Appalachian Trail – NY section 4

IMG_8134_2Last weekend we headed back to the Appalachian Trail just west of Pawling, New York to do section number 4 for Jiffy Pop’s first backpacking trip. JIffy Pop, in case this is your first read of our blog, is my son’s trail name. He has taken an affinity to the stuff, and makes it on every camping trip. On this first backpacking trip he had it attached to his pack on the hike up to our campsite. He did great on this adventure! He truly enjoyed the experience and told us multiple times that he was having fun, it was awesome, even addicting. Even in Sunday morning’s downpour (which you will hear about below), he was eager to get packed up and hiking as soon as we could. Not because he was wet, but because he liked backpacking.

Of course, there were some times when he, and we, were feeling tired and low energy but he got through those moments like we all do, and we pushed each other when necessary. I do think we need to take his pack in with him to the store to check the settings because it rode a bit high on him whereas his chest strap was up near his neck, even with shoulder straps and load lifters adjusted as much as possible. They probably just need to adjust the frame setting. As the backpack was a gift, we didn’t do that at the store at purchase.

Jiffy Pop and Fielden Stream

Jiffy Pop and Fielden Stream

We set off later than usual in the afternoon on day 1, as it was hot and we only needed to cover 3.6 miles, albeit all of it uphill. We knew we could make it to the shelter campsite by evening and it worked out that way. I of course also insisted we also cover the last .2 miles that we didn’t finish on the actual Appalachian Trail when doing the previous section. This is because the parking lot near the end of that section is on down a blue-blazed side trail a bit before that section actually ends. And I don’t like missing white blazes.So everyone agreed. However, this short little addition went through a powerline clearing and then up a rocky hill just about right away, so everyone was of course thrilled with me in no time at all.

Also, for the first time we ran into the issue of there not being a parking space at a trail parking lot. This is something I have always worried about on the drive up to a hike; it gives me a lot of anxiety. It finally happened. This is why I like getting shuttles. Besides the gas savings, a shuttle can be arranged beforehand to logistically simplify your trip. They take you to the beginning of your hike from the end point before you hit the trail, or pick you up at the end at an arranged time and drive you back to your car at the starting point. Many locals who are past hikers or friendly to hikers provide this service for just the cost of gas. It’s their way of giving back to the trial, and meeting the current season’s hikers. Another form of trail magic!

Linus and Jiffy Pop

Linus and Jiffy Pop

These are often listed in the trail guide booklets or on the popular web forums like Whiteblaze. Or, you can take a cab in certain towns that are also familiar with hikers. I knew the Pawling Taxi was, and they picked us UP here that time we did the previous section, but this one begins on the edge of town and I just wasn’t able to ensure they’d take us another 10 miles out of town to the other end. So we planned on two cars and dropped the first car off at the end before arriving at this lot to drop off the second, only to find no parking. The lot at route 55 was packed with cars of day hikers doing the Nuclear Lake loop. The fishing shop across the street was very nice and let us park there, but then just as we were parked there and getting ready to hit the trail, two groups of hikers came back to their cars in the hiker lot so I moved our car back over there.

Jiffy Pop's first Mountain House meal

Jiffy Pop’s first Mountain House meal

I’ve gone on day hikes with groups at popular areas and know that on a nice day a small lot is no match for large groups even when they make the effort to carpool. Unfortunately just like with shelters its first-come, first-served. There’s no special privilege for backpackers over day hikers in the lot, or thru hikers vs section hikers in the trail shelters. That one’s not a problem for us because we tent. Their generosity at the shop was very much appreciated but I felt it was better to park where I was supposed to. So that cost us a few extra minutes before we started our hike.

Then it was a steady, long climb up Depot Hill to the Morgan Stewart Memorial Shelter. There were no real views on this part of the walk but it is a very nice shelter, built by the maintainer of the RPH shelter and other members of the Ralph’s Peak Hiker Cabin volunteer group. The story of its construction, and who Morgan Stewart was can be found here.

Jiffy Pop with Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop with Jiffy Pop

We scoped out a few tent site options and set up, and then went down to the shelter to meet the first of the thru-hikers who had already arrived, Micro and Bigfoot. The shelter has two main fire pits, one of which is a wonderfully large, concrete-lined affair where a large group could sit around the fire. There’s also a privy at the campsite and a picnic table, as well as a water pump about 450 ft downhill.

We got a fire going and Jiffy Pop made some Jiffy Pop and shared it with Bigfoot and Micro.  He was also eager to have his first Mountain House dehydrated meal, so we then got our stove going and made our pseudo-gourmet lasagna and spaghetti meals with just a little boiled water! We also brought along some marshmallows, and he shared those with the thru-hikers as well, who were very happy for that treat.  Several more had arrived now for the night and we shared stories with them before tucking in. The site is at about 1,285 ft and had great howling winds up sides of the ridge during the night. Still no owls, though.

Hazy view from Mt Egbert

Hazy view from Mt Egbert

We knew there was potential for rain, but as you know from reading this blog I’ve let too many bunk forecasts shorten or cancel a hike. Well this time they were right and it rained heavily from about 6:30 to 830am. Not a big deal, usually. We got some more sleep and waited it out as we always do. But when it stopped and we had gotten out and dressed and had just finished boiling water for our coffee and hot cocoa, it dumped on us again. We scrambled to get our rain gear on, and then huddled under the edge of the roof of the shelter and chatted with the thru-hikers a bit while having our hot drinks until it mostly stopped raining. We ditched the plans to make the breakfast skillet Mountain House meal, and decided on granola bars — much to Jiffy Pop’s disappointment.  I went down to filter enough water to get us to the other end of the section, while Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop packed the tent. A big puddle had formed around it, and everything was covered in mud. We packed it away the best we could and got on the trail after signing the register in the shelter. Jiffy Pop wrote his first entry. That was a special moment for both of us.

Jiffy Pop and Fielden Stream

Jiffy Pop and Fielden Stream

Not long after we departed, it stopped raining for good and we got some limited but decent views from the top of Mt. Egbert, even as far as the peaks of the Catskills in the hazy distance. Many blueberry bushes lined the rocky crags at the summit, but they were still very small and not all that tasty. It was about a mile of these rocky knolls and scrambles along the summit ridge to start the day until we descended gradually and leveled out to mostly flat paths. After a big descent, we crossed over Interstate 84 and did a little road walk until we headed back into the woods, and up, for one last time. Nearby in the bushes along the trail and road edge was an arrow, like the ones I used to use in summer camp as a teenager in archery. It was exciting to pick it up for a minute and reminisce, and then wonder what it was doing there. I hope no one was aiming at hikers!

Jiffy Pop on the I-84 overlook

Jiffy Pop on the I-84 overlook

Just before the end of this section we were treated to raspberry bushes everywhere along a bucolic meadow scene. There was also a massive maple tree the size of the Dover Oak alongside the trail edge, but we were too tired and hungry for a photo. There were also many beautiful wildflowers like Meadow Rue and Queen Anne’s lace, as well as a beautiful butterfly I tried to photograph but only caught mid-air.

We were definitely in what’s known as  ‘the bubble.’ This refers to the point where the majority of thru-hikers headed from Georgia to Maine are coming through Connecticut and New York. We passed 3-4 thru-hikers an hour, and had a nice chat with a few of them, sharing information on water resources and trail conditions.

Meadow view

Meadow view

This exchange of valuable information is one of my favorite parts of trail culture. People are truly looking out for one another. As we are doing New York southbound, all the Nobo thru’s were eager to hear about conditions ahead, as were we as we headed where they had just come from. And I was glad that Jiffy Pop did get to meet them all and experience that as we had hoped. A tougher section than we anticipated, but a great first outing for Jiffy Pop. He wants to do it again.

This weekend we are off to Virginia and West Virginia for a wedding, and some more hikes in Harper’s Ferry, Skyline drive/Shenandoah National Park and New River Gorge on the way . Can’t wait.

— Linus

Advertisements

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 6

Birdhouses at RPH

Birdhouses at RPH

So we ended up switching the hike this weekend with Jiffy Pop and our hike over Shenandoah Mountain which we had scheduled for next weekend. His aunt was celebrating her 40th birthday so his presence was requested and we were able to fit in the next section by heading up to Fahnstock right after work Friday to drop off the second car and then over to RPH cabin for the night. We ended up at the cabin in late June after finishing section 5 and wandering a bit into section 6 to check it out. You can read that entry here. That day we enjoyed a little trail magic beer before heading home, and were looking forward to coming back here for a night soon and returning the trail magic.

Our new BA Rattlesnake SL3

Our new BA Rattlesnake SL3

As its right next to the road there were several benefits. First, we were able to walk in an 18-pack of beer to share with the thru-hikers we would surely meet that night and did. Also, as our hike all took place the next day, we were able to leave any gear we didn’t want to carry 7+ miles to the other end in the car here.

RPH cabin

RPH cabin

We got a good deal of rain friday night and a quick downpour Saturday morning before we could put away the tent. The rain waits for us, no doubt. Luckily this rain came when were over having coffee under the roof of the cabin. But this left a very wet tent.  So we were able to put the wet tent, our sleeping gear, and a few other unneeded items in the car to deal with later and lighten our load.

We did bring an emergency tarp, the tent stakes, and some paracord for an emergency shelter as well as the cook kit in case we needed a hot meal later in the day. Always be prepared! You never know when you will get lost, stuck or injured and having the ten essentials is always important. One hot drink, minimal protection from the elements, and some food could mean the difference between life and death.

Baby blueberries

Baby blueberries

Another benefit of it being right by the road is its one of the few on the trail where you can get a pizza or Chinese food delivered. We were perfectly prepared to eat our mountain house, but all the arriving thru-hikers were excited to order take out, and we wanted to also enjoy this unique experience on the trail with them. One pair of hikers had already ordered their pizza from a half mile up the trail so it was there when they arrived. Good thinking!  We all chipped in for one extra combo meal too so any other hungry thrus could have some. We did end up giving that to a later-arriving hiker and everyone appreciated the beer. The field behind the shelter had plenty of room for everyone to tent and several hikers stayed in the bunks so they didn’t have to pack up wet tents…

Shenandoah Mtn

Shenandoah Mtn

We enjoyed the usual stories with the different groups of hikers as they all started filing in for the night. Trail names I recall are Hot Wheels, Taco, Five,  and Ahab. But overall about ten of them stayed there that night with us. It was neat how they all knew who would be arriving at the shelter for the night because they’d been hiking on generally the same schedule so they knew each other or had at least seen each other many times.

Name that flower

Name that flower

I got to see a couple of the latest popular tents in action that I’d read about, and still feel good about our recent large tent purchase. One thru told us his ultralight tent was not very good in the type of weather you experience on the A.T. I can appreciate the weight benefits of a non-freestanding tent that uses trekking sticks for poles, but at the end of the day I will gladly carry the small amount of extra weight for the conveniences that come with it. This was my first night in the new tent as the girls used it on the family camping trip. And on my new sleeping pad I bought about a week ago.

9-11 Memorial, Shenandoah Mtn

9-11 Memorial, Shenandoah Mtn

I was comfy and dry! I didn’t even need my liner as it was plenty warm enough just in my new Snugpak jungle bag.  It will be a little tight even in this larger tent with Jiffy Pop next weekend but we will fit I’m sure. I’ll report back after that trip in about a week.  The materials on this tent are definitely lighter and more delicate than on the Passage 2, but that’s how they cut down weight.

The maintainer Tim was also hanging out at the cabin for a few hours with us. He is a former thru-hiker from the 80’s who has done a great job with the place and clearly enjoys talking with those currently doing their long journeys. They had just had a large annual trail work party there the previous weekend with over 100 volunteers, so we noticed a bunch of new boards on the walkways and some other landscape improvements nearby on the trail. It was nice to be able to see the before and after. Trail maintenance is often under-appreciated. It also seemed perfectly timed that we were staying there as there was an issue of Field & Stream and a Laura Lippman paperback on the desk!

Shenandoah Mtn meadow

Shenandoah Mtn meadow

The rain ended up burning off a bit later when were heading off of the summit Shenandoah mountain, so the views up there were still fairly socked in for most of our photos. It was a long sustained climb up there from RPH, as it was about a 900 ft difference in elevation over 3 miles. And there were one or two steep spots, but no real scrambles. We found a lot of blueberries and blackberries growing on a shoulder of the mountain and snacked on those that were ripe. The coming weeks should be delicious!

Canopus Lake, Fahnstock S.P

Canopus Lake, Fahnstock S.P

Then we crossed through a powerline clearing, but it was filled with numerous beautiful wildflowers from Black-eyed Susans to Queen Anne’s lace and many in between. For a powerline, it was actually quite nice. These powerlines were also seen from the summit of Shenandoah, where it wasn’t quite as lovely a feature in an otherwise rolling landscape of mountains. Coming off the summit after a nice snack, we headed through a lightly forested meadow and the sun started to poke through.  It became clear and hot by the time we got to the Canopus Lake overview in Fahnstock state park.

Cooling off at the lake

Cooling off at the lake

This view looks down at the beach and across the length of the lake and more of the park beyond. There was a hawk soaring overhead as if to show off to us, and the following route along the northern side of the lake to our car included a lot more steep climbs than expected. We were completely beat and overheated by the time we got to the car, though the last portion by the road was a spectacle of more incredible trail work by that section’s maintainers. Many stone staircases with elaborate stonework had been done here recently and it was a bright spot in the home stretch as we ached.

We then drove to the park entrance and went for a refreshing swim in the lake and had an ice cream before heading back. The tent and rainfly are currently airing out and drying — not making that mistake twice! We are really looking forward to taking Jiffy Pop on his first overnighter on the trail next weekend. I hope the weather cooperates for his sake, so we can make a fire and he can have a positive and inspiring first experience. I definitely hope he meets a few thru-hikers, who I think will feel its just as awesome to meet him out here.

Don't forget to dry it!

Don’t forget to dry it!

One thing I find interesting is I haven’t heard any owls on the trail yet at all this year. Last year the Barred Owls were hootin’ away every night. All I’ve heard so far are some owls at my condo, but not Barred Owls. Still trying to ID them by their hoot. But I’m thinking most of those sections we heard them on last year were in late July through September. So maybe its just that they’re not around yet. Is it a migratory pattern and they will be back in the next few months? Any owl experts?

— Linus

 

 

Pine Knob Loop Family Hike and Camping

Jiffy pop! (the original)

Jiffy pop! (the original)

For the fourth of July my younger brother and his 2 boys flew in from California and my older brother joined us as well. We had a great hike and 2 days of car-camping by the Housatonic River at a favorite campground, Housatonic Meadows S.P.   My daughter also came along which made her dad very happy! We’ve been there a few times now and knowing the layout we picked two great sites right by the water. The forecast (except for the first hour or so) was looking great all along, so with a good deal of planning logistics, meals, and a stop or two at REI to pick up some last minute needs we were ready (this was our first outing with such a large group).

Crossing Hatch Brook

Crossing Hatch Brook

Speaking of planning… while airing out and checking the tents for all parts, I discovered my one-man tent I intended my older brother to use had suffered some pretty serious mildew buildup on the rainfly over the winter (fortunately the tent and footprint were not affected as they are made of different materials). This happened because like an idiot I didn’t properly dry it out before packing it up after a rainy solo overnight last October. Lesson learned.

Hatch Brook Cascade

Hatch Brook Cascade

So, like any good gear-addict, I used the opportunity to upgrade to a new Big Agnes 3-person Mountain-glo Rattlesnake tent and let him use our trusty REI Passage 2 which was roomier anyway! We both benefitted from this mistake I guess! And, the good folks at Easton Outfitters were very generous when I told them about my amateur mistake and asked if I could buy just the fly, and are sending me a free one they had on hand for just the cost of shipping. That right there is great customer service!

We are taking my son “Jiffy Pop” backpacking for the first time next weekend, and the idea of two tents, and someone having to sleep alone didn’t appeal much either so the three-person ultralight tent was a good buy for this reason as well. And REI was having a July 4th sale, so I got that $400 tent for $278! It has built-in lights so we don’t need to bring our lamp, and it weighs less than our Passage 2.

Baconator, Linus, and Caboose

Baconator, Linus, and Caboose

I am fine with making a wise investment like that with so many reasons to have, and knowing that I bought a more budget-friendly tent to start out with 2 years ago to make sure this was a hobby that would stick. It will mean more room and hence more comfortable trips for my wife and i going forward, and a spare tent for when friends or family who don’t own one want to join us on the trail.

Despite arriving at the campground in a bit of a steady rain, it stopped once ponchos were donned to set up the tents. From then on out it was beautiful weather. We had some great meals made over the fire, ghost stories, an exciting incident at the next campsite between the park rangers and some campers lighting off illegal fireworks, and met a thru-hiker (trail name “Airborne”)  who’s a 65-year-old Vietnam vet. Despite having a laundry list of ailments, none have stopped him from making the 2,100+ mile trek.

View from Pine Knob

View from Pine Knob

I have utter admiration for this man and we treated him to a steak and potato dinner and fresh cobbler made by my wife and daughter who opted for the you-pick-it farm instead of the hike Sunday. He showed us some photos from his hike so far and we shared our A.T. stories. I gave him the rest of our water too when we left Monday morning and wished him well on his adventure.  I’m not gonna lie, I was jealous too. He started Feb 27. We had wanted to return trail magic for quite some time and I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

We had a great hike on Pine Knob Loop on Sunday. Pine Knob loop is a 3-mile blue-blazed trail managed by the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association and shares just under a mile with the A.T.  It starts with a beautiful 800ft climb along Hatch Brook then heads north on the A.T. to one of the better views on the CT section before parting with the white blazes for Pine Knob Itself, which has equally breathtaking views. Though this is my second time on this loop, I forgot that it is quite steep at the top and as you descend.

Coming down Pine Knob

Coming down Pine Knob

We had a nice snack at the first viewpoint, and took a pause at the second as well.  You can also see the campsite from up there which was fun for the kids to try and spot. While there were steep spots on this hike, even the smallest of the children had no problem with it and loved it. I gave them all their first trail names: Baconator (breakfast at the campsite earned my brother this one), Bino-saur, Mr. shroom, and Caboose. I also gave them a water filtering demo in the brook with my sawyer mini.

Hiker tired!

Hiker tired!

Half of us had to go home after dinner Sunday but I took a vacation day so I could stay one more night with my son, my younger brother and his sons for one more night of campfires and the sounds of the rushing river as we dozed off in the tent. On the way home Monday we drove over the historic covered Bull’s Bridge where George Washington himself crossed and lost a horse on one journey. We also spotted the A.T. crossing at the base of Schaghticoke Mtn as we turned around to finish our journey home. All in all the weekend was a great success! I think I put the hiking bug in a few of them.

— Linus