Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Atop the Kittatinny ridge

Doesn’t that title sound EXCITING???? IMPRESSIVE? Don’t my son and I sound healthy/virtuous/outdoorsy??? Well, we DID hike over 6+ miles on the Appalachian Trail when he came east for Passover in April. The amusing part was that we had not intended to hike the AT at all. We ended up there by accident. Okay, not accident – stubbornness by the elder side of the expedition. But as the REAL Park ranger said when we made it back to our car: “Now you can tell everyone you hiked the Appalachian Trail.” 🙂

I have a few books on hikes in NJ. I looked through the books and picked out several hikes that I thought we might be able to do in April, when the weather is not too hot and not too cold but could turn out to be either. My son made his choice from my subset. We had Passover seders on Friday and Saturday night, Sunday was for recovery. Monday we had tickets to go to NYC to see Daniel Craig in Macbeth. We HOPED we were going. A few days before Passover it was announced that the cast had Covid and performances were cancelled, re-opening Friday night. Saturday. Sunday. Sunday night it was posted that the Monday performances were cancelled.

The weather was more cooperative on Tuesday than Covid was on Sunday, so we set out for the Mohican Outdoor Center in Warren County (north western NJ). The book described a nice hike starting near there, approximately 4 miles easy/moderate hiking on the Coppermines and Kaiser Trails. We had all day to walk, so we were sure we’d be alright. I should have done all the internet searching BEFORE the hike that I am doing NOW to show you the trails and information. *grin* Because then we would have been on the correct trail.

Not doing my research first was not my only mistake. When we hike in AZ we are SO GOOD about having all the water we might need, and any other accessories (sun screen, clothing, protein bars, etc). I don’t know why the same reflexes did not kick in for me in NJ. Because I was relaxed about being in NJ? Because it was April and cool? Because the trail was “easy/moderate”? We did NOT read the book description first, we did NOT bring enough water, we did NOT wear the right weight clothing. You’d think it was the first time we’d ever gone hiking. We had 2 water bottles, not our usual 4. We did have hats. The book warned that the weather in the mountains could get cold quickly, so we were in jeans. But it was April and sunny and the jeans were just too hot and confining for hiking. I didn’t have any protein bars either. We stopped for breakfast on our way north, which is what kept us going when we ended up hiking for 4+ hours.

We found the Mohican Center with no trouble. There were a few cars pulled off on the side of the road near a little wooden bridge, but we kept going up the very bumpy lumpy road until we found the lodge. There was a young man sitting on a car bumper by the Park Ranger vehicles. He was on his cell phone. We parked near him and wandered over to the lodge, which was closed. We had our book and the page/map marked. We probably should have actually read the book, not merely looked at the picture, because it gave explicit directions (walk x # of feet to the bridge, look for this, etc.) for finding the trailhead and how to proceed. The sign board did not. You can see there was a warning about rattlesnakes. I don’t know how many times we’ve seen warnings in both NJ & AZ about snakes, but we’ve yet to see a single snake, rattled or otherwise. I’m not sure if I regret that absence or I am grateful or both. 🙂

We could see from the book that the actual trail was down the road from the lodge (we must have passed it on our way to park) but I, being the social, outgoing, neurotic person that I am, wanted to confirm it. 🙂 So I interrupted the young man, who I assumed (yet again a huge mistake) to be someone official, and showed him the book/map and asked him where we’d find the trailhead. In hindsight this was NOT a wise move. He looked at the map, made a few assumptions of his own, and then told us that the trailhead was down the road, turn LEFT at the bridge, not over the bridge, and up the hill onto the trail.

That agreed with where we thought we should be heading so we walked down the road. As we neared the bridge an elderly gentleman (yeah, right, so maybe he was around my age – he LOOKED older than I) got out of his car and greeted us. We explained what we were doing and he told us to turn right over the bridge. I did NOT have in MY hearing aids and really could not understand the gentleman all that well, so I assumed (bad move) that he could not hear US all that well either. 🙂 Can you play the ominous music now? We said no, up the hill, he said no, over the bridge. My son and I exchanged confused looks, thanked him, and turned LEFT, across the road, not right across the bridge, and headed up the trail.

So this is either when we still thought we were on the correct trail or our joyful faces when we realized we were calling it quits and heading back to the car. 🙂

I will spare you the details of the next 4+ hours. Here is the Readers Digest version (do people even know what that phrase means anymore???). The old man was right (obviously). I should not have interrupted/trusted the young man, who assumed we wanted the AT, not the Coppermine. We hiked up the Kittatinny ridge, looking feverishly for the branch to the right as described by the map and the young man, who added that it would be hard to see if we were not looking. We kept trying to make what we were seeing match the sparse description on the map. We glimpsed what we thought was the Delaware River. It could have been. We were high enough and the trees were sufficiently bare that we might have been looking at the Delaware.

We had a lovely view of what we thought was the Paulinskill Valley. Or was it the Kittatinny Valley? And oh em gee. Unlike hiking in AZ mountains, we kept seeing the same darn tree and the same darn rock and the same view of the same valley, just a little further south. It was all the SAME. I have almost NO photos because every time I picked up the phone to take a shot it looked exactly like the last photo.

View to the valley. It was pleasant the first 10 times. 🙂

And the trail markings are NOT like AZ. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, however. The trails we do in AZ are aimed at not losing any inexperienced, novice hikers. There are signs at every branch, clearly marked forks. At least that’s true for where we’ve hiked. In NJ on our two mountain hikes (I haven’t told you about last September yet) we followed white triangles and yellow rectangles and blue squares, all of which could be ANYWHERE – on a tree, on the ground, on a rock. We kept asking ourselves whether we’d missed the branch to the right to get on the Kaiser trail. Oh yeah, we’d missed it alright. 🙂

an interesting branch. seriously – i was hard pressed to find anything photogenic.

We knew we missed our trail because enough time had passed that we should have seen the hydroelectric plant and found the turnoff to Kaiser Trail no matter HOW slowly we might have been proceeding. It was warmer than we expected. We were bored. We were running low on water. We were experiencing a major letdown. We broke out of the woods into a clearing with a fire tower. NOT on our map at all. There were school-age beings there, obviously hiking, some climbing up the fire tower, others lounging about. We asked them if they knew about the trail. They did not (big surprise not) but that their teacher was coming up the road (other direction from whence we came) and she would know. So we kept going. This part of the trail was wide enough for trucks/SUVs. It was also extremely muddy and rutted.

These rocks were the trail. This is on our way back home. Heading out I was extremely stressed at having to cross them. Perhaps you can see the drop to the left off the ridge. Going back the perspective was different enough that the drop was less obvious. And I knew I’d navigated it safely once already.

We did encounter the teacher, who had a map, and shared it with us. We learned we were at the Catfish Fire Tower. I think. Quite honestly I was so turned around, and I’m still having difficulty figuring out some of these online maps, that I doubt I’d actually place money on being at Catfish. But since it’s the only fire tower on the AT in Warren County, that’s probably where we were.

You can see our trail at the bottom – the star is the fire tower

As we stared at the map, and realized how we were nowhere we hoped to be, we realized we had only 2 choices. First was to turn around and hike back the way we’d come. The second was to find the Rattlesnake Swamp trail parallel to the way we’d come and go back that way (In hindsight we realized that the young man thought we were taking the Rattlesnake to the main trail). That looked longer and, to be quite honest, we were both really done with the AT and the Kittatinny mountains at that point. We had less than half our water and we were hot, tired and hungry. We turned around and hiked back.

Ah, if we only turned RIGHT over the bridge. This is what it looked like on the bridge. 🙂

It was boring. It was uphill the whole way. Do not ask me how it could have been uphill the whole way home when it had been uphill the whole way out. It was. Every time we paused and looked ahead, it was an incline. I promise you that at almost NO point were we ever aware of walking down, but every time we looked ahead it was UP. The first hour of this hike was good. I confess that the last 3+ hours are probably NOT going into our top 5 hikes. 🙂 Next time we turn RIGHT over the bridge.

The pleasant (yet taunting) sound of Yards Creek – had we turned RIGHT over the bridge. 🙂