20.5 miles, 1170.1 overall (Rausch Gap shelter)
I take my time waking up and getting moving. I have about 26 miles to cover between now and tomorrow at noon when Christy will pick me up. I could easily do 10 tomorrow morning, but I plan to do about 20 today to leave only about 6 tomorrow. There isn’t anything special between where I’m camped and where I plan to get to tonight, so 20 miles should be relatively easy to accomplish. It should also make for a somewhat boring day.
I start walking and soon come upon a view. It is called Table Rock but I’m disappointed in it. It is partially blocked by the trees and only has a view of the next ridge. It would be much better in the fall with the reds and oranges of autumn colors. This is one thing that Southbounders definitely have as an advantage – they hike south from Maine starting in June or July so they get to see all of these views with fantastic colors rather than the monotonic green of summertime. However on the way out I do see something neat – a porcupine climbing a tree! I snap a couple pictures before it can get too high.
When I get to the next shelter I expect it to be empty but I actually find 2 hikers. Neither have the characteristic huge beards of thru-hikers so, combined with their late start, I assume they are section hikers. I’m wrong. Chicken Little and Honest Abe simply take a long time to get going every morning. It is around 9:00 when they finally leave the shelter, making them the latest starting thru-hikers I have seen since perhaps Georgia. The shelter is nice. It is one of the newer double decker styles. This makes sense since I don’t plan to stay in it. For some reason I rarely choose the nice shelters to stay in.
Today I decide to try my hand at geocaching. I figure I have some extra time, the phone battery is not a worry, and with a random check I find a geocache only a few feet from the AT. However once I get there I find it is harder than it appears. The GPS on my phone is incredibly jumpy, putting me only within 20 feet or so of the cache. It is also a small cache, making it harder to find than the traditional ammo box caches. I look for a few minutes but I’m reluctant to take my pack off and really look hard for it. While I’m not in a hurry I still plan to do 20 miles, so I call off the search pretty quickly.
A few miles further I need a snack and there is another view nearby. I find Kinter view much better than Table Rock. The trees in front of the outcropping have been trimmed back to provide for uninhibited sightlines to the other ridge. A group of hawks flies up and down the valley, presumably hunting for their next meal. I drop my pack and retrieve my gorp to enjoy the view for a few minutes. As I’m getting settled a couple of section hikers arrive. They are from western Massachusetts and are finishing up the Pennsylvania portion of their AT section hike. Once they get to Duncannon later today they will have completed everything from Harper’s Ferry to Maine. They ask me for some information about the lower half of the trail which I am happy to give them in return for some information about the northern half. I have noticed lately that I don’t know the northern half of the trail nearly as well as I knew the southern half. I blame a multitude of would-be thru-hikers who start trail journals in Georgia but only get to North Carolina. While I’ve done some research on New England, I don’t have very many thru-hiker opinions to compare and contrast. They inform me that the New Jersey trail is actually quite beautiful despite the bugs and talk about several places in New England to stay, including a shelter where a man nearby comes every morning to fix breakfast for hikers. I take some mental notes before we all move on.
Before the section hikers leave they inform me that they saw a copperhead snake coiled up in the rocks just a little ahead of where I am. The warning makes me overly cautious. I spend the next few miles being extra careful with every step, taking lots of time to cross piles of rocks, and occasionally jumping when out of the corner of my eye a stick looks curved like a snake or a bug bites me on the leg. Eventually I decide I must have passed the area they were talking about and either I missed the snake or it moved on after they left. Either way, I return to hiking at my normal pace.
I hike mostly alone over rocky trails that require being careful about each foot placement. I do cross several creeks that show the “yellow boy” that is characteristic of acid mine drainage. This is the first evidence of mining I’ve seen on the trail but it makes sense given where I am. It is a good reminder that I should be careful where I get my water. Although I treat my water with Aqua Mira, that simply kills organisms in the water, it doesn’t address things like dissolved metals.
As I hike I start to hear what sounds like machine gun fire. Usually when I hear something like this I stop and listen more closely and realize it is something else making the noise, but in this case I am definitely right and as I hike it grows louder. At first I figure there might be a shooting range nearby but then I also begin hearing what sounds like artillery. I know the Pennsylvania section of the AT runs through some pretty narrow corridors of land so I assume I am passing some sort of military base or training grounds. If nothing else the sounds provide something new to think about while I hike.
Eventually I catch up to Chicken Little and Honest Abe at a campground. It is still several miles short of the shelter I’m thinking about getting to for the night but I had contemplated staying here as well. A sign at the campground marks an old coal mining settlement but I don’t see much evidence nearby. The campsite isn’t particularly appealing so after a break I decide to move on. Just as I do I feel a couple rain drops. I look up and don’t see a lot of clouds. Chicken Little assures me that it is only one cloud that is the problem and that it will not pour on us. His name doesn’t give me much comfort in his forecasting abilities.
Once I get hiking though he turns out to be right and I only get sprinkled on before the rain passes. The next few miles are much more pleasant than the rest of the day has been. The gunfire begins to fade as I pass whatever presumed military installation I was near. The forest transitions from pure deciduous to a mix of pine that makes the trail more pleasurable to walk on. It begins to follow a large creek along which there are lots of camping spots. I know I am close to the shelter though so I keep going until I find the side trail. At that point I meet 4 new hikers: Resource, Woot, Foster, and Genessee. They don’t plan to stay at the shelter and, since I’m getting off the trail tomorrow for a few days, I won’t see them again any time soon.
At the shelter I find Gato and Squidword already working on dinner. I join them in preparing my food and while we cook Chicken Little and Honest Abe arrive. Honest Abe’s dad is hiking with them as well – a hiker who I passed a few miles back but didn’t stop to talk to – and he grabs a spot in the shelter. Two other hikers also arrive but I never catch their names. Once I finish dinner I set up my tent but return to the shelter for a while to pass the time until it is a respectable time (8:00) to turn in. Tomorrow Christy will pick me up around noon and I’ll head home for the first time in over 2 months since I began my journey on the Appalachian Trail.