Appalachian Trail – NY section 11

Walking with Sunset

Walking with Sunset

We will be back to finish section 10 in 2 weeks or start section 12, depending on the many other deciding factors in our lives at the moment. Either way, happiness will win because we’re going to hike whether we hit the trail in the morning or after 6pm again. Last weekend it was about 645pm by the time we got on trail, as the usual rush hour traffic was multiplied by the fact that it was Friday, gorgeous weather forecast all weekend, and the first day of spring break for my kids and many other schools! We also slightly overshot the turnoff to the parking lot off Arden Valley Road and there wasn’t really a safe place to turn around on this road until a camp entrance a few miles later. So that ate a little time too. Fortunately, daylight savings recently kicking in and the less-forested mountaintop location of the trail and campsite gave us adequate light until almost 8pm and it was a short 1.5 mile hike in.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere signs

Signs, Signs, Everywhere signs

Section 11 starts just a quarter mile up a blue trail from the lot, and follows the spine of Fingerboard mountain. Here the A.T. undulates gently up and down along its ridge, sharing the route with the red-dot-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. As I mentioned in our blog a few weeks ago when we were on the southern end of it, it is the oldest trail in the park and some 28 miles long. I have been on another portion of the Ramapo-Dunderberg myself as well when doing a solo hike last summer. It has a lot of great views and some quite challenging terrain at times. In this area, the two trails’ shared route begins a few miles north of where we started today’s section and ends just south of our camp for the night, Fingerboard shelter.

Fingerboard Shelter

Fingerboard Shelter in the distance

The shelter is of the original stone style Harriman State Park is known for, and sits just below the summit at around 1380ft.  West Mountain shelter, William Brien shelter, and all the others in the park are all also made out of stone as are the other buildings throughout the park areas, including the Inn at Bear Mountain, administrative buildings, and bathrooms.

Go Yankees! Err, graffiti is bad

Go Yankees! Err, graffiti is bad

We were treated to a beautiful setting sun on the western side of the ridge as we walked in to camp, and met a friendly deer, who moved only slightly out of our way to continue her meal. When we reached the shelter we said hello to a nice younger couple and found one of the many beautiful spots there to camp. I hung the bear bag with my new Nite Ize reflective line and we set up the tent. While that line is a bit bright and maybe considered an eyesore to some, it sure beats wandering around on uneven ground in the dark trying to find the line when its time to hang the bag before bed. Nothing ends a hiking trip faster than a bad fall or sprained ankle! I also bought it with more isolated campsites in mind but this one just happened to be large enough for 40 people, not including the shelter!

Sunset at Fingerboard

Sunrise at Fingerboard

There’s a small seasonal spring at the bottom of the hill along the blue trail that goes from here back down to Seven Lakes Drive along lake Tiorati. According to my A.T. guide, Tiorati means “sky-like” in the native Algonquin language. Also according to my guide, it is a man-made lake. Where we parked there is a traffic circle with a beach area, concessions, bathrooms, and a large picnic area which must be quite busy during the summer. While the lot was empty when we parked, it was almost full when we returned to our car the next afternoon. While not quite swimming weather, it was after all a gorgeous weekend. The walk in along the ridge and the higher camping spots near the shelter had some great views beyond the lake to the Hudson as well, and the twinkling lights of what I believe was Peekskill, New York on the eastern side of the river. Not quite as grand a view as West Mountain shelter, but close!

Us at Fingerboard

Us at Fingerboard

Temperatures were to get down to the mid-30s though it was hard to believe until the sun set. We had dinner and made a fire in the main fire ring with the other couple as a few other overnighters settled in. We didn’t really chat with any of them, as they made their own camp further down the hill, but we did see a father-son pair from the campground the next morning on the trail. Around 930 or 10 we went to bed, which is later than usual for us, but we do usually get into camp a lot earlier. I was a bit cold until I eventually I put on my raincoat and that got my body temperature to its right place. I didn’t bring the down coat this time. Fielden Stream got bundled up in her new bag, which is part of the Big Agnes intergrated sleep system and has a pouch where her sleeping pad slides in. I was envious of the fact that her pad and bag were one and there was no way to slip off the pad.

The Greenwood Mine

The Greenwood Mine

But I do like my new bag and pad, and I brought both sleeping pads again. I will probably just keep doing this when the nights will be colder, and then stick to one or the other over the summer. We slept quite well, though I had to make a few bathroom visits on account of enjoying a few luxurious trail beverages!

The next morning we made my favorite trail breakfast, grits with parmesan cheese. While this is a tough one to clean, we do it when we know we’re just out for the night and can clean the pot easily when we get home. We then packed up, said goodbye and hit the trail.

Shortly after the A.T. and Ramapo-Dunderberg trails split, the A.T descends Fingerboard mountain through some laurel groves and climbs a shoulder of Surebridge Mountain.

Looking back at Fingerboard Mtn from Island Pond Mtn

Looking back at Fingerboard Mtn from Island Pond Mtn

This mountain is home to several mines, one of which was the Greenwood mine. This mine is right along the trail as it follows the Surebridge mine road from that mine farther south up to this one. Its now a water-filled pit but you can see where the entrance was and the dynamite lines as well as the extracted rock on the other side of the old carriage road. This ore was used for bullets for the parrot guns during the revolutionary war and was shipped to Cold Spring for manufacturing.

Soon after the trail intersects with the green-blazed New York Long Path, a several-hundred mile trail from Manhattan to the Catskills and beyond. We took some photos of the signs there and then headed down the back of Surebridge mountain where there was a nice brook. In fact there were quite a few good water sources running at this time.

Rocks from Hell

Rocks from Hell

From there the A.T. climbs Island Pond mountain, with a nice place along its summit to have a snack and look back at the peaks of Fingerboard and Surebridge mountains. We did a taste test of two beef jerkies here and decided that the Boar’s Head brand was superior to the Field Trip brand from Starbucks. The reason should be obvious. Not one to waste food though we will finish the other packets of Field Trip. I just find it stringy and tough. We had some nice views of Island Pond below as we made our descent down to the famous Lemon Squeezer. The squeezer itself was as expected, and a lot of fun. We have some great video going through that. But above the squeezer is where the tricky spot is. There is a blue-blazed ‘easy way’ around the side but that way isn’t all that much easier. Nevertheless being stubborn I wanted to try the slide down the 7-8ft rock face and gave Fielden my pack so I could wiggle onto the boulder that would guide me to my landing a few feet below. Only I guess I thought I was taller. Or it was shorter. I had to slide between two trees down the outermost rock, so a fall meant falling off to the left, where it was at least 5-6 more feet down to more large rocks below.

The resulting rock rash

The resulting rock rash

As I slid down my elbows took some serious scraping to keep me balanced, but that’s an acceptable alternative to a nasty spill here. Fielden Stream gave me my pack and took this as good motivation to go down the blue trail. We then made our way through the ‘fun part’ as a group of day hikers waited below. We watched them head up and stop at the upward route over the death rocks, wondering how many of them would go around. Honestly it seems easier going up, though it is not easy, to be sure. As we got to the bottom of the mountain and the trail reached the pond, we passed by what was at this point our third group of Boy Scouts and leaders out for an overnight.

The 'fun' part

The ‘fun’ part

There were some nice stone canals we crossed here, which at one time used the pond to channel water to what I imagine was some sort of hydroelectric mechanism. A few folks were fishing and kayaking in the pond, and there is a gated road where fisherman can obtain a permit to drive down and fish here. There was one last climb for the day, and fortunately this side of the mountain was only a few hundred feet. Though at this point it was getting much hotter out and we were tired. On the other side of this mountain the trail descends twice as far to the lot at Elk Pen, so I’m glad we were coming from this side.

Island Pond

Island Pond

We passed at least two more groups of Boy Scouts, another large group of backpackers, and many many day hikers on their way up the mountain. Even if the first group of scouts we passed shortly after leaving camp and descending Fingerboard mountain were going onto the William Brien Shelter 6 miles farther, Fingerboard was sure to be a full campsite that night. Also a bonus for us spending the previous night there. We reached the parking lot and waited for our shuttle from Suzy of MyHarriman.com. She reached out to me on WhiteBlaze when I was inquiring about shuttles in the area. They are offering free shuttles around the park. She and her husband picked us up and drove us back to the car and we had a great chat about the hike, and the park. I highly recommend you contacting her if you need a shuttle at suzy(at)myharriman.com.

Technically there’s a scant 0.3 more miles of this section, to the route 17 crossing… but seeing as how we will be starting here for the section 12 hike, it will get done and I am marking section 11 complete.

Name these flowers (please)

Name these flowers (please)

We hit the road, satisfied for the moment, and already planning the next trip at the end of the month. This weekend I have my wilderness first aid training. I am really looking forward to having those important skills when I’m out on the trail alone or with family or friends. But our packs are sitting in the corner of our bedroom, mostly packed and ready for the following weekend’s escape! Either hike will have its challenges whether its West Mountain and the dash across the Palisades Parkway to Black Mountain, or the rock scramble known as “Agony Grind”. Either is better than, and a fine reward for, a 40 hour work week.

Total miles Day 1: 1.6

Total Miles Day 2: 4.5

– Linus

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Weekend volunteering and the first overnight of the season!

Trail cleanup last weekend

Trail cleanup last weekend

The last two weekends I got some great hikes in while also joining the rest of the trails committee for some spring trail work.

Last weekend we had our committee kickoff work party where we started the day by reviewing the accomplishments of the previous season and thanked all the volunteers involved in the various projects. I got these great work gloves with the club logo which I happily dirtied up a few hours later. We broke off into work projects for the day, and I headed up Schaghticoke mountain with 3 other volunteers to do some cleanup.

I recall this section being a big climb, especially when fully loaded for an overnight. Fielden Stream and I were forewarned of its difficulty earlier in the season we backpacked it in 2014, and put it off until later in the summer when we were a bit more warmed up. Luckily, the frequent reports of rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the rock outcrops were not an issue on our overnight that summer, but it was certainly on our minds. In fact, this mountain’s campsite was once named “Rattlesnake Campground” until being renamed due to it frightening campers. This is one of the toughest sections of the Connecticut trail, from either direction.

On the New York southern overlook of Schaghticoke Mtn

On the New York southern overlook of Schaghticoke Mtn

This mountain alone has multiple shoulders, peaks in two states, and many sharp ups and downs in between. This first ascent when heading northbound is a good 880ft climb from the road along the river to the first overlook, which is just after you cross into New York for one last short stretch in that state. Originally the trail entered Connecticut up on this summit so this was the true state line crossing. Nowadays it comes into Connecticut farther south, follows the river until this climb, re-enters New York for 2 miles and goes back into Connecticut for good. The ascent southbound of Schaghticoke is no less daunting as you first have a steep 700ft climb up Mt. Algo before another steep 5-600ft climb up the north side of Schaghticoke. In between it dips down to lower ridgelines and climbs again and again from end to end.

Along the Housatonic River

Along the Housatonic River

On the work hike last weekend, I didn’t have as tough a time as I was only carrying day hiking supplies and a light saw. We also brought up loppers and a few hoes (insert chuckle here). We cleaned up leaf buildup around waterbars, filled in areas of trail that had been widened by erosion and lots of hikers, and cleaned off any debris from stone steps where needed. The weather was pretty crappy when I arrived in the morning but fortunately by the time the meeting was over it was clearing and we got a nice view from the overlook and some great conditions for our hike back down. Afterwards, we had a short social gathering and a little more planning conversation before heading home.

Ten Mile Shelter

Ten Mile Shelter

Yesterday I headed back up this beast, and again with a fully loaded pack. I was out for an overnight trail patrol hike, to check out a few campsites and resolve any issues I could in the process. I drove up after work on Friday night and hit the trail at the base of this mountain at around 630 heading south. I arrived around 7 at the beautiful Ten Mile River Campground. It is set 1.8 miles south along the confluence of the Ten Mile and Housatonic rivers at the base of Ten Mile Hill. This is a very popular campground because of its idyllic locale and easy access from town. I was here a few months ago to check things out as well.

Livin' in a tent, down by the river

Livin’ in a tent, down by the river

There is also a shelter here so the first thing I did before setting up my camp was to check out the shelter and sign in to the register there. Again, there was a campfire site and burned logs lying alongside the shelter. I cleared and scattered these and left a nice note in the register asking folks to please not make a fire — it is prohibited here, for good reason.

I then headed to the campground where there was another, bigger, fire ring. As dark was falling, I set up my camp, hung my bear bag, and got dinner started. It was a very chilly night which explains why I was alone for the night.  Luckily I had my new down bag, and brought along my down jacket and both my foam and inflatable sleeping pads. I had my usual long johns baselayers and a fresh pair of socks for sleeping in. I had a ‘nice dinner’ of Mountain House Lasagna and settled in for the night.

View of Schaghticoke from the southern end

View of Schaghticoke from the southern end

These days I’m in bed by 9 anyway as work and parenting wear me out quick. I checked in with Fielden Stream who was enjoying a night in NYC with friends, a stark difference to my evening plans. I said goodnight to my kids and soon the rushing river lulled me to sleep. Nothing makes me sleep better and faster than water. Rivers or rain or both. It was so peaceful, and also has the benefit of masking any small critter sounds that may be perceived as much larger when alone in the woods!

My favorite 'blazes'

My favorite ‘blazes’

It got down to about 25 but I was pretty cozy and happy I was properly prepared for it. I woke around 6 to the sounds of my favorite owls — the barred owl! I have missed their songs for the last year so it was a fantastic wake up call. While I made my breakfast I cleaned some trash left in the privy compost bucket and cleared the fire ring as I was too short on time the night before and no one else had come in that would be tempted by it.  I am a fan of most of the Mountain House meals but the scrambled eggs and bacon one…. eh. I had to drain the excess water and it just reminded me of cheap reconstituted eggs at a motel buffet. Maybe a couple days out I’d be ok with that, but I wasn’t that desperate for eggs and bacon. The mini-moos from my office kitchen were a nice addition to my Starbucks Via, and helped wash down what I could eat of that meal. I cleaned everything out at the wash pit, packed up the tent and sleeping gear and hit the trail around 715. I knew I had a big day ahead of me. About 9-10 miles, depending on the side trail distances into the next two campgrounds. And at least 2,000ft of vertical over challenging terrain. I ended up being pretty accurate on those numbers.

Crossing back to CT at 1250ft

Crossing back to CT at 1250ft

The hike back north to where I had parked was a good warm up with great views of the peaks I would soon ascend. There’s not much vertical rise here as it follows the river, only a small hill or two. I made note of a blowdown overhanging the trail which wasn’t supported by a very strong tree and could be a hazard. Farther north just before the road, a vulture peered down at me from the tree tops but I told him I wasn’t dead yet and to check on me about 8 or 9 miles up the trail as I might be by then! I also got video of a woodpecker at work, who luckily didn’t think I posed a threat and went on about his business.

View northeast to Kent from Indian Rocks

View northeast to Kent from Indian Rocks

I dropped the bag of trash from the campsite in the car and headed up the beast. I admired our trail work from the weekend before as I huffed and puffed my way up to the overlook. I took a break there to re-secure my sloppily attached foam pad and have a snack while I took in the view. I met a day hiker out for an out-and-back hike, and who I would meet again several miles up trail on his way back. I headed north along the western ridge on the New York side and was treated to a northerly view to Macedonia and Cobble mountain that I did not have when we passed through here that summer due to the leaf cover. As stated earlier in my blog, I’m really enjoying getting these extended views for the first time by doing these sections in the winter, late fall and early spring.

Schaghticoke Mtn campground trail

Schaghticoke Mtn campground trail

The trail crossed back into Connecticut, introduced by a nice climb up to the eastern ridgeline of the mountain and the only section of the entire trail that goes through an Indian reservation. That is the Schaghticoke Indian reservation, where the mountain got its name. Their home is along the tidal plain of the river at the base of the mountain below. Here the trail crosses a rocky steep ledge known as Indian Rocks with sweeping views south and north of the Housatonic river and valley.

A royal throne with a view

A royal throne with a view

Its a quick little scramble which I was worried would be a bit icy like my tent poles that morning and some of the other rocks along the hike so far. One rock is a bit of a perilous slide if wet or icy so my main goal was getting past it before the possible (though slight) prediction of rain or snow flurries. Luckily it was dry and I snapped some photos of the bucolic scene below before venturing on. The rocks are at about 1,330 ft and are visible from the road below. I also like to point them out when driving by. From here the trail rises and drops along the eastern face, with equally steep climbs and descents and views from many ledges.

Many water sources along the mountain were rushing heavily with water, so I was not worried about finding a spot to fill my water should I run out. There were two large brooks I knew of on the route and they were no less active. I reached the mountain campground side trail around 11am and made the steep climb up along the rushing and cascading brook to look things over.

Is this New Hampshire?

Is this New Hampshire?

There were a few blowdowns that needed noting, and I also checked out the privy, one of only 2 or 3 exposed ‘throne’ style privies along the trail in our state. Another 12 or 13 have already been updated to the enclosed moldering privies we all love. While not having any cover, this one did have a view!

I remember around this time on our hike through here together a few summers ago, that Fielden and I were both feeling pretty tired by this point from all the ups and downs we didn’t seem to notice in the guide. We seemed to think we would only have one last small climb over Algo before we made it to the shelter for the night. I too, was feeling it here, but this time I knew better. There was one more huge climb up the higher peak this mountain holds in Connecticut. But the trail drops down along the ridge to about 850 feet just before its climb back up to 1400 ft. Its a hell of a climb with many false summits, though there were some more sweeping views including one of the Taconic plateau in the distance far beyond Kent. When I reached the top, I had a long break to have some fruit and energy gels and share my equally hellish climb story with Fielden Stream.

Thayer Brook

Thayer Brook

I had to be in Kent at 2 to see the amazing lady who trained me do a presentation on her 2004 thru hike. She’s now retired and planning a 2017 PCT thru hike! So I knew time was ticking and hauled butt down the steep north face across Thayer Brook to ascend Algo and make my final campsite check before reaching the end of the hike. The rocks coming down here reminded me of the white mountains, as the trail was just rocks. I considered filtering some water at the brook but I had a bit left and other than one last easy climb up Algo from this side, I decided that was unnecessary. There’s also a brook at that shelter a half mile north should I have been wrong. Unfortunately it was around here, just before the end, that I was hitting a wall. This was my first fully loaded hike of the year and despite having 60 miles of day hikes behind me since the new year, I was feeling it by this point and my leg muscles decided to start growling at me. I took another break before making it over the top of Algo and down through the amazing mountain laurel tunnels to the Algo shelter and brook. I met a backpacker there who was waiting out the cold a bit longer and we chatted briefly while I signed in at the register. I looked around the rest of the campsite for any other issues and then called my friend from the trails committee who was picking me up at the road on the way to the presentation. He saved me a mile-plus walk into town. After over 9 miles on the dirt, paved roads can be pretty brutal on the feet.

I'm lichen this tree

I’m lichen this tree

We had a nice lunch in town and then made it to the library for the sold out crowd. It was great to see such enthusiasm for her story, and we even got to be part of the presentation and talk about our roles in caring for the trail in Connecticut. We invited everyone to our volunteer event next month called “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail” where you can volunteer alongside us to give back to the local section of the A.T. There were a few past thru-hikers in the audience, including one couple who were active members of the ALDHA, the Applachian Long-Distance Hikers Association, another great group who help care for the trail. They also provide all the information for the Connecticut section in the official Appalachian Trail guides.

I got home feeling fulfilled, satisfied, exhausted, and ready for the next adventure. I can’t do any hiking next weekend due to other commitments, but this hike was enough to hold me over and I am looking forward to my Wilderness First Aid training the following weekend, and then my and Fielden Stream’s first overnight together in New York.

I’d love to see you at Give-a-Day. Its free of course and snacks and refreshments will be provided at a social afterwards. Here’s the link.

Day 1 Miles: 1.8

Day 2 Miles: 9.2

— Linus