Ridgerunner weekend #1 – Back in the Wild Corner

I am trying a new format here. I’m going to make the entries more brief and to the point going forward with exception of an occasional longer piece. It’s getting tougher to find the time to write in such detail so I promise to keep providing nice images and a summary of each hike without writing a book! Lets start with last weekend.

Officially a Ridgerunner!

Officially a Ridgerunner!

It was my second Memorial Day weekend up on the Riga plateau in the Northwest corner of Connecticut along the Appalachian Trail. And my first as an official Appalachian Trail Weekend Ridgerunner. The role is what I have been doing as a volunteer but with pay and some other nice perks. The job is for 5-6 weekends during the peak summer months. Fortunately, it was not 100 degrees this Memorial Day weekend. I stopped up at Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts to pick up my uniform and rain gear and then headed back down to Salisbury.

Shortly after you head north out of Salisbury on the trail, you hit the 1,500 mile marker. We have a newish sign there and it sure adds to the excitement.

1500 miles

1500 miles

DAY 1:

The trail was packed with hikers. I met over 80 on day 1 between Rt 41 in Salisbury and the summit of Bear. That was Just the day hikers. Many take the Undermountain trail from Rt. 41 trailhead near the Massachusetts border. This 1.9-mile trail meets the AT at Riga Junction about 1,000 ft higher. That lot was full and I wanted to spend more time on the A.T. vs side trails so I kept driving down to the lot in town.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

There were about 20 Backpackers on Day 1. Most were NOBO (Northbound) whereas on Day 2 there were a lot more SOBOs (southbounders). I met a marine on the summit on day 1 among the crowds and thanked him for his service.

On top I also met the caretaker of our Northwest Cabin. He’s summited Bear over 300 times now as he lives nearby and is at the cabin each week. It’s at the bottom of Bear near Sages Ravine and you can rent it with your family. I also met a lot of locals who do the hike often as well, even bringing up their lapdogs.

From a perch on the summit tower, I educated everyone on the different mountains in the views as well as about the stone tower itself and how Mt. Frissell’s shoulder is actually higher than Bear. Though Bear IS the highest SUMMIT in the state. We talked about how if Bigfoot can leave no trace, so can you. The kids loved this, but I confess I saw it on the internet and can’t take credit for coming up with it! It’s a fun and friendly way to breach the LNT subject without anyone feeling like I’m lecturing them!

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

Always a great view from Bear Mtn. Race and Everett to the North

I also found the elusive pink Lady Slipper. They love it on Lions head. The only other place I’ve seen them is near Hatch Brook down by Pine Knob Loop.

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The rare Pink Lady Slipper

The other prominent flower was pink Honeysuckle which was blooming everywhere. Usually it’s the Mountain Laurel going wild up here. Their time is coming soon.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

I met some great section hikers when I got to the beautiful campsite and shelter at Riga where I was staying for the night. We talked at dinner and played some fun charades games before everyone went to bed. There was another group too, and wow did their dinner smell like it tasted WAY better than mine. I was trying some new more organic lentil meal and i forgot to add my Tabasco and salt and pepper. Lesson learned.  I still enjoyed a great view for dinner though. The view (and the sunrise) are famous at Riga. It’s right on the edge of the cliff and is clear cut to show the view.

Vegan Camping Food - I'm not a vegan

Vegan Camping Food – I’m not a vegan

Gripes of the day: 1 ) campers leaving full sized pillows, and a bunch of trash and food they didn’t want to pack out in the bear box. That was about 10 lbs for me to pack out the next day, It was not appreciated. Pack it in, pack it out. It was nice to see another hiker (not a maintainer) rant about it in the shelter register because this way other hikers learn they are being disrespectful from their own peers.

2) Someone made a fire ring right under the ‘no fires’ sign again. Who are these people? I keep seeing this. Someone is out to make a point. So I cleared it.

There was a porcupine chewing on the Privy walls all night. It was about 50 yards from my tent so you couldn’t NOT hear it. It didn’t bother me that much though.

Miles Day 1: 8.2

Porcupines: 1

DAY 2:

I caught the famous sunrise and woke up some of my new friends to watch it come up with me. Then enjoyed breakfast with the great view. My Backpackers Pantry Granola with Milk and Organic Blueberries and my Starbucks VIA with a few mini moos I took from my office kitchen hit the spot.

The famous Riga sunrise!

The famous Riga sunrise!

My friend Brian was training for a White Mountains hike in a few weeks so he hiked up to join me at Riga and hike with me for much of the day. We hiked back up to the summit of Bear together. He met a woman in her 60’s from Tennessee who was doing a LASH (Long a** section hike). We saw her again when cleaning up remains of a fire at Brassie Brook shelter and had a nice chat with her.

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Linus and Brian on Bear Mtn

Along the way up, we saw a young couple packing up a camping spot right on the side of the trail and I asked them to please stick to designated campsites as we are reforesting there and that’s the rule either way in Connecticut. They had been tired last night and didn’t know there was a campsite 1/2 mile ahead! I then saw them again when at Brassie brook filling up my water and gave them a map and helped answer some other questions for which they thanked me. We would see them again on Bear and Lion’s head before the day was over.

We met and hiked with some other of my new friends from the night before at Riga (the ones with the delicious smelling food!) and one of them was an entomologist. She taught me about some wildlife and plants as did Brian who is a tree expert. He showed me a lot of species I didn’t previously recognize. We also talked gear a lot, comparing and talking about our new gear upgrades and water/sleep and pack systems.

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion's head

Bear, Race and Everett from Lion’s head

Today was more overcast but still we encountered at least another 20 backpackers (most of these were southbound and a large group of them were wearing bug nets which was smart) . There were two thru-hikers including Captain Underpants, whose family was joining him for this section over the weekend. Most of the backpackers were section hiking this weekend. You can usually tell who are thru and who are section.

At Lion's Head

At Lion’s Head

There were about another 75 day hikers we met along the trail and on the summits of Bear and Lion’s head. We took in the views and a snack on Lion’s head after picking up the trash and the pillow from Riga so we could pack it out. (No point in carrying it up and down Bear so we came back for it).

There were lots of families with small kids on Lion’s head. Some asked if they could drink the water and I told them not without filtering and offered them water but they had enough.

We made it down to Rt 41 around 3:15 and Brian was then headed south to Limestone spring shelter for the night as he couldn’t overnight on Saturday.

It was a great weekend. Not too hot, no rain ever showed during my shift, and I met a lot of great people and pushed my personal weekend mileage goals.

Miles Day 2: 8.5

  • Linus

 

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 12 (Part 1)

Heading up the grind

Heading up the grind

Tomorrow we leave early for another hike on the New York Appalachian Trail. We started section 12 southbound last Saturday and slack-packed it as a warm up hike for this weekend. We thought about finishing all of the state in these two hikes but something about the rebar ladder up the cliff just north of the N.J. line said it to me that it was best going up that, and with a day pack vs a full weekend pack. So we will likely slack-pack that one too, to finish off our season, and the state in early fall.

Last weekend the weather forecast was much like this weekend’s. Stifling heat and humidity, and chance of heavy thunderstorms. We got both of those last weekend but luckily the rain came after the hike. In this kind of heat though, rain like that can be a blessing as long as you have a way to keep dry. We are going to bring the tarp this time too, as it really saved the day in these conditions last season. There is a shelter but we don’t like to sleep in them, and it will likely be full if the weather is bad.  I am hoping at the least that this means Fitzgerald Falls will be raging when we pass it tomorrow. As long as it doesn’t make the trail to precarious, I don’t mind the rain. We’re just going to drive down early in the morning as we are camping out for the night, so rolling into camp at 630 won’t be a problem and we can start at 10 or 11.

Fielden climbing part 1!

Fielden climbing part 1!

Fielden had such better results with her trail runners and normal socks last weekend and didnt get a single blister! Based on this miracle, and knowing how much rockier the trail has been getting in southern New York, I ordered a pair from the REI outlet that came recommended from a friend, and they will be delivered today. I went by the store yesterday to get some more appropriate socks, and a short sleeve merino shirt. The merino really works better for me in these conditions as it wicks away the sweat a lot better, retains no odor, and dries quickly. For my chemistry I find it better than synthetics in the humid and wet summers. I have one in long sleeve but at 95 degrees heat index, I want a short sleeve. The smartwool shirts are not cheap, but every review I read, and my experience with my current longsleeve say its worth it.  I love having new gear to test, and this weekend will be no exception. There are rock steps along the falls, and the rocky outcroppings of eastern pinnacles and cat rocks. I want all the traction I can get. Hopefully I won’t find the opposite to be true for me, and I load up with blisters with the new shoes and socks.

First view (east)

First view (east)

Last weekend’s section included the famous “Agony Grind”, a 500ft climb up rock piles in less than half a mile. While it was steep, and very rocky, there was really no spot where you would fall long distances or heights if you slipped. I would want to do this less if it was rainy, but going slow it could still be done. We lucked out this time in that it was dry out for the moment. We stayed in Fort Montgomery the night before so we could get to the trail as early as possible, and still be back by 5 to meet other commitments.

The second scramble

The second scramble

We stayed at a nice hotel and ate at a great BBQ place next door. We met a West Point graduate who was headed up there shortly to celebrate his 50 year anniversary of graduation with classmates, do a presentation and then hike. He had done many parts of the A.T. in the south, and we had a nice talk about our plans.

We saw they were having a Native American pow-wow at the Bear Mountain area, and since I am fascinated with that culture and collect Kachina, we wanted to make sure we had time to visit it too. And because we weren’t clear on if there was parking at our originally planned endpoint, we made the hike a little shorter that day and for tomorrow where we knew there was parking allowed. So instead of 5.4 miles we did 3.6. Still, it had many good ups and downs, and some great scenery.

View of Ramapo Valley and 87

View of Ramapo Valley and 87

As we headed over the interstate from Elk Pen, a truck honked at us and I didn’t even do the arm tug! I was filming but sadly had stopped rolling at that time. We ran across rt.17 and headed into the woods to start the climb up Arden Mountain and agony grind. Some thru hikers we saw earlier trying to get a ride into town from near here had set up their camp right by the road in the woods, clearly for this purpose. The uphill started right away, and there were about 4 different sections to ascend.

Fielden at Western view

Fielden at Western view

Someone was set up in their hammock on the ridge by the first view, half way up. It was very pretty throughout the ascent, and we were in good spirits and enjoying it. We met some thru hikers and stopped to chat with them below the third scramble. They had just resupplied so got a late start today. As we were chatting with them and exchanging blogs and instagram accounts, we saw another group of backpackers and they joined the chat. As the thru-hikers headed north (and thanked me for being a volunteer!), and I asked Fielden to get some good footage of my ascent up one of these scrambles, these southbound backpackers recognized us from when we hiked through section 10 in April! They too stayed at William Brien shelter that night. Small world.

Fielden at Western view

Fielden at Western view

They were headed to Wildcat shelter for the night, where we are headed tomorrow. We passed each other on and off along the way and chatted each time. We told them at the last stop together that we were parked at the next road so that would probably be the last time we see them. They were finishing New York and we still had more to go. But you never know. We had a snack at the top of Arden Mountain at a trail crossing, and signed a trail register there. It apparently goes 2 miles north to the Harriman train station. We passed a group camped on a ledge on the western side of the mountain, that the thru hikers had told us about. They didn’t seem to be backpacking as they had a fairly large campsite and lots of beer. Even though its a good uphill to this site, its not too long a hike.

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

Where we met our old friends at the last stop together on Orange Turnpike there was all sorts of trail magic, both at the bottom of the hill and the top. At the bottom there was a whole tarp / lounge setup with a trash bin, a bin of fresh fruit, water jugs, sodas, snack bars, bug spray, even athletes foot cream! There was a register book too which we signed. Our friends snapped a photo of us here before heading off. There were a few blackberry bushes and we all treated ourselves to some.

I’m certain they got stuck in the storm that rolled in later, but hopefully made it to the shelter not too long after to dry off. At the top of the last short climb of the day, there was a camping area and a first aid trail magic box, full of first aid supplies! I’ve never seen that before. This uphill was a bit steep but not too long and before long we were descending to the edges of LIttle Dam lake.

1st aid trail magic

1st aid trail magic

The lake was absolutely beautiful, and we spotted what I thought was Indian paintbrush but was actually cardinal flower. It lined the lake, which itself was full of lily pads and croaking bullfrogs. At the inlet area where you cross on stone steps, there were obvious signs of camping areas, but no signs saying it was prohibited. Though I’ve read you’re not allowed in the guide and on whiteblaze. In New York, I think the unspoken rule is you can camp where needed if you leave no trace. The cardinal flower was everywhere here and was quite beautiful. We saw another trail magic area on the way back to the road, with a couple more water jugs. I think that is great as long as the people come back and pick them up when they are empty. Its been brutal weather. I know how much we appreciated it when we were in Massachusetts.

Cardinal Flower at Little Dam Lake

Cardinal Flower at Little Dam Lake

When we did get back to our car, someone had written “hi” in the dirt next to it. We were hoping it was our friends from William Brien. We gave them the blog address so guys if you’re reading this and that was you, leave a comment!

On our way to get the other car at Elk Pen, we stopped at a gas station in Southfields near the trail to get some drinks and use the bathroom. Even though the gas station was state of the art and in pristine condition, they had a sign on the door that said ‘bathroom out of order, sorry use porta-potty outside.” We got our snacks and the second car and tried to find a bathroom farther up the road on the way to the pow-wow. There was a gas station with a ‘Wally-Mart” right across from the Harriman train station on rt. 17 that the blue trail leads to from the A.T. on Arden Mountain. Guess what, they said no bathrooms too. Clearly, the proximity to the trail has made these two businesses refuse to offer their bathrooms to hikers. I’m not going to pass judgement on these decisions, but I thought if you were reading this, you should know the situation and not expect that amenity at these places.

We drove over to Anthony Wayne Recreation area for the pow wow. We ate Indian Fry bread, bought some momentos, watched some dances, and I got to go inside a Tee Pee and shoot a bow and arrow for the first time since summer camp. I was quite good back then and once I got comfortable with the bow, I got a near bullseye on my second attempt. I am always looking for more ways to relax and decompress in this hectic world and I found the local Y is doing adult archery courses in the fall. So I think I’m going to try the class and see if its something I enjoy doing regularly.

Little Dam Lake lily pads

Little Dam Lake lily pads

We saw the black clouds start to roll in around 4 and headed to the car, literally as the sky opened up with torrential rain. The drive back over the Bear Mountain bridge and around Anthony’s nose in the downpour was sketchy. The road winds up and around the mountains and we could barely see out of the windshield. It didn’t last long though and before you knew it it was sunny and humid and sweltering hot again. The rain never did make it to our home in Connecticut.

"Hi" at the road

“Hi” at the road

This weekend is the famous perseid meteor shower and the display is supposed to be better than most years. I hope the skies are clear enough to see from the shelter. We will also look tonight from our deck, but we live in a small city, and its currently raining now, so its anybody’s guess if we will see anything. We are also excited because the Bellvale Creamery ice cream shop and the hot dog stand are right at our end point Saturday, so we plan to reward ourselves properly when we get back to the car.

Archery is fun!

Archery is fun!

After tomorrow’s section, we have only 5 or so miles left of New York! Also, you’ve probably noticed I’m beardless now. It’s just been way too hot a summer for a fur-face!

I added the recent footage to the New York video, and I can’t wait till we finish the final section and I can post the video of the whole state!

Miles: 3.6

— Linus

A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: A Weekend in the Wild Corner

Bad place for a nest

Hiker Map Box: Bad place for a nest

My friend Rob McWilliams used the phrase “Wild Corner of Connecticut” when I told him where I was backpacking last weekend, and I loved it. So thanks, Rob, you just made my blog title snap! Check out Rob’s blog here. There’s lots of rugged trail here in Connecticut, but I definitely think this is an accurate description of the Riga Plateau. On the A.T. it starts in Salisbury, quickly rising a thousand feet to Lion’s Head, a very scenic outcropping on the southeastern corner of the plateau. The entire plateau includes several peaks in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. Fielden Stream and I completed the Connecticut section of the Appalachian trail through here just about a year ago by completing this final section and ending just over the Massachusetts border at Sages Ravine.

Break Time

Break Time

While I didn’t cover the section up to Lion’s Head or Down from Bear’s summit this Memorial Day weekend, the alternative route up was hardly less strenuous. I was up here to cover the trail between these two very popular peaks and the A.T. campsites in between, to greet and assist hikers during the day and overnight.

If I made any mistake it was not hitting the trail until just after noon, on a scorching hot day. The undermountain trail is a blue blaze that is one of several which climbs from Rt 41 up to the plateau where the A.T. traverses along its eastern ridges.  The others are the Race Brook Falls Trail and Elbow Trail behind the Berkshire school, both just north of the Massachusetts line. At its starting point the elevation of the undermountain trail is about 675ft. When it finally reaches the A.T. its 1,000ft higher. And as my goal this morning before returning to camp at Riga shelter was the summit of Bear Mountain, Connecticut (2,316ft) … well I had a good climb ahead and I knew it.

In this heat, no paradise here

In this heat, no paradise here

It was a busy holiday weekend and luckily I got the last of the spots in the trailhead lot. There were also many cars along the road, which is not a big deal if you’re just out for a few hours. Overnight I’d worry about parking on the road. As I was getting my gear together I chatted with some day hikers headed up the same way and gave them a map and made sure they had plenty of water. I also spoke to a section hiker who just did the entire Connecticut section and was waiting for a ride from a family member, and would then join them for a family get together just over the New York border. He gave me useful information on the water sources, and had lots of enthusiasm post-hike to talk trail, which got me sufficiently fired up to start the long climb. While never really terribly steep, one must not be fooled by the long continuous ascent. While I have done worse, in the heat and humidity it was tough. I was thankful to meet a lot of hikers along the way and stop to chat with them.

Riga Junction

Riga Junction

I was more than relieved when I reached Riga Junction and the intersection of the Appalachian Trail. I was 2/3 of the way up now, so I took a snack break here and appreciated the last bit of shade I would get from the forest canopy, as the ascent up the south side of Bear opens up to a series of gentle scrambles along a rocky spine with nothing but a little krumholz and mountain laurel to shade you from the sun. It’s about .9 miles from here to the summit but its a good 600ft ascent. But, at least the views south and west are extremely rewarding. Just like last year, I snapped away on my camera. I love photography so always go a little overboard. Better to have more and filter out the bad ones, than less. I took a break every spot there was shade and kept a vigilant eye out for snakes. I startled one on the way up the undermountain trail which I pointed out to a group of day hikers on their way down. I ran into snakes two more times on this trip. Fortunately they were all garter snakes!

Southern view from Bear Mtn

Southern view from Bear Mtn

I reached the summit and promptly headed to the shady area behind the tower. I spent about an hour alternating between this spot and the hot rocky summit tower, interacting with day hikers and backpackers. This is probably the most popular section of trail in all of Connecticut. We all took lots of pictures and I educated them on the history of the summit tower, the plaque and the past notion that this was our state’s highest point. While it is the highest single summit entirely within the state, the shoulder of nearby Mt. Frissell has the honor of the highest point in Connecticut, even though its own peak is over the border in Massachusetts.

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

On Bear Tower, pointing to Race and Everett

From the remains of the stone tower, I reveled in the sweeping views east and north to Mts Race and Everett, which Fielden Steam and I will hike along the trail in just less than three weeks with our Florida friends. I made sure to send them these great shots, and they were happy to see them! I also met my first annoying set of bees and flies of the weekend. They would harrass me for the next 24 hours, either because I was such good company, or smelled half dead. I helped hikers with directions and information for a while longer before taking one more long look and then heading back down the south side of the mountain. I met the day hikers I saw in the lot that morning on the way down and they treated me to some fresh carrots and broccoli they were snacking on at a viewpoint near the summit.

Brassie Brook

Brassie Brook

Once back at the junction, the trail gently undulates south along the ridge through mountain laurel tunnels for miles until a short ascent to Lion’s head on the southern end of the plateau. I would visit there tomorrow. The laurels were only blooming at the summit of Bear at this time, but the pink honeysuckle was abundant, and I would find some coveted wildflowers in my near future. I stopped briefly at Brassie brook to fill up on water, as I had depleted nearly my full 3 liters at this point. I met a nice couple section hiking with their dog Jimmy and who would be at the campsite with me later that night. Shortly after I stopped into the Brassie Brook shelter and campsites where I cleaned up a stealth fire ring. Boy I was tired at this point, but it had to be done! There was no one at the campsite recently as far as I could tell. Sages Ravine and Riga really draw the most crowds and so this and Ball Brook really handle the overflow when those two are full or for tired hikers stuck in between.

Brassie Brook Shelter

Brassie Brook Shelter

As I headed out of the Brassie Brook campsite, I ran into another section hiker I saw at the summit of Bear and we hiked south together and spoke until we reached the Riga campsites. While we passed Ball Brook campsite on the way, I decided I’d check it on the way back tomorrow. It’s a lovely little group site on the ridgeline, but not often used except by scouts.

She told me she had never met a volunteer ridgerunner before and thanked me for my work. That happened again later as I headed down undermountain trail the next day, and I have to admit, it felt great. We traded stories and reached the Riga site about 30 minutes later.

Pink Honeysuckle

Pink Honeysuckle

As I got into the campsite I briefly chatted with some hikers who were also excited to meet a trail volunteer, and signed into the shelter as we took in the famous view. You can see at least 50 miles east over the mountain tops here. It’s a well loved spot. I then headed to set up my great new tent the REI Quarter Dome 1 for its maiden voyage and afterwards, set about the business of meeting all the hikers and helping them as they settled in for the evening. I talked tents with some of them, fascinated by the cuben fiber options out there though happy with my purchase.  One was a former caretaker for the Green Mountain Club in Vermont.

All in all, there were many flip-floppers (hiking from the middle of the trail one direction, then the other from the middle again to mitigate crowding), the section hikers I met at Brassie Brook, a couple celebrating the second half of their honeymoon hike by doing all of Connecticut and a NYC group who coincidentally was led by an outdoor shop a block from my sister-in-law’s in Brooklyn, NY! Small, small world.I’ve been in the shop often. We became quick friends, as you can imagine. I’m very happy to hear that his business is growing. I showed him the demerit badge I got in his shop of the bee, which Fielden Stream gave me when I was stung by a mud wasp on Sharon mountain and screamed so loudly that she thought I was bitten by a rattlesnake! Another group came in closer to dark as I was finishing my dinner of beef jerky. (left my titanium spoon in my wife’s pack!)

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

Famous Riga Sunrise, 545 am

I chatted with the girl from earlier and the honeymoon couple while filtering water, then spent the rest of the evening looping around the camp showing hikers to the privy, bear box, water source, and reminding them fires aren’t allowed. It was a full house, but I loved feeling like a helping hand to them all.

The rain never came though a nice breeze blew through the treetops through the night, and I drifted in and out of sleep until I knew I spotted the makings of the famous sunrise. I ran out to the clearing in front of the shelter, and many of the hikers were there snapping the epic photos of the sun rising over Canaan mountain and the misty valley below.

I retreated to the tent to try and catch a few more Z’s since sunrise was at 5:45, but it was no use, and I knew it was going to be beastly hot again. So best to get going and beat the heat as much as I could. I made my breakfast, said goodbyes and inspected the campsites as everyone was leaving, and then headed south to check out Lion’s head.

Linus at Lion's Head

Linus at Lion’s Head

As I approached the northern viewpoint, I spotted the rare pink lady slipper, a favorite flower of ours. It’s also quite rare. Conditions have to be just right, and because of that I haven’t seen one since 2014. I took oodles of photos and then headed to the southern viewpoint with its sweeping views over the twin lakes of Salisbury all the way to Rand’s view in Canaan/Falls Village. I met a nice couple there who were intriqued in what I do, and they took some nice shots of me there.

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

I told them about the lady slippers and the northern view and suggested some hikes for them tomorrow as they were staying in town. As I headed back and took more shots of the flowers I met them there, and a family that was day hiking past who spotted a whole patch of them! How did I miss so many on the way up. Tired, I guess. It was getting hot and hotter already and it wasn’t even 8 am. I ran into the honeymooning couple on the way back up to Riga Junction and one of the groups from the campsite who were hoping to make it another 20 miles to Silver Hill. They looked young and fit enough but in that heat, I suggested some alternates a little closer just in case!

On the way back I managed to irk a bee or wasp sufficiently so that it followed me and quickened my pace significantly back to Riga Junction. On the way I checked out Ball Brook campsites, which were empty. I entertained another go up Bear, but the temperatures were soaring and I was done.

Boundary Marker

Boundary Marker

I headed down the undermountain trail to my car and along the way got many kudos from a day hiker for my volunteer work again. She said “yay, Appy guy, love it love you thank you thank you!” I must have blushed. Her son smiled at me, a little embarrassed. Though it’s always great to be thanked. I also spotted one of the boundary markers I remembered here from last year.

On the drive home I stopped in Kent to visit some of my favorite shops and to pick up some dinner at my favorite bakery there. I had a great adventure, and was ready for my hike the following Saturday for National Trails day. As I’ve been working on this entry a while, that day was today. I had a great hike today and met more great people. I’ll write about that soon. I don’t think I’ll be out next weekend so hopefully I can catch up then on the blog!

Miles day 1: 5.9

Miles day 2: 5.83

Snake sightings: 3!

— Linus

 

 

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 10 Finale

West Mountain's northern slope

West Mountain’s northern slope

I had another great day volunteering with our Connecticut trail crew yesterday, which I will talk about in more detail next time. But last weekend Fielden Stream and I got to do the section of the Appalachian Trail in New York that we had had to skip and substitute with another due to time constraints. And it was as tough but as great as we expected it to be.

As you may know we are doing New York southbound. And we have had to skip sections and come back later like this once or twice due to scheduling logistics. This hike was to cover the last 9 or 10 miles of section 10, which starts at the Bear Mountain Bridge.

With this segment done, we’ve now covered all but the last 17.9 miles of the New York Appalachian Trail, which is a total of 90 miles. So we are feeling good. I hadn’t expected to get three hikes in New York in already this season. But since we will be moving over the next few months, we won’t be getting out together much until late summer, and so are taking advantage of what time we have now. We plan to finish New York before the season is over, and we will also be doing one section of Massachusetts with friends at the end of next month. But besides that most of the hikes over the summer will be me doing my volunteer work.

Linus on West Mtn

Linus on West Mtn

I have met lots of great people on whiteblaze.net, a very popular internet message board focused on the Appalachian and other long-distance trails. I get incredibly valuable tips on gear, resources, landmarks and resupply points, and shuttles (people who volunteer rides along these trails.) In this particular instance I was hoping to save us from bringing both cars or hiring a cab, which can be hard to find and expensive in more rural areas and parks the trail corridor passes through. Not only did I find Suzy from MyHarriman.com for the last section hike’s shuttle there, but another member offered us a future ride as he also lives in the area. So this time he gave us a free ride from our end point to the start point, and he and his wife were planning on their own overnight in the park later that day. Shout out to Bob — thanks!

Balancing rock, West Mtn

Balancing rock, West Mtn

Luckily we didn’t have to head out late after work again on a Friday night for this one, and had a full day and a half for this overnight… which is a luxury with our schedule lately. We arrived at the lot at Tiorati Circle that we started at last time. Bob and I had arranged for our pickup and he was waiting for us when we arrived. We had a nice in-person introduction and then chatted briefly as he drove us north along Seven Lakes Drive to the 1777 trail lot. This lot and trail are named after the route that the British troops marched into the area to attack the colonists and take Forts Clinton and Montgomery in 1777. There is a plaque here that outlines a bit of this history. As with our last hike in the area, we took the 1777 trail east a short distance to arrive at its crossroads with the A.T. where this time we would head south over West Mountain.

Filtering water

Filtering water

We knew it would be a good climb up. Actually, it’s a fairly ambitious climb up any side of this mountain. I’ve gone down the southern end on the A.T twice now, and up the Timp-Torne trail on the eastern side to the shelter there with the famous view of New York City. But this is the first time going up this side, and there were many rewarding views on this route as well. Soon after leaving the 1777 trail, the A.T. began to ascend the rocky face. It wasn’t that bad as far as steepness goes, but it was rocky. Soon we were rewarded with multiple views north and east of Bear Mountain, the Bear Mountain Bridge, the Hudson river, and west and south to Harriman State Park and the peaks we would ascend later this day. There were many hikers and backpackers out for the day here, including a group of 4 guys we would end up spending the overnight at the shelter with. In fact they were the first group we saw, just after getting on the A.T.

Palisades Parkway

Palisades Parkway

This scenic part of the trail is a great (and obviously popular) loop option as you can park in the Anthony Wayne recreation area parking lots below which are massive and stretch the length of the mountain. So many people will start and end at the lot and take a combination of the A.T., Timp-Torne and the Ramapo-Dunderberg trails. I did this combination of trails on an overnight adventure by myself last summer.

Parkway median register

Parkway median register

It was a beautiful day last Saturday, and the views from the mountaintops were long. The ridge of the mountain was heavily populated with young Beech trees. We stopped for lunch at the northern view of Bear mountain and the bridge and also enjoyed many sweeping westerly views as the trail followed and descended the western ridge. One big mountain out of the way, we were ready for our exciting crossing of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. But first we got water at a tributary of Beechy Bottom brook at the foot of West Mountain. This park is not known for abundant water sources, so you get it where you can.

Crossing the parkway was definitely exciting as the road was busy and the drivers were zooming along at a good pace. There is actually a trail register in the median between the northern and southern lanes. Fortunately the two directions are separate so you don’t have to do a full frogger; you can keep an eye on one direction of traffic at a time! When we got to the register we signed it that we had at least survived crossing the northbound lane! We got some great video of running across the southbound lanes, and that will be part of our New York A.T. video which we will add to this site later in the year when we finish the state.

Fielden Stream climbing Black Mtn

Fielden Stream climbing Black Mtn

We then prepared ourselves for what ended up being an even-steeper-than-expected climb up the eastern side of Black Mountain. We read that there would also be views all the way to the skyline of NYC from the top, so we did have some extra motivation to push up it. We told ourselves we’d have a nice long break and a snack here as well. The first part was not too bad and switch-backed up a lower shoulder of the mountain where it crossed the 1779 trail. Not to be mistaken with the 1777 trail, this is the route “Mad” Anthony Wayne (who the recreation area is named after) led his American troops on to take back Forts Clinton and Montgomery two years later. As we approached the crossing we spotted many runners on the trail who were taking part in a 50-mile run through the park. I don’t know what the cause was, or if there was one, but many of the other trails we would pass this day also had the route marked on the trees with colored ribbons.  Suddenly our 5.25 miles planned today seemed a little less tough, though we did have a lot of weight to carry and much more of our route was straight up and down over mountain tops.

NYNJTC volunteer work crew

NYNJTC volunteer work crew

As we reached the top of this first shoulder I saw the truly steep part ahead. I saw another couple taking their time up it ahead, and then chatting with someone else up there. As we reached the top of the first steep climb up some heavily eroded trail, we saw a New York / New Jersey Trail Conference work crew creating a set of new steps here to eventually route it off the eroded slope. It was one of these volunteers who had been speaking to the couple we saw earlier, about the work they were doing. When they had headed on, he also showed us how they used pulleys and metal wires to lift and move heavy rocks from one spot to another. It made me think of how the ancient Egyptians and Romans probably built their temples.

Scrambling up to Black Mtn Summit

Scrambling up to Black Mtn Summit

He offered to bring us down closer to the work, but looking up ahead we saw we still had an even steeper scramble up a rock face and just wanted to get it done and get these packs off for a while. But I did tell him how I was a Connecticut volunteer and am involved in projects like this often and we had a nice conversation about that.  We thanked them for their work as we went up the final steep section, where more of the volunteers were building stone steps into the rock face.

We reached the top and walked along the ridge to the summit where we sat with our packs off, taking in views of the New York City skyline and having a snack of beef jerky. From here we saw the next and last mountain of the day to climb and which our campsite for the night was on.

Fielden Stream on Black Mtn

Fielden Stream on Black Mtn

The trail then took a similarly steep route down the west side of Black mountain, where we were also rewarded with a nice view of Silvermine lake. As we got to the gap between the two mountains there was an old woods road that led down to the lake and the recreation area there along Seven Lakes drive. The climb up Letterrock Mountain was gradual and we then followed its rocky spine to its end at a large boulder pile overlooking the shelter. This walk along the spine looked similar to pictures I had seen of Cat Rocks and Eastern Pinnacles which are farther down the trail near the New Jersey border.

I am quite sure I also saw a Barred Owl that I must have disturbed while hiking below suddenly fly overhead and into the woods beyond. I love these owls so this made me quite happy. The pile of boulders at the end of this ridge and overlooking the shelter was an exciting final descent, starting with a traverse across a large tilted slab and then through some smaller rock scrambles requiring the use of hands. I was glad we were not going over the slab in the rain. I felt bad for those who were headed that way the next morning!

Black Mountain Scramble #1,000

Black Mountain Scramble #1,000

When we finally got down the rock scramble to the shelter we chatted briefly with one of the guys from the group we saw that morning on the trail. Two of them had been gone at least an hour on a hunt for water and he had asked if we had seen them.

There were a few other tents set up so we got the lay of the land, picked a spot to set it up and to hang the bear bag and popped a squat. The other couple we saw at the climb up Black Mountain had given us a few of their bug sticks when we ran into them a bit later while they were taking a break, and we were all complaining about the bugs. So as the bugs were even more annoying by this point at our campground we lit one and it did a decent enough job of keeping them at bay.

The other two guys had returned from their water trek, and some of the other campers headed off down another route on the same mission. It seemed it was at least a mile in any direction to get water from this campsite. Fortunately we filled up at Beechy Bottom brook per the advice of our guidebook and we boiled the untreated water for our meals and morning coffee so that we could keep the potable water for drinking.

Silver mine Lake from Black Mtn

Silver mine Lake from Black Mtn

As we finished setting up our tent, the guys had by now gotten a fire going in the fire ring and invited us all over to join. This was their first time backpacking and had all gotten their gear the day before. Wisely, they bought affordable gear to make sure they liked doing this before breaking the bank. The gear seemed to hold up just fine for this type of overnight, though only one of them was awake to report on that before we left the next morning, and he slept in all his clothes.

Fielden Stream's bouldery descent

Fielden Stream’s bouldery descent

We told stories, listened to some music and I geeked out and told them about the Revolutionary War history in the area and taught them some backpacking and first aid tips I had learned at my Wilderness First Aid course the weekend before. They offered me some of their Jack Daniels so I gave Fielden Stream the rest of my wine, and the atmosphere for the remainder of the night was jovial and fun. The other group of hikers didn’t join us that night but they had done a very long day and went to bed after returning with their water and having dinner. Even though we knew rain was moving in overnight, we were all fortunate to have had a crystal clear sky and many constellations to admire that night.

The next morning we were up and out a little later than planned as I was still feeling the effects of the whiskey and with the added sleepy effect of the rain. As no one was in the shelter overnight, we brought our tent inside after we had packed everything else into our packs and took it apart there. We hung the footprint and rainfly on the bunks while we had breakfast so they could drip dry a bit before we packed them up. We spoke about our stoves and cook kits in true gear-nerds fashion with some of the other hikers who were starting to join us in the shelter to pack up and have breakfast.

William Brien Shelter below

William Brien Shelter below

We decided to skip the hot breakfast to save time and just have our coffee and granola bars. We packed up, got our pack covers on, and headed southbound. As always, the trail route went right up from camp to another crest of a mountain. I am not quite sure if it was the same mountain or the next one. But it was exposed and the rain was turning to sleet at that point. We had to stop to put our gloves on so our hands wouldn’t turn into wet, half-frozen ones. Fielden pointed out the upside which was that at least the bugs weren’t out.

After a few miles the trail dropped back into a gap and past a few interesting rock formations, including one that looked like a cave with a closed stone door. We speculated that it was the secret passage to Ali Baba’s lair or the mines of the dwarves in the Lord of the Rings. Today’s hike out was shorter — only 4.5 miles and less steep climbs. Though there were two big ones at the end, and it was cold and rainy. It wouldn’t get over 50 degrees this day. Most of the time it was lower than that.

Rocky trail section behind the shelter

Rocky trail section behind the shelter

The trail brought us down across Seven Lakes Drive, where we had passed early the previous day on our shuttle from the end point. There was a nice brook down here and plenty of good water sources except one which Fielden Stream said looked like a swamp from “Labyrinth” as it was full of bright green slime. The trail meandered along through a forest with some nice dogwoods and violets in bloom and then reached the foot of the mountains. Ahead of us were too final big climbs. The first was gradual and the area around the trees was starting to really green out. It looked like we were walking through the emerald forest at times. Views east through the trees to the trip’s previous peaks were plentiful. We sang volleys of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” to get us through the climb. As the trail leveled out at the height of land we stopped for a few minutes and talked about what we would eat when we got off trail. I was looking for filling and greasy, of course.

William Brien Shelter

William Brien Shelter

The trail then descended into another gap, where an old forest road, and part of the R-D trail re-appeared from where it had previously branched off on the last peak a few miles back.  I hadn’t recalled the last climb looking as steep on the profile as it ended being, but we were definitely working hard at that point to get up it. It went most of the way up the next summit before it eventually rode around the shoulder and leveled out for the most part. But we were only about 100 feet shy of the summit so they might as well have just taken us all the way up! As we ascended we noticed that the colors of the leaves on the trees painted a very fall-like scene.

The trail traveled along this mountain’s shoulder for about 3/4 of a mile through mountain laurel tunnels before reaching the road crossing at Arden Valley road. I believe all of this was part of Fingerboard Mountain.

Rainy Fingerboard Mountain vista

Rainy Fingerboard Mountain vista

We crossed the road and took the blue trail by the water tower back down to the parking lot at Tiorati Circle. Since we decided not to take any longer breaks or have a hot breakfast we made good time and were back at the car in less than three hours. And though we did start to slow quite a bit at the end from fatigue, we made sure to appreciate the scenery the best we could, including a lovely mountaintop brook and one vista similar to that of Bear Mountain, Connecticut from Lion’s head.

Stream going green

Stream going green

We drove the same route home as we took up, opting for the long views up and down the Hudson river, and found a great country diner on the way home called Grandmas. We loaded up on greasy appetizers and sandwiches and I also had a few celebratory beers. We picked out a few of their homemade pies to bring home to the kids.

While it was challenging, we had a great time, and look forward to finishing the last two sections in New York later this season. Who knows, maybe we will get there even sooner.

Day 1 miles: 5.2

Day 2 miles: 4.6

— Linus

Harriman S.P. Solo Overnight Backpack Adventure

Heading up

Heading up

Last weekend our next planned New York section-hike turned out differently than planned. Fielden Stream’s knee swelled up again and we weren’t able to get her up and going quite as easy this time! Crushed about not being able to hike together, but understanding that it’s not a good idea to stress a recent injury if we want to be able to keep hiking together in the future, we decided it would be ok for me to go on what seems to be my annual solo overnight trip.

As you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog, I recently received a replacement rainfly for my solo tent for only the cost of shipping from the manufacturer Easton products. This is because I had packed it away wet in a classic amateur mistake after my first solo trip last October, and it was covered in mildew when I pulled it out for my brother to use earlier on our July 4 weekend trip. They were awesome when I told them what I had done and promptly replaced it for only the cost of shipping. So my solo tent was back in action! Luckily the tent itself did not have any mildew.

View east from West Mountain

First view – south east from West Mountain

I changed the itinerary to facilitate a loop-hike with a single vehicle, yet still one in the same region and with great views. I also still wanted us to do those full A.T. sections together later. And it was an opportunity to challenge myself a bit more than usual since I was on my own. For instance, I’ve been working on my fear of ledges and ridge walks with steep drop-offs. I know there will be a lot of these in my future if I want to complete the whole A.T one day, and so I wanna get through this phobia. Nothing wrong with a little self-preservation especially when you’re a husband and a father, but sometimes it borders on just plain silly the things I will avoid.

For location, I chose to head down the trail a bit to include one of the most beautiful views (if you like a view with a city skyline in the distance, that is) in the area, West Mountain shelter in Harriman State Park. This is a popular one, perched on the ledge almost 1,300 ft up and overlooking the Hudson river, all the way to NYC which is visible on clear days about 40 miles south. It’s about .6 off the A.T. but many thru hikers make the extra trek as its not hard, and its worth it. I had a photo of it on my desktop background for about half a year, planning to make it there by the end of the season on one of our section hikes. Now, although alone this time, I was going to.  That was a silver lining, to be sure.

Descending the first ledges on West Mountain

Descending the first ledges on West Mountain

Harriman is the second largest state park in New York, with over 225 miles of trails, including 18 of the A.T. West Mountain is the next peak southwest of Bear Mountain on the trail. Together, the two are part of the Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks.

Narrowly surviving my drive up the Palisades Parkway to the trail head at Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, I arrived around noon to get on the trail. Notice: the drivers on this road don’t seem to be the considerate or patient type. The fact that the A.T in fact crosses this very road TWICE (north and south lanes) with no sort of bridge whatsoever is terrifying. There’s no stop light, nor much of a warning as a driver as you approach the crossing other than your typical hiker sign.

Please be extremely careful when on trail and having to cross it. I pondered adding a walk up Black Mountain before departing on day 2 of this hike, but the very thought of crossing that road in both directions to get there and back left a lot to be desired. It’s a miracle no one has been killed doing so. Or have they? They should probably put a pedestrian bridge across it, or use the Anthony Wayne rec area overpass as part of the route and re-route it slightly north to do so. The bookstore is in the highway median just north of the trail, which may be why they do it this way, but I nearly got killed in my CAR just trying to make a left into there to get a park map and a Gatorade.

The Timp from West Mountain

The Timp from West Mountain

Anyway, it was a beautiful day and I made it in one piece. The parking lots for the recreation area are MASSIVE.  In its peak season I imagine these to be fairly loaded though the southern lot where I parked has less recreation areas and seems to be more of an overflow lot with overnight and day hikers using the area by the trailhead most. As it was only mid-August I found it a bit odd that it was off-season already and all the facilities were closed. Who knows — maybe it was just closed for this weekend. You can catch the Timp-Torne trail and A.T which share the same path for about a mile and a half farther north at the upper lot, but this was not part of my planned route and I will do that later coming through on the A.T. section.

Where's the trail? Ascending the Timp

Where’s the trail? Ascending the Timp

I had mapped this route out extensively, starting with the NY/NJ Trail conference’s “Trail Walker” newsletter where I got the idea for the new hike.  They had a day hike recommendation up to a spot called “Cat’s Elbow” on West Mountain that included the Shelter as a lunch spot and was about 2/3 of the route I did. I then researched more online to plot the route, adding in one more peak, “The Timp” to make it a bit more of an overnight hike distance. And because I wanted to peak bag it! It turns out the Cat’s Elbow was down a short access trail from one of the ledges I was on at the beginning of the hike, but I did not realize this at the time and just assumed I was on it. Not to fret, I had my fair share of ledge walking and views and challenges on this hike. I imagine that view was just one that would be to my benefit had I not added the extra 1.5 miles over the Timp, which offers those same views.

Holy elevation gains, Batman!

Holy elevation gains, Batman!

The hike started on one of the many mountain bike paths through the park from the lot for about half mile before crossing the A.T. From here I continued on the bike path a bit farther until I picked up the Red-dot-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, heading east. This would take me all the way over the shoulder of West Mountain down to “Timp Pass” between the two peaks and up to the top of the Timp. Immediately I was treated to rock scrambles leading up to many ledges. The views on this hike never ended. At the top of this shoulder of West Mountain I could hear hikers across the valley at the shelter on the peak, and snacked on tiny blueberries as I passed through fire-scarred meadows on the ridgeline. I would recommend long pants because I was not wearing them and the underbrush was knee high through much of this section of the hike and the concern of poison ivy and ticks was very real.

Bones on the timp

Bones on the timp

Over many you-fall-you-die spots, I crawled over ledges on the ridgeline, my heart racing but full of pride for accepting this challenge and conquering it. I descended down the ridge line steeply into the gap, a descent equal to that of Bear Mountain in Connecticut’s north face until I reached Timp Pass. Here I had the chance to venture right up the other ridge of West Mountain to the shelter but decided that was too early to call it a day and continued on to the Timp ascent.

It was a hot day and there is no water at the shelter, and there were no streams with water to count on. I knew this going into it and packed extra water so I had enough for the climbs and for dinner and coffee. But not being able to see my water supply in my bladder while in my pack, I was conserving a bit and definitely getting dehydrated. This is a major fault in the design of an integrated camel bladder sleeve. Many hikers opt to carry their bladder between the brain and the body of their pack to alleviate that, but thats a hack that doesn’t need to be necessary.

Goldenrods on the Timp

Goldenrods on the Timp

Turns out I had enough water but I didn’t know for sure till I got to camp. I could have taken it out and checked and would have if it was a longer hike, but buried behind all my other gear in my loaded pack, I decided not to since I was almost at the summit. I had a full smart water bottle with me as well in case of emergency, and was close enough to the trailhead that I could return to the car in case of severe water shortage. I also knew there would be others up there who would have water in case of emergency. And I was right. One family shared some water with some other hikers who needed it. They used to have pumps at all these shelters but the closeness to the city meant a lot of partiers would come up to these spots and leave messes. So to discourage this, they removed them so that only hikers who carried the right gear and were prepared with filters and such would be able to stay longer times up here. A shame to punish the few because of the masses but it happens all the time. Because, stupid people.

West Mountain and Bear Mountain from the Timp

West Mountain and Bear Mountain from the Timp

The climb up the back of the Timp was another rockfall, but more intense than the first. I had to look for at least 15 minutes for the next blaze up that wall, as it was mostly rocks! I did a good deal of rock climbing up to the summit ledges of the Timp where I took a break and took in the views across the pass to West Mountain, and Bear Mountain in the distance behind it. The shelter on West Mountain was visible as was the Perkins Memorial Tower on Bear. To the south I could also see sweeping views of the Hudson and the small towns along it as well the city in the distance.

Linus on the Timp

Linus on the Timp

I had now left the red trail for the blue-blazed Timp-Torne trail through a ridge line covered in Goldenrod to reach the summit, and I would stay on this until the shelter and until the A.T. the next morning. At the summit there were some day hikers who snapped a photo of me on an outcropping. On the way down the timp I had epic views north of the Bear Mountain bridge, Bear Mountain, Anthony’s nose, and beyond to the Hudson Highlands and West Point.  That was a treat. The descent was rocky and steep but I made it to the pass and it is here that I received my first leg cramp. I’ve read both that these are and are not caused by dehydration but just to be sure I chugged a bunch of water and took a break.  It was also here that my GPS track stopped because I guess my watch wasn’t as fully charged as I had thought. While I was still tracking with my AllTtrails app on my phone, I knew it was only a matter of time until my watch would shut off entirely. I hadn’t brought the watch charger and so the watch was out of commission within a few hours. Had I not had my phone I’d be relying on my horizon tricks to tell the time.

My new Casio Pro Trek watch

My new Casio Pro Trek watch

While not the end of the world, after this and several dropped tracks on recent hikes, I’d come to the end of the relationship with the watch. A great idea as a product with a very robust feature set, online dev community and overall a durable piece of equipment. But one that at the very least should have a backup battery for the timekeeping function. This could be much more of a concern on a longer hike. I don’t need to devices to worry about charging. I would return it when I got back for a watch that did not rely on USB power and stick to my phone and phone charger for that purpose. REI gave me full credit back for the Suunto, and I provided my feedback and experience with the watch. The salesman who helped me find a new watch was wearing the Suunto Core and knew just what I meant. I decided on the latest Casio Pro-Trek. It has an altimeter, compass, barometer, moon phases and tidal data, a tough water-resistant case to a good depth, and an easy back-light button. It’s also an atomic watch so you can rely on the time. And it was $175 less. I will miss many of the Suunto’s features but I need a watch that I can depend on being there for me when I need it. The Pro-Trek also solar charges so I don’t have to worry about battery life for a very long time.

Bear Mountain Bridge from the Timp

Bear Mountain Bridge from the Timp

The final push up to the shelter started with about a half mile of a scree-laden path, until a steep, tough climb up many rocky ledges to the shelter. My poles were basically useless on this and many other parts of the hike and I think at one point on that last ascent when confronted with the last wall of rock ahead of me uttered, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But I heard voices ahead and luckily it wasn’t one of those tricks of the wind and another mile to go. The shelter appeared before me and though completely spent, I had worked hard, climbed three summits and about 1,600 ft of vertical in under 5 miles today, with another 300 on day two to make about 1,900 overall. Even my “Best Hikes Near New York City” book described it as a “Butt-Kicker.” Correctamundo!

West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter

It was a stunning shelter view. I perused all the tent sites and found one near the shelter with its own fire ring. I set up my tent, and unpacked and had some wine. My tent rainfly has two zippers so you can roll up the whole side or, as I imagined, create an awning using extra guy lines and your trekking poles. This worked out perfectly!  I hadn’t tried it yet when I set up the tent the day before to gear check and I was super excited to have an awning. I even used a tautline hitch on the guyline.

My tent with improvised "awning"

My tent with improvised “awning”

I hung my bear bag, using the PCT method and a clove hitch, and then went to chat with some of the other hikers at the site. There was a family from the Philly area with their two kids, 2 couples that were thru-hiking, and 2 solo section hikers with their dogs. I always like when there are dogs there because I feel safer about bears and other critters not coming into camp. We shared stories and took in the views. I retreated to my site to make a small fire. Originally I wasn’t planning to but everyone else had gathered fire wood and had one going so it inspired me. I made one just big enough to enjoy my dinner by, and then as it fizzled out I went to enjoy the sunset and view of the city with the other hikers before bed.

Sunset at West Mountain shelter

Sunset at West Mountain shelter

Most of the other hikers chose to keep the rainfly off, and I was thinking about it too but I was so pleased with my ingenuity and I know how quickly weather can change. I didn’t want it to happen when I was asleep. I kept the awning open though and had a beautiful view of the brightly shining moon over the ridge, as the crickets sung me to sleep. No owls though. What gives? I thought it was supposed to rain and starting around 9am so I was planning on getting going early.

First climb on day 2 to West Mountain summit

First climb on day 2 to West Mountain summit

I had an unexpected charlie horse in the middle of the night trying to get into my summer bag so once the pain subsided I opted to use it as a blanket and sleep in my liner which worked fine. I also have a high R-value on my new BA Air core sleeping pad so I was plenty warm even with the fly up. This was definitely a lack of potassium. I was up at 630 with the sunrise anyway. I hadn’t gotten that much sleep because there’s a CSX train down along the river which was passing through blowing its horn about every 30 minutes. I love trains. But this did not help me sleep. That’s one of the few downsides of camping here, well that and the water. And if you ask others, no privy. As I only had about a liter left and had a fancier feast in mind when I reached the lot, I packed up, had my cliff bar, and headed out by 730 am after taking in the view one last time.

A.T. Junction, West Mountain

A.T. Junction, West Mountain

It was about .5 to the A.T. along the ridge and while it was mostly easy and flat there were a few scrambles, but more endless views to match. There was another campsite atop the actual peak of West Mountain that had an equal view and large fire ring. While there was no shelter or privy or water supply here either, it was quite a nice spot, and one I’d camp at if we didn’t want to make the trip to the shelter when coming through here on the section.  The junction of the A.T and TImp-Torne trail had its own incredible view westward. From here the two continue along side each other for a mile or two northbound while just the A.T. heads south, and this was my route. It was a steep and often rocky descent, and I was glad I was not heading up it. About a mile later as I reached the bottom at the bike path crossing, there was a stream, of course. The water was reliable and clean but I had no need unless I decided to head up Black Mountain, which I didn’t. I probably had time but as I said the road crossing was perilous.  I headed back to my car, happy to have a lighter pack and a successful adventure.

Final view, north from A.T

Final view, north from A.T

I visited the bookstore on the way out, grabbed a coffee and a gatorade and farther up the route home I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and got an egg and cheese and a banana (to help the potassium shortage). I remember a thru-hiker on one of our last sections farther up the trail saying Harriman was one of his favorite spots on his hike so far. I can see why.  A great adventure, and I learned some valuable lessons about what I was capable of, and to listen to my body when it tells me I need more water or rest. And that I am still a boy scout! I took a ton of pictures and videos, and am looking into a nicer digital camera to improve my photography. Recommendations welcome. I don’t need a million pixels, or to spend $1,000 but I would like something with higher resolution and more features, while still being durable.

I am planning a day hike tomorrow somewhere closer to get my trail fix, and Fielden Stream and I are planning when we will hit the trail again soon for the next section hike now that she has the green light from the doctor.

— Linus

 

Appalachian Trail – CT Section 1 – Part 2

Mountain Laurel everywhere

Mountain Laurel everywhere

Hi all – this is Fielden Stream reporting in!  Just wanted to add my own info on our recent hike. First off – I was very worried about this hike as there was going to be a lot of steep sections and it was going to be the second 2-nighter that we had ever done.  So we truly underestimated our abilities here – mostly to be on the safe side.

This ended up meaning that we got to both of our campsites super early, which isn’t necessarily my preference, but it ended up being a nice relaxing addition to our trip.  This was especially true the second night as we had a gorgeous brook called Sages Ravine running right near the campsite with watering holes and 14 beautiful waterfalls.

But back to the first night.  Riga Shelter I guess is a very popular campsite mostly because it has a nice view.  It also has some private campsites that are surrounded by trees so you really don’t have to spend time with other hikers if you don’t want to.  The privy was pretty decent too although it did smell a bit.  The only thing that marred the beauty was the semi-burnt shelter (some idiot in January did it), but the trail maintainers are supposed to be fixing that this weekend.  It was a bit buggy though.  I also didn’t like the fact that you had to walk pretty far to get to the beginning and to the privy from almost everywhere (although Sages Ravine was even worse!)  There was also no picnic table – which isn’t a deal-breaker, but does tend to add a nice element.  And we did meet some more nice thru-hikers (AYCE, Buster and Sparkles) while we were there which always makes it a more fun trip.

The second night — after a heart-attack-causing decent down Bear Mountain — was at Sages Ravine.  This campsite does not have a shelter so you don’t have too many thru-hikers staying there.  They do have a camp steward though who lives there for a few days every week (they rotate them through) which was interesting as we got info about the area and some of the issues of maintaining trails. Everyone who can should volunteer to maintain trails as If you love nature it’s a great way of giving back!

Arriving at Sages Ravine Campsite in Mass

Arriving at Sages Ravine Campsite in Mass

My biggest problem with Sages was how far (and uphill!) every campsite and privy was from everything else.  I think we did more mileage walking back and forth from the campsite to the brook to the privy and back again than walking the actual trail!  The privy was also on the lower quality scale.  It was composting, but it had not been updated in quite a while and there was a big rock holding the door shut, which you had to move in order to get inside.  And like I said, it was at least an eighth of a mile from our campsite.

But our campsite was nice. We decided to set up at a group site because we wanted some company, and we got some!  We also got a nice view of a side ravine and a nice breeze that helped keep the bugs away.  And quite a thunderstorm when we were happily tucked away in our tent for the night. Many of the other campsites were up on a hill even higher than us and were in the middle of fields of grass.  Personally, I’m not a fan of camping near grass because of snakes and ticks.

We met some garter snakes along the trail yesterday, and when we arrived at Sages we were greeted by a friendly resident deer, and what we think was a bear shortly after setting up camp. Though no actual sighting occurred, few animals could snap an entire tree limb as dramatically and make the loud thump we heard hitting the ground seconds after. Luckily if it was a bear cub it ran the other way. Since we were just reading a humorous anecdote about bears in Bill Bryson’s “A walk in the woods” it just had to be a bear…

Pink Honeysuckle?

Pink Honeysuckle?

But the best part of Sages was the brook itself, and washing our feet in the deliciously cold water.  I could do that for hours.  All of my blisters stopped hurting for for like 5 minutes! The third day we got up super early so we could go have lunch at a restaurant later.  I couldn’t wait for hot food and a real bathroom. The hike out was on a side trail called Paradise Lane and I do have to say it was very paradisical! The Mountain Laurel, which is the CT state flower, was just reaching peak and it was stunning to walk through archways of them. There were also some very pretty swampy areas with bullfrogs talking to each other.  And then it was on to our delicious lunch at Toymakers Cafe in Falls Village.  If you go, get the sausage and biscuits.  They were outstanding!!!!

As we finally finished the state, we put up our video and you can view the link to it on our new youtube channel. We hope you enjoy it, though we are admittedly not film directors.

— Fielden Stream

Appalachian Trail – CT Section 1 – Part 1

Scrambling up Lion's Head

Scrambling up Lion’s Head

After nearly a year of studying and planning this section to death on the map, quide book, and internet and trying to piece together any memories of hiking its peaks as a boy scout, it was time to head there together.

Section 1 currently describes the route from rt 44 in Salisbury to the misplaced state line marker .6 miles in from the actual state line crossing at Sages Ravine, Massachusetts. When I was a scout, this may still have been the section route, but the section start and endpoints were different, and my BSA Appalachian Trail patch in 1984 labeled it as section VII, aka 7, for those who don’t read roman numerals. I also don’t recall if we did the whole section.

Looking north at Bear

Looking north at Bear from Lion’s Head

While there was a re-route a few years later west of river and the old route becoming the Mohawk trail, it crossed back over in Falls Village to continue its original route so I’m going to assume this was still the path back then. I remember climbing either Bear or Lion’s Head, or both with the scouts, but that’s as clear as the memory gets.

View from Riga Shelter

View from Riga Shelter

Working on NY sections 2 and 3 earlier this spring gave us a nice warmup for this bigger hike, while allowing us to not repeat any sections.  As a couple, we had not been above 1,600 ft on any hike, overnight or otherwise. So in our heads it was quite a challenge ahead of us. But it turns out we underestimated ourselves. Now without a doubt, going from the road (700 ft) and up over Lion’s head (1,750 ft) and  Bear Mtn (2,316 ft) and back down to Sages Ravine (1,600 ft) in one day would have been hard work. And we broke this up by going over Lion’s Head and spent the first night at the Riga shelter and campsites (1650 ft) with its stunning views. For this we have no regrets. But really, the next day we expected to be far more difficult than it was. Day 1 we were a bit slower-going but day 2 we already had our hiker legs kickin’ into gear.

At the top of Bear

At the top of Bear

For fear of rain on the day we were to summit and descend Bear Mtn (enhanced by a few hikers we passed and spoke to – gee, thanks!), we got a move on early. The north face of the mountain IS steep – no lie. In the rain, it would be a veritable waterfall.  But despite the challenges, we summited, snacked, and descended like the best of mountain goats to Sages Ravine in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Surely, we could have gone on to tackle Race Mountain and stay at the Race Brook Falls campground. But we left our second car at Undermountain trail – so this would mean either thumbing it back, or making our 3.5 mile hike out to a greasy satisfying brunch into an 8-miler, and one that also potentially skirted a wet and slick downhill re-trace of the exposed rock ledges on Mt. Race. And the rain eventually DID come, and in droves, Friday night. So we were better off with a long, more relaxing stay at Sages Ravine.

My "Rudy" shot atop Bear

My “Rudy” shot atop Bear

Still, we felt like champions for our speedy climb over Bear (see my “Rudy” shot), and are planning to tackle Race and Everett to Jug End in longer days next time — maybe more along 7-8 mile days than  these 3-5, since we’re obviously getting the hang of this thing. While we’ve done a ten-miler, it wasn’t over two 2,000+ peaks with a 900 ft descent in between and on either side.

Steep north face of Bear

Steep north face of Bear

We had covered the first part of the section from rt 44 to 41 in Salisbury when we completed our last overnight section hike of CT. And I took an extra mile out-and-back loop from the campsite at Sages Ravine to the misplaced state line marker to officially bag the end of the section and satisfy my OCD, even though we will come through here again on the next one. I’m glad I did, as I got to see over 10 beautiful waterfalls and plenty of watering holes along the gorgeous ravine.

Cascade in Sages Ravine

Cascade in Sages Ravine

We finished the hike with a gluttonous meal at Toymakers cafe in Falls Village, a reputably very hiker-friendly establishment. This was proven so by the cook/owner giving us a ride back to our car after a very cold rainy hike into there last fall because the bartender at the Falls Village Inn made it quite obvious he didn’t want us staying there for the night. Clearly to this individual, hikers are all unemployed, dirty and rowdy. In contrast, Toymakers also lets hikers camp in their backyard – please patronize them.

When we stopped by the Inn yesterday for the second time on a hike to get our A.T. passport stamped, the door was locked tight, there was no doorbell, and no one responded to my knocking even though I saw several people walking around in back. I don’t know why the Inn is a location for an A.T. passport stamp and not Toymakers.

The End

The ‘Official’ end of CT

Its is not a very friendly place at all in my opinion, unless you’re dressed up nicely when you arrive and have reserved your two-hundred-and-fifty-a-night room well in advance and got your own key already when you checked in. Luckily the post office in town was more than happy to stamp my A.T. passport.

But anyway, this hike had it all – there were views for days, thru-hikers, a powerful thunderstorm to lull us to sleep, some great wildlife, and tunnels of mountain laurel. But I’ll let Fielden Stream tell you about that in part two.

— Linus