Appalachian Trail Massachusetts: Section 1

Over the weekend we did get back up to the trail in Massachusetts, but opted for the shorter section to the VT border from North Adams instead of south from there over the Greylock range. We did it as an out-and-back and did not venture further into Vermont as the Green mountain club requested people not hike the muddy trail until after Memorial day. Doing this section turned out to be a wise decision on many fronts. But most of all, the all-day heavy rain combined with cold temperatures predicted for Saturday did come, just minutes after we got off trail in the morning. We lucked out with nice weather Friday so the climb up the Pine Cobble wasn’t too sketchy and the view from the top was grand.  This was the longest and highest uphill we’ve done together, gaining about 1800’ from North Adams to the Vermont and Long Trail border.  We felt it the rest of the weekend in our legs.

We had a bit of excitement on the hike! One of the hikers at the campground called in for a midnight rescue as he was having abdominal pains, and so we met some EMT’s and firefighters who had to hike the 1.8 miles uphill to the campsite in the middle of the night and direct them to the bear box to get the hiker’s food. I was treated to a view of the bright starry night as I was out there chatting with them…  and many Barred owl calls… Also my fellow weekend ridgerunner from CT AMC came up to the campsite at 7am to meet us for coffee before his daughter’s lacrosse tournament in nearby Williamstown that day, so that was cool.  And I got 2 nasty black fly bites. Those little bastards got me at the end of the day when I was tired and filling up water and rolled up my sleeves where I had no bug juice on…. Duh!  They still itch and hurt so much I’m putting on cortisone regularly. I was warned about May in Massachusetts!

We saw only about 3 other hikers on the trip, including two girls staying at our campsite. It’s a really pretty walk along Sherman brook for the first few miles up out of North Adams. On a really hot day that would be paradise. I trekked it the extra mile south from Rt 2 on the way out Saturday morning to Pattison road. This way we could start there next time and not have to park in town and have a steamy concrete road walk before the long climb up the Greylock range.  After we got off the trail we spent the rest of the weekend exploring North Adams and Williamstown. We will come back to do the last 13 miles of the A.T. in Massachusetts in a month or two. It will still be there. Besides, then we get to enjoy the Bascom lodge….

I start ridgerunning in Connecticut this weekend over Memorial day, and then Fielden Stream and I are doing another New Jersey section in about 3 weeks with our Pennsylvania friends.

Trail miles: 5.1

Total miles hiked: About 11 (out and back, side trails)

  • Linus
Fielden Stream at the VT border

Fielden Stream at the VT border

The Massachusetts side

The Massachusetts side

Pine Cobble bad weather trail

Pine Cobble bad weather trail

View from Pine Cobble

View from Pine Cobble

CT AMC Ridge runners

CT AMC Ridge runners

Walking back into North Adams

Walking back into North Adams

Sunset over Bald mtn

Sunset over Bald mtn

The great view from the bad weather trail

The great view from the bad weather trail

Cairns on Pine Cobble

Cairns on Pine Cobble

Pine Cobble trail jct

Pine Cobble trail jct

My chipmunk friend and I had a nice chat

My chipmunk friend and I had a nice chat

Linus at the Long Trail

Linus at the Long Trail

First VT sign

First VT sign

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Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail: Connecticut Chapter

Ready to lop!

Ready to lop!

A cold, rainy day for trail work, but still better than the office! Saturday was our annual “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail” for our Connecticut chapter.  While we have many annual work parties, this is the big one, where we have several different projects happening at once. We start with a volunteer recognition. I got a carabiner cup for 200+ hours so far, which I gave to Fielden stream as I have one already. This year we also recognized a volunteer who recently passed. He had been involved for decades all around the region. Maine, VT, CT and on his passing has been memorialized by more than a few organizations he was part of as well as publications in the places he lived. His widow was there today to join the work party.

waterbar clearing

waterbar clearing

One of the projects was a stone staircase in her husband’s honor and which was her specialty. However given the cold, wet conditions that was substituted with some waterbar upgrades. She was very nice and I enjoyed spending time with her on our project and learning more about her husband’s many accomplishments. After the recognitions we split up to the various project locations. This year included lopping, kiosk replacement, and the ‘great garlic mustard pull’ in addition to the waterbar project.

My friend Brian and I chose to do the “Loppa-palooza” and waterbar project on Bear Mountain, our state’s highest peak. This was led by our Chapter Chair Dave. Several other of my friends in the chapter came along, as well as a 2011 thru hiker from the area who was volunteering with us for the first time.

the trail winding up bear

the trail winding up bear

Luckily a road took us up to just below the summit and we only had about 300 ft to climb vs the 1600 or so feet should we have started in town.  It was raining the whole time but luckily it was light for the work part of the day. I didn’t have rain pants or boots on so I was grateful for that.  At 40 degrees, rain can get dangerous quickly.  I just find rain pants too clammy and your sweat just gets them wet from the inside. And on slabs of rock my trail runners are much better traction-wise. Its supposed to rain on much of our hike this weekend, so I will make a judgement call on boots vs trail runners before we head up there. If there’s lots of mud too, the boots will win.

among the summit pitch pines

among the summit pitch pines

We enjoyed hiking up to the summit despite the lack of views. I am up there often and it is one of my favorite views but I’ve seen it plenty of times. Its still a beautiful summit with all the exposed rock and pitch pine and the old stone tower up top. We made quick work of it as spring came late and most of the bushes hadn’t grown in much yet. I’m sure we will need to revisit in June when everything is leafed out. Then we will have a better sense of what needs cutting back.

The summit tower

The summit tower

We got back to the meeting spot around 130 pm and spent some time enjoying snacks and refreshments before heading home. It’s always great to be out on the trail, and it feels even better when I’m volunteering to help preserve it. The bonus is I get to do it with friends old and new in the chapter. And today, one of them was the woman who got me involved with volunteering with the club several years ago. It was a treat catching up with her and doing some trail work again together.

This weekend Fielden Stream and I are headed back to Massachusetts to knock off another section as we close in on completion of the state. We will do either section one or section two depending on how miserable the weather wants to be… either way I can’t wait.

Miles: 3.2

– Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Post-holing Winter Maintenance Hike

Rodger's Icy Ramp

Rodger’s Icy Ramp

Saturday I went out with our trails overseer and his friend to check on the conditions of a 7 mile section of trail and clean up the blowdowns we could while documenting those we’d have sawyers come back for. It was not at all what I was expecting.

I knew there might be some snow up there. There was certainly when we were in the Shawangunks the previous weekend. I thought there might be 2-3 inches of snow in spots, and these elevations were lower than those in the Gunks so it might have even been less. But I brought my spikes as I knew I would at least potentially need those. Snowshoes would have been a better choice!

We had left a car at the north end and headed down to the start, where the snow on the trail was at least 5 inches deep. It appeared to have been walked recently, but there was only a single set of footsteps. From the start, we were using this hiker’s footholes in the snow, as the top layer of snow was crusty and icy. And so using these footholes made it easier to get through. Of course at this part of the hike the trail rises 800 ft in about 1/4 mile, up through a large crack in a boulder known as Rodger’s Ramp. It was up up up and we took a few photos because the ramp looked even more daunting with 4″ of snow in it. We crested the ridge with some nice views west and south. One thing I do like about hiking in this season is the long views through the trees you don’t usually have when it’s the green tunnel.

Following deep icy footholes

Following deep icy footholes

It was another 3/4 of a mile of following deep footsteps to the shelter side trail. Here we inspected the bear box, fallen trees near campsites, replaced the shelter log, and checked the privy. There was one hiker there who had set up his tent in the shelter as he did not expect the deep snow either. As there was no one else there trying to use the shelter we didn’t give him a hard time. Plus it was his birthday and he just wanted to spend it in the woods. Don’t blame him one bit.

We had a snack and then headed out. As he had confirmed he was the one to make the footsteps last night, this meant the next 6 miles we would be taking turns postholing and breaking the trail. We didn’t really look forward to that. Or at the very least, I didn’t. I knew it would be a struggle, and that it was.

Trail? What Trail?

Trail? What Trail?

I certainly hadn’t brought gaiters on this hike so in short order my shoes filled with snow and ice from making new deep steps in the snow. It wasn’t quite mid-day so this also meant it was barely into the 40’s and my water and snow filled shoes began to get colder and colder with each step. While not completely numbing because it was above freezing and the walking helped keep my feet warm, it was quite uncomfortable and I had to stop and wiggle my toes every once in a while.

Trudging along

Trudging along

We were cutting down every small blowdown that we encountered, which also meant dragging large branches deeper into the woods off trail. So even if the trail had been beaten down by a desired imaginary boy scout troop ahead of us, we were still walking into deep snow off trail many times.

At some point along this stretch, the top of one of my cork trekking pole handles snapped off at the fabric loop attachment. In all my years of hiking and backpacking I’ve never seen that happen. But I have put a lot of years and wear on those poles, and I guess they’d had enough. It’s hard to imagine that would have happened with plastic or rubber poles, so as much as I like the cork, the pair I replaced them with at REI yesterday had plastic handles. I went to REI to ask if they had a warranty on their products like other manuafacturers who will replace a product that fails in normal use.

Bear Mtn, CT from Mt. Easter

Bear Mtn, CT from Mt. Easter

The manager however thought I was just trying to take advantage of them like others have, which is why they changed their return policy to one year or newer. That wasn’t really my question though and I just called it a loss and used my 20% coupon to get a new pair. I like REI and use my membership regularly there so it will come back to me in a dividend. This was really the first time I was disappointed there. Really  I just felt they should have their own manufacturer warranty as they were REI poles. But they give money to our AMC chapter every year and volunteer with us so they’re still good with me.

Jim cutting a blowdown

Jim cutting a blowdown

As we reached the halfway point, something else unpleasant happened. My left thigh tightened up on me significantly, making it very difficult to lift that leg and adding strain to an angry muscle with every step. And there were miles to go. It was incredibly painful and I had to stop helping with the tree removal as the main goal for me was to walk out on my own without assistance. This was obviously the result of stepping in uneven depths of snow over and over and suddenly breaking through here and there. Not to mention a lot of strange angles I was moving them in.  We were following old snowshoe tracks now and once in a while the snow was packed down by those heels but half the time we still broke through.

As a result of the thigh issues, my knee and ankle acted up next, feeling more and more sore with each step. This was not my day. I didn’t bring my knee compression sleeves so I had to tough it out. A lot of things working against me at once. To complete the assault of painful ailments, I began to get chaffing as a result of the unusual step/sink pattern that made my pants and compression underwear not function the way they should and not protecting those nether regions adequately. The already steep ups and downs on this hike became even more difficult with all these injuries.

We did take a break at Hang glider view to enjoy the long views to the Taconics and beyond. The snow here was also deep however so break really meant just standing still for a bit and having a snack. Since we were so slow going in the deep snow conditions we were focused on reaching the other end in good time so we never really had a sit down break since the shelter.

The Taconics and Lime Rock Racetrack from Hang Glider view

The Taconics and Lime Rock Racetrack from Hang Glider view

From reading trail journals and watching youtube channels I realize many thru hikers were facing these same conditions and managing to keep going, though many have already dropped out because of the multiple snow storms and harsh winter conditions that are also happening in the south. I am an experienced hiker and backpacker for sure, and have done many winter hikes. But I was not at all expecting such a difficult day. I can’t tell you how happy I was to reach the road and limp to the car.  It took us 6 hrs to cover the 7+ miles. And all of us could normally do that in half the time. Granted, we did spend a good amount of time stopping to cut and clear blowdowns. And one positive was as the day warmed, the water in my shoes did too and my feet were at least no longer cold. We only saw one other hiker the whole day. I am well aware these days happen, as did with my Labor Day ridgerunning hike last fall. There are really bad days. As with that experience, I am proud that I got myself through it and out of danger. The good days are worth the bad ones. And they’re always a learning experience.

Linus getting silly at Hang Glider view

Linus getting silly at Hang Glider view

Fielden Stream and I were supposed to go do a section hike with a possible overnight next weekend in northern Massachusetts in our quest to finish the state this spring. In light of these conditions at much lower elevations and farther south, we are postponing a month. We go backpacking together for fun. While we embrace the challenge and occasional unexpected suck that can occur on the trail, there’s no reason to purposefully go into lousy conditions. Deep snow, ice, slush or wet muddy trail is no fun, and as in this case can cause injury which could leave you in trouble when deep in the woods. My leg is mostly back to normal now. My ankle however is still a little sore from all the wacky angles I put it in and sinking into deep icy snow again and again, so that cinches it.

Already tough without the snow

Already tough without the snow

As section hikers we have the luxury to pick when we go. Hopefully a month from now the trail will be in better shape and we can continue our march north to the VT line. We will be doing two sections in May, and its possible we could finish it with those two if the conditions are good and we have big energy! Otherwise it will get completed soon enough!

Miles: 7.4

– Linus

Chilly Day Hike on the Mohawk Trail

trail crossing on lake road

trail crossing on lake road

Last weekend my friend Brian and I had planned to do a section hike of the Mohawk Trail (the trail in CT not the road in MA) and camp overnight. We got the permits well in advance to stay at the shelter site near the top of the mountain, and I planned out the mileage and itinerary as per usual. We were going to hike in about 6 miles southbound to where I had left off, the top of the ski trails. Then the plan was to catch the sunset and sweeping mountain views and set up camp. Fires are allowed at the shelters and there are fire rings there, as it is no longer the Appalachian Trail. We knew it would be potentially cold as it was mid-November, so we were looking forward to sitting around a fire talking about our hike that day, and everything else. We were then going to pack up in the morning and head home. So not a lot of mileage but great scenery and I wanted to do this section as I wasn’t sure if camping was an option during the ski resort season.

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

Old A.T marker on Red mtn

As the weekend neared, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that temperatures would be uncomfortably low. While I’ve done a few of those 25-degree nights, they’re not as enjoyable for me. We had some back-and-forth about if we would stick to the overnight part, and eventually I backed out as I saw temperatures dropping even further in the forecast. Those temperatures are also not the temperatures at the top of a mountain 1,600 ft up with high wind exposure. Mind you, if I were thru-hiking or doing a long section hike, I would endure what I had to endure. But that’s exactly what it is… This was meant to be one last fun overnight before winter as I don’t overnight during the winter. Minus the snow, this would be 4-season camping and it really pushes my gear and body to the limit. To each their own. I get plenty of hard miles in year round, and this was supposed to be more low-key, low-mile thing at inception.

Red Mountain Overlook

Red Mountain Overlook

So we altered the plan to just do the day hike, and check out this and the other two shelters along the 6-mile portion of trail. There are two more in the area, on either side of rt 4 at the feet of Red Mountain and Mohawk mountain. We started near cream lake around 1130 after dropping off the other car on top of the mountain. The trail meandered through leafy, wet pathways, often slippery or soggy. It then crested Overlook mountain which had some views to the north as it had been logged quite recently. Only 1 or so miles in we carried on and followed the trail down the remains of an old logging road to the south side of the mountain. There we picked up a road walk for about 3/4 of a mile that ascended halfway up Red Mountain, our high point of the day. We passed bucolic farmhouses with sweeping mountain vistas before re-entering the woods and climbing steadily through more logged areas near the summit.

Red Mtn shelter

Red Mtn shelter

At the summit is an eastern-facing slope of puddingstone rock similar to Echo rock on Coltsfoot mountain further south on the trail. As this was our halfway point and our high point we stopped here for our snack break and took in the views and got some photos. The lookout is at about 1,655 ft. The trail then descended quickly down the south side of Red Mountain, and at times the trail was a bit precarious because it’s not really traveled as often as it used to be and so the piles of leaves down steep narrow trail sections were resulting in some slow-going.

We saw an old A.T. boundary marker in the middle of the trail which was really neat since its no longer the A.T. but was just 30 years ago.

Cool glacial rock feature

Cool glacial rock feature

At the bottom of the hill we came upon Red Mountain shelter. It had a wooden floor at ground level that was not in great shape but also had a nice overhanging porch. It was a glimpse into the past of older shelter design. There was a large fire ring but it was not recently used and would have taken some time to clear if we were staying there.

Just after the shelter area the trail crosses Route 4. People drive fast on that road and its at the crest of the ridge… so look both ways and go for it!

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Shelter #3, Mohawk summit

Here the trail then enters the state park boundaries of Mohawk mountain and through a picnic and camping area and the next shelter. This shelter was in better condition, though it had a dirt floor. It’s fire ring was recently used and would be again soon as we saw a troop of about 20 boy scouts and their leaders a little farther up the trail. They were headed up to the view on Red mountain and then back here for the night.  Turns out they were from the next town over from where I live.

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

Ski area summit, Mohawk Mtn

We then passed two backpackers who were out for the weekend doing the whole trail, prepping for a 2018 thru hike of the A.T.  There was a gentle uphill here as we were already most of the way up and It wasn’t long before the trail leveled out and brought us to the shelter we had planned on staying at. It was the largest, and was in very good shape, with a privy, picnic table, and a 1 minute walk to one of the pullovers on the summit road that had sweeping views of the Taconics and the Catskill high peaks.

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

Trail map at Mohawk Mtn Summit

I was for a moment feeling like we should have toughed it out but as soon as we stopped moving we had noticed it had gotten much much colder, the afternoon sun having had long ago peaked.  We did the last 1/2 mile to the car, passing the ski lifts at the top of the ski area and getting some great photos there.  We had a refreshment at the roadside lookout on the way to pickup the other car, and headed home. While the actual summit of Mohawk mountain is higher than Red mountain, the Mohawk trail doesn’t reach that elevation. The ski resort summit is only about 1475 ft. If you want to summit Mohawk and pass the two towers with great views of their own, take the Mattituck trail at the lot by the ski lifts and continue up over the summit.

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

The Catskills from Mohawk Mtn

We will be back in the spring to complete the last ten miles of the trail. There is a shelter just about halfway and it will be a good warmup hike for my ridge runner season. Brian has already done the whole Mohawk trail. And while I’m quite sure I did a lot of it as a boy scout myself in the 80s when it was still the A.T., I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing. And reconnected with those memories along the way. That final northernmost section is the most challenging of the whole trail and also one of the most scenic sections.

As an A.T. volunteer and ridge runner, hiking the older routes of the trail I love is a fun walk back through time.

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

The Taconics from Mohawk Mtn

For me overnight season is likely over until then, though desperation for a night in the woods got me out once this January. But that bitter cold night was an exercise in patience, not as much enjoyment, hence the decision made for this hike. I will be doing some winter day hikes to get my fix and stay in shape (as well as some skiing and snowboarding), so look for reports on those hikes in the coming months.

Miles day 1: 6

— Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #6

Well it turns out they needed me for one more weekend and I was more than happy to go, with the great October weather. Well, I’m ALWAYS happy to go. The weather was in the 60s-70s all weekend, even if a little overcast. Lows were predicted in the mid-50s which is balmy for October, and I was thrilled to have my friend Brian along for the overnight to share hiking and camping stories until hiker midnight. The scouts were out in force, and we also had our annual CT AMC chapter Appalachian Trail day and picnic, so I got to spend a few hours with all of my favorite trail people, and make some new friends. Miles were low but morale and hiker numbers were high so I spent a lot of time interacting with hikers, scout troops and our great volunteers out doing their work parties on waterbars, invasive removal, and general cleanup. The foliage was really turning, so while I had to be a little more careful on the leaf-covered trail, the scenery was gorgeous.

I hope to get out one more time in November for an overnight with friends if the weather holds up.  The plan is the Mohawk trail. I just have to remember to fill out their backcountry camping permits!

Photos below.

Miles day 1: 6.6

Miles day 2: 5.1

  • Linus
    Frog hunting flies on Schaghticoke mtn

    Frog hunting flies on Schaghticoke mtn

    Autumn Sassafrass

    Autumn Sassafrass

    Linus and Brian on Scaghticoke Mtn

    Linus and Brian on Scaghticoke Mtn

    New blowdown art

    New blowdown art

    A fine cup of morning Joe

    A fine cup of morning Joe

    Home for the night

    Home for the night

    Selfie with the new hiker sculpture in Kent, CT

    Selfie with the new hiker sculpture in Kent, CT

    Ned Anderson Bridge, Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers confluence

    Ned Anderson Bridge, Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers confluence

    Nice new waterbar

    Nice new waterbar

    Wingdale, NY from Ten Mile Hill

    Wingdale, NY from Ten Mile Hill

    Ned Anderson Bridge and the Housatonic River

    Ned Anderson Bridge and the Housatonic River

    Foliage on display

    Foliage on display

Appalachian Trail: MA Section 4

Heading Nobo again

Heading Nobo again

Today we finished the rest of section 4 and started the first mile of section 3 in Massachusetts. This was mostly for logistical reasons in both cases. Distances to and from overnight campsites or long term parking lots usually dictate where we start and end. Sometimes those are a little different than where the sections actually begin and end. We did the last few sections southbound for logistical reasons but finally are heading north again.

We did this one as a day hike so we could have a luxury day in nearby Lenox for Fielden’s birthday Saturday. We enjoyed visiting the local outfitter so she could try on some new packs, and they were great and also referred us to their friends’ tapas place in town for dinner. Which was also amazing. A great town.

Heading up Warner Hill

Heading up Warner Hill

I tried to get us a nice B&B for the night but as it was a holiday weekend, in the Berkshires, during prime leaf season (normally), all we could manage was a motor lodge. It was nice and clean though and it just allowed us more money to spend on dinner.

It was unseasonably warm and in hindsight we could have tented and done an overnight. Though it was pouring when we woke up and we had a really great day previous so we were not complaining!

Marilyn ‘the cookie lady’ shuttled us again from the lot just west of Dalton up to where we left off on Blotz road, just north of October Mountain State Forest.

Near whiteout on Warner Hill

Near whiteout on Warner Hill

The rain continued for about the first hour and a half of our hike, and sadly the view of Greylock from Warner Hill was fogged out. But it did keep things cooler and when we reached the powerline halfway through our hike, we had a good view of Pittsfield to the west as the skies cleared. We met lots of day hikers, and one hiker in Dalton as we neared the end who had only 10 miles to go until he finished his entire Appalachian Trail hike through many years of sectioning. We seem to have met a lot of those this season.

Pittsfield to the west

Pittsfield to the west

We passed Tom Levardi the trail angel’s house as we entered town from the woods but didn’t stop to see if he was home as menacing storm clouds loomed ahead. We had also planned to stop at Sweet Pea’s for ice cream but they were closed.

All in all it was a great, mostly easy section and good for us because it had been a few weeks since we hiked last and we could knock out more miles with the easier terrain.

Fielden Stream on Day Mtn

Fielden Stream on Day Mtn

Unless it’s unseasonably warm in mid-November, we won’t be back up here until spring 2018. We have 26 miles left of Massachusetts, and in order to complete it, really a 30 mile trek as the first road crossing in Vermont is 3.5 miles in. We will likely do Dalton to Cheshire as a short overnight warmup in the spring and then come back to tackle Greylock and walk into Vermont sometime during the summer when the days are long.

This weekend is out CT AMC chapter’s Appalachian Trail day and BBQ, so I will be doing that and bringing a friend along for her first hike on the trail.

Trail angel Tom Levardi's house

Trail angel Tom Levardi’s house

This hike I did last year is led by our trails chair and follows the old route from Macedonia Brook State Park to Caleb’s Peak where the current trail goes through. Then my friend Brian and I are planning to do an overnight on the Mohawk Trail (also the old A.T.) and I’ll knock out another 8 or so miles of that trail so I can finish it too soon.

The leaves are just starting to really change in the Berkshires as weather has been odd, but I’m hoping it will be more dramatic this weekend in Connecticut now that it’s cooling off and raining a lot again.

Miles: 7.9

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 6: Delaware Water Gap

And we're off!

And we’re off!

Last weekend we brought our friends out on their first backpacking trip, and first trek on the Appalachian Trail. As they live in Central Pennsylvania and we live in Connecticut, we decided to choose a section right in between.  We were preparing to start New Jersey either this season or next, as we are closing in on the end of Massachusetts. So it seemed a no-brainer to start New Jersey, but from the south, at Delaware Water Gap.

A great idea

A great idea

The area is incredibly scenic, and has 100 miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail. The A.T. section provides some of the best views in the park as it follows the ridgelines of the New Jersey highlands. You are treated to views of the Delaware river and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to the west, and New Jersey to the East. It turned out to be even more beautiful than expected, and a great first outing for our friends.

We started in the Dunnfield Creek natural area, less than 1 mile east of the Pennsylvania border in the DWG National Recreational Area. The Appalachian Trail passes through here after it crosses the I-80 bridge over the river.

Placing stones

Placing stones

The state line is painted on the bridge and many a hiker have a photo there. We contemplated starting on the PA side for this very reason, but ultimately decided that starting right into the woods would be more the experience we were looking for after 2 hrs driving the interstates and just plain needing a nature fix. Shortly after we headed into the woods the red dot trail branches off the A.T. and ascends mount Tammany, the dramatic mountaintop on the east side of the gap. We will come back for that hike on another occasion when an A.T. section isn’t the goal. They had these great carry out bags for trash, which I think we need to employ on our section  and will be recommending to my committee in Connecticut.

Hawk posing at sunset

Hawk posing at sunset

We ascended gently up an old carriage road, passing the creek and then many side trails as we headed to Backpacker’s Campsite. There used to also be a campsite on the junction of the Holly Springs trail, as there is a spring there. Not sure if it was for reasons other than the view that that campsite is no longer and the current one is a mile farther up on the mountaintop with epic views. But either way, Backpacker’s campsite 2 has great views as it rests right along the mountaintop’s western ridge.  Just bring water up for the night. I researched it in advance per usual so we hiked up with lots of water. I knew there would be a bunch of cairns at Sunfish pond but was surprised to find a bunch in the woods just off the Holly springs trail. We had fun adding a rock or two here and taking photos.

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Sunset was dramatic to say the least, and we also saw a hawk land on top of an old leafless treetop at dusk, which made for a great photo. The caretaker told us that all the bare trees here is because there was a fire from an illegal campsite and it burned much of the north side of the ridge. I’ll just leave that there. It made me felt better about why I enforce the rules I do in our part of the trail. There are actually many legal dispersed campsites for thru hikers along the trail here, so I don’t feel it’s out of utter necessity that these problematic stealth sites pop up in most cases. A lot of times, folks see a nice view and decide that they will break all the rules and make camp there, and a fire, and its always been in these instances that devastating results happen.

The Delaware from above

The Delaware from above

We had a nice chat with the caretaker and a thru hiker staying there, and then set up our camp. I helped my friends with their tent and using the stove and the bear box. We took in the sunset view over dinner and had fun talking until bed time. Entertainment included chasing away a black snake slithering around our tents. I believe we must have set up near his home…

In the morning, we were in the clouds we saw hanging over the next ridge the previous night. Any raindrops seemed to fall just on our tent, as they always seem to find it. We had some coffee and packed up and hit the trail, headed for the AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center.

Summit of Kittattiny

Summit of Kittattiny

This day’s hike provided view after view from the ridgelines as mentioned above. They really didn’t stop until we headed down into the gap to Mohican camp road. On top of one ridgeline you got a 270 degree view and a large cairn marked it’s summit. A hawk watching group was stationed there with various telescopes and cameras and a fake owl on a branch to bait the hawks who apparently like to swoop down and taunt their bird of prey rivals. We took some great photos up there and headed down to the road and to the MOC.

AMC Mohican Center

AMC Mohican Center

It’s about a half mile road walk from the trail crossing up to the main lodge. We checked in with the super friendly staff and got the keys to our private cabin, which it turns out is another half mile up the camp road. It was a great cabin with a dividing door but also the option to open it up to a suite until bedtime and for privacy. We had electricity, a fridge, a heater and fan, and a microwave. The rec center next door had full bathrooms with showers and a large room which was formerly a dining hall when this was a Boy Scout camp, filled with AMC pamphlets and miscellaneous educational collections of flora and fauna. The AMC has year round outings and camp type experiences for people of all ages and I imagine this space and these collections are part of that.

Our cabin at MOC

Our cabin at MOC

They had skywatching programs and astronomy lectures on this particular weekend, though we did not end up participating because we were sitting around the large fire ring between the cabin and the lodge with a bunch of the other hikers and families we met at dinner. Dinner was a homemade family style affair, which was quite filling and tasty. Afterwards we got a ride into town to pick up a few groceries and beverages. We got to bed late but it was worth sitting around the fire with new friends and the milky way above. Next time we go back we will take out a canoe or kayak. Catfish pond was very inviting.  With the 3 walks to and from the cabin I’m sure we clocked another 3 miles that day!

Ready for day 3

Ready for day 3

The next morning we had a breakfast of eggs, bacon, french toast, home fries and various breads. And of course, lots of coffee! We picked up some nice items at their shop and hit the trail a bit earlier on day 3 as we had to be back at our cars by lunchtime.  Again we woke in the fog, but today it didn’t break until we were off trail. We climbed back out of the gap and along the ridges; some quite close to the edge and with a significant drop. With the clouds all around it was almost a bit spooky, but eased any real vertigo because you couldn’t see how far the drop was.

Was probably a great view!

Was probably a great view!

We did throw a rock off one though to see how long it took until we heard it land! Far enough… In a few short miles we reached the Catfish fire tower, but it was closed. Still we enjoyed a snack at the picnic table before our final walk out to the road where we parked on the first day. They occasionally have someone there who will bring you up for the views, but as it was a whiteout still, I imagine they waited until later in the day so there was an actual view.

Autumn Sassafras

Autumn Sassafras

Still, we had lots of views the previous days so it was no big disappointment. I look forward to going back to Mohican as well as exploring some of the other AMC lodges in New York, New Hampshire and Maine for family trips. The only downside was there was no signal at all at the cabin so we had to walk the half mile to get wifi. They also had a phone in the main lodge for emergencies.

Our friends also got their trail names: Skippy (for his skipping stones at Sunfish Pond) and Bird Bitch (because she’s really into birds and birdwatching).

It should be added that before and after the hike, we enjoyed spending time in nearby Blairstown, NJ — both on its quaint historic main street and a modern brewery after the hike.

Catfish fire tower

Catfish fire tower

It was a huge success and we are excited to continue the march north through New Jersey together staring in the spring. Now that we know they’re naturals at it, we will do longer miles next time. They were on the short side for this first trip. But not lacking in fun and adventure one bit.

Miles day 1: 3.5

Miles day 2: 5.8 (+3 miles in camp)

Miles day 3: 3.7

– Linus