Well, the snow is just about gone now, even in the darkest nooks & crannies of the mountainsides around Jim Thorpe, and a great season of exploration is ready to begin. Before Spring blossoms upon us, everyone has a great chance to get out and see more of the area than usual. How’s this? Well, consider that with no leaves on the trees yet, visibility is many times greater than it will be in the summer, when leaves make sightlines very limited. So whether you’re on top of Mt Pisgah or at the bottom of the Lehigh Gorge, you can see farther than at other times of the year (late Autumn offers similar benefits). While the drab appearance of leafless trees might not be the prettiest atmosphere, explorers who want to make the most of the situation can certainly pick up on new things that are otherwise not noticeable. Being able to look farther afield, you may notice animals in the distance, you can pick up the outline of trails along mountainsides or through the woods, and get a better feel for the topography of the land you’re exploring. Caves, streams, rock outcroppings, stands of evergreens, fallen trees and other features stand out more when there are no leaves and less underbrush to camouflage them. It’s almost guaranteed that if you hike or bike a trail that you usually travel in the Summer, you’ll discover something new when you’re on it this Spring.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that Spring hiking and biking can have long-lasting effects on the trails themselves. Especially this year, due to so much late snow melt and lots of rain, the trails will be soggy and therefore quite susceptible to damage by both hikers and bikers. When considering an outing, think of the topography of the area you want to explore: if it’s flat or gently rolling and either wooded or grassy, it will likely be saturated until we get a decent dry spell. It may be best to let this area wait a little before you venture into it. Bike tires and even hiking boots can do more harm to a wet trail than you might think. On the other hand, if you plan to explore a rocky or hilly area – a mountainside for example – the water has likely run off quickly and there will be fewer problems with your boots or your tires doing damage to most of the trail. In the Jim Thorpe area, some trails that may be quite soggy would be the Deer Path and many parts of American Standard (both on the relatively flat top of Broad Mountain), while Mount Pisgah trails (upper Switchback; Wagon Road) or Mauch Chunk Ridge trails (Bob’s Option; Fireline) should have drained better and therefore be less susceptible to damage. Bigger trails like the lower Switchback and Lehigh Gorge trail will likely have lots of puddles, but these trails are large enough that there will usually be a dry line around them.
When you’re out exploring and can see farther than usual, sometimes there is a tendency to pay more attention to what you can see than where you are going. Make sure you balance yourself between the immediate need of getting across the terrain, and observing what’s around: periodic stops to survey the area might be a good idea. When you’re in the Gorge this Spring, being able to see the river and far up the mountainsides is a real bonus. On the Switchback, views of the ridge above and the hillside below are more than we usually get. Atop any of the several scenic viewpoints, there’s more to see on surrounding mountains. And with the weather getting better by the week, Spring time around Jim Thorpe is a great time to get out and see the area.
For those who don’t know the Western Poconos that well, the Jim Thorpe eXperience (JTX) offers guided adventure tours on the aforementioned trails and others. Visit www.theJTX.com for more information.