camp sites in a better location. You know, somewhere other than right next to the tracks! Then again, everyone in the town is probably used to the train sounds by now. I still get the feeling like we got some farmer’s second-hand land instead: the cows won’t feed on this land - what with the trains and all - so let’s give it to the hikers!
After packing up our soggy gear, I donned my poncho and walked back into town. We’d left the beer cases out in the rain and had to throw them out. Dreamer and I tried to keep them in order as they crumbled in our arms, but we eventually made it. As the rain drizzled constantly, we wandered around the corner of town to see if any coffee places were open. Fortunately Cafe 101 was open, and it served bottomless cups of coffee! We each grabbed a coffee (Peanut butter chocolate coffee? Yes please!) and a muffin and waited for the others.
We set off from town after everyone got their coffee and breakfast. Ahead of us we had 13 miles of flat farmland interspersed with several road crossings. Our views were the farms themselves and whatever farm animals risked venturing out in the weather. The going was fast, but our feet and pants got soaking wet from the tall grass. It seemed like most of the farmers hadn’t mowed the pathways at all. When we came upon a section that was mowed it felt like a luxury!
As the day wore on and the rain persisted, the depth and amount of mud increased. Compass and I had waterproof shoes, but the others did not. They reported that they couldn’t quite tell where their feet ended and the mud began. Blisters were rampant and discomfort was a given. I too was uncomfortable, although for different reasons. I had dry feet, but my choice to go with a poncho was less than ideal. It captured all of the moisture underneath it, so I got soaked with my own sweat instead of the rain. How convenient!
We arrived at Darlington Shelter early in the afternoon after making incredible time over the flat terrain. Several thru-hikers were already there and mentioned several more coming for the evening, so we all made the decision to have dinner early and head back out to find some peace and quiet further north. We didn’t particularly like the crowd anyway - we got the feeling like they were sneering at us like we were casuals. We ignored them and made our quick dinners of couscous, ramen, and other boiled goods. We managed to have three boil overs in the process!
We hiked three or four more miles up the trail before finding an awesome camping spot with a fire pit. It was just in the nick of time, too. I was getting tired! I was also afraid of hitting the hilly portion of the next day’s hike that our elevation profile showed us. If that happened, we’d have to back-track and add more distance. Fortunately that didn’t happen and we lucked out.
Showing his amazing backcountry prowess (AKA lighter fluid), Trout actually got a fire going in the pit and soon we were all warm and dry. In an attempt to dry out his socks, Compass inadvertently burnt his wool socks to a crisp, causing the air to be filled with his foot stench for a few minutes. Everyone else slid their items to dry further away from the fire after that! I was content to sit on a nearby log and feel the warmth for once during the day. My feet were battered at this point from the sheer distance traveled, and I was chilly due to my missing outer layer. I suppose the soles of my feet are always going to be this way, but at least I had no blisters. It also felt crummy to have brought something only to leave it in the car absent-mindedly. That fleece sure would have felt warm. Oh well.
Unlike the previous night everyone was well prepared for the moisture. Instead of leaving our packs on the ground, Compass and I put them on our ponchos. This avoided the seepage and corresponding dampness that we encountered that morning. As an additional measure I took my clear garbage bag and shoved my pack into it, forming an extra layer of protection from the incessant rain. We all called it a night around 8:30 or 9:00.
Day 3: Backcountry campsite to Duncannon, PA (~9mi)
We woke in the morning mostly refreshed. The site we’d picked was as quiet as we expected and the train sounds in the distance were comforting instead of alarming. As we all emerged from our hammocks we continued our jokes about the rain dissipating as we packed up. We all knew it would be another day of rain jackets and ponchos.
The elevation profile for this leg wasn’t as bad as we were used to, but it was certainly going to be a change from the flatland of the day before. It proved to be somewhat hilly and treacherous with large, slick rocks. We had no recourse but to take it slow and steady to avoid twisting any ankles. I made several jokes w/ Compass and Dreamer about the trail looking like Maryland, which I vowed to never hike again even though I’d done so three times already.
One could find some pleasant overlooks on this section of the trail during clear weather, but we didn’t have any such luck. Most of the views were of huge storm clouds or general fog. I chose not to capture any of it since I had buried my camera deep within my bag to protect it from the moisture. I usually just stopped to take it in and quickly moved on.
At some point during the day we came across the ruins of an old car. It appeared to be an old model from the style of the bumper, and the engine marked it as a GM vehicle. We speculated at how such a thing could get out so far and couldn’t come up with anything plausible. A subsequent search of the ‘net yielded nothing about the site, so I suppose that will remain a mystery to us.
Coming down off the mountain was slow-going. The path was winding and covered in slick rocks like before, but the steep downhill grade made it more of a challenge. We entered into Duncannon via the US 11/15 overpass and welcomed the flatland again.
As is typical for all hiking trips, we found a greasy-spoon diner for breakfast. Being so far north meant our usual stop at Waffle House was out of the question, so this time a local place had to do. We found a place called Goodie’s and ducked in. It was covered in deer paraphernalia and/or camouflage, but the food was just what the doctor ordered. I had a big honkin’ egg sandwich with about three cups of coffee. Oh yeah!
We reached our cars just a little bit further down the road and made the journey back to Mountain Creek Campground with little incident. I walked over to Compass’s car and frowned at my pristine fleece sitting innocently on his passenger seat. After a brief rearranging of gear amongst the cars, we said our goodbyes and made for home. It was another successful year on the trail!