Last weekend was the first time Fielden Stream and I were on the trail together, or hiking together for that matter, since we began this section with our final hike of 2015. We were proud to have not only finished the last section of trail in Connecticut last year, but also covered 53 miles of the trail in New York — from the northern boundary at the Connecticut state line to Bear Mountain. And so Bear Mountain was where we did our first hike this past weekend, to continue our trek across the New York A.T.
We celebrated that final trail night of 2015 at the Inn as it was her birthday, and did so this past weekend as well to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Our next hike together will be in about six weeks, when we finally finish section 10, and spend our first night of the season in our tent.
At over 14 miles, this section is at least twice as long as most of the New York sections and with everything we have going on at any one time right now, we’re lucky when we can get away for more than two days / one night of hiking. Regardless, it was a joy to be out there again together, passing white blazes in tandem for the first time in six months. As I’m sure you know, in between and nearly every weekend, I’ve been hiking — either solo as an AMC volunteer on the Connecticut section or other local trails, or on group outings. But these hikes together are extremely special to us and this was no exception. And I have more day hikes and volunteering in Connecticut to do to keep me busy until our overnight in April.
If you’re reading this regularly you may also recall that our first section hike together ever was in the fall of 2013 up the impressively steep Major Welch trail (once the A.T.) on the north face of Bear, and down the A.T. from the summit to the Inn. So this time we just needed to out-and-back up the south side of the mountain to connect the dots from our final section of 2015 this past October. We did the hike today northbound up, and southbound down.
I was eager to see all the incredible new rock work volunteers had done on this section over the last few seasons, which was showcased with a ribbon-cutting last fall. We parked at the hiker lot just off of Seven Lakes drive, nestled in the gap between Bear and West mountains. It was a relief to start on a Friday vs a Saturday, as I didn’t stress over the parking being full by the time we got there. It’s about an hour drive from home, and we were waiting to leave until the end of the morning rush hour, to avoid turning it into a two-hour drive. Only once have we gotten to a lot and found it full, but it provided enough anxiety that I decided starting on a workday to have less crowded lots and trails was worth the vacation time.
Shortly after leaving the parking lot on the historic 1777 trail, it joined the A.T. and we headed north through one of many groves of mountain laurel. Soon after, the 1777 trail split off on its path down the old Doodletown road and the northbound A.T. crossed 7 Lakes Drive headed for the summit. Almost immediately we were treated to displays of fine stone work and even rebar handholds as the new trail wound up the hill through glacial erratics and over terraced stone slabs.
After ascending the first crest we were treated to a symphony of (mating?) frogs in a pond nestled in a rocky valley, with the sounds of croaking filling the air. Unfortunately, despite two attempts to capture the audio, my GoPro’s lackluster microphone did not capture it and I wish I had just taken the second video with my iPhone. Audio is not something the GoPro excels at… but I use it for our video channel. Check out the ‘links’ section. So far we have made a video for Connecticut, though I didn’t get the GoPro until we were almost finished with that state so most of that video is stills. My son “Jiffy Pop” made the music in Garageband; it’s cool stuff. I’ve been working on and adding to the New York video as we go, and since we plan to finish the state by fall I will put up the New York video before the end of the year.
The trail then crossed Perkins Memorial Drive, the seasonal road that takes tourists to the top of the mountain the easy way, and then heads along an old unused portion of the road that was decades old. It was lined with impressive stone buttresses that were holding up the rock cliffs overhanging the roadway. Clearly, these were not preventing enough of the higher loose rock and debris from sliding into the road, and hence they took it out of service. That’s our guess anyway. A short distance past these, the trail ascended more well-hewn rock stairs up that rock face until leveling out and following the tops of those rocky ledges to a wide open vista facing southwest. Here there is also a short blue-blazed trail that follows these ledges a bit farther out to a view point on the western shoulder of the mountain. On our return I did explore about three quarters of the way out while Fielden took a break. We took a quick snack break here on the way up as well.
We then followed the western ridges of Bear through some more laurel groves and past the blue-blazed summit shortcut we would take back. About half a mile later the A.T. runs concurrently with the steep Major Welch trail, with its sweeping views north up the Hudson to Storm King and beyond. We reminisced about our first big hike here together and took some photos. The combined trails traverse the summit to the Perkins tower. There is also a large handicapped-accessible loop around the top of the mountain here for those who drive up and want to experience some of the views but have limited mobility.
We had a nice snack and took in the views once again at the top. We were expecting the tower, the vending machines, and at the very least the restrooms to be open, but none of them were. I guess it makes sense since the road was closed at this time. But, it was a bummer. We took some more pictures, had lunch and observed the interesting mix of those who had also ventured up the mountain in various ways, including a small lapdog. It seems somewhere in the area you can rent a powered bicycle and ride it up the Perkins drive. We saw only one pair of backpackers this Friday morning, though we did see many heading out the next morning from the parking lot at the inn, as it was a Saturday.
We headed for the shortcut on the other side of the tower and headed back down the mountain to the car. It was a clear, warm and beautiful day and we were elated. We had a nice dinner down the road in Tomkins Cove, passing two or three other trailheads in the park on the way. The next morning we headed for those trailheads, which turned out to be for the 28-mile long Ramapo-Dunderberg trail as well as the beginning of the Timp-Torne trail, which also crosses the park, and ascends many summits. I hiked on both of these on my solo hike last summer.
We started on the merged trails from the lot and it ascended quickly and steeply. There were no stairs here to speak of. Just rough, steep trail. We split off on the Timp-Torne at the junction and it continued to rise and skirt the ledges, providing a challenging and exciting hike. We had just a few hours before we had to head back, so we climbed about a mile and a quarter up the mountain before taking a short break by a brook and headed back down. There were some really interesting features on this trail.
Along the road at the start was a tunnel from the abandoned Dunderberg Spiral Railway, and about 700ft up the mountainside was a graded path and a large cave-like opening in the rock. It looks like it was originally intended to be another tunnel, for this path, but they only blasted on one side before giving up. Seeing as how it was filled with water when we saw it, perhaps that was a problem at the time as well. So the graded trail skirted instead around this rock wall on an equally wide man-made path along the ledges. There was also an unblazed, unmaintained trail called the Jones trail that once led steeply up from the road and crossed the Timp-Torne trail near our turnaround point and continued up to the top along the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. I am guessing this was an old route for getting supplies up to this point. I will definitely look into it more.
On another occasion I will come back here and complete the climb over Dunderberg and Bald Mountains, perhaps spending another night at West Mountain with its glorious views to New York City. The only negative to this hike is the sweeping views to Indian Point energy center and it’s smokestacks and loud announcements. I couldn’t make out the words so I kept joking that they were paging Homer Simpson to wake him up from a donut-induced nap.
Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks offer a lot of challenging, scenic, and varying terrain with hundreds of miles of trails and beautiful lakes. All of those make it a popular spot to come back to repeatedly. And I look forward to returning next month with Fielden Stream as we continue on our Appalachian Trail adventures. This weekend i will be joining my AMC club on one of their two Ives trail hikes in Connecticut, to finally complete that entire trail.
A.T. hike miles: 4.75
Timp-Torne hike miles: 2.6
Snake sightings: 1
Bear sightings: 0