Day 96 – Monday, June 13: Hemlock Campgrounds and Cottages to Smith Gap to Stealth Camp, 17.3 miles, 1,286.9 total AT miles.

I woke up at 7:00, warm and cozy in my bed. Black Santa chose to sleep in the living room with McDoubles and finish the movie they were watching – that meant I had the whole bed to myself. Right before I fell asleep last night, I retrieved my laundry from the clothesline outside and spread it out on the floor to continue drying. The only things still just a little damp were my socks. I strapped them to the outside of my pack to dry in the sun as I hiked later on today.

I finished packing and exited the bedroom – Black Santa was awake and up, McDoubles was still fast asleep on the pullout couch. Savage and Champa woke a few minutes later and came out into the living room. The four of us tidied up (McDoubles was not moving).

At 8:00, Get Weird came over from her parents’ cabin and asked if we were ready for breakfast. Absolutely! The three of them came over and we all started making breakfast. After a nice, quick meal, Black Santa and I loaded our packs in the car and bid farewell to our four hiking buddies – Savage, McDoubles, Get Weird and Champa were staying an extra day.

Despite my sore feet, I was ready to hike. I felt great – I was in really high spirits. The plan was for Get Weird’s stepdad to drop Black Santa and I off at Smith Gap – he would then return to the cabins and grab the rest of the crew for a little day hiking (also known as “slack packing” – doing official miles without your pack). While we probably wouldn’t be seeing our hiking buddies for a few days, we would definitely have one last time to thank Get Weird’s parents as they waited for the rest of the crew at Wind Gap, only eight miles up trail.

We made the short trip to Smith Gap and were on the trail by 10:00am. We started hiking at a fairly good pace – the trail was still rocky, but very flat.

We had only two things on our agenda today – hitch into Wind Gap, PA to hit the post office and then make camp somewhere up trail afterwards. Water management would be an issue today (as it  generally is in PA). I left Smith Gap with three liters of water – this would definitely be enough to get me to Wind Gap.

We stopped at the Leroy A. Smith Shelter for snacks at noon before pressing on. While Black Santa and I generally enjoy hiking alone and at our own paces, we stuck together for most of the day. We commented on how it was kind of weird to be leaving the rest of the gang behind – it’s funny how much I’ve become accustomed to seeing their faces at camp every night.

A mile outside of Wind Gap, we found Get Weird’s parents resting at Hahn’s Overlook – the rest of the gang was a few miles behind us. We stopped to chat and thank them one last time for their genuine hospitality before pressing on.

At 1:30, we reached Wind Gap, PA. After unsuccessfully trying to hitch into town, we sucked it up and made the mile walk to the post office. Black Santa retrieved his packages and repacked his food bag in the parking lot. At 2:30 we were ready to get back on trail, but weren’t looking forward to the long walk back to the trailhead.

But we got lucky – an Uber driver pulled over and asked if we needed a ride. He was very familiar with the AT and gave thru-hikers discounted rides around town. It was worth the couple of bucks I gave him to get back the trail head – we were hiking north again at 3:00.

After consulting the AT Guide, we decided our best bet was to camp at either Wolf Rocks, if the spring wasn’t dry, or at a stealth campsite just north of the Kirkridge Shelter. If we chose to stealth camp, we’d need to fill up on water at the shelter.

We made the short, but steep, ascent back to the ridge and started hiking on the rocky terrain.

For the next four hours, this is all I saw – rocks for days. At the Smith Gap trail head, an old USFS sign indicated that Wolf Rocks marked the southern terminus of glaciation during the last ice age. While I didn’t know exactly what that meant, I hoped it indicated that the famous Pennsylvania rocks would be coming to an end soon.

I did everything I could to distract myself from the painful hiking – I listened to music, I tried talking on the phone. Black Santa was consistently about a hundred yards ahead – I could see he was struggling as much as I was.

I kept my head down the entire time, paying careful attention to foot placement. I could tell right away when I landed wrong – pain would shoot through the offending foot. I rarely looked up – I guess that’s how I missed the Kirkridge Shelter.

After passing Wolf Rocks (really nothing special at all), the trail leveled out and I soon found myself in a grassy field. A few other hikers had already set up camp – Black Santa and I quickly made camp and cooked dinner as the sun set. He thankfully had enough water to get us through the night.

I retired to my tent at 8:00 and started writing.

* * *

The last mile of trail was virtually rock-free – I’m only mentioning this because of what that USFS sign told me about glaciation. Maybe it was just coincidence, but I hope the trail continues in this manner for a while. My feet could use the break.

I should hit Delaware Water Gap, PA and the New Jersey border before noon tomorrow – I have my bounce box waiting for me at DWG. I plan on hiking as far as I can tomorrow. Black Santa will stop short at the Mohican Outdoor Center to wait for a package – I’ll continue hiking on.

I’m fairly certain I’ll stop in Branchville, NJ in two days and have a night in a hotel room – I could use some time to myself. I’m thinking pizza and baseball. Hopefully, the whole hiking crew will meet up again on Thursday and start tearing through New England.

I’m exited to be leaving PA – these rocks have been terrible.

In about nine days, I’ll be in New York City. This will, more than likely, be the last zero day I take.

And I was really blown away by what Get Weird’s folks did for us. It was a little too much – a cabin to ourselves and outstanding food. I got along with them really well – even the parents of thru-hikers are kindred spirits in a way.

Breakfast: coffee, bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, egg and bacon breakfast sandwich

Lunch/Snack: beef jerky, dried apricots

Dinner: Chicken Rice Side with a can of chicken – it’s becoming one of my favorite dinners

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

One thought on “Day 96 – Monday, June 13: Hemlock Campgrounds and Cottages to Smith Gap to Stealth Camp, 17.3 miles, 1,286.9 total AT miles.”

  1. Chris – Took a look at Red Beard’s YouTube video of the AT. Looks like more rocks, plus some boardwalks through swamps in New Jersey. Rocks again scrambling out of the Hudson River valley in New York. Then mostly dirt trails going north on the western borders of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Some scrambles up rocky stream beds to ascend mountains in Massachusetts. At Mount Greylock, you’re back to rocks. So your feet should get to heal from the PA rocks over the next couple of weeks.


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