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

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 9

Lunch at Appalachian Market

Lunch at Appalachian Market

Where are all the owls? Several more nights on the trail later and still not a hoot. I’m no owl expert but that seems a little odd. Plus, I miss their songs at night. Crickets are great and all. But no coyotes lately either. I fear our planet continues to change for the worse, to the detriment of all its creatures.

Last weekend we finally made it across the mighty Hudson and to the newly-renovated Bear Mountain Inn where we planned to celebrate our second night on the trail in a lovely room on the occasion of Fielden Stream’s birthday!

We’ve done the section of Trail from the top down to the Inn so our goal was really to just make it to the Inn before the end of the season and anything more than that was just a bonus. We’ve now got only 28.8 miles left of trail in NY and about 60 in the state since April that we’ve traveled! This section also had some bigger ups and downs than we’d done in a while so it definitely got the heart rate up, but with views to match the effort.

Prepared for rain!

Prepared for rain!

The weather forecast was originally quite grim, with a hurricane potentially bearing down on us. But fortunately it moved east over the sea and took all the crappy weather with it. While it was still raining as we arrived at the trailhead the forecast at this point was for it to end by midday, and that it did. We were properly decked out in our rain gear and had our pack covers on, but as we enjoyed a quick lunch at the hiker-friendly Appalachian Market on Rt 9, it stopped raining and within the first mile we shed our rain gear. That’s definitely appreciated when doing a big climb like this one started with, as one tends to perspire more in rain gear and slippery rocks are a lot less fun.

Day 1 took us over a peak called White Rock and another called Canada Hill before crossing a mountain road and a well-flowing brook, slightly brown in color, just before our campsite. Turns out that brook is called Copper Mine brook, which would explain it. So many of the water sources were dry this summer so it was nice to see one that was flowing and reliable, even if it’s a quarter mile downhill of our campsite. Could be worse…

A-frame tarp shelter

A-frame tarp shelter

We had our first somewhat limited but not overgrown view of the Hudson, which brought us a thrill. Coming down Canada Hill the descent was on the steeper side, with a few of those steep wet rock surfaces that were not that much fun going downhill either. We also heard gunfire but this is not surprising as we were approaching the northern boundary of Camp Smith, a National Guard training camp. The camp has its own hiking trail which we would utilize partially for the climb up Anthony’s nose, which the A.T otherwise only skirts the side of.

Our campsite, Hemlock Springs, was a rather primitive one adjacent to a former military road that eventually leads (or lead) to the training camp. For .2 miles the road coincides with the AT and then later parallels it for a bit longer. There’s not much forest separating the trail from the campsite or road so you see hikers going by, and there’s an area right along the trail where it leaves the road that they ask you NOT to camp at, but its perfectly flat, on a ridge, and there is clear evidence that people have been. Though it looks like someone’s been scattering the fire rings there so I guess no means no here.

Looking north - Camp Smith Trail

Looking north – Camp Smith Trail

There is no privy here or shelter but this spot would be perfect for one of those and the spot we camped at would have accommodated a shelter as well. The old road past the campsite makes for an easy route down to the brook if it is necessary for water or should weather become severe or someone get injured. Its likely the proximity to the main road and a military property is why there is neither. Clearly the parking and easy access at the bottom of this section of road also makes it easy to party at and broken glass shards were scattered about the fire rings. Why must people be such idiots.

Anthony's Nose vista, Camp Smith Trail

Anthony’s Nose vista, Camp Smith Trail

But we had a great time at the campsite, which we had all to ourselves. A few section hikers did pass by but none were staying the night so we picked our top choice of the camping spots, which ended up being the one right by the campsite water source. That water source would be great if we weren’t in practically a drought for 8 weeks this past summer. It amounted to a puddle and a trickle, but that’s okay cause we were in good shape having brought extra water, didn’t have long miles, and oh yeah that brook down the road.

Crossing the Hudson

Crossing the Hudson

We set up our tarp in an A-frame pitch this time as there was no strong rain coming back or much wind to speak of so we just wanted another place to take shelter should it quickly sprinkle again. We set up some rocks around the stakes where needed as those lines we seemed to keep wanting to trip over. Yesterday at REI I bought some reflective line to employ in the future since it works so great on our tent and MSR groundhog stakes. Two stakes short for this pitch, I used rocks to weigh down the mid lines which also gave them a bit of flex if a gust did come along. And the final piece of the setup were our trekking poles which raised up the corners to a perfect height.

The biggest challenges at camp were getting the fire going since all the wood was still wet and my new sleeping pad confirming its failure on an unseasonably cold night. We did employ some drier lint for starting the fire, but that was no match for the wet wood and so another trick I learned – the hand sanitizer trick, brought success after much persistence. It is essentially the same as what you find in a sterno — gelled alcohol, and is quite flammable. We always have extra on hand for bathroom visits. I could see my breath on a later pee-break so a fire was a good thing. So much for a low of 49! I know temps are different in the mountains but we were only 500 ft up. I blame the closeness to the river.

End of section 9 - Historic!

End of section 9 – Historic!

Clearly it was sub-40, and my pad was indeed defective or damaged after the last overnight when it failed. I just wanted to confirm on this visit, and did. But this sucked because I was essentially sleeping on cold ground and if not for the fact that I brought my winter bag, fleece and base layers, I’d be miserable. Even with them it was still pretty cold. As much as I wanted to love that pad, I returned it when I was at REI yesterday and bought a foam one like Jiffy Pop has. I doubt it will be as comfortable, but it wont deflate!

We enjoyed our dinner under the tarp and got to bed after the fire went out. We went to sleep to train sounds from the nearby metro-north and the CSX train across the river that I heard all night on West Mountain a month ago on my solo trip.

A 2,000 mile-plus trail?

A 2,000 mile-plus trail?

The next morning the trail put us right to work with a steep down and then an even steeper up back to a point just a few feet shy of the old road again — which took a much gentler route up the mountainside. If I wasn’t such a purist for every step of trail, I’d have had us follow the road up farther to get back on the A.T here!

The trail continued to climb mercilessly up a challenging but fun scramble to additional views of the Hudson and then followed another old jeep road. The sky was clearing and warming, and soon we came to the intersection of the Camp smith trail, with the A.T turning to descend.  This side trip is more than worth it, with several sweeping lookouts over the Hudson. It eventually turns back into a more rugged and steep traditional trail down to the camp on the other side of the mountain. But that is after the summit views we were seeking. And, a wrong turn if proceeding down that trail can land in you in trouble for trespassing.

Finally a bear!

Finally a bear!

We were first treated to views north to West Point, Storm King and Gertrude’s Nose upriver. And then to the view atop Anthony’s Nose, down to the Bear Mountain bridge and the Inn at the foot of Bear, with most of the lower Hudson valley laid out before you in glorious fashion. I could see every mountain I had traversed on my solo trip as well as much more of Harriman and Bear mountain state parks, Fort Montgomery, Iona Island, and our friend the 100-car-long noisy CSX train. Also atop Anthony’s Nose is a military memorial with an American flag and beneath it a P.O.W flag, some P.O.W bracelets for soldiers missing in action, and a memorial stone at the base for a soldier killed in 2013. Very moving. I believe there is another further up at the top of Breakneck Ridge, though I am less clear on the connection there since this one is on an actual military camp trail.

Tough truth

Tough truth

We met a nice local hiker who snapped some photos for us and then suddenly the peak the 3 of us had to ourselves was inundated with day hikers that all arrived at once. So we made our way back from our snack spot to retrieve our packs from the rocks above and headed off to finish the hike and relax over some cold ciders at the Inn and begin the celebrations.

After the steep knee-hating descent down the A.T. from the Camp Smith trail and the bridge crossing, we strolled through the trailside museum and zoo, swearing to come back and enjoy it in more detail when we didn’t have large packs on our backs and little energy. But we made sure to visit the coyotes and of course, the bears. Our first on the trail! (the joke of many a thru-hiker who miraculously didn’t encounter any in Shenandoah or New Jersey!)

White Blaze on the playground

White Blaze on the playground

The bear den is also the lowest point on the whole A.T at 124 ft.  We got a few choice looks from tourists visiting the zoo, who apparently didn’t bother to read the multiple signs all along the path about the A.T. and how it goes right through the zoo and got started here. One older gentleman in a blazer and cravat gave me a rather puzzled look – perhaps wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to carry all their things on their back for days or more on end, or dress the way we were dressed in public!

This section officially ends at the western end of the Bridge so the trip through the zoo and the path up past the Inn are part of section 10, as is the ascent up to the summit which as I’ve mentioned we’ve already done. And I’ll probably mention this again when we complete and write about section 10, cause I’m so anal about these things!

Bear Mtn Inn with Anthony's Nose in distance

Bear Mtn Inn with Anthony’s Nose in distance

We had a great time at the Inn, with a marvelous dinner and shrinking crowds, as everyone was heading home from hikes and Oktoberfest by midday for their lives and jobs in the city. So we got to enjoy a quiet Sunday night. My only complaint about the stay at the Inn is that it didn’t have a fireplace going that night, and the ones in the rooms were those fake electric ones that don’t even put out heat.

 

Old Doodletown

Old Doodletown

The next morning I also did a nice 3.5-mile loop-hike of the Bear Mountain-Suffern, Doodletown Bridal Path and 1777 trails while Fielden was being treated to a birthday massage. A steep initial climb halfway up Bear Mountain started the hike but then it was a beautiful stroll through the old roads of this once-active mountainside community. There are old foundations of the homes to see though I didn’t manage to see them all this time around. To return to the Inn I took the 1777 trail, which traces the route of British troops on their way to storm forts Clinton and Montgomery that year.

This may be the end of our overnight season, but let’s hope for an Indian summer. If it is the end of the overnight season, we accomplished our goal, and there will be day hikes for sure!

Next weekend I’m volunteering to help re-blaze a portion of the Connecticut A.T. with my local AMC chapter and then enjoying their BBQ for A.T. day. I can’t wait!

— Linus