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

 

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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!)

2018 Ridgerunner Kickoff weekend

It was great to be back out on the trail again in my ridge runner role! I really love the job, I wish I could do it year round! I met several thru hikers, many of them flip floppers who started mid trail and are heading north to Katahdin first, then back to do the southern half in the later months of summer and early fall. They do this to minimize overcrowding at Springer in Georgia and have the quiet walk in the woods experience intended. And also to not have to worry about hitting Katahdin too late in case of an early winter in Maine.  I also met a few Northbound (NOBO) thrus and a Lasher (Long-a**-section-hiker) doing a several-hundred-mile portion in New England. Of course there were many day hikers out enjoying the trail, especially on Saturday. Saturday was hot and humid but I took my time and enjoyed a break at all the scenic spots along the way. All the brooks were running strong, and the rain held off until Sunday afternoon so didn’t have to deal with it much. I did have a log I stepped on roll under my foot when crossing Guinea Brook, so my left foot/sock/shoe got soaked, but it was quite refreshing in the heat.  Sunday was cool and overcast with strong breezes bringing rain around midday.  I saved the easier portion of trail for Sunday should the rain hit early and I was hiking all morning and early afternoon in the rain. Steep rocky surfaces are not as fun or safe when wet.

I took the Mohawk Trail up Breadloaf Mountain to reach the A.T. Saturday morning.  When I was a boy scout in the 1980s this was still the A.T. and it is still a quick steep climb! But it had amazing views from the top like Pine Knob. Both were worth the effort.

I camped with many great people at Silver Hill campsite, and my first freezer-bag-cooking test with a Knorr rice sides (a half portion) was a huge success as was my peanut butter and Nutella tortilla wraps for breakfast! And my new (used) tent’s maiden voyage with me was also a success…. It’s so light to carry and had plenty of room. I need to work on my pitch a bit, and though my feet were touching the end wall, I looked it up and realized I didn’t extent my trekking poles to 130 cm as advised which probably explains that!  I saw a doe grazing on the banks of the Housatonic River early Sunday morning, as well as a family of Geese. It seemed to be mating season as the chipmunks were frolicking in pairs throughout the forest.

Day 1 miles: 5.5 (1,834ft elevation)

Day 2 miles: 8 (335ft elevation)

  • Linus
One of our beuatiful new signs

One of our beautiful new signs

Pine Knob

Pine Knob

Silver Hill from Breadloaf Mtn

Silver Hill from Breadloaf Mtn

Linus on the trail

Linus on the trail

Hatch Brook

Hatch Brook

My Lightheart Gear solo

My Lightheart Gear solo

Freezer bag cooking - using the pot as a cozy

Freezer bag cooking – using the pot as a cozy

Knorr Rice sides w/Sriracha

Knorr Rice sides w/Sriracha

The "trail" up Silver Hill

The “trail” up Silver Hill

Doe on the Housatonic

Doe on the Housatonic

Liners Farm

Liners Farm

Name that flower

Name that flower

 

Pre-Season Newly Acquired Gear Testing- Part 1

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

As we get ready for the 2018 backpacking and my ridge-running season, I took advantage of the beautiful spring conditions on Easter Sunday to test some new gear I purchased over the winter. Of course it was snowing the next day and we ended up with half a foot of snow on the ground. April Fools a day late. (Easter was also April Fools day). As of this writing there were two more snowstorms followed by warm spring days since! Good old New England.

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

The first item is my new (used) Lightheart Gear solo tent. I bought it from a hiker on Whiteblaze.net. I am always researching gear, and especially great lightweight solo options for my ridge-running and volunteer weekends. Last year I bought a new REI Quarter-dome 1 for a great price on sale, and which at 39 ounces is a super-light option.  And I love the tent. They have since tweaked the design again. I guess my one issue with it was that the weird pole design always left me a little confused at set up time. And when you’re tired after a long day and setting up camp, you don’t wanna be fidgeting with the poles too long. Especially if its in the rain or the dark, or both. I did get used to it but there were still some times when I was doing it in a situation like those and did it backwards the first time. Plus its rather embarrassing when you’re fussing so much with your own tent when surrounded by other campers! The unusual design of that tent pole setup allows for a wider interior in the tent so it’s worth it but I just wanted something a little more of a no-brainer. And more room if I could get it.

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

On my many nights on the trail I see just about every tent design and model out there, and often ask the hikers about their tents. I then go about reading or watching reviews online and asking questions on hiking groups and forums as well. The Lightheart Gear solo is one of many ultralight options from cottage manufacturers on the market. They also make a slightly longer one for taller hikers called the solong.  I explored other options from Zpacks, Mountain Laurel Designs and more. When I saw the listing on whiteblaze I quickly did more research and found it to be not only a full 12 ounces lighter than my REI tent, but also more spacious and easier to setup. And it was at a great price so I jumped on it.

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

It uses trekking poles rather than included poles to pitch, but you can buy those if you don’t hike with trekking poles. This helps cut down on the weight. It’s also all one piece so you can set it up from the inside without the interior tent getting wet. While I know many 2- piece tents have a feature where you can first rig just the ground sheet and rainfly to avoid soaking your interior tent in the rain, I have to confess I’ve never tried that and it didn’t seem completely full-proof. I got this tent for about 45% off and it was in great shape. It has tons of room and is high enough to sit up in, as well as the ability to be quarter/half/three-quarter or fully vented. The manufacturer advised against spraying it with permethrin spray as did many on the online forums as this chemical doesn’t adhere to sil-nylon and voids the warranty. So I did not spray this tent like I do my others. Seam sealing is recommended for this tent, but the previous owner had the manufacturer do it at purchase. It costs a little extra ($35) but is worth it having a pro do it right the first time. The only negative feedback I’ve heard on this tent is that at 133″ long and 65″ wide, finding a camp spot can be tougher, as well as setting it up on a platform as it is also not fully free-standing. These things I will test in the field.

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Regarding the trekking poles: As you know from my last hike, the handle broke off one of my poles on that hike so I had bought a new pair at REI the next day. So it was time to test them, and this tent together for the first time. Well I didn’t test them by hiking but I did expand them and compare all the features to other brand models at the store to make my decision. I know these REI poles last a long time and that the cork was the weak spot and so I replaced them with poles with hard plastic/rubber handles- the Passage model.  They are not super light but that’s the reason I bought them as well as price. I found the super light super expensive poles to not support my weight as well.

The only ding with the tent purchase was that the stakes I got from the seller were a bit heavy, and when the tent requires ten stakes to fully pitch it, you want lighter ones. I didn’t expect him to send me his best, lightest stakes at this price. He didn’t even charge me shipping. He just wanted to pass it on to another hiker who would enjoy it and make some of his investment back.

This Dove came to check out my tent

This Dove came to check out my tent

So I ordered a set of four more super light titanium stakes from Zpacks, with their microfleece beanie (which I will review later) to make my set of ten. I find these hook-shaped stakes more effective than my MSR groundhogs for guylines. Or at least, they are my preference. I still use the mini groundhogs for staking out the 4 corners of the tent. The other hook stakes I had previously purchased from Amazon — they are Vargo. They are close enough in size and this setup overall should take the stake weight down a bunch. In the process of deciding how many more stakes I needed,  I also spent a while in the garage gear closet to take inventory and make sure all my other tents have the right number of stakes in their bags.  I don’t want to loan one out and we realize later I had taken the stakes from it!

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

I love the Lightheart tent and everyone who saw it set up on Easter and then got to hold it in their hands and feel how light it was packed up were as impressed as I was. Fielden Stream laid down in it for a minute and tested it too. I enjoyed reading “Balancing On Blue” from thru-hiker Fozzie while lying in it and trying out another new purchase. That’s in part 2: Kylmit Massdrop Pillow and JetBoil JetGauge. A dove even came to visit me in my yard and checked out my new tent!  I will keep the QD-1 for a while and if the LHG solo pleases me as much on the trail as it did in my yard, I will return the karma and sell the QD-1 to another hiker. I have one other solo tent which I like because you can pitch the fly like an awning. So even though its less roomy on the inside and a little heavier, Its very convenient if you need to cook when its raining. So I will keep that one for now.

Lightheart Gear Solo Tent Specs

weight: 27oz (before seam sealing)

floor space: 30 sq ft.

head room: 43 in

width: 65in at center

length: 133 in

single/double wall: double

doors: 1

Full specs and more info from the website

— Linus

 

Back to the Shawangunks and Minnewaska-Winter hike

Getting ready to hit the trail

Getting ready to hit the trail

As planned we headed back to the Hudson valley for our anniversary weekend so we could finally visit Hyde Park on Hudson and do more hiking in Minnewaska State Park. We visited here back in January, right when the Government shut down went into effect and effectively shut down our visit to the home of President Franklin Roosevelt. We are big history buffs, and also fans of the wonderful things his New Deal created such as the Civil Conservation Corps. Not only did the CCC help stabilize the economy after the great depression by providing thousands of jobs, but it also created some of our favorite state and national park buildings and roads. The more parks I visit, the more I see their handiwork and am grateful!

At the trail junction

At the trail junction

We had a great visit to the home on Friday and very much enjoyed our tour. These guides have a passion for their subject; I think I would love a job like that! We enjoyed a great lunch and dinner in Poughkeepsie as part of Hudson Valley restaurant week, and hope to get back in the fall to visit Eleanor’s house, Valkill, a few miles east of the main house.

The next morning we went back to New Paltz on our way to hike. We called Mohonk preserve from the hotel before we left as we were going to try and hike there but they said they only had snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and no hiking. By that I deduced they just meant guided outings. This is a place where the very wealthy play and are pampered so I imagine this type of guided activity is the norm for their guests. I later realized as we passed one of their gates while entering Minnewaska S.P. that you can hike their trails if you so desire, you just won’t have a guide. No problem. No guide needed. That parking area had lots of outdoorsy folk getting out into the snowy wonderland and no sign of a guard station or entrance fee.

Fielden Stream

Fielden Stream

We stopped into the outfitter in New Paltz called Rock and Snow to look at maps of the rest of Minnewaska S.P. and see if they had any idea on the trail conditions. Given all the recent snow, we didn’t want to be postholing and didn’t have deep snow gear. We did have our microspikes (I recently picked up a used pair for Fielden Stream on a used hiking gear forum) and so as long as the trails were not knee deep in snow we wouldn’t need more than those. They didn’t have a lot of information on trail conditions and I found the map a little too minimal, so I checked my trusty AllTrails app and found many short loop options. As we drove west to the park, we could see that most of the mountainsides were snowless give or take a few spots. Of course this doesn’t always mean there’s not snow on top or on the trails. But it didn’t look too foreboding.

High Peter's Kill /SRT

High Peter’s Kill /SRT

We picked a loop in the Peter’s Kill (the Dutch word for a river) area that circled the rocky craggs of Compass Rock and then followed Peter’s Kill back to the park office. I didn’t realize this area had a park office/ranger’s station until we got there so while we did have to pay a $10 parking fee, I am always fine with giving my money to support these parks. Plus, they had information, detailed maps of the area’s trails, a nature exhibit, bathrooms, and snowshoe rentals should we have needed them. The ranger was also able to tell us the trail conditions and that spikes were fine for the conditions. We saw many people out there with no spikes who said ‘we should get those’ when they saw ours, but they all managed without. We like the extra security knowing we wouldn’t slip on icy spots and had traction in the snow on the climbs and descents.

Classic Gunks rocks

Classic Gunks rocks

We got our spikes on and headed up the Bullwheel trail to start our loop. The climb from here was easy and not much of a grade. To the east, several rock climbing and bouldering trails branched off the main trail but you need permits for those and no one was out rock climbing considering the snow was 3-4 inches deep everywhere. These were indicated by blue/yellow blazes, though I didn’t figure that out till later.

Linus playing beneath the boulders

Linus playing beneath the boulders

We reached an old concrete foundation which we learned from the ranger was part of an old ski resort up the side of this hill back in the day. There were several runs, one of which we hiked up at the end of the loop. This was likely the support for the lift tower. At this point we were skirting the eastern edge of the rocky summit, and in better weather with a bouldering permit you can scramble up to the top. I was enticed for a second but without a permit, I don’t really believe in breaking rules. Especially when I ask others to follow and respect these kinds of rules as a ridge runner. I also wouldn’t want to have my wife deal with a fall! I will come back later when its dry and warm and with a permit.

Incredible view of the Catskills

Incredible view of the Catskills

The trail intersected here with the High Peter’s Kill trail. It is part of the longer Shawangunk Ridge Trail which follows the ridge lines for the length of the park. The trail continued east to the Mohonk Preserve but we continued west on the High Peter’s Kill portion around the summit of Compass rock. There were amazing views from its western slope to the high peaks of the Catskills just to the west. It descended sometimes steeply for a snowy trail to the banks of Peter’s Kill, a beautiful river nestled between the two mountains. It was wide and deep and had watering holes and a nice waterfall we passed. In the summer this would be an ideal place to cool off.

After following the river for a bit we opted for the shorter (but we would learn steeper) route up the red trail back to the parking area. This took us up the side of an old ski slope to where it met the Bullwheel trail we climbed earlier. A family with young kids was descending this trail and slipping all over the place because it was steep. So we were again glad to have our traction devices. We got a nice workout climbing up the hill and then enjoyed the gentle decline back to the trailhead.

Peter's Kill

Peter’s Kill

It was a short loop but very scenic, with all the typical flora and rocky crags you expect in the Gunks. With the snow, it was much more of a workout than in normal conditions. It wasn’t too cold and we had a great time. We then made our way to our friends’ beautiful home in nearby Cragsmoor, where we enjoyed a roaring campfire before a great dinner together. One day we will live that mountain and country life full time. For now, it’s always a pleasure to be in the mountains and the woods

More Shawangunk Ridges

More Shawangunk Ridges

Tomorrow I will be joining our overseer of trails with my Connecticut AMC chapter to inspect a section of our portion of the Appalachian trail and report back to the crews what work needed to be done. We will cut small blowdowns and clear what we can but we have larger work parties to do the heavy lifting, as well as sawyers to cut the big trees. It will be good to see the condition of the trail in Northern Connecticut as Fielden Stream and I will be out doing a section hike in Northern Massachusetts in 2 weeks and I was a bit anxious of the snow depths having just had our fourth Nor’Easter in a row. Last I read someone had to be assisted off the A.T. in that area of the Berkshires due to deep snow he wasn’t prepared for. Temperatures look like they will be in the 40s-50s until then so I’m hoping we will need nothing more than spikes. I will also check before we go with my contacts that maintain the Massachusetts section as they will know better than anyone.

We were planning to overnight it on that trip but it depends on if there’s snow up there as we don’t have much overnight winter gear. I know many thru’s are making the trek in deep snow in the Smokies right now with not much more than normal hiking gear, but there are shelters there. This section would only have a primitive campsite. If there’s a bunch of snow up there we will do it as a day hike, and this hike in Minnewaska was a good intro for Fielden to using her microspikes should we need them. I will do an entry on tomorrow’s trail maintenance hike as soon as I am able.

Miles: 2

– Linus

Exploring Topstone Park, Redding, CT

Off we go!

Off we go!

I can’t always make it to my favorite trail, the Appalachian Trail. It’s at least an hour drive in any direction. So when I have less time I enjoy finding new closer spots that provide the serenity I love as well as that have at least some challenge in the terrain. A view from an overlook is always a bonus.

In early January I explored a park in Ridgefield I had on my radar, and also learned a little bit more about this park when looking at the options for that morning. Ridgefield is about a 25-minute drive for me which is doable, and I’ve done much of the trails there. I will go back and explore more of the trails on that last hike at Seth Low Pierrepont State park, as well as the Hemlock Hills trails. On the way up route 7 I’ve noticed signs for a few others like Bobby’s Court and Topstone Park. I get excited whenever I see a trailhead, and make a note to explore those when I get the chance.

One of the streams that feeds the pond

One of the streams that feeds the pond

Having the afternoon off last Wednesday and needing to clear my head of a lot of extra baggage, I was once again looking for a trail to explore. I thought about finishing the Housatonic Range trail in New Milford. But that is 5.7 miles, almost an hour away, and challenging enough that I just wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be racing the sunlight and hence moving too fast on the tough parts and risking injury.  One feature known as “Suicide Ledges” entails a 10-20ft scramble through and over large boulders and ledges as I understand it.

While I’m up for the challenge I was also concerned that time pressure and potential leftover ice and snow would make it unsafe without a hiking partner. I did try a few of my friends in the area but as it was mid week the best I could secure was a shuttle back to the start.

Topstone Mountain in the distance

Topstone Mountain in the distance

In hindsight it warmed up significantly by this time and I likely could have made it work but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’m a husband and a dad and bravado and risk taking doesn’t just affect me anymore. I’ve read way too many backcountry disaster stories to feel good about my decisions when I play it safe and wait for the right conditions to approach a challenge.

 

Along the pond edge before the climb

Along the pond edge before the climb

So I re-focused my attention on closer areas and looked up Topstone park in Redding. Right off Route 7 just east of Ridgefield, it was just over 20 minutes away and a very pleasant surprise. There is a large pond in the middle of the park, with a beachfront and canoes, kayaks, dinghies and what looked like a jumping platform.  The gate to this area was closed for the off-season though you are permitted to walk around it to enjoy the trails that circle the pond and above on the eastern and western hills and ridges.

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

Eastern view from Topstone Mtn

I parked in the main lot and checked in on my alltrails app which has all of the trails marked within and I was on my way up the Saddleback trail. Also called ‘the west way’ as it climbs and follows the ridge of a 650ft hill due west of the lot. I was amused that the trails here were white-blazed like my favorite trail.  Technically this trail is east of the pond but facing due south in the lot it is indeed west. It climbs quickly up the hill then levels off as it skirts the edge of a wetland and a few homes in the woods before winding through more forest and over streams that feed the pond. This trail, known as Boulder Top, also has two connectors to a nearby road and eventually reaches the pond trail near the beach. This trail, or rather all the trails in this park, are white-blazed but well marked with fresh blazes and signs at each intersection.

Too bad no camping here!

Too bad no camping here!

I followed the pond trail around the perimeter, enjoying nice views of the beach and pond at water level. It reminded me of Sunfish pond on the A.T. in New Jersey. Another trail or two led up to the road from the pond trail before I reached the turn off to start the climb up to the views on Topstone Mountain. The Pond trail continues around the perimeter of the pond, but I planned to come back that way once I saw on my app that there was a trail known as the Base Trail which would bring me back from the summits on a connector midway up the mountain.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I headed up the Topstone trail and after going a bit past the next turnoff, turned around and found the next junction I missed. To be fair it was marked; I was just in the moment and walked past a little bit. I made the turn back up hill and climbed up the trail to the summit between large walls of rock that made up the base of the ledges I’d soon be standing on.  They were dramatic and very attractive to look at. My heartbeat began to pick up from the scenery as much as from the modest ascent. While only a few hundred feet in elevation gain, It was just as good as many a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Beech in winter along the pond

Beech in winter along the pond

I reached the first viewpoint which looks east over the pond and beach below and took a break to process a few things while perched on the rocky ledge. I imagine in summer the scene below is one of much activity and that this spot too would have been occupied by a few of the more adventurous kids enjoying the day with their families.

Knowing there were more views to be had I moved on and took a left on the long view trail which leads .2 miles to the edge of another of the rocky prominences I saw on my walk up here. That view is known as long view and has an equally if not more impressive view all the way across Route 7 to the hills and farms of Ridgefield as well as south to West Redding’s other hills.

The Long View

The Long View

Here I sat longer under a pitch pine taking in what was indeed a long view and had a snack. My sadness I came to address had lifted and a big grin came across my face as I took it all in. Like the views at Pine Mountain or Seth Low Mountains in Ridgefield, these were no disappointment. They required only a small effort to reach and provided the kind of views you’d expect from larger hills and mountains.

Trail junction

Trail junction

I headed back down the other side of the mountain and picked up the Base trail which would bring me back to where I was previously but only briefly before I descended back to the pond trail. The base trail is aptly named as it follows along the base of the long high walls of rock that made up the mountain’s body. Here the temperature was at least twenty degrees cooler, as the cliffs shaded me from the sun, and I bathed in cool breezes.

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

The base trail follows the rocky ridgeline

I smiled again and recalled when we did a section in Beartown State Forest along the A.T. in Massachusetts which also skirted walls of rock caves and represented a significant temperature drop. Those caves were surely home to bears, and I did spot one small cave in the wall here but for obvious reasons opted not to try and get a closer look!  It was very unseasonably warm and in the mid 60s — hotter in the sun. So this small stretch was a nice relief not to mention quite beautiful.

Swimming spot

Swimming spot

After reaching the bottom I followed the pond trail along its western edge and past a small swimming area and the drainage causeway that emptied the pond into another large stream. Here there was the platform as I imagined to be for jumping from. I am not sure though as the pond empties just behind it and while there may be a grate, perhaps that would be too strong a current to swim next to. The trail then climbs back through woods to the parking lot of the beach area and then follows the entry road back to the lot I parked in.

Pond spillway

Pond spillway

It was a lovely hike, with nice views and just enough challenge. There were several spots in the forest where I wish I could have just set up my tent for the night , but that is obviously not allowed nor was an overnight in today’s plan or I would have gone elsewhere!  I highly recommend this park. I don’t recall the parking fees for the beach or if you have to be a resident, but if you just want to walk the trails I don’t think there’s any restrictions year round. I think the main issue would be finding parking on a nice weekend. That said you could access the trails from the side trails to the road I passed on my loop. I am sure they have small parking areas along the road for a car or two.

Miles: 4

— Linus

Sam’s Point Preserve, Minnewaska S.P., New York

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Yesterday we were up in the Hudson valley to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We like to mix it up with a few different activities… a nice stay in an inn, a dinner somewhere nice, some history, and of course, some hiking!

The area has all that and more. There’s a booming winery and cidery business all over the county, as well as plenty of historical sites and outdoor activities. There’s no shortage of nice inns and hotels as well as restaurants and great towns to visit and explore.

Sam's Point from the parking area

Sam’s Point from the parking area

Despite a warmer spell we weren’t quite ready to backpack as there was still almost a foot of snow on the ground in many places we would go. But we wanted to keep in shape and do some hiking so we are ready for the season. Also, because we love being outdoors.

Various hike options

Various hike options

Our hike this time was in the dramatic Shawangunk mountains of New York. Just west of the Hudson river the range stretches from west of New Paltz (a great town!) south to Cragmoor about 15-20 miles south.

Fielden Stream below the Crags

Fielden Stream below the Crags

The northern end holds the famous Mohonk Mountain House and preserve, a dramatic Victorian era castle resort hotel towering high on a rocky peak and surrounding a sky lake.

They have many trails there as well as other activities. It is however quite a bit expensive with its award-winning farm-to-table dining, epic views and fancy spa, and if you are not staying there you have to pay a hefty $22 to park in their lot and enjoy their grounds. It was started as a retreat to enjoy nature and study ecology by a pair of Quaker brothers and has grown in size and popularity ever since. They have dedicated time and money throughout the generations to help with local stewardship and to improve the conditions of native peoples. So at least some of that money goes to good causes.  I have to say we’re curious and as we are going back here in March for our anniversary because the F.D.R home we planned to visit was closed from the government shutdown, and so we may also visit here to check it out. I’m afraid the cost is likely too prohibitive for an overnight stay for our current budget. But we will see if there’s any deals to be had at the time!

Couple selfie

Couple selfie

The rest of the Shawangunk range comprises what is known as Minnewaska State Park. It contains a large trail system, a sky lake of its own, the highest dwarf pine habitat in the region, ice caves, a dramatic waterfall and sweeping views from steep cliffs of stone all along its perimeter.  There is a visitor center at the southernmost end known as Sam’s Point.

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

They have a small exhibit on flora and fauna and geology in the area, guided tours with local naturalists and you can rent snowshoes. We really should have on this day but didn’t realize until after. Fielden Stream has always wanted to try them and I didn’t bring my microspikes and the snow was 6″ deep, though there was a trodden path about a foot wide which helped.  Being only .6 up to the viewpoint, and on a gravel road covered in snow, we managed…

A good view of the cliff edges

A good view of the cliff edges

There isn’t a tremendous vertical gain, maybe a few hundred feet. My phone was on the fritz so I could not use my tracking app to get that information. The only real steep angle was at the end, and it wasn’t bad, again because it was really just a gravel road.

On the western-facing ledge

On the western-facing ledge

The views to the south and then to the west from the second viewpoint were amazing. And our car did all the real climbing on this day. The elevation at the southern point is about 2,200 ft. The dramatic drop-offs and long views were well worth the minimal effort. I highly recommend it. When we go back in March we also hope to do one of the guided tours here on the native peoples, landscape and wildlife and check out the ice caves and the falls as well.

Miles: 1.2

– Linus