Easter Trail Work on the Appalachian Trail

Streams are flowing!

Streams are flowing!

On Easter I was very happy to have an opportunity to again be out on the trail doing my thing. Usually we’re celebrating the holiday in some capacity with family but it fell right during my kids’ spring break this year so we were in Florida and returned late the night before. Since my parents went out of town for the family visit and weren’t around Easter morning, Fielden Stream and I did a quick exchange of baskets with the kids and then I headed up north for the woods.

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

Looking Southeast from Schaghticoke Mtn

It was a very mild weekend and had I returned one night earlier I would have done an overnight. Quite a few hikers had, especially those who had Good Friday off as it made a great 3 day weekend. My friend on the trail crew let me know that there were already several camping at Ten Mile so I planned to visit the campground as part of my hike in case there was any cleanup to do. Just two weeks before when we were out on a volunteer work day, we had to clear two very large fire rings (and a few blowdowns) and I was glad to have the extra manpower. This is one of the most popular camping areas around so we visit and patrol it and have to clean it up very often.  I wanted to also visit the southern overlook on Schaghticoke Mountain, so the plan was to go up there and then back down to the campsite and in the meantime check out some of the side access trails along the route for any issues.

New water system

New water system

I parked and started the .4 mile road walk where the A.T follows Schaghticoke road north before cutting into the woods for the nearly 1,000ft ascent. While there are several switchbacks,  its still a tough climb, but worth the view at the top. I noticed the map box was empty so I made a note to myself to put any spares I had in the box on the way down if no hikers I met on the trail needed one.  As I started up the trail a young hiker in his late 20s passed me and we chatted for a bit about his hike and the work I do. He was doing a 3 day section of CT, having done another a few weeks ago with his brother in the northern end of the state.  He works the night shift and was up all night before starting his hike.

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

Cleaning fire rings on the mountaintop

The trail heals all though, and I admire his tenacity to hike 12 miles in the heat after working all night. Ah to be in my 20’s again… I’d probably have climbed a few 4000s had I the passion I have now for hiking and backpacking. At that age I was deeply entrenched in the NYC music scene trying to make a name for myself. It was fun but in vain.  I still play music with my friends but I find more relaxation and purpose hiking and preserving the trail.

Anyway just a bit farther on at the first stream crossing (which was raging by the way) , I met an older hiker who was doing a NOBO thru. He was hydrating and enjoying some shade. While it was raining that morning the sun came out and the temperature quickly approached the 70s. Without much leaf cover to shade, you could feel every bit of the heat that day. I wished him well and moved on.

Schaghticoke from the road below

Schaghticoke from the road below

I met the younger hiker again, enjoying a snack high on a glacial erratic – a great spot if I say so myself! We said hellos again and I carried on up and up and up. When I reached the south overlook I was immediately treated to a Bald Eagle AND a Red Tailed Hawk flying over the edge of the ridge. I had been trying for months to spot one of the eagles as many hikers had reported seeing them in the area. Finally one greeted me in its glorious flight.  I was so captivated by the view and the birds of prey that it took me a few minutes to notice the fire area on the rock face. There was no ring at that point, perhaps they scattered it with the ashes after. I checked that it was cool and went about cleaning it.  Much of the residue was tossed down into a depression in the hillside and as I headed down to clean that up the young hiker reached the viewpoint. He thanked me for my work and as we were chatting we spotted a large black racer snake about a foot from where I was working. He did not bother me and just watched, perhaps a good omen or spirit animal visiting me to thank me for taking care of what was once native land? I’m such a history nerd.

Forsythia gone wild!

Forsythia gone wild!

The hiker moved on after this break and I too headed off, back down the mountain towards Ten Mile. I passed the older Nobo thru hiker I had met at the stream below and gave him some advice on nearest water and campsites ahead as he was wanting more water and a break from the heat.

Speaking of water, I also made a short video on the mountaintop discussing my new water system. I am again revisiting because I still want an easier solution than filling up my reservoir in my pack and using that as the water for camp and sleeping as well. I tried the new Katadyn BeFree with .6L bag and a Smart Water bottle with an Aquaclip, one of many solutions I researched to hang the water bottle in front of me since my pack pouch doesn’t have stitched in side pockets.

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

With my aquaclip and SmartWater bottle

While my day pack does, it still requires practically dislocating your shoulder to reach back for access. With the BeFree I can just fill up at a source, camel up, then refill quick and easily to filter into my smart water bottle, and a Nalgene if I need extra. This thing filters super fast and doesn’t require backflushing as far as I can tell. I always bring emergency purifying tablets just in case, for myself or hikers I encounter who have no filter or water left.

I tend to carry too much water at any one time and this system and solution that was in the product reviews seemed a good one to try next. The water sources have all been great lately with all the epic rainfalls and snowmelt since winter died and so for the time being at least I wont carry more than the beFree and the 1L Smart Water bottle (with sports cap). Though I do still hate how those bottles crinkle. I may go the shock cord and Gatorade bottle next if the Smart Water bottles start to bother me that much. I will post the video on the blog  (Please note that I was rushing on the video and said I’d chug it right after filling it at the stream but I meant only AFTER the filter cap was back on.. very important!

Name that spider

Name that spider

I dropped off the maps in the map box on the way down, and some litter that I picked up on the trail when I passed my car and headed back into the woods towards Ten Mile Shelter and Campsites. There are some beautiful new signs in this area both for the side trails and the shelter – great work team! The Forsythia is also blooming like mad. When I reached the campsite no one was still camped there and luckily for me this time, no fires to clean up. Though there was a massive spider in the shelter that I noticed when I went to sign the register. I just saw his long legs peeking out behind a piece of the lumber frame, but could easily tell he was 1.5 inches or more around and brown and black. I’m not the hugest fan of spiders but all the time on the trail has helped that a bit. Many a day I found one of these in a privy or even on my pack in the morning. They’re pretty terrifying to look at but also fascinating and I’m quite sure not harmful. I believe this was either a wolf spider or a fisher spider. Anyone wanna have a go at identifying it from the photo?

An unspoiled view from the top

An unspoiled view from the top

I made my way back along the A.T. as it followed the Housatonic River, which was also at very high levels complete with raging rapids. I passed about 25 day hikers out here in the recreational area at Bulls Bridge which the A.T. passes by. I checked that side trail and left my friends on the Bull’s Bridge task force a message in their kiosk register, then headed back to my car.  As the season is starting up around here, and water is good, I should have a busy summer. On that note I am also very excited as I have some new roles in the AMC that allow me to further my love for the trail and protecting it and our natural resources. More to come on that but you will see me out there over the weekends this season often anywhere between the NY line and southern Massachusetts! Maybe I’ll even be on duty at your campsite for the night and you can share stories of your hike.

Miles: 6.3

Snakes: 1

Birds of Prey:2

— Linus

 

Appalachian Trail – NY Section 10 Finale

West Mountain's northern slope

West Mountain’s northern slope

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

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

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

Linus on West Mtn

Linus on West Mtn

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

Balancing rock, West Mtn

Balancing rock, West Mtn

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

Filtering water

Filtering water

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

Palisades Parkway

Palisades Parkway

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

Parkway median register

Parkway median register

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

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

Fielden Stream climbing Black Mtn

Fielden Stream climbing Black Mtn

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

NYNJTC volunteer work crew

NYNJTC volunteer work crew

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

Scrambling up to Black Mtn Summit

Scrambling up to Black Mtn Summit

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

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

Fielden Stream on Black Mtn

Fielden Stream on Black Mtn

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

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

Black Mountain Scramble #1,000

Black Mountain Scramble #1,000

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

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

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

Silver mine Lake from Black Mtn

Silver mine Lake from Black Mtn

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

Fielden Stream's bouldery descent

Fielden Stream’s bouldery descent

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

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

William Brien Shelter below

William Brien Shelter below

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

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

Rocky trail section behind the shelter

Rocky trail section behind the shelter

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

William Brien Shelter

William Brien Shelter

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

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

Rainy Fingerboard Mountain vista

Rainy Fingerboard Mountain vista

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

Stream going green

Stream going green

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

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

Day 1 miles: 5.2

Day 2 miles: 4.6

— Linus

More volunteering (and hiking!)

Trail Patrol register entry

Trail Patrol register entry

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take my trail patrol training with the AMC coordinator. We went back along the river walk section of the A.T. in Kent, CT and spoke about the many leave no trace practices and how to convey them in a friendly and inspirational manner to hikers. While we have no legal authority to write any sort of citations, that’s not the point. It’s the hope that in teaching other hikers about these concepts and educating them in a friendly way, they will adopt these practices on their own, and maybe even teach others.

Pruning back some briars

Pruning back some briars

I am currently reading a great article on the subject, about using the authority of the resource rather than the authority of the position to convey these ideas in a way that won’t upset those you are talking to about it. While it’s written more for actual park rangers who do have the authority to cite and prosecute offenders, its concepts are applicable here as well. Explaining how certain practices affect the vegetation, and the local fauna in a negative way is often more effective than telling someone they shouldn’t be doing something or they will get in trouble.

Lake Wintergreen

Lake Wintergreen

We also cleared stealth campsites and fire rings (some in very dangerous places) and picked up trash and cleared deadfall and bittersweet root that encroached on the trail. We spoke to a few day and overnight hikers as well. I had fun signing the register as a trail volunteer for the first time, and learning how to protect and educate others to protect our trail. The corridor is very narrow in many places in Connecticut, often just a sliver of land allowed by the local landowner, so it’s essential to stay on the trail and not build fires and campsites outside of designated areas because you could be on someone’s private property!

Regicides Trail on West Rock

Regicides Trail on West Rock

I will receiving my identification materials in the mail shortly but as it didn’t arrive by today I thought it better to wait to do my first solo patrol. Don’t want someone thinking ‘who’s this guy who thinks he owns the trail and is telling me how to take care of it!’ But I did want to hike and I did want to do some volunteer work. Luckily one of the club leaders was hosting a morning pruning work party followed by a hike on some local trails he himself cut and blazed and maintains in West Rock State Park in Hamden, CT. So I spent the morning with loppers and a saw cutting back lots of invasives, including some pretty nasty briars which did a number on many of our arms! We also cleared a large blowdown crossing the path.

A steep dropoff with a view

A steep dropoff with a view

Afterwards we met with a large group of hikers who were meeting for the hike segment up West Rock and along the ridge. The blue-blazed Regicides Trail traverses the entire ridge for 7 miles and crosses a highway tunnel below. It is part of the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Park Association)’s 800-mile network of trails in the state. It’s also the site of the “Judges Cave,” though we did not visit it on this hike as it was farther south. The cave and the trail are named after the Parliamentary judges who sentenced King Charles I to death in England in the 1600’s. When the monarchy was restored some years later King Charles II had many of those responsible hanged, drawn and quartered.

View to Konolds Pond

View to Konolds Pond

Three fled to the colonies and settlers there that were sympathetic to their cause and were still very anti-monarchy helped hide them in a cave on this ridge above New Haven. The local roadways in the area are named in their memory. I’m looking forward to seeing the cave on another hike.

The hike did provide some nice ridge walking along the trap rock ledges and some good drop offs which made me a little nervous with all the leaves on the trail that would be quite easy to slip on, and off, the edge.