Before packing my bags, laying out my clothes, and studying my maps on Tuesday night, I foolishly laid down to "rest my eyes". So, it didn't surprise me when I woke up naturally at 4:40AM feeling very well-rested. It wasn't ideal, but as I pushed myself off of the bed and my feet hit the carpet, I felt ready for a nice, long hike to Sunfish Pond in Worthington State Forest. I previously hiked Mt. Tammany to the west and the Coppermine Trail to the east and I had greatly enjoyed the rocky, steep terrain.
Being up so early, I took some time to do a quick stretch and yoga session before gathering my things. Instead of going straight out the door, I took another moment to give myself a haircut and jump into the shower. For some inexplicable reason, shaving my head always seems to give me a boost in energy and so I have done it once or twice a week for the past 16 years. So, after sacrificing some time on personal whims, I got onto the road by 6:00AM.
The trip up Route 80 under the royal blue dawn sky was painless. Later, as the sun slowly started to light up my surroundings, I admired the jagged rocks and vegetation looming on either side of the road. It was a brisk 39 degrees and I opened the window to breath in some of the fresh air as the spectral outline of the distant mountain ranges ahead riled my anticipation.
I took Exit 12, proudly advertising the "Land of Make Believe", off of the highway. I made my way past farms, fields, scattered homes, and the NJ State Police station through the rustic Hope Township eventually ending up at the familiar Blairstown Diner. Running a bit late, I scarfed down a breakfast of pancakes and bacon and rushed back out the door. About twenty minutes later, I glanced out my driver's side window at the massive ice chunks floating in the Delaware River and pulled off the road into the parking lot at the Appalachian Trail trailhead at the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area.
It had rained heavily the day before and the trail was completely saturated. After crossing the footbridge at the entrance and avoiding a large puddle at the other end, I realized that portions of the trail had mini streams of water flowing down with the descent as I worked up the incline. Dunnfield Creek roared to my right, empowered by the rain and melted snow, as I traversed the path just slightly above.
The strong current broke over rocks of every shape and size haphazardly under erratic fallen tree trunks. Green moss and plants dotted the hills on either side of the creek as icicles made intermittent appearances among the white water and unexpectedly viridescent scene. As I continued upward on the AT, the sun shone brightly through the trees to my right. This slight elevation increase cooled the air and accelerated the breeze; chillier now, I stopped a moment to put on a hat and gloves.
The trail winded around the side of the mountain and I carefully stepped around many pools from water gently cascading off of the stone steps that had been constructed on the path. At one point, I believed I had mistakenly left the trail as I walked over a slick stone with a steady stream of water flowing toward me. However, a white blaze up ahead on a thin tree assured me I was on track.
After a little over a mile, I came to a trail crossing. To my left the yellow-blazed Beulahland Trail headed west and the red-blazed Holly Springs trail led to Dunnfield Creek. I veered off to the right and descended down to the green-blazed Dunnfield Creek Trail. Immediately I felt as though I was in a entirely different forest. The same green hue from earlier permeated my entire view and it looked and smelled more like early spring as opposed to deep winter.
This trail leads over five separate creek crossings. As I arrived at the first crossing, spotting the next green blaze across the rushing water, I could ascertain where the rocks for hopping usually are. However, the swelled creek submerged some of these rocks under about 3 inches of flowing water. My strategy called for me to step out to the center of the water on mostly clear rocks and then hop onto (and quickly off of) the submerged rock to the other side. With the assistance of my trekking poles, I successfully made it to the next green blaze completely dry. Emboldened, I carried on further up the lush trail.
Minutes later, I arrived at the next water crossing. This time I used a thin tree trunk as a bridge and held onto overhanging pine branches to keep my balance. Again, my crossing my successful and dry. The trail winded again to the next crossing where a strong, wide tree trunk made for easy passage. The trail ascended and descended some more before I arrived at a sole sheet of thick ice on the ground. This ice seemed incredibly misplaced in this environment and I made sure to go well around it.
A short time later, I arrived at sign on a tree announcing "2 Water Crossings Ahead - High Water Bypass". I looked to my right and spotted green blazes strewn across the hill to my right leading to way around the creek. Ahead, I could hear the flowing water. I thought about this choice for a moment before deciding that I would risk the water crossings as they would likely be more challenging and exciting than cowering to the bypass.
I stood alone at the banks of the creek yet again. With nobody around to judge me, I judged myself and psyched myself up as I strategized. I was confident in my ability and sure I would emerge on the opposite side dry, but the water, although not deep or deadly, had submerged the rocks a bit more than it had previously and seemed to be rushing much more wildly. No apparent alternatives were clear from looking up and down the tributary.
My intention was to pull off the same move I had executed to perfection during the initial crossing. There were three rocks, with moderate distance between then, with about three or four inches of water rushing over them. My boots are waterproof so I didn't mind getting them wet and figured I could catapult myself from rock to rock. As I planted my feet on the first rock, I balanced myself and focused on the second rock. With ease, I made it to that second rock.
Now, as I stood on the second rock, in the middle of the creek, I prepped for a hop to the third rock. I planted my poles into the bed below the water, took a moment to envision my next move, and then proceeded to hurl myself almost knee-deep into the water. I let out a few vulgarities and trudged the short distance onto land. This turned out to be less uncomfortable than I had imagined, but I was disappointed in myself. Worse yet, literally less than 20 feet away, the trail again led me back across the creek! Already wet from the knees down, I plowed through the ankle-deep water to the other side.
Finished with rock hopping and water crossings, the trail cut away from along the creek and into the forest. The trail worked its way up an incline and leveled out, becoming increasingly rocky the further I went into the brush. I stared downward, carefully placing my feet among the countless misshapen stones covering the ground, looking up from time to time to enjoy the sights.
As I looked to my left, a doe surprised me as it stood stoically about 20 yards away. I stopped, pulled out my camera and snapped a few photos. The creature only adjusted
its sight and moved its head slightly. After a few moments of sharing a gaze with the doe, I changed from photo to video and captured a recording of her watching me walk away.
The trail continued steeply upward, eventually arriving at some large boulders where I was able to enjoy a view of the ridge line above the trees. By this point, having kept a steady pace, I was exhausted. I made it a point to not rest until I made it to Sunfish Pond (aside from very brief stops for photos) and so I carried on. The trail narrowed between walls of small, twisted branches and I hoped to see the pond each time I came around a bend.
Eventually, I emerged from the path and spotted the commemorative plaque indicating I had arrived at Sunfish Pond. The plaque, commissioned in 1970, announces that Sunfish Pond is a registered natural landmark. When I finished reading the inscription, I looked to my right for my first glimpse at my destination. The surface of the vast pond (stretching over 40 acres) was covered with a sheet of smooth ice. A bench nearby, usually on the banks of the pond, was embedded in the frozen tide.
I took some photos of the pond and rested, drinking water and eating a granola bar. I had no intention of continuing on the trail around the pond, so I lingered for a few moments to enjoy the quiet and breath deeply. A few minutes later, I popped a few Gatorade Energy Chews into my mouth, had a few more gulps of water, and headed back toward my car, this time on the Appalachian Trail. I had enough river crossings for the day and I felt like my pants and socks were starting to dry a bit.
Not far from the pond, the forest to my right began to take on a very barren appearance. A long view began to come through the bleak, leafless trees as though it was a mirage. I nearly tripped over some rocks as I stared and strained my eyes to discern what I was seeing. I arrived at the backpacker campground shortly thereafter. The site was located on a ridge with views across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.
I'm sure that this view is obstructed during the summer when there are leaves on some of the trees, but on this winter afternoon I could see for miles with only minimal visual impediments. I spent some time here to take some pictures and to simply enjoy this unexpected view. The wind was merciless on the open face of the mountain and chilled my head and hands despite my gloves and hat.
I got back on the trail and enjoyed a brisk, yet peaceful, hike back to my car. As I got closer to the parking lot, Dunnfield Creek, still gushing resolutely, appeared to my left. By the time I dropped my pack into the back seat and tossed my trekking poles into my trunk, I had hiked 11 miles and happily felt every bit of it. I was supremely satisfied with this entire hike, my plunge into the creek included, and will definitely find my way back to Sunfish Pond in another season.