We were finally in New Jersey! Another state down. Pennsylvania’s notorious rocks were now behind us and hopefully the going would be a little easier on our feet, for our shoes sake! We left Backpackers Campsite at 8:45 am after a nice undisturbed sleep to head out for another 25 mile day. A few minutes into our hike we encountered a rat snake slithering up a tree, possibly looking for his breakfast. It snaked inside the hollow of the tree flicking its tongue searching for food. It wasn’t our first and definitely won’t be our last snake encounter!
Minutes later we arrived at Sunfish Pond which the trail snaked along the left side of it. There was a prime camping spot here as it looked like someone had made a spot. Although there was a posted sign stating there was no camping along the pond. The water looked cool and refreshing in the morning sun. Light glinted off the water making it look glassy smooth as water lapped along the edge of the trail. No time to swim though as the trail wound its way upward. Our first view of the day came at Raccoon Ridge which afforded us expansive views in 360 degrees. A popular spot for the locals to hike up, but we had it all to ourselves this morning!
The next few hours we found ourselves hiking along the ridge with views off to our right. The walking was relatively easy as we stayed up on the ridge. The day was getting hotter and the sun beat down on our backs. A breeze would come through once in a while refreshing our sweaty bodies.
We hiked on, and came down from the ridge where we crossed a few dirt roads and finally came to a spot where the local hiking group was providing trail magic. They had a grill set up with a picnic table full of goodies. Burgers went on the grill and the sound of sizzling beef made our stomachs grumble. Fresh fruit and soda disappeared into our mouths as we sat and chatted with these kind people. Our juicy burgers were ready and in a few bites they were soon gone as well. While we ate we kept hearing about the New Jersey Pork Roll. Now, I have been to New Jersey several times before and never heard of this “Pork Roll” It was apparently a NJ classic. So, we also had a Pork Roll which tasted much like a better version of bologna and maybe salami mixed together? All I know it was a salty, cheesy, goodness in my mouth. We both could say we had a New Jersey Pork Roll.
Eating our fill we realized it was probably time to go. Two other hikers appeared right when we were leaving. We had eaten their last pork roll and the hikers were disappointed we took the last ones! Ah well, second place is the first loser! In good spirits we left the trail magic and hike on. The hiking got progressively rocky as we gained elevation. I forgot to mention we were hiking in the Kittatinny Mountains for much of the day. We summited Rattlesnake Mountain a few hours later. No rattlesnakes but a decent view.
The day was hot! And we had been hiking on this ridge all day. We wanted to get down to shade and water. It looked like there was big lake down in the valley so maybe we could camp somewhere near a lake! Sure enough, we were headed down and ended up near the small town of Branchville NJ. Right next to the road crossing was the Mountain House Tavern and Grill that had just recently opened up in 2017. We couldn’t resist, it was right there. Yes, more food in our bellies and our spirits lifted as we also drank a whole pitcher of water along with ice tea.
There was no place to camp near the lake that was nearby so we decided to hike up to Culver Fire Tower which was three miles away. We hoped it would be breezy up there and possibly a nice view for a camping spot. We filled my Sawyer packs of extra water to bring up to the fire tower so we could rinse our bodies. The climb up was a sweaty one! We were drenched in sweat as we reached the top. A few hikers were here already but they were not staying here as we found a spot tucked away in the back corner. As we were setting up shop we quickly learned the mosquitoes were dreadful here. Slapping and dancing around we hurried to set up so we could get in the tent. In the tent we heard the constant buzzing of the mosquitoes as they swarmed over the netting sensing our blood. The radio from the fire tower sparked to life as we heard radio chatter from dispatchers relaying information. It was cool that this tower had an active radio!
Time for bed!
– Fresh Sneakers