Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 2

Hitting the hayfields near Unionville

Hitting the hayfields near Unionville

This past weekend we returned to the trail in New Jersey for our march north! We still have about 24 miles to complete that we skipped, and we will be back to do that either this fall or next spring. Besides that all we have left is the 9 miles to the NY border from Vernon. On this trek we continued where we left off with our friends in Unionville, and did all of section 2, finishing in Vernon NJ. We got shuttled by a great guy from the area, formerly involved with the trail conference. He helped build Pochuck (where we spent the night) and Wawayanda shelter.

Pochuck Mountain in the distance

Pochuck Mountain in the distance

He was also part of the crew who blazed the trail through here, got it off the roads, and helped with the boardwalk projects in the area. We have a good mutual friend in the trail community who recommended him to me. He’s a gem!  He gave us some nice bead necklaces he made when he picked us up and told us he heard the water source at the bottom of Pochuck mountain was reported to be off as we drove by it on the way to our starting point. Since that was expected to be the case, we stopped by a shop in Unionville and got our water topped off. I also  bought an extra bottle as I planned to fill up there and only had brought enough for the first few miles so I didn’t have to carry 6 extra pounds of water.

At the nature preserve

At the nature preserve

We hit the trail around 1230, planning and expecting to be at the shelter early so we could have our pick of the few tenting areas, and set up our tarp, which we only bring along when we know we have lots of rain on the way. What an understatement! We had a small hill or two before a short roadwalk that would take us to the Wallkill wildlife refuge, the only one of its kind along the whole A.T. Here you do about a 2 mile loop around a giant rectangle that had elements of the everglades to it, for obvious reasons. There’s even a birding platform at the north end. But that was not required.

Baby turtle

Baby turtle

We saw heron, egrets, tanagers, and buzzards. We saw lots and lots of thistle with monarch butterflies and bumblebees practically glued to their blossoms. We saw a small turtle, and many types of other wildflowers. It was a lovely walk and there was what we call ‘breeze magic’ to keep us cool, as a large storm was moving in in the next few hours.  In full sun and the temps we had last week, that might not have been as enjoyable. We took our time as we had lots of it, and stopped at a few benches along the way to enjoy it before heading up into the woods. At the last bench we met a thru hiker with her dog toby and mentioned the water source and she said she saw it was just updated in the gut hook app that it was back on. At around the same time George asked us if we could check it on the way up the mountain so he had the most current information.

Bead magic from George

Bead magic from George

At the next road crossing was the bottom of the climb. And a property down the road with a barn that had a water machine and was selling water for 50 cents a gallon. They have a change machine and a fancy water dispenser and all that. They also have a ton of signs saying they have video surveillance cameras everywhere. While I think this is a really nice service they’re providing given how low water is in the area in the heat of summer, the idea that they would prosecute you if you filled up some water and didn’t have 50 cents is a little over the top and besides there IS a free water source .1 mile up the trail, actually closer in distance to the trail crossing than the barn.

Got nice and close, one of my best photos yet!

Got nice and close, one of my best photos yet!

I walked to the barn thinking that was the source but then as we went up the trail the vacant house with the spigot in back was very close and indeed the water was back on. So I question why they have that setup at the barn – is it for when the spigot is off? Or is it for hikers like me who thought that was the water source in the guide? Who knows. Either way its not expensive IF you have some money on you.  Also, many trail angels leave jugs of water at trail crossings.

Egrets

Egrets

Anyway after checking the spigot we did the rest of the quick intense climb up to the shelter.  It was another .4 miles of steep to the shelter side trail. But we got there with plenty of time, around 320pm. Hiker midnight, even with a storm rolling in, was at least 8pm. We got our tent and tarp setup and greeted the thru hikers as they came in, including the woman with the dog we met at the edge of the preserve.  A few other thrus came in to use the privy and then they continued on to Vernon to stay in town and wait out the rains there. A ridgerunner also came in, and my wife recognized him as the one we met last September at backpackers campsite in DWG. We had a nice time catching up with him after our dinner and a few games of blackjack.

Our camp setup for rain

Our camp setup for rain

Around 8 the storm rolled in as predicted. The winds were high, and the rain came down in flash flood proportions.  We had setup on a bit of an uphill so water wouldn’t pool under our tent. But because the wind was so intense, it did manage to blow some water under our tent footprint. But we stayed completely dry through it all, not a drop made it into the tent from above and the footprint helped minimize the water beneath.  It stopped around 7 am and the stream of thru hikers at the shelter were on their way. When we mosied out of our tent at 730 to start packing up they were long gone. We had some breakfast, packed up, signed the shelter register and said goodbye to the ridgerunner.

Rock wall up Pochuck

Rock wall up Pochuck

Then we continued the climb up and over Pochuck Mountain’s many ridges and shoulders. We went over the main peak and met some guys there who knew our shuttle driver. One said he’s the reason they love hiking. We know he took a lot of kids from the area out on the trail when he was a high school teacher in town.  Clearly he inspired many youth. We continued through rocky climbs, boulder fields, forests and along ridges – one with a nice view west to Kittatinny mountain and the preserve and farms below. We crossed a few roads, including one to a girl scout camp that was buzzing with activity. As we came down the steep eastern side of the mountain into Vernon valley, the trail was lined with endless raspberries, which was just the pickup we needed. Many of the houses along here had their own trails here to the A.T. and beyond, clearly to harvest all the berries. We did our best bear impression and indulged in a feast of berries.

The view west from Pochuck Mountain

The view west from Pochuck Mountain

The trail then reached the beginning of the famous boardwalks. The first was the Pochuck Boardwalk, completed in the 90s I believe. Its almost a full mile of wooden boardwalks over the marshes, with many spots for benches. However there were no benches on this stretch. They’ve had a lot of trouble with parking on the road here and the neighbors association has done much to discourage people parking and starting the walk here vs the other end in Vernon 2 miles east. So we guessed they took the benches off this side to discourage lingering for long periods of time and I assume easing congestion at the parking area near their homes.

Fielden Stream on the boardwalk

Fielden Stream on the boardwalk

I have mixed feelings about this. While I understand things were getting out of control at times, this is not only a large tourist attraction built by the town for enjoyment by ALL residents, but also part of a national scenic trail that’s been there for almost 100 years. Perhaps they should have taken that into consideration before moving there. Most people who live by the trail embrace it and provide trail magic and move there on purpose…  But I digress… not my battle. There were nice views of Wawayanda Mountain where the trail continues up to Pinwheel vista and the Stairway to heaven, as well as Mountain Creek ski area further down the ridge.

Snakes on the boardwalk

Snakes on the boardwalk

We saw some garter snakes enjoying sunning themselves on the edge of the boardwalk, and found our first bench just before the big footbridge. We sat for a few to talk to someone we met at the trail head the day before but were baking in the sun so continued on. The footbridge sways a bit because its on floating foundations and is a wonder of design. From here the trail wound through woodlands again for a mile which was nice because we got to cool off a bit from the sun. If there’s one place we didn’t want the sun to come back was right when we got to the boardwalk with no shade! This area too reminded us of the everglades, with its boardwalks and wildlife everywhere.

Berry heaven

Berry heaven

We got some food recommendations from the locals we met on the trail and thinking of that powered us forward to the home plate, though the boardwalks on the other side were really just planks and need their own upgrade. We got to the car and as much as we wanted to have ice cream at Heaven Hill farm, we wanted real food first, and not from a hot dog stand. The places recommended to us were 10 miles in the wrong direction. So we headed north and found a place along Greenwood lake, and boy was I temped to rent a lake house for the night and swim off all the stink and dirt till the sun went down! But alas it was home we were headed till next time. You can watch the video of the hike here

The Pochuck footbridge

The Pochuck footbridge

It was a great hike and the only regret I have is that one of our favorite thru hikers we’ve been following online was literally only half a day in front of us, and we would have loved to have met him and bought him his favorite – ice cream! We seem to be missing all the thrus on the trail that we’ve been following, by just hours. Such was the case as well with Scoutmaster in May, but we got a nice thank you card from him when he completed his thru this summer.

Up next, we’re finishing the last 14 miles of Massachusetts – next month if we can. And I have several ridgerunning weekends to do. See you out there!

Miles day 1: 4.3

Miles day 2: 6.5

– Linus

 

 

 

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Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 6

July 5, 2018

We finished the last section of our A.T. hiking in Shenandoah National Park this morning. We had a few curveballs thrown at us along the way.  But we adapted and we endured and I think made a lot of prudent decisions that we had the luxury to make as section hikers. I wish we had done the overnight but seeing our third bear in the park on skyline drive near the hut we would have stayed at helped me feel a little better about not doing that! We also saw another bear right behind the lodge (photo below).

We did our biggest number of hikes in a single week so far and that’s another milestone.  This will help us prepare for 4-5 day overnights as well which is another reason we wanted to stay all week and do multiple hikes. 

After we got off trail and finished our A.T. section, we headed for the Lewis Spring falls lot so I could go back and finally see the real view of the falls (photo below). It was another 1,000ft descent and ascent but this route was only 1.8 miles round trip vs the 3.4 mile route I took from the lodge last time. It was a tough climb down and up but worth it. And now it won’t bother me for the next year. Fielden Stream and her dad were waiting for me at the lot with a blackberry milkshake from the wayside, which sure hit the spot and helped revive me after the climb. They saw more bears at the wayside while getting me the milkshake — a mom and her two cubs in a tree.

Rain has finally come and the heatwave is breaking. I thought about running back up to the park (we’re in Luray now) and hitting Mary’s rock from Thornton Gap as its so close. However if its raining on that steep trail, and there’s no view because of the rain, I’m not sure I’m going to do it. I’d like to visit the outfitter in Luray and explore the town a bit. I’m proud of what we’ve done this week.

A.T. miles with Fielden Stream: 3.2

Lewis Spring falls trail miles (out and back): 1.8

– Linus

More bears!

More bears!

Lewis Falls

 

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 5

July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday we went up to Skyland for dinner with the family, and saw another bear, this time grazing on the side of skyline drive at dusk.

Today as planned, Fielden Stream and I did another A.T. section in Shenandoah National Park from South River Falls Picnic Area (with A.T. access .1 down the South River Falls trail) to the Lewis Mountain Campground Picnic Area where we left off on Sunday. This was a 6 mile section. We decided on splitting the 9 miles left that we planned to do due to the high temps and humidity.  We will do the last 3 tomorrow before we leave the park. While we haven’t done as many miles as we hoped, we feel taking these precautions was the right move. Bites and poison ivy can quickly become open infected wounds in the woods, especially if you’re scratching them a lot. Add the risk of dehydration and heat stroke in a week of solid 90+ temps and you’re looking at even more risk. The trail isn’t going anywhere. At the end of this trip we will have done about a quarter of the A.T in the park and that’s awesome!

We got an early start and while it was already heating up, we were in the green tunnel by 10am where the temps were much more bearable than anywhere exposed to the sun. Walking along the ridge lines we had many cool breezes and it was not a bad hike at all! We only had 2 climbs – one up Baldface mountain and one up Lewis mountain (I did the extra .3 mile spur up to the summit but the view was not much to write home about!). Neither were more than 700ft and both were the usual gradual nice climbs and descents we’ve experienced for the majority of the trail through here. Besides one steeper switchbacked descent, it was flat easy trail the rest of the way. We passed the Picosin cabin which is one of the ones you can rent from the PATC, and the Lewis Mountain campground as we reached the end of the hike.  We also had one bit where the A.T. and Skyline drive followed right next to each other.

We had a large raven swoop down over us at the campground, and also saw a large male and female deer as well as a family of turkeys crossing the trail. A small bit of rain moved in just after we got to our car at the end of the hike but it wasn’t long before the heat came back and burned everything dry. If we were still hiking I’m sure that dousing would have been welcome and refreshing.

I am considering a jaunt down to Dark Hollow falls or another walk down to Lewis Spring falls later to get that view finally, but we will see.

Miles: 6

Linus Miles (including out and back on summit spur trail): 6.6

– Linus

SNP Wayside blackberry milkshake

SNP Wayside blackberry milkshake

Black bear on Skyline drive

Black bear on Skyline drive

Wildflower #2

Wildflower #2

Wildflower #1

Wildflower #1

Nice trail work coming down a steep hillside

Nice trail work coming down a steep hillside

Fielden Stream descending Baldface mtn

Fielden Stream descending Baldface mtn

View from Lewis Mtn summit

View from Lewis Mtn summit

Shenandoah National Park – Days 3 and 4

July 2&3 2018

You’re probably worried I saw another bear and got eaten, and that’s why you haven’t heard from me for 2 days… Well not to worry! While some of the hiking plans were sidelined by poison ivy and insect attacks resulting in some fun swelling and a run to town for Benadryl and bandaids, we are alive and we have done some more hikes though a bit shorter these last two days. We took Fielden’s parents and sister up to the stunning view on Blackrock Summit (the one at Big Meadows not the mountain of that name farther south) yesterday and then had our postponed picnic at the Big Meadows picnic ground. We also visited the Byrd visitor center to get our A.T. passport stamped and do the museum exhibit, as well as doing all of our laundry at the campground. We stopped at the wayside to check out the shop and get some charcoal for the BBQ. How did I forget to get a blackberry milkshake there! Not to worry, that will happen before we leave.

Today Fielden and I made the painful choice to skip the backpacking overnight on this trip to let the wounds heal and stay as sterile as possible to avoid infection. However we will be doing two more A.T. section day hikes tomorrow and Thursday.  Today she went to a museum down in the valley with her family and I did the A.T./Lewis Spring Falls loop from the lodge as I was going stir crazy and came here to hike! This loop is right behind the lodge and had a 1,000ft descent and climb back up. It started and ended with the great views at Black Rock summit as that trail leads down to the A.T. From there I followed the A.T. about .3 miles north before the turnoff and a 1.2 mile descent along the ridgeline on the Lewis Spring trail.

There is a viewing area of part of the falls, but I am a little annoyed with myself because I missed the farther viewing trail that showed the falls cascading off the ledge and instead I was just at the top of the drop-off where they had a waterfall safety sign. I had thought this was the viewing area and wasn’t very impressed. Well I’m gonna blame the trail posts there as they were very hard to read and it was not at all clear I was supposed to continue along across the brook to see this view! I figured there had to be more to it than what I saw, and now that I’m looking it up, well, I feel pretty dumb. I was supposed to go further to a viewing platform, and I never did because I thought that was the end of the path. Bummer. After that it was a long tough 1.4-mile climb up including the last mile of the A.T section we did on Sunday,,,  

But it was a beautiful hike nonetheless… next time I will go the extra distance. Heck I might just have to go back and see it before I leave if there’s time. But just in case there’s not, Google it if you want to see what I was supposed to see.

Time for a beer and a snack. Tomorrow we will fill in the gap from Swift Run gap to Lewis Mountain Campground and Thursday morning we plan to do from the lodge up to Hawksbill Gap.

Miles: 3.4

– Linus

Hiker humor, Blackrock, Big Meadows

Hiker humor, Blackrock, Big Meadows

Lewis Spring Trail

Lewis Spring Trail

Wild rose

Wild rose

Lewis Spring upper falls (I missed the lower!)

Lewis Spring upper falls (I missed the lower!)

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 2

Sunday, July 1, 2018

As the day ends with another perfect sunset from the lodge, we are nursing some new wounds and continuing to re-arrange a few things.  Yesterday we got a late start and so we skipped ahead to the next section from Swift Run Gap. We will fill that gap on Thursday morning.

Our shuttle got delayed by another client, so rather than a 1030 pickup it ended up being around noon. We had 8.3 miles approximately to do on each of those sections, so it wasn’t really about the miles but the terrain and the pickup / rendezvous later in the day.  We had a reservation at the campsite made months ago and we were all planning to go and have a picnic dinner there before Fielden Stream and I camped there for the night.  This wasn’t a backpacking overnight anymore, just a cookout and campout to keep logistics easy for the rest of the family who are non-hikers/campers.  This was still the plan for most of the day.  So we were trying to get back to Big Meadows by 5 so we could throw everything for the overnight in a car or our packs and head down to the campsite.

We’re pretty confident in our ability to cover around 2 miles an hour except in very difficult terrain so even though we got a late start, we figured if we did this section next we could also eliminate the time it would take for the pickup and shuttle back. There were two (and later we would discover -3- ) significant climbs on this hike but a long stretch of gentle downhill and flat in the middle.  We planned on a 5pm return to the lodge. During our hike the rest of the family would pick up food for the BBQ.

Our wonderful friend and shuttle driver Rhonda from Harpers Ferry got us down to Lewis Mountain campground quickly and told us about the many many bears she’d seen driving up her previous client from Front Royal. While some might have been repeats, she saw over 20 that morning. It was some kind of sign…

The climb up Bearfence was full of switchbacks, and a bunch of bell flowers. It was not a tough climb except for the fact that the sun was shining down on that southern slope so we got heated up quickly. Luckily there was some relief at the top, and while FIelden took a break at the summit loop trail, I ran up to bag the summit and take in the view from a rocky outcropping. This one was slightly blocked by foliage but it was still a great view. They do also have a half mile long rock scramble hike along the ridge up there, but as we were limited on time and it was very hot, rocky ridge walks with a lot of hand and foot negotiation wasn’t going to work.

From here the trail was gentle and green and followed Skyline drive for a few miles before reaching the climb up Hazeltop. This was a larger climb, about 700ft.  It was completely shaded which helped with the long switchbacked climb over a mile long. We were definitely trying to remain quiet so we might see some bears, though I admit I was my regular chatty self for the first few miles.

If not for the fact that I was concentrating on powering up this climb and had little breath to talk much, I probably would have startled the bear away much earlier! As I came around a switchback I heard a loud crash and saw a bear run up the hill about 100ft.  It was a very large male, about the size of a smart car. While this was my first bear encounter (finally!) I at least had many years to think about this moment and prepare. He stopped up the hill a bit and stared at me, curious – even posing a bit. I called down to Fielden Stream to let her know, and the bear and I stared at each other curiously while I took a photo (and a funny video with me clearly in a small panic). I put the phone away so I could keep alert and waited for Fielden to come up and have a good look at him, and so our combined presence would discourage him from any aggression.

We waited a few while he made up his mind to saunter off and we picked up our pace up that hill. It definitely helped us up the climb quicker! We told a group of hikers we saw at the next trail intersection about it and as we leapfrogged with them up to the summit and took a lunch break at a side trail to a rock outcropping view, they were ahead of us on the descent and had the next bear encounter. This was also a large male and he was sitting clear in the middle of the trail until one of the wives yelled “oh my god” in surprise, and off he went. When we caught up they told us all about it. Its possible it was the same bear but we don’t know.

The walk down Hazeltop to Milam gap was gentle, and following the gap was almost completely flat until we reached the Lewis Falls trail. It was shady and cool and easy hiking here, and we got used to it. We knew there was a good climb up to Big Meadows but we were unprepared for the hot climb of almost a mile. While there was a breeze by Lewis Spring, the western slope of the mountain we ascended to the lodge was being baked in the sun, and was rocky and relentless at the end of a long hike. We struggled up it, but there were some very rewarding views that we didn’t even know existed when at the lodge last time. We got lots of nasty bites along the way too. Not sure what kind of bugs they are but they are at least as big and painful as black flies and we have welts everywhere!

Still I was glad to have that section complete.  My GPS tracker decided to drop the first 3 miles of the hike data when we lost signal completely. This annoyed me heavily but its not like its hard to follow the trail here, especially with all the road crossings… you’re never really lost … maybe only until you come to the next road crossing!

By the time we all re-convened at the lodge, it was getting late and the picnic BBQ and campout was much less desirable.  It would have been very rushed, and we were all tired, and FIelden and I were sweaty and hot and covered in these bites. We decided to postpone the BBQ and skip the camping as we would be doing a backpacking overnight Tuesday night.

We showered, had a nice outdoor dinner at the lodge, and retired to bed by 10.

Day 3 will be a zero day where we can wash our stinky clothes, check out the visitor center, do some short walks with the family, have our picnic, and heal. Plus its going to be even hotter today… Day 4+5 will be an overnight from Big Meadows to Stony Man cliffs, with a stay at Rock Spring hut in between. Thursday morning (day 6) we will do our fill-in hike from Swift Run Gap to Lewis Mountain campground, and then we will be done with hiking for the trip, and going down to Luray for a day or two to enjoy the local scene there before heading home.

Animal encounters in short:

5 deer (2 at lodge – all very tame and used to humans)

1 bear ( our first one, just missed a second)

1 barred owl

2 mice (in our cabin again)

Linus’s Miles: 9.6

Linus and FIelden’s miles: 9.1

Temperature: 90’s

– Linus

With our trail shuttle/angel Rhonda

With our trail shuttle/angel Rhonda

Bell flower?

Bell flower?

View from Bearfence summit

View from Bearfence summit

Big bear! First sighting!

Big bear! First sighting!

View from Hazeltop Summit

View from Hazeltop Summit

View from Big Meadows Summit

View from Big Meadows Summit

Another incredible sunset from the lodge

Another incredible sunset from the lodge

 

Appalachian Trail. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 1

Saturday June 30, 2018, 9pm EST

I’m sitting in our great little cabin room at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park writing this just past hiker midnight.

We just got back from viewing a stunning sunset over the valley below, Massanutten Mountain beyond and the ever expanding Chicopeechee. We had a great family catchup and dinner (including a delicious blackberry cobbler and blackberry ice cream) at the Big Meadows Lodge and the spectacular sunset began to evolve quickly as smoke from the fire pit just below the dining area sent aromatic summer scents our way, enhancing the moment.

Fielden Stream and I arrived at the trailhead at Smith Roach Gap around 130. We drove 5 hours last night and 3 hours today to get here from Connecticut. This was a section we hiked part of last year with the kids. They were missed today. I wanted to complete this bit as a first, warm-up hike of the trip. It was about 4.6 miles and with the side jaunt to the Hightop hut and back, it clocked in around 5 miles. We also reunited a thru hiker there with his croc which was dropped on the trail and we found on the hike up.

We were silent for much of the hike, hoping for a bear sighting and making the 1,000ft climb and ascent at our own paces with some nice shared moments and vistas in between.

Tomorrow we’re camping at Big Meadows campground after an 8.3 mile hike, though we are not hiking into the campground as originally planned. We hope the family can join us for a picnic or BBQ at the campsite tonight.  Lets hope the weather is as great!

Miles: 4.9

– Linus

Columbine on Hightop Mountain

Columbine on Hightop Mountain

Linus and Fielden Stream on Hightop Mountain

Linus and Fielden Stream on Hightop Mountain

Shenandoah Trail signs

Shenandoah Trail signs

An incredible sunset

An incredible sunset