Since I was a little kid, I've often seen hikers on a particular stretch of PA 248 and thought they must be having an amazing adventure. I love the Appalachian Trail, but have mostly hiked and rehiked the same section and always assumed I'd never hike a big enough piece to brag about it.
A couple of summers ago, Dave and I decided to change that. We were going to hike 22 miles - from the Smith Gap Crossing out to Bake Over Knob. We planned to take the Winter Trail at Lehigh Gap to avoid the sometimes near vertical descent into the gap, well aware that it would add a bit of distance.
The first summer we were going to go, I go a jury duty summons. The next year, house fire and dislocated knee for me. The next year, broken elbow and surgery for Dave. This year was it. We're going to do it. Rain or shine, come hell or high water, nothing's going to stop us!
We decided to start in Smith Gap and head south for several reasons. It put the longer distance on the first day, but it also put the descent into Lehigh Gap on the first day, and allowed us to leave my car at The Knob, where there's an actual parking lot. Smith Gap Crossing only has 3 parking spaces along the road.
Friday night we dropped my car at the parking lot near Bake Oven Knob, went out for dinner and headed to Dave's house to pack.
Saturday morning, up at 5:30 am, we double checked our packs, filled our canteens and Dave's dad dropped us off at the Smith Gap crossing.
7:38a to All We are officially on our own!
I sent our first check-in text out when we were about 50 yards down the trail, we didn't want Dave's dad to think we had run into trouble already.
The morning was pretty uneventful. We hadn't even opened our canteens when we got to Stempa Spring, so we didn't even head down to check if it was running. Same at the Delps Spring. In retrospect, we should have checked anyway, it would have been good information to pass on to hikers passing in the opposite direction.
Our first good photo op for something we haven't already photographed a zillion times. Crossing under the tower lines always bugs me, you can hear the electricity humming in the wires.
8:53a to Jesse Brought my camera, extra batteries, bought a dry pack to keep it in. Forgot my memory card!
Also, a chance for Jesse to have a laugh at my expense. Out comes the cell. Apparently, there will be sparse photos for this epic adventure. Oops.
We've stopped for a bit of a rest, and a joking text to a co-worker.
11:40a to Tom Passed a girl in a bikini top a while back. Thought you'd want to know.
We're happy with our progress so far. Resting as we need to. Covering a lot of ground. Greeting other hikers who had more information for us that we did for them.
As we made the final approach to the Little Gap crossing, we see a hand-written sign, promising there is running water just a bit down the road from the crossing.
12:50p to All Stopping for lunch at Little Gap crossing. Having a blast, greeting lots of other hikers, making good time. Will check after lunch on a lead for a water source we hadn't counted on!
The water source lead didn't pan out. This went a long way towards making the day much harder than it would have been. Then we packed up our bags, made sure we had collected all of our trash and started in on the next segment. Only to be greeted by a sign notifying us that due to the Zinc Company Superfund Bioremediation Site, the next 4 miles of trail have been relocated.
Oh, well. Off we go. And immediately stop. To allow a 4+ ft black snake to cross the trail. This was the largest animal we encountered the entire day, with the only others worth mentioning being several small toads and a fire newt.
As we're getting further and further out, we're beginning to realize how short we are on water and how much longer the relocation has made the trip. Instead of crossing through State Game Lands, we're skirting the outside edge, making the trip almost 2 miles longer than we had planned for.
But we had a great view of Palmerton, even if the photo doesn't show it!
3:20p to Jesse Closing in on Lehigh Gap slowly, but surely. Dave is not having as much fun as I am.
Dave was getting cranky and the sight of a small but sprawling town slowly panning by was not helping his mood. By this point we were beginning to separate a bit, he was charging ahead ("At this point I only have 2 speeds: stop and go."), while I was chugging along at a comfortable pace for me and my knee and taking rests as needed.
4:45p to All Not as close to the shelter as we'd like to be, but I've conquered one of the sections I was afraid of with little difficulty.
We're overlooking the Lehigh Gap Bridge here, knowing the river is our first access to additional water, and that it will take 30 minutes once we're there to make it potable. Dave is giving in at this point, calls his dad to see about meeting us with water. Not that I'm not suffering to, but I'm not willingly to give in as easily. I know we can be ok, not comfortable, but safe, with what we've got until we can get to the river.
5:14p to Lisa I'm beat, Dave's exhaused. We'll get there, but we lost a lot of time, energy and water to the path relocation.
5:16p to Lisa Nowhere to camp until the shelter.
We finally made it to the East Lot at Lehigh Gap.
To me, it's a victory. Just across the bridge and above the tree line is the shelter, lack of water be damned, we'll make it.
To Dave, this is the chance to give up before we hurt ourselves.
We dropped down from the lot onto Rt 248, taking those few steps I had so often envied hikers for taking and crossed the bridge to the West lot, just below the spring and shelter. Over the course of crossing the bridge it becomes obvious that Dave will not make it to the shelter. Too tired, too thirsty, too achy. He's got blisters and sore knees, a bruised ego. His parents can't come pick us up until much later, so I call my mom.
We sit, waiting for my mom, and I'm staring across the road at the last set of blazes we made it to.
We've been gifted most of a Gatorade from another hiker, who's just heading out and didn't want to carry the bottle on the trail. I give Dave most of it. He needs it more.
I text everyone from my mom's.
7:48p to All Decided not to camp at the shelter. The trail relocation due to the Superfund Bioremediation Site added unexpected mileage and Dave couldn't make it any further. He's sleeping at home, I'm at my mom's. Depending how he feels in the morning, we may try to finish up anyway.
In the morning, Dave's not much better off. I feel like I could do it, and my mom is seriously considering coming with me so I can, in spite of having injured her foot last week. After much consideration, it's not worth the risk to my mom's foot, and it feels wrong to finish without Dave somehow.
We head out to get my car and take a few minutes to make the short climb up to Bake Oven Knob, which would have been the last vista before the parking lot had we made the second day.
I'm a bit disappointed that we couldn't finish, but it was the right choice for both of our safety in the long run. And hey, it's not like 14 miles in one day, in the mountains is anything to sneeze at.
We'll try again, with more water, and better shoes in spring.