Rob Hikes &
Rob + Erina Hiking
The Appalacian Trail
Follow Rob Farrel's journey hiking the AT.
Updates are provided by Rob's wife Erina as he provides them to her!
For the full story, read from the bottom up.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming - but now:
Rob + Erina Hiking
I’m here to announce something you’ve all been waiting for: your favorite show is returning to Facebook, with an expanded cast and more complicated plot line, complete with flashbacks.
Yes, that’s right, it’s
ROB + ERINA HIKING
ROB + ERINA HIKING
May 12, 2023
William Penn Shelter to beyond Black Swatara Campsite
Leaving our lovely tent site at William Penn Shelter we hiked a couple of miles and stopped for a snack at the 501 Shelter, which is right off PA 501. Had we made it there the night before, we would have been able to order pizza! (There are very few shelters from which it is possible to order pizza, so that’s a big deal for hikers.) It is also unusual for having 4 walls, electricity, and a caretaker who lives next door. We took advantage of some protein bars that someone left behind and the most excellent porta-potty.
After 501, we had a remarkable series of encounters with snakes: two rattlers and then two Northern Black Racers.
The first rattler was hiding under big boulders when we stopped to rest near Kessel View. Rob got the photo of his 12 (!) rattles and tried to provoke him into coming out of his den, but he wasn’t interested in having us photograph his gorgeous plaid coloration. However, a mile or so down the road, we met his cousin coiled up right next to the trail. Fortunately, he used his 2 rattles very effectively to warn us, and we were able to photograph him and pass by, using our sticks to keep him occupied and away from our ankles!
Within the next hour, we encountered two gorgeous Northern Black Racer snakes. We got to watch them stretch out and slither away, and one of them treated us to a display of their ability to mimic a rattler’s rattle by rapidly flicking its tail against the ground.
Mid-day, we stopped at Hertline campsite and creek. There was a lovely stream where I soaked my feet and had a brief nap interrupted by a bumblebee who was simply infatuated with me and would not stop landing on my legs! Rob walked up to the camping area where there was a natural pool and got himself a swim! We met a pair of friends, one (Figs) who was a Psychology professor at Penn State Berks, and the other who had just passed her NCLEX (RN) exam.
The end of this day’s hike was very hard for me…my feet were aching terribly and I went past the point of exhausted to a wee bit hysterical. Great stuff if this were a reality show, less so if you’re just living it! But we found a place to tent, fed and watered ourselves, and settled down for the night, anticipating a shorter hike tomorrow and an overnight in Hamburg, PA.
ROB + ERINA HIKING
May 11, 2023
Rausch Gap Shelter to William Penn Shelter
Today we met a Trail Angel…
As some of you know already, I’m using my sabbatical from Penn State next year to obtain a nursing degree. There are a lot of “compliances” I have to complete before June 30th in order to start in the Fall, and I wasn’t allowed to start completing most of them until May 1st. So we ended up leaving Philipsburg with one blood test incomplete and plans to somehow get off trail near a town with a Geisinger where I could get blood drawn.
Mid-morning, we came to the Swatara Gap parking lot and encountered a hiker putting her gear into her car. We struck up a conversation and learned that she — “Giggles” — had started as a thru-hiker in April, but had to stop due to knee issues after two weeks. When we met her, she was out for her first hike since returning home. I asked her how far it was to Pottsville, because we were still trying to figure out where to get off trail and find a shuttle or Uber to the Pottsville Geisinger. She immediately volunteered to drive us to Pottsville. I called, got an lab appointment for an hour later, and we were off.
Giggles, Rob, and I spent a delightful couple of hours together, getting me to the lab appointment and Rob to the Dollar General while I was there, and then to Burger King for the “real food” we were already excited to eat. We learned that she raised 7 children and was a Certified Nursing Aide, a career from which she recently retired. And that she loves to hike! She was so pleased to help us, in part because she and her husband had been helped by other people on trail when her knee just wouldn’t take her any further.
As Rob likes to say, “the Trail provides.” We are thankful for Giggles and her big heart!
ROB + ERINA HIKING
May 10, 2023
Peter’s Mountain Shelter - Rausch Gap Shelter
Mile 1160.9 - 1178.7
This was a looooooong second day on the trail. We were trying to get 18 miles so that we made up for only having hiked 12 the first day. We also started to really see why they call it “Rocksylvania.”
One highlight was nearly stepping on a baby porcupine! It scuttled away too quickly for me to get a great photo, but that’s probably just as well.
We also enjoyed lunch by a stream, where I soaked my aching feet and Rob tried to entice the trout with bits of bread and salami.
ROB + ERINA HIKING
May 9, 2023
Duncannon, PA to Peters Mountain Shelter
Mile 1149.5 to 1160.9
AT, here we come! We left Philipsburg a little after 9:00, stopped in State College for some breakfast and last minute errands, and arrived in Duncannon, PA a little before noon. Jesa and Carson came along to see us off—and take the car back since we wouldn’t be needing it for awhile!
Starting from the parking lot below Hawk Rock, we followed the trail through Duncannon and then crossed the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers, and then plunged into the woods on the other side of the railroad tracks. And, as usual when you leave a town, there was a big hill to climb!
Throughout the afternoon we had terrific views of the rivers, including the little Statue of Liberty that we have driven by so many times. We met one other hiker, SpongeFob.
We arrived at Peter’s Mountain Shelter close to dark. It was a large shelter and empty on the ground floor, though we were startled to realize there was one other hiker already sleeping upstairs.
Day 26-27, March 27-28
Lover's Leap - past Little Laurel Shelter - Hog Back Ridge Shelter
March 27: Today, Rob kicked it into high gear. Walking alone most of the day, listening to podcasts, the miles flew by. Passing a large group of slack-packers hiking south, Rob reflected on the simplicity of walking north without logistics -- just "me and my shit."
Thru-hiker "Money" caught up with Rob in late afternoon when he was pausing to eat by a highway. Together, they hiked to the next gap where they were met by "The Cookie Lady" and her husband, who were originally from Ohio but now live in North Carolina. As Rob and Money ate their cookies, "Kid's Meal" arrived, and then YouTube trail celebrity "New Hampsha" strolled out of the woods as well. The four of them went up another mountain and shared a meal at a shelter. Rob and "Kid's Meal" then hiked on for a bit and stealth camped. 21 miles for the day.
March 28: Rob describes this as "a pretty uneventful day," in which he covered another 20 miles. He passed the 300 mile mark, saw some "twin towers" rocks, and enjoyed trail magic from "a sweet lady" who had a complete resupply stash in the trunk of her car. The exciting part was hearing from others that there might be trail magic at an upcoming gap in the morning.
Walnut Mountain Shelter - Hot Springs, N.C. - Lovers Leap Rock
Rob awoke to the sound of rain around 3:00 AM, but his tent was dry. Others in the crew weren't so lucky (700 in particular had a tent malfunction), but everyone survived the night. With Hot Springs, NC awaiting, Rob and 700 were so motivated they ran the last few miles into town, where they met Darren at the Iron Horse Restaurant for lunch. Following lunch Rob went to the outfitter for new shoes, trading in his Hokas for some Altra 6s. The outfitter assured him that the old Hokas would be treated as the biohazards they had become in 275 miles of wearing. Most of the tramily ended up at the Laughing Heart Hostel for the afternoon and evening. They played cornhole and were visited and treated to trail magic by Kelly Hayes (YouTuber hiker). The evening continued with dinner and more than a few beverages.
The morning of the 26th was a sad one for Rob, since Darren caught his shuttle home. After breakfast (sandwiches) from the Hillbilly Deli, Rob did laundry and resupplied, feeling all the time that he ought to be hiking. In late afternoon, he left Hot Springs with a sub sandwich and breakfast for the morning, strolled along the French Broad river (yes, that's the correct name), and hiked up to Lover's Leap where he camped and enjoyed the sunset and phone calls to family.
Tri-Corner Knob - Standing Bear Hostel - just beyond Walnut Mountain Shelter
Rob and his crew woke at 6 AM to embark on a long day's hike to reach Standing Bear Hostel (Davenport Gap). Rob reports that the foggy, mossy, slightly spooky evergreen forest experience made the early departure worthwhile. He hiked most of the day with 700, with conversational topics ranging from "regular life" to the sucky hills and a whole range of conspiracy theories. The miles rolled past: 12 miles by 11:00 AM. From there, they descended rapidly to the tiny gap road at Davenport Gap and hiked 2 miles along the road to Standing Bear Hostel. Hikers there were assigned to tiny rooms or the bunkhouse and given a clipboard to keep track of expenses. Lunch, dinner, a couple of beers, and a bunk came to $56...not so cheap, but welcome after shelters. Rob reports being sad that his tramily was about to lose Darren, thru-hiker River's dad, who came to hike with River, but had to leave the group to return to the real world.
On the 24th, Rob left Standing Bear around 8:15. The day was already becoming warm and ultimately reached near 80 degrees. The early climb was 2500 feet, but Rob was feeling invigorated and even passed some other hikers on the way up. He ate lunch near a water supply with several other hikers, and then caught up to 700 around 2:00 PM. 700 had encountered some trail magic and shared his takings with Rob, improving his flagging spirits in the heat of the afternoon. They traveled on to Max Patch (originally named "Mack's Patch"), which is a large bald spot at the summit of a mountain, and then further to just beyond Walnut Mountain Shelter. They would have stayed at Walnut Mountain, but some crazy old guy yelled at them and they decided to move on. They also heard some wild noises just after dark, and concluded they were probably coyotes.
Mile 195.5 - 223.4
Leaving Siler's Bald Shelter, Rob had only 3 miles to travel to the renowned Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail at 6658 ft. of elevation. Rob describes the tower there as a "crazy concrete structure" but forgot to take photos of it. The rest of the day was a "slip 'n' slide" on water running over ice on an eroded trail. Ice cleats would have been helpful, but most of Rob's crew (including Rob) didn't have them. He reports almost ending up in the splits at one point, and a very slow pace overall (around 1 mile/hour). After about five hours of this grueling work, he emerged at Newfound Gap to find a parking lot full of cars. This was very disconcerting after not seeing anyone other than the trail and tramily for several days! (This pass is where U.S. 44 to Gatlinburg, TN goes through the Smokies.)
There, Rob encountered Mentor, who was doing trail magic with his wife and children while on vacation. He appreciated the Coke, PB&J, chips, and fruit they were handing out--and the opportunity to use an actual restroom! As usual from gaps, he spent the rest of the day climbing up, mostly in the company of thru-hiker Connor, who was a younger hiker who had been working in finance in NYC and had quit to hike and figure out his life's path. Camping that night at Icewater Spring Shelter, Rob met hikers "700" and "Fixit" both of whom were finishing their Triple Crowns.
The group awoke on March 22nd to discover that Icewater Spring was a wholly appropriate name for the shelter, as the rain and cold temperatures had turned the trail into a sheet of ice. At first, going was extremely slow, perhaps a half mile per hour. Then as temperatures warmed, a faster pace became possible. Rob passed some members of his tramily and caught up to 700, with whom he hiked the remainder of the day, ending at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter.
Fontana Dam Shelter to Russell Field Shelter to Double Spring Gap Shelter
Leaving from the Fontana Hilton Shelter, Rob and the gang hiked approximately 2.5 miles across the breast of Fontana Dam and then proceeded to climb (approximately 4000 feet) into the Smokey Mountains. Due to the weather, most roads into the Smokies were closed, so the group had packs loaded with food for 5 days without resupply. Russell Field Shelter had a fireplace and a tarp hung across the entrance, but the temperatures dropped into the low teens overnight.
From Russell Field Shelter, the group put in a 16 mile day on trail that started out icy cold and became muddy as the day grew sunny and warmed up. Rob had his first blister of the journey, but used some K tape from hiker "Groot" and reports the blister caused minimal trouble. He hiked most of the day with hikers Ripley, Red Beard, and Money (MRI tech, military, and retired OB/GYN MD, respectively). The day's highlight was a 360-degree view from Rocky Top (elevation 5441 feet) and a Ramen bomb (ramen in mashed potatoes!) for dinner.
Nantahola to Steacoah Gap to Fontana Dam
On Day 16, Rob, Jake, and crew left the NOC in the rain and hiked steadily upward to Cheoah Bald (approximately 5000 feet, more than 3000 feet higher than the NOC). Near the top, it began to sleet and the wind blew steadily at 40 miles/hour, with gusts closer to 50. Coming down from Cheoah, the trail conditions deteriorated in the weather, making for a muddy slip and slide down to Steacoah Gap. The wet, cold hikers had to wait almost two hours, but were eventually picked up and shuttled forward to the Fontana Village Resort (a hostel/lodge), where they warmed up by a massive gas fireplace. Rob said it took him close to 30 minutes to stop shivering with help from the fireplace and multiple cups of hot tea. They enjoyed dinner at the restaurant and sleeping in warm beds.
On Day 17, the shuttle returned the group to Steacoah Gap and they hiked back to Fontana Village. Rob reports that it was a cold morning, but no longer raining. He and another hiker, Darren (50-something guy, dad of thru-hiker River) set the pace and were first to arrive at Fontana Dam. This time, instead of going to the hostel, the group stayed at the Fontana Dam Shelter, known as the "Fontana Hilton" because it is a very large shelter (holds 25) with a heated bathroom and electricity. Even more important to the group: trail magic provided by the taco family: Taco King, Taco Queen, their two sons, and the family pup, Taco Dog. This family made tacos and quesdillas for the cold and hungry hikers, and also left them with a full loaf's worth of PB&J sandwiches for the next day.
Day 14, Wednesday, 3/15
Day 15, Thursday, 3/16
Wednesday morning began with a trek down to Tellico Gap, where Rob and Jake were extremely fortunate to get trail magic from Wing and Hoof Hostel — quiche and bacon and tomato sandwiches! On then to Wesser Bald, stopping there to enjoy the sunshine and 360-degree views. After that, 6 miles almost entirely downhill to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC. (That may sound great, but continuous downhill is tough on the knees!)
Thursday Rob and Jake took a “zero day” (no miles hiked) and stayed a second night at the NOC. The hostel rooms were tiny but serviceable. (Rob said they made Jesa Burleson’s dorm room look like a mansion.) They enjoyed the restaurant for multiple meals (especially the mac and cheese!) and the chance to do laundry, resupply, and hang out. They also took the opportunity to go white water rafting on the Nantahala River that runs through the NOC and the surrounding town. The water was extremely cold but Jake kept everyone singing sea shanties, which earned their group a rave review from their guide.
Day 12: Monday, 3/13; Miles 102-114
Day 13: Tuesday, 3/14; Miles 114-125
Long Branch Shelter to Siler Bald Shelter to Cold Stream Shelter
On Monday morning Rob, Jake, and crew marched on to Winding Stairs Gap, where they were met with trail magic by Zigzag and Bobby the Greek. Zigzag provided some nice beers and hard seltzers—and a Dr. Pepper! The group left trail to head into Franklin, NC and return to the Lazy Hiker, a brewpub we had previously visited. Major’s mother-in-law brought them back to trail, and they hiked a few miles further to Siler Bald. They made a fire but it was too cold and windy to really enjoy it.
Tuesday Rob and Jake began with the intention of hiking 23 miles to the NOC—Nantahala Outdoor Center. However, the cold led to a late start, and that goal wasn’t achieved. Instead, they made it 12 miles to Cold Stream shelter, stopping midday at the stone observation tower on Wayah Bald (approx. mile 119). They met two new hikers along the way, Christian (who comes from Germany) and Chris (who works for Best Buy). Temperatures overnight were in the mid-teens and it was very windy, but the sleeping bags did their job and Rob reports sleeping well.
March 12, Day 11, Sunday
Standing Indian Shelter to Long Branch Shelter
It rained overnight which meant packing wet tents this morning. Jake was slow to get moving (common occurrence!) so Rob hiked most of the day alone, but they both ended at the same shelter along with River, Dean, and Major. Rob encountered some groups of day/section hikers who were college students on Spring Break and seemed underprepared for the wet, cold weather. Highlights included achieving 100 miles and the fire tower at Albert Mountain.
March 8, 2023
Some photos from last couple days on miles 17 to 53 on the AT
March 2, 2023
Rob Farrell, his wife, Erina Farrell, and his nephew, Jake Iwinski, leave Pennsylvania and drive to the AT trail head in Georgia. Erina will hike the first 9 days of the trek before returning to Penn State where she teaches, researches, and will again soon be studying!
Pharmacist temporarily hangs up lab coat to hike Appalachian Trail
Feb 18, 2023
PHILIPSBURG — A pharmacist has temporarily stepped out of the workforce to tackle a 2,000 mile plus trail.
Robert Farrell, 52, will leave central Pennsylvania on March 1, driving to the start of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in Georgia. Farrell lived in Philipsburg and previously worked in Clearfield and then Huntingdon as a pharmacist.
Growing up, Farrell was no stranger to the outdoors, frequently hunting and fishing with family. “Hiking is something that came later,” he said. “But I was always exposed to the outdoors.”
About 20 years ago, he began hiking. Now, he tries to go on a multi-day trip each year. Those ready to take on the Appalachian Trail should set aside around four to seven months. Farrell has always been attracted to the trail.
“I’ve seen bits and pieces of the Appalachian Trail, and every time I see it, I’m enamored with the concept,” he said. “For the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve been pretty much just trying to figure out when I could do it.”
Hiking the trail requires a significant amount of planning. People need to ac, 2023.quire the proper gear. They will carry all the necessities, including tents, sleeping bags and a few days of food, on their trip.
Farrell also waited until his children were old enough to begin his journey. Financial planning also came into play. “You’d think in the woods it’d be cheap, but it still costs you quite a bit of money along the way,” he said, citing food, gear and potential stays in hostels as major costs.
Time out of the workforce also is a consideration. Most employers will not allow employees to take off multiple months. Farrell left his job, but hopes to return to the workforce upon his return.
The hike requires a certain level of fitness. Farrell noted he has participated in races, including marathons and trail running. Many people who start the trail never finish, removing themselves due to safety reasons.
“I think finishing the trail is more about whether your body holds up,” Farrell said.
Putting off the hike until after retirement is risky, as people never know what their health will be like year to year. “There’s no saying that my body can do it. You never know what might happen,” Farrell said. “But I feel like I’m healthy enough that shouldn’t be a large issue.”
Farrell will be joined by his nephew, who recently graduated from Penn State University. Farrell’s wife plans to travel with the two for the first week. She will return for work and hopefully rejoin as she is able.
This article has been reprinted here in it's entirety from it's original publication in The Progress, February 18, 2023