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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Last Hike to Glen Onoko in Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania - Now Officially Closed

My final hike to Glen Onoko was in autumn of 2016. I had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's, so I wanted to see one of my favorite Pennsylvania hikes one last time as part of a quest to revisit some old favorites one last time.

That day, my wife and I hiked up to the 2nd falls. I didn't feel like walking back and forth across a cold creek on that journey, so we didn't go up to the top of the 2nd falls. I had seen the area past that before. The need to see that final small waterfall again didn't matter that much, especially since I was over-conscious of my balance potentially being "off" at that time.

Having hiked to the top of McAfee Knob since then, as well as the back section of Hawk Mountain, I can say I was more rattled about my diagnosis that what I was about to do. After all, I had been compensating with walking changes for 5 years at that point. It's amazing how the body adapts when we go "wonky."

That said, I know my limits and my worries, but at the end of the day, I hike when I can because that's what life is about... enjoying yourself without hurting people (there is a difference). It's just now, if I choose to go somewhere more "intense," I'll find someone to hike with. It's important to be prepared... just in case (and yes, there are some intense places that are "no more" hikes (Ricketts Glen in winter HERE and HERE, for instance - the risk is no longer worth the reward, especially since I have great photos from better days).

But yes, we need to know our limits. That's important, but so is living... as long as our risks don't get others in deep doo doo.

With Parkinson's, gait is a big concern for us youngens with it (I was 40 at diagnosis), as it is for older people with it. As for me, my balance isn't walk on tightropes great, but I haven't fallen yet (knock on wood). Almost 3 years since that date, I'm in stage 2 of 5, which if you don't know Parkinson's, it means I have tremors in both hands. I still hike, but I have dystonia in my left foot, so I hike with poles and solid Keen boots that have lasted for years. I'm at the point where I wear my boots to work as well.

In what is the greatest head-scratcher I can give you, it hurts more to type this blog without shoes on than it does to hike to the top of McAfee Knob (8 miles round trip) because of my clawed-up toes.

This is for realsies, kids.

Someday, I will have to stop hiking because PD will get worse. I don't look forward to that day, but I'm aware it will happen. Most people who go through life find that they have to give up things that they love for some reason or another.

However, we don't want to be told we need to give it up, and we shouldn't put ourselves on a timeline of when that day will be.

For that reason, I went back for one extra hike at Glen Onoko a little while after that last hike after going to the Lehigh Section of the Appalachian Trail with a friend and his wife.. Once again, I only did to the bottom of the 2nd falls, but I did the rocks and the root grabs. I challenged myself and enjoyed it, because I can.

It was a good time, and a fitting last autumnal visit to see an old friend.

Unfortunately, I can't go back anymore, even if I want to. I still physically can, but the trail is now closed due to too many people who can't read danger signs so they stand close to wet edges of cliffs and because they wear flip flops on a trail that requires solid footwear and a conscious decision to not do dumb stuff. 

Too many people got hurt, and now Glen Onoko rests in the peaceful woods.

Let it be known, this sucks, but I don't blame the PA Game Commission. Sometimes, leadership needs to step in. We're not going to agree with all decisions, and I would be lying if I said that I like this one.

However, t would be very expensive to make this beautiful area safe, so I don't fault them for not wanting to be liable or ponying up money to do this. There needs to be buy-in from someone else on this.

After all, Glen Onoko was a free to access trail run by an organization that is funded by hunters, not hikers. To go to a similar waterfall area, made safe from lawsuits (a big worry), PA's Bushkill Falls (pictured below), you would pay $16.50 per person. The only way to make this popular trail safe is money. The only way to keep it accessible is to fund trail maintainers. Without entry fees, this is impossible.

The older I get, the more I realize that if we want areas to play, we need to be a part of that, either through help or money (or both). Tax dollars only go so far to help any cause.

Also, I don't blame rescuers for getting upset about risking their own safety to extract people from unsafe spots when they do dumb stuff like standing too close to watery edges of a steep waterfall. Rescues take skill, access, effort, and money. Yes, accidents happen, and I personally am thankful for when I was with someone who needed rescued and was expertly assisted. Fortunately, that trek out of a canyon was more about walking out with an ACL injury over a rocky path with a few drops and slow down climbs (as well as incredible intestinal fortitude - like pro wrestlers have - mad props, Heather!). The extraction I saw at Ricketts' Glen featured a stretcher on narrow paths. I didn't know the person, but that was some scary stuff.

Those were some awesome people carrying that person out to medical attention. I'm sure the person in the stretcher would agree.

So if I don't blame them, who is to blame? Is this just a combination of what happens when you assemble too many people that are all about the crappy graffiti, remnants of parties, and the flip flop mountain strollers who come into a backwoods area that touches too closely to civilization? Is this selfie culture gone Darwinian like at Yosemite? Who's to say? Sadly, what's done is done.

And those of us who want nice stuff can't have it.

That said, I think it's fair to say most of us who have gone into situations unprepared can relate to the feeling that we're thankful to be 98.6° despite our less than stellar decisions. I know I am, so I'm not here to say all accidents are careless or even that all careless accidents should be accompanied by a lifetime of derision. Live and learn. That's what life is about. Permanent hate and shame are worse than any careless accident..

That said, it's horrible thinking that as of today, it's going to cost me a $100-$200 fine to give up one of the best waterfalls I've ever been to because people didn't get it. In spite of all the warnings, and we knew it was coming to this sooner or later, people didn't take the time to tread with caution.

Too many people poked the bull, and now we all lose. Let's learn the lesson before the next beautiful spot goes. Let's redirect those who need it or help them learn, like we learned to respect nature from those who "gave" it to us.

And let's say a happy thought or 2 for Glen Onoko. It was a great place as my photos show.

More photos are HERE, winter is HERE, and photos when I took my niece are HERE. Photos of the nearby town of Jim Thorpe (one of the coolest towns going) are HERE.

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