Appalachian Trail – NY Section 12 (Part 2)

Day 1

Day 1

We got back out on the trail this past Friday night for our previously postponed overnight here in New York and did the last 8.8 miles of section 12. Now that this section is complete, that leaves only one 5.9 mile section (section 13) until we’ve finished all 90 miles of the trail in the state! Though we also are going to use the steep 1-mile state-line trail to get up to the border crossing and start that last section north. That’s going to be quite a dramatic one, both for the climbs, and the views. We can’t wait. Thank god for rebar, I think.

This past weekend’s hike, especially the last 1.7 miles, was a mix between very easy walks through the woods, and challenging ascents up and down rocky cliffs and boulder piles. We did the northern 3.6 miles of it three weeks ago and were only hoping we could get 4 more miles of it done for a quick overnight this time.

Fielden Stream climbing Eastern Pinnacles

Fielden Stream climbing Eastern Pinnacles

But as we were arriving later than planned, things actually worked to our advantage in many ways. As we were sitting in the last of several rounds of Friday evening rush hour traffic, Fielden Stream suggested a change: to do it northbound. We’ve done all of N.Y. southbound, and I can be pretty O.C.D. and stubborn once I’ve spent a lot of time researching and planning a section. So last minute changes usually unsettle me, and this one did too. But I also found her logic sound, and also found the silver lining which was that if we could get a ride from farther out, we could put in more miles than planned the next day, and maybe even finish the whole section. And that we could potentially experience some beautiful sunsets on our hike and still make it to the shelter by nightfall.

Watch your footing!

Watch your footing!

The elevation profile, except for the features known as the Eastern Pinnacles and Cat Rock, was mostly level. And both of those, should it already be dark at our arrival there, had side routes around them to avoid them if necessary. I of course really, really wanted to see them up close, especially at sunset. So I was feeling a little stressed about covering the two miles and seeing them both in less than an hour before nightfall. But the original plan also meant getting a taxi to meet us at a pickup spot we didn’t really know well and then getting a ride up to the north end to hike south. We’d likely be climbing a 500ft ascent in less than half a mile in the dark if we stuck to the original plan. We did call the cab company and confirm with them that they could do that, but it just made us nervous as we’d never used them before, and the other cab company I called on the drive down basically hung up on me when I called, giving me more anxiety about using a cab.

Eastern Pinnacles at Sunset

Eastern Pinnacles at Sunset

As always, I referenced several printed and online sources about overnight parking on the road crossings along this hike, but I found the information contradictory from one source to another in this particular area. The last thing I want is to hike back to a car that is no longer there. They really need to either get all these sources to be consistent somehow, or the towns should post signage at the road crossing that is clear if you can park there or not. The lack of those signs, while encouraging, is not any clearer, and also brings about its own anxiety fest. I’d probably care less if I wasn’t needing to be back at a specific time, and already pushing to go a much farther distance. We were already cutting it close if anything went wrong. My mind was juggling the options frantically as we approached the trail crossing on 17a.

More pinnacles

More pinnacles

We ultimately decided we would hike northbound like Fielden Stream suggested, and take our chances with a ride out. That kinda thing is hard for me, but its therefore also good for me to trust in things working out without me having every last detail sorted. Maybe there would be a trail angel at one of the road crossings with a car…Ah the work us section hikers have to do just to get away for a few hours or days. And people think its harder for thrus. I don’t know…

It turns out the cab company we used were fantastic, though. And I want to thank Lori and Night Owl taxi for the excellent service, and Ken on the Appalachian Trail Section hikers Facebook page for recommending them when he wasn’t able to shuttle us himself.

The climb up Cat Rock

The climb up Cat Rock

Next question. Where should we park on 17a? I did know where you could officially park in one lot, and that was the plan. But there’s not an endless number of parking spots.

And it was a Friday night on the first non-oppressively-hot weekend in a month, and a very popular section to hike. So you need to have a plan B, and so I had already researched other parking options in the area.

Another person on the Facebook forum said we could overnight park at the upper lot at the Bellvale creamery, which is used for the hawk-watching platform. We decided to park there because we thought it would save us some time. And we figured by using the .2 mile side trail to the A.T, it would also take a little distance off our hike and hence a few minutes less worrying about remaining light. We have not night-hiked yet and while we were ready to try it if we needed to, I still really wanted to do the rock scrambles to the views.

Linus on Cat Rock

Linus on Cat Rock

There were lots of ‘no parking, private property’ signs on the road leading up to the upper lot, but when we got up there, there were none. We figured it must be okay, and the advice of a local is as good as any we’d gotten.

But to be honest, I was still all nerves about that and almost made us drive down to the other lot after our packs were already on, since there were actually some spots there that we saw after all.

But I let it go and we buckled in and headed up the access trail. I’d love to check out the hawk watch, but we can do that when we finish here. We didn’t have any time to spare.

Just as I was getting relaxed because I was on the trail, I realized the quarter-mile side trail was taking us back south to the A.T. almost where it crossed the road by the other lot! So essentially we just added this distance to the hike we had less than an hour to do!

Good to go Thai Curry. Photo courtesy Good To Go Website

Good to go Thai Curry. Photo courtesy Good To Go Website

It wasn’t until we reached the bottom of the climb up Eastern Pinnacles that my anxiety finally drifted away and I was in adventure mode; though I created plenty of anxiety in the process for Fielden Stream. We made quick time of the first easy mile before reaching them. As soon as I saw the rocky climb I knew it would be something awesome and also a little challenging. But I’ve had so many great opportunities this year to push my comfort limits that I literally ran up it without pause. It felt great. My trail runners also needed a real traction test and they didn’t let me down. I took in the long view to Cat Rock and the mountains and valleys beyond as the sun set over them. Fielden began to follow me up the rock outcropping.

I got myself so giddy with my new spidey-senses that as soon as I saw a few women hiking our way, I asked them to take a picture of us on the rocky ledge with the beautiful sunset and ventured a bit down the ledge. This was of course completely insensitive to my wife who was not ready for a picture, or a conversation with strangers while negotiating the climb. Mind you, she climbed them like the best of em, but I embarrassed her.

REI Trail Stool: Only 1lb and $23!

REI Trail Stool: Only 1lb and $23!

They offered repeatedly to do the photo but we declined and I tried to undo my stupidity and went back to help her get the poles in her pack, on top of the ledge. For a second I wasn’t sure I’d be able to balance correctly up there to do it, but I was still maneuvering beyond my own expectations, and it was a breeze. I thank my trail runners as much as Mt. Race.

The women moved down the trail and we stopped to take in the view before also heading down along the rocky spine of the pinnacles. It was like a balance beam for a while, but fun. We headed back into the woods and made our way to Cat Rock, which is just before the shelter.

This formation is a bit different. While it requires a similar climb to the pinnacles, it’s almost completely flat on top, and the western edge drops sheer down into a ravine and the top jutts out over the cliff, almost like a mini mcafee knob. I was also glad here that we went northbound, as the climb down was a bit trickier, and would have been tougher going up. I took in more sunset views and as many photos as I could, though I kinda wish I took one from farther as it would have been more dramatic if I were standing on the edge!

Day 2

Day 2

Fielden stream waited for me to catch up and as we got back into the woods, night was beginning to set in. We had only one or two tenths of a mile to the shelter. We passed one brook which was little more than a puddle, and then saw the sign to the campsite area. Some hiker had dropped used tissues or toilet paper along the last half mile or so of trail. Perhaps a kid? Yes this stuff is biodegradable but its reprehensible that someone would just drop these every quarter mile and if it was a child that the parent didn’t care enough to help them pack it out. It really marred the experience and the trail for us here.

We quickly found a flattish spot to set up our tent. There were a few southbound and a few weekend hikers already set up. Some of them had set up their tents in the shelter, which I think is incredibly obnoxious and entitled. Furthermore, when I was asking them where the bear box and privy were, they wouldn’t even get out of their tent they had set up in the shelter to show me, and got irritated with me when I couldn’t understand where they were saying they were because I couldn’t see them inside their tents and it was getting dark fast. This is not how we share a campsite with others. Just because you were there first, and you’re doing a long distance hike, does not entitle you to act this way. Their two tents took up the entire shelter. While no one else had trouble finding a camping spot, shelters are for those who don’t carry a tent, and to protect people in bad weather.  This entitled behavior is what gives some thrus a bad reputation.

Thanks for catching the flies chasing me!

Thanks for catching the flies chasing me!

Anyway, we went about making dinner, our first time with ‘Good to Go’ brand. We did the Thai curry which could be considered a questionable decision when sharing a tent! They are also around $11.50 each so certainly the meal of short section or weekend backpackers not on a long term budget. But they are reviewed as one of the best dehydrated backpacking meals out there (including a Backpacker Magazine Editor’s choice award), and particularly this recipe. It was tasty, even if it took 20 minutes to cook. I brought along the camp stool again, which I love and hogged the whole night. The 1lb weight is totally worth it, especially for a weekender like me.

After a nice dinner where the bugs enjoyed eating us as much as we enjoyed eating the curry, I managed to find the bear box and get our food put away despite the lack of the hook, and the mcgyvered closure method with the piece of chain that was left. I sent a few pictures to our family and we got ready for bed.

I had decided recently to use my smaller, lighter usb charger to re-charge my phone overnight, and knew that last time I used it it still had about 50% charge. I didn’t check it or re-charge it. Big mistake. It was dead. I use an app to check topo changes and that we’re on trail whenever blazing gets iffy. So I was super annoyed. Next time, I’ll just bring my heavier Anker. It still has its charge 2 months later. Clearly this goal zero lipstick style one doesn’t hold a charge long. I shut off the phone to preserve battery until morning.

Trail Magic #1

Trail Magic #1

We slept just with light cover as it was warm still, though cool enough to be comfortable now that the heatwave broke. The full moon woke me in the middle of the night shining down from the sky.

The next morning I found the small campsite brook and collected some water for our coffee and grits. The privy was absolutely disgusting and left a lot to be desired. Trash was everwhere inside, and spiders the size of baseballs lined the walls and hung from webs above.

Fitzgerald Falls

Fitzgerald Falls

There was an interesting bird call we heard which I think was a whipporwill. We did meet one nice northbound thru and had some conversations with him. I gave him some info on the Connecticut spots (and privies!) he might enjoy best. He didn’t seem to have any issue with this disgusting privy but I was proud to tell him how nice our new moldering open-air privies are! I signed the register after breakfast and we headed up to the trail in a hurry, but letting our new friend go first as we were obviously going to be slower than someone who just did over 1,000 miles. If we could manage it, I really wanted to get the 6.7 miles to where we left off covered. And we were to discuss this as we reached the bottom of this mountain at the first road crossing 1.5 miles north. If we didn’t we’d still have 1.7 miles left of the section and we’d have to do that either on a separate trip, which seemed foolish, or when we were back in October to finish to the NJ line. 1.7 miles… easy, right? Not this 1.7!

We had an easy hike along the ridge from the shelter and then a steep descent to the first road. There was more of the pieces of tissue along the path here…

We crossed the road and since I thought the beautiful Fitzgerald falls were just into the woods on the other side,  I suggested we discuss the plan by the falls… Well the falls were about half a mile into the woods on the next 3.5 mile stretch to the next road. At this point, if we didn’t want to risk not having a ride further out it was go back half mile or go forward 3. So we did the latter. But first we called the taxi company again to check how far they’d go and they had said they could come get us at either road crossing. So we gave them a time frame and they said to call when we were about 30 minutes out. Feeling good to have lined up a ride back, we continued on.

Highlands trail junction

Highlands trail junction

The falls were beautiful and the trail conference had built brand new steps up along it to replace what was left of the original ones. The falls weren’t raging by any means but they had a decent flow and were very lovely.  The stairs were steep but easy, and we passed the second southbounder of the day on the way up. The ascent up to Mombasha High point continued, though because we were going northbound, this ascent and the next (we thought) would be gentler. It was still pretty steep, though before the summit there was a long stretch along a shoulder of the mountain that was nearly flat and was like walking an old woods road.  The mushrooms were everywhere here and we enjoyed listening to more bird calls and trying to identify them.

There was one more short ascent before we reached this mountain’s ridgeline and the intersection with the Highlands trail. That trail takes you 5 miles south along the Sterling ridge to the Sterling Fire tower, which we hiked to in October of 2013 when on a trip to Warwick for Fielden’s sister’s birthday. This is the ridge on the opposite side of Greenwood lake that the A.T. is on.

More boardwalks

More boardwalks

From here we walked the ridgeline for around a mile and enjoyed the breezes, and a snack before the descent. There was a nice little view up there, at about 1,280ft. We passed another southbounder who had confirmed there was a view or two, and gladly he was right. We would meet him again later. The trail descended steeply and then followed a series of boardwalks to West Mombasha road. This is where we would likely stop for the day. Except you know I didn’t want to do that!

Here we had the discussion about the last 1.7 miles. We sat down in the shade on the boardwalk and I did my best convincing that this is only 1.7 miles and we had just done 5 in less than 3 hours, and still had an hour and a half to do this last bit. It couldn’t be that hard! And then we would be able to finish the state on one last glorious hike this season!  We already had a ride guaranteed from either road, so that cinched it.

We crossed the road and met another southbounder who was having a snack and filling up on water from the cache of water jugs left there. We asked what the last bit was like and she said the first part was easier and the second part a bit bumpier. The guy we met on the top of Mombasha high point had also told us it was a bunch of little 500ft ups and downs. The profile didn’t show anything that severe, or so we thought. Or we would maybe have waited on it. Her description wasn’t that intimidating either, and she told us there was another supply of trail magic water at the other end.  Off we went. I was happy.

What the?

What the?

Just before we climbed the first of the ‘three spikes’ in the profile, I noticed several other wide trails here, and a bizarre human ‘target practice’ dummy. It was creepy. I’m assuming someone does some sketchy things here. I picked up the pace and as I rounded the corner, found myself at the bottom of a large rock pile. Here I thought, boy is she going to be pissed! Beyond this boulder pile with the white blazes through it was a cliff ledge. I had done these in Harriman last summer and Fielden certainly has done stuff like this. I had no doubt she could.

But I was going to be in trouble for saying this would be a quick easy section. She was annoyed with me, but it was easier than it looked. There were easy paths through the rocks, and it really wasn’t steep except for the last 10 feet which you could pull yourself up easily. I waited for her at the top while she put away her poles and followed me up. I then moved ahead a bit and followed some ledges to a nice break point where there was a plaque commemorating an Austrian man who was a trail volunteer here for many years and when he died they had spread his ashes here.

FIelden stream met with me here and we enjoyed the ridge walk and the views of Little Dam Lake from the ledges. We were glad we were finally at the top of that and surely the final bump couldn’t be any worse. We had a steep but manageable descent into a hemlock grove and as I was a bit ahead, I let her know with a call when I saw it ahead. Another boulder pile and cliff. Only twice as steep, and with no end in sight.

1 of 2 crazy rock climbs

1 of 2 crazy rock climbs

As I put my poles in my pack, the phone started lighting up with texts and a voicemail from the cab, saying she was in the area, and happy to wait for us a bit if we still needed the ride. I texted her back and left a voicemail saying thanks so much for reaching out to check in and we’d hopefully make it there by 1-130, as the last climb ahead was going to be a doozy. At least a little prepared by my warning, when Fielden arrived at the bottom I helped her pack in her poles and we just set about the business of climbing the monster called Mount Buchanan.

It started with the same negotiating of boulders. But these were much bigger, with not really any room between them, and fallen trees in between to make it a bit more difficult. Though one tree did have a path cut through it. Thanks, volunteers. It then got immediately steeper and more difficult. As I pulled myself up a large rock and negotiated around its backside, I saw ahead that there was another twist to the right through a crack in the cliff face.

As I approached that and balanced myself on a sloped rock along the cliff, I found a root to pull myself safely to the next turn. At this turn, the trail climbed again up a large pile of boulders with a few roots from a nearby tree to grab onto and hoist up. The steepness and the twists did not subside here. Fielden was below me and trying to talk herself through it to me. I totally understand that method, but I was feeling like I was in survival mode and was not talking back. Everything I had in me was used for concentrating on footholds and grabbing roots and rocks that could support the weight of myself and my pack. I made it to the ledge here and just pushed ahead. As I followed that ledge a bit I looked up and again the trail climbed steeply over more jumbled rocks and roots to a higher ledge. I grunted and bitched and looked down only once to know that looking down wasn’t a good idea. But what I thought was the end was ahead. I’m pretty sure I said ‘this ain’t hikin’ anymore folks!’ or something to that effect. I knew a fall here could be a serious or fatal one.

View from Buchanan Mountain

View from Buchanan Mountain

At last I pulled myself up the last bit of it and shouted down to my wife “ are you still alive” which she thankfully answered yes to! We made it to the top, dripping buckets of sweat and thanking the lord above we had no falls on that. And glad we didn’t have to go down it, which we would have had we gone southbound. My balance and gravity are far worse on downhill ledges. Our guts and our trail runners got us through in one piece.

We then wondered why in the hell there is no name for this little feature. In the guide, it’s described as a ‘very steep tumble of rocks.’ While that might be accurate, we dubbed it ‘the cliffs of insanity’ in tribute to the Princess Bride. How Agony Grind and St. John’s Ledges can have a name that illicit fear, but this one doesn’t is beyond me. Combine those two and you’ve got this one. And never during those did I feel in real danger. I like our name for it. There was a nice view at the top but at this point we just had one thing in mind: get to the bottom, get in the cab, and go have ice cream at Bellvale Creamery.

I hurried down ahead to meet the cab driver. On the way I passed the other cache of water and as we ran out a while back, took a big gulp before going out on to the road. I managed to preserve my phone battery and was at about 4% so I was glad she was there waiting already. She was enjoying the day, and a little rest while waiting for us. We thanked her profusely for making sure we connected and got the ride we needed, and told her about the crazy climb on the way back to the creamery. She mentioned the ‘stairway to heaven’ up Wawayanda Mountain just south in New Jersey, but that doesn’t sound so bad compared to what we just did. And suddenly the rebar ladder on the state border seems less intimidating after today. Let’s hope I’m right about that.

View from Bellvale Creamery

View from Bellvale Creamery

We got to our car and drove it down to the creamery which sits at the top of Mt. Peter on the ridgeline. Mt. Peter is also a ski resort, and we could see the trails from the top of the legendary cliff on Buchanan Mountain after enduring the crazy climb.

I was glad to see the car was still there, and that one more piece of the puzzle came together without issue. I hope this helps me learn to just trust in things working out more. Because everything did fall into place, despite the challenges and all my worries. The ice cream tasted great, and I went to get my GoPro to film the amazing pastoral view of the Warwick valley and the Catskills beyond. As I turned around I saw Fielden stream talking to our friend from Mombasha High Point.

He was in need of a ride into town to resupply, so we took him down to the village of Greenwood Lake to a shopping complex. As we couldn’t bring him back up the hill since we had to get back to Connecticut by 3:30, we recommended the Night Owl taxi. Turns out they were right across the street. And even better, which I didn’t know at the time is there’s a trail called the village vista trail that takes you from town back up to the A.T. I hope someone told him about it. I asked him his trail name as we said goodbye and he said it used to be Shepherd because he started his journey hiking the trail with a goat, but the goat was too slow. So he doesn’t really have one now. I should have come up with one, damnit. “Goatless”, maybe? Or “no goat.”

We made it back in good time, excited for our return in October for Fielden Stream’s birthday weekend and the last New York last section. Usually we end our overnight season in October. But who knows, with how warm the weather has been we might get the chance and urge to do one more. That would probably be in Massachusetts. We were going to do that one with the kids, but after this weekend, since the trail has a similar description, we thought it better to start with an easier stretch and not take unnecessary risks. It’s hard enough watching each other go up those crazy scrambles. Watching the kids, while they are probably twice as nimble and able as us, would bring major anxiety and we want to be sure they have fun doing backpacking before taking them mountain climbing!

I will be back out volunteering for the next few weekends in Connecticut. Fielden Stream, Jiffy Pop and Ratchet will be out with me too for the second weekend which we will do as an overnight. Maybe we’ll see you!

Miles day 1: 2.4

Miles day 2: 6.7

— Linus

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Appalachian Trail – Massachusetts Sections 8&9 (partial)

New Vario Speedcross 3's

New Vario Speedcross 3’s

Well, you’ve probably figured out by now that we didn’t go backpacking in New York this weekend. The heat indexes were over 100 degrees for both days, and heavy rain and thunderstorms were predicted. And even if only a 40% chance, if we were having our usual luck, we’d be right under it.

And based on the storm we experienced the previous weekend on our way out of the area, and what we were treated to in Massachusetts Friday night and here in Connecticut last night, any storm that did roll through would have been epic. Hiking out safely would have also meant bypassing Eastern Pinnacles and Cat Rocks, which were both highlights we wanted to experience.

Heading nobo where we left off

Heading nobo where we left off

Sure we coulda taken the chance and toughed it out but being section hikers we have the luxury of picking when and where we go and adapting as necessary. We don’t mind the rain, we’ve toughed it out many times through the storms. But really the heat was the concern. We had 3 mountains to climb, 7 miles of trail, and full packs to carry through all of that.  That might not seem like much distance but the climbs added up to several thousand feet elevation and a lot of exertion. We were seriously concerned about heat exhaustion or worse. I am sure even thru-hikers were zeroing on one of these days or doing a nero (near-zero).

But I still had the day off, and we still wanted to hike, so we modified it a bit. While trying to finish New York, we’ve also started Massachusetts. We did the first 14 miles and change with our friends from Miami in June.

At Shay's Rebellion

At Shay’s Rebellion

That was a great and challenging trip for all of us, and in the process I thought the following section might be a good one to do with the kids later this summer or early fall. Based on the ongoing heatwave, we’re pushing that back to a fall weekend. But I also thought maybe a shorter mileage trip would be a better experience for all. Jiffy pop has done one overnight trip, which was about 7 miles, and Ratchet hasn’t backpacked yet. So I decided we’d do a couple miles in between these sections as a day hike so that the distance is right for the trip with the kids.

Race, Everett and Bushnell beyond

Race, Everett and Bushnell beyond

So we did a 5-mile section continuing northbound from the Shay’s Rebellion site to Homes road, atop June mountain. The first 4 miles were mostly flat through the valley with the exception of climbing the shoulder of Vossberg Hill. Only at the end was a real climb, a steep 600 foot climb in little less than a mile.

I got to test some new gear, which always makes me happy, and honestly its better doing that on a day hike because if you find out something’s not working out, you’re a lot better off.

Muddy turtle

Muddy turtle

I got my new Solomon trail runners (last season’s Vario Speedcross 3 on closeout for half price!) delivered the day before, and also picked up a merino SmartWool short sleeve shirt and some low socks recommended for trail runners at a stop into REI the night before. The trail runners and socks felt great in my house, and I know the merino works great in weather like this to wick sweat and maintain comfort. But the trail is always the real test. I was excited to get up to the top of the mountain to drop off the first car and head down to South Egremont road where the monument is. Even though it was over 90 degrees already, that forecast was about ten degrees less than New York. That’s the other reason we chose Massachusetts.

Wild Onion flower?

Wild Onion flower?

We got photos and videos this time of Shay’s Rebellion monument, which has now been righted from its tilting pose. We were so tired at the end of the last section hike here we just threw our packs in the car and raced to the comfort of our hotel! But I was glad to have brought my friends on that hike, and for my family to see the monument last fall. We headed through the first of many meadows, scorching in the heat, the sweat already dripping profusely. We love finding and identifying wildflowers and there was no shortage here. Not to mention cornfields — lots and lots of cornfields.

We had sweeping views of the Taconic plateau behind — from Bear Mtn in Connecticut all the way north to Jug End and Mt Darcy and Catamount ski resort behind them. I joked to Fielden about how Jug End was our new favorite mountain… er…

Fielden Stream and Wildflowers

Fielden Stream and Wildflowers

We passed one southbound backpacker in the meadow but didn’t really stop to chat – too hot in this spot! We saw lots of Chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod, Morning Glory, and a few others — I believe Wild Onion flower and Butter and Eggs (that one was confirmed). Vossberg hill treated us to a short respite in the woods though a decent little ascent, then it was back into fields and one hemlock stand where we crossed a bridge over a swamp, and found a turtle along the trail. We were certain he was burned, but realized later that he just had mud on his shell, probably to keep cool, or that he just crawled out of the swamp.

We then crossed over train tracks, and through one more meadow alongside a pond, and ran across the busy route 7. This was fun because every time we drive by here I point out the trail crossing (natch!) and now I’ve finally hiked it.

R.R. Trail crossing!

R.R. Trail crossing!

We ran into several more backpackers just after route 7 and chatted with them briefly in the shade. Some were Nobo thrus and the others were Sobos. They too had been chatting and the Nobos had just done a resupply in town and were fully loaded heading out up into the mountains. I felt kinda bad they were carrying that weight in this heat, but reminded myself that they were much more accustomed to this 1,600 miles in.

We went through a few more meadows of cornfields and wildflowers parallel to the Housatonic River. The river looked so refreshing, we wanted to jump in. We crossed it on a road bridge and then walked through a few more meadows and cornfields before heading into the woods for the final climb.

Its an uphill climb

Its an uphill climb

A nice man in an old antique truck with his dog waved to us as we crossed the final road before the ascent, and suddenly we were in the forest again for the rest of the hike.

The mountain climbs about 700 feet up its side very quickly. We had to stop several times to catch our breath. But it was a great test of my new trail runners and shirt, which all performed perfectly. And even though it was stupid hot out and we were climbing a mountain, it was still cooler in the trees. We finally reached the summit of June mountain, which did not have a view. Those are on the ledges just north of here on East Mountain, which we may do with the kids in a month or so. I gotta do some research and make sure it’s not too hairy.

Cool rock formation

Cool rock formation

We beat the eruption of rain by about an hour and watched it roll in from our motel in Great Barrington. A favorite town of ours, we enjoyed some local art shops, had a beer and apps from Barrington brewery, and dinner at a great Greek restaurant.

The next morning we headed home and picked up a few items for the new house. It was even hotter that day, and we were glad to have creature comforts, even though I already missed the trail.

Watch the video of this hike here, and the first part of Massachusetts here.

Miles: 5

— Linus

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 12 (Part 1)

Heading up the grind

Heading up the grind

Tomorrow we leave early for another hike on the New York Appalachian Trail. We started section 12 southbound last Saturday and slack-packed it as a warm up hike for this weekend. We thought about finishing all of the state in these two hikes but something about the rebar ladder up the cliff just north of the N.J. line said it to me that it was best going up that, and with a day pack vs a full weekend pack. So we will likely slack-pack that one too, to finish off our season, and the state in early fall.

Last weekend the weather forecast was much like this weekend’s. Stifling heat and humidity, and chance of heavy thunderstorms. We got both of those last weekend but luckily the rain came after the hike. In this kind of heat though, rain like that can be a blessing as long as you have a way to keep dry. We are going to bring the tarp this time too, as it really saved the day in these conditions last season. There is a shelter but we don’t like to sleep in them, and it will likely be full if the weather is bad.  I am hoping at the least that this means Fitzgerald Falls will be raging when we pass it tomorrow. As long as it doesn’t make the trail to precarious, I don’t mind the rain. We’re just going to drive down early in the morning as we are camping out for the night, so rolling into camp at 630 won’t be a problem and we can start at 10 or 11.

Fielden climbing part 1!

Fielden climbing part 1!

Fielden had such better results with her trail runners and normal socks last weekend and didnt get a single blister! Based on this miracle, and knowing how much rockier the trail has been getting in southern New York, I ordered a pair from the REI outlet that came recommended from a friend, and they will be delivered today. I went by the store yesterday to get some more appropriate socks, and a short sleeve merino shirt. The merino really works better for me in these conditions as it wicks away the sweat a lot better, retains no odor, and dries quickly. For my chemistry I find it better than synthetics in the humid and wet summers. I have one in long sleeve but at 95 degrees heat index, I want a short sleeve. The smartwool shirts are not cheap, but every review I read, and my experience with my current longsleeve say its worth it.  I love having new gear to test, and this weekend will be no exception. There are rock steps along the falls, and the rocky outcroppings of eastern pinnacles and cat rocks. I want all the traction I can get. Hopefully I won’t find the opposite to be true for me, and I load up with blisters with the new shoes and socks.

First view (east)

First view (east)

Last weekend’s section included the famous “Agony Grind”, a 500ft climb up rock piles in less than half a mile. While it was steep, and very rocky, there was really no spot where you would fall long distances or heights if you slipped. I would want to do this less if it was rainy, but going slow it could still be done. We lucked out this time in that it was dry out for the moment. We stayed in Fort Montgomery the night before so we could get to the trail as early as possible, and still be back by 5 to meet other commitments.

The second scramble

The second scramble

We stayed at a nice hotel and ate at a great BBQ place next door. We met a West Point graduate who was headed up there shortly to celebrate his 50 year anniversary of graduation with classmates, do a presentation and then hike. He had done many parts of the A.T. in the south, and we had a nice talk about our plans.

We saw they were having a Native American pow-wow at the Bear Mountain area, and since I am fascinated with that culture and collect Kachina, we wanted to make sure we had time to visit it too. And because we weren’t clear on if there was parking at our originally planned endpoint, we made the hike a little shorter that day and for tomorrow where we knew there was parking allowed. So instead of 5.4 miles we did 3.6. Still, it had many good ups and downs, and some great scenery.

View of Ramapo Valley and 87

View of Ramapo Valley and 87

As we headed over the interstate from Elk Pen, a truck honked at us and I didn’t even do the arm tug! I was filming but sadly had stopped rolling at that time. We ran across rt.17 and headed into the woods to start the climb up Arden Mountain and agony grind. Some thru hikers we saw earlier trying to get a ride into town from near here had set up their camp right by the road in the woods, clearly for this purpose. The uphill started right away, and there were about 4 different sections to ascend.

Fielden at Western view

Fielden at Western view

Someone was set up in their hammock on the ridge by the first view, half way up. It was very pretty throughout the ascent, and we were in good spirits and enjoying it. We met some thru hikers and stopped to chat with them below the third scramble. They had just resupplied so got a late start today. As we were chatting with them and exchanging blogs and instagram accounts, we saw another group of backpackers and they joined the chat. As the thru-hikers headed north (and thanked me for being a volunteer!), and I asked Fielden to get some good footage of my ascent up one of these scrambles, these southbound backpackers recognized us from when we hiked through section 10 in April! They too stayed at William Brien shelter that night. Small world.

Fielden at Western view

Fielden at Western view

They were headed to Wildcat shelter for the night, where we are headed tomorrow. We passed each other on and off along the way and chatted each time. We told them at the last stop together that we were parked at the next road so that would probably be the last time we see them. They were finishing New York and we still had more to go. But you never know. We had a snack at the top of Arden Mountain at a trail crossing, and signed a trail register there. It apparently goes 2 miles north to the Harriman train station. We passed a group camped on a ledge on the western side of the mountain, that the thru hikers had told us about. They didn’t seem to be backpacking as they had a fairly large campsite and lots of beer. Even though its a good uphill to this site, its not too long a hike.

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

Where we met our old friends at the last stop together on Orange Turnpike there was all sorts of trail magic, both at the bottom of the hill and the top. At the bottom there was a whole tarp / lounge setup with a trash bin, a bin of fresh fruit, water jugs, sodas, snack bars, bug spray, even athletes foot cream! There was a register book too which we signed. Our friends snapped a photo of us here before heading off. There were a few blackberry bushes and we all treated ourselves to some.

I’m certain they got stuck in the storm that rolled in later, but hopefully made it to the shelter not too long after to dry off. At the top of the last short climb of the day, there was a camping area and a first aid trail magic box, full of first aid supplies! I’ve never seen that before. This uphill was a bit steep but not too long and before long we were descending to the edges of LIttle Dam lake.

1st aid trail magic

1st aid trail magic

The lake was absolutely beautiful, and we spotted what I thought was Indian paintbrush but was actually cardinal flower. It lined the lake, which itself was full of lily pads and croaking bullfrogs. At the inlet area where you cross on stone steps, there were obvious signs of camping areas, but no signs saying it was prohibited. Though I’ve read you’re not allowed in the guide and on whiteblaze. In New York, I think the unspoken rule is you can camp where needed if you leave no trace. The cardinal flower was everywhere here and was quite beautiful. We saw another trail magic area on the way back to the road, with a couple more water jugs. I think that is great as long as the people come back and pick them up when they are empty. Its been brutal weather. I know how much we appreciated it when we were in Massachusetts.

Cardinal Flower at Little Dam Lake

Cardinal Flower at Little Dam Lake

When we did get back to our car, someone had written “hi” in the dirt next to it. We were hoping it was our friends from William Brien. We gave them the blog address so guys if you’re reading this and that was you, leave a comment!

On our way to get the other car at Elk Pen, we stopped at a gas station in Southfields near the trail to get some drinks and use the bathroom. Even though the gas station was state of the art and in pristine condition, they had a sign on the door that said ‘bathroom out of order, sorry use porta-potty outside.” We got our snacks and the second car and tried to find a bathroom farther up the road on the way to the pow-wow. There was a gas station with a ‘Wally-Mart” right across from the Harriman train station on rt. 17 that the blue trail leads to from the A.T. on Arden Mountain. Guess what, they said no bathrooms too. Clearly, the proximity to the trail has made these two businesses refuse to offer their bathrooms to hikers. I’m not going to pass judgement on these decisions, but I thought if you were reading this, you should know the situation and not expect that amenity at these places.

We drove over to Anthony Wayne Recreation area for the pow wow. We ate Indian Fry bread, bought some momentos, watched some dances, and I got to go inside a Tee Pee and shoot a bow and arrow for the first time since summer camp. I was quite good back then and once I got comfortable with the bow, I got a near bullseye on my second attempt. I am always looking for more ways to relax and decompress in this hectic world and I found the local Y is doing adult archery courses in the fall. So I think I’m going to try the class and see if its something I enjoy doing regularly.

Little Dam Lake lily pads

Little Dam Lake lily pads

We saw the black clouds start to roll in around 4 and headed to the car, literally as the sky opened up with torrential rain. The drive back over the Bear Mountain bridge and around Anthony’s nose in the downpour was sketchy. The road winds up and around the mountains and we could barely see out of the windshield. It didn’t last long though and before you knew it it was sunny and humid and sweltering hot again. The rain never did make it to our home in Connecticut.

"Hi" at the road

“Hi” at the road

This weekend is the famous perseid meteor shower and the display is supposed to be better than most years. I hope the skies are clear enough to see from the shelter. We will also look tonight from our deck, but we live in a small city, and its currently raining now, so its anybody’s guess if we will see anything. We are also excited because the Bellvale Creamery ice cream shop and the hot dog stand are right at our end point Saturday, so we plan to reward ourselves properly when we get back to the car.

Archery is fun!

Archery is fun!

After tomorrow’s section, we have only 5 or so miles left of New York! Also, you’ve probably noticed I’m beardless now. It’s just been way too hot a summer for a fur-face!

I added the recent footage to the New York video, and I can’t wait till we finish the final section and I can post the video of the whole state!

Miles: 3.6

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Mt Algo and Bulls Bridge

Misty trail at Rt 341

Misty trail at Rt 341

Last weekend I was back up in the Kent area for another patrol hike, and for a special meeting of trail minds. Several years ago the AMC, with the support of local town officials, created a group called the Bulls Bridge task force. They monitor the historic Bulls bridge area and keep the parties out, the trails and riverbanks clean, and the people safe. Lately, larger and larger groups are attempting to come in to the area fully loaded with picnic coolers, alcohol, BBQ gear, and more. It’s not a state park and there are no bathrooms, or lifeguards, or janitors to clean up. It is a very beautiful area though so locals from near and far like to visit. This area is just .2 miles off the A.T. and while most of these big crowds aren’t coming to hike the A.T., many A.T. hikers also use the side trail through here as a shortcut to access the amenities on the road across the river. So our AMC chapter helps maintain and protect this spot as well due to its proximity to the A.T.

Algo Shelter

Algo Shelter

They invited me to join the meeting so I could see how the park service works with us, the towns and other maintaining clubs to keep the trail and adjacent properties safe. The special meeting the task force was having on this day was with the NPS ranger in charge of the A.T., and the first selectman from Kent, to address the current issues and come up with additional strategies to keep the increasing numbers of visitors manageable. I stopped by on the way to my hike to confirm the meeting time and say hello, then headed up to the trail crossing on rt 341. I passed many thru hikers walking into town to resupply, as well as several others down by the bridge when I stopped in.

I wanted to check in at Mt. Algo shelter and see what condition the water source was in there, as well as at Thayer Brook.

The Green Tunnel

The Green Tunnel

At last I heard the Algo brook was dry, but we had a lot of rain lately, and so I was hoping it had helped. Its a fairly steep 1,000ft climb up Algo, but I had a New York section to do the following weekend with Fielden Stream with a feature called “Agony Grind,” so it seemed like a little warm-up thigh-burner was in order. The shelter is about .6 up the trail from the road, or about halfway to the summit. The brook is on the side trail from the A.T. to the shelter, and I was happy to see it was running again. There were several hikers in the shelter packing up. There were 2 northbound and 2 southbound hikers. I asked them if they had any questions on town or trail resources ahead, and gladly answered them and enjoyed a brief chat about the weather and trail conditions ahead and behind. There were no fire rings to clear, so I swept the privy and signed the register. I was looking for some of the hikers I was following on YouTube but while I didn’t see them, I did see Vino’s name, who found Ninja Roll’s phone for him in Virginia. So that was kinda cool.

Thayer Brook

Thayer Brook

It was steamy and sweltering hot this morning – the air was not moving at all. I was soaked with sweat by the time I got to the summit, so I cruised quickly down the other side to the gap where Thayer Brook sits between Mt. Algo and Schaghticoke Mountain. I took off my pack and cooled off and had a snack. Thayer brook was running strongly, as I suspected. I dipped my hat in the cold water of the brook before I started up again, which helped cool me down. As I left the brook to return towards my car I heard a very loud branch snap down the brook, and went into paranoia mode. All these stories of big predators in the woods by the trail lately, and my mind got the best of me. I made double time back up to the summit, and then even faster on the way down. I heard more branches snapping on the way down and imagined I was being stalked by a bear or panther!

Love on the Rocks

Love on the Rocks

I need to stop reading so much trail gossip on the forums… soon I had a nobo thru hiker right behind me, who was very possibly responsible for the noises behind me I let freak me out.  He made me laugh because not only did I realize he was probably the bear or panther, but he also said the southbounders who passed him earlier said the shelter was much closer, and I said hey well you’re here now, and there’s water! I said goodbye as he went down the shelter path and got to my car soon after. I was relieved to be back in the car and cooling off in the air conditioning. I drove down the dirt road that parallels Schaghticoke mountain back to the Bulls bridge. I passed a few more thru-hikers making their way up the section of trail that is on the road.

Yours Truly with the Bulls Bridge crew and Ranger

Yours Truly with the Bulls Bridge crew and Ranger

It was great to meet the ranger and hear his vast knowledge of all things trail and his ideas and suggestions to help the group manage the surging number of visitors to the area.  I felt privileged to be part of a meeting with such dedicated volunteers and our counterparts in the park service.  The next few weekends, Fielden Stream and I will be back in New York to work on finally finishing the state. We will do it in 2 or 3 more hikes, including some day hikes, especially on the treacherous rebar ladder up the cliff on what I think is Bellvale Mountain. I want to be going UP that, and with a daypack if I can have the choice!

Miles: 3.5

– Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Weekend at Ten Mile

Welcome to Connecticut!

Welcome to Connecticut!

Last weekend was sweltering hot, but that doesn’t keep the likes of me at home! Some last minute developments changed things quite a bit, and so not only did I not hike the previous weekend originally planned, but I also moved the hike from up in Falls Village to the southern end of the Connecticut trail. It also meant I had some company this weekend, and I was basically in charge of the campsite for the night to boot.  That was also good news to my ridge runner coordinators who were glad to have this popular campsite covered for the night. All the hikers were so curteous towards me, and I loved answering their questions and helping them out with whatever they needed to know.

Some friends from the city were doing their first backpacking trip in a long time, and bringing their sons along on their first overnight. I truly wish Jiffy Pop could have joined for this one but he had plans with a friend, and was really excited about that too.

Top of Ten Mile Hill

Top of Ten Mile Hill

I went through some options with them for good sections for a first adventure for the boys, and ultimately decided on this one. They were considering some New York locations but naturally I swayed them to a perfect one in Connecticut!  The section had a great campground, only one climb each morning of manageable challenge, a river to splash around in when were were overheating, and a shelter, should they want to stay in one. The distance was only 2.8 miles from car to camp, and had a nice view on the summit for their reward as well.

Brushing in the trail edge

Brushing in the trail edge

We made arrangements to meet at the trail head lot at Route 55. I started just a bit south at the New York state line, and met them at the lot just as they were unloading from the cars. I also saw our AMC crew in the lot, mowing. Having had been there a weekend or two before with my in-laws, the difference was appreciated. They would be headed to the campground we were after mowing here, but given the stifling heat they made quick work of it and were finished and gone by the time we arrived.

Home for the weekend

Home for the weekend

With the kids we took our time and made sure everyone had sufficient breaks for water and rest and snacks, including a nice lunch break at the top of Ten Mile hill. We also played a game where we quizzed the boys on the fourteen states that make up the A.T. route to distract from the tough climb. The view on the top has been cleared here recently which was nice because I was worried they wouldn’t see much for all that uphill they just did. The boys set a quick pace for the descent after lunch and wandered ahead of us a bit and accidentally down a side access trail to private property that abutted the A.T. We called them back and I saw the perfect opportunity for them to learn a bit about what I do. As  the boundary between these two trails was obviously unclear to anyone not looking closely, I had them help me brush in the trail edge more thoroughly with logs and leaves. In just a few minutes, a much more defined trail edge had been born, and everyone felt good to be a part of improving the trail.

Cooling off

Cooling off

We reached camp and got our tents set up by the river. Well actually my friends got there a few minutes before me, as I stopped to talk to some day hikers and section hikers and let them know about the campground amenities and the water situation north of here, should they decide to carry on (it was hot, and very tempting to stay here for the night). There were caches of water bottles left at both the Hoyt Rd and Rt. 55 lot kiosks by local trail angels, like we saw in Massachusetts the month before. I’ve read a lot of comments on the various hiking and backpacking websites where hikers are specifically requesting water at certain road crossings, and locals obliging. As long as the empty bottles are getting picked up later, I think this is the best kind of trail magic. Especially in these conditions. Luckily, this campsite is one of the ones that has a water pump, though you still need to filter that water.

Filtering at the pump

Filtering at the pump

When I got to the campground I teased my friends that they took my spot, but by that I meant they found the best spot, and I set up next to them. We compared notes on our tents and other gear old and new. Everyone enjoyed my new accessory, the REI camp chair as much as I did as we socialized. At only $25 and 1lb 2oz, it was a luxury I could afford for a quick overnight. I don’t have the best back in the world so it was great when I needed to change into my water/camp shoes or prepare a snack.  We said hello to some of the other hikers already in camp and then went to cool off in the water for a few. My friends in the AMC did a great job mowing the fields at the campsite, and later some hikers set up their tents on the lawn where on an earlier visit I made here the grass was 4ft tall. This is really when the peak thru hiker bubble passes through the area, so the timing was right. After a while I went up the trail to the Bull’s Bridge to see my friends in the maintaining club and check the other common stealth campsites along the way. It was nice to just have my nalgene and not a heavy pack and I made quick time of the visit and hiked back with a section hiker from New Haven and showed him around the campsite.

Dawn from my tent

Dawn from my tent

When I got back to camp my friends were still enjoying the water and I felt like it was high time to cool off myself. I spent about 30 minutes cooling off in the river and watching the crawfish pop out from the rocks by my feet and the trout swimming by in schools. I spoke to a nice man named Anthony who was from neighboring Putnam County, N.Y. who was walking his dogs and letting them cool off in the river as well.

We thought we heard either an eagle or a red-tailed hawk screeching as we hiked down the mountain to camp that morning, and we heard it again as we were at the river. A father and daughter who had come into the campsite earlier and who were hiking from Connecticut to North Carolina  (Lost Cause and Rewind) said they saw a bald eagle down river, though we did not. I’m still not sure which it was, but it was definitely a bird of prey. Rewind was 11 years old and has been hiking with her dad since she was 3. She was so curious and inquisitive and I loved how she kept coming over and asking me questions, particularly about why we have some of the rules we do here in Connecticut.

Linus and Ninja Roll

Linus and Ninja Roll

I lent my new friend, Janesport, my second stove as hers had a leak, and she treated everyone to spaghetti dinner. This was a nice treat as I didn’t have to cook my dinner, and my stomach was feeling a little iffy after some bad chinese the night before. TMI, sorry. But the pasta was perfect to settle my stomach.

They then went for a walk up the trail as I had recommended to check out the rapids and get some more exercise while I took a nap. When they got back we made smores and then spent some more time at the river. As sun set, we visited the Ned Anderson bridge so I could show them all the spider activity coming to life. They were just as amazed as me when I saw it on my last overnight there. We hung the bear bags and the boys came up with some imaginary theater, acting as bears trying to get to the bear bag.

Nature provides

Nature provides

We hit the hay and I think I slept pretty well but I was worried I would snore a bit because I forgot my allergy meds, and they let me know I did! I hope the three hammocking across from us didn’t hear it too loudly. Our tents were pretty close which is why I think my friends heard.

The next morning Janesport made everyone including Lost Cause and Rewind pancakes and I boiled my coffee and went for a walk to check out the shelter and get water after answering some questions for the thrus in for the night. As I made it up to the shelter not half awake from my coffee yet, I suddenly realized the hiker standing before me was Ninja Roll, aka Alan Craig, who we’ve been following on YouTube since he started in Georgia! I was so excited because I had missed several of the other hikers we had been following by as little as a few hours. I wish Fielden Stream had been there too, but she was excited for me. We chatted for a while about some other thrus he also knew about that we were following, and their progress.

Beautiful stone steps

Beautiful stone steps

I signed the register, got a head count, and asked him to stop by the campground after he packed up so we could get a photo. I was super happy when I went back to the campsite and told my friends and asked my friend Matt to take a picture of me and Ninja Roll. A few minutes later he came by and we all spoke for a while before he headed off. If you’re reading this Alan, great to meet you and have a great hike!

We packed up our campsite and I did my notes and cleared a fire ring by the ‘beach’ while they went for one more swim. It was a little cooler now, but was heating up fast. There were a few raspberry bushes and while not completely ripe, we enjoyed a few before starting up the beautiful stone stairway our club has built for hikers heading up the slope. It’s a steeper and longer climb up the mountain going southbound and we made our way up, admiring our trail work from the previous day, and meeting other hikers on their way north. I gave them more advice on the water and campsite situations and they were ever greatful, as was I for being the one that could help all these hikers, including another nobo hiker named Alan. At the top we stopped for another long snack break and I split off to let my friends enjoy the rest of their journey at their own pace while I cruised down the trail to make it back home for my own kids midday.

Trail angels provide

Trail angels provide

I stopped on the way home to find some dining room chairs for the new house and Fielden Stream came up the next day to look at them while I was at work. She picked up a few thru hikers who had zeroed in town the night before and they got talking about the trail, and eventually me and my volunteering. She mentioned that I was out at Ten Mile the night before and coincidentally it was the three hammockers across from us at the campground that weekend. Small world. Trail Karma, whatever you call it. It was cool for all of us.

Miles day 1: 6.2

Miles day 2: 3.25

— Linus