The climb out of Lehigh Gap is one of the features of the A.T. that I have been eagerly anticipating since the start of my hike. Today I was going to get to make that climb and the tops of the mountains were in the clouds. Having survived the night alone in the Outerbridge with no creatures stirring, not even a mouse, I packed my gear and began the steep 500 foot descent to the Lehigh River.
The climb from Lehigh Gap is notable because it is a steep climb over rocks and affords breathtaking views of the Lehigh Valley below. The climb is so steep, in fact, that there are many instances where you have to use you hands and upper body to pull yourself up the rocks. While crossing the bridge over the Lehigh River, I looked around me at the mountains shrouded in mist and hoped for two things. First I hoped that it wouldn’t rain and make the rocks wet and, second, I hoped that the sun would come out and burn off the clouds so that I could see the valley from the top. One out of two ain’t bad.
Boo Boo was in nearby Palmerton, PA waiting for a 9:00 am shuttle to the trailhead, so I had about a one hour head start on him when I started the climb and I sent him a text telling him that I would meet him at the top. The trail was steep from the first step and then got even steeper as it approached the rocks. Much to my relief, the rocks were dry as I made my way up, carefully selecting my route and ensuring I had solid hand and footholds. Forty five minutes after I started climbing, I reached the summit.
This climb was one of the most fun things I have experienced on the trail. Despite the partially obscured view, it was amazing to look down at that seemingly distant bridge that I had walk across less than an hour earlier. To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult or dramatic as it had been described in some of the journals I have read but that didn’t detract from the feeling of accomplishment that I felt from completing the climb. I was just sorry that it was over so soon.
Just past the summit, I stopped in a grassy area to eat and wait for Boo Boo to arrive and about 30 minutes later he came around the corner and out of the clouds. It was so good to see him again and we chatted for a while until we were joined by a couple named Ninja and Lighthouse who had ridden in the shuttle with Boo Boo. Boo Boo was feeling his oats having had several days rest and announced that he felt like doing a 30 mile day, so off we went.
The A.T. used to pass through the Palmerton Superfund Site, but now it follows a three mile detour path that is smooth as silk. Unfortunately, that was the last smooth trail that we would see today. At the end of the detour, we passed a huge pile of rocks while crossing under some gigantic power lines and missed a turnoff to the trail. The subsequent walk the wrong way took us through some tall wet grass, but we soon discovered our error and returned to the trail. Unfortunately, the wet grass had soaked our shoes and socks to the point that we made squishing noises when we walked.
What followed was a 15 mile section of trail that was so horrific that had the entire A.T. been like this, I would have been back home months ago. I don’t have pictures of the rest of the day because it was so damp that I couldn’t get my phone to unlock and I didn’t have anything left that was dry enough to dry the screen. The best I can describe it is to imagine that you are walking down an ancient riverbed of loose ankle twisting rocks that extended for as far as you can see. On each side were open forests set in a sea of ferns but the trail was sharp feet numbing rocks that seemed to go on to infinity. It was like a nightmare scene from the twilight zone.
Without the benefit of my phone’s GPS, I had no idea what forward progress I was making except for a few sparse trail signs. Late in the afternoon I stopped and took off my shoes and socks in a futile effort to dry my painful feet and pulled a pair of socks out of my dry bag in an attempt to dry my phone screen. I was successful after ten minutes of effort and found out that Boo Boo was holed up in a shelter about five miles ahead of me (trying to dry his feet) with Hooch, another hiker that had passed me earlier in the day. Everyone had decided to head for Wind Gap to get a room and I told him that I would sacrifice my last pair of dry socks and try to meet them there.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally started descending out of the clouds and away from the rocks into Wind Gap. There were no Uber drivers in the area, so I started the painful two mile walk on the concrete to the Travel Inn to join the others. Boo Boo and Hooch were sharing one room and I got the couch bed in the room with Ninja and Lighthouse.
After taking a shower and getting into some dry clothes, it was time to get to know my roommates so that they didn’t think they were sharing a room with a creeper. I’m not sure if I was successful in that effort but found out that Ninja and Lighthouse are from Seattle, WA were Ninja was a software development manager and Lighthouse is a Registered Nurse. They had previously hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and had decided to quit their jobs and hike the A.T. As we were finishing up introductions, Boo Boo walked in with a case of PBR and my outlook on life brightened considerably as we sat around talking about the day’s horrors. The consensus was that the climb from Lehigh Gap was by far the highlight of the day.
By now I needed to take care of my feeding process, so I walked across the street to Wendy’s for a repeat of my usual #1 and a strawberry mango salad, and I added a small chili for good measure. Back at the room, I was too exhausted to bother with the pullout bed, so I collapsed on the couch with a pillow and a blanket. Tomorrow we will be back on the rocks.