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  1. #1

    Default How BAD is the AT in PA??...

    I am trying to line up a section hike for the first 3 weeks in June. Initially, I had eyed up Harpers Ferry to Delaware Water Gap (DWG) due to Amtrak stop in Harpers Ferry and a relatively short bus ride from Stroudsburg, PA to BWI airport when getting to DWG. However, I hear the rocks are not fun. I'll be coming off a full year as a school teacher (hardly any hiking besides weekend warrior type stuff).

    Give me your thoughts on this section as well as potential sections with easy start/stop points coming from the deep south (Louisiana). I don't mind flying, bus for a short distance, or train.

  2. #2
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    I don't know how people backpack PA w/o full leather boots. The rocks will pinch the sides of your boots and by day 3 you're in agony. I think the northern and southern ends are better than than the middle. As Duncannon is just north of Harrisburg, that's prob the easiest to fly into w/ a bus or taxi ride. The Trail parallels I-81 for a long time so a bus is also an option for that entire distance, through you will have to hitch or get an Uber or something those last several miles between bus stops and trail heads.
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    If that looks to be too hard for you because of the rocks, you could always to SNP to Harpers Ferry.

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    They don't call it Rocksylvania for nothing. The middle to northern part is the worst of it. Lots of oddly angled ankle twisting, toe stubbing, tripping type rocks, which can be slippery as well. It can get tiresome, tedious, annoying at times - pick an adjective. Unless it was part of filling in miles toward a 2000 patch, I'd rather hike a lot of other AT sections that are more than just the long ridge walks which is a lot of PA. There are other sections that also have bus or train service to major airports. I would check out transportation for a similar length hike in VA (I don't know the public transport options there, but I bet you could do a 250 - 300 mile section via bus service). There's also some other similar length hikes (right around 300 miles) further north: Delaware Water Gap (bus to NYC) to North Adams/Williamstown, MA (bus to Boston), Pawling, NY (Metro North train/bus NYC) to Hanover, NH (Amtrak train NYC/bus NYC or Boston). All offer better hiking terrain IMO than PA. But if it's rocks you really want, you could go for big rocks! The 145 miles or so from Hanover, NH to Gorham, NH(bus to Boston) through the Whites is as good - and tough - as it gets! And budgeting 3 weeks with a few zeros thrown in for rest and/or weather zeros wouldn't be out of the question in the Whites. Just my opinion though, and apologies to my friends in PA.
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 01-16-2020 at 01:09.

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    *Disclaimer* I haven't done the northernmost 75 miles of PA yet, which many people say is the worst part of the rocks.

    However, I'd argue that starting in Harper's Ferry and going north is a good place to start out (assuming the bridge over the Potomac is repaired by then). MD is mostly pretty easy: it's mostly flat, and the few climbs are pretty short. There are a few rocky sections in the northern part that will give you a small taste of what the PA rocks are like.

    Southern PA (up to Duncannon) is as easy as it gets on the AT. I'd be considered a slow hiker by most, and I averaged 15 MPD on that section, no sweat. The rocks are few and far between until you get to the last ridge south of Duncannon. In fact, the rocks didn't really get annoying for me until north of Swatara Gap. Then you start to get into the parts where the trail is just a bunch of jumbled rocks sticking up at random angles. But, by then you will have been on the trail for 2 weeks and should be in good hiking shape. Just take it slow and you'll be fine.

    I do agree with the people who say this section isn't that great in terms of scenery, and it definitely doesn't feel very remote at all. There are some occasional views along the ridges, and the section of open farm country between Boiling Springs and Duncannon was pretty neat, but that's about it. Also you'll get differing opinions from different people on this site, but IMO the Doyle in Duncannon was a pretty cool town stop.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    Also you'll get differing opinions from different people on this site, but IMO the Doyle in Duncannon was a pretty cool town stop.
    I sat around a campfire one night with a couple guys who had stayed at the Doyle. After hearing their descriptions of how decrepit and dirty this place was, poor lighting, shared bathrooms and an overall fire hazard.....I just knew I had to stay!
    Do they sell "I Survived the Doyle" shirts?
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  7. #7

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    IMHO the Section north of Swatera Gap to the DWG was consistently the worse rocks in PA. South of Duncannon was some real nice walking. Duncannon to Swatera was when we started to understand the PA curse of the rocks. The climb out of Lehigh gap was a bit f a reminder of home from where we normally hike in the whites.

    I hike all over the whites with trail runners and do far better on the rocks than with my prior custom leather boots. It all comes down to pre hike conditioning. I actually did the stretch from Duncannon to Swatera in sandals as my feet got blistered up from my long term leather boots. When I got home I retired the boots and have used trail runners ever since. The fundamental difference between white mountain rocks and PA rocks is in the whites you may have to rock hop between large rocks but there is high likelihood that the rock does move, in PA the rocks are smaller but its a high likelihood that they will move. its just hard to get a good stride going especially as the trail is darn close to flat in PA.

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    [QUOTE=BAontheTrail;2262502]I am trying to line up a section hike for the first 3 weeks in June. Initially, I had eyed up Harpers Ferry to Delaware Water Gap (DWG) due to Amtrak stop in Harpers Ferry and a relatively short bus ride from Stroudsburg, PA to BWI airport when getting to DWG. However, I hear the rocks are not fun. I'll be coming off a full year as a school teacher (hardly any hiking besides weekend warrior type stuff).


    I started a flip-flop thru hike attempt at DWG 2 years ago. Originally intended to hike north to Katahdin, fly back to DWG and then head south to finish. I changed my mind (don't remember specifically why) and hiked south initially instead. Turned out to be a bad choice as I took a spill in the rocks just south of Wind Gap and had to leave the trail with a bad knee injury. The rocks were as advertised and made for a relatively slow pace. A fast pole plant to save from a fall ended up getting the tip trapped between rocks and on my next stride and yet another trip on a rock that moved beneath my foot, I took a header. the carbon fiber pole broke, my right knee took the brunt of my weight and ended up on a sharp stone, and my right elbow was gashed to the bone. Upon standing, I realized the knee was "blown". Took some time to clean and bandage my elbow, then, after a couple of strides, realized that my knee would no longer support me. I hobbled around 6.5 miles, sidestepping all the way back to Wind Gap, my AT attempt over for now, and went home to surgery. It is aptly named "Rocksylvania" in northern PA!
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  9. #9

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    Have you thought of the Pinhoti trail in Alabama? Much closer to home.

  10. #10

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    I just did that section last spring. Took me just under 3 weeks. Maryland is pretty darn rocky too. On the whole MD/PA isn't all that bad. There are some nasty sections, but they tend to be relatively short -1/4 to 1/2 mile of ankle twisting BS, then back to nice, easy trail. Wind Gap to the DWG is about the worse of it, about 20 miles.

    Make sure you have a boot with a good rock plate in the sole and superfeet inserts or you will bruise the bottom of your feet. Wimpy trail runners can really beat up your feet. Also make sure your feet don't roll inside the boot. When you do hit the rocky sections, most of them are pointy or set into the ground at a sideways angle. They are also randomly spaced, so you have a studdering, swaying stride. I call it hiking like a drunken sailor on the first day of shore leave.

    I wouldn't worry much about the rocks, it's starting to get really hot in June and that might be an issue. But you got a lot of daylight and sunrise is early that time of year. Take advantage of it with a start at dawn, take an afternoon siesta, then finish up in the late afternoon or early evening.

    Or you could head south from Harpers and to go Daleville, which is close to Roanoke and a way home. This is a much more interesting section to hike then MD/PA. It's a bit harder though, (once out of the SNP) as this is the bumpy section of VA and all the thru hikers you meet will be bitching about how VA was suppose to be flat and they were lied to. I really like that section for that reason though. It feels more like your in the mountains and have better views.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  11. #11

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    I would suggest that you go hike this section and determine for yourself how the rocks are behaving. I mean, why not?

  12. #12

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    1) You donít hike the AT because itís easy.
    2) You will adapt.

    The rocks and bolders are bad. You will learn to walk on them and find they arenít so bad. Thatís why you get wildly different opinions on PA rocks.

    The boot or trailer runner choice is up to you. I did the entire trail in Speedgoats, the worst hiking shoe for technical rock hopping. Your agility is more important than footwear. You can avoid all that PA foot damage you read about by stepping correctly. I had no blister or other issues in the rocks.

    You will find the rocks are a head game. Pay attention. If fatigued and making errors then rest. You canít power through. It takes a lot of mental energy.

  13. #13

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    I loved PA. The rocks bothered me zero bit. Embrace it. Enjoy it. I wore altras with no problems. I miss PA and go backa nd hike it whenever I get the chance. I met a guy in Port Clinton who had hiked all of PA something like 9 times. He said the rocks didnt bother him and I can relate.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BAontheTrail View Post
    I am trying to line up a section hike for the first 3 weeks in June. Initially, I had eyed up Harpers Ferry to Delaware Water Gap (DWG) due to Amtrak stop in Harpers Ferry and a relatively short bus ride from Stroudsburg, PA to BWI airport when getting to DWG. However, I hear the rocks are not fun. I'll be coming off a full year as a school teacher (hardly any hiking besides weekend warrior type stuff).

    Give me your thoughts on this section as well as potential sections with easy start/stop points coming from the deep south (Louisiana). I don't mind flying, bus for a short distance, or train.
    So far I've hiked all but the northernmost 30 miles (which I hear may be the worst). I've done all that I've done in trail runners and have had no trouble.

    So far I would say that the rocks are memorable, but generally don't drastically affect the amount you can hike in a day. It kind of makes up for it in that it is not very steep.

    Generally, the really horrible rock sections are short.

    Here are a couple of observations:

    1. I came into Lehigh gap from the north in the rain. That was by far the most difficult hiking I've done on the whole AT. It might have been much easier had it not be raining. Also, it would probably have been easier going north. For the rocky sections, wetness is a huge factor. For example, look at the GutHook comments for Knife Edge. Those that crossed in the rain say it was extremely hard. Those that crossed on a dry day say it was a nice little rock scramble.

    2. Lack of water was a big logistical hurdle for us even though there was no serious drought in the region. Aside from times when drought was very serious, northern PA has been the most difficult in terms of water.

    3. The age of your shoes/boots is very important. A nice pair of shoes that has been sitting in your closet for a few years and still look almost new are probably going to be shredded in PA. If your shoes/boots were recently purchased, they'll do much better.

  15. #15

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    I've hiked PA four times now. Once was probably enough

    I might do Harpers south again this spring. I did say I liked that section, didn't I.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  16. #16
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    I did Harpers Ferry to Wind Gap (about 15 miles south of DWG) a couple of years ago. While the rocks were annoying, I didn't think they were as bad as everyone made them out to be. Certainly the southern part of the state was not bad at all as far as rocks were concerned. Lehigh gap is a bit intimidating, but then I hiked in northern New Hampshire and Maine and now I laugh at Lehigh Gap.
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  17. #17

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    I split PA into two sections and it took about 14 hiking days. I was in good section hiking shape at the time. I averaged I think 17 mpd and 15 mpd, the rocks slowed me down 2 mpd but weren't particularly terrible. I wore trail runners and continue to do so even in the rockiest sections of the AT. I am a pretty good rock hopper though and fluid on trail. I will say with experience moving through the rocks becomes more intuitive, at least it has for me.
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  18. #18
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    I've spent a lot of time sectioning the trail in PA (used to live in Philly) and yes, it does have a lot of rocks. You'll develop the "Pennsylvania Rock Hop" pretty quickly as you go north. The good thing is that you're planning to do it the right way, NOBO. That gives you the MD and southern PA sections to warm up for the real rocks that start north of Swatara Gap. As long as you don't try to do this in trail runners, you'll be fine. Despite what a lot of people would have you think, the trail is quite nice otherwise and has some great aspects (some really good views from particular high points like Bake Oven Knob, exciting ridge walking like the Knife Edge, etc.) and some of the best shelters going (Quarry Gap is outstanding.) It's a great hike, so enjoy yourself and don't let anyone scare you off.
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  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strategic View Post
    I've spent a lot of time sectioning the trail in PA (used to live in Philly) and yes, it does have a lot of rocks. You'll develop the "Pennsylvania Rock Hop" pretty quickly as you go north. The good thing is that you're planning to do it the right way, NOBO. That gives you the MD and southern PA sections to warm up for the real rocks that start north of Swatara Gap. As long as you don't try to do this in trail runners, you'll be fine. Despite what a lot of people would have you think, the trail is quite nice otherwise and has some great aspects (some really good views from particular high points like Bake Oven Knob, exciting ridge walking like the Knife Edge, etc.) and some of the best shelters going (Quarry Gap is outstanding.) It's a great hike, so enjoy yourself and don't let anyone scare you off.
    And don't forget the AT museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

  20. #20

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    I've only done the northernmost 110 miles or so (from Swatara Gap to DWG) but didn't think they were particularly bad. Trail runners were perfectly fine the entire time.

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