Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Walking Across New Jersey: 78 Surprisingly Beautiful Miles

We spent last week section hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in New Jersey. I'll give everyone a moment to complete their jokes about hiking up the Garden State Parkway or thru-hiking parking lots....Ok, all done now?

I sort of wondered what it was going to be like, too. We hiked a little bit of the NJ AT in April, when we took a friend out for his first backpacking trip. It was pretty, but it was such a short distance - just six miles and my vision of NJ is pretty urban. It turned out to be a great hike and well worth the trip.

After the April trip, the fourth person who was along said she was interested in doing the whole thing. She grew up in New Jersey and thought it would be cool to hike across the state. The AT in New Jersey is 72 miles. The first road crossing in New York is six miles into that state, so 78 miles total. An expedition was born.

We started in Pennsylvania at Delaware Water Gap and hiked north for eight days until we reached New York highway 17A. The hike began with crossing the I-80 bridge from Pennsylvania into NJ. There is something clarifying about having 18-wheelers going 70 mph four feet away, just on the other side of the jersey barrier. Fortunately, that section doesn't last too long. After crossing underneath the highway, we started climbing.
 The state line on the I-80 bridge
 Cold bumblebees on goldenrod at our first campsite.
Our first campsite in Delaware Water Gap. The first two days, in Delaware Water Gap, we hiked in the fog. I love hiking in fog. Forests are so pretty in the mist, but I would like to go back at some point to see the gorge. It rained the first night after we were already in our tents, but otherwise, we remained relatively dry.
 Hiking in the fog the second morning.
Sunfish Pond on the second day. While we were standing there taking pictures, the fog rolled in across the water, obscuring the shoreline.

While we were having breakfast on the third day, I looked up and realized that I could see blue sky: the fog was burning off. It took a little while, but soon enough, we were hiking in the sun. Around lunch time, we found a sunny spot to dry out all of the damp gear.
 The trail follows an old road for part of the way.
An old pond. We had lunch here and dried our gear on the rocks.
Looking into Pennsvylvania from Rattlesnake Mountain. Sun!
A bright orange shelf fungus on a downed log at the Brinks Road Shelter.

We took an easy day on the fourth day, hiking just six miles from Brinks Road Shelter to Gren Anderson Shelter. Along the way, we crossed a highway at Culver Gap. On our first day, a random hiker told us in passing that we should get make sure to get pie at the Culver Gap General Store. We were all looking forward to it. We got to the highway crossing there and there was a bar, a cafe that was closed, a service station with no convenience store and a hunting store. None of them sold pie or even a package of M&Ms. So, it was back into the woods for us for a dehydrated lunch.
Looking south back to where we had been hiking near Culver Gap. As we hiked north and as the week progressed, we saw more and more color in the trees.

On our fifth day, we started the harder portion of the trip. Due to the spacing of shelters, the next three days were each 13 miles. While that isn't far for a thru-hiker who has reached NJ, for the three of us who work office jobs, it is a long day's hike with a full pack. On the bright side, we had eaten half of our food by this point, so the packs were getting lighter.
 When we started hiking in the morning, fog filled the valleys.
 Someone took the time to carve the AT symbol and directions into a downed log.
A little group of mushrooms on a log.
High Point State Park. The obelisk it at the highest point in NJ. We didn't take the side trip up to the monument because we had been there in April.

That night was our coldest night on the trip. It got down to around 40. Not terribly cold, but definitely a sign that fall is advancing. The sixth day was really pretty and varied.
 Hiking through a young stand of trees in the morning.
The trail descends out of High Point State Park and then crosses farmland as it follows the NJ border southeast.
At lower elevations, we started crossing bogs on impressive networks of bog boards.
We took a side trip into Unionville, New York for lunch at Annabella's pizza. Well worth the extra mile of walking (round trip).
Late in the day, we had to walk around the Walkill National Wildlife Refuge (apparently, this is the only NWR that the AT crosses). Pochuck Mountain is in the background.
Ducks in the refuge
Cranes feeding in the wetlands.

After leaving the refuge, we had to climb up Pochuck Mountain to the shelter. Unfortunately, there isn't any water at the shelter. The official, NJ State Parks endorsed water source is a spigot at an abandoned house a half mile below the shelter. Fortunately, we had to pass the house before hiking up the mountain to the shelter. Southbound hikers aren't nearly so lucky. We spent a pleasant evening at the shelter, chatting with a southbound section hiker.

I felt like the seventh day was the toughest day. We had to cross several ridges, including hiking up Wayawanda Mountain. It was also one of my favorite days. Like the day before, we crossed another large swamp on the Pochuck Boardwalk. Then we climbed "the Rockpile" up Wayawanda Mountain. There were steps in some places, at least.
 The Pochuck Boardwalk. It is over a mile long and took seven years to build.
The bridge over Pochuck creek.
The view from the top of Wayawanda Mountain. We could see Delaware Water Gap and the monument at High Point State Park along with the trail through the valley. It was pretty neat to see the entire distance we had walked - over 60 miles- from one point.

Wayawanda Shelter also has no water. The official source there is the state park office, also a half mile from the shelter.

The last day, we woke up to gray skies, but no rain, which was an improvement over the forecast just a day or two before. We had four miles to go in New Jersey and then six in New York to the first road crossing. This day was spectacular.
 Wetlands at Long House Creek. We saw a couple of swans here, but they were too far away to get a good picture.
 At the NJ/NY state line.
 Once in New York, the trail went up and down over a series of slabs on the top of the ridge. Blazes were infrequent and we had to stop every now and then to make sure we were still on the right path.
Michael climbing a ladder up onto one of the slabs. The last couple of miles were an easy walk in the woods and we were all pretty happy to see the highway.

It was a great trip. New Jersey is spectacular and a seriously under-rated section of the Appalachian Trail. The little bit of New York that we did makes me want to section hike that state, too. Nearly everything went flawlessly, including the weather. Many, many thanks to our friend's mom, who drove us to the trailhead and picked us up eight days later.

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