Trip Report: Thunder Swamp, Where Are You?

DCUL’s latest (maybe first?) encounter with the Thunder Swamp Trail in the Poconos can best be understood as a series of negatives. It’s not a particularly pretty trail. There doesn’t seem to be any old-growth forests, despite the proximity to so many others. You can sort of get a sense that there are swamps nearby, a few of notable size, but the trail rarely if ever brings you close enough to get a solid view. There aren’t any vistas to reward a challenging climb, mostly because there aren’t any climbs. There’s scarcely any hills to speak of, unless you count those little bumps that even I, closer to five feet than six, can survey directly over. It’s not one of those trails you can coast on, either; angular rocks extend out to snag your feet and twist your ankles, causing you to focus on each and every step. And just when you question if you will be delivered onto more agreeable terrain, it forces you onto service roads.

Despite what appears to be, at least on paper, an exercise in denial, the Thunder Swamp Trail provides something rare and special. It’s a pleasurable purgatory, not of perdition but of emptiness. It’s a pause, stretched and dilated so far and wide that you forget that you started with nothing at all. For most of the hike, each DCULer was left with nothing to think about except their own thoughts. Now isn’t that the fantasy we market to those who don’t spend their weekends sleeping outside and hiking until they want to drop? A sort of momentary retirement?

Alex, Aileen, Demetre, Don, and Dorit met up at Grosvenor Kiss & Ride at 5 PM Friday. Alex wasn’t sure if he was going to stick around for a few days with friends in PA, so they made sure to take two cars. It was trafficky, rainy schlep up to the Poconos that evening. Fortunately, by the time the group suited up at the trailhead, most of the freezing rain had come and gone. A little precipitation followed them to their first campsite, but then left them alone for the rest of the weekend. The camped around a bend of Bushkills Creek. In the morning, the group sped out as if they weren’t going to reach the next campsite by early afternoon. But they did. Dorit and Demetre elected to nap, the latter following a rough morning of nausea. Meanwhile, Aileen, Don, and Alex set up their shelters and headed back out for a “day hike.”

The Thunder Swamp Trail is a double lollipop of sorts. A big loop bisected by Route 402 and another that wraps around Big Bear Swamp. Unfortunately, as the day hikers came to learn, the loop around Big Bear Swamp never actually gets close to Big Bear Swamp. You can see it, at least the gap in trees around thirty feet away and impossible to climb through. It was a tease that this away-team wasn’t into. So they headed back to the camp to join the others in their afternoon nap. If any other hikers had happened upon us, they would have think that we had abandoned camp, if not for the ratcheting snores.

Around dusk, we woke up and gathered around the established firepit to chat and indulge in the goodies each of us had prepared. We joked that afternoon naps should be integrated more often into DCUL trips. It never really got that dark on Saturday night, the celestial ceiling open and surging with moonlight. It was light enough to spot a porcupine inspecting our camp. Some coyotes, too, visited us that night with their childish yelps.

On Sunday Dorit and Alex slept in, while the rest headed towards the cars. With only five hikers, each going at different speeds, most found themselves on their own for the majority if not all of the day. One by one, the group arrived at the trailhead. Afterwards, they headed to Trackside Bar & Grill (not recommended) and Jimmy’s Ice Cream Shop (cannot recommend enough) for afternoon pick-me-ups. Then began the long drive back to DC.

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