Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trip report - Harriman Park, 2012-08-24

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.

The last stretch that we walk on the Dunning Trail passes only a few steps from the flooded main shaft of the Boston Mine, where iron extraction was abandoned in 1905.

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>