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

Advertisements

Appalachian Trail – NY section 11

Walking with Sunset

Walking with Sunset

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

Signs, Signs, Everywhere signs

Signs, Signs, Everywhere signs

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

Fingerboard Shelter

Fingerboard Shelter in the distance

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

Go Yankees! Err, graffiti is bad

Go Yankees! Err, graffiti is bad

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

Sunset at Fingerboard

Sunrise at Fingerboard

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

Us at Fingerboard

Us at Fingerboard

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

The Greenwood Mine

The Greenwood Mine

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

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

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

Looking back at Fingerboard Mtn from Island Pond Mtn

Looking back at Fingerboard Mtn from Island Pond Mtn

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

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

Rocks from Hell

Rocks from Hell

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

The resulting rock rash

The resulting rock rash

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

The 'fun' part

The ‘fun’ part

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

Island Pond

Island Pond

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

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

Name these flowers (please)

Name these flowers (please)

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

Total miles Day 1: 1.6

Total Miles Day 2: 4.5

– Linus