12.2 miles, 1301.1 overall (Rattlesnake Spring campsite)
I get a great night’s sleep and soon after I wake up I hear Natalie upstairs asking her parents if she can come downstairs to see me. I start packing up my things to make sure I am ready to go when it is time to leave. Soon everyone is downstairs and Rich is cooking pancakes in the kitchen.
We head back to the trail and by 11:30 I’m saying goodbye. This time I remember to snap a picture although I don’t remember until the last second so I am not in it and Rich, who stayed home, is absent. So although only Annie is pictured, thanks to the whole family for the night off the trail!
I spend some time at the visitor’s center before getting moving. The NJ side of the gap seems to be much more frequented than the Pennsylvania side. There are boat and tubing launches and several trails in the area. I follow the trail across the interstate and through a heavily
travelled area of pools along a stream before it climbs high enough that some day hikers wouldn’t bother. The trail keeps climbing until it reaches a large glacially formed pond called Sunfish Pond. As I walk around the pond I run into a ridge runner. We chat for a minute about where I’m allowed to camp and as I say goodbye to him I pass by a snake in the bushes. I don’t get a good look to see what kind it is before it slithers away.
Further on around the lake is a section where visitors have created piles of rocks, piling them in towers to see how high they can go. Some day hikers are actively engaged in the activity as I go by.
As I leave the pond I hike up toward a summit and as I’m hiking I notice a giant snake in the middle of the trail. I check his tail and sure enough he is a rattlesnake! He’s bigger than the first one I saw and much more scary, especially since he doesn’t bother rattling. I get a picture and then wait a minute trying to figure out what to do. He is positioned such that it would be hard to get around him. Luckily enough he seems to sense I’m there and slithers off of the path. I walk by, keeping an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t change direction.
At the summit I run into what appears to be a family from Jamaica. One of them recognizes me as a thru-hiker and kindly offers me some food. The others begin peppering me with the normal questions. I spend some time answering them before I move on and as I’m leaving one woman tells me I’m going to be her inspiration for getting outside more often.
On the way down I pass a backpacker I don’t know. He is mostly clean-shaven and appears to be perhaps a more experienced weekend hiker. However over the next couple miles he does a good job of keeping close to my pace. I start to wonder if he is a new thru-hiker I haven’t met yet. As I’m considering the possibility I notice a screaming coming above me. It sounds like an eagle and I stop to look up and see if I can find it. As I stop I hear a large flapping in front of me and when I look I see a bald eagle taking off from a tree not 50 yards away! It glides off the ridge and banks to the right so that it goes right by me – definitely one of the coolest animal sightings I’ve had yet. Perhaps the other one I heard in the sky was its mate.
I see a few deer and some day hikers along the rest of the trail (each is about as common as the other). When I reach a road crossing for the Mohican Outdoor Center I pause a minute and while I’m stopped the mystery backpacker catches up. I find out he is Daddy-O and he got back on the trail at Harper’s Ferry after taking a pre-arranged month off. That explains the clean-shaven look as well as his pace. He heads toward the MOC to see if he wants to stay the night. I push on, aiming for a campsite a bit further along.
A few miles and a fire tower view later I arrive at the spring and campsite I wanted. I grab some water from the spring and hike to the campsite. It is a nice one tucked away just off the trail. It seems to be used often but tonight I’m the only one here. I set up camp and cook dinner, getting to bed a bit earlier than usual. I’m hoping to get a lot of sleep tonight on the Appalachian Trail!