Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Appalachian Trail NJ: AMC Mohican Outdoor Center

Our second night out on our 2011 section hike the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey found us at the Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC) Mohican Outdoor Center about ten miles north of the Delaware Water Gap.

Our one night visit left us surprised in many ways, both good and bad.

Unlike our first long distance section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, our first day ended not in thirst and leg cramps, but tired yet with a reserve of energy. So we were ready when we descended downhill towards the sound of running water. After a brief episode of rock hopping and crossing a wooden bridge, we found ourselves at a gray gravel road with a large green sign marking the entrance gate of the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center. A turn to the west and a short walk brought us to the large lodge building pictured above. We noticed a water spigot next to the garage across the gravel road and helped ourselves to pure water while cooling off. We doffed our pack onto one of several large benches along the road and walked up to the lodge entrance. Lights were out and no one answered our call. A local chasing his dog mentioned the caretaker was at a cabin and would likely return shortly.

Our host returned and we asked "What were the options for spending the night?" We could pay $9 to camp or considerably more for a cabin. We opted to pay the $9 to camp, paid an extra $1 for a cold Mountain Dew soda, and wandered towards the tent camping area. (In hindsight, being freshly showered and shaved from the church hostel and asking that particular question may have been a poor decision as long distance AT hikers generally camp for free.)

The tent camping area is located just past and behind the main lodge. A narrow trail winds through thick underbrush and trees. From time to time a clearing appears on either side of the trail with old wooden picnic tables. As we hang in a hammock at night we opted for site #3 which had well spaced trees with a BearSaver bear box and the privy not too far away. As this was a weekday evening in the first week of May we had the entire tenting area to ourselves. Close to dark we spotted several small deer feasting on the underbrush along the trail.

The next morning we broke camp, dropped by the lodge to "check out" and sign the log book.

Getting there

North bound hikers (NOBOs) will be coming downhill through the Delaware Water Gap NRA. After crossing the wooden bridge, make a left turn west and head up the gravel road to the lodge.

South bound hikers (SOBOs) will have left Catfish fire tower and will be traversing a ridgeline with wonderful views of New Jersey to the east. Coming sharply downhill, the trail will angle west and you'll also pass by at least one stealth camp site until you hear running water and emerge onto the gravel road. Make a right turn west and head up the drive to the AMC lodge.


$9 - Tent camping or hammocking
$3 - Indoor toilet and shower
$1 - Canned soda (Coke, Mt Dew)


Resupplying at the Mohican Outdoor Center is only viable for SOBOs who have run out of food, as NOBOs should have picked up supplies in Delaware Water Gap or nearby East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania one or two days before. The Mohican Outdoor Center can provide water, canned sodas, candy bars, and sandwiches. Between those, you should have sufficient calories to get another 10 miles south to Delaware Water Gap, the best resupply point for over 50 miles in either direction.

The lodge also sells t-shirts and several other visitor center styled items such as wildlife guides and maps.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Camping on the Appalachian Trail: NJ Backpacker Camp #2

Located midway between Delaware Water Gap, PA and the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center, backpacker camp #2 in Worthington State Park, NJ is much nicer than guidebooks let on. We had expected a typical shelter with a bare dirt perimeter from overuse.

What to expect

We were pleasantly surprised first by how quickly we arrived at the camp site and secondly by the large size of the camp. We first sighted a large wooden bulletin board which stands at the trail intersection adjacent to the camp. The bulletin board provided information on the camp rules, bear safety, maps of the surrounding area, and more than one reminder of no camp fires in New Jersey. Walking around the sign, it was obvious that the last rule is frequently disobeyed as much of the area was charred from a previous out-of-control fire.

While not level and with frequent rocks and trees, we did note many green grassy areas suitable for tent camping. Hammock campers will also find many suitable pairs of trees from which to hang. We were also amused to find our first BearSaver bear box and eagerly opened and examined it. The bear box was centrally located and there was more than one.

Not too far from the bear box and seeming uphill and downwind from most camp sites was a moldering privy. Common along the Appalachian Trail, the moldering privy provides for composting human waste to the benefit of the surrounding forest.

Near the western edge with a great view of the Delaware river Valley below was a wooden platform with a sign noting this was the ridge runner's reserved campsite. Since no ridge runner was present, we plunked down our pack on the platform, dug out our food bag and had a lovely lunch while enjoying the view. We recommend you do the same if passing by outside of the busy season.

Water for the camp is available at nearby Sunfish Pond, just a short 15-minute walk further north along the Appalachian Trail.

Stays are limited to one night only, so don't plan to hike up for the three-day weekend and hang out. You'll be asked to move along.

Getting there

The easiest route to backpacker camp #2 is northbound along the white blazed Appalachian Trail from Delaware Water Gap. The trail is moderately steep, but easy to hike in comparison to the Appalachian Trail just north of the camping site. The route follows a creek for the first part and then slowly peels away and continues up to the summit where the camp awaits. We were able to walk from trailhead to camp in just over one hour.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Appalachian Trail Hostels: Delaware Water Gap PA

The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, PA provides a hostel for thru-hikers and long distance section hikers of the Appalachian Trail. We spent the night at their hostel during our recent section hike of the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Hours and Cost

The normal season for the hostel is May 15 to June 30, but the hostel is available to bona-fide long distance hikers before and after those dates. Instructions for entrance are on the hostel door. If arriving before 5 p.m., then continue up the driveway to the church office and chat with the secretary who can unlock the hostel. After 5 and before 8:30 p.m., then you need to call one of the church members listed in the instructions. After 8:30, well you're out of luck unless someone else is already staying there, as the instructions say to head to the motel and get a room. We arrived about 6 p.m. on a Sunday on the 1st of May and found thru-hiker already staying there.

The recommended donation for staying the night is just $3. Donations are placed thru a slot in the wall in the living room just to the left of the clock. Find the pink Post-It in the second photo below and you'll see the slot just above. To tell the truth there's so much stuff on walls and surfaces we had to ask another hiker where the donations box was ourselves.

Getting there

Finding the hostel is actually easy if arriving by bus and even easier if arriving on foot from the trail. The Apalachian Trail passes just one building away from the hostel.

Northbounders (NOBOs) will be coming downhill from Mount Minsi on Mountain Road. As you arrive at Main Street, the hostel is to your immediate left just on the other side of the Deer Head Inn. You likely saw the church through the trees as you were coming down Mountain Road.

Southbounders (SOBOs) will be coming uphill from the Delaware River bridge. As you arrive at the intersection marked with a large brown and white Appalachian Trail sign, you'll see the Deer Head Inn to your left and the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain just up the hill to the left.

Bus riders arriving at the Martz Trailways/Greyhound station should take a right leaving the bus station and then follow the first road on the right down into town, cross Cherry Creek, and then follow Main Street uphill. The church and hostel will be on your right.

In all cases, just follow the drive way and you'll find a picnic table and the hostel entrance on your immediate right, just after the steps to the front door.

About the Hostel

The hostel was recently renovated with fresh paint and new carpet. (Note the AT symbol cleverly set into a carpet square inside the door.) The hostel consists of a main living room, a bunk room and shower, a half bathroom with commode and sink, and the outside picnic table area.

The bunk room consists of eight wooden sleeping platforms covered with carpet. There is lots of space and post tops to hang or open backpacks. You'll need your pad and sleeping bag for the bunk room.

The shower entrance is located in the middle of the bunk room. The shower consists of a single stall with curtain. Church members have donated shampoo and soap which are in containers next to the stall. You'll find generous stacks of towels inside the two closets just outside the bunk room to the left.

All in all, we enjoyed our stay at the Church of the Mountain hostel and had a much nicer experience than our first hostel stay in London, England way back in 1979. A hot shower and a shave were much appreciated after a long 2-day bus ride and we were glad not to start our hike late in the day up one of the hills to a legal camping spot. Our sincere thanks to the hostel volunteers!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Greyhound Bus: Delaware Water Gap PA

For our 2011 section hike of the Appalachian Trail, we once again rode the Greyhound bus east to New York City. Greyhound buses arrive on the bottom level of the Port Authority building on 45th Street in Manhattan. After getting off the bus and claiming your backpack you'll enter into a dimly lit square waiting area with a food service and escalators in the middle. Skip the food service, as there's better and less expensive food upstairs, and head for the up escalator or stairs.

Coming up a level you should find the Greyhound ticket counter towards your left and just beyond and next door Martz Trailways. Delaware Water Gap, PA is served by Martz Trailways and a one-way ticket is about $35.00. (Recommend you have correct change as one of the male clerks of Indo-Asian ancestry seems something of a "change artist" and returns one dollar bills instead of five dollar bills.)

Martz Trailways also arrives and departs from the "basement", but from the "other building". If time permits, you might grab a bite from the bread shop under the main escalators in the center of the Port Authority. You can also find cheap snacks at the pharmacy which is also below the escalators. Veterans will find a USO two floors above the Trailways ticket counter, just take the escalators up to the 3rd floor. (Note: the USO does not offer the usual baggage closet due to post-9/11 security paranoia. Your backpack must remain with you at all times.)

The trip from New York City to Delaware Water Gap is about 3 hours or less, depending on traffic going through the tunnel under the Hudson River. The ride is fairly boring once outside of the urban area. Once the Delaware River comes into view, you might pay attention to the area before the bridge and the town of Delaware Water Gap to your left.

Martz Trailways maintains a bus station on the west backside of town. Once at the bus station you'll need to claim your backpack. As we use our food bag as a carry-on bag, we went inside the station to repack our backpack for the short walk to the Appalachian Trail. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and there was plenty of seating on which to rest our pack. There are public restrooms with adjacent water fountain just past the ticket counter. On the opposite wall are some vending machines.

Departing the bus station, make a right turn at the highway that runs past the bus station. Take the first right and follow the road through town to go directly to the Appalachian Trail or to the hostel. If you need alcohol fuel or some grocery items, follow the highway back towards the bridge and take the first exit ramp down to the two gas stations and convenience stores. Once done shopping follow the road back into town and take a left at the intersection to get to the trail or the hostel.