Jim, Sue, Cody, and Tater at Springer Mtn., start of the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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Start: Lehigh River Bridge/Palmerton, PA               
End:  Wind Gap/PA 33
Today's Miles:                      20.6
Cumulative Miles:          1,274.6
"The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it."
- Moliere

Flag pained on large boulder along the AT, about 1,000 feet above the Lehigh River

Superfund Site on Blue Mountain - or is it Mount St. Helens?? (another photo below)      7-22-05

I faced a formidable obstacle this morning but didn't realize just how risky it would be until I was beyond the point of no return.

I'm talking about the very steep climb out of Lehigh Gap. Oh, I could tell from the elevation profile that I'd be going up 1,100 feet in just over a mile. Been there, done that.

What the profile and AT guidebook don't tell hikers is that this "open rock - continuous views - extreme exposure in adverse weather" climb necessitates the use of both hands and that one miss-step on the cliff could send you to an untimely death far below.

I don't mean to exaggerate. I faced the scariest climb I've ever done, worse than the 14ers I've climbed in Colorado. I don't regret doing it, I just wish I'd known what I was in for.

But then, I might have chickened out and taken the alternate "blue" winter route up the mountain. It was so much more satisfying to overcome my fears and keep going on the official "white" AT route. My other reward was the 300-degree view of the valley and river below.

I take some pride in following only the white blazes for almost 1,300 miles so far on the Appalachian Trail. The only blue-blazed trails I've used are to shelters, and I've always returned the same way back to the white-blazed trail. I have not needed to take any of the blue foul-weather routes yet to avoid a storm on precarious, exposed rocks. In this regard, I'm a "purist."

But lemme tell ya, I don't ever plan to go up the official route on Blue Mountain on the northeastern side of Lehigh Gap again! And if I were to find myself going south on the Trail, I'd definitely take the blue route. My knees (and heart) couldn't take the loose rocks or the "air" between steps going down that thing!

If you like rock climbing and have no fear of heights, you might get a rush out of this climb. Just don't try it when the rocks are wet.


I'd heard about the barren landscape on top of Blue Mountain but I wasn't prepared for the variety of terrain and plant life once I reached the summit. It was ugly, but in a fascinating sort of way.

For some really bizarre reason the AT goes right through the 10-mile diameter Palmerton EPA Superfund Site caused by the zinc smelters that used to operate in the area. According to the AT guidebook, "The U.S. Public Health Service has advised that hiking this portion of the AT does not represent a public health threat."

Then why are there signs that advise parents not to take their children up there on a regular basis, and tell hikers not to drink water from any springs in the area??

This was also the only place today that gnats weren't swarming around my face. What does that tell you??

I think there are more small trees, shrubs, and other plants up there now than when David Horton ran the AT in 1991. In his book, A Quest for Adventure, he writes that it made him think "this is what it would look like after an atomic war" because it was devoid of vegetation.

The photo above with just rocks and downed trees reminded me of the area surrounding Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Much of the area has some vegetation now, however, as in the photo below:

Although part of the Trail went through rocks like those above (note the cairns marking the route), about two miles of trail followed a runnable gravel jeep road along the summit.

I was glad to be hiking this portion of the Trail in the morning when it was cooler and breezy. It would not be any fun in the mid-afternoon heat.

After two-plus miles of this barren landscape the Trail rather abruptly entered a lush green pine and deciduous woods with ferns covering the forest floor. It was like that most of the rest of the day. Halfway through the section I started seeing beautiful birch trees with white bark. Now I feel like I'm getting up north!

(While I was in this ferny paradise Jim called to tell me he got the camper out from under the power lines at the campsite he was vacating, and found another way to get to the next campground near E. Stroudsburg besides going through the very narrow streets of Jim Thorpe. He's been worried about both obstacles but he overcame them. I was happy to hear from him so I could stop worrying about how his day was going. When I'm concerned about him it's harder to focus on my job of getting from Point A to Point B.)

I'm also happy to report that there were fewer rocks today than yesterday. The worst were in the initial climb, the steep but shorter climb out of Low Gap, and the last five miles after the Leroy Smith shelter. Yesterday it was hard to find any dirt under the rocks. It was mostly rock rivers, rock piles, and boulder scrambles. Today there was more dirt to aim for!

I still took a long time to complete the section, though. My pace was again about 27 minutes per mile, including all stops. It took me an hour to get across the Lehigh bridge and up to the summit (only 1.5 miles), I hiked a bonus mile near the end when I got turned around at an intersection and went south through a rock pile for half a mile before realizing my mistake. And I still can't run. I was able to walk faster today until mid-afternoon, when I strained my right leg fighting for balance after stubbing my foot into a rock really hard.

Ouch. Back to square one. My leg did fine with all the stretching going up the two rocky ascents, but the last five miles were painful after hurting the muscles/sciatic nerve again.


Although there were two thru-hikers ahead of me all day (Jim talked to them at the end, before I got there), I saw only three hikers on the Trail today. The first was a local day hiker, a middle-aged man who climbed up from Lehigh Gap just ahead of me. We talked at the intersection with the Blue Trail. He regularly goes up the white trail and down the easier one.

The second hiker, a female, was sitting along the jeep road through "hell," next to two other back-packs, and wasn't talkative at all. I was thinking about how more and more of the day-hikers aren't very friendly since I've gotten out of the South (Jim notes the drivers are less considerate, too).

Then later I met probably the most friendly, talkative person I've seen the whole Trail! He's the ridge runner for this section. "Happy Bug" is a retired teacher who is active with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the local AT maintaining club. When another fella reneged on ridge runner training classes two days before classes began, Happy Bug was selected to fill the slot. He's employed by the AT Conservancy (new name for the former AT Conference) during June, July, and August, the peak months for hiking in Pennsylvania.

We talked about fifteen minutes. I was curious about the PA Game Lands through which the Trail has been weaving all along (the very long) Blue Mountain. Hunting is allowed during season; I thought maybe it was more of a sanctuary. Yesterday I was surprised by a HUGE critter that looked like a deer on steroids. I wondered if it was an elk. Happy Bug said no elk are around, but the bucks are very large because the woods are so full of food and water for them.

We also talked about bears, which are present in Pennsylvania and are reportedly very friendly. Too friendly. It's not good for the bears because it means people feed them. Happy Bug told me New Jersey now allows bear hunting to try to stop the problem. I guess if bears learn that people might shoot them they won't beg for food any more.

Dang. I was really hoping to see more bears in New Jersey. I heard they are as common there along the AT as in the Shenandoahs. Maybe they aren't so common now.

When I was crossing the road at Wind Gap to get to our truck, Jim and I saw a cute young lady hiking right behind me. When she got close, I immediately recognized "Cucumber" and she remembered my name, too. I saw a note left for her on the Trail a couple days ago, so knew she was nearby. She read my shelter register comments this week. It's great to know she's still out there and should complete her thru-hike! The only time I've seen her was in Virginia the day it was raining and she had on a bikini. She didn't have much more on today, but I've since seen other young women in similar dress so it's not such a novelty to me now.

I don't mean to sound like an old fuddy-duddy. I wear fewer clothes than most female hikers, with my skimpy running shorts and singlets. Gotta be comfortable!

Saw my first trail magic since returning to the Trail this week - six gallons of water at Low Gap. Nothing really interesting recently, like strawberries or grapes . . .


Jim had a funny comment after the Vermont 100 that I forgot to mention earlier. Even though he's not on the AT every day like me, he still has "white-blaze fever." During VT100 he found himself looking for white blazes instead of the yellow plastic pie plates race management used!

Ya know, so did I. Gets in your blood - and your dreams.

Tomorrow I'm done with Pennsylvania - YES!!!!!

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil