Last weekend our next planned New York section-hike turned out differently than planned. Fielden Stream’s knee swelled up again and we weren’t able to get her up and going quite as easy this time! Crushed about not being able to hike together, but understanding that it’s not a good idea to stress a recent injury if we want to be able to keep hiking together in the future, we decided it would be ok for me to go on what seems to be my annual solo overnight trip.
As you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog, I recently received a replacement rainfly for my solo tent for only the cost of shipping from the manufacturer Easton products. This is because I had packed it away wet in a classic amateur mistake after my first solo trip last October, and it was covered in mildew when I pulled it out for my brother to use earlier on our July 4 weekend trip. They were awesome when I told them what I had done and promptly replaced it for only the cost of shipping. So my solo tent was back in action! Luckily the tent itself did not have any mildew.
I changed the itinerary to facilitate a loop-hike with a single vehicle, yet still one in the same region and with great views. I also still wanted us to do those full A.T. sections together later. And it was an opportunity to challenge myself a bit more than usual since I was on my own. For instance, I’ve been working on my fear of ledges and ridge walks with steep drop-offs. I know there will be a lot of these in my future if I want to complete the whole A.T one day, and so I wanna get through this phobia. Nothing wrong with a little self-preservation especially when you’re a husband and a father, but sometimes it borders on just plain silly the things I will avoid.
For location, I chose to head down the trail a bit to include one of the most beautiful views (if you like a view with a city skyline in the distance, that is) in the area, West Mountain shelter in Harriman State Park. This is a popular one, perched on the ledge almost 1,300 ft up and overlooking the Hudson river, all the way to NYC which is visible on clear days about 40 miles south. It’s about .6 off the A.T. but many thru hikers make the extra trek as its not hard, and its worth it. I had a photo of it on my desktop background for about half a year, planning to make it there by the end of the season on one of our section hikes. Now, although alone this time, I was going to. That was a silver lining, to be sure.
Harriman is the second largest state park in New York, with over 225 miles of trails, including 18 of the A.T. West Mountain is the next peak southwest of Bear Mountain on the trail. Together, the two are part of the Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks.
Narrowly surviving my drive up the Palisades Parkway to the trail head at Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, I arrived around noon to get on the trail. Notice: the drivers on this road don’t seem to be the considerate or patient type. The fact that the A.T in fact crosses this very road TWICE (north and south lanes) with no sort of bridge whatsoever is terrifying. There’s no stop light, nor much of a warning as a driver as you approach the crossing other than your typical hiker sign.
Please be extremely careful when on trail and having to cross it. I pondered adding a walk up Black Mountain before departing on day 2 of this hike, but the very thought of crossing that road in both directions to get there and back left a lot to be desired. It’s a miracle no one has been killed doing so. Or have they? They should probably put a pedestrian bridge across it, or use the Anthony Wayne rec area overpass as part of the route and re-route it slightly north to do so. The bookstore is in the highway median just north of the trail, which may be why they do it this way, but I nearly got killed in my CAR just trying to make a left into there to get a park map and a Gatorade.
Anyway, it was a beautiful day and I made it in one piece. The parking lots for the recreation area are MASSIVE. In its peak season I imagine these to be fairly loaded though the southern lot where I parked has less recreation areas and seems to be more of an overflow lot with overnight and day hikers using the area by the trailhead most. As it was only mid-August I found it a bit odd that it was off-season already and all the facilities were closed. Who knows — maybe it was just closed for this weekend. You can catch the Timp-Torne trail and A.T which share the same path for about a mile and a half farther north at the upper lot, but this was not part of my planned route and I will do that later coming through on the A.T. section.
I had mapped this route out extensively, starting with the NY/NJ Trail conference’s “Trail Walker” newsletter where I got the idea for the new hike. They had a day hike recommendation up to a spot called “Cat’s Elbow” on West Mountain that included the Shelter as a lunch spot and was about 2/3 of the route I did. I then researched more online to plot the route, adding in one more peak, “The Timp” to make it a bit more of an overnight hike distance. And because I wanted to peak bag it! It turns out the Cat’s Elbow was down a short access trail from one of the ledges I was on at the beginning of the hike, but I did not realize this at the time and just assumed I was on it. Not to fret, I had my fair share of ledge walking and views and challenges on this hike. I imagine that view was just one that would be to my benefit had I not added the extra 1.5 miles over the Timp, which offers those same views.
The hike started on one of the many mountain bike paths through the park from the lot for about half mile before crossing the A.T. From here I continued on the bike path a bit farther until I picked up the Red-dot-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, heading east. This would take me all the way over the shoulder of West Mountain down to “Timp Pass” between the two peaks and up to the top of the Timp. Immediately I was treated to rock scrambles leading up to many ledges. The views on this hike never ended. At the top of this shoulder of West Mountain I could hear hikers across the valley at the shelter on the peak, and snacked on tiny blueberries as I passed through fire-scarred meadows on the ridgeline. I would recommend long pants because I was not wearing them and the underbrush was knee high through much of this section of the hike and the concern of poison ivy and ticks was very real.
Over many you-fall-you-die spots, I crawled over ledges on the ridgeline, my heart racing but full of pride for accepting this challenge and conquering it. I descended down the ridge line steeply into the gap, a descent equal to that of Bear Mountain in Connecticut’s north face until I reached Timp Pass. Here I had the chance to venture right up the other ridge of West Mountain to the shelter but decided that was too early to call it a day and continued on to the Timp ascent.
It was a hot day and there is no water at the shelter, and there were no streams with water to count on. I knew this going into it and packed extra water so I had enough for the climbs and for dinner and coffee. But not being able to see my water supply in my bladder while in my pack, I was conserving a bit and definitely getting dehydrated. This is a major fault in the design of an integrated camel bladder sleeve. Many hikers opt to carry their bladder between the brain and the body of their pack to alleviate that, but thats a hack that doesn’t need to be necessary.
Turns out I had enough water but I didn’t know for sure till I got to camp. I could have taken it out and checked and would have if it was a longer hike, but buried behind all my other gear in my loaded pack, I decided not to since I was almost at the summit. I had a full smart water bottle with me as well in case of emergency, and was close enough to the trailhead that I could return to the car in case of severe water shortage. I also knew there would be others up there who would have water in case of emergency. And I was right. One family shared some water with some other hikers who needed it. They used to have pumps at all these shelters but the closeness to the city meant a lot of partiers would come up to these spots and leave messes. So to discourage this, they removed them so that only hikers who carried the right gear and were prepared with filters and such would be able to stay longer times up here. A shame to punish the few because of the masses but it happens all the time. Because, stupid people.
The climb up the back of the Timp was another rockfall, but more intense than the first. I had to look for at least 15 minutes for the next blaze up that wall, as it was mostly rocks! I did a good deal of rock climbing up to the summit ledges of the Timp where I took a break and took in the views across the pass to West Mountain, and Bear Mountain in the distance behind it. The shelter on West Mountain was visible as was the Perkins Memorial Tower on Bear. To the south I could also see sweeping views of the Hudson and the small towns along it as well the city in the distance.
I had now left the red trail for the blue-blazed Timp-Torne trail through a ridge line covered in Goldenrod to reach the summit, and I would stay on this until the shelter and until the A.T. the next morning. At the summit there were some day hikers who snapped a photo of me on an outcropping. On the way down the timp I had epic views north of the Bear Mountain bridge, Bear Mountain, Anthony’s nose, and beyond to the Hudson Highlands and West Point. That was a treat. The descent was rocky and steep but I made it to the pass and it is here that I received my first leg cramp. I’ve read both that these are and are not caused by dehydration but just to be sure I chugged a bunch of water and took a break. It was also here that my GPS track stopped because I guess my watch wasn’t as fully charged as I had thought. While I was still tracking with my AllTtrails app on my phone, I knew it was only a matter of time until my watch would shut off entirely. I hadn’t brought the watch charger and so the watch was out of commission within a few hours. Had I not had my phone I’d be relying on my horizon tricks to tell the time.
While not the end of the world, after this and several dropped tracks on recent hikes, I’d come to the end of the relationship with the watch. A great idea as a product with a very robust feature set, online dev community and overall a durable piece of equipment. But one that at the very least should have a backup battery for the timekeeping function. This could be much more of a concern on a longer hike. I don’t need to devices to worry about charging. I would return it when I got back for a watch that did not rely on USB power and stick to my phone and phone charger for that purpose. REI gave me full credit back for the Suunto, and I provided my feedback and experience with the watch. The salesman who helped me find a new watch was wearing the Suunto Core and knew just what I meant. I decided on the latest Casio Pro-Trek. It has an altimeter, compass, barometer, moon phases and tidal data, a tough water-resistant case to a good depth, and an easy back-light button. It’s also an atomic watch so you can rely on the time. And it was $175 less. I will miss many of the Suunto’s features but I need a watch that I can depend on being there for me when I need it. The Pro-Trek also solar charges so I don’t have to worry about battery life for a very long time.
The final push up to the shelter started with about a half mile of a scree-laden path, until a steep, tough climb up many rocky ledges to the shelter. My poles were basically useless on this and many other parts of the hike and I think at one point on that last ascent when confronted with the last wall of rock ahead of me uttered, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But I heard voices ahead and luckily it wasn’t one of those tricks of the wind and another mile to go. The shelter appeared before me and though completely spent, I had worked hard, climbed three summits and about 1,600 ft of vertical in under 5 miles today, with another 300 on day two to make about 1,900 overall. Even my “Best Hikes Near New York City” book described it as a “Butt-Kicker.” Correctamundo!
It was a stunning shelter view. I perused all the tent sites and found one near the shelter with its own fire ring. I set up my tent, and unpacked and had some wine. My tent rainfly has two zippers so you can roll up the whole side or, as I imagined, create an awning using extra guy lines and your trekking poles. This worked out perfectly! I hadn’t tried it yet when I set up the tent the day before to gear check and I was super excited to have an awning. I even used a tautline hitch on the guyline.
I hung my bear bag, using the PCT method and a clove hitch, and then went to chat with some of the other hikers at the site. There was a family from the Philly area with their two kids, 2 couples that were thru-hiking, and 2 solo section hikers with their dogs. I always like when there are dogs there because I feel safer about bears and other critters not coming into camp. We shared stories and took in the views. I retreated to my site to make a small fire. Originally I wasn’t planning to but everyone else had gathered fire wood and had one going so it inspired me. I made one just big enough to enjoy my dinner by, and then as it fizzled out I went to enjoy the sunset and view of the city with the other hikers before bed.
Most of the other hikers chose to keep the rainfly off, and I was thinking about it too but I was so pleased with my ingenuity and I know how quickly weather can change. I didn’t want it to happen when I was asleep. I kept the awning open though and had a beautiful view of the brightly shining moon over the ridge, as the crickets sung me to sleep. No owls though. What gives? I thought it was supposed to rain and starting around 9am so I was planning on getting going early.
I had an unexpected charlie horse in the middle of the night trying to get into my summer bag so once the pain subsided I opted to use it as a blanket and sleep in my liner which worked fine. I also have a high R-value on my new BA Air core sleeping pad so I was plenty warm even with the fly up. This was definitely a lack of potassium. I was up at 630 with the sunrise anyway. I hadn’t gotten that much sleep because there’s a CSX train down along the river which was passing through blowing its horn about every 30 minutes. I love trains. But this did not help me sleep. That’s one of the few downsides of camping here, well that and the water. And if you ask others, no privy. As I only had about a liter left and had a fancier feast in mind when I reached the lot, I packed up, had my cliff bar, and headed out by 730 am after taking in the view one last time.
It was about .5 to the A.T. along the ridge and while it was mostly easy and flat there were a few scrambles, but more endless views to match. There was another campsite atop the actual peak of West Mountain that had an equal view and large fire ring. While there was no shelter or privy or water supply here either, it was quite a nice spot, and one I’d camp at if we didn’t want to make the trip to the shelter when coming through here on the section. The junction of the A.T and TImp-Torne trail had its own incredible view westward. From here the two continue along side each other for a mile or two northbound while just the A.T. heads south, and this was my route. It was a steep and often rocky descent, and I was glad I was not heading up it. About a mile later as I reached the bottom at the bike path crossing, there was a stream, of course. The water was reliable and clean but I had no need unless I decided to head up Black Mountain, which I didn’t. I probably had time but as I said the road crossing was perilous. I headed back to my car, happy to have a lighter pack and a successful adventure.
I visited the bookstore on the way out, grabbed a coffee and a gatorade and farther up the route home I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and got an egg and cheese and a banana (to help the potassium shortage). I remember a thru-hiker on one of our last sections farther up the trail saying Harriman was one of his favorite spots on his hike so far. I can see why. A great adventure, and I learned some valuable lessons about what I was capable of, and to listen to my body when it tells me I need more water or rest. And that I am still a boy scout! I took a ton of pictures and videos, and am looking into a nicer digital camera to improve my photography. Recommendations welcome. I don’t need a million pixels, or to spend $1,000 but I would like something with higher resolution and more features, while still being durable.
I am planning a day hike tomorrow somewhere closer to get my trail fix, and Fielden Stream and I are planning when we will hit the trail again soon for the next section hike now that she has the green light from the doctor.