Monday, March 10, 2014

My Annual Stress Test - Climbing to The Pinnacle on the Appalachian Trail

     With the spring of 2014 in just a few days, it's time to think about my annual heart stress test. This isn't the one reserved at a doctors office, it is my examination applied by hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Hamburg, Pa.
      The hike begins at the trail head on Reservoir Road and ending at a point called The Pinnacle. It is a steep five mile climb and for me, a great way to test myself for the outdoors. I figure if I start to suck air, pass out and fall over, then I'm not in very good shape. Though I am kidding, I do value this hike as a way of seeing how fit I'm feeling beginning a new season.
      With many days of snow and bitter cold temperatures this year, I left the AT winter hike for the more hearty souls. I am outdoors shooting photos and video all winter long for work in zero degree weather. The last thing on my mind was to climb a mountain. I was content to tweet and follow hikers who were trekking around the country.
      My wife Deb and I are constantly out once the weather breaks and the sun shines, but we don't camp out on the trail. We are day trippers and hotel sleepers. I apologize to the hard core hikers out there. We will walk old train lines that have been ripped up and converted, also hike along the Lehigh River near Jim Thorpe, in French Creek State Park, or the Valley Forge National Park and many other spots in Pennsylvania. Sometimes it will be hiking for a weekend or when time is tight, we'll walk five milers on a trail near our home.
     The Pinnacle is the first challenge of the year. It is is truly how I gauge the days ahead. I'm hoping all the shoveling, deep snow walking and constant effort have kept me in half decent shape even as I graze on whatever I can find in the refrigerator. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this hike but the view is well worth the sweat.
     At the parking lot we start up a gravel section until you round a bend and then split off at a fork on the trail.
     We prefer the tree canopied white blaze trail to the left, with steep ascents and switchbacks. Short flat sections are part of the climb and this helps to keep me moving without tiring.
     There is also another way to the top which is a wide lane to the right and a point where star gazers drive vehicles up hill to small private observatories. This is a very tough climb and one that wears me down. We did this section on a hot and muggy summer afternoon last year and stopped several times to catch our breath.
     So instead on this spring day, up the white blaze trail we go. Let's face it, I've been walking this stretch of land for nearly thirty plus years and it's still up hill all the way. We do take the time to watch a millipede or salamander. On a rare occasion we will spot a deer but luckily so far we haven't crossed paths with a bear.
     Most of the time we are just slowly plodding along, talking and walking content to be out of town and in the woods. After several miles we enter a small meadow and pick up the blue blaze trail which will take us to The Pinnacle. This part of the trail narrows and is blanketed in rocks. I'm more careful not to turn an ankle on this section as it's a long way to hobble back down to the bottom.

     On the final feet of the climb, the trees part and the sky opens up in a panoramic view. It is a spectacular location and the payoff is well worth for the energy spent along the way. Raptors are floating on the thermals at the edge of the cliff. It's a beautiful site and we sit  for a while to enjoy the moment.
      There will come a day when I will have to turn around, failing to make it to the top. But for now, I look far into the distance from my perch at the top of the world knowing that I passed my test for another year. And then I realize, I have five more miles to go, but luckily that it is all down hill.


  1. Hey John, that's good to know you've been hiking the P. for awhile..same is nice after a good snow, though, very peaceful..great pics(but I'd expect that from you!)..

  2. ChingChang148 thank for the note - don't know if I'll be hiking it soon my knee is keeping me on the flat