My 1983 Appalachian Trail Hike in Photos
I wrote a ton in words in my journal as I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I also shot a ton of Kodachrome slides in that pre-digital age. I've scanned all my old AT slides and posted them with short text blurbs connecting them to their parts of the story. I'd never tried to connect all these slides with all these words before. It helped me remember details of that long-ago hike in new ways. These pages are a chronological visual journal of the hike. Probably one of the oldest thru-hikes on the Internet to get one.
More pics from my 1983 Appalachian Trail hike. Table of Contents is here.
Blue Mountain, PA - Harriman State Park, NY
I hit the trail the next morning, July 22, 1983, at 7:00, determined to hike the eighteen miles to Port Clinton in nine hours in order to arrive at the Post Office by 4:00. In those long-ago pre-Google days, you never knew at what time post offices in those small towns would close, but 4:00 seemed reasonably safe. The weather was cooler and drier, with a welcome breeze. Three pints of water lasted me eighteen miles. The trail was fairly uneventful for the first eleven. It followed along the ridge crest, crossing one paved state road a few miles from my campsite.
I took a quick break after six miles, and fifteen-minute break five miles further at Neys Shelter. The place looked fairly run-down and was full of wasp nests. Many dire warnings were in the register about what happened to hikers who drank the water from Ox Spring, the shelter's water supply. Fortunately, as I said, water was not a problem today. The air was so much cooler and drier than on recent days I discovered I had consumed just one cup during my initial eleven miles of hiking. I still had more than a quart remaining from the spring at Hertlein Campsite that morning, so I was able to drink freely over the final seven miles.
The rocks had not been too bad for the first twelve miles. About a mile past the shelter, after a short steep climb, the rocks returned with a vengeance. I was beginning to see more and more of those razor-backed rocks that projected edgewise from the ground like shark fins. A few miles of walking on those puppies will quickly cure a man of the delusion that the soles of his feet have become virtually indestructible. I also picked up a dozen or so new deep thorn scratches on my arms and legs while hiking overgrown sections of the trail. Looked like I might need a transfusion by Delaware Water Gap.
I took my third and final break of the day about four miles past Neys Shelter at Auburn Lookout, the only real viewpoint from the Appalachian Trail all day. It was a rock outcrop hanging high above Port Clinton village and a long curve of the Schuylkill River Valley.
Coincidentally, I had been reading The Annotated Sherlock Holmes right before I left for this thru-hike, so I recognized "The Valley of Fear" from my reading.
In the 1800's, the Schuylkill Valley was the heart of an anthracite coal mining region and the site of one of the more violent of the early labor struggles. Things quickly got out of hand, and neither side was overly particular about the sanctity of human life. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a very political Sherlock Holmes novel concerning the efforts of the noble philanthropists who owned the mines to defeat the evil striking workers. Sir Arthur would have been very comfortable with the current political climate in America in the 80s. The setting of that novel was a fictionalized version of a portion of this valley, as I recall. Today, "The Valley of Fear" looked rather peaceful and bucolic.
The sole of my left boot began to separate near the toe early in the day, and it was flopping around all over the place by the time I made it here.
Still July 22, 1983. Still Chapter 12, "On the Rocks".
The low humidity gave my pictures of this excellent view a recently unaccustomed background of blue sky, and distant objects looked sharp and clear. I was way ahead of schedule, so I rested for twenty minutes, preparing myself for the final, sick descent into Port Clinton.
There were some unpleasant stretches along the route down, but I just took them slow, and made up the time on the tolerable sections.
I still managed to arrive at the Post Office a few minutes before four. Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service was not able to match my on-time performance. The letters which my family and friends had mailed from Connecticut almost a week before had not yet arrived. That was a disappointment, but it still felt good to have a long day completed at 4:00.
The Appalachian Trail passed directly through the streets of Port Clinton, where the Schuylkill River cuts an impressive, 1000-foot-deep slash through the hulking ridge of Blue Mountain.
At the point at which the AT roadwalk crosses Pennsylvania 61 was the Port Clinton Hotel. It is not unlike the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, a throwback to the early years of the century. I checked into my room and walked down the hall to the bathroom for a long, hot shower. Then, I went downstairs to the bar and drank some cold cokes while I chatted with Helen, the long-time owner and operator of the establishment. She gave me some twine to bind up my shoe until I could get it repaired.
I needed a very early start the next morning, July 23, because I intended to hike twenty-three miles that day over the most vicious rocks and the most strenuous climbs yet in Pennsylvania. I left the hotel at 8:30. Oh, well . . . My letters from home had still not arrived at the Post Office. I mailed some of my own and left a change-of-address card forwarding my mail to Delaware Water Gap.
As usually happens when I leave a town, my hiking level was abysmal that morning. I required ninety minutes to hike the first two miles. It was of no help to my cause that some careless blazing met some overgrown trail at one point, and I thought I lost the trail.
The remainder of today's trail was relatively well-cleared, but the rocks were brutal. Sometimes, I walked across fields of boulders. Often, I slipped and slid over piles of smaller, loose rocks. Other times, I trod over the famous sharp-edged shark fin rocks. The one constant factor was that I was walking on one type of rock or another all day long. They slowed my pace and crucified my feet.
As an added bonus, the trail route was fairly weird today. It began with a healthy climb out of the Schuylkill Valley. Then, the AT dropped back down off of the ridge crest to pass by a spring located a good distance down the side of the mountain.
Still July 22, 1983. Still Chapter 12
The trail climbed all of the way back up to the crest and immediately descended almost to the base of the mountain, to a shelter beside a reservoir. It then returned to the ridgeline, followed the crest for a few miles, and dropped all of the way off the mountain in order to bypass a private sanctuary for hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey. The trail climbed back up to the ridge crest one final time and remained up there for the remainder of the day.
There were several good prospects from the trail today, and one great one along the few miles of ridge walk between the reservoir and the bird sanctuary. The Pinnacle was the point of a long, narrow, wedge-shaped spur of Blue Mountain, perched atop a sheer escarpment of cliffs running along either side. There were better than 300-degree views of the surrounding valleys.
I looked out over a beautiful patchwork of greens and browns. Farm fields tinted dozens of shades of green followed the undulating contours of the valley floor, occasionally broken up by the golden brown of fallow fields and the deeper greens of patches of woodland.
It was 2:00 and I had managed just nine miles of hiking. I had given up all hope of making it twenty-three miles to Allentown Shelter today and was planning to pitch a tent. I sat down to take pictures and enjoy the finest viewpoint on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. While preparing to depart, I got into a conversation with a pair of day hikers who told me that the latest forecasts were now predicting rain for tonight. That figured. It was 2:30, and at most six-and-a-half more hours of daylight and twilight remained to hike almost fourteen miles if I was now to resume my endeavor of attaining the shelter.
Soon after the Pinnacle, the Appalachian Trail made the long descent off of Blue Mountain in order to bypass Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. On the floor of the valley below, the AT followed dirt roads very briefly through something called Eckville, which consisted of a few scattered houses and little else. From there, it was a long climb, very steep towards the end, back up the mountain.
Still July 23, 1983. Still Chapter 12.
I hardly took a step all day which didn't come down on at least one rock. The soles of my feet were beginning to feel as if an expert had worked them over with a blackjack; if they knew any secret plans, they would have spilled them hours earlier.
I limped into Allentown Shelter at 8:50, just as darkness fell. A long, rocky path led down the side of the mountain to water. I needed my flashlight for this trip. When I returned to the shelter, I slumped down on the floor, exhausted, and said, "Now watch. After all of that, it probably won't rain." The words were barely out of my mouth when the sky opened up and rain began hammering the tin roof. I finally had dinner at 10:00.
I woke up late July 24 morning, tired and sore, and moved slowly. I did not get out on the AT until 8:30. The initial four miles of trail followed pleasant, relatively rock-free woods roads along the crest of Blue Mountain to Blue Mountain Summit, the floor of a shallow gap through which Pennsylvania Highway 309 crosses the ridgeline. A Bavarian restaurant was located at the road crossing. I arrived at 10:00.
Torn between two of the breakfast specials, I compromised and had both. The next two miles also followed woods roads; the final twelve miles were all rocks.
When I was still about two-and-a-half miles from home, I encountered the most insidious obstacle which Blue Mountain had yet thrown at us: a mile-and-a-half-long stretch descending through a scrubby area bursting with ripe wild blueberries. My purple lips and I arrived at the shelter at 7:50. There was a gushing piped spring not far away -- a far cry from the usual grueling trek to water in this state. That night I also had a captivating view of the lights of the Lehigh Valley down below and an enormous full moon overhead. Still July 24, 1983. Still Chapter 12.
I got out on the Appalachian Trail at 7:30 the next morning, July 25. The first mile concluded the long descent into Lehigh Gap which I had begun yesterday. Lehigh Gap was less captivating in daylight. The AT crossed the murky Lehigh River on a highway bridge in the middle of a somber area graced by a large smoking factory, a used car lot, and a number of decaying houses. There was, however, also a coke machine, so bite me, wilderness experiences. It was a very warm morning, with the promise of intense heat for the afternoon.
The ensuing trail was one of the most intriguing portions of the entire Appalachian Trail. It climbed out of the gap over a huge rockslide. There were several tough scrambles that probably did not belong on a backpacking trail, but the area possessed a certain unique charm.
For the next mile-and-a-half, the AT climbed through a surreal wasted landscape of naked rock -- gigantic boulders covered with chunks of blasted rubble. Occasional black, broken skeletons of dead trees groped upward through the barren mass. There were continuous panoramic views into the smoky industrial valley below. It was not what you could call beautiful, but it was a fascinating change of pace along the long, wooded crest of Blue Mountain.
Still July 25, 1983. Still Chapter 12.
Most of the five miles of trail from Lehigh Gap to Little Gap passed through similar scenery. The ridge crest was a jumble of small rocks, piles of boulders, dead trees, and scrubby, blackened growth. The entire area resembled the aftermath of a mammoth bombing run. There were a few patches of ripe blueberries and blackberries, but nothing as extensive as those encountered yesterday, so I was able to maintain a decent pace.
I had come almost seventeen miles when I arrived at the LeRoy A. Smith Shelter at 4:20 in the afternoon. That was where I had planned to spend the night, but I was just too restless to stay. The weather had again turned tropical that day, and I was hurting. I did not wish to turn the next day into another death march race against time by leaving myself with nineteen miles to hike by 5:00 in order to make the Post Office in Delaware Water Gap.
I rested an hour and then pushed my bruised and bloodied feet another four miles to Wind Gap. I walked into the Gateway Motel in Wind Gap at 7:15, having hiked twenty-one miles on only three pints of water. I obtained a room for tonight with air conditioning and a television. The owner even threw in a free ride to the McDonalds located two miles away in Wind Gap Village. That policy was a smart move on his part, as hikers will advertise in the registers the businesses that treat us right. Little extras such as saving a backpacker a four-mile round trip walk to dinner mean a lot after a long, hard day on the trail.
Less than fifteen miles of Blue Mountain now remained. I should hit Delaware Water Gap fairly early the next day. If there was a cobbler in Delaware Water Gap or Stroudsburg (a larger town located five miles from the village), I would lay over an extra day and have the sole of my left hiking boot repaired. I had used up almost all of the twine which Helen gave me for temporary repairs. The rocks had been chewing it up fairly rapidly.
Still July 25, 1983. Still Chapter 12.
The final battle of my battered feet and Blue Mountain began the morning of July 26, 1983, at 8:15. Less than a mile out on the trail, my last piece of twine broke, occasioning much flopping around of my left hiking boot's sole. I cut off a short piece from the small coil of rope I carry in my backpack and bound up my shoe with that. This worked fairly well. During the course of the day's hike, the sole of my right boot began peeling. The rocks were the worst I had yet seen. In fifteen miles I probably encountered no more than two-and-a-half miles of decent footway all day, and virtually all of that was along gravel roads.
Mercifully, I arrived at a gravel road, which the Appalachian Trail followed for the ensuing mile-and-a-half to the top of Mount Minsi. I took a ten-minute break at the summit, drinking the last of my water, and began the long descent to the Delaware River.
Somewhere during the course of this final downhill, it occurred to me that the first ridge I would be hiking in New Jersey was actually a continuation of Blue Mountain. They were segments of one continuous ridge, separated by a gap carved by the Delaware River (hence the name Delaware Water Gap -- duh). I would by no means be finished with Blue Mountain's rocks once I crossed into New Jersey. I filed this cheerful thought away for later and continued down.
The trail was steep and rocky in stretches, but the most spectacular scenery since Shenandoah helped. The trail skirted a series of high cliffs overlooking the deep cleft cut through the Kittatinny Mountains by the broad Delaware River. A few miles below Interstate 80 and Stroudsburg's minor urban sprawl, the wild, wooded gorge could have been in another universe.
The trail slanted northward, descending across the Pennsylvania face of the gorge. A dense cloud of Blue Mountain's most persistent fauna escorted me off the mountain, leaving greasy smears of my own blood on my arms and legs as I killed them. These seemed to compliment the patchwork of thorn scars, so I left them. My long battle with Blue Mountain was a bloody one, but victory was near.
At 4:15 p.m. EDT July 26, 1983, I stepped off of the footpath onto a gravel road. I soon hit a paved road.
Chapter 14 was over. Across the river, New Jersey awaited with a new series of challenges, and Chapter 15. But first, a rest and a shoe repair.
Pictured at left is the Interstate 80 bridge I would be following across the Delaware River into New Jersey next chapter.
I spent the entire day July 27 in Delaware Water Gap Village and its much larger neighbor Stroudsburg, stocking up, getting my flopping hiking boots resoled and replacing the tearing shoulder straps on my backpack. It wasn't much of a rest day. So begins Chapter 15 of my story.
On July 28, 1983, the Appalachian Trail followed paved roads out of Delaware Water Gap into New Jersey. I passed a coke machine along the way. I soon reached the I-80 bridge over the Delaware River, which had a pedestrian walkway which the AT followed across. It was a long bridge: three-quarters-of-a-mile in length, and the coke was gone by the time I reached the New Jersey side. Seven states down and seven to go.
On the Jersey side I followed roads under I-80 and then the Appalachian Trail followed an old woods road into the forest. Before I hit that woods road, the National Recreation Area Visitor Center had a water fountain with a genuine built-in cooler, a rare luxury on this hike.
That cold water tasted fabulous for the brief amount of time it remained cold once I had resumed hiking. At 9:30, the temperature was already in the eighties and the air was positively steamy. Since this was all supposed to grow progressively worse over the next several days, it seemed I will be reliving those glorious dog days of southern Pennsylvania.
The Appalachian Trail was a bit better than it had been across the river. Where the terrain was fairly level, the footway was good. Along the numerous steep stretches and most of the moderate ones, the footway was an eroded mass of loose rocks. The rocks were not nearly as bad as those just across the river in Pennsylvania, but my tee shirt was plastered to my back and chest before I was halfway up the mountain, and the day had not yet reached mid-morning. On a brighter note, the AT was relatively clear compared to all of those overgrown portions on Blue Mountain. There were frequent good viewpoints along the ridge crest, but I could not see for great distances through the steam. This corner of New Jersey was surprisingly scenic.
Rattlesnake Spring was the first water on the Appalachian Trail since the Delaware Water Gap N.R.A. Visitor Center, a distance of more than twelve miles. I stuffed my face with food and water. I managed a bit more than twenty miles on my first day out of a town with a heavy pack by walking until 9:00 at night. I filled my canteen again at a spring on an Appalachian Trail road crossing three miles before making a waterless camp beside an old, abandoned gravel road on a narrow stretch of grassy ridge crest.
July 29 was very similar to July 28 and July 27. The Appalachian Trail followed flat, scenic ridge crests through the National Recreation Area northeast, often with good views through the steadily increasing haze. On July 28, I enjoyed views from Catfish Fire Tower, rumored to have been torn down back then but still standing last I heard. Early morning July 29, the trail passed over a rocky knob called Rattlesnake Mountain along the ridge crest. There were nice views out over a wooded valley to a parallel ridge in the west. Beyond that ridge, I caught a few glimpses of the Delaware River glittering in the distance.
Later July 29, I met a fellow thru-hiker at a small bakery where the trail crossed US 206. After the road crossing (and a stop at the bakery), the initial half-mile from Culvers Cap followed paved roads. The AT re-entered the woods and began a rather long climb to the sixty-foot-tall Culver fire tower. I enjoyed being up there above the treetops. Culver Lake, on the floor of the valley below, loomed through the haze a giant blob of deeper gray in a formless universe of white and gray. Still Chapter 15.
I passed the last water on the trail four miles later at the point where the Appalachian Trail crossed a paved road known as the Deckertown Turnpike. The state of New Jersey had thoughtfully provided a hand-cranked pump at the road crossing. The final six miles of my hike were fairly uneventful. At 8:40, I arrived at the wooden observation tower located just south of the highest point in New Jersey, which is imaginatively named High Point.
Although High Point Shelter is less than a mile up the trail, I spent the night camping illegally on the observation deck of the tower. As in much of the central states, most of the shelters in New Jersey are ancient, dirt-floored relics. It was not supposed to rain that night, so I was more interested in having a wooden floor beneath me than having walls and a roof around me. Up there, I had a cool breeze to refresh me on a warm, muggy night and a spectacular 360-degree view. The red blinking light atop High Point Monument to the north, the lights of radio tower to the south, and a few twinkling lights from houses scattered through the valleys to the east and west of this ridge all vie for attention with the handful of stars visible through the haze of this lazy July evening. A few dense concentrations of lights twinkled just at the fringes of both horizons.
I only managed to cover barely twenty-two miles in all of those hours spent on the trail July 29. This was getting to be a pattern. I wanted to spend hours writing my journal and to keep cranking out longer and longer days despite all the rocks and heat. I was heading towards a burnout.
The Appalachian Trail had been paralleling the Delaware River along the crest of Kittatinny Ridge northeastward since I entered New Jersey on July 27, coming within a few miles of its northern border with New York. On July 30, as I left High Point State Park, the AT now swung towards the east, descending finally from the mountain. After more than 150 miles of coping with the rocks, thorns, and insects of Blue Mountain/Kittatinny Ridge, I was more than happy to leave it behind. The remainder of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey followed very close to the New York state line.
I had a fairly late start in the morning, hitting the trail at 7:15. I reached High Point Shelter at 7:45 and left at 8:00 after quickly sucking back three pints of water and refilling my water bottle. The stream at the shelter was dirty and the water did not taste very good, but it was the last sure water on the Appalachian Trail in the state of New Jersey.
There were two long roadwalks on July 30. I enjoyed my usual roadwalk weather of soaring temperatures, choking humidity and merciless sun. The water in my canteen became bath water. My stomach writhed and squirmed every time I swallowed a gulp of that nauseating liquid. It was all I could do to keep it down.
I was lucky enough get water twice from people's houses. The second time was when I camped for the night next to another thru-hiker just past the ridge crest in a quiet grove of hemlock along the bank of what used to be a stream. The drought had converted it into a few small mud holes scattered across a strip of sand and rocks. After all the struggles of July 30, I had only managed another 20 miles.
The high points of July 31 were reaching New York, pigging out on fresh fruit at a fruit stand near the AT and a visit to Roger's Appalachian Cottage. Roger was a well-known friend to hikers, who welcomed us into his vacation home just off the AT.
As we descended the cliff face, I could see through trees the roof of a house below, with "Roger's Appalachian Cottage" painted in large letters across the top. When we arrived, we paused to admire the largest map of the Appalachian Trail in the world, painted on a large wooden wall more than thirty feet in length erected beside the cottage. Paintings of selected scenes from the trail were around the edges. The work was not yet completed, but enough existed to indicate to me that I am not the only person connected with the Appalachian Trail who is prone to obsessions.
I hiked a short fifteen miles on July 30, and still felt terrible. Having been intermittently obsessed for so many hundreds of miles with reaching western Connecticut, less than an hour's drive from my home, I had never stopped to consider that the part of New York in which I was now hiking was perhaps an extra hour's drive at most. Appalachian Trail miles are so much slower than highway miles that I had almost forgotten the automotive age even existed. The next morning, I packed it in and headed home for a few days, bringing us to the end of Chapter 15.
I spent five days at home, enjoying air conditioning, plenty of solid food, and my one trip to the beach that summer. Each night, I told myself that I would go back to the trail... tomorrow. The morning of August 6, I woke up and knew that this was it. if I did not drag my butt back to the trail today, I could kiss the thru-hike good-bye. I got a ride back to Greenwood Lake, New York where I had left the trail.
I got some more miles out of the way August 6 -- a whole six of them. Nevertheless, I was back on the trail. Chapter 16 of my story.
Resuming my thru-hike, I discovered I had lost an incredible amount of conditioning during five days off the trail. It was another oppressively hot, steamy day, which felt all the worse after spending five days in air conditioning. The trail was not much help, either. Two long, vertical rock climbs welcomed me back to the Appalachian Trail. Thanks to a combination of all of these factors, it took me three-and-a-half hours to hike those six miles, even though I took no long breaks. That was depressing. I had not hiked at that slow a pace in hundreds of miles. Good thing I had two fourteen-mile days planned. That would allow me to ease myself back into shape.
I met another thru-hiker of sorts my first day back August 6. We camped that night next to a busy road known as the Old Orange Turnpike. What with all of the traffic and the racket coming from a nearby rifle range, it was not an ideal spot for sleep. However, a piped spring a half-mile down the road was actually running, and water was the key factor on this part of the Appalachian Trail during that hot, dry summer. I did not sleep very well that night. The firing at the rifle range died down about dusk, but the traffic on the Orange Turnpike continued all night.
When morning came, I had trouble dragging myself out of my sleeping bag. Some of this difficulty was no doubt due to reading in the guidebook some highlights of the trail today, like "Agony Grind" and "The Lemon Squeezer." Remembering all of the sick stretches of trail in New Jersey and New York that did not rate the name "Agony Grind," I kind of had to wonder what the hell that would be like. Physically, I was still only fifty percent August 7. My legs continued to feel weak, but my feet were less tender. Several stiff climbs in the first mile-and-a-half helped me warm up. When I came to "Agony Grind," it turned out to be no worse than countless other stretches of trail around here. Still Chapter 16.
I crossed New York Route 17 and entered Harriman State Park, a place historic on the AT. The first section of trail to be constructed specifically for the Appalachian Trail was blazed in this park. The woods were mature, open, and airy, and filled with stately old trees. All of this beauty just made the large amounts of trash strewn all over the forest more depressing.
After ten fairly rough miles, I arrived at the Appalachian Trail crossing of the park's Arden Valley Road. A snack bar and a water faucet were located a quarter-mile down that road from the AT. It was a steaming-hot day, and my water bottle was empty.
The facilities were alongside a public beach on the shore of the enormous Lake Tiorati. I expected the place to be fairly lively on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in August. I was not disappointed. Thousands of people thronged all around Tiorati Circle.
I had intended to hike 14 miles August 7, but the spring-fed well at Brien Shelter was literally a dust bowl. I regrouped and made it another couple of miles to camp next to the Palisades Parkway crossing. I bought some sodas and filled my canteen in the rest room of a rest area a quarter mile up the Parkway.
I'm still not done. More AT pics here.