Tyringham Cobble Appalachian Trail Loop

 

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Fielden Stream at the trailhead

Well, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! That’s what we did last weekend. We had our first backpacking trip of the year together planned for Friday the 5th. Leading up to that day It was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot, a light breeze to keep the bugs away, sunshine…  And then, you know how it goes. You find out days before there will be some rain. Ok, no problem, we’ve hiked and camped in rain many times. Its part of the fun. But then you hear the system is a really big one, having left tornadoes and major flooding in its wake as it blasted northeastward to us. Inches of rain predicted, for a full day of relentless downpour.

Signs signs everywhere signs

Signs signs everywhere signs

Now we’ve been caught in that many times. Just the week before I was caught in a thunderstorm on Sharon Mountain in Connecticut while doing some trail work with a friend from the club.  Once you’re out there, there ain’t much you can do but soldier on through it. Or get off the trail for a day and wait out the misery if its really necessary. But when you haven’t left yet, there’s room for modifications. Why be miserable if you don’t have to be.  I honestly don’t mind a lot of rain if its the middle of summer. But when temperatures are in the 40’s and 50’s, that’s when hypothermia can really be a risk.

We were planning to do the first section of New Jersey southbound.  I have a friend that lives near Vernon and was going to shuttle us and we picked the direction so that we were going to go down the infamous “Stairway to Heaven” on Wawayanda mountain. While that didn’t sound really fun to go up in the pouring rain, coming down was probably even more dangerous.  Time for a new plan. Even many of the thrus we were following on YouTube were opting for a zero mile day In town or at camp.

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

Bunny rock, Tyringham loop trail

We re-focused our attention on Massachusetts where we left off there last year, and I looked into some nice day hike options in the area where we could do some of the A.T. and get some views but also could do some other relaxing things like stay in a favorite inn and luxuriate a little. We love the Red Lion in Stockbridge, so we got a great off-season rate room there and spent the drive up stopping into shops and taking our time. We arrived at the Inn for a great lunch in their tavern. The Inn goes back hundreds of years and was a carriage stop where the likes of George Washington stayed. I’m assuming this was on the route from Boston to Albany, now the nearby Massachusetts turnpike. This town also is the location of the Alice’s Restaurant song, and where Norman Rockwell began a long illustrious career.

Views from the Western shoulder

Views from the Western shoulder

I picked the loop of the Cobble and Appalachian trails in nearby Tyringham. While not a very high peak, Tyringham Cobble’s rocky top (where the word Cobble comes from in mountain lingo) provides a wide scenic view of the valley below, once farmed by the Shakers when Tyringham was called Jerusalem. Its about a 2.1 mile loop over the cobble in this state reservation and really not challenging at all. But it was perfect for the occasion and we had planned to hike it that day still should the rain let up a bit. It didn’t do that until dark. So as the rain kept pouring down, we headed to the Norman Rockwell museum to see his artwork as well as an exhibit on the cartoons of our childhood by Hannah-Barbera. It was a treat, and the Rockwell pieces were moving as well. They had brought his final studio from its former location onto this location a few miles away, and overlooking another scenic vista. Everything in the studio had been left exactly as he did.

I'm a ham

I’m a ham

We headed back to our Inn for some lazy time and then visited a local sushi restaurant and then saw some local talent in the pub in the basement.

The rain stopped around dinner time and I lamented a bit that we could have hit the trail late and hiked in to camp. But we were having a nice time. And even though the rain stopped, everything would be soaked when we went to set up camp in puddles. And, the hike out would be about 9 miles if we wanted to finish the section still, and we would not have had time for as we had to head home by 2.  Still, my heart is on the trail so In the future, I am just going to have the gear in the trunk in case things change on a dime again.  We’ve shot ourselves in the foot before doing the same thing only to have the rain stop well before predicted.

Hemlock grove

Hemlock grove

We had a nice breakfast at the local cafe after checking out and headed for the park. Some new storm clouds were moving through and the skies over Beartown forest were dark for a bit. But as we arrived, the clouds began to move. We hiked up the loop trail as the sun began to show. On this side of the loop there is a great view of the valley from a rock affectionately known as ‘bunny rock’. It is a a glacial erratic between the trail and the farmland beyond. Everywhere along this trail were special gates that livestock could not open. It began to then climb through Hemlock stands until reaching the grassy spine of the mountain’s eastern shoulder. We ran into three different thru hikers coming down the hill on the A.T. almost immediately. They did look a little damp and grumpy so to made me feel a bit better about not doing the overnight! The third one I stopped to ask if he knew one of the thru hikers I was watching, who had gone through the area just a day before and who I was sad we would be missing running into today. He didn’t know him but we had a nice brief exchange of words before heading to the summit.

I love this sloping hill

I love this sloping hill

We passed a family with their kids and dogs who went the other way around the loop and made it to the summit just in time for our own private visit there. We had a snack, took in the gorgeous views, and then followed the trail down into another hemlock stand on the west side of the mountain. When it was time to branch off the A.T. back on to the loop Traill my heart and legs tugged at me a bit, wanting to keep following the white blazes. But I knew we’d regroup shortly and I was already planning another first backpacking trip together for June.

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

If interested, the Exhibit runs through 5/29

I am going to be up here again in early June in a more official capacity so Fielden Stream is going to come with, and after the necessary meetings are done I am going to have a friend in the club help us drop our car and shuttle us back to Tyringham so we can cover the Beartown state forest section we had just skipped for this short day hike excursion.  I am hoping it won’t rain cats and dogs again for 12 hours straight, but this time we should have warmer temps, longer days, and a bit more resolve. I’d like to try and finish Massachusetts this season but with all my official trail commitments we may not until next summer.  That’s ok, with another 2,000 miles to go, what’s the hurry?

This hike is great for families with little kids or big kids alike. Its not difficult, its very scenic, and its close to many picturesque New England towns and other great hikes like nearby Monument Mountain and Laura’s tower.

Miles: 2.1

— Linus

Appalachian Trail Night Hike and Cold Winter Overnight

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

On Thursday, the much-delayed and much needed winter overnight finally fell into place. It’s been a rocky couple of weeks (pun intended) in the real world and as always, when things get tough, nature comes to my rescue. I was planning to do this the previous week. Some thought also went into doing it this coming week on my birthday, but that’s going to be a day hike with a more luxurious overnight to celebrate the occasion. Besides, the temperatures at night maybe something I will brave and did on this occasion, but are not enjoyable for most. Fielden and I have had our share of cold nights on the trail, but 25 is pushing it for her and this is now only my second time camping on such a cold night. I had been going back and forth on whether I was going to do it, but a trip to Bass Pro shops/Outdoor world that morning provided the final inspiration. Their new location in Bridgeport, CT is amazing.

Hitting the trail at dusk

Hitting the trail at dusk

I like knowing I can do it, so that if I do end up in these temperatures on a long section in the future, I am prepared. The last time was a very cold April night last year when I camped along the Housatonic River at Ten Mile River Campground. I also like doing these once in a while because it gives me a chance to re-test and possibly improve my layering and sleep system for the colder temps. I love testing gear. Like last time, the temperatures were around 25 degrees at the lowest.

I decided to go up to Wiley Shelter on the New York Appalachian Trail. As I’ve been there 3 times now, I know the layout, so finding my way around in the dark would be easy. And its a short hike out and its close to a road in case it was just too cold and I needed an emergency bailout . But I did not.

My layering and sleep system was as such:

Clothing bottoms: Long Johns (Patagonia Cap 3), fresh pair of dry wool socks (always have these!) and my hiking undies – REI synthetic briefs. (I took off the hiking pants to put on the long john bottoms. Sometimes I hike with both on.)

Clothing tops: (the bottom two were my hiking layers) Smartwool short sleeve base layer, Patagonia Dual Aspect hoodie (one of my favorite new pieces of gear, will also use for skiing and snowboarding), Marmot Precip rain coat.

Minus 33 beanie

Minus 33 beanie

Hat: Minus 33 beanie – finally I found one that fits my big noggin!

The final piece, the raincoat, was one I discovered and employed last time, because I just wasn’t at the comfort level I needed to be. Down is great but I didn’t want to sleep in my down jacket last time because once you do heat up it will wet out from sweat, and then become dangerous. I also don’t hike in down for the same reason, as I discovered on a day hike up Mt. Higby about a year ago.

Sleeping Pads: I combined two pads like I did last time. Was only planning on using the foam one but brought my inflatable because I thought that might be too close to the ground and conduct too much cold and I was right. the Thermarest z-lite foam pad does help add R-Value and protect from roots and rocks underneath, but on its own I quickly realized I needed to be further off the ground to be properly warm so I blew up my Thermarest Neo-Air Xlite, and voila, I didn’t feel the cold ground. The foam pad is a bit long for my modest height of 5’7″ so I did what many thru hikers do and cut off the top two panels and will use those as a seat. This also makes it easier to carry the pad between the body and brain of my pack.

Crossing Duel Hollow Brook

Crossing Duel Hollow Brook

Also one thing I’ve always read is to have a hot meal before bed as it will keep your body generating heat as it is working to digest the meal. So after a few failed attempts to get a lot of wet wood to light for a campfire ( a solitary mouse came by to watch and laugh at me failing before scurrying off), I got out my stove and had some Mountain House chili mac and washed it down with a little red wine. I did not bring a nalgene so I could not put a hot water bottle in my bag, but I didn’t end up needing it. I did put my Sawyer squeeze filter in there to keep it from freezing. I have frozen (or at least I think, don’t wanna find out the hard way) two Sawyer minis already because I left them in my backpack which I left in my car for a couple days after a winter day hike. They may be fine. But Guardia is no way to find out that its not. And at $25 each its really not a big deal to replace them.

Camping "essentials"

Camping “essentials”

Anyway I like the squeeze because its only an ounce or two heavier and the filtering flow rate is much faster. Since I usually hike with Fielden and or the kids, and I’m often in a hurry (i.e. impatient) I prefer the faster rate. In the future I’m going to get a Katahdin hiker pro, as my friend Ray recommended it to me and showed me his after the hike. I thought they were much bulkier and heavier but really they’re not. And being able to pump the water from low sources is a seriously good feature. I always bring back up tablets in case any of these filters fail or I meet hikers who have no method of filtration. This filter is more in the $60+ range so I will wait till the next sale at REI.

When I hiked in, temperatures were still in the mid 30s. The lowest point of 25 was around 3 or 4 am and returned to the 30’s with sunrise. But this is the time when are bodies are really at their coldest so its important to have the right amount of insulation from the cold so we are not at risk of hypothermia. My layering system and meal planning really succeeded in keeping me very warm throughout the night.

Sawyer Squeeze and Smart Water bottle

Sawyer Squeeze and Smart Water bottle

I also re-tested the whole smart water bottle with the Sawyer filter screwed on top. Thru hikers rave about this on their channels, as its so easy and convenient. My water bladder has sprung a tiny leak and so I figured I’d give it another shot. Still unimpressed. While it is convenient to just unscrew the thing, fill it with water and drink, every time you drink the suction compresses the bottle so you have to unscrew it partially to let air back in there. Secondly I don’t have a way to attach it to my pack straps and even then it would be awkward and bulky. So I had to put it back in my pack pocket which felt like dislocating my shoulder each time to reach back there. Since my pack has one large pocket, it also isn’t held in there securely and fell out once, which I worried about happening. If it did and there wasn’t a pump at the shelter (there is) I could be in real trouble. So I’m not doing that method again. Ill get a new bladder and that’s that.

A few other gear notes: I bought a sea to summit x-cup for solo hikes so that I could have my coffee in it in the morning and not have to use my pot which I will be using for my meal.  When I go with Fielden we have a cook pot with two cups… I did not end up using the x-cup though as my morning plans changed as you will see below. But I am looking forward to trying it. I was finally convinced on it when one of the hikers I watched, Homemade Wanderlust, mentioned how much she loved it.

Casio Forester watch

Casio Forester watch

Also, I have owned several hiking and outdoor watches. A few seasons ago I experimented with the Suunto Ambit GPS watch. I had some fun with it but not being able to charge it without USB led to it shutting off in the middle of a hike when I needed it. So I traded it for a Casio Pro-Trek. No GPS on board, but it charged by solar, has a barometer, altimeter and compass. A cool watch and everything but I never used any of those features, and I had a little of trouble reading the tiny numbers and dials at night. As the battery has since died,  I went to Wal-Mart and got a $20 Casio ‘Forester” watch. It has a face I can easily read (except the date window which is not crucial), a powerful backlight that is easy to turn on, and a fabric and velcro strap for durability and comfort. Honestly, this watch is all any of us need. I love this little watch and I don’t have to worry about banging it up or breaking it. If I do, I’m out $20 not $200 or $400 even.  A no-brainer. All those gadgets are neat, and fun to try out, but most are overkill. If anyone is interested in buying my Pro-Trek, let me know. just needs a new battery.

Dark Dark Night

Dark Dark Night

This was also my first experience night-hiking in earnest. I was a little surprised sunset was so early and sunrise so late, as its getting close to February. Sunset was slated for 4:58 and I knew sunrise has been around 7am lately. Lots of time alone in the dark! I was racing  the sunset as I drove up. I guess you can park just north of the shelter on Duel Hollow road overnight but I wasn’t certain so I parked at Hoyt Road which meant a 1.2 mile hike in. There’s some decent little ups and downs here and as I walked in the sun was setting fast. It was fully dark as I reached about a quarter mile in.  One owl swooped overhead as I followed the dark trail, and the howl of a coyote was heard in the distance. Definitely a good way to keep one’s senses active! There’s not a whole lot you can do if something out there has plans for you. Still i told myself I’d much rather go that way than dying suddenly at work or home from a stress-related heart attack! I’m 45, this is prime age for that so I have to take care of myself.

Arrived at camp

Arrived at camp

I reached the campsite at around 6pm . It was dark as can be. There was no moon, and no stars. I heard a barred owl hoot once in the far distance, but without a reply he must have moved on as it was silent the rest of the night. I slept like a rock undisturbed, only waking once or twice. I listened to a little Miles Davis while I set up camp. I did try and set up my tent on the platform but as its not fully freestanding it wasn’t working so I set up next to it and then went about attempting to make the fire…

Before I nodded off my friends and family checked in on me. My friend Ray, another maintainer from the Connecticut AMC who lives 5 minutes away, offered to meet me at the campsite and bring breakfast! How could I say no to that. He also offered to be my emergency bailout pickup if I needed it.

Sunrise view from the ridge

Sunrise view from the ridge

At 7am I let everyone know I was alive and didn’t freeze to death. In fact I was very warm!  Sunrise wasn’t really impressive as it was overcast, so no red hot fire ball burning over the ridge line like last time I was there. Ray came around 7:45 with Dunkin Donuts coffee and and egg and cheese and we chatted for a while. He gave me a lift back to my car and then we went to his house for a bit so I could warm up by the pellet stove.

I had a great time, faced some fears, braved the elements and learned a few things about myself and my skills.

View from the tent to the shelter

View from the tent to the shelter

For my birthday, Fielden and I have decided to check out Minnewaska State Park and or the adjacent Mohonk Preserve as many of my friends have been posting video and photos from there and I want to do a hike in a new place and where we only have to bring one car.

Miles: 1.2

— Linus

A Day In The Life of a Trail Patroller: Ten Mile Video Journal

Video Journal

Video Journal

I realized I was so chatty in this video that you probably will learn all about this hike by watching the video! The new setup with the phone worked better than the GoPro but I do need to remember to keep the same horizontal orientation throughout so please pardon the switches to the vertical shots. I’ve almost got this video thing down! I know I’ve covered this section before but it was not a great quality video… This hike was a windy and wonderful Veterans Day, and I got to cut my first blowdown! Thanks veterans for your service.

Click here to watch the video

Miles: 4.1

— Linus

Appalachian Trail: NY Section 13 (and completion of NY!)

A.T./State Line junction

A.T./State Line junction

Saturday, we finished New York. I can’t say how thrilled I am. On the trail I asked Fielden: “when we started at the New York-Connecticut state line last April, did you think we’d actually finish the whole state by next year?”

Well the answer is neither of us knew for sure if we’d stay at it all the way to New Jersey. We did it though, and it feels great. Our life and schedules are hectic. So this was a big accomplishment. We stuck at it as many weekends as we could each season and got it done!

We did most of New York southbound, though the last few sections we did in reverse, just for logistical reasons based on pickups and trail head parking. We did from 17a north to East Mombasha road and Little Dam Lake in August (where we left off southbound hiking), and then from the New York/New Jersey state line north back to 17a on this hike. This one was a day hike where as the previous was a backpacking trip.

At the state line

At the state line

Since it was Fielden’s birthday I was treating her to a nice bed and breakfast instead of a tent. We tried that last October, at least for the first night. It was freezing. We can deal with that and have many times, but given the occasion, a nice bed to sleep in seemed the right way to go.

We drove down to the state line trail lot across from Greenwood Lake marina. The top level of the lot is specifically for hikers. I had read on many sources that this is only day hiking parking, but many of the locals we talked to seemed to think overnight wouldn’t be a problem. We wouldn’t find out today.

Fielden Stream at Prospect Rock

Fielden Stream at Prospect Rock

As we got to the lot there were a few cars and people getting ready to hike. Shortly after, 4 or 5 more cars showed up and filled the lot. What I thought was a group of backpackers was in fact either a meetup or a local yoga class who were hiking up to the ridge to do yoga. I think that’s pretty cool and I like my yoga, but in a lot this size, carpooling would have been better so that everyone had a place to park. We were lucky to arrive when we did.

Fielden Stream scrambling

Fielden Stream scrambling

We hit the trail immediately so that we could get ahead of the group. The state line trail climbs 800ft in just over a mile to its intersection with the A.T. It’s not too bad and switchbacks a lot, with only one or two steeper sections as you climb what is known as Bearfort Mountain on the New Jersey side. As you near the ridgeline you also pass the eastern spur of the yellow-blazed Ernest Walter trail that circles Surprise lake in Abram Hewitt State Forest. Once you reach the Appalachian trail you are just shy of the highest point of the hike, at almost 1,400ft. From here we headed north along the A.T. just a short distance to reach the state line. There’s the famous line painted on the rock with “N.Y.” one one side of it and “N.J.” on the other. We took what is a typical photo with one of us on each side of the line and took out the GoPro to get a shot for our video.

Mini Mahoosic Notch

Mini Mahoosuc Notch

After a short snack break we headed north along the rocky spine of the mountain to Prospect Rock. At 1,443ft it’s the highest point on the entire New York Appalachian Trail. There is also a large American flag here, and a sweeping view of the lake, the Ramapo hills and on this day, despite it being overcast, New York City’s skyline. I don’t know for sure why the flag is here. I assume it’s either to mark the highest point, or as a 9-11 memorial similar to the one on Shenandoah Mountain, since you can see the city from here. There is a trail register box but we were distracted by the great views and did not sign it. We did of course get many photos. I could see the rocky face of Bellvale Mountain in the distance. We would be climbing that soon enough.

A bit north, the Zig-Zag trail intersects with the A.T. and leads west to Warwick County Park. This short trail allows day hikers to take in the great views here without quite as much effort as climbing up from the State Line or the longer walk through Abram Hewitt State Forest from Warwick turnpike to the south.

Fielden Stream climbing the rebar ladder

Fielden Stream climbing the rebar ladder

From here the long rocky ridge walk continues for a mile or two before dropping into the forest. After a good distance in the woods we reached the bottom of the rock tumble and ledge on Bellvale Mountain. The first half is a pile of car sized boulders that you climb around and over and while you don’t go under or through any of them, I called it a mini Mahoosuc Notch. It was easy though. From there the trail twists sharply up a few more large rocks before depositing you at the bottom of a 20ft ledge. There used to be a metal ladder here similar to what you’d use to clean the gutters on your roof. Now there are several rebar stairs and handholds drilled into the slighter face of the mountain. This was something that at one point gave me some anxiety but upon doing it, It was a ton of fun and a piece of cake. That of course would be a different story had it rained.

Southeast view from summit of rock ledge

Southeast view from summit of rock ledge

The forecast originally had rain in the afternoon so we were in a hurry to get at least half way through the hike where the rocks stop before any rain. We ultimately lucked out and it didn’t rain at all until that night. And very heavily. This is not a hike we would have done the next day unless we had to, and even then we might have zeroed. Several miles of large wet rocks and ridge walks would have been sketchy, though I know many do it. When you have the choice though why take the risk.

View from Mt. Peter

View from Mt. Peter

As we reached the summit of Bellvale Mountain, we were greeted by several cairns and more broad views to the east and our first real views to the west. The trail continued along rocky spines and puddingstone outcroppings. It returned to the forest shortly and up one last smallish rock scramble just before the view on Mt. Peter. The back side of this mountain is actually a ski resort, and where the Bellvale Creamery and hot dog stand are, though its confusing because the next section of trail which we completed in August calls itself Bellvale Mountain, and the creamery takes the same name. So who actually knows.

Village Vista Trail to town

Village Vista Trail to town

There’s a broad view southeast over Greenwood Lake and the town of the same name. You also get a nice northeastern view from here. Shortly after this view the trail returns to the forest for the remainder of the section. Also ahead (nobo) is the intersection with the village vista trail which takes you right down to the town of Greenwood Lake and so it is very popular for backpackers to resupply as well as for day hikers from town who just want to get some excercise and a nice view in just over a mile walk. We saw many local hikers on the top of Mt. Peter and on their way up to the view.

Warwick hot dog stand on Mt. Peter

Warwick hot dog stand on Mt. Peter

The final 2 miles of the section was easy and mostly flat through young forests, reminding us of Shenandoah. We saw a blue blazed turn off about a quarter mile before we reached the road but didn’t know what it was for. Turns out it goes up to the parking lot where our target was: the hot dog stand. However, upon exiting the A.T. on 17a and walking west on the road to the lot with the hot dog stand, we realized if we had taken that trail up, we wouldn’t have finished the last bit of the section, so it worked out just fine. I wanted to note that every single water source on this section was dry. Some folks left jugs of water just north of the 17a crossing though.

CT AMC Appalachian Trail Day

CT AMC Appalachian Trail Day, Oct 15, 2016, Kent, CT

We were looking forward to those hot dogs and a soda and asked many of the day hikers we passed on the way if they were still open this late in the season. Luckily, they were! We scarfed down some hot dogs, chips and a soda and called our friends at Nite Owl taxi to get back to our car on the N.J. line. We celebrated our completion of New York by visiting several local wineries and doing tastings, followed by a delicious Italian dinner in Warwick.

We will likely continue working on finishing Massachusetts in the spring, and this Saturday is the 10th anniversary of our annual Appalachian Trail day with the Connecticut AMC. There are lots of hikes, trail work parties, rock climbing and even paddling events all culminating with our grand BBQ at Macedonia Brook State Park ($6 donation for the BBQ). Non-members and members alike are welcome and there are hikes for all ages and abilities. I will be there and hope to see you! I will be going along on a hike covering another past route of the A.T.

Oh, and lest I forget, the full video of our journey across New York is here. Two years in the making, I tried to make its 19 minutes entertaining as possible. I hope you enjoy it!

Miles: 7.1

–  Linus

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Old and New

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Last weekend I did another trail patrol hike, mainly to check in on a campsite and its water supply. I also added a little side jaunt on a section that was once the A.T. but is now known as the Mohawk trail.

I headed back up to Falls Village, where we did our family backpacking trip over labor day weekend (scroll down to the next entry). But from here I headed south instead. This section runs from the crossing of Rts 7 and 112 to Rt. 4 in Cornwall Bridge.

Top of the bump

Top of the bump

It also includes the famous “hang glider’s view” on Sharon Mountain to Lime Rock racetrack and beyond. There’s a campsite farther south of that view known as Sharon Mountain campsite, though I was not headed that far today. I was here to check out Belter’s campsites, just south of Belter’s bump, a small outcrop on a ridge only .75 miles south of the intersection on the northern end of the section. Then I would turn around, head north and pick up the blue-blazed Mohawk trail.

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

Eastern view, a bit overgrown

I parked in the hiker lot on Rt. 7 just south of the bridge over the Housatonic that the trail crosses. The trail loops around a cornfield as it skirts the river, then crosses the busy road. From here it’s pretty much right up to Belter’s bump. This spot is named after a local farmer whose land it used to be. It’s a few hundred feet up but rather quickly and so it definitely gets your heart going. At the top is a small rocky outcrop where you get a nice little view of the mountains to the east. In summer, the rattlesnakes like to sunbathe here. Luckily I didn’t meet any this time or when we were through here last as it was a downpour on that trip.

Belter's Campsites

Belter’s Campsites

The campsites are a little bit farther down the trail but one of them that is farther up the hill from the others is close to the outcropping. The spring for the campsite is still a tiny bit farther down the trail on the opposite side of the campsites. I went up the blue blazed campsite trail and inspected the three different camping areas and privy. These are nice sized campsites and had recently had some trees cut down and so there were many log seats around them. The campsites were mostly in a hemlock and pine grove so lots of soft needles covered the ground and it looked like a really nice place to camp. I’d say the primitive exposed privy might be the only deterrent for some, but it was clean, and it’s better than no privy. There are very few of these left on our section of trail.

Early autumn on the trail

Early autumn on the trail

I didn’t find any fire rings or issues at the campsites, so I then went to check out the spring. It was running just enough to be usable. I believe this one is fairly consistently reliable.

I then headed back up and over the bump and met a northbound section backpacker with his dog. This time of year really is a popular one for these folks as the weather has cooled down, the thrus are all long gone so the campsites are less crowded, and the leaves are changing.  It’s a much more individual experience which is what most of us are seeking when we backpack. Someone had left their coat up on the outcropping so I brought it down with me. I dropped it in the car as I passed right by it again before heading north over the bridge. The bridge has several official Appalachian trail logos in it and a few blazes painted on it. Last time we were here in that downpour and were crossing the road from the bridge, a large group of bikers at the light had a bit of a laugh at our expense. We were as miserable as we looked after 9.5 miles in the cold rain that day.

The Bridge is also the trail

The Bridge is also the trail

Ahead of me I had views of the shoulder of Barrack Mountain, my next exploration. It rises steeply over the river and the climb begins quickly after leaving the A.T. The A.T. follows Warren Turnpike for a short distance from route 7 and alongside the Housatonic Valley Regional High school before returning to the woods. I picked up a lot of trash here along the road, more likely from high school students than hikers. Just before the A.T. returns to the woods, the northern end of the Mohawk trail begins. Before a big re-route a few decades ago to the west of the river, this was the original A.T route. It includes many scenic spots including Breadloaf Mountain, Cathedral Pines, Mohawk Mountain ski resort, Deans Ravine, and Barrack Mountain. I have done about the southern 9 or so miles from its southern end on Breadloaf Mountain to the top of Mohawk ski resort with its incredible views all the way to the Catskills and beyond.

Trail along the road

Trail along the road

I had heard that Barrack Mountain was quite steep and challenging, and I wanted to see just how steep and challenging it was. I made the turn off at the blue-blazes and climbed up a railroad embankment. After crossing the railroad tracks, and passing to the south of the hiker — and biker-loved Mountainside cafe along route 7, the trail quickly climbs. After a brief but steep section it follows the edges of the mountain along narrow and pretty eroded dirt tracts. Rock piles and dry creek beds through them break up the dirt path and provide some breaks from watching your feet every step. As I rounded the next corner. the trail headed straight up through larger rock piles.These required a lot of careful negotiation with the path covered in piles of leaves. In several places I had to scramble and climb hand over hand and get my balance.

Barrack Mountain

Barrack Mountain

The trail here reminded me a bit of Agony Grind in New York, but steeper and less maintained.

The climb became steeper and the leaves more precarious. After a few more switchbacks I realized I was running out of time quickly and that the pace I was taking to do this safely would leave me short of the summit today. Looking up, the trail became even narrower and steeper and there was no way I’d be able to summit any more quickly than I was going. So I prepared myself for the slippery descent and turned back.

Turning onto the Mohawk

Turning onto the Mohawk

Its easy to feel defeated in these situations but I knew if I had more time I could have made it all the way.  And sometimes we have to make these decisions whether for time constraints or just for safety reasons. A slip on this part of the mountain meant severe injury, and without any other hikers around, help would be hard to come by. I made the judgement call that I think was best, and I know I will be back to complete it when I have more time. I’d like to backpack the rest of the Mohawk Trail since the original shelters are still there from when it was the A.T. I have about 18 miles or less of it now to complete and could do that over a weekend, perhaps next summer. The mountain certainly lived up to its reputation at least.

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

Slippery leaf-littered ledge

I got back down to the cafe and walked route 7 back to my car, already planning when I could get back to finish this challenge.  In the meantime, Fielden Stream and I are off to Warwick in 5 days to finish the last 6 miles of New York and celebrate her birthday on the trail and then at a beautiful B&B on Greenwood lake. I promised this year I wouldn’t make her sleep in a tent on her birthday. That section promises to be a tough climb up from the state line trail to the ridgeline, with rebar ladders and lots of steeps. But once we’re up there we will enjoy miles of lake views from the ridgelines and it will be a gorgeous finale to another state. That also means I can finish our New York video that I’ve been working on the last two years and share that with you in about 2 weeks or less. I can’t wait.

Steep and steeper

Steep and steeper

I also hope you will join our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain club for our 10th annual A.T. day on October 15th. We have hikes all along the CT section of the trail, as well as hiking in Macedonia Brook State Park along what was also once part of the A.T. There’s also paddling trips, a beginner’s rock climbing class at St. John’s Ledges, trail work volunteering projects, and family hikes. All followed by a BBQ.  I and many of the great caretakers of our trails in Connecticut will be there. Come hike, help out and have a burger afterwards!

Miles: 4

— Linus

 

Weekend Family Backpacking Adventure

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

Last weekend over Labor Day weekend we finally got the whole family out for a backpacking overnight. We’d taken my son “Jiffy Pop” out for an overnight last year in New York, and it was time for my daughter “Ratchet” to do her first! She’s done some day section hikes with us before, and lots of car camping but she was excited to try backpacking and you know I was excited for her to as well. We got her fitted for her first pack earlier in the summer, and it was just a matter of picking the right weekend.

We had planned on doing it earlier in the summer before school started again, but with the heatwave we’ve been having the last few months, and some of the unbearably hot conditions we had to hike in to get in some therapeutic miles, we put it off until now.

Packs on, lets do this!

Packs on, lets do this!

It turns out we picked about the best weather weekend in a long time, and I am thankful for that. Mid-70’s and no rain, with a nice breeze. We worried about the hurricane down south affecting the weather up here but it moved out to sea and never happened.

We had also originally picked a section in Massachusetts which traverses a favorite ski resort in Great Barrington, but it’s known for some steep scrambles and ledge walks and after some really unexpected terrain on our last New York hike, we thought it best to not take chances like that with the kids. We plan to complete that section later, and take the kids there next year once we’ve checked it out.

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Crossing the new Iron Bridge

Still, the alternate section I picked provided enough challenge to keep it interesting for sure, and prepare them for that trip next year. Fielden Stream and I did this Connecticut section about 2 years ago, and it has some of the best views on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail — Rand’s View and the Great Falls.

I knew there would be some moaning and groaning on the uphill, and in fact it was a long uphill for us as well.  I didn’t recall it being such a long uphill to the summit of Mount Prospect. Selective memory, I guess. Just like the previous weekend going up Fuller Mountain. I did however remember the precarious ascent and descent into the Limestone Spring Campsite, and surely that at least would mitigate any potential for the hike being perceived as boring or too easy by the kids!

The Great Falls

The Great Falls

While most would go out on a multi-day over the three-day weekend, this was still a first time experience for my daughter and I just wanted it to be a short, fun one this time.

We got up to the parking area by the Iron Bridge around lunchtime and got our packs on. One of our trail chiefs was up there removing some graffiti from a kiosk there and he helped my son adjust his pack, as he had grown quite a bit since the previous year. We ended up having to do another adjustment half way up the mountain, which ultimately got it riding comfortably for him.

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

Ratchet and Linus at the Falls

The Iron bridge was closed to cars last time we were here, and this year they had finally finished it. There used to be a concrete barrier at either end with a famous quote from Lord of the Rings — “You Shall Not Pass” — spray painted on it. While this was amusing, the beautiful new bridge, painted in red, was wonderful to see. As we crossed the bridge, we had a nice view up and down the Housatonic River.

The trail travels on and off between Housatonic River Road and the woods between the falls and the road until reaching a viewing platform and several entrances to the rocky flats along the falls. We walked along the rocks and took in the views. The falls were raging and dramatic as I’d hoped. The kids enjoyed the falls as it provided a scenic, early break, and cool breezes. Unfortunately parts of the rocks were marred by more recent graffiti.

A nice moment of flat trail

A nice moment of flat trail

We headed across the road and back into the woods for the long, steady climb up. We passed some amazingly large glacial erratics left here thousands of years ago as the glaciers receeded, and the trail then passed through a few meadows as it continued climbing. It was hotter here in the sun, but pretty and luckily it was not too long before the trail was sending us back into the shady woods for the remainder of the climb. We took another break just past a piped spring at a broken glacial erratic with lots of crevices that made fun spots to lean our bodies and our packs against.

The trail climbed for another mile, sometimes steeply, sometimes gently. Jiffy Pop took a spill after tripping on an almost invisible root and this is when we realized we needed to adjust that pack again. His ego was a little bruised but luckily not his body. We had some snacks and after the adjustment he was feeling much better carrying the weight and we made quicker time.

Cracked boulder

Cracked boulder

The school backpacks are heavy these days as the kids have to carry multiple heavy binders and textbooks, so at the end of the day they were at least somewhat accustomed to the load. Of course carrying loads like that is different when you’re climbing 1,000 vertical feet, and for many miles. So it’s important to have all the straps adjusted to properly place the weight on your hips. Despite lots of necessary breaks, everyone managed beyond expectations.

There was a nice western view through a little clearing about three quarters of the way up. We came up with stories to pass the time, and one of them my daughter came up with inspired me to put my art school background and passion for writing to use to start a children’s book based on it. Stay tuned on that front!

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

Ratchet and Jiffy Pop

We finally reached the summit of Mount Prospect, at 1,450 feet. We started at about 400 feet by the bridge, so it was a good ascent for sure. There are nice views of Canaan Mountain and the eastern Litchfield Hills and beyond. We met a hiker up there and let him know about the even more spectacular view ahead, and we later met him there where he thanked me for telling him about it, and when we got there he also listened as I pointed out each peak from west to east, and a few in southern Massachusetts that I love that are not along the A.T. like Monument Mountain.

There was a short detour just before the campsite side trail junction due to a nest of hornets over the trail. When we got to Rand’s view we took in the spectacular scenery and I was elated when my daughter said it reminded her of the French Alps, which she saw when she went to visit her great-grandmother there. We sang the song from the “Sound of Music” as she rolled down the field.

Hornet detour!

Hornet detour!

We also saw a group of college-aged kids farther down the meadow who we would see later at the campsite.

We left our packs up at the trail junction since we had to go a bit farther down the A.T. to get to the view and didn’t feel like hauling them back up again. We got back up to our packs and made our way down the side trail to the campsite. The kids were I think a bit shocked about how steep the descent was here. It all came back to us quickly. Luckily, it wasn’t raining. There was some talk in our trail crew about re-routing the trail but that takes many years of surveying the land for ecological and historical impacts of a re-route, so it could be a while if it ever happens.

A break atop Mount Prospect

A break atop Mount Prospect

We finally got into the campsite which was empty at this point. We set up our tents, I went to get water from the piped spring, and use the bathroom. Then the group of college kids began coming into camp.

There were about 14 of them — a co-ed freshmen orientation weekend for Williams College students. I greeted them, let them know I was in charge for the night and to please not make any fires which they acknowledged and happily went on their way to set up camp. I chatted with some of them at the spring and they nicely let me fill up in between as they had a lot of water to fill. They asked me if they should filter and I said absolutely yes.

Linus at Rand's View

Linus at Rand’s View

I suddenly heard my favorite sound – Barred Owls! This is one of only two places I’ve heard them on the trail, and last time one of them swooped down over Fielden Stream in the morning as she got packed up in the rain in the cover of the shelter.

When I heard it, I did the famous “who cooks for you” call that they make and one responded to me! The college kids thought that was pretty cool and we did too of course! I was super happy.

The kids taking in Rand's View

The kids taking in Rand’s View

We had dinner and Ratchet had her first Mountain House meal, which she loved. We enjoyed the rest of the evening and I pointed some of the students to the bear box as night had fallen. Turns out they were cowboy camping so they laid out large tarps to lineup on and under, in a row like sardines!  They were up a bit past hiker midnight though and we didn’t get to sleep until almost ten because of the conversations and headlamps. I don’t be-grudge them that. They’re kids out on a special weekend and on their third and final night of their trip. And they weren’t partying by any means.

The campsite piped spring

The campsite piped spring- a luxury

I heard a few more owls in the middle of the night and got faint recordings of them on my phone. I have to see if I can use an app to boost the sounds so I can listen to them more. I also heard a few privy door slams and the college kids stumbling around camp in the middle of the night trying to find the privy. One of them did manage to break the latch though trying to open it in the middle of the night so we will replace that.

My real only grudge is that they woke up at 5am and started loudly conversing and shaking out their tarps. This could have been done more quietly for sure. I did ask them if they could try and be a little quieter as they packed up and then I wished them well on the rest of their hike. I was not able to get back to sleep so I went and got our food out of the bear box and checked in on the real world for a bit until everyone else in the family was awake.

Home for the night

Home for the night

Still, it was a beautiful night and I was glad I was able to be helpful and everyone was having a nice time.  We had breakfast and prepared ourselves for the climb up the ledge. It was tough going back up and I was nervous about someone falling, but everyone did great and we were all proud as we made our way back up to the summit. We took in the views one more time, made some silly videos, and then made quick time of the descent as we skipped a real breakfast save for the coffee so we could eat well in town. We were headed for the amazing Toymaker’s Cafe.

Stove S'mores!

Stove S’mores!

Two years ago when Fielden Stream and I did the 9 miles in the rain to here from Pine Swamp Brook shelter, we’d had enough for the day. They allow, or at least used to, hikers to tent on their lawn. Before that all day downpour we were considering that and hiking on the next day, but our spirits were low at that point and the Falls Village Inn told us they had no room to stay for a pampered night either.

To this day we still don’t believe that was true. No one was there that we could tell.  We couldn’t get hold of Salisbury taxi, but the owner of Toymakers was just closing up for the day and gave us a ride back to our car at the starting point. We gave him a nice tip and we’ve loved them ever since.

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

Fielden Stream and Ratchet

They were crowded when we arrived with the kids as there was a car show at Lime Rock and there was a 45 minute wait for hot food. So we opted for their muffins and cookies and loaded up on these before heading home. I was so happy that everyone had such a great time, and Jiffy Pop was even saying to me that now he wanted to do it more and asked when we could go again.

We stopped at a farm stand on the way home to get veggies for our Labor Day BBQ, which was also my mom’s 74th birthday party. I’m already planning and dreaming up the next time I can bring the kids along.

Update: the video of this trip is here!

Miles day 1: 4.2

Miles day 2: 3.9

— Linus

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 12 (Part 2)

Day 1

Day 1

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

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

Fielden Stream climbing Eastern Pinnacles

Fielden Stream climbing Eastern Pinnacles

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

Watch your footing!

Watch your footing!

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

Eastern Pinnacles at Sunset

Eastern Pinnacles at Sunset

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

More pinnacles

More pinnacles

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

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

The climb up Cat Rock

The climb up Cat Rock

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

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

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

Linus on Cat Rock

Linus on Cat Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REI Trail Stool: Only 1lb and $23!

REI Trail Stool: Only 1lb and $23!

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

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

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

Day 2

Day 2

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

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

Thanks for catching the flies chasing me!

Thanks for catching the flies chasing me!

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

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

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

Trail Magic #1

Trail Magic #1

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

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

Fitzgerald Falls

Fitzgerald Falls

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

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

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

Highlands trail junction

Highlands trail junction

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

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

More boardwalks

More boardwalks

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

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

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

What the?

What the?

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

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

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

1 of 2 crazy rock climbs

1 of 2 crazy rock climbs

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

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

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

View from Buchanan Mountain

View from Buchanan Mountain

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

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

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

View from Bellvale Creamery

View from Bellvale Creamery

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

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

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

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

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

Miles day 1: 2.4

Miles day 2: 6.7

— Linus