6/30-7/2: Spring Site to Rausch Creek Gap Campsite to William Penn Shelter Campsite to Pine Grove, Pennsylvania

  • 6/30: Miles 1167.0-1179.1 (12.2 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 1680′; descent: 1539′
  • 7/1: Miles 1179.1-1191.9 (13.5 mi., including detour)
  • Total ascent: 2592′; descent 2041′
  • 7/2: Miles 1191.9-1196.1 (4.1 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 610′; descent 574′

I can’t say these days have been much of a honeymoon. Rachel and I have been, in varying combinations and degrees, hot, sick, bug-bitten, roadblocked, scraped up, and, most of all, wet. 

Beginning the afternoon of June 30, it rained almost without pause until this afternoon. The hikers who could, Rachel and I surmised and confirmed via a conversation with one at State Rte. 501, went into town for the worst of the weather on June 1. We were squarely between towns and had no such option, and so we endured. 

Prior to the rain, June 30 was actually a nice, if loud, day. We began at the most productive spring we’ve seen in weeks and ended at a campground that looked as if Yoda had once lived there. In between, we stopped for a break at what had once been a shelter site, but from which the shelter had been moved, probably because of the constant air traffic. The aircraft were too low, small, and grey to be passenger planes. They appeared to be following the ridge of the mountain range, which is surely safer and easier for the pilots than crossing it back and forth. Helicopters similar to the one that spotlighted our tent, glowing with my writing light in an otherwise dark forest, at the spring site flew over less frequently throughout the day. 

We enjoyed the best hours of these three days that evening, at the Endor-like Rausch Creek Gap site. What had once been an old coal mining town, abandoned around 1850, had been converted to a campground with a lovely creek, pines, and thick moss. Cavernous, pitch-black mine vents were plugged by rocks, fallen trees, or a mixture of the two. Hunks of iron, rusted beyond recognition, and anthracite coal still sat nearby. 

Even 170 years after the end of mining operations, runoff with a pH around 4.0 stained the hillside orange. A limestone diversion channel constructed in the 1970s brought the pH up to 6.0 and supposedly filtered most contaminants. Small amphibians lived in the creek, reassuring us enough to bathe in and collect water to drink (which we filtered, of course) from it. We filled one of the bear cans with additional water in which to do trail laundry.

Before we or our laundry could dry, what was a drip became a downpour. We cooked, ate, and finished our laundry, debating in futility whether to hang our washed clothes or put them beneath our tent’s vestibules. Fortunately, because we’d put up the tent immediately after getting to camp, our sleeping gear stayed relatively dry.

The next morning, in sheet-like rain that finished the job of the prior storm, we backtracked 0.2 miles to avoid an area of the trail flooded by a beaver dam. Although some hikers had supposedly made it across in better conditions, we suspected it was or soon would be impassable. 

So, almost, was our detour: First on a forest road and then on a passageway cleared for a gas line, we navigated gushing ruts and blowdowns. We hugged downed trees to cross what should have been no-name creeks. We paused beneath an underpass to wring out our clothes, eat some peanut butter crackers, and then re-dress. 

At that underpass, we considered bailing. But without cell service, we had no idea what the nearest town was, how close it was, or how we’d get a ride there. Nobody would want us in their car, and we weren’t sure we could endure a ride in a truck bed at that speed in that much rain. 

Without another good option, we walked on. The rain tapered down as the rock fields Pennsylvania is famous for became more frequent. Only a couple boulder areas required true scrambling; most took nothing more or less than careful, ice-like steps and pole placements. 

Having gotten to our Rausch Creek site around 4 p.m., it was our turn June 1 for a late night. We made it to the William Penn site around 8 p.m., just before dark hastened by the cloud cover. As we did at Rausch Creek, we had the entire, twenty-plus tent sites to ourselves. We had just enough light to set up the tent, boil water, and pass between ourselves instant mashed potatoes rehydrated in a Ziploc freezer bag. In the bag we collected, without effort, rain to liquify and drink the last of the potatoes.

Although it’s entirely possible bears could have found our food, animals also tend to hunker down in heavy rain. Judging the bigger danger to be falling in the forest at night, we hid the bear cans just yards from our tent beneath a recently fallen tree. 

Unrolling our bedding, it was clear our pack covers and dry bags hadn’t been enough. At a certain amount and duration of rainfall, nothing is truly waterproof. We went to bed wet, slept wet, and pulled on wet clothes this morning. 

Finally, around 9 a.m. today, we got a break. We ate what breakfast bars we had left, checked out the supposedly popular (but, again, empty) shelter nearby, and set off. We made the best time we had in days, downhill and without active rain, toward the intersection we knew to be four miles from Pine Grove.

There, gloriously, we got a ride. After commiserating with three — three at once! — other hikers, all of whom went into town yesterday and hiked on from our meeting point, we stuck out our thumbs. 

An old lady whose granddaughter was hiking northbound offered to drive us (once her grandchild arrived, in what she thought would be 30 minutes), and then a teenager pulled up. The bushy-headed teen worked at a local campground, she told us, and would be going to college in the fall to study psychology. 

Our driver dropped us, to our effusive thanks, at the front door of a hotel we’d called this morning. Just grateful to be dry, we’ve been doing trail chores — interrupted for a rocking fried fish and macaroni meal at the local diner — since our arrival. We must have looked awfully pitiful to secure the room discount and pre-check-in access to the room that we did. 

Rachel and I knew from our first conversation about this trip that we would have days like this. I knew I would, and did, lose my cool falling on rocks, shooing away mosquitos, and then most spectacularly while pulling on wet clothes in a wet tent with wet bedding. 

I would love to be endowed with a steely, unflappable disposition. But what I’d like even more is to cultivate one through the authentic, bond-testing experiences that make marriage and thru-hiking what they are. 

By Bob

Bob is a newly married word herder who's gone looking for himself where anyone who knows him would: in the mountains and around the campfires of America's greatest trail.

One reply on “6/30-7/2: Spring Site to Rausch Creek Gap Campsite to William Penn Shelter Campsite to Pine Grove, Pennsylvania”

Comments are closed.