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  1. #1
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Default PA Section Hike Planning

    I'm trying to plan mileages for my next section hike in PA this fall starting NOBO from Pen-Mar. I've got 2 weeks vacation scheduled meaning 2 travel days and up to 14 hiking days.

    So far I've got a good plan for the first 7 days which involves hiking to Duncannon in 6 days then taking a zero (which could be substituted for a nero to the next shelter if need be).

    The rest I'm still trying to figure out. I can probably make it from Duncannon to Port Clinton in 5 days but probably not 4. I could either stop there and head home a couple days early or try to make it to Palmerton in 7 days.

    The thing that makes me hesitate is the nefarious PA rocks. I've heard that the section between Port Clinton and Palmerton is the worst, and I really don't want to try to push big miles there.

    Any advice is appreciated. If it helps, I averaged about 15 MPD from Waynesboro to Pen-Mar, but I've never done more than 18 miles in a single day.

  2. #2
    13-45 Section Hiker Trash Berserker's Avatar
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    I had also heard about the rocks, stressed about them a bit, and I'm here to tell you they aren't the huge deal they are made out to be. Yes, there are sections in the Eastern half of PA (heading NOBO towards NJ) that have lots of rocks. The rocks are often pointed and stick straight up out of the ground. They are super annoying, and your feet will get fatigued from them. With all this said, they did not have much affect on my mileage (I went back and looked at my notes). Most of of the AT in PA traverses fairly flat ridgelines, and the rocky sections are no exception. So the best way to describe them is that they will slow you down a bit because you just need to be a little more careful while walking, but other than that you should expect to be able to do about the same mileage as you are able to do in Western PA.

    Disclaimer: I did the final 90 miles of PA (for me that was the Eastern 90 miles NOBO before NJ where the main rocky sections are located) last year after having completed the vast majority of the AT, so my perception may be a bit different. Once one does NH and Southern ME everything else looks "easy".
    AT: 2007-2019 (45 sections)
    JMT: 2013

  3. #3

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    I recently finished Harpers Ferry to Wind Gap. Took me 20 hiking days plus two zeros. Day 0 was from the train station to Ed Garvey. The train got to HF at 5 PM, I got to Ed Garvey at 8 PM, just as I couldn't see my feet anymore.

    If you don't take any zeros, it might be possible to reach Palmerton in 14 days from Pen Mar. Port Clinton should be easy. It only took me 11 days to get to Port Clinton from Pen Mar (actually, from Raven Rocks, 4.6 miles south of Pen Mar)

    Note that I am twice your age and not noted for being an exceptionally fast hiker or doing exceptionally long days. My over all pace with breaks was about 2 MPH.

    I actually found MD to be much more rocky with a lot more ups and downs then southern PA. There are a few stumble-ly sections south of Duncannon, but they then to be short, 1/4 to 1/2 mile before it eases up again.

    The first couple of miles out of Duncannon once you cross the river and climb up to the ridge is nasty, especially during a thunderstorm and heavy rain, which I had to deal with. But it didn't get really bad until Port Clinton. Even the not so rocky sections had little rocks sticking up to keep catching the toe of the boot on. That was very annoying.

    Wind Gap to the DWG gets really bad, which is why I skipped that 14 miles. I called my sister who lives near there to come and get me Anyway, I was a day behind schedule due to taking a day off in Palmerton to avoid a full day of rain. Oh yea, that was another nasty section which would have been hell in the rain.
    Last edited by Slo-go'en; 05-23-2019 at 10:12.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  4. #4

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    BTW, I was surprised by the number of tent sites along the trail between shelters. None of them had water and most looked really marginal and uncomfortable for a tent, but they were there if you really, really, wanted to camp outside of designated sites. Guthook noted their location. I would mostly take breaks at them.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  5. #5

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    Make sure you are aware that the only camping allowed between Alec Kennedy and Darlington Shelters is at Boiling Springs near the railroad tracks. I think the rocks are overrated. They get crazy but there are plenty of smooth sections. As said above, so much ridge walking that you can make about your normal mileage.

  6. #6

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    Ignore the rock comments, they are the same rocks as the entire trail has. I did Pen Mar to Duncannon(nobo) in 4 walking days. I did Duncannon to Little gap(sobo) in 7 days but could have done it in 5-6 if I were alone. and I did little gap to DWG(sobo) in 2 days. So 13 hiking days for the 229 miles of PA.

    BUT that was with no zeros due to section hikes occurring. IF I were to have done it in 1 go then 2 zeros would be appropriate for me.

    I love hiking PA. I love the long straights, the history, hell I guess I even love the rocks lol

    If I had to highlight bad rock sections it would simply be this (from Memory):
    DWG all the way to Palmerton is pretty rough.
    Bake oven knob from summit north for a half mile or so is rough
    Theres a little stretch around preaching rock that was pretty rocky but real big rocks so who cares
    Trail Miles: 3,715.9
    AT Trips: 67
    AT Map 1 Completion: 1818.9 Springer, GA - Franconia Notch, NH
    AT Map 2 Completion: 263.8 Gaps From GA - PA

  7. #7
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    If it's any help, in 2017 I started at Harper's Ferry on September 15 and reached Palmerton on October 1. I am a slow hiker, but I put in some big miles (for me) in Pennsylvania. Yeah, the rocks are a pain in the rear (or more accurately the feet), but you can make good time in south PA. Even on the part just before Palmerton, I did some days over 15 miles and even a 20 mile day.

    If you do make it to Palmerton with a little time to spare, treat yourself to a climb up from Lehigh Gap and then imagine the Whites being harder.
    Trail Name - Slapshot
    "One step at a time."
    Blog - www.tonysadventure.com

  8. #8
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone! This info really helps. Sounds like the rocks are over-hyped, for the most part.

    I remember the northern part of Maryland was surprisingly rocky. Even though the trail was mostly flat I was pretty beat after a 15 mile day. I was thinking southern PA was more like northern MD but it seems this is not the case.

    I put together 2 loose plans. One goes to Port Clinton in 12 days and the other goes to Palmerton in 14 days. The real difference is the first 2-3 days. If I can start out doing 15's, then I can make it to Pine Grove in 2.5 days, but if I can't then the shorter plan allows 3.5 days.

    Normally I need a couple 10-12 mile days at the beginning to get re-acclimated but if southern PA is really as easy as everyone says then starting out at 15 MPD seems reasonable. My body will give me the answer when I get out there.
    It's all good in the woods.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    Thanks everyone! This info really helps. Sounds like the rocks are over-hyped, for the most part.

    I remember the northern part of Maryland was surprisingly rocky. Even though the trail was mostly flat I was pretty beat after a 15 mile day. I was thinking southern PA was more like northern MD but it seems this is not the case.

    I put together 2 loose plans. One goes to Port Clinton in 12 days and the other goes to Palmerton in 14 days. The real difference is the first 2-3 days. If I can start out doing 15's, then I can make it to Pine Grove in 2.5 days, but if I can't then the shorter plan allows 3.5 days.

    Normally I need a couple 10-12 mile days at the beginning to get re-acclimated but if southern PA is really as easy as everyone says then starting out at 15 MPD seems reasonable. My body will give me the answer when I get out there.
    If it is any consolation I did pen mar to Birch Run Shelter 2 weeks ago in about 10 hours or so. I would say that the only change in elevation is a little climb up out of Tumbling Run Shelter but it lasts about 5 minutes and then again out of Caledonia sp. that one lasts about 5 minutes as well
    Trail Miles: 3,715.9
    AT Trips: 67
    AT Map 1 Completion: 1818.9 Springer, GA - Franconia Notch, NH
    AT Map 2 Completion: 263.8 Gaps From GA - PA

  10. #10
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Nice! That's quite a haul!

    The only way I could pull a 30 mile day on the AT would be to do the 3 mile towpath section north of Harper's Ferry out and back 5 times.
    It's all good in the woods.

  11. #11

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    I think I did Pen Mar to Rocky Mountain Shelters in the fall day 1. I started at like 12 or 1 that day too. I got to PA 641 (Trindle Road) around to 2 PM day 4. I also stopped way early around 1 PM, on day 3 at the James Fry Shelter because of heavy rain. I would have had no issues making it to Alec Kennedy in three days.

  12. #12

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    I just went through all those rocks. They basically go from a few miles south of Duncannon to Highpoint in NJ. They are the worst in the 20 miles around Knifeís Edge.

    The rocks will get your attention! You will have to focus on every step and keep your eyes on the trail for sure. What kind of mileage can you do? That varies a lot from person to person. Iíd say you will likely maintain mileage so long as you increase your focus. Itís just mentally tiring all day and it leaves you with sore feet.

  13. #13
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    Place your palms together, one atop the other. That was Pennsylvania 300 million years ago. Nice, flat easy hiking. Now take North Africa and shove it into Pennsylvania, creating the Appalachian Mountains as you rotate your palms 90 degrees so your thumbs are on top. That is Pennsylvania geography today. And those vertical rock formations have been crumbling off mountain tops ever since, making the rocky paths along the ridgetops. My advice: watch where you put your feet and use trekking poles.

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