October 17, 2017
Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania. When hikers talk of strenuous portions of the AT, this spot invariably is mentioned. I’ve been nervous about this site for weeks. I’ve tried to reassure myself. After all, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the mountains in southern Maine were surely more extreme than a gap in Pennsylvania. How tough could it be?
Morning dawned clear and cold. 38 degrees Fahrenheit cold. BRR! I wore every stitch of clothing from my pack last night, and still wore an extra layer this morning as we began hiking.
The first three miles ran along the top of the ridge of Blue Mountain. The trail was a mixture of dirt, rocks, and grass. Quite nice in places!
Blue Mountain is part of an EPA Superfund Site, the result of nearly 70 years of zinc smelting operations in the nearby valley and town of Palmerton. Huge quantities of heavy metals were emitted throughout the area. Three thousand acres of revegetation with grasses, and the planting of 13,000 trees was completed in 2013. Jay and I were interested to see the healthy trees, about head high, growing along the ridge.
The fourth mile of our morning began as the trail took an abrupt dive over the edge of the ridge, heading straight down over cliffs and car-sized boulders to the Lehigh River below. In one mile, the trail loses 1,000 feet of elevation. One hiker described it as “thrilling on a windy day.” I was glad to have a day of gorgeous sun, blue sky, and just the merest kiss of a zephyr to keep us cool on the cliff. Nevertheless, as Jay paused often to enjoy the incredible views, I kept my eyes strictly upon the next rock to negotiate!
At the bottom, I was jubilant! The last “cliff” of our hike, with no hurt body parts! In actuality, the trail was mostly very steep, sometimes with rock stairs, and only two parts that required scrambling and climbing. I gave Jay an ecstatic hug, saying, “We did it! Woohoo! Pennsylvania, here we come!”