VMO: Swatara Gap to Port Clinton via A.T (35 Miles) May ’23 – And Then There Were None

The Rocksylvania rocks had come alive and were chasing us. They wanted revenge, but not just that. They wanted our blood.

We were running…gasping for breath. Desperate to get away from the murderous rocks. Mike was the first one to fall. It was unfortunate, but he was the slowest and weakest hiker out of all of us. Out of the 6 brave backpackers who started, 5 were still alive: Me, Wesal, Mark V (Brightside), Adrian, and Sophie. This wasn’t just any ordinary hike anymore. This was survival. And there was no way I was letting a PCT thru hiker outlive me.

“Hey Mark! Your base weight is only 10.2 pounds, not 10. You’re not ultralight!”

It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Mark got distracted and lost his footing and fell, and then he was gone.

The rest of us kept running as fast as we could. It was hard to think, and I didn’t know where we were anymore. I just knew I had to survive. The four of us left were still together, but not for long. Suddenly Wesal turned primal and poked Adrian in the eye with her trekking pole. It was horrifying to see, but I didn’t have time to think. Adrian was quickly consumed by the murderous horde of rocks. Me, Wesal, and Sophie continued running.

I beckoned to Sophie and Wesal. “THIS WAY!”, I yelled. We were getting close to the cars, and that meant at least a chance of survival. But no sooner had I gotten off the words when a katana flew through the air and…”poked” Wesal. She screamed, her eyes wide….”WE SHOULD’VE JUST DONE ANOTHER DCUL HIKE IN SHENANDOAH….”, and she too was gone.

It was only me and Sophie left.

“SOPHIE!” I yelled. “WE’RE ALMOST TO THE CAR!” She nodded.

If you’ve ever met Sophie, you’ll quickly realize she is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. But on this day, her instinct to survive had even me outdone. I never could’ve expected what would happen next. I never had a chance.

I felt a hot, slicing pain in my back. In my stomach. Intense. Pain like I’ve never felt before. I looked down, and seeing the knife, I knew it was over. I looked like William Wallace when Robert the Bruce betrayed him in the movie Braveheart, knowing that it wasn’t an enemy but a close friend.

“Sophie…how could…you?” I said. “I thought…I thought you were…a friend..”

I only received an evil smile in return. And then…darkness.


Well thankfully the trip didn’t quite go like that! In fact it couldn’t have gone much better. This being my first DCUL organized trip I wanted to do something a little bit different than what I typically have seen on DCUL trips. When brainstorming with Karan he said he didn’t think DCUL had ever done this section before. Maybe someone has hosted a trip on this section, but it seemed unique enough and Karan’s comment sealed the deal.

Thankfully I found 5 other awesome backpackers to join me on this adventure. The plan was to drop our advance team of Mark, Wesal, and Adrian at the start point at Swatara Gap. After leaving them I would drive to Port Clinton and pick up Sophie and Mike. We would make up the secondary team.

So on friday evening Mark, Wesal, and Adrian all crammed in my lovely chevy cobalt and we started our roughly 3 hour drive. Along the way we made our mandatory stop at Sheetz. Mark got a meatball sub, Adrian went with the pulled pork sandwich, and Wesal got some kind of garlic fries or something. At some point everything started smelling like cow. If you’ve ever driven through the countryside you know what I mean. We were still atleast an hour away from where Mike was though, so we were all wondering how he smelled so bad. In any case, I kept driving.

I dropped our advance team off right as it was getting dark and then pushed on to pick up Sophie and Mike. It was good to see them, but it was getting late and we were all tired. Mark sent word that my original planned campsite was already taken. Which was fine, because my plan B campsite was not and ended up being much better anyways. We got to camp around 11pm, set up camp and went to sleep.

I hadn’t slept at all but was excited to get going. We had a long 23 miles ahead of us. I got some pretty sweet pictures of Mark chomping on his poptarts and Mike being lazy in his tent. Mark supposedly likes brown sugar poptarts the most. For those who don’t know Mark is really smart, but I was disappointed that he had such a wrong opinion on the best poptart flavor. Smores is definitely the way to go. It’s also the best backpacking poptart because it doesn’t crumble like other flavors. We all got going before 7am. Not too bad!

It was a beautiful morning. The 6 miles or so we had to hike to our first water source at the William Penn Shelter were rather uneventful, but it was quiet and mostly flat. And the weather was nearly perfect. It was forecasted to be in the low 70’s all day, but it was cloudy with a light sprinkle, so it never got too hot. I caught up with Mark at the William Penn Shelter and took a small break. The others were all ahead.

The rocks started getting a little rough by this point, but they were manageable. I never did think the PA rocks were as bad as some people said. Sure they aren’t exactly fun, but they keep you honest and focused. Around midday we all met up at the Hertline Campsite for lunch. Adrian and Wesal were already there, but Mike had pushed on. I was still feeling the effects of a race I had 2 weeks prior and was feeling very weak, so I was looking forward to a long break. There is a really nice watering hole that is slightly off trail. As the organizer of this trip I felt it was my duty to jump in (even though the water was freezing). Sadly I couldn’t convince anyone else to join me…I wonder why? Adrian and Wesal did get their feet wet so my hats off to them. Me, Mark and Sophie took a small trail nap afterwards.

After our lunchbreak we still had about 9.2 miles to go before our planned campsite at the Eagles Nest Shelter. We trekked on through many more miles of exciting rocks. For history lovers there was the Fort Dietrich-Snyder monument which was the site of a lookout post during the French and Indian War all the way back in 1755! We went through a prescribed burn area before arriving at the shelter for the night.

I arrived with Sophie around 6pm and the others already had a perfect spot picked out, our own personal bench included! We arrived in good time, because shortly thereafter a lot of other hikers started rolling in. We all got a fire going and had typical backpacking dinners like ramen noodles and dehydrated meals. I got some suspicious looks when I pulled out my Chick-Fil A spicy chicken sandwich. We talked about many things. Wesal was proud of her flower picture. I can’t even remember what she called it anymore. Typical Mike/David banter ensued. Mark and Adrian apparently both went to Ohio State 10 years apart. I was really tired so I of course was the first one to throw in the towel. We had a long day!

It actually got in the low 50’s during the night but it felt nice. I slept like a baby and everyone was feeling energized to hike our remaining 9 miles to Port Clinton to end the hike. And they couldn’t have been more beautiful. Our first few miles were perfect with just flat rolling hills and lots of pretty ferns, and the weather was in the low 60’s. It did get rocky towards the end, but when the weather is perfect, who cares? Adrian talked about his adventures in Chile, specifically his hike of the Torres Del Paine and his mountaineering adventures. We all got together at the end of the trail around 10:30am. At this point Mark mentioned how we might avoid the Mother’s day crowd. Mother’s day? I had completely forgotten, and hoped our breakfast plans wouldn’t be in jeopardy. We walked the remaining mile over the railroad tracks and through Port Clinton to 3C’s Family Restaurant.

Unfortunately they didn’t have any seating available, but they did have plenty of bar space. Good enough for hikers! We met up with an AT-Thru hiker named Stickerz and had a great time. Adrian ordered an omelet and was so hungry he devoured part of what Sophie ordered, which definitely wasn’t an omelet at all. Adrian is henceforth banned from all future DCUL trips. Shame.

And that’s about it. Sophie and Mike gave us a ride back to the start and we started our drive back home. But not before stopping at Sheetz one more time. A DCUL trip so good we made not just 1 Sheetz stop but two! Overall it was a fantastic weekend with some great people. We all got away from the craziness of life for a weekend. And best of all, no murderous rocks were chasing us. And everyone survived.

I’d call that a success.

-David U (Baseball)


(Photo credit to Sophie, Mike, Adrian, Wesal, and Mark)

2 thoughts on “VMO: Swatara Gap to Port Clinton via A.T (35 Miles) May ’23 – And Then There Were None

Add yours

  1. Great post! Reading it made me feel as if I, too, were running for my life from the PA rocks. I didn’t predict the Sophie plot twist.


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