Sunday, 26 August 2012

A day out on the Appalachian Trail – Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey

So if you are lucky enough to be one of my Facebook friends you might know that for the last week I have been travelling around the Western States of the US visiting a bunch of bus companies that my employer recently acquired.  You will probably have spent the week enthralled by wonderful tales of running in the morning in towns you’ve never previously heard of, and have probably been marvelling at the quality of photos that I took on those morning runs. 

It might surprise you to find out that those morning runs, starting and finishing at whichever hotel I found myself in and going along the long, straight, boring roads that were usually the only running option, were actually a bit rubbish.  It was good to see a bit of the places that I was staying in and it was good to get some exercise each day to counter some of the American size portions I was eating, but the routes themselves were not exactly inspiring. 

Today I found myself with a twelve hour layover at Newark Airport, only a short train ride from Manhattan.  Rather than hang around the airport for the day I decided to get out and about and the choice of place to go was obvious – rather than take a short train ride I hired a car for the day and drove the 70 or so miles to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and through which the Appalachian Trail runs.  I’d done a bit of research (I found a blog written by a keen hiker who can best be described as the John Kynaston of Delaware Water Gap) and had worked out a route going out linking up most of the shorter marked trails and back along the Appalachian Trail.  I was really keen to run along part of the AT since it is such a daddy of a long distance path – it runs over 1,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.

So here’s a few words and pictures on my run – about 14 miles in total but quite slow (around 4 hours) because of the nature of the path, as you’ll see, and it crept up to 30 Celsius over the course of the run.

I started off with an ascent of Mt Tammay, a modest 1,500ft hill that forms one side of the Gap.  The Gap has been formed where the Delaware River has cut through a ridge of quartzite on it’s way to the sea.  Now if you know your rocks, you’ll know that quartzite (a metamorphosed sandstone) weathers down into a jumble of sharp angular blocks typically ranging in size from small boulders to about the size of a house brick. I’d heard that some parts of the paths I would be running on were a bit rocky because of this broken quartzite.
At the start of the ascent of Mt Tammay - I thought this was what was meant by rocky trails so it seemed OK to me.  How wrong I was.
Looking into the Gap from Mt Tammay - the Delaware River cuts through a ridge of quartzite.  It was a hot, hazy day.

The climb up Mt Tammay (red trail) took a little over 20 minutes, with a few photo stops.  When I came down the blue trail I was on the other side of the hill from the other ascendees and for the next hour and a half I didn’t hear or see any other people – I didn’t hear any cars or planes, it felt properly wild.  But it was by no means peaceful – the paths through the woods were an assault on the senses – I was constantly watching the trail because of all the rocks and other dangers (more on that to come), above my head was a cacophony of bird and insect calls as I went past, the smells of the forest filled my nostrils and my feet felt the sharp quartzite through my shoes on every step.  I followed the trail up Dunnfield Creek to Sunfish Pond, a very pretty wee lake which modestly claims to be one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey.  I’m not sure what the other six are. 

The rocky trail alongside Dunnfield Creek
Sunfish Pond - one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey

At Sunfish Pond I hit the AT for the first time.  I could have headed back to the car along it for a 10 mile run but decided since I was feeling okay and still had plenty time (though I was moving much slower than I had expected because of the very rocky paths) I would run out and back along the Trail to the intriguingly named Raccon Ridge and Mount Mohican, a couple of miles each way.  The first bit of the path was nice and smooth so I thought oh good, the Appalachian Trail mustn’t be as rocky as the other trails, but no soon enough it was back to business as usual.  As I returned back past Sunfish Pond on the AT this time the path became very much like the section of the WHW just north of Inversnaid – lots of clambering over boulders and root stocks, and more than once I very nearly trod on a timber rattlesnake basking on the rocks.  Luckily they slithered down between a gap in the rocks just as I got near them.  I think a few rattlesnakes on the WHW might slow even Terry Conway down a little.
The AT at Sunfish Pond could hold its own againts the Inversnaid section of the WHW...
...with some added dangers!

As I ran the last few miles down the AT back to the hire car I passed lots of walkers heading up to Sunfish Pond.  By now it was nearly 30 Celsius and they were suffering so I was glad that I had started a few hours earlier (perhaps the one benefit of having to catch a red-eye from Portland the previous evening) and by now was heading back downhill, fantasising about burritos and free soft drink refills at Taco Bell. 
Most of the trails were feet-achingly rocky.

So it was a good way to spend the day – it would perhaps have been nicer to run on some slightly less rough trails (my feet are throbbing as I write this) but I can’t fault the forest and the few vistas that I saw.  Especially since it was all only just over an hour drive from New York City.

Didn’t see any bears.