Pyramid Mountain, New Jersey

Last weekend we finally made good on a promise to our Jersey City friends to take them on a hike and see their new place. What can I say, we’ve been super busy as have they but I’m glad we finally made it happen.

I was tasked the job of finding a suitable hike within 45 minutes of Jersey City. By suitable, I mean that we didn’t know what kinda shape they were in so they requested something not too strenuous.  I found the Pyramid mountain natural area, which many great trails and views, as well as a visitor center and nature museum. The ranger there was able to walk us through the different hike options before our friends met us, so we had a hike ready based on the criteria I gave.

While it wasn’t strenuous, our route had a steady rocky ascent at the beginning as well as at the end. They handled the rocks and trail like champs. We were treated to a great view of the New York City skyline from the trail, and would be treated to a much closer view of it from their apartment in Jersey City that evening.

There was another view at “Lucy’s overlook” but it wasn’t as nice as the first. We completely forgot to go a bit farther to the glacial erratic known as Tripod Rock! We got distracted, but we will be back to do more hiking with them and will see it next time. It was a beautiful fall day with friends on the trail. Photos below

Miles: 2.5

— Linus

Some good rock scrambles

Some good rock scrambles

Linus and Patrick on Pyramid Mountain

Linus and Patrick on Pyramid Mountain

Linus and Fielden Stream

Linus and Fielden Stream

Patrick in the ravine

Patrick in the ravine

Fielden Stream and Jenny

Fielden Stream and Jenny

The NYC skyline from Jersey City

The NYC skyline from Jersey City

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 1

I am going to be shortening the format on the blog entries for a while as my season is picking up and i won’t have as much time to blog every outing. Plus, for the section hikes I do with Fielden Stream, I’ve been making videos, which capture the experience easily as well if not better than words. So head on over to our youtube channel (under links) to see the latest installments. This hike should be up there by the weekend. I’ve also just spent the last two days out training and meeting with the new seasonal ridgerunner team, so that will be a coming blog entry too.

In short, last weekend we finally finished New Jersey! It was a fantastic section including the famous “Stairway to Heaven” in Vernon, and the Bearfort Ridge along Greenwood Lake as we came to the state line finale. We met some great section and thru hikers, and hiking dogs. We witnessed two marriage proposals (they both said yes!) and were treated to beautiful weather for a change. We wrapped it up with a shuttle ride from our favorite shuttle driver in the area (and former trail builder and maintainer) who as always recommended the best spot in the area for a post-hike meal.

We were so pleasantly surprised by our experience on the New Jersey section, I highly recommend it. Despite all the bears known for the area, we didn’t see one in all of our hikes through the 72 miles of New Jersey over the last few seasons.

The question remaining is where to next? We are thinking of starting Vermont, or trying to get out for a week to do all of Maryland sometime this summer.

I will have my hands full as always with at least 6 more weekends of ridge runner weekends, but we will definitely try and get in one or two sections elsewhere this season, and maybe a third in Pennsylvania with friends. Stay tuned. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 5.2

Miles day 2: 5.4

— Linus

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Beginning the stairway

Beginning the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Linus at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus at Pinwheel’s Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel’s Vista

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

New footbridge

New footbridge

Tree bench magic

Tree bench magic

Rita the backpacking dog

Rita the backpacking dog

Home for the night

Home for the night

A nice pond

A nice pond

Name that flower

Name that flower

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Linus at the state line - NJ is done!

Linus at the state line – NJ is done!

 

Great Garlic Mustard Pull at Bull’s Bridge, Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

On Saturday our AMC Connecticut Chapter held one of our big annual volunteer work days, “Give a Day to the Appalachian Trail.”  Like the volunteer round-up, we start with recognitions of any volunteers who were not at that event. We then went through the different work parties going on that day. One was a shelter roof replacement, one was doing waterbar clearing. There was also a boundary maintenance group and a trail relocation/switchback that was being started.  Our overseer of trails did a demo on how to use and carry the large tools required for some of the jobs, as there were a lot of new volunteers this day.

Last but not least of the work party options was the garlic mustard pull down by Bull’s Bridge. This is an invasive that really can take over fast, and alters the soil composition enough that native species can’t grow well.  This is the group I went with as I had pulled something else – in my back –  the previous week, and heavy labor would not have helped it heal. I need to be uninjured as I have lots of ridgerunning to do as the season is upon us.

We’ve been doing this work party for a few years now, so we had far less to pull this time around because we’ve been steadily warding off lots of new growth. You can cook with garlic mustard apparently, but I haven’t tried it.

We split up to cover different sections of the woods, and I went off with my friend Ray from the Bull’s Bridge task force. We spotted a lot of new Columbines and Jack in the Pulpits along the river and the trail. Also on our loop we met a hiker who Ray met at Trail Days in Damascus last year. He had to get off farther north in Virginia last year so he was out again finishing the trail from Bear’s Den hostel in northern Virginia this year and had already made it to Connecticut after 47 days.  We all chatted for a while. What a small world it is on this very long trail!  I see that phenomenon almost every time I’m out…

We also saw our local blue heron “Jim” flying above the river. I see him often down at the campsite at Ten Mile when camping there.

Tomorrow Fielden Stream and I are completing the New Jersey section including an initial steep climb up the “Stairway to Heaven”. After we’re done with this state (#5) we are thinking we will start southern Vermont. Or if we can somehow find a whole week to take off, we might do all 44 miles of Maryland.

But next week I also start my ridgerunner duties in full, and have a multi-day hike and work party to repair a privy with the new ridgerunner team. And the first weekend in June will be my first official solo ridgerunner weekend of the season. I will be doing that at least once a month through October. So we will see how many other weekends Fielden and I can manage. We do have a tentative plan to hike with our friends from Pennsylvania again, in their home state. Though not one of the really rocky bits! Not when I have a choice anyway!

More to come… photos below.

Miles: 1

– Linus

Housatonic rapids below Bull's Bridge

Housatonic rapids below Bull’s Bridge

Jim our local blue heron

Jim our local blue heron

Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit

Columbine

Columbine

Our hiker kiosk at Bull's Bridge

Our hiker kiosk at Bull’s Bridge

My favorite carvings

My favorite carvings

Housatonic rapids below Bull's Bridge

Housatonic rapids below Bull’s Bridge

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 4, Part 2

View of the Pennsylvania Poconos from Culver Ridge

View of the Pennsylvania Poconos from Culver Ridge

Last weekend we finally made it back to the trail in New Jersey to knock out the rest of one of our last two sections in the state. We planned it as a backpacking trip, and did all the prep, including shopping for a few missing items, getting out our tent and anticipating the bad weather, with our new gaiters and my rain kilt added to the supply list.

The plan was an overnight at Gren Anderson shelter, and an evening start. I got out of work early so we could make the trail head by 5:45.

View of Culver Gap from Culver Ridge

View of Culver Gap from Culver Ridge

That part of the plan at least was successful. But when we got in the car and the weather began to destabilize, the new plan was to make the call at the trail head. If it was going to be worse, we stay at a hotel and day hike all 9 miles when the weather cleared in the morning. If we thought it was manageable, we stick to the original plan of the overnight at the shelter. It was only 2.8 miles in, and the initial climb out of Culver Gap wasn’t too bad.

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

The further south we drove, the worse the weather and the forecast became. Lighting was visible, and tornado watches were added. We made the call to stay in town for the night and hit the trail in the morning. As we drove away from the trail head to the hotel, the heavy weather hit, and we were relieved to not be out in it. While we have had many a very wet weekend, lightning and tornado watches are a different ball game, especially when hiking with metal poles and setting up a tent that has metal poles.

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

Sunrise Mountain Pavillion

We found a lovely old historic inn in nearby Milford, Pennsylvania. It was built in 1852, and has a fancy restaurant and slightly less fancy French Bistro in the basement. We ate there and enjoyed all the photos of the many very famous people who have stayed there over time, from Diplomats, US Presidents, poets, authors, foreign dignitaries, actors and actresses and more.  We celebrated a belated anniversary dinner in the bistro and enjoyed talking about and trying new wines with the somm. This area used to be the recreation capital of the northeast, hence all the famous visitors. It was a nice quaint little town, matching the ambiance of the old inn.

Culver Lake from Culver Ridge

Culver Lake from Culver Ridge

The bad weather stuck around until almost 11pm, and we were again relieved to have made this choice. We chose to do the hike southbound so we could maximize miles over the time allotted. We stayed very much on schedule, and the almost 9 miles was still quite a workout for us for our first section hike of the season – even with day packs. In the morning we were up and out early, skipping breakfast in favor of an on-time trail start. Just .2 in from the road is Mashipacong shelter.

Culver Fire Tower

Culver Fire Tower

This is probably why there’s no overnight parking allowed here. Too easy to get party groups in. Its a nice shelter with a bear box that the rangers apparently fill with water for hikers. Though I did not check. There was a ‘no fires’ sign in the shelter, and a big fire ring right in front of it. Always…

There was also a painting of the shelter hung in the shelter, done by an artist who has been doing these of New Jersey and Connecticut shelters recently. This one was new, according to my maintainer friend. We signed the register and then carried on along the spine of Kittattiny Mountain. It was a chilly 48 degrees and the winds were strong and shaking the trees above.

Linus on Sunrise Mountain

Linus on Sunrise Mountain

But it was not raining and the views were glorious. We stopped and talked to a maintainer and his friend for a while, and passed a few boy scouts and leaders as well as a few section hikers on our way up to the old CCC pavillion on Sunrise Mountain.

There we encountered several locals who drove up for the view, and took some pictures. This is the second highest point in New Jersey on the trail, and a very popular tourist destination because of the stone pavilion and road to the top.

Linus and Fielden Stream on Culver Ridge

Linus and Fielden Stream on Culver Ridge

People get married here as well. You have long views of the Poconos and Pennsylvania on one side, and New Jersey on the other. We could see all the way to the end of Culver Ridge, where the fire tower is, and where we were headed. After a snack we headed on our way down, passing at least 20 more hikers making their way up.  We were grateful to have the place mostly to ourselves for our break. We encountered a few swampy areas with boardwalks, and some swampy areas that were much larger because of the heavy rain the night before.

Linus at Mashipacong Shelter

Linus at Mashipacong Shelter

This would not have been easy crossing in the previous night’s weather. And all the brooks were high too and took a little extra negotiating to cross. But there wasn’t much challenge in the terrain otherwise, and we soon passed the side trail to our original planned home for the night, Gren Anderson shelter.  As it’s .3 down a side trail or so, we continued on. Turns out we got a great view of it from Sunrise Mountain road on our drive back to our car. Its not far from the road.

We had a small but very gradual climb back up to the Culver ridge, and arrived at the fire tower and radio tower. We had another snack and took some photos of a group of boys and leaders hiking, and they took some of us. From there, the trail followed the southern side of the ridge looking over Culver Lake. There was a lot of new green coming in, and the trail was quite scenic. We reached the crest of the ridge, which had its own lovely views of Culver Gap, and north to the Poconos of Pennsylvania.

Fielden Stream descending Culver Ridge

Fielden Stream descending Culver Ridge

The descent was not steep or long, but it was rocky, and I’m sure we wouldn’t have enjoyed scrambling over those in a heavy downpour. Those are slippery little ankle twisters. We reached the lot at Culver Gap at the same time as our shuttle driver, about 30 minutes early, though I had also given him a heads up from the fire tower that we would be early.

We have already planned our next section overnight to complete New Jersey in 3 weeks, and arranged for him to pick us up, so that’s settled. Hopefully we will get nice (or nicer at least) weather, as some of the best views on the New Jersey part of the trail are on this section.

I did not get to try my rain kilt, so stay tuned for my Highlander moment in the rainy future. I also didn’t use the gaiters as there’s some sort of velcro attachment system you need to put on your shoes and let cure for 24 hours before use. So for the next one…

You can watch the video here.

We’re looking forward to finishing New Jersey, and have loved how beautiful it’s been. It’s certainly changed our ideas of New Jersey. Also I will be out many times this month with our Connecticut AMC chapter doing more trail jobs, and meeting the new seasonal ridge runner staff for some of their training events at the end of the month. Then my weekend ridge runner season kicks off in earnest at the beginning of June.  Fielden Stream and I will still get some sections of trail in, though perhaps less than usual. We will be doing a section of Pennsylvania with our friends from there again this June, and may start either Vermont, or take a 4-5 day trip to do all of Maryland. We will play it by ear as there’s a lot of things going on for us this summer.

Miles: 8.7

  • Linus

Appalachian and Mt. Tammany Trails, Delaware Water Gap

Last weekend we hiked in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area again, completing a 1.5 mile section of the New Jersey A.T to just beyond the Pennsylvania border, and throwing in a climb up Mt. Tammany for some views. Mt Tammany is one of the two main peaks at the Gap, but is not on the Appalachian Trail like its neighbor across the river in Pennsylvania, Mt. Minsi. I did wonder many times during the hike if it used to be, as the views are remarkable. To summit Mt. Tammany its a 3.4 mile loop off the A.T. in the Dunnfield Creek area of DWG.

Because Saturday was a lot of heavy rain and wind, we did just a day hike on Sunday and dropped into Mohican Outdoor Center on Saturday to revisit some fond memories of our section hike through there last fall with our friends.  But also because of the bad weather Saturday, and peak fall foliage in the area, the trail, and especially the parking lots, were overcrowded beyond belief on this gorgeous fall Sunday. It seemed everyone in the state came to hike there that day, and it is one of the most popular hikes in the state because of the views.

There are a LOT of rocks on the loop but nothing too difficult, and despite the crowds, we really enjoyed the scenery. We started the hike on the Pennsylvania side at the Mt. Minsi Appalachian Trail parking lot, doing a lollipop hike over to the Tammany Loop and back. So half the walk was on roads, and a noisy bridge. But even that section had its own nice scenery, and the N.J./PA official crossing.

We now have two 9-mile sections to finish in New Jersey and then we can call that state complete. We plan to finish these in the spring as season warm-up overnights, and then move on to either Maryland, Pennsylvania, or Vermont next. Photos below.

Miles: 7.4

– Linus

Crossing the Delaware on Rt 80

Crossing the Delaware on Rt 80

A waterfall on Mt Minsi

A waterfall on Mt Minsi

 

Mt. Tammany in the distance

Mt. Tammany in the distance

Up the Tammany Trail

Up the Tammany Trail

First amazing view from Mt. Tammany

First amazing view from Mt. Tammany

Mt Minsi beyond from Mt Tammany

Mt Minsi beyond from Mt Tammany

Fielden Stream on Mt Tammany

Fielden Stream on Mt Tammany

Goofy Linus

Goofy Linus

Fielden Stream at the NJ/PA A.T. border

Fielden Stream at the NJ/PA A.T. border

Dunnfield Creek

Dunnfield Creek

Re-Visiting Mohican Outdoor Center

Re-Visiting Mohican Outdoor Center

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

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 2

Hitting the hayfields near Unionville

Hitting the hayfields near Unionville

This past weekend we returned to the trail in New Jersey for our march north! We still have about 24 miles to complete that we skipped, and we will be back to do that either this fall or next spring. Besides that all we have left is the 9 miles to the NY border from Vernon. On this trek we continued where we left off with our friends in Unionville, and did all of section 2, finishing in Vernon NJ. We got shuttled by a great guy from the area, formerly involved with the trail conference. He helped build Pochuck (where we spent the night) and Wawayanda shelter.

Pochuck Mountain in the distance

Pochuck Mountain in the distance

He was also part of the crew who blazed the trail through here, got it off the roads, and helped with the boardwalk projects in the area. We have a good mutual friend in the trail community who recommended him to me. He’s a gem!  He gave us some nice bead necklaces he made when he picked us up and told us he heard the water source at the bottom of Pochuck mountain was reported to be off as we drove by it on the way to our starting point. Since that was expected to be the case, we stopped by a shop in Unionville and got our water topped off. I also  bought an extra bottle as I planned to fill up there and only had brought enough for the first few miles so I didn’t have to carry 6 extra pounds of water.

At the nature preserve

At the nature preserve

We hit the trail around 1230, planning and expecting to be at the shelter early so we could have our pick of the few tenting areas, and set up our tarp, which we only bring along when we know we have lots of rain on the way. What an understatement! We had a small hill or two before a short roadwalk that would take us to the Wallkill wildlife refuge, the only one of its kind along the whole A.T. Here you do about a 2 mile loop around a giant rectangle that had elements of the everglades to it, for obvious reasons. There’s even a birding platform at the north end. But that was not required.

Baby turtle

Baby turtle

We saw heron, egrets, tanagers, and buzzards. We saw lots and lots of thistle with monarch butterflies and bumblebees practically glued to their blossoms. We saw a small turtle, and many types of other wildflowers. It was a lovely walk and there was what we call ‘breeze magic’ to keep us cool, as a large storm was moving in in the next few hours.  In full sun and the temps we had last week, that might not have been as enjoyable. We took our time as we had lots of it, and stopped at a few benches along the way to enjoy it before heading up into the woods. At the last bench we met a thru hiker with her dog toby and mentioned the water source and she said she saw it was just updated in the gut hook app that it was back on. At around the same time George asked us if we could check it on the way up the mountain so he had the most current information.

Bead magic from George

Bead magic from George

At the next road crossing was the bottom of the climb. And a property down the road with a barn that had a water machine and was selling water for 50 cents a gallon. They have a change machine and a fancy water dispenser and all that. They also have a ton of signs saying they have video surveillance cameras everywhere. While I think this is a really nice service they’re providing given how low water is in the area in the heat of summer, the idea that they would prosecute you if you filled up some water and didn’t have 50 cents is a little over the top and besides there IS a free water source .1 mile up the trail, actually closer in distance to the trail crossing than the barn.

Got nice and close, one of my best photos yet!

Got nice and close, one of my best photos yet!

I walked to the barn thinking that was the source but then as we went up the trail the vacant house with the spigot in back was very close and indeed the water was back on. So I question why they have that setup at the barn – is it for when the spigot is off? Or is it for hikers like me who thought that was the water source in the guide? Who knows. Either way its not expensive IF you have some money on you.  Also, many trail angels leave jugs of water at trail crossings.

Egrets

Egrets

Anyway after checking the spigot we did the rest of the quick intense climb up to the shelter.  It was another .4 miles of steep to the shelter side trail. But we got there with plenty of time, around 320pm. Hiker midnight, even with a storm rolling in, was at least 8pm. We got our tent and tarp setup and greeted the thru hikers as they came in, including the woman with the dog we met at the edge of the preserve.  A few other thrus came in to use the privy and then they continued on to Vernon to stay in town and wait out the rains there. A ridgerunner also came in, and my wife recognized him as the one we met last September at backpackers campsite in DWG. We had a nice time catching up with him after our dinner and a few games of blackjack.

Our camp setup for rain

Our camp setup for rain

Around 8 the storm rolled in as predicted. The winds were high, and the rain came down in flash flood proportions.  We had setup on a bit of an uphill so water wouldn’t pool under our tent. But because the wind was so intense, it did manage to blow some water under our tent footprint. But we stayed completely dry through it all, not a drop made it into the tent from above and the footprint helped minimize the water beneath.  It stopped around 7 am and the stream of thru hikers at the shelter were on their way. When we mosied out of our tent at 730 to start packing up they were long gone. We had some breakfast, packed up, signed the shelter register and said goodbye to the ridgerunner.

Rock wall up Pochuck

Rock wall up Pochuck

Then we continued the climb up and over Pochuck Mountain’s many ridges and shoulders. We went over the main peak and met some guys there who knew our shuttle driver. One said he’s the reason they love hiking. We know he took a lot of kids from the area out on the trail when he was a high school teacher in town.  Clearly he inspired many youth. We continued through rocky climbs, boulder fields, forests and along ridges – one with a nice view west to Kittatinny mountain and the preserve and farms below. We crossed a few roads, including one to a girl scout camp that was buzzing with activity. As we came down the steep eastern side of the mountain into Vernon valley, the trail was lined with endless raspberries, which was just the pickup we needed. Many of the houses along here had their own trails here to the A.T. and beyond, clearly to harvest all the berries. We did our best bear impression and indulged in a feast of berries.

The view west from Pochuck Mountain

The view west from Pochuck Mountain

The trail then reached the beginning of the famous boardwalks. The first was the Pochuck Boardwalk, completed in the 90s I believe. Its almost a full mile of wooden boardwalks over the marshes, with many spots for benches. However there were no benches on this stretch. They’ve had a lot of trouble with parking on the road here and the neighbors association has done much to discourage people parking and starting the walk here vs the other end in Vernon 2 miles east. So we guessed they took the benches off this side to discourage lingering for long periods of time and I assume easing congestion at the parking area near their homes.

Fielden Stream on the boardwalk

Fielden Stream on the boardwalk

I have mixed feelings about this. While I understand things were getting out of control at times, this is not only a large tourist attraction built by the town for enjoyment by ALL residents, but also part of a national scenic trail that’s been there for almost 100 years. Perhaps they should have taken that into consideration before moving there. Most people who live by the trail embrace it and provide trail magic and move there on purpose…  But I digress… not my battle. There were nice views of Wawayanda Mountain where the trail continues up to Pinwheel vista and the Stairway to heaven, as well as Mountain Creek ski area further down the ridge.

Snakes on the boardwalk

Snakes on the boardwalk

We saw some garter snakes enjoying sunning themselves on the edge of the boardwalk, and found our first bench just before the big footbridge. We sat for a few to talk to someone we met at the trail head the day before but were baking in the sun so continued on. The footbridge sways a bit because its on floating foundations and is a wonder of design. From here the trail wound through woodlands again for a mile which was nice because we got to cool off a bit from the sun. If there’s one place we didn’t want the sun to come back was right when we got to the boardwalk with no shade! This area too reminded us of the everglades, with its boardwalks and wildlife everywhere.

Berry heaven

Berry heaven

We got some food recommendations from the locals we met on the trail and thinking of that powered us forward to the home plate, though the boardwalks on the other side were really just planks and need their own upgrade. We got to the car and as much as we wanted to have ice cream at Heaven Hill farm, we wanted real food first, and not from a hot dog stand. The places recommended to us were 10 miles in the wrong direction. So we headed north and found a place along Greenwood lake, and boy was I temped to rent a lake house for the night and swim off all the stink and dirt till the sun went down! But alas it was home we were headed till next time. You can watch the video of the hike here

The Pochuck footbridge

The Pochuck footbridge

It was a great hike and the only regret I have is that one of our favorite thru hikers we’ve been following online was literally only half a day in front of us, and we would have loved to have met him and bought him his favorite – ice cream! We seem to be missing all the thrus on the trail that we’ve been following, by just hours. Such was the case as well with Scoutmaster in May, but we got a nice thank you card from him when he completed his thru this summer.

Up next, we’re finishing the last 14 miles of Massachusetts – next month if we can. And I have several ridgerunning weekends to do. See you out there!

Miles day 1: 4.3

Miles day 2: 6.5

– Linus