Half Way in Pennsylvania

After a night of drying out at Rocky Run Shelter, Mark and I set out for the free showers at Dahlgren State Park a mile and a half down the Trail. We then hiked the other 14 miles to Hemlock Hill Shelter. Imagine our delight when we smelled home cooking and heard the crack of beer cans opening as we descended into the camp. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club was set up at the shelter and just finishing up the repair work on the privy as well as a new paint job at the shelter. The crew was gearing up for a celebratory Trail feast and we were invited! We all sat around camp, swilled the beer, ate the gourmet camp chow and cheerfully shared our tales from the Trail.

     I don’t know who put the #10 can of beans in the fire, all I know is the resulting explosion sent a shower of flaming beans over the area as well as totally extinquishing the flames of the huge camp blaze. Amazingly, no one was hurt and the prank was forgiven as we fell about our drunken selves laughing and putting out the scattered fires from the baked bean napalm.

    After the belly busting breakfast with the PATC crew (sans beans), we headed into our 7th state on the AT, Pennsylvania. We walked among the gomers at Penn-Mar, working on our “emaciated hiker in dire need of free food” routine, and successfully snagged some barbecue. After a most excellent walk on Chimney Rocks and 19 miles for the day, we decided to camp at the ridge with the view of the resevoir below. The surrounding topography was fairly flat and we could see for miles. Both the sunset and the sunrise from our camp site were impossibly colorful and memorably dazzling.

     We hiked another 17 miles to the twin shelters at Birch Run. There were a couple of Trail maintainers wailing with a weed whacker when we arrived, a most annoying upset of the quiet forest! I shouldn’t complain… The Appalachian Trail was excellent through these parts, well manicured and easy to walk thanks to them. As we walked, Mark and I noticed the paths in this area were covered with a curious, multicolored, glass-like stone. We soon discovered its origin as we crept closer to Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

     Pine Grove Furnace provided a good deal of the iron to the region two centuries earlier. A furnace was usually built in the forest that would eventually fuel the smelting process. Evidence of the charcoal producing mounds that supported the furnaces peppered this area of the Appalachian Trail. Besides the iron, this smelting also produced great quantities of slag, which, as it cooled, became the mystery glass that covered the Trail. We arrived at the park that featured this very furnace and enjoyed another 50th birthday party for the AT.

    Pine Grove Furnace State Park was also the recognized halfway point for hikers of the AT, even though the actual midpoint has changed every year because of constant rerouting of the Trail. Another Appalachian Trail tradition is to eat a half gallon of ice cream at the camp store in the Park. After a free bagel feed and cake from the AT celebrations, I still pulled off an entire half gallon! I got my wooden spoon commemorating the event as well as the meanest belly ache I ever had. I guess I shouldn’t have had those beers…

Earl Shaffer was at the Appalachian Trail birthday event. As the first thru-hiker of the Trail, he is a truly a legend. The AT was quite young and the path was not always marked. I read his account of that thru-hike just before we left on our own hike. Mr Shaffer just completed a third thru-hike in 1998, fifty years after his first trek. It was a pleasure to meet him at the Furnace and hear his tales firsthand.

…continue the expedition, read: From the AT to Washington DC [link]