Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday walk, Holt preserve, Clarksville, NY 2014-03-29

I took a walk yesterday on Copeland Hill in Clarksville, NY.

I was mostly trying to relieve a bad case of cabin fever, but also brought along my smartphone, so that I could grab GPS tracks and put up the trail network on Open Street Map. This will eventually let me update my topographic map set for southeastern New York - but I only make a new set once every few months, because that's quite laborious.

This was probably the first weekend since winter began in earnest that the road into the upper trailhead was drivable. It is unmaintained in winter. With the spring thaw part way along, it's still a morass of ice and mud, passable only to a 4WD.

There was one dry parking space in the lot. Of course I grabbed it.

The trail register showed one other visitor on Saturday, plus one earlier in the week. The other visitor had apparently already come and gone. I saw no sign of him or his car. I had the place to myself all day.

The entrance offers the choice of an overlook or a pond.

I chose to visit the pond first, getting the panorama at the top of the post. A pretty place, isn't it? I walked around the pond, then followed the other red-blazed spur trail down to the blue trail from the entrance - so as to have the GPS log. The outlet of the pond was unfrozen, and babbling away merrily.

As I was turning around, I fumbled my notebook into the slush. Fortunately, it was back in its Ziploc, so no harm done. I picked it up again, and finished my walk around the pond. On the north side of the pond, the conservancy volunteers have placed a park bench for bird-watchers. It looks out across the pond, screened by the natural cover of a couple of spruces.

I stopped off there for a water break, and decided to enter the location of the bench as a GPS waypoint. I reached into my pocket for the smartphone. "Oh, my God, where's the phone?" Checked all the rest of my many pockets, to no avail. "It probably fell when I dropped the notebook." Walked back down there and had a look around. Nothing. Walked clear around the pond and the length of both the little spur trails, back to the entrance, with eyes on the ground. Nope. "Maybe I left it in the register box? I was there when I started the track recording." No such luck.

Glumly, I headed back to my Explorer. If I was going to have to deal with bureaucrats over handset insurance, the walking was over for the day. I opened the tailgate, sat down, pulled off my Microspikes, opened my pack to put them away again, and... there's the phone. The phone doesn't go in my pack. I never put it in there. What the heck did I put it in there for?

Oh, well. I put the spikes back on, and headed back in, determined to try to enjoy the day now that that particular piece of idiocy was taken care of.

[Post hoc: I went and added the graphic after writing and saving this entire report. Something happened on my computer (it's got one of those buttonless touch-pads that always seem to act squirrely when I'm around), and the entire post got selected, and deleted, and 'undo' brought back only a single space character. So just as the 'facepalm' got put it, it brought about another one.]

Anyway, back to the walk. The preserve is an artificially reforested area, which has now grown to a mature but highly abnormal woodland. The trails traverse plantations, each of which has trees of a single species and a single age. While a healthy understory is starting to develop, the lack of diversity in canopy species is striking. I walked through stands of several species of pine (white pine, yellow pine, Scotch pine),

of spruce (at least red spruce and Norway spruce appeared),

of hemlock, and of tamarack.

The trail suffered somewhat from the 'monorail effect.' The tramp of snowshoes compacts the snow, and fresh snow blows into the trail. After several rounds of this, the trail is solid ice while the ground around it is soft snow. When the thaw comes, the snow melts faster than the ice, leaving a rail of ice where the trail is, and sometimes bare ground on either side.

(That ice is thicker than it looks: there's quite an accumulation of duff on top of it.) In spots, I could even see the prints of individual snowshoes, now sticking up in relief out of the ice.

I walked around the loops on the north side of the preserve. At the north end, they offer limited views to the north off the Helderberg escarpment. I would imagine that in summer, with the leaves on the trees, the views would be a disappointment, but in winter they're pretty.

After doing those loops, I returned to the entrance by the yellow trail. It is on a south-facing slope, and the snow is mostly gone from it. I was easily able to spot the stone walls and foundations of a long-abandoned farmstead.

The well of the farm is securely capped, so that it does not present a pitfall for the unwary visitor. Those who venture off trail in this part of the world need to be careful; there were several periods of boom and bust in local industries, and hence there is much abandoned settlement. Old wells, open mineshafts, and cellars of ruined buildings occasionally lie in wait.

Once I got back to the entrance, I walked down the road (impassable to motor vehicles, but a nice walk) to the lower entrance, and in on the white access trail, which I had missed when going by. There was a bridge out of place on the white trail, apparently by design, since it was secured to two trees with steel cables. It was fetched up on a gravel bar, with the main part of a stream flowing on one side and a small rivulet welling up from a seep on the other.

The stream, even bridgeless, was no major obstacle. It was easy to find a place so narrow that one long stride would clear it.

In fact, the road itself posed a much greater risk of wet feet. It was about six inches deep in ice, with water trickling over it, sometimes across the entire width.

Nevertheless, Microspikes were entirely up to the challenge, even on the 10-15% grade, and getting up was no more difficult than getting down.

I got back to the Ford just as it started to rain. I stopped to snag a few pictures of the more recently ruined farm right where the pavement ends.

The road out from the trailhead offered the best view of the day, a sweeping vista across the Hudson Valley with the mountains of Massachusetts and Vermont dimly visible through the rain and haze.

I drove home, took my wife out to a nice birthday dinner, and deferred writing about the trip until today.

All in all, a fun outing.