Where are all the owls? Several more nights on the trail later and still not a hoot. I’m no owl expert but that seems a little odd. Plus, I miss their songs at night. Crickets are great and all. But no coyotes lately either. I fear our planet continues to change for the worse, to the detriment of all its creatures.
Last weekend we finally made it across the mighty Hudson and to the newly-renovated Bear Mountain Inn where we planned to celebrate our second night on the trail in a lovely room on the occasion of Fielden Stream’s birthday!
We’ve done the section of Trail from the top down to the Inn so our goal was really to just make it to the Inn before the end of the season and anything more than that was just a bonus. We’ve now got only 28.8 miles left of trail in NY and about 60 in the state since April that we’ve traveled! This section also had some bigger ups and downs than we’d done in a while so it definitely got the heart rate up, but with views to match the effort.
The weather forecast was originally quite grim, with a hurricane potentially bearing down on us. But fortunately it moved east over the sea and took all the crappy weather with it. While it was still raining as we arrived at the trailhead the forecast at this point was for it to end by midday, and that it did. We were properly decked out in our rain gear and had our pack covers on, but as we enjoyed a quick lunch at the hiker-friendly Appalachian Market on Rt 9, it stopped raining and within the first mile we shed our rain gear. That’s definitely appreciated when doing a big climb like this one started with, as one tends to perspire more in rain gear and slippery rocks are a lot less fun.
Day 1 took us over a peak called White Rock and another called Canada Hill before crossing a mountain road and a well-flowing brook, slightly brown in color, just before our campsite. Turns out that brook is called Copper Mine brook, which would explain it. So many of the water sources were dry this summer so it was nice to see one that was flowing and reliable, even if it’s a quarter mile downhill of our campsite. Could be worse…
We had our first somewhat limited but not overgrown view of the Hudson, which brought us a thrill. Coming down Canada Hill the descent was on the steeper side, with a few of those steep wet rock surfaces that were not that much fun going downhill either. We also heard gunfire but this is not surprising as we were approaching the northern boundary of Camp Smith, a National Guard training camp. The camp has its own hiking trail which we would utilize partially for the climb up Anthony’s nose, which the A.T otherwise only skirts the side of.
Our campsite, Hemlock Springs, was a rather primitive one adjacent to a former military road that eventually leads (or lead) to the training camp. For .2 miles the road coincides with the AT and then later parallels it for a bit longer. There’s not much forest separating the trail from the campsite or road so you see hikers going by, and there’s an area right along the trail where it leaves the road that they ask you NOT to camp at, but its perfectly flat, on a ridge, and there is clear evidence that people have been. Though it looks like someone’s been scattering the fire rings there so I guess no means no here.
There is no privy here or shelter but this spot would be perfect for one of those and the spot we camped at would have accommodated a shelter as well. The old road past the campsite makes for an easy route down to the brook if it is necessary for water or should weather become severe or someone get injured. Its likely the proximity to the main road and a military property is why there is neither. Clearly the parking and easy access at the bottom of this section of road also makes it easy to party at and broken glass shards were scattered about the fire rings. Why must people be such idiots.
But we had a great time at the campsite, which we had all to ourselves. A few section hikers did pass by but none were staying the night so we picked our top choice of the camping spots, which ended up being the one right by the campsite water source. That water source would be great if we weren’t in practically a drought for 8 weeks this past summer. It amounted to a puddle and a trickle, but that’s okay cause we were in good shape having brought extra water, didn’t have long miles, and oh yeah that brook down the road.
We set up our tarp in an A-frame pitch this time as there was no strong rain coming back or much wind to speak of so we just wanted another place to take shelter should it quickly sprinkle again. We set up some rocks around the stakes where needed as those lines we seemed to keep wanting to trip over. Yesterday at REI I bought some reflective line to employ in the future since it works so great on our tent and MSR groundhog stakes. Two stakes short for this pitch, I used rocks to weigh down the mid lines which also gave them a bit of flex if a gust did come along. And the final piece of the setup were our trekking poles which raised up the corners to a perfect height.
The biggest challenges at camp were getting the fire going since all the wood was still wet and my new sleeping pad confirming its failure on an unseasonably cold night. We did employ some drier lint for starting the fire, but that was no match for the wet wood and so another trick I learned – the hand sanitizer trick, brought success after much persistence. It is essentially the same as what you find in a sterno — gelled alcohol, and is quite flammable. We always have extra on hand for bathroom visits. I could see my breath on a later pee-break so a fire was a good thing. So much for a low of 49! I know temps are different in the mountains but we were only 500 ft up. I blame the closeness to the river.
Clearly it was sub-40, and my pad was indeed defective or damaged after the last overnight when it failed. I just wanted to confirm on this visit, and did. But this sucked because I was essentially sleeping on cold ground and if not for the fact that I brought my winter bag, fleece and base layers, I’d be miserable. Even with them it was still pretty cold. As much as I wanted to love that pad, I returned it when I was at REI yesterday and bought a foam one like Jiffy Pop has. I doubt it will be as comfortable, but it wont deflate!
We enjoyed our dinner under the tarp and got to bed after the fire went out. We went to sleep to train sounds from the nearby metro-north and the CSX train across the river that I heard all night on West Mountain a month ago on my solo trip.
The next morning the trail put us right to work with a steep down and then an even steeper up back to a point just a few feet shy of the old road again — which took a much gentler route up the mountainside. If I wasn’t such a purist for every step of trail, I’d have had us follow the road up farther to get back on the A.T here!
The trail continued to climb mercilessly up a challenging but fun scramble to additional views of the Hudson and then followed another old jeep road. The sky was clearing and warming, and soon we came to the intersection of the Camp smith trail, with the A.T turning to descend. This side trip is more than worth it, with several sweeping lookouts over the Hudson. It eventually turns back into a more rugged and steep traditional trail down to the camp on the other side of the mountain. But that is after the summit views we were seeking. And, a wrong turn if proceeding down that trail can land in you in trouble for trespassing.
We were first treated to views north to West Point, Storm King and Gertrude’s Nose upriver. And then to the view atop Anthony’s Nose, down to the Bear Mountain bridge and the Inn at the foot of Bear, with most of the lower Hudson valley laid out before you in glorious fashion. I could see every mountain I had traversed on my solo trip as well as much more of Harriman and Bear mountain state parks, Fort Montgomery, Iona Island, and our friend the 100-car-long noisy CSX train. Also atop Anthony’s Nose is a military memorial with an American flag and beneath it a P.O.W flag, some P.O.W bracelets for soldiers missing in action, and a memorial stone at the base for a soldier killed in 2013. Very moving. I believe there is another further up at the top of Breakneck Ridge, though I am less clear on the connection there since this one is on an actual military camp trail.
We met a nice local hiker who snapped some photos for us and then suddenly the peak the 3 of us had to ourselves was inundated with day hikers that all arrived at once. So we made our way back from our snack spot to retrieve our packs from the rocks above and headed off to finish the hike and relax over some cold ciders at the Inn and begin the celebrations.
After the steep knee-hating descent down the A.T. from the Camp Smith trail and the bridge crossing, we strolled through the trailside museum and zoo, swearing to come back and enjoy it in more detail when we didn’t have large packs on our backs and little energy. But we made sure to visit the coyotes and of course, the bears. Our first on the trail! (the joke of many a thru-hiker who miraculously didn’t encounter any in Shenandoah or New Jersey!)
The bear den is also the lowest point on the whole A.T at 124 ft. We got a few choice looks from tourists visiting the zoo, who apparently didn’t bother to read the multiple signs all along the path about the A.T. and how it goes right through the zoo and got started here. One older gentleman in a blazer and cravat gave me a rather puzzled look – perhaps wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to carry all their things on their back for days or more on end, or dress the way we were dressed in public!
This section officially ends at the western end of the Bridge so the trip through the zoo and the path up past the Inn are part of section 10, as is the ascent up to the summit which as I’ve mentioned we’ve already done. And I’ll probably mention this again when we complete and write about section 10, cause I’m so anal about these things!
We had a great time at the Inn, with a marvelous dinner and shrinking crowds, as everyone was heading home from hikes and Oktoberfest by midday for their lives and jobs in the city. So we got to enjoy a quiet Sunday night. My only complaint about the stay at the Inn is that it didn’t have a fireplace going that night, and the ones in the rooms were those fake electric ones that don’t even put out heat.
The next morning I also did a nice 3.5-mile loop-hike of the Bear Mountain-Suffern, Doodletown Bridal Path and 1777 trails while Fielden was being treated to a birthday massage. A steep initial climb halfway up Bear Mountain started the hike but then it was a beautiful stroll through the old roads of this once-active mountainside community. There are old foundations of the homes to see though I didn’t manage to see them all this time around. To return to the Inn I took the 1777 trail, which traces the route of British troops on their way to storm forts Clinton and Montgomery that year.
This may be the end of our overnight season, but let’s hope for an Indian summer. If it is the end of the overnight season, we accomplished our goal, and there will be day hikes for sure!
Next weekend I’m volunteering to help re-blaze a portion of the Connecticut A.T. with my local AMC chapter and then enjoying their BBQ for A.T. day. I can’t wait!