Harold Helm's Appalachian Trail Hike Through NJ - Fall 2011

Region: North & Central America
Destination: Delaware Water Gap, PA, to Warwick, NY
Submitted by: Harold H. Helm II
From: October 30, 2011
To: November 6, 2011

For Adventure & Budget Conscious Travelers …

Discover the New Jersey you missed during your College Years, walking across New Jersey from Delaware Water Gap, PA, to Wawayanda State Park … hiking along the Appalachian Trail.
I started the hike October 30, 2011, and ended November 6, 2011.
This one-week trip is recommended for people who like the outdoors and are in at least fair physical condition. You will hike 69 miles from Delaware River Bridge northeasterly to NJ 94 (Warwick Turnpike) and the Wawayanda State Park near Warwick, NY. There are many road crossings where you can re-supply or yield to temptations.

A word of caution is in order concerning expectations and preparations for a hike. Weather is always a factor. This time it was a real surprise. A 6” wet snowfall, the day before my departure, made getting to the starting point a challenge. John Muir said, "you go out to go in.” There’s plenty of time in this hike to fully appreciate this quote.
What was also unexpected and makes me recommend this section over other parts of the Appalachian Trail is how varied the scenery is in this short section in one state, and how easy the climbs are with only modest the elevation gains. Another surprise was how the woods and ridges were so quiet, so full of wildlife and how few people were hiking the trail. In Spring or Summer weather, there are more hikers proceeding in both directions who meet and share information while passing or in the shelters. I probably saw 15 people on the trail during the whole week.

The plan for my journey, which would take one hour in a car, was to be a 6-day hike averaging about 10+ miles a day, so that I could make it back into New York City to join my wife in watching our daughter run in the NYC marathon on Sunday, November 7. It is better if you only plan to walk until reaching somewhere good to stop, not to have a deadline to reach a specific destination. Your goal should only be to arrive alive smelling many roses.

Generally you can plan as I did to stay most nights in the 3-sided shelters which are located every 8 to 10 miles along the trail (see photo) and have latrines, or in hostels, an occasional motel state park or to sleep outdoors. I took only a tarp and plastic ground cover to use if it was raining and if the shelters were not located appropriately, based on my progress. My pack contained food, fuel, water, and clothing, sleeping bag, toilet paper, pad, and stove, but no tent. My first shelter on Saturday, Oct 29th, the night before starting on the Journey on the 30th, was in The Church of The Mountains Presbyterian Church which has a shelter for AT hikers, under the church. It was free and had heat and water. After that I was in the open or paid for shelter.

Day 1. On Sunday morning, October 30th, I started out before church began, crossing the I-80 Delaware River bridge (elevation 350’) on the separate sidewalk for AT hikers back into NJ and began hiking along the white blazed AT up the mountain to Sunfish Pond, at elevation 1382’ a beautiful glacial lake (see photo). The day was sunny, the snow was not too deep and the path was findable (see a faint blaze on the "snowy tree and path” photo). It became harder to find trail markings further along, when they were on the top of rocks and the white blazes blended into the snow on the rocks.
On top of the ridges, there were spectacular views of the Delaware River Valley to the west and to the east of the many lakes & reservoirs supplying water to Newark (see photo). I met several southbound (SOBOS) AT thru hikers who were "flip floppers”. They had hiked North from Springer Mountain, GA, as far as Pennsylvania and then had gone on to Maine and started hiking back from Mt. Katahdin to Pennsylvania to avoid the New England early winter. One’s trail name was "deknober” another girl’s was "4 eyes". At end of quiet long 10.5 mile day my first night’s shelter was at Mohican Outdoor Center operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Cost was approximately $50.00. It was heated and there was a welcome fireplace in the lodge. Most of New Jersey was without power including Mohican Outdoor Center, but my small cabin had gas heat, water and a flush toilet. There were deer all around the small cabins.

Day 2 was scenic and I saw some birdwatchers but I missed the poorly marked or snow-obscured road designation and turn-off for Brinks Road shelter, my planned second night’s shelter. I just marched on by, so when darkness fell and the weather was clear, I slept on level rocks atop Bird Mountain under a full moon with a sleeping pad, tarp, and sleeping bag. During the next two days the weather moderated. The snow continued melting and during the afternoon you could hike in a tee shirt. Tuesday night at the end of Day 3, I was a lone resident in a shelter with a latrine, plus a bear box to store pack & food.

At end of Day 4, after hiking 14 miles, the idea of stopping in a warm motel, to get a shower, do laundry, plus charge phone & camera, really appealed. By then, my last pair of socks was soaked, and my clothes and boots needed to dry out, so on reaching NJ 23 (42.5 miles from start) I elected to seek a motel and do some laundry and eat some "real food” in Colesville, NJ, near High Point State Park (its hotel was closed for season).

In the November darkness, hitching a ride for the 5 miles to the nearest motel was challenging. No one wanted to stop; all were hurrying home. After an eternity, my prayers were answered when a young man and his date stopped. Because their compact car was too full for me and my pack, he agreed to take her to the motel and come back up the mountain for me and give me a ride. He did come back, picked me up and took me to High Point Country Inn Motel "where heaven meets the earth”. Cost was $78.00 and for $5.00 more the manager washed and dried my socks in the motel laundry. He also gave me a ride to local Italian restaurant and did errands near there while I ate. The next morning, he gave me a ride back up the mountain to begin my trek again.

Over many years I have received so many kindnesses as I thumbed that I want to mention a few here. My wife and I rode on a truck load of ducks into Hiawasse, GA. Two female school teachers picked me up on a back road, when I needed to re-supply, saying, "don’t tell our husbands”, and a true trail angel gave me a ride in VA, saying, "you don’t want to stay in a motel, come home with me. I’ll cook you dinner and take you back to the trail in the morning.” There are miracles and many good Samaritans along the Appalachian Trail.

For some, a solo hike like this will be frightening or a mental challenge. It definitely is safer and more fun hiking with compatible companions who have complementary skills, knowledge and compatible hiking speeds. If you are introverted, companions may be a drag and you may just want to experience nature alone. If you don’t know your own ability to handle a solo hike, this is a good place to try. I enjoy portions of the day alone but at the end of the day it’s best for me if there are shared meals, joys, aches and pains and conversations in companionship with a group of hikers around the shelter and a campfire when permitted. Mostly it is the young or old who are out on the trail. Middle-agers are working. Those on the trail are healing and gaining strength retreating from civilization.

Days 4 and 5 were just fantastic, because you descend from the view laden ridges across farms and walk on level ground into the Pochuck quagmire or bog. This amazing swamp has a one-mile long elevated walkway which volunteers built over 7 years (see photo). The change of scenery is spectacular. No more ridges, rocks or sylvan canopy. Now you see cat tails, marsh birds, and waterfowl. Following this you walk into the Wallkill River National Wildlife Preserve. I saw deer, multiple flocks of geese, ducks and even swans here (see photo, near sundown). The path takes you along two long lake boundaries, so you have a fantastic wildlife experience. For about 3 days I saw almost no people. Finally, to have a little conversation, I named my Pack "Wilson” and begin to chat with him, sharing my thoughts and observations. Wilson said he had had a good hike too. He did not drink any of my cocoa or eat my oatmeal or trail snacks either.

During the 4th day I hoped to hike 16 miles to Pochuck shelter, but there were two problems to deal with: 1) a lost water bottle meant I was short of water and was very grateful to reach a water cache box (see photo) to get a bottle left for hikers during dry spells by Appalachian volunteers; and 2) the sun was sinking fast. Too quickly, I was soon surrounded by darkness after passing through the migratory wildlife preserve before reaching the next shelter. When I dropped one of my two hiking poles and could not find it in the dark, I called it a day, and slept on the side of a mountain, nestling into a small dry bed of leaves with a tree bracing me on the low side. I had been pushing to make the Pochuck Mountain shelter to keep to the schedule allowing me to finish by Day 7, Saturday morning. When morning daylight came, I easily found my hiking pole and set out in fair weather through more hills and bogs.
While New Jersey has more bears than any of the 13 other states the trail passes through, I did not see any. You should plan on seeing at least one. I did see deer, and heard a beaver tail slap, birds chirping and saw waterfowl and hawks. On Friday, Day 6, as I hiked toward the Wawayanda shelter, I found a lovely beaver pond which was so peaceful with occasional fish leaping and beavers sounding alarms, that I settled down on the edge of it watching the full moon rise. The heck with going on for another mile to the shelter.

The next Day 7, Saturday morning, a retired teacher and volunteer trail maintainer came by my campsite. In my first conversation in two days, I shared my desire to go to Warwick, NY, to catch a bus to NYC. He quickly finished his trail clearing tasks and gave me a ride to the Burger Queen where the NJ Transit bus stops. We had a lot in common as his daughter went to University of KY and lived just 50 miles from my former home in KY. He dropped me off at the restaurant. The best bargain of the trip was the senior bus ticket, costing $8.00, and 2 hours later I was in the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal, having rolled across NJ much more comfortably than I had experienced traveling it on foot.

What a wonderful experience this hike was. If you try it, you do make some memories by taking your grandchildren or children. All will see some of the most beautiful land in NJ, traverse its highest point, while experiencing remarkable sounds and views. It is easier and has only modest elevation changes when compared to other portions of the Appalachian Trail. Remember to try for good weather. This was my first snow hike. Add it to your diet plan. I did lose 12 lbs, plus one water bottle and a pack rain cover which a low limb scraped off my pack, unknown to me.

Good news: There were no bugs, bears or snakes. You may see those in some seasons.

Recommendations: Choose a smaller, lighter pack. Less weight means more fun. Carry 30-35 lbs maximum, re-supply along the way when you need to, bring water and purify what you get from creeks or springs. Overall, the cost for the week hike for one was about $350.00 including meals and paid lodging (2 nights plus a small donation to the church). This cost excludes equipment.

To Prepare: Buy from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org) -- 1) the Appalachian Trail Thru Hikers Companion, 2) the Trail Data Book and 3) a guide and maps for New Jersey and NewYork. These reference materials cost about $45.00 total and list stores, post offices for mail drops, outfitters and lodging with telephone numbers and distances from the trail to towns at road crossings.

Before you go, read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Wild by Sheryl Strayed. You can’t be any less prepared than either of them was.















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