Sam’s Point Preserve, Minnewaska S.P., New York

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Yesterday we were up in the Hudson valley to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We like to mix it up with a few different activities… a nice stay in an inn, a dinner somewhere nice, some history, and of course, some hiking!

The area has all that and more. There’s a booming winery and cidery business all over the county, as well as plenty of historical sites and outdoor activities. There’s no shortage of nice inns and hotels as well as restaurants and great towns to visit and explore.

Sam's Point from the parking area

Sam’s Point from the parking area

Despite a warmer spell we weren’t quite ready to backpack as there was still almost a foot of snow on the ground in many places we would go. But we wanted to keep in shape and do some hiking so we are ready for the season. Also, because we love being outdoors.

Various hike options

Various hike options

Our hike this time was in the dramatic Shawangunk mountains of New York. Just west of the Hudson river the range stretches from west of New Paltz (a great town!) south to Cragmoor about 15-20 miles south.

Fielden Stream below the Crags

Fielden Stream below the Crags

The northern end holds the famous Mohonk Mountain House and preserve, a dramatic Victorian era castle resort hotel towering high on a rocky peak and surrounding a sky lake.

They have many trails there as well as other activities. It is however quite a bit expensive with its award-winning farm-to-table dining, epic views and fancy spa, and if you are not staying there you have to pay a hefty $22 to park in their lot and enjoy their grounds. It was started as a retreat to enjoy nature and study ecology by a pair of Quaker brothers and has grown in size and popularity ever since. They have dedicated time and money throughout the generations to help with local stewardship and to improve the conditions of native peoples. So at least some of that money goes to good causes.  I have to say we’re curious and as we are going back here in March for our anniversary because the F.D.R home we planned to visit was closed from the government shutdown, and so we may also visit here to check it out. I’m afraid the cost is likely too prohibitive for an overnight stay for our current budget. But we will see if there’s any deals to be had at the time!

Couple selfie

Couple selfie

The rest of the Shawangunk range comprises what is known as Minnewaska State Park. It contains a large trail system, a sky lake of its own, the highest dwarf pine habitat in the region, ice caves, a dramatic waterfall and sweeping views from steep cliffs of stone all along its perimeter.  There is a visitor center at the southernmost end known as Sam’s Point.

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

They have a small exhibit on flora and fauna and geology in the area, guided tours with local naturalists and you can rent snowshoes. We really should have on this day but didn’t realize until after. Fielden Stream has always wanted to try them and I didn’t bring my microspikes and the snow was 6″ deep, though there was a trodden path about a foot wide which helped.  Being only .6 up to the viewpoint, and on a gravel road covered in snow, we managed…

A good view of the cliff edges

A good view of the cliff edges

There isn’t a tremendous vertical gain, maybe a few hundred feet. My phone was on the fritz so I could not use my tracking app to get that information. The only real steep angle was at the end, and it wasn’t bad, again because it was really just a gravel road.

On the western-facing ledge

On the western-facing ledge

The views to the south and then to the west from the second viewpoint were amazing. And our car did all the real climbing on this day. The elevation at the southern point is about 2,200 ft. The dramatic drop-offs and long views were well worth the minimal effort. I highly recommend it. When we go back in March we also hope to do one of the guided tours here on the native peoples, landscape and wildlife and check out the ice caves and the falls as well.

Miles: 1.2

– Linus

 

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First hike of 2018

History in the area

History in the area

As I sit here writing, the winter cyclone rages outside. Knowing it was coming, and doing what I could to escape the many plumbers and contractors in my house fixing busted pipes and walls from our recent deep freeze, I made my way to a trail yesterday to get some much needed time in the woods. It had been too long.

I have several local park or preserve options with nice trail systems, but I have done them so much and for the first hike in months, and of the year, I wanted to try something new.

I explored a bit on Peakery and AllTrails and found some other slightly farther peaks and trail systems, including one I had already looked up in the past – Seth Low Pierrepont State Park in Ridgefield.

Ready to head UP

Ready to head UP

In my past hikes over the peaks on the Ives Trail in Ridgefield and Danbury, Connecticut, I caught views of many other mountaintops that I was sure had to have some kind of way up because they had to have some kind of view. This was one of them. And i was excited to finally check this park out and see what it had to offer.

Just south of Pine Mountain and the Ives Trail, it has 4-5 trails that skirt a small lake and culminate on the summit of what is either Barlow or Barrow Mountain. I believe Barlow is the summit and Barrow is a smaller nearby prominence you crest on the way up Barlow. Either way, it was a nice hike with surprisingly good views and a few steeps that got the heart pumping!

Ice fangs!

Ice fangs!

The area is also wrought with history. As I approached the park I drove through historic Ridgefield, where the only inland battle in Connecticut of the Revolutionary war occurred. I passed many original homes from the 18th and 19th century, as well as the cemetery where those who fell in the skirmish lie beside the original colonial settlers. Just before the entrance were placards marking where the first of the three skirmishes of the battle of Ridgefield occurred, and where the American General David Wooster (nearby Wooster mountain is named for him) fought and died while taking on British General William Tryon.  We did manage to push back the British in that conflict, and no more battles occurred inland in Connecticut after that because of it. Nearby streets had the names Hessian (the German mercenaries the British employed to fight) and Continental (assuming after the army) in tribute to what went on here.  I am as you may know a huge history buff so I found this all very exciting.

Following the icy ledges

Following the icy ledges

Pierrepont himself lived in these lands in the 20th century, helped to create the lake from a former swamp and deeded his 300+ acres to the town for the park in his will upon his death. He also was fascinated by the local indian lore and relics he discovered on the property, and specifically requested the lake be not named after him but after one of the indian chiefs from the area who signed the original deed to their land to Ridgefield. HIs name was Naraneka.

From the main trailhead at the park entrance, a white trail follows the perimeter of Lake Naraneka for just under a mile. The blazing here needs re-painting, but the footprints in the snowpack helped me follow the trail adequately. I saw a man practicing ice hockey on the frozen lake, and another cross country skiing.

Western view, sun-shaded

Western view, sun-shaded

Many nice houses skirted the edge of the lake, and many more overlooked it from the rocky summit ledges of Seth Low Mountain above.  I hope one day to have a house on or above and near a lake where I can enjoy 4 season recreation right from my front door.  This is a particularly affluent area so the houses were quite nice, but I’d be happy with even a small cabin or house that had all the necessities while still being a retreat to the simpler life. We will see how that all goes!

The white trail then intersects with both blue and yellow trails, which form a loop up and over the main peak. The blue is the steeper of the two trails, and with about an inch of snow on the ground, I opted to go up the steeper slope and go down the gentler one. In hindsight I should have brought my microspikes but I managed this time around. I didn’t realize there’d be snow and ice here still.

Someone built a shelter against an old fallen tree trunk

Someone built a shelter against an old fallen tree trunk

The blue trail climbs fairly steeply up the southern flank of the mountain to a series of ledges on the western side. Here the best views were had, looking west and south over the lake. I met another hiker there and expressed my appreciation for this new discovery not all that far from home, and recommended Pine Mountain for her next hike. The trail then climbed again to the summit and while there was a view north and east, it was more obscured by trees and not as rewarding. I decided to do a slightly longer loop and continued on the white trail which had intersected on the summit with blue and which I’d take back in a bit. After descending the upper slopes of the mountain I took the yellow trail back along its western edge to the white trail which took me back to the base of the lake and the walk along the perimeter.

The final push up to the summit

The final push up to the summit

There were some lovely rock outcroppings throughout the hike, some towering hundreds of feet above, and where I previously followed the trail along their edge. And an old shelter someone had built against a large fallen tree’s exposed trunk.

Only about 30 minutes from home at the most, and filled with history and charm, I will be back in the area with family when we’re looking for a nice day of activities indoor and out. There are many museums and tours of the areas historical sites, as well as great options for food and drink afterwards.

Despite my love for travel and discovering new places each time I go on an adventure, its good to find gems like this that I can re-visit easily.  And it was good to get back out on the trails and start the new year with a great hike.

Miles: 3.3

— Linus

 

Chilly Day Hike on the Mohawk Trail

trail crossing on lake road

trail crossing on lake road

Last weekend my friend Brian and I had planned to do a section hike of the Mohawk Trail (the trail in CT not the road in MA) and camp overnight. We got the permits well in advance to stay at the shelter site near the top of the mountain, and I planned out the mileage and itinerary as per usual. We were going to hike in about 6 miles southbound to where I had left off, the top of the ski trails. Then the plan was to catch the sunset and sweeping mountain views and set up camp. Fires are allowed at the shelters and there are fire rings there, as it is no longer the Appalachian Trail. We knew it would be potentially cold as it was mid-November, so we were looking forward to sitting around a fire talking about our hike that day, and everything else. We were then going to pack up in the morning and head home. So not a lot of mileage but great scenery and I wanted to do this section as I wasn’t sure if camping was an option during the ski resort season.

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

As the weekend neared, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that temperatures would be uncomfortably low. While I’ve done a few of those 25-degree nights, they’re not as enjoyable for me. We had some back-and-forth about if we would stick to the overnight part, and eventually I backed out as I saw temperatures dropping even further in the forecast. Those temperatures are also not the temperatures at the top of a mountain 1,600 ft up with high wind exposure. Mind you, if I were thru-hiking or doing a long section hike, I would endure what I had to endure. But that’s exactly what it is… This was meant to be one last fun overnight before winter as I don’t overnight during the winter. Minus the snow, this would be 4-season camping and it really pushes my gear and body to the limit. To each their own. I get plenty of hard miles in year round, and this was supposed to be more low-key, low-mile thing at inception.

Red Mountain Overlook

Red Mountain Overlook

So we altered the plan to just do the day hike, and check out this and the other two shelters along the 6-mile portion of trail. There are two more in the area, on either side of rt 4 at the feet of Red Mountain and Mohawk mountain. We started near cream lake around 1130 after dropping off the other car on top of the mountain. The trail meandered through leafy, wet pathways, often slippery or soggy. It then crested Overlook mountain which had some views to the north as it had been logged quite recently. Only 1 or so miles in we carried on and followed the trail down the remains of an old logging road to the south side of the mountain. There we picked up a road walk for about 3/4 of a mile that ascended halfway up Red Mountain, our high point of the day. We passed bucolic farmhouses with sweeping mountain vistas before re-entering the woods and climbing steadily through more logged areas near the summit.

Red Mtn shelter

Red Mtn shelter

At the summit is an eastern-facing slope of puddingstone rock similar to Echo rock on Coltsfoot mountain further south on the trail. As this was our halfway point and our high point we stopped here for our snack break and took in the views and got some photos. The lookout is at about 1,655 ft. The trail then descended quickly down the south side of Red Mountain, and at times the trail was a bit precarious because it’s not really traveled as often as it used to be and so the piles of leaves down steep narrow trail sections were resulting in some slow-going.

We saw an old A.T. boundary marker in the middle of the trail which was really neat since its no longer the A.T. but was just 30 years ago.

Cool glacial rock feature

Cool glacial rock feature

At the bottom of the hill we came upon Red Mountain shelter. It had a wooden floor at ground level that was not in great shape but also had a nice overhanging porch. It was a glimpse into the past of older shelter design. There was a large fire ring but it was not recently used and would have taken some time to clear if we were staying there.

Just after the shelter area the trail crosses Route 4. People drive fast on that road and its at the crest of the ridge… so look both ways and go for it!

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Here the trail then enters the state park boundaries of Mohawk mountain and through a picnic and camping area and the next shelter. This shelter was in better condition, though it had a dirt floor. It’s fire ring was recently used and would be again soon as we saw a troop of about 20 boy scouts and their leaders a little farther up the trail. They were headed up to the view on Red mountain and then back here for the night.  Turns out they were from the next town over from where I live.

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

We then passed two backpackers who were out for the weekend doing the whole trail, prepping for a 2018 thru hike of the A.T.  There was a gentle uphill here as we were already most of the way up and It wasn’t long before the trail leveled out and brought us to the shelter we had planned on staying at. It was the largest, and was in very good shape, with a privy, picnic table, and a 1 minute walk to one of the pullovers on the summit road that had sweeping views of the Taconics and the Catskill high peaks.

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

I was for a moment feeling like we should have toughed it out but as soon as we stopped moving we had noticed it had gotten much much colder, the afternoon sun having had long ago peaked.  We did the last 1/2 mile to the car, passing the ski lifts at the top of the ski area and getting some great photos there.  We had a refreshment at the roadside lookout on the way to pickup the other car, and headed home. While the actual summit of Mohawk mountain is higher than Red mountain, the Mohawk trail doesn’t reach that elevation. The ski resort summit is only about 1475 ft. If you want to summit Mohawk and pass the two towers with great views of their own, take the Mattituck trail at the lot by the ski lifts and continue up over the summit.

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

We will be back in the spring to complete the last ten miles of the trail. There is a shelter just about halfway and it will be a good warmup hike for my ridge runner season. Brian has already done the whole Mohawk trail. And while I’m quite sure I did a lot of it as a boy scout myself in the 80s when it was still the A.T., I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing. And reconnected with those memories along the way. That final northernmost section is the most challenging of the whole trail and also one of the most scenic sections.

As an A.T. volunteer and ridge runner, hiking the older routes of the trail I love is a fun walk back through time.

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

For me overnight season is likely over until then, though desperation for a night in the woods got me out once this January. But that bitter cold night was an exercise in patience, not as much enjoyment, hence the decision made for this hike. I will be doing some winter day hikes to get my fix and stay in shape (as well as some skiing and snowboarding), so look for reports on those hikes in the coming months.

Miles day 1: 6

— Linus

Exploring new trails and roads in Massachusetts

Last weekend we finally made it up to our friends lake house in Otis, a town located in southwestern Massachusetts. We had meant to get up there earlier for some summer enjoyment of the lake and some hiking of course. But summer turned to fall and fall has practically turned into winter with these recent temps.

When we were up last weekend the weather was rather nice for November and we had highs in the high 50’s and lows only in the 30s, but by then we were sitting by a fire and having comfort food.

After a slight detour to the middle of Tolland State Forest thanks to a GPS mixup, we arrived for dinner Friday and began making our plans for the next few days. A hike was definitely in the agenda but as we were attending a cider festival in the north the next afternoon, we were looking at hikes in the northern Berkshires. I of course suggested one on the A.T. but the distance was too long for us to do and still get to cider days on time.

We consulted our book, “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires” and my friend found one called Spruce Hill in a state forest named Savoy, just east of North Adams. It was about an hour drive from Otis, and then another hour to Turner’s Falls where the cider festival was, but my friend new the area well so we figured we could make it work.

We drove through many of the towns we’d been hiking through all summer – Washington, Beckett, Lee, Dalton… and found the trailhead kiosk after some exploring around the state forest camping areas.

At first the Busby trail started out as a typical woods walk, occasionally joining an old woods road, and some pretty boggy portions as well from all the recent rain. We crossed a power line once or twice and then the trail started to climb. We saw some old cellar holes and reached the bottom of a ridgeline with some rock steps carved out of the rock wall. We wound along the edge of a ridge, now eager for what seemed would be a great payoff. When we came to the first overlook, looking north and east, we were thrilled. You could see at least 50 miles, and I’m quite sure I saw Monondnock in the distance towering above many of the other hills. Wind turbines dominated the immediate mountaintop landscape, and rolling hills stretched on and on.

But there was supposed to be a great view of Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and there was none here. I left my pack and continued up the ridge. A short while later I came upon the grand view. A rocky ledge provided its own 270 degree view, from the hills south in Dalton, as far as Monument Mountain and Mts Race and Everett in the far southwest of the state, and directly west sat Greylock, across the Pioneer valley with Cheshire, Adams and North Adams below. You could see the Green Mountains of Vermont beyond and Mass MOCA in the valley below. I was excited to get such a great view of this stretch because we will be doing this section next year and completing Massachusetts on the A.T. and it was all laid out before us.

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

Linus on Spruce Hill pointing to Greylock

We were all amazed at the view and took some great photos and panoramic videos before heading back and driving down to the cider festival. That drive was stunning as well, as we took Route 2 — the famous Mohawk Trail — to get there. This road meanders through valleys and over passes through Mohawk State forest and follows the Deerfield River past orchards, campgrounds, ski hills, and native American shops and waterfalls before we turned off in Turner’s Falls just east of Greenfield.

I had been through Greenfield and about 5 miles of Rt 2 for decades on our way to ski in southern Vermont, but never knew this beauty rested just minutes farther on either side of 91. The town of Turners Falls itself is a national historic landmark and is one of the few places on what was then almost the Canadian border that Native Americans and Colonists lived together peacefully. It had a dramatic waterfall with the spray reaching 50 feet high, and many quaint old buildings. The cider festival was in a large tent on the lawn by the river with a view of the top of the falls.  After a quick lunch at a local diner, we headed to the festival and tried many different kinds of cider, some I didn’t even know existed.

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

Monument Mtn, Race and Everett far beyond

We went back satisfied and had dinner and a fire and tried to watch a movie but passed out halfway through!

In the morning Sunday we wanted to do one more short hike and we opted for Bartholomew’s Cobble. It’s one I’ve always known about but never visited because the A.T. was right next door and so I always opted for the more challenging hikes. Well I’m glad they took us.

Only about 1,000 feet high, and resting on the CT-MA border, all the trails lead to a large mowed mountaintop similar to the balds in the southern Appalachians.  (It seems the landmass’s true summit is called Mt Miles and is on the CT side.) There are some trails that weave along ledges and the Housatonic river on their way up or around the premises but for this hike we just walked the tractor path to the top. My friend told us not to turn around until we reached the top because the view would be behind us.

It was a good constant elevation gain so we definitely were getting some cardio even if the road was an easy route. When we reached the tree line which was right on the state line we turned around, and wow.

East Mountain from Bartholomew's Cobble

East Mountain from Bartholomew’s Cobble

Wide views of Mts Race and Everett and the Taconics to the west, the plains of Sheffield and Great Barrington in the middle, and East Mountain and the hills of Tyringham beyond to the east. It was breathtaking. How did I ignore this hike for so long? We took a lot of photos and I plan to bring family back here on summer or winter adventures in the area. The rangers’ station also has a small museum with local fauna including a small Ornithological exhibit highlighting the local birds. I really enjoyed that as I’m a fan of birds, have some Audubon art on my walls, and am reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt and his peers and how they created the first natural history museums in New York and Washington with their own collections.

We had a great BBQ lunch at Bash Bish brewery (the falls are another spot I’ve yet to visit can you believe it?) in Sheffield and headed back to Otis to pick up our things and head home. We had a great time and not only were the hikes amazing and the drive along Rt 2, but I got to see a lot of new towns and parts of the state as well via all the back roads we took. It really was a tour of Western Massachusetts at its peak foliage.

Both hikes were short but had a big payoff and the highest elevation gain of the two was only 680 feet so moderate at best.

The Taconics from Bartholomew's Cobble

The Taconics from Bartholomew’s Cobble

I hope to move up to these hills one day and maybe even have a lake house of our own, so this trip certainly strengthened that desire.

Hike day 1: 3 miles

Hike day 2: 1.5 miles

— Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #6

Well it turns out they needed me for one more weekend and I was more than happy to go, with the great October weather. Well, I’m ALWAYS happy to go. The weather was in the 60s-70s all weekend, even if a little overcast. Lows were predicted in the mid-50s which is balmy for October, and I was thrilled to have my friend Brian along for the overnight to share hiking and camping stories until hiker midnight. The scouts were out in force, and we also had our annual CT AMC chapter Appalachian Trail day and picnic, so I got to spend a few hours with all of my favorite trail people, and make some new friends. Miles were low but morale and hiker numbers were high so I spent a lot of time interacting with hikers, scout troops and our great volunteers out doing their work parties on waterbars, invasive removal, and general cleanup. The foliage was really turning, so while I had to be a little more careful on the leaf-covered trail, the scenery was gorgeous.

I hope to get out one more time in November for an overnight with friends if the weather holds up.  The plan is the Mohawk trail. I just have to remember to fill out their backcountry camping permits!

Photos below.

Miles day 1: 6.6

Miles day 2: 5.1

  • Linus
    Frog hunting flies on Schaghticoke mtn

    Frog hunting flies on Schaghticoke mtn

    Autumn Sassafrass

    Autumn Sassafrass

    Linus and Brian on Scaghticoke Mtn

    Linus and Brian on Scaghticoke Mtn

    New blowdown art

    New blowdown art

    A fine cup of morning Joe

    A fine cup of morning Joe

    Home for the night

    Home for the night

    Selfie with the new hiker sculpture in Kent, CT

    Selfie with the new hiker sculpture in Kent, CT

    Ned Anderson Bridge, Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers confluence

    Ned Anderson Bridge, Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers confluence

    Nice new waterbar

    Nice new waterbar

    Wingdale, NY from Ten Mile Hill

    Wingdale, NY from Ten Mile Hill

    Ned Anderson Bridge and the Housatonic River

    Ned Anderson Bridge and the Housatonic River

    Foliage on display

    Foliage on display

Appalachian Trail: MA Section 4

Heading Nobo again

Heading Nobo again

Today we finished the rest of section 4 and started the first mile of section 3 in Massachusetts. This was mostly for logistical reasons in both cases. Distances to and from overnight campsites or long term parking lots usually dictate where we start and end. Sometimes those are a little different than where the sections actually begin and end. We did the last few sections southbound for logistical reasons but finally are heading north again.

We did this one as a day hike so we could have a luxury day in nearby Lenox for Fielden’s birthday Saturday. We enjoyed visiting the local outfitter so she could try on some new packs, and they were great and also referred us to their friends’ tapas place in town for dinner. Which was also amazing. A great town.

Heading up Warner Hill

Heading up Warner Hill

I tried to get us a nice B&B for the night but as it was a holiday weekend, in the Berkshires, during prime leaf season (normally), all we could manage was a motor lodge. It was nice and clean though and it just allowed us more money to spend on dinner.

It was unseasonably warm and in hindsight we could have tented and done an overnight. Though it was pouring when we woke up and we had a really great day previous so we were not complaining!

Marilyn ‘the cookie lady’ shuttled us again from the lot just west of Dalton up to where we left off on Blotz road, just north of October Mountain State Forest.

Near whiteout on Warner Hill

Near whiteout on Warner Hill

The rain continued for about the first hour and a half of our hike, and sadly the view of Greylock from Warner Hill was fogged out. But it did keep things cooler and when we reached the powerline halfway through our hike, we had a good view of Pittsfield to the west as the skies cleared. We met lots of day hikers, and one hiker in Dalton as we neared the end who had only 10 miles to go until he finished his entire Appalachian Trail hike through many years of sectioning. We seem to have met a lot of those this season.

Pittsfield to the west

Pittsfield to the west

We passed Tom Levardi the trail angel’s house as we entered town from the woods but didn’t stop to see if he was home as menacing storm clouds loomed ahead. We had also planned to stop at Sweet Pea’s for ice cream but they were closed.

All in all it was a great, mostly easy section and good for us because it had been a few weeks since we hiked last and we could knock out more miles with the easier terrain.

Fielden Stream on Day Mtn

Fielden Stream on Day Mtn

Unless it’s unseasonably warm in mid-November, we won’t be back up here until spring 2018. We have 26 miles left of Massachusetts, and in order to complete it, really a 30 mile trek as the first road crossing in Vermont is 3.5 miles in. We will likely do Dalton to Cheshire as a short overnight warmup in the spring and then come back to tackle Greylock and walk into Vermont sometime during the summer when the days are long.

This weekend is out CT AMC chapter’s Appalachian Trail day and BBQ, so I will be doing that and bringing a friend along for her first hike on the trail.

Trail angel Tom Levardi's house

Trail angel Tom Levardi’s house

This hike I did last year is led by our trails chair and follows the old route from Macedonia Brook State Park to Caleb’s Peak where the current trail goes through. Then my friend Brian and I are planning to do an overnight on the Mohawk Trail (also the old A.T.) and I’ll knock out another 8 or so miles of that trail so I can finish it too soon.

The leaves are just starting to really change in the Berkshires as weather has been odd, but I’m hoping it will be more dramatic this weekend in Connecticut now that it’s cooling off and raining a lot again.

Miles: 7.9

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 6: Delaware Water Gap

And we're off!

And we’re off!

Last weekend we brought our friends out on their first backpacking trip, and first trek on the Appalachian Trail. As they live in Central Pennsylvania and we live in Connecticut, we decided to choose a section right in between.  We were preparing to start New Jersey either this season or next, as we are closing in on the end of Massachusetts. So it seemed a no-brainer to start New Jersey, but from the south, at Delaware Water Gap.

A great idea

A great idea

The area is incredibly scenic, and has 100 miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail. The A.T. section provides some of the best views in the park as it follows the ridgelines of the New Jersey highlands. You are treated to views of the Delaware river and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to the west, and New Jersey to the East. It turned out to be even more beautiful than expected, and a great first outing for our friends.

We started in the Dunnfield Creek natural area, less than 1 mile east of the Pennsylvania border in the DWG National Recreational Area. The Appalachian Trail passes through here after it crosses the I-80 bridge over the river.

Placing stones

Placing stones

The state line is painted on the bridge and many a hiker have a photo there. We contemplated starting on the PA side for this very reason, but ultimately decided that starting right into the woods would be more the experience we were looking for after 2 hrs driving the interstates and just plain needing a nature fix. Shortly after we headed into the woods the red dot trail branches off the A.T. and ascends mount Tammany, the dramatic mountaintop on the east side of the gap. We will come back for that hike on another occasion when an A.T. section isn’t the goal. They had these great carry out bags for trash, which I think we need to employ on our section  and will be recommending to my committee in Connecticut.

Hawk posing at sunset

Hawk posing at sunset

We ascended gently up an old carriage road, passing the creek and then many side trails as we headed to Backpacker’s Campsite. There used to also be a campsite on the junction of the Holly Springs trail, as there is a spring there. Not sure if it was for reasons other than the view that that campsite is no longer and the current one is a mile farther up on the mountaintop with epic views. But either way, Backpacker’s campsite 2 has great views as it rests right along the mountaintop’s western ridge.  Just bring water up for the night. I researched it in advance per usual so we hiked up with lots of water. I knew there would be a bunch of cairns at Sunfish pond but was surprised to find a bunch in the woods just off the Holly springs trail. We had fun adding a rock or two here and taking photos.

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Sunset was dramatic to say the least, and we also saw a hawk land on top of an old leafless treetop at dusk, which made for a great photo. The caretaker told us that all the bare trees here is because there was a fire from an illegal campsite and it burned much of the north side of the ridge. I’ll just leave that there. It made me felt better about why I enforce the rules I do in our part of the trail. There are actually many legal dispersed campsites for thru hikers along the trail here, so I don’t feel it’s out of utter necessity that these problematic stealth sites pop up in most cases. A lot of times, folks see a nice view and decide that they will break all the rules and make camp there, and a fire, and its always been in these instances that devastating results happen.

The Delaware from above

The Delaware from above

We had a nice chat with the caretaker and a thru hiker staying there, and then set up our camp. I helped my friends with their tent and using the stove and the bear box. We took in the sunset view over dinner and had fun talking until bed time. Entertainment included chasing away a black snake slithering around our tents. I believe we must have set up near his home…

In the morning, we were in the clouds we saw hanging over the next ridge the previous night. Any raindrops seemed to fall just on our tent, as they always seem to find it. We had some coffee and packed up and hit the trail, headed for the AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center.

Summit of Kittattiny

Summit of Kittattiny

This day’s hike provided view after view from the ridgelines as mentioned above. They really didn’t stop until we headed down into the gap to Mohican camp road. On top of one ridgeline you got a 270 degree view and a large cairn marked it’s summit. A hawk watching group was stationed there with various telescopes and cameras and a fake owl on a branch to bait the hawks who apparently like to swoop down and taunt their bird of prey rivals. We took some great photos up there and headed down to the road and to the MOC.

AMC Mohican Center

AMC Mohican Center

It’s about a half mile road walk from the trail crossing up to the main lodge. We checked in with the super friendly staff and got the keys to our private cabin, which it turns out is another half mile up the camp road. It was a great cabin with a dividing door but also the option to open it up to a suite until bedtime and for privacy. We had electricity, a fridge, a heater and fan, and a microwave. The rec center next door had full bathrooms with showers and a large room which was formerly a dining hall when this was a Boy Scout camp, filled with AMC pamphlets and miscellaneous educational collections of flora and fauna. The AMC has year round outings and camp type experiences for people of all ages and I imagine this space and these collections are part of that.

Our cabin at MOC

Our cabin at MOC

They had skywatching programs and astronomy lectures on this particular weekend, though we did not end up participating because we were sitting around the large fire ring between the cabin and the lodge with a bunch of the other hikers and families we met at dinner. Dinner was a homemade family style affair, which was quite filling and tasty. Afterwards we got a ride into town to pick up a few groceries and beverages. We got to bed late but it was worth sitting around the fire with new friends and the milky way above. Next time we go back we will take out a canoe or kayak. Catfish pond was very inviting.  With the 3 walks to and from the cabin I’m sure we clocked another 3 miles that day!

Ready for day 3

Ready for day 3

The next morning we had a breakfast of eggs, bacon, french toast, home fries and various breads. And of course, lots of coffee! We picked up some nice items at their shop and hit the trail a bit earlier on day 3 as we had to be back at our cars by lunchtime.  Again we woke in the fog, but today it didn’t break until we were off trail. We climbed back out of the gap and along the ridges; some quite close to the edge and with a significant drop. With the clouds all around it was almost a bit spooky, but eased any real vertigo because you couldn’t see how far the drop was.

Was probably a great view!

Was probably a great view!

We did throw a rock off one though to see how long it took until we heard it land! Far enough… In a few short miles we reached the Catfish fire tower, but it was closed. Still we enjoyed a snack at the picnic table before our final walk out to the road where we parked on the first day. They occasionally have someone there who will bring you up for the views, but as it was a whiteout still, I imagine they waited until later in the day so there was an actual view.

Autumn Sassafras

Autumn Sassafras

Still, we had lots of views the previous days so it was no big disappointment. I look forward to going back to Mohican as well as exploring some of the other AMC lodges in New York, New Hampshire and Maine for family trips. The only downside was there was no signal at all at the cabin so we had to walk the half mile to get wifi. They also had a phone in the main lodge for emergencies.

Our friends also got their trail names: Skippy (for his skipping stones at Sunfish Pond) and Bird Bitch (because she’s really into birds and birdwatching).

It should be added that before and after the hike, we enjoyed spending time in nearby Blairstown, NJ — both on its quaint historic main street and a modern brewery after the hike.

Catfish fire tower

Catfish fire tower

It was a huge success and we are excited to continue the march north through New Jersey together staring in the spring. Now that we know they’re naturals at it, we will do longer miles next time. They were on the short side for this first trip. But not lacking in fun and adventure one bit.

Miles day 1: 3.5

Miles day 2: 5.8 (+3 miles in camp)

Miles day 3: 3.7

– Linus