Cumberland Valley to Delaware Water Gap

For hundreds of miles we’ve been hearing horror stories about the rocks of Pennsylvania, or “Rocksylvania” as it’s known amongst hikers. We’re almost done with Pennsylvania now – just a mile or two to the New Jersey state line – and I’m pleased to say we survived the rocks! They weren’t as bad or as extensive as people had us believe, and some of them were definitely fun.

This section got off to a shaky start. It was my birthday, and we had just spent the night at the worst hostel on trail so far, at Boiling Springs. In fact it wasn’t a proper hostel – accommodation was either a hot spider-infested shed or saggy camp beds in a garage which stunk of oil and petrol. For $50 we got the garage.

Nice that they covered the petrol-stained floor with some pieces of old carpet … Lisa’s Hostel, Boiling Springs

We opened the doors to get rid of the fumes, then got bothered by mosquitoes all night. There was no coffee, and no choice about when we would get back onto trail – the hostel owner would drive us the 2 miles back to the trail at 7.30am, and that was that. The forecast was for heavy rain and thunderstorms, and we had a good 10 mile stretch of valley bottom to cross before heading up into the hills.

So expectations were low, but in fact it turned into a good day! There were some heavy showers at first, but they soon cleared. Although we had to walk across some fields, for much of the way the trail followed a narrow strip of woodland with fields on either side. After about 10 miles at valley level, we started climbing up through dense woodland, the sun came out and it was warm and humid, but at least it was shady. We had 25 miles total to cover that day, and by the time we started the long rocky descent to the town of Duncannon, we were pretty tired, and my knee was swollen and painful. We had booked to stay in a small bunkhouse behind the outdoor gear shop, and when we arrived we looked at the trail names written on signs on each bunkbed, and realised we knew just about everyone who was staying! We dumped our packs in our room, and headed straight out to the brewery just along the street for food and beer – surprise surprise, that was where everyone else was too! We got a cheer when we arrived, and when I mentioned it was my birthday, McGyver rustled up a “birthday cake” for me – a blueberry muffin with two lit matches for a candle. The flame didn’t last long enough for me to blow it out, but it was a lovely idea!

Not too much of this type of hiking, thank goodness

Brewery at Duncannon

Birthday muffin!

It was a really fun evening of catching up with other hikers, eating burgers and drinking beer, rounded off with a trip to the local convenience store for pint pots of ice cream. All in all, a good birthday!

The next day we all went to a diner across the street, for enormous cooked breakfasts. McGyver and Sweaty Betty were getting off trail for 5 days due to family commitments – it was sad to say goodbye to them, they were great company and on these long trails it’s far too easy to get out of sync with other hikers and never meet them again. But they’re both fast hikers, so fingers crossed we’ll meet up again.

Terrible group selfie! L to R at back: Dingo, St John (in blue), Rex and Neil. L to R at front: Sweaty Betty (chopped off at the chin, oops), McGyver, me

For the next few days we hiked more or less in sync with the rest of this group, occasionally hiking together but mostly apart, but meeting when anyone stopped for a snack break, or camping at the same tent sites.

Clark’s Valley Road tenting site. L to R: Swallowtail, Jenny, Neil, Dingo, Mountain Goat, Rex

Four days later, we all got off trail at Port Clinton, to resupply at Hamburg. The hotel we all stayed at was way out of town in a retail park, with what felt like interminable walks to fast food outlets and a Walmart superstore. But we had a good evening together in the hotel bar, and when Brian our shuttle driver arrived the next morning to take us back to Port Clinton and the trail, we were all chuffed to bits to be riding in this beauty from 1963!

All aboard the Ford Galaxie
L to R, back seat: me, Trip, Neil. Front seat: A-Rod, Swallowtail, Brian the proud owner of the car

And so to the rocks … General opinion seemed to be that Pennsylvania’s notorious rocks began in earnest after Port Clinton. We were dreading mile after mile of small spikey rocks that twist ankles and knees this way and that; there were areas like that, but they didn’t go on forever. For a while it felt like you were following a river of pointed rocks flowing through the trees, but then they would either get more widely spaced, allowing you to avoid stepping on them, or every now and then they would turn into bigger boulders, leading to some good fun rock-hopping. It was quite a challenge continually watching for the white blazes marking the trail, while placing feet carefully, not snagging your walking poles in rock crevices, and also watching out for the occasional low-hanging branch!

River of rocks
Nicer rocks – bit of space between

Knifes Edge
Rocky uphill
Scrambly section coming out of Lehigh Gap – hard work with a big rucksack, but good fun!
Exposed pinnacle above Lehigh Gap

For Neil the highlights quickly became the scenic lookouts, where rocky outcrops on top of the ridge allowed for longer views. Not because he liked the views, but because the sun-warmed rocks were a good place for spotting snakes! We saw several rattlesnakes and copperheads, so it’s definitely something to bear in mind when choosing a place to sit for a rest!

Two rattlesnakes enjoying the sun

After four days among the rocks, we were really glad to arrive at the pretty little town of Delaware Water Gap. My feet were sore, my knee was grumbling and Neil’s back was giving him some trouble, so a day off seemed both well deserved and necessary. We’re in a beautiful, peaceful hostel, in our own room with our own bathroom, and there’s an excellent bakery, two coffee shops, a restaurant, and a jazz club in town, which we’re going to tonight. Days off are great!

Arriving at Marty’s Hostel in Delaware Water Gap – beautiful place, for $60 we had our own bedroom and bathroom!

3 Responses

  1. Dave Haynes
    | Reply

    Happy (Late) Birthday!! You both look like you’re having a blast 😀

  2. Grant Townsend
    | Reply

    Wow wow wow. Just amazing to be what you are both achieving. And those rattlers!!
    You’re an inspiration 🙂

  3. Doug Grandt
    | Reply

    Enjoying your adventure vicariously, having lived in New Jersey the 90s decade and familiar with some of your mentioned places … but not having hiked it. Not far from the water gap is a fun in-the-middle-of-nowhere Walpack Inn. Great food and ambiance cash only.

    Roz is now in high gear … UK election July 4

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