Mattabessett/New England Trail, Net50 Challenge Completion

On Saturday I hit the New England Trail once again with my brother. While I never managed to get out there over the Thanksgiving holiday, this past Saturday was a beautiful day for a hike. Temps hovered around 45 and felt warmer on the exposed rocks. It was clear, dry and visibility was grand. We could see all the way north to Hartford and south to Hamden and Sleeping Giant, West to the Hanging Hills of Meriden and East to The Connecticut River Valley. This was also the last hike I needed to complete the New England Trail 50 challenge. You can achieve it in a variety of ways, including hikes, volunteering, overnights on the trail, advocacy, donations to trail organizations, and social media sharing to raise awareness on the trail. It has been a lot of fun and I am glad to have helped in any way I could to raise awareness of the trail, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act.

After a slightly sketchy crossing of the outlet of the Hubbard Reservoir at the start (did manage to sink a foot into the cold water a bit), the ascent up Chauncey Peak was quick, and easier thanks to a series of new switchbacks. These are also to benefit the hillside as the very steep original route contributes to erosion. The top of the ridgeline criss-crosses from the western to the eastern edge, where a large quarry operation exists. While that view wasn’t as scenic due to the mining site, there were still nice views beyond. And the western facing ridgeline walks were the real treat, with more of the dramatic basalt (trap rock) ledges to explore and trace as you make your way north , with Lamentation mountain just to the west and the Hubbard Reservoir directly below between the two mountains.

After descending the mountain, the trail winds through some rolling hills in the northern end of Giuffrida park, and then a lovely Hemlock forest before a short road walk (with great views of Chauncey Peak) over to the Highland Pond Preserve which makes up the last of the wooded portion of this section. The last 1.4 miles of this hike was along the paved Country Club road, but this is already an improvement as it used to be almost twice as much of a road walk before they got the portion through the forest and the preserve added in the last few years. Its great to see the hard work of trail organizations, continuing to work on improving trail conditions and acquiring new land for the trail. This is another reason why it’s a pleasure doing volunteer work myself with the AMC, because I experience the joy first-hand.

Now that I’ve completed the challenge, I want to get back to more of my favorite trail – the Appalachian Trail! But I also plan to finish the last 11 miles of the Mohawk trail In the coming months, as well as doing more hikes on the New England trail. I’d like to finish off the Mattabessett section next. I hope to have my brother along on those hikes as the location is central for both of us, and we have a lot of fun hiking together. Photos below.

Miles : 5.7

– Linus

Ascending Chauncey Peak

Ascending Chauncey Peak

My brother near the peak

My brother near the peak

Linus on the summit looking southwest to Sleeping Giant

Linus on the summit looking southwest to Sleeping Giant

My brother and I goofing around on Chauncey Peak

My brother and I goofing around on Chauncey Peak

View of Hubbard Resevoir and Lamentation Mountain beyond

View of Hubbard Resevoir and Lamentation Mountain beyond

Beautiful Hemlock forest

Beautiful Hemlock forest

Entering Highland Pond Preserve

Entering Highland Pond Preserve

Highland Pond Preserve

Highland Pond Preserve

 

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Metacomet/New England Trail, Penwood State Forest, Connecticut

Trap Rock cairns`

Trap Rock cairns

About 2 weeks ago I got in another hike on the New England Trail (NET), in my quest to complete the NET 50 challenge. My brother joined me again and we took part in a led group hike through Penwood State Forest, using both the New England Trail and the orange and yellow trails to complete the loop. We completed all but about 2 miles of the complete NET section through Penwood S.F., and will be back to complete the rest.

One of the observation towers

One of the observation towers

In this area of the state this part of the New England Trail is made up of the Metacomet trail. This section is the one just north of Talcott Mountain, which features a popular trail destination, Heublin Tower.

It was cold and overcast when we met the hike leader Mat in the lot. His company is called “Reach Your Summit,” and I had actually met him a few years previous on the exciting St. John’s Ledges, on the Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trail. We caught up a bit and when we had the full group assembled, we headed up the trail. It was just Mat, a retired state trooper (who I think I’ve also hiked with before – she seemed familiar), and us.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Mat was full of knowledge on the park founder Curtis H. Veeder and the park history, and we stopped at many of the observation towers or remnants he created when it was his land. We stopped at lake Louise as well which was flooding over the trail in a few spots including the dock, though we were able to walk out on it safely. We saw where Veeder formerly had his cabin overlooking the lake as well. There were some nice ridge walk views along the orange trail heading back but the best view was the spot known as the Pinnacle, on the NET portion.

Climbing the "Stairway to heaven"

Climbing the “Stairway to heaven”

There’s a wonderful, expansive view of the Heublin Tower, and the ridges of the Metacomet trail south of here. A brisk swirling wind kicked up as we reached the summit, as well as snow squalls. Not an hour sooner had I told Matt about my hike on the ridgelines of Mt. Higby in a snowstorm a few years back! I guess I jinxed it. That was our first snow of the season, and I drove through a few more squalls on the way back home. Nothing really stuck to the ground so it was no big deal.

All in all it was a 6.5 mile loop, and as connector trails are included in the challenge, I’m a bit closer now to completion! I’ve enjoyed using the challenge to explore more of this great new National Scenic trail. It really has many great views, and challenging terrain in spots. It just needs more overnight sites to facilitate thru hikes, and I know those will eventually come.

Me and my bro on the Pinnacle

Me and my bro on the Pinnacle

I was hoping to get out on the trails again over the holiday weekend but with all the family visiting I did not get a chance. I definitely plan to this weekend, and am aiming for one of two short sections left on the western spur of the Mattabessett section of the New England trail.

Miles: 6.5

  • Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #5, Ten Mile River Area, South Kent, CT

Housatonic Overlook on Herrick Trail

Housatonic Overlook on Herrick Trail

My last summer seasonal ridge runner weekend was over the October 14th weekend. It ended up that I just went out on the Sunday for the day.  I met up with my buddy Ray from our Connecticut AMC chapter. We walked down to the Ten Mile River shelter and campsites from the Bulls Bridge trailhead and found plenty of issues. Both bear boxes were left open, one filled with bags of food trash.

Clearing illegal fire ring

Clearing illegal fire ring

At the shelter was left a whole onion, and a cast iron pot which was clearly used to cook in the night before. All of these things are an open invitation to wildlife, even in daylight. This then becomes a danger for humans, and a danger for the wildlife.

It is known that a boy scout troop was there the night before. I’d just like to reiterate that as scouts you and especially your leaders are responsible for following and teaching leave no trace. Had I had the chance to encounter them I would have gone through this in person but please, we all must follow these rules.  I also found 2 fire pits behind the shelter, with beer cans and tinfoil.

Moss and Nightcrawlers

Moss and Nightcrawlers

Ray packed out the trash and iron pot while I continued my walk up to Ten Mile Summit and the Housatonic Overlook. And I cleaned up the firepits on the way back and checked the privies for issues.

The more people break the rules and risk the delicate agreement between private landowners along the trail perimeter, the more the very trail is put at risk. Please follow the rules. As a former scout, it breaks my heart to think there might be leaders out there willingly breaking leave no trace rules but also teaching scouts that this is acceptable behavior. It’s not.

Me and Ray, CT AMC pals

Me and Ray, CT AMC pals

Enjoy nature. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Lecture over. Happy trails

Miles: 5

Mt Tom State Reservation, New England/Metacomet-Manondnock Trail, Massachusetts

Easthampton from the trail

Easthampton from the trail

Last weekend we were in the Berkshires to celebrate Fielden Stream’s birthday with friends at their lake house.  While the girls were off enjoying a Yoga and meditation retreat, I headed for the mountains once again. The goal this time was to check out the Mount Tom State Reservation for the first time. In the process, I could also contribute towards my miles for the #Hike50Net challenge. This is the challenge to accumulate 50 points in the calendar year on the New England National Scenic Trail by a combination of hiked miles, sharing images, writing Hike-u’s and volunteering.

Walking among the ledges

Walking among the ledges

As you may remember I brought my brother out on part of the Mattabessett trail section in Connecticut earlier this summer. Here in Massachusetts the N.E.T is comprised of the Metacomet and Manondnock trails, stretching from the Massachusetts state line to its finale atop Mt. Manodnock on the New Hampshire border.

As I didn’t have anyone along with me or a shuttle arranged, i did an out-and-back from the south side of the park, so I will have to go back another time and do the same from the north end to complete the section sometime in the future.  No problem. Not only should it be an easy one to convince someone to come along on just for the views, but its no more than five miles out and back from the north end so not too bad mileage-wise either.

Plenty of scrambles

Plenty of scrambles

There seems to have been some re-routing off the road which wasn’t on my map, but to make sure I was sticking on the route in my tracker, I did the .4 road walk at the beginning and end. I see now why it was re-routed, but it was also much further into the woods in that area, and I had limited time.

It was a very steep climb up from the base of Mt. Tom to the summit, over a mile of loose, basalt scree. Basalt is the red volcanic rock prevalent along this trail’s ridgelines. It was slow going both up and down the big climb for this reason. I realize it probably helps prevent erosion, but it felt like being on roller skates sometimes. There were not many switchbacks to ease the ascent, but fortunately it was only about 7-800ft tops.

Name that flower

Name that flower

Once at the summit of Mt. Tom, there were many hikers enjoying the long views in all directions. This used to be a ski area when I was a kid and I remember seeing its trails lit up for night skiing whenever we would pass it on 91 north on our way to Vermont. There are a bunch of large radio towers up there as well as old foundations for the ski lifts and infrastructure. I don’t know if there are any old ski buildings left on the other side. I believe they have a winter park there for tubing and such, so they may have left the lodge.

The NET follows the western ridge so this was the steep side with no trails. There are trails that go along the front and I imagine there are traces left of the ski trails. At some point I will do those as I would be interested to see that. I never did ski there, which is a shame.

The trail along the ledges

The trail along the ledges

For the entire ridge line, the trail hugs the cliff edges, with the occasional dip back into the woods here and there. But this was not to ease an ascent or descent – there were plenty of those along the steep ledges. This is similar to the sections in Connecticut as well, so it was not new for me by any means. These trails are where I cut my teeth and faced my fears in preparation for similar terrain on the Appalachian Trail. The basalt however is looser and broken in many places, making it all the more important to take your time.

It was encouraging to me to realize that over the miles of cliff walks I needed to do on this hike, I have come a long way in facing my fear of such things, and it made me feel strong and confident. I hiked over three peaks and back: Mt. Tom, Deadtopp, and Whiting Peak. Next time I will conquer the remaining three in the range from the northern end.

Ledges with the Oxbow beyond

Ledges with the Oxbow beyond

Another highlight was I was able to view the Oxbow in the famous Thomas Cole painting from the ledges. That painting was actually made from the ledges of nearby Mount Holyoke in Northampton, however.  You can see it in the last photo.

Miles: 6.6

(with a short .4 out and back in the wrong direction at the start!)

— Linus

Siler Bald, Appalachian Trail, North Carolina

In the Gap

In the Gap

Not to be confused with Siler’s Bald, farther north in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this is one of the southern balds along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. I believe they are both named after the same family. And both have tremendous views.

We were in the Northeast corner of Georgia over the last weekend of September to visit Jiffy Pop at his school just east in northwestern South Carolina. The North Carolina border is also just about 15 miles from where we were staying in Clayton, so of course we had to go do a hike.

Fielden Stream on Siler Bald

Fielden Stream on Siler Bald

We haven’t had a chance to hike with Jiffy Pop in quite some time, and we’ve never hiked the A.T. south of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, so this was a big treat.  These balds hit elevations over 5,000 ft, and Siler was no exception. It is 5,216ft and has sweeping 360 degree views including Wine Spring Bald and Wayah Bald (you can drive up to the fire tower up there) directly to the north. We parked at about 4,000ft up at the trail crossing so it was only about a 1,000ft climb, and a very moderate one at that.

On the summit

On the summit

Jiffy pop led the way, and we brought his new Eno hammock along so he could show us how he sets it up and do a quick 5-minute hang for a rest. The trail goes through the expected thick Rhododendron forests as it climbs the ridgeline before opening out onto the grassy fields these mountains get their names from. We passed the side trail to the Siler Bald shelter which leads .4 down an old fire road to the shelter site. We did not go down to the shelter because of lack of time.  The final climb up the grassy hill to the summit was tougher than it looked but the views continued to open up and it was breathtaking.

Jiffy Pop in his hammock

Jiffy Pop in his hammock

I did my best Sound of Music twirl and song, but more the Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s European Vacation version. We filmed a few takes so I got a bit dizzy! A section hiker we met took some photos of us at the summit and then we headed back down. Fielden Stream and I had wanted to spend the night here on this visit and while we didn’t get to do that, I am beyond thrilled we managed to get up there either way. Especially since Jiffy Pop came too.

Linus, Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop on Siler Bald

Linus, Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop on Siler Bald

He hung his hammock in the tree line for a few minutes and we all took turns taking a rest in it and having a snack before we walked back down to the car. While it will be a while before we can get down there again, it was a great first foray for us all on the southern Appalachian Trail.  Hopefully when we come back to visit in late spring we can get in an overnight. While we weren’t officially in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, it was a real treat hiking in the Smokies for the first time.

Miles: (out-and-back) 4

  • Linus

Ridgerunner weekend #4

The northern view from Lions Head

The northern view from Lions Head

My latest ridgerunner weekend was over the weekend of Sept 22nd. I went back to cover a favorite section, the Riga Plateau. It was an amazing weekend but turned out a bit differently than planned.

I invited my brother along as he was free and we wanted to do another hike together. I told him all about the amazing views up here, so he was willing to do the almost two-hour drive, like mine, to Salisbury.

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

The weather couldn’t have been better for it. I originally planned to leave my car at the Undermountain trail and then drive up to the Lion’s head trail lot in his car, so I could take him up to Lion’s head and Riga shelter and back to his car easily. And then I’d also have my car setup closer to where I was camping for the night. Well actually it was about the same distance, but this would allow me to go farther north and still make it back to my car when I needed to and not cover the same ground over and over.  When we got to Salisbury things changed a bit.

Rocky scramble up to Lion's Head

Rocky scramble up to Lion’s Head

Because it was family hiking day, and this being the most popular hiking trail in the state, that lot was a madhouse and there was only road parking available. While I have the necessary signage to probably not get towed If I parked overnight there, I don’t like to take advantage and so I left my car at the main A.T. lot 3 miles south in town on Rt 41 which was also beginning to fill up quickly. No problem, done the hike this way many times.

We headed up to the Lion’s Head lot on Bunker Hill road and got the last spot there. This trail passes a few homes before a brisk climb up to where it joins the A.T. From here it gets a bit more rugged in typical A.T. fashion, and then it’s a steep scramble up a rock face to the first viewpoint.

Me and my brother on Lion's Head

Me and my brother on Lion’s Head

There is a bad weather trail, and this was much appreciated when I recommended it to a group of older ladies from our own AMC chapter who were doing a hike up there this morning. My brother and I took in the views while I also pointed out a few landmarks to a section hiker we met there.  We then took in the glorious northern view which on this day included Mt Greylock, 50-plus miles north in Massachusetts near the Vermont border!

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

We proceeded to Riga shelter and had a snack while also taking in the fabulous view there.  Luckily the shelter and campsite were clean, and the brook was raging from recent rain. This was all good because I planned to stay here for the night.  Perhaps even in a shelter for the first time! I know, I know. I’m just not a fan of bugs and mice, and my tent protects me from both. From there as promised I took him back to the junction of the A.T. and Lion’s head trail.

The bog trail

The bog trail

As I hadn’t taken the bad weather trail before we went down that way, and I knew I’d be doing the scramble on the way back anyway. We got back to the junction quickly and said goodbyes. I took a quick snack break before heading on my way back to Riga to set up camp. On the way I met a few section hikers and a flip-flop thru hiker on Lion’s head. The thru asked about the next camping or town options and then told me the caretakers tent at Sages Ravine was blown far off the platform and almost off the hill entirely. We’ve had some recent large storms in this area lately. I called my supervisors and asked if they were going to be there for the night or if I should stay there instead. As phone coverage in some trail areas is spotty I knew it could take a while so I went to Riga to wait for a response. I took out my notebook to update my notes and have another snack. When word finally came in to head to Sages, I took off in a hurry, leaving my notebook behind!

One of the bog trail signs

One of the bog trail signs

By the time I realized I was 2 miles north and had 2 to go. I opted to take the Bear Mountain road and Bog trail past the Northwest cabin so I could get there in time to assess and repair the damage if possible. The Bear mountain road was completely flooded in several areas and I had to do some tricky negotiating around long deep puddles of trail. But it was nice to finally see the bog trail with its nature-center style signage identifying trees and plants and natural features, as well as the cabin up close. That’s a reservation-only property, and I have never seen it so up close and personal. There was at least one family tenting there so I got on my way quickly past it. The northwest road was also quite flooded but I made it quickly down to the campsite, covering the 4 miles from Riga in 1.5 hours! To be fair, this was mostly level trail and I went this way for a reason.

The caretaker tent in disarray!

The caretaker tent in disarray!

When I got there, the tent condition was quite accurate. It was off on the side of the hill, scrunched up, with the contents tossed about inside. It had a few tears, and was full of water.  Unfortunately this also meant the caretaker journal and many of the books were soaked through. I managed to get the tent and its contents back on the platform and stake it down until it could be packed up by the supervisors the following week.  I set out the contents to dry, especially the books and journal, and used a tarp that was dry to set up my sleeping bag on on the drier side of the tent. I had gotten most of the water out but it was still pooling on one side due to a very slight downhill slant of the platform.

After I restored the tent

After I restored the tent

At this point many people were coming in, some that I knew would be from meeting them earlier in the day.  One scout troop was already there when I arrived. When all was said and done we had almost 30 at the campsite. It’s a very popular one due to its beauty. So it’s a good thing I ended up here as only 4 ended up spending the night at Riga (I found out the next day).

It was a beautiful night at the campsite and I had nice conversations with several of the hiking groups and helped late arrivals find their party’s campsites as dark was setting in.  I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing brook. It got down to the mid 40s so it was a little cool but otherwise no complaints.

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning in the ravine was a beautiful fairy tale forest as always, with the sun shining through the trees onto the shimmering brook. I packed up and after a quick meal of a protein bar (skipped the coffee) I went for the big strenuous climb up the rocky north side of Bear mtn. While I was quite cold at camp, by the time I reached the summit a mile later I was sweating and removing layers. I met several hikers at the top and took in the view from the summit tower.

The always exciting climb up Bear

The always exciting climb up Bear

I was above the clouds at this time, so the summits of Mts Race, Everett and Greylock in Massachusetts to the north, as well as Mts Prospect and Canaan Mt to the southeast in Connecticut, were all peaking above the clouds. It was magical. As I headed south, the peak of Lion’s head was doing the same. I ran into the section hikers from yesterday and said a quick hello. I pointed out to them where we met the day before on Lion’s Head and then made a dash for Riga, hoping to recover my notebook. As I passed Brassie Brook shelter, I stopped into sign the register and packed out some trash left behind by hikers. As I approached Riga I passed a group of 2 kids and 2 moms who mentioned they had stayed there when we stopped to chat.

Above the clouds on Bear summit

Above the clouds on Bear summit

I asked them about the notebook and they had found it and left it in the shelter for me! They thanked me for my work and I headed back to Riga to pick it up. They also reported that the shelter and campsite were clean and campfire-free which I appreciated and confirmed. I had one more snack with the famous view and headed back south towards Salisbury. I met a few more hikers along the way, both section and day hikers, enjoying another gorgeous day on the first weekend of fall. The leaves weren’t really changing yet but will be any day.

Looking south, Lion's Head summit above the clouds

Looking south, Lion’s Head summit above the clouds

The last few miles down to Rt 41 via the A.T. pass through some beautiful forest areas, with as many ups as downs. This bit I’ve decided is as much effort in either direction! I passed a few more backpackers struggling up the long climb from the road to Lion’s Head, and when I arrived at the parking lot I ran into one of the groups that were at Sages Ravine with me the night previous. We had a nice conversation and then I headed home, stopping at the hot dog stand in Kent for some nourishment!  It’s always a pleasure to hike the wild corner of Connecticut.

Miles day 1: 8.2

Miles day 2: 7

– Linus

 

 

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 5

Back to Jer-zThis past weekend we did another section in New Jersey.  We had skipped this section earlier this year because we were planning another hike with our friends and wanted to do one with more amenities and a shelter where there were guaranteed to be some thru hikers to interact with. Also the section we ultimately chose had the High Point monument and observation deck, so a lot of wow factor to impress them as well.

Above-trail pond

Above-trail pond

While this section we postponed does have a shelter, its about 3/4 of the way to one end, and would make for quite long and quite short mileage days instead of two balanced ones.  So the only other option was a primitive campsite halfway along.  So we opted to save this one for later.

That said, the primitive campsite was quite nice, and we are used to bare bones sites more than our friends.  Catholes, bear-bag hangs, and no water sources nearby are conditions we are accustomed to, but felt was not something that would be appealing to our friends who only go out on the trail with us once a year.

Fielden Stream at a rock cairn

Fielden Stream at a rock cairn

From regular weather checks, things were looking good for the weekend. The heatwave broke 2 days before we were to hit the trail. And despite a slight chance of rain Sunday afternoon, the highs would be in the low 70’s and the lows around 60. PERFECT backpacking conditions for late summer.  That would change. I must remember mother nature makes those rules, and not the internet.

We got to our end point at Culver’s Gap to meet our shuttle at noon. Our shuttle driver in New Jersey is awesome, and always has some murray beads for us when he picks us up. At this point, I noticed already that the temperature was a good 15 degrees cooler than forecast. I chalked it up to being in the mountains, and forgot about it for the moment. If it meant we wouldn’t be as sweaty and sticky, no problem there.

Fork Tree near Crater Lake

Fork Tree near Crater Lake

We arrived at the road crossing we left off at with our friends last year and began our 7 mile hike north to Buttermilk Falls campsite. Armed with lots of information on water sources on a mostly dry day’s stretch, we had loaded up on water.  Our shuttle driver confirmed there wouldn’t be much today in that regard. Though now the light precipitation had started and so he mentioned the spring that fed the falls might be running. Either way, we were well prepared.

After passing an entrance sign reminding us of the rules for the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (and the Appalachian Trail), the route followed a pond for a short while. What was interesting about the pond is the trail was actually about a foot below the level of the pond, and the grass and soil at the edge of the pond acted as a levy or dam and kept it above the trail level (except for one area where it flooded over a bit). It did drain off the side of the mountain via a small pipe which was under the trail a bit farther along. I thought this was really neat.

Flooded ground, not a pond

Flooded ground, not a pond

The path then climbed quickly up the ridge and through a powerline clearing with great views west to Pennsylvania – though quite a bit overgrown in areas.  From there we bounced up and down the ridge line, enjoying occasional views to the east. I did want to catch a glimpse of Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco and its’ Sand Pond, which is the location of Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th movie series. I did manage one from a short path to the ridge, but the ‘official’ view was down a side trail down the side of the ridge, and it was lined with grass which was now very wet. I didn’t want to slide off a mountain into a lake, especially THAT lake! Jason is in that lake…

Slippery scramble

Slippery scramble

Speaking of lakes, as we approached Crater lake there was a creek where there were water signs and that’s good to know should we have needed it. There were many cars parked at that trailhead lot. An old pump there is no longer in operation and I assume it’s because visitors using it didn’t realize you had to filter.  As the rain was picking up and the temperatures continued to drop, I joked that we should hitch a ride from one of them to Mohican Outdoor Center for the night, just a few miles away. We had a nice stay there with our friends on the hike here last year. At this point the rain showed on the forecast but was supposed to stop by the evening. We don’t mind rain. In fact, every backpacking trip we’ve done this year has had rain, two of them torrential all night and day affairs.

Fielden doing the scramble

Fielden doing the scramble

But on those hikes we were more prepared for it and knew about it ahead of time. The weather predicted was the weather that happened. And the temperatures were much warmer. Once the temperatures drop to a certain point, hypothermia becomes a real risk, and one that nearly happened to me a year ago. So I don’t mess around with cold and wet weather for fun. Nor bring my loved ones out in it for fun. Things were definitely starting to deteriorate enough for me to consider the lodge. But we didn’t have far to go and with the rain supposed to stop in a few hours we continued on. A unique fork-like tree held the white blazes that pointed us in the right direction.

The wet rocks went on for miles

The wet rocks went on for miles

We had the good fortune of about a 1.5 mile walk along an old road before this, so now it was back on to ‘real’ trail. After a short steep rocky descent we passed what we thought was Crater Lake but was just in fact a flooded meadow. A bit farther on we of course came to the part where we had to go back up, and it was a rocky ledge scramble that allowed us to test our limits of how far our legs could stretch to push up the edge of it safely.  A father and son were doing an out and back day hike in the area and when we made friendly somewhat complaining-about-the-weather comments, he felt it necessary to remind us it was “better than the couch.” Duh. We’re the ones out here backpacking that would not be sitting on the couch tonight when he was!  It was a bit rude.

Wet scramble up Rattlesnake Mtn

Wet scramble up Rattlesnake Mtn

Once on top of the scramble the trail followed some wet ledges around the real Crater lake and then made the final climb up to Buttermilk Falls campsite. The last mile of our hike to the campsite was again a mostly flat old road and we were grateful for it. I would find out later that this peak that the campsite and the top of the falls trail met at was called Mount Paradise. It would also be the highest elevation on this hike – around 1,600ft – and one of the highest spots on the trail in New Jersey. On this day I’d say that “Paradise” was pushing its description a little, but it was a nice campsite. The falls are the highest in New Jersey, and I would like to visit one day but its a steep 2-mile descent to the falls and the road below. So we will drive there to visit in the future. Despite doing a much tougher hike a few weeks earlier, for some reason our bodies were not feeling as strong on this day.

A brief respite through a young forest

A brief respite through a young forest

In a brief respite of rain we got the tent set up and all of our things in it that needed to stay dry. After a few bad throws and a stubborn branch I got the bear bag rope set up, and just as we sat to make dinner it started to rain again. A family of 6 was now entering the campsite but they were just looking for the Buttermilk Falls trail, their route back to their car.  We helped point them to the blue blazes and they were on their way. Hopefully they were able to get down before dark.

We ate quickly and hoisted the bear bag up the tree. This section is known for heavy bear activity and in fact the shelter 4 miles north has a bear trap! If anything I’m thinking the bears don’t like being out in the all day rain either so there was a positive. I was in a bit of a funk at this point because now the forecast had changed that it wouldn’t stop until almost 10. But I tried to keep it positive, made myself laugh and was thankful that it also said it wouldn’t start again until 1pm the next day and we’d possibly be done by then.

Cairn and rock monument on Blue Mtn

Cairn and rock monument on Blue Mtn

We got to bed around 8 and about 2 hours later I was woken by howling winds and heavy downpours. Now I was really confused. I looked at my app and now rain was predicted 100% from this point until about 4 days later! I looked at the satellite and sure enough, the hurricane had created a large disturbance overhead about 100 miles wide and about 50 miles from top to bottom. What was worse, we were only about 20 miles into it.

Florence causing trouble (we're the blue dot)

Florence causing trouble (we’re the blue dot)

Had we chosen a section north, we’d be dry as a bone at least until tomorrow. This really set me off. Lows would now hit about 45 tonight and a high of 55 tomorrow. With an even longer day tomorrow and much more difficult terrain, I was miffed to say the least. These were dangerous and at the very least quite uncomfortable temperatures in the rain. Grumpy again, at this point I had trouble sleeping, drifting in and out of sleep for the next few hours until daylight.

Forecast changed overnight, thanks Florence!

Forecast changed overnight, thanks Florence!

When we were both up we made the decision to skip breakfast and take advantage of the first break in heavy rain to pack up the wet tent and get moving to stay warm. I will reiterate that we have lots of experience and lots of fun hiking in the rain, but I think it was a combination of disappointment in the changing conditions, and the worry of hypothermia that had me in this bad place. I was also worried we’d have none of the great vies. I decided to hike in my long john bottoms and both shirts, with my raincoat. I felt warm and dry for the time being. Today we had 3 summits and a big descent to tackle. It took much longer than usual.

High Point in the distance

High Point in the distance

The trail became one rock garden after another, split up by long walks on wet angled rocky ledges on the mountaintops. The ascents up several peaks were boulder scrambles, and many of the descents were roots and twisted iceberg rocks. It was tough going. However, there were still some fantastic views on both sides of the ridge. Despite the constant rain, it wasn’t so socked in that we didn’t get those. We had views to the west from Rattlesnake Mountain and Blue Mountain that stretched for 50 miles and reminded us of the Shenandoahs. I even got a view of High Point monument 20 miles in the distance. I had at this point shed my raincoat. As long as I kept moving, my body heat kept me warm enough.

Lichen these

Lichen these

We saw a few backpackers and a couple with their baby out for a short hike. All the extra work negotiating rocks and roots did have us pretty tuckered out however. Only once or twice were we met with a flat walk like the previous day. Though the ones we did go through seemed to be very young forests, perhaps the result of a fire in the past. We saw a family of turkeys as well. Not many humans were out in this on purpose.

We made the most of it and made sure to stop for water, snacks, and rest as much as needed, and talked about which restaurant we would reward ourselves at. The last few miles were view after view of Lake Owassa, Culver Lake, and the gap below. The walk off the ridgeline and descent to the gap was much quicker than expected and soon we were at the most risky part of the hike – crossing route 206. Boy do people drive fast here. Once we cleared the road it was a short .3 to the parking lot. Just as we arrived at the car mother nature decided to throw one more heavy downpour at us. This time we were armed with a car to protect us and we were off to stuff our faces on mexican food and visit the farmer’s market on the way home.

Lonely orange mushroom

Lonely orange mushroom

This section reminded me a lot of New York. Doesn’t look like much on the map profile but it was challenging. It also rewarded us with views and self-confidence that we can get through almost anything together. Let’s hope we get one dry hike before the season is over. Unless the hurricane comes at us full force in the coming days, I will be out ridgerunning again next weekend. At the moment it looks clear but if I learned one lesson this weekend it was that that can change and change again very quickly. And the ATC is already putting out weather advisories all along the trail as the storm has now began to affect the entire east coast with heavy weather. Stay tuned.

Miles day 1: 7.1

Miles day 2: 7.9

– Linus