Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 6: Delaware Water Gap

And we're off!

And we’re off!

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

A great idea

A great idea

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

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

Placing stones

Placing stones

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

Hawk posing at sunset

Hawk posing at sunset

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

Cairns at Sunfish pond

Cairns at Sunfish pond

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

The Delaware from above

The Delaware from above

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

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

Summit of Kittattiny

Summit of Kittattiny

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

AMC Mohican Center

AMC Mohican Center

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

Our cabin at MOC

Our cabin at MOC

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

Ready for day 3

Ready for day 3

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

Was probably a great view!

Was probably a great view!

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

Autumn Sassafras

Autumn Sassafras

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

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

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

Catfish fire tower

Catfish fire tower

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

Miles day 1: 3.5

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

Miles day 3: 3.7

– Linus

 

 

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

A.T./State Line junction

A.T./State Line junction

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

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

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

At the state line

At the state line

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

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

Fielden Stream at Prospect Rock

Fielden Stream at Prospect Rock

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

Fielden Stream scrambling

Fielden Stream scrambling

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

Mini Mahoosic Notch

Mini Mahoosuc Notch

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

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

Fielden Stream climbing the rebar ladder

Fielden Stream climbing the rebar ladder

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

Southeast view from summit of rock ledge

Southeast view from summit of rock ledge

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

View from Mt. Peter

View from Mt. Peter

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

Village Vista Trail to town

Village Vista Trail to town

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

Warwick hot dog stand on Mt. Peter

Warwick hot dog stand on Mt. Peter

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

CT AMC Appalachian Trail Day

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

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

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

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

Miles: 7.1

–  Linus