Sunday, September 4, 2016

2016-09-03 The Cliff at Middleburgh

Hi, it's me again, back from a long absence. It was just too much trouble to blog anything when my body was not up to much hiking. On Saturday, 3 September, though, I finally managed to get out for a decently challenging day trip, with few complaints from any of my aging parts.

I went to The Cliff, an unimaginatively named rock formation above the village of Middleburgh, New York that is traversed by the New York Long Path. (The route description is in the online guide book from the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.)

The trailhead is unprepossessing. It's a driveway going between two vacant lots in a newly-built (and still unfinished) residential neighbourhood.
Middleburgh trailhead

Almost immediately, the trail veers left up a very steep slope of loose shale. I missed the turn the first time, and didn't actually see this slope until the return trip. I climbed to the top of the cliff the long and easy way around on an ATV trail. The shale is very loose and slippery, and I was quite frightened on the return trip that it would all slide out from under me.

At the top of this slope stand two things of significance. The first is an enormous cedar tree. Dated at over five hundred years old, it is thought to be the oldest in the Northeast. The second is a vertical rock scramble and "lemon squeeze" that rivals anything that the Catskills have to offer. It's the Long Path's last thumbing of the nose: "so you thought you were done with scrambling? Have this!"
Rock Scramble on The Cliff at Middleburgh
A YouTube video from “Scree Hiker” gives a feel for how strenuous it is, and how tight it is in the crack. A big guy like me makes it through only with sound effects: scraping gear and muttered profanity.

One on the top of the cliff, the hiker is rewarded immediately with a view of Middleburgh village, with Vrooman's Nose behind it. (It's also spelt, 'Vroman', and pronounced as if it didn't have the double O.)
Middleburgh village and Vroman's Nose from The Cliff

The trail then follows the edge of the cliff, sometimes alarmingly closely, for about a mile. All along this section are spectacular views across the rich farmland of the Schoharie Valley.
Schoharie Valley from The Cliff at Middleburgh

I then followed the Long Path through to Durfee Road in Cole Hill State Forest. Most of it is fairly level, but there's a steep plunge into and climb out of the head of The Gorge, another feature that the good people of Middleburgh have blessed with a singularly unimaginative name. At Durfee Road, about 4.5 miles in, I turned back the way that I had come. On the way out, I varied the route a tiny bit by exploring up and down a couple of the snowmobile trails, allowing me to close some more gaps in OpenStreetMap.

While coming back along the cliffs, I was surprised by a sudden "whoosh" going past my ear. It was a red-tailed hawk, soaring along the clifftop, passing with his wingtip just inches from my head! He appeared to be as surprised as I was, and gave me a scream before heading back into the rising air. It isn't often that you see one that close. (Alas, I missed getting a close view of the peregrine falcons that are also sometimes found in the area.)

On the whole, about 10 miles, with some elevation gain (at least 1500 feet, I reckon) and one challenging rock scramble, without a peep from my foot. I think I may just be up to some hiking again. It's surely about time!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016-04-24 Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek Falls
On Sunday, April 24, I got the urge to get outside even more strongly than usual, and decided to go out for a stroll despite some warning twinges from the fasciitis in my foot. I headed over to the Wolf Creek Falls Preserve in the town of Knox, because it contains a short section of the New York Long Path, and its trails had not yet been placed on Open Street Map. (They're there now! Getting the little nature preserves in the Helderbergs mapped has been a pet project of mine, off and on.)

What with church choir and socializing afterwards, it was after three by the time I actually got out on the trails, and I spent about three hours walking around, making field notes, and taking careful compass sights down the many stone walls that crisscross the preserve. I was fairly pleased with the result on the map. As the data propagate, sites like CalTopo or Open Hiking Map will now show the preserve.

I managed to put in about five miles, getting GPS tracks for all of the trails at least once and most of them twice. Averaging these with the tracks on the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy's site gives me with a layout that I feel fairly comfortable with. I may head back at some point to walk everything again in the opposite direction and have further data for averaging.

The Wolf Creek itself runs through the north half of the preserve. It is, for the most part, in a pretty little glen with many riffles and a couple of fairly substantial waterfalls.
Wolf Creek Wolf Creek Wolf Creek Falls

Where the creek leaves the preserve, it's considerably uglier, as the water flows under a strange railroad culvert. The reason for the odd construction is that the upper pipe once carried runoff from a gravel sorting and washing operation that used water from the upper reaches of the creek and had a freight siding for loading gravel. Nearby on the trail, there is a ruined foundation of part of the workings, and various bits of wreckage on display.
Railroad culvert Wreckage Wreckage

While walking the trails, I saw a garter snake, the first I've seen this spring.
Garter snake

A blind that's just beyond the stone wall on the south side of the preserve shows that the neighbour must be a hunter.
Game hide

The property has an unusual number of stone walls crisscrossing it. The two long ones that run its entire width date back to the early 18th century, and mark the boundaries of great lots 791 and 792 of the huge feudal Rensselaerswijck estate. The Van Rensselaer family owned what today is the better part of four counties, and ruled it as lords of the manor right up to the Helderberg War (or Anti-Rent War) of 1866, which was fought on this very ground in the Town of Knox.

The remaining division into rectangular sections was made in the middle of the 19th century by a sheep farmer named Van Auken. He built the walls both to clear the fields and to divide up the pasturage into manageable chunks. The wool that he harvested went to the Huyck felting mill in Rensselaerville, whose ruins I visited on an earlier mapping trip.
Ruined mill

All in all, rather a frustrating day, although at least I got out. Five miles on easy trails, and at the end of it my foot was killing me! I'm obviously not in any shape to return to the high peaks yet. I do hope that this plantar fasciitis lets up soon, it's been months!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015-05-16 Mapping Trips

2015-05-16 Mapping the Helderbergs

There's been too long a hiatus in blogging here, but I've been kind of busy. Still, I've recently had the opportunity to get in a little bit of walking (on easy trails: I won't dignify it with the term, 'hiking') and mapping for OpenStreetMap.

The last few mapping outing, I've been concentrating on the little nature preserves that are strung out like beads along the rim of the Helderberg Escarpment. Many of them are fairly new, since Albany County has been pursuing conservation easements and outright property transfers in recent years, to try to preserve the view as well as the unique environment of the Heldebergs.

2015-04-18 Wolf Hill

On 25 April, I did the first of these mapping expeditions this spring, starting with the Keleher Preserve atop Wolf Hill. This is a smallish (447 acre) plot, with a few miles of moderate trail. Like all of the Helderberg preserves, people tried to farm this land once upon a time, despite the shallow and poor soil. There is ample evidence of ruins. The land was in private hands until two parcels were conveyed to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy in 2010 and 2014.

I hiked in past evidence of recent logging,

I quickly came to an interesting conceit that I've now seen in several of the preserves: a bridge fitted with lengths of PVC pipe tuned like organ pipes. You play it by beating on the tops of the pipe with flipflops that are tied to the bridge. I tapped a couple of bars of a Mozart melody and continued, smiling inwardly, but still more pleased with the babble of the brook.
Organ bridge

The trail steadily ascends the hill, past a number of stone walls that once bordered fields and pastures.
Old stone walls
Old stone walls

I thought that I'd follow the abandoned Wolf Hill Road to the south end of the preserve, where there are reported to be some nice views. Because of the road's being unblazed, and my unfamiliarity with the preserve, I turned off too soon, down an abandoned logging road. I lost the road a couple of times, but each time I found it again and followed it south - inadvertently straying off the preserve to the best views I had all day. Just southwest of the preserve, the whole area has been recently clearcut and has a sweeping view, where the distant horizon shows the Blackhead Range, Windham High Peak, and the ridge ascending to Huntersfield Mountain.
Huntersfield ridge

When I arrived at the clearcut, I knew I'd gone astray, and made my way up the ridge to the correct road - which was, of course, perfectly obvious, The road was still blocked in spots by drifts of patchy wet snow, much churned by ATV's. Snow on the trail
I soon reached the powerline cut that forms the preserve's southernmost extreme, and it did indeed offer views, both east toward the Hudson Valley and the Taconic Mountains beyond: View east
and west across a little valley to the next hill, with the flanks of one of the Catskills (Bearpen Mountain?) just barely visible through the trees at left. View west

I turned around and made my way back up the road into the preserve. Where the snow had melted, I could see just how poor the acidic soil up here is: only a few inches of erosion have exposed the bedrock. The rock here is a limestone pavement, and the Devonian stone to be found here is some of the most fossiliferous on the planet. I noted the odd brachiopod and crinoid without even stopping. Bedrock
In the spots where the limestone dips or is beginning to form sinkholes, the water stands, and the ATV traffic has churned the trail into a lake of mud.

I followed the white and red trails around to where a strategically placed bench overlooks a fine view of Albany Overlook

I then walked a series of loops to pick up the routing of the other trails. I noticed at the end of the green trail that the maintainers have placed flagging in the woods, apparently marking a route up the hill to the east. I followed their flagging for a hundred yards or so, but recalled my promise to Mary Ann that I wouldn't bushwhack solo. I turned around and hiked back to the car. A nice afternoon stroll.

2015-04-25 Huyck Preserve - Hiking the Huyck

Trail marker

A week later, feeling more energetic, I went down to the Huyck Preserve, a considerably larger tract surrounding the village of Rensselaerville. Very close to the south entrance, the trail comes to a bridge,
Bridge over Tenmile Creek
that offers a view of lovely Rensselaerville Falls.
Rensselaerville Falls

On the far bank stands a ruin of what I presume to have been a mill, probably exploiting the falls for water power. I make a note to explore that further another time, and continue with recording my GPS tracks - I've some miles to make today if I'm to map the whole preserve!
Ruined mill
Ruined mill
A side trail leaves the mill to the middle section of the falls.
Rensselaerville Falls
The trail has patches of ice. I'm careful about my footing. Sliding into the gorge of the Tenmile Creek at the falls would not be pleasant!
Ice on the trail

Backtracking to the ruin and heading up the hill puts me on the Falls Trail, which climbs moderately but steadily through a fine stand of hemlocks, most likely planted as a Great Depression reforestation project after the local farms failed.
Trail up to Rensselaerville Falls
A handful of much older trees were probably beloved of the farmer.
Trail up alongside Rensselaerville

Once on top of the massif, the trail bends back to the river and recrosses on a wooden bridge that looks downstream over the lip of the falls.
Bridge over Rensselaerville Falls
Lip of Rensselaer Falls
A stairway down from the far side goes to the edge of the falls at the top, another spectacular overlook. Beyond the falls, the "snow cone" of frozen mist is still apparent, even in late April.
Plaque at the overlook
Rensselaerville Falls
Rensselaerville Falls
Rensselaerville Falls

The trail then goes up the east bank of Tenmile Creek along the spillways of Myosotis Dam, arriving at lovely Myosotis Lake.
Lower spillway of Myosotis Dam
Myosotis Dam
Myosotis Dam

It passes the picnic area, swimming beach and boathouse, the Jessie Huyck building, and the Ordway house (which now serves as part of the preserve's conference facilities.
Huyck Preserve swimming beach
Ordway House

From here I proceeded up on the Ordway Trail, around the Race Track, and onto the Partridge Path. From time to time, I passed some ruins, including some wreckage whose purpose was ... uncertain. (It's too wide to be a trailer, but seems to have been made of parts of several. I've no idea what it was for.)

There are no wild flowers yet, but the corn lilies ( Clintonia borealis ) are starting to emerge. Corn lilies, clubmosses, and moss

Farther up, the first loop of the path brushes the edge of the preserve. Someone has managed to cling to his farm, and there's a hayfield right over the wall. Pasture

With the leaves off the trees, there's also a view down into the marshes, with County Road 6 beyond. The water is high from snowmelt.
Beaver swamp

The trail recrosses the Tenmile Creek on a bridge, and follows an unnamed tributary upstream toward Wolf Hill.
Tenmile Creek
Tenmile Creek
Tenmile Creek

When it reaches the Schoharie power line, there's a view toward the Taconics. Wolf Hill, which I explored the previous week, is visible in the nearer distance.
Power line cut

At the north end of the preserve, yellow survey blazes mark the boundary of the Partridge Run state forest. Survey blazes

I signed the Wood Road register, and continued around to finish the other side of the loops. On the way, I passed a gate in an ancient stone wall. Some mason took pride in his trade. A wagon would still have a smooth ride on the pavement today. Old gate

This early in the Spring, the less developed parts of the trail were still sometimes running with water and full of blowdown. I tossed aside what I could of the lighter brush. Some of the heavy stuff will just have to await a chainsawyer. Washed-out trail

I followed the Wheeler-Watson trail out, which goes by the Lincoln Pond dam and the adjoining cottage, another part of the preserve's facilities, used to house visiting scientists. While there's a trail around Lincoln Pond, and another connector across the north end of the lake, I decided to bypass them. The day was starting to get late, and I still had a few miles back to the car.
Lincoln Pond Cottage
Lincoln Pond Cottage

I signed the trailhead register across from the cottage (I don't pass a register without signing in!) and followed the trail on the west side of Lake Myosotis past someone's experiment. The preserve is an active biological research station.
Experimental plot
Experimental plot

The wet spots are handled nicely by fine new bog bridging of dimensioned lumber. Bog bridging

The Jessie Huyck center, the boathouse and the swimming beach stretch out along the far shore. Myosotis Lake

On the way, I was surprised to see a beaver working away. The beaver was too busy to notice me, and let me photograph for a few minutes, so I came away with a couple of, you should excuse the expression, wet beaver shots.
Castor canadensis
Castor canadensis

A little farther down the lake stands the ruin of another farmstead. Ruined farmhouse

I rapidly made my way back to the car, and arrived with a good half-hour of daylight, having put in roughly a 12-mile day on easy trails.

2015-05-16 Bennett Hill, and return to the Huyck

Bennett Hill Preserve

I felt as if I had to get out again today, even though the weather looked dodgy, so mapping another one of the little preserves seemed a good idea. I could always cut things short, or if the weather held, go back and do the unfinished trails at the Huyck or start mapping another one. I chose Bennett Hill, another one of the newer (1998) preserves in the Helderbergs. Like all the Helderberg hills, this one has a lot of interesting geology. Those who are interested in the complexities can find a lengthy discussion elsewhere. Suffice it to say that springs, sinkholes, and fossils are among the karst features in abundance. In fact, the entrance to the preserve is right near a cluster of four sinkholes, only one of which appears to be active (with a stream running into it that originates at a spring farther up).

On the way in, I got a reminder that the last few weeks have been bone dry, even though we started with a good snowpack. This has been a bad fire year. Fire danger

The entrance trail overlooks a dairy, with fairly good views beyond when the trees are not fully leafed out. Its nicely benched into the side of a hill, and follows a contour line for about a quarter mile before it ascends steeply about 200 feet up a couple of switchbacks.

Near the top of the climb, I caught sight of a strange object in the woods. "What's that bathtub doing there?" I said to myself. It turns out that the preserve builders, or perhaps the former landowners, thought it would be amusing to have a piped spring feed a bathtub faucet, so they set one up that way. I didn't sample the water, knowing that it will most likely taste as if it will rust your teeth!
Bathtub spring

Right at the top of the last switchback, a hiker can rest for a moment. There's a tree with bent branches that's perfect for sitting on.
Nice sitting tree

I made a complete loop of the hilltop on the yellow trail. Over on the east side of it, there's a cairn just built on a straight and level bit of trail, with no turnoffs, good blazes, and good visibility. I have absolutely no clue why anyone would have gone to the trouble of building one right there.

On the north side, there's a nice overlook with a view toward Albany and the Green Mountains. The view left a little to be desired on such a hazy day.
Approaching the Bennett Hil

I finished the loop one-and-a-half times around the yellow trail, and descended the hill on the steeper and less well-maintained red trail. There's a lot of loose soil on steep slopes on the red trail; I suspect it may be headed for an erosion problem if the maintainers aren't careful. On the way out, I heard a strange sound. "What is that?" I said to myself. "It's not a motorcycle revving..."

The farmer had let the cows into the nearby field. I was hearing them arguing over the haystack. "MOO!". My, the sound carried.

This bit of mapping had taken me only a couple of hours, and the weather still looked as if it would hold off for a bit, so I headed back to the Huyck Preserve to map the bits I'd missed. I parked up by the Lincoln Pond dam this time, and started hiking around the pond (after some delays, such as replacing the lens that fell out of my spectacles). The pond with its dam is a pretty sight, and vegetation and driftwood made interesting reflections in the water.
Lincoln (Hicks) Pond
Lincoln (Hicks) Pond

My beaver friend from a few weeks ago wasn't working while I was there, but I saw that he or one of his colleagues had been about.
Beaver damage

After going around the smaller pond, I walked around Myosotis Lake to map the connecting trails that I also had missed on the last visit. I found I didn't have to turn back at the dead end at the dam spillway, because the spillway was completely dry. I jumped down into the concrete gully, walked across and scrambled the other side. I grabbed a panorama of the lake from the center of the dam. Click the image for video.
Myosotis Lake I went back to my car up the east shore, getting the crossover to the north of the lake, and got back just as it was starting to rain.

The day had wildflowers in abundance, while just two weeks earlier there had been none at all. Among the ones I spotted were Geranium maculatum, which gardeners call a 'false geranium.' The 'true geranium' to a gardener, to a botanist isn't a geranium at all, but in genus Pelargonium. Go figure. I also saw wild strawberry, violets, and apple and black cherry in bloom. It was a pretty day.
Geranium maculatum
Wild strawberry
Apple in an abandoned orchard
Black cherry in an abandoned