Sunday, May 03, 2009

On the Appalachian Trail - 2

All pictures along the Appalachian Trail from the NJ PA terminus to Sunfish Pond.

As piecemeal explorations of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in NJ continue, here are some notes from the hike for future reference. This time, we (my wife and I) decided to explore the northbound AT from the NJ/PA state border (near the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area) leading to Sunfish Pond – a trek of about 3.7 miles and climb of about 1380 feet (a good map here). Most of the trail goes through the Worthington State Forest (a parcel of about 6000 acres of wooded forest that the state of NJ bought from the Worthington family in 1954). 
Car parking is relatively easy: Proceed on Interstate 80 westbound about 3 miles past Exits 4A/B/C, stay in the right lane and take the rest area exit on the right. Continue on the service road down past the rest area, and up an entrance ramp as if to re-enter Interstate 80 westbound. Turn right from the ramp before it re-enters Interstate 80 into Dunnfield Parking Area. Remember to enter the second parking lot. The first lot leads to the Tammany trail to Mount Tammany (a 1250 ft. climb). The second lot directly leads to the Appalachian Trail. 
The Dunnfield creek running parallel to the AT for the first 20 minutes of the trek and it presents waterfalls, a steel bridge, great views and sounds of falling water. The creek is said to contain trout and there is a limit of two per angler for those with fishing aspirations. The deepest point seems to be 8 feet and swimming is allowed. The early morning spring air was fresh and crackled with the sounds of many birds whose names we did not really know but would have loved to find out. About 40% of the trek involves lots of ‘heads down’ hiking because of the profusion of small to medium sized rocks and stones that have been used to pave the AT. In some cases, the trail volunteers cleverly used natural rock formations that wind up and down in exquisite ways to build the trail. Most of the climbing is aided along by wooden steps built of timber and locked in place onto the trail with spikes and mini piles. Most of the climbing levels out by the time one reaches the red-blazed Holy Springs Trail crossing the AT. Holy Springs Trail lies roughly in the middle between the parking lot and the Sunfish Pond. An hour after the Holly Springs Trail and more moderate climbing, one comes across Backpacker Site 2 (for those considering camping, this might be the best place to camp for ‘through hikers’ as camping is not permitted along any other areas of the Worthington State Forest). The campsite is located just across the blue-blazed Douglas Trail which heads off to the left from the AT (for northbound hikers). The views are not too exciting, but one manages glimpses of the heavily wooded ridge of the 1500 foot Mount Tammany every once in a while to the right. The hike from Douglas Trail to Sunfish pond involves a little more climbing (no sharp gradients). 
Sunfish pond is a 41 acre glacial pond leftover from the last ice age. According to the National Park Service, the lake is one of fourteen rock-basin lakes between the Delaware Water Gap and the Kittatinny Ridge. Camping is not allowed near the lake. The views are stunning as one follows the AT along the western shore of the lake with multiple lookout points to sit, relax and enjoy water views. We ran into a grey haired couple who were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary by climbing up to the lake using the Garvey Spring Trail. During conversations, they reminisced that their home was a madhouse until their four children left and now it seems as quiet as a library. The lady mentioned that she misses the children while her husband told us that he prefers the ‘library’ phase. Interesting how we are genetically programmed. We told them that we have two boys and we were preparing for the ‘madhouse’ phase. It is a great feeling when one runs into committed families living together for 35 years without running into the usual visitations of divorce, remarriage, step relatives and the associated angst. We had lunch by the edge of the pond (store baked turkey, pepperjack cheese slices on wheat bread and blue colored mountain berry flavored Powerade). A sign near the lake said that the lake has pumpkinseed sunfish and yellow perch. The sign also said that the lake is acidic in nature and not many other species of fish survive in the water. Watch out for snakes. We counted at least three snakes along the pond. One of them – a black scaled snake (probably a northern black racer snake) about four feet long – was sunning itself along a floating branch that had fallen into the water and did not seem to care for us too much. There is a monument erected by the US Department of the Interior in 1970 that designates the lake as a registered natural landmark. We wondered what happens after one of these designations… We are guessing not too much, but one could be wrong. 
We retraced our steps back to the parking lot after spending about an hour by the lake. We said hello to an old lady, her son and a shaggy Labrador who had decided to take a bath in Dunnfield Creek near the base of the trail. This section of the trail is popular amongst a wide range of adventure seekers ranging from the wiry health nuts who seem to race up the trail to families who seem to be leisurely strolling along as if for a weekend walk. An interesting encounter involved us running into a couple of South Asian youth who seemed to a little lost on the trail (one of them was even sporting a maroon evening jacket and looked like he was headed out to a restaurant – a most incongruous sight indeed). They were about fifteen minutes from the parking lot and we told them that Sunfish pond was a couple of hours upfront. They balked at the amount they had to climb to reach a place where (in their words) they could ‘stretch out and relax’ and seemed to promptly head back. 

Part I here

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