Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Since the outing was done on impulse, I didn't have a proper camera along, so I apologize for the phonecam shots. The new trailhead has parking for four or five cars, a kiosk, and a bridge over a little stream.
The access trail in from there is a pleasant level walk, and the fall colours were at their peak. It has a few wet spots, but there are bog bridges over the really bad mud.
Once I reached the red-blazed north rim trail, I turned right (west) and headed upstream. Since this was just a nice stroll without a specific destination in mind, I was willing to spend some time lallygagging, and took a couple of the side trails that lead down to the stream. They were wet and steep, and one goes down a knife-edge ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides, but I didn't take any spills. The first one goes down to a cascade of at least three little waterfalls, that I'm told is called Step Falls.
The other, farther upstream, comes down to a beautiful little glen, with a cascade that I'm told is Sergeant Falls. Walking down into it, the mist rising from the recent rain made the light just magical.
I continued up the rim trail to the second stream crossing (the one by the landslide), and was going to try to bushwhack up the stream bank to the bottom of the two tall waterfalls, Lower Plotter Kill Falls and Rynex Kill Falls. But by the time I got down there, the sun had sunk below the rim of the gorge, and reasoning that I still had a 45-minute walk back to my car, I simply turned around and walked back. The low-angled sunlight offered some dramatic vistas as I recrossed the two power line cuts.
The walk out, like the walk in, was over the fresh leaf litter, making a colourful if slippery carpet underfoot.
All in all, a great way to spend a few hours on a Sunday. Not big miles, but harder than it looks because of the three slippery descents to the stream from the rim of the gorge.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
With Catherine packed off to school, Kevin decides to try and finish the hike that got interrupted on July 20.
This time, Alberto from work is his hiking partner. They decide to skip Rusk this time, and go counter-clockwise, so as to get Southwest Hunter (Leavitt's Peak), the more difficult of the two peaks, out of the way first.
Kevin and Alberto park at the trailhead for the Spruceton Horse Trail and roadwalk over to the Diamond Notch trailhead. The two get on the trail a little before 0900, and make good time up the relatively easy Diamond Notch trail to the lovely little fall that is variously styled Diamond Notch Falls, West Kill Falls, and Buttermilk Falls (the last is puzzling; why do so many different falls in the Catskills bear that name?)
After the briefest pause for photography, the two turn left on the more rugged Devil's Path, and start the long climb up the north wall of the West Kill valley. Kevin is surprised by how gradual the climb turns out to be: there are none of the rock scrambles typical of Catskill trails. This section of the Devil's Path is quite benign, particularly by comparison with what it has further east. Auld Nick must have been sleeping on the job that day. Over the next hour or two, the pair ascend to the 3500 foot level, and arrive at Geiger Point atop the West Kill headwall, with its views of West Kill Mountain and Southwest Hunter.
After another pause for compulsive photography, the pair continue up the Devil's Path,
which is now running nearly level along the 3500-foot contour.
At this elevation, there are still a few late blackberries, and the two enjoy a small snack on them.
Before long, as the trail veers eastward, a small cairn appears on the right, marking the start of a rail grade over which horse-drawn cars operated for the Fenwick Lumber company. The grade is now abandoned for about a century, but offers level hiking to a point just north of Southwest Hunter Mountain (Leavitt's Peak).
At this point, a pair of cairns mark the turnoff to Southwest. Kevin and Alberto climb the well-defined herd path, which leads into the crown of a fallen tree. Kevin misguesses the direction that the path takes around it (choosing the left side, that offers a line more nearly in the direction of the summit), and sees no sign of the path on the other side. Rather than trying to find it again, he exercises a general rule of mountain navigation: the summit is up., and simply heads upward through the brush. The pair arrive on the flat summit within a few hundred feet of the canister. Now: where the Devil is it?
After about fifteen minutes of fruitlessly casting about, Kevin cheats and turns on the GPS in “orienteering compass” mode. It indicates a line that definitely appears to be gently down hill from where the hikers are standing, but following it a few steps leads to the path and right up to the canister.
Kevin and Alberto sign in,
and capture a “we made it” shot (with a cell phone since it's out in Kevin's hand serving as GPS).
After a drink of water and a quick bite, the two follow the herd path (it's obvious from above, including the spot where things went awry) back to the rail grade,
and make tracks back along it - so much on autopilot that they fail to notice the trail junction until the red Devil's Path marker on a tree jolts Kevin. Fortunately, they're headed in the right direction on the Devil's Path, and come a few hundred feet later to the Devil's Acre lean-to.
Here the two make an extended stop. Packs off, boots off, cook up a hot lunch (Kevin's mango chicken curry, served over lentils and rice), resupply with water from the nearby spring, and talk to a couple of parties of tourists coming by. One pair of young men has just climbed up from the Devil's Tombstone campground in Stony Clove, just "seeing where the red trail leads" without any destination in mind. Kevin directs the ill-prepared young men up to the fire tower, telling them that the best views are to be had from there.
From here on up to the summit of Hunter, there are a lot more people. Hunter Mountain is a popular destination. After meeting the obligatory party of sixteen Koreans, we visit a spectacular overlook west of the Becker Hollow trail junction,
and then make the short walk to the Hunter Mountain fire tower.
There, we find that a caretaker is there, and we hang out at the summit for a while, talking with the caretaker, the visitors, and the caretaker's two dogs. We climb the tower to get the breathaking 360° views. (Kevin climbs it twice, deciding that going up in a sweaty T-shirt in 50 °F weather and the usual gale blowing across the mountaintop was a trifle chilly, and running back to his pack to fetch a fleece sweater.)
Then it's time to shoulder the packs again and head back down, using the Spruceton bridle path. We plug on downward pretty steadily, deciding to skip the side trip to Colonel's Chair, only take a quick look at the new John Robb lean-to,
and simply march steadily out to the trailhead and Kevin's car. The low sun angle makes for an interesting lens flare
Once there, Kevin mixes up some powdered electrolyte-replacing sport drink at a dilute strength, and hands a litre to Alberto saying, “if you've been sweating the way I have, you need electrolyte replacement. Drink this.” Alberto doesn't argue. Kevin then stops to change to lighter socks and replace boots with sneakers.
While we're doing this, the fire tower caretaker comes off the trail, dogs in tow, sits down, changes from boots to sneakers, gets a two-litre bottle of Powerade out of his car trunk, and chugs about half of it. Great minds think alike. We have another brief conversation, throw the gear in the back of the car, and head for home, having spent about nine hours in the park, and done about ten miles (and with the GPS showing a total of 2600 feet or so of elevation gained and lost).
What went right: Nearly everything. Weather was perfect. Hiking was easier than expected. It took only about 15-20 minutes to find the canister on Leavitt's Peak. Lunch was tasty and filling.
What went wrong: Only a couple of little things. It took 15-20 minutes to find the canister on Leavitt's Peak. Kevin left his camera in the car when starting up the trail (fortunately. Alberto had his DSLR along, and both of us had phone cams.)
Lessons learnt: A trail, even a herd path, seldom peters out abruptly. Had Kevin backtracked after losing the path at the fallen tree, he'd have found it again around the other side of the blowdown and made it to Leavitt without any confusion. But it was fun the way we did it, too.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Kevin, Mary Ann and Catherine planned a very full few days, going to the Renaissance Faire in Sterling Forest, NY and then to Catherine's orientation at Molloy College. On the way down, Kevin and Catherine decided to take a few hours' break and do a nice moderate hike in Harriman Park.
We meet nice people even before starting out: a young couple bringing "trail magic" (a cooler of soda for thru-hikers) to the Elk Pen. They are planning nearly the same loop we're making, but we don't see them again. (We're slowpokes, so it's not surprising.)
Ourhike's first 2.5 miles takes us over the first stretch of the Appalachian Trail that Kevin had ever hiked, way back as a pre-teen. (It's also very nearly the first stretch that was blazed: the A-T has gone through the Lemon Squeezer for its entire history.) He is quite pleased to note that the bit that seemed so tough to an 11-year-old flatlander is actually a piece of cake!
The trail ascends gradually through open woodland (what a relief after a few hikes through Catskill brush!) On the way, we see a group of three bucks, still in velvet in late summer, placidly staring back at us.
And of course, we kill a good half-hour trying to get better pictures. (Compulsive photography is one of the reasons that our hiking speed varies between 'snail' and 'tortoise'.)
Continuing on over the summit of Island Pond Mountain (a small hill, really!),
we quickly make our way down to the Island Pond Road and the knoll where Edward Harriman's hunting cabin once stood. The knoll affords some lovely glimpses of the pond through the trees, and the stone foundation of the cabin offers us a place to sit and eat lunch. While there, we are greeted by three southbound A-T thru-hikers.
Less than a mile farther onward over an easy trail
lies the Harriman Lemon Squeezer, a defile in the rock through which the Appalachian Trail passes. The Squeezer begins with a big triangular gateway through the boulders,
which soon narrows down to a passage through which hikers must stoop or even crawl on hands and knees.
Following that little manoeuvre, the trail scrambles up a narrow and tilted crevice, to the sounds of scraping gear and muttered profanity.
Eventually, the hiker must hoist out of it before it narrows too far to be walkable. Catherine shows how it's done.
The final bit of the Lemon Squeezer is a rock scramble where we put away the camera. (A blazed alternative offers an "Easy Way", which we didn't explore.) The scramble can surely be done by brute strength, but a few moments' study actually offers a way that's no harder than a stepladder. Since the camera was put away, I offer a picture courtesy of Linda Frank of NJ Hiking:
The top of the Lemon Squeezer marks the end of our scrambling for the day. We push on forward to the Appalachian Trail's junction with the New York Long Path, which surely has some of the most gratuitously excessive trail signage in all of Christendom.
We turn right at the junction, and start a looping return via the Long Path, the White Bar Trail, and the Dunning Trail. The Long Path through the marsh has a huge pile of blowdown, which we bushwhack around, while observing that a 'whack in Harriman is easier than a lot of trails in the Catskills. We do pick up a few nettle stings nonetheless, and Catherine gets one boot filled with water from an incautious foot placement in the swamp.
From there we descend by an unblazed woods road (which gives us the easiest walking of the day) to the Arden-Surebridge Trail, which (the guidebook tells us) "descends a steep grade by a series of switchbacks" and returns us to the Elk Pen. About halfway down, Kevin realizes that we are committing a violation of trail etiquette by cutting the switchbacks - seriously, in all the rock we didn't notice they were there! He offers the excuse, "we're Catskills hikers and unaccustomed to such amenities."
We meet Mary Ann only about fifteen minutes off our projected time. About eight miles for the afternoon, and a lot of fun. The trash haul is light: a few candy wrappers, a couple of wads of paper towel, a tin can, and a mildewed pink tuque. Nothing like what we sometimes bring out -- it would appear that a NYNJTC volunteer had been in there recently to trash it out./p>