The High Falls Loop (aka My Real Life Leave It To Beaver)

Proverbs 25:25

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul,so is good news from a far country.”

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Click Here For Trip Photos

The High Falls Loop in the northwest corner of New York’s Adirondack Park has been on my to do list for about 4 years, and I finally decided to check it out in the beginning of November this year. As I pulled out of my driveway for some reason I though my gps said it was a 298 mile drive. As I went through Syracuse I new something was amiss. A quick check of google maps revealed that it was actually a 410 mile drive! For an overnighter! Yikes! Oh well, only two hours to go sooooo, onward weary soldier.

 

Yes, it was a long drive.

Yes, it was a long drive.

Actually I’ve driven much further for an overnighter. I don’t mind when the trip promises to be a good one. It was a weekday trip, and even though this loop is popular, I hoped for a bit of solitude.

DAY 1

The loop itself is only about 16 miles, and either starts or ends with a short .4 mile road walk. I opted to start on the Eastern Leg with the road walk, just to be done with it. Just as I saddled up a couple came out of the woods; it was Levi Tate and his wife from Hammock Forums. It’s always great to meet other forum members. We talked for a bit and I got the 411 on the trail conditions. The forecast was for wet feet. It’s not like I haven’t dealt with that before, so after some pleasant conversation off I went.

Old railroad grade

Old railroad grade

The eastern leg of the loop starts on an old railroad grade from years gone by that used to haul lumber in the area. It didn’t take long before I came to the first wet spot. The plank bridges on the trail were floating and I was going to get my feet wet. Fortunately there were some state workers there diligently working on the beaver dam to try and drain the trail.

Flooded trail

Flooded trail

More flooded trail

More flooded trail

Honestly, wet feet don’t bother me, and I knew they would dry soon enough. Views of Cranberry Lake teased me through the trees, and by the time I reached Janacks Landing my feet were dry. I stopped for a quick snack break and took in the forest around me. The most memorable thing was the smell. The entire trip I enjoyed the scent of the pines trees – I don’t remember if they were spruce or fir, but the smell reminded me of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, near my home.

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Cranberry Lake

The miles flew by and when I reached the junction to Cat Mountain I was slightly surprised that I had covered 3.6 miles in 45 minutes. Yes, it’s easy walking, but still, the only shape I’m in right now is round. As I moved along there weren’t any views, just the occasional beaver pond, so I was kind of in auto pilot, not really paying attention. Suddenly I realized I was off trail and thought,” I don’t remember  seeing a turn”. I backtracked about 50 feet and sure enough, there was a turn – right onto a tree about 50 feet long that crossed a beaver pond. There was a piece of cord tied from one bank to the other to hold onto, but if you put any kind of pressure on the cord it stretched to the point that you were going swimming! I have to say, for the first 15-20 feet I was not happy. At about the half way point the tree was hewn a little flatter, and finally I was across and glad I was doing a loop. In all honesty, if it were wet and rainy I probably would have slipped and fallen. Whew!

Log bridge over beaver pond

Log bridge over beaver pond

When I finally came to the side trail leading to High Falls I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead of the rocky path following a creek to the falls, it was a nice railroad grade in the woods. It was only .5 mile to the falls but the woods were dead silent. I passed an old piece of machinery used to maintain the railroad, and marveled at all the abandoned equipment I have passed in the Adirondacks over the years.

Abandoned equipment

Abandoned equipment

Finally, I heard the beautiful roar of High Falls. The trail broke out of the woods near the top of the falls. There are the remains of an old, long gone bridge that led to High Falls lean-to #2, now inaccessible except by paddlers, and High Falls #1 sits back from about 100 feet in the woods.

Old bridge pier over fast water

Old bridge pier and fast water

High Falls

High Falls

High Falls lean to #1

High Falls lean-to #1

It was a beautiful location, with a privy and multiple campsites, and I can see how this area could get overwhelmed by visitors at certain times of the year.

When I get to camp I like to get all my camp chores done, mostly because I run out of steam at the end of a day of hiking. Today was different in that I wasn’t tired from the walk; the hike only took 2 hours. I was tired from the drive up, but still had a bit energy left.

First order of business was to get my shelter up. This hike would be my first time sleeping in a bridge hammock. I was trying out a Warbonnet Ridge Runner, and I was hoping the extra weight would be worth it. I didn’t have a proper bridge underquilt, so I decided to improvise with a Loco Libre Gear LongHot underquilt. I had brought an old DIY topquilt, since I had loaned all my quilts out, and a HG cuben fiber tarp rounded out the package.

WBRR hammock with LLG LongHot underquilt

WBRR hammock with Loco Libre Gear LongHot underquilt

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

What a great spot! Just far enough from the falls to slightly mute the roar, but close enough to be lulled to sleep. It was everything one could hope for, and best of all I had it to myself.
Next on the agenda was dry clean clothes, and dinner. Since the place was deserted I got changed right at the lean-to while I waited for water boil. I mulled over the idea of starting a fire while my Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili rehydrated, but decided against it. Most of the down wood in the area was pretty damp and I didn’t really feeling like ducking smoke. What I neglected to take into account was the fact that it would be dark around 6 pm and I’d be really bored.

The forecasters on the radio on the way up said the Northern Lights would be visible tonight, and I was excited because I had never seen them. When I hit the hammock around 5 pm  I consoled myself with the idea that  I would wake in the middle of the night to a glorious light display. I was only half right – I woke many times during the night, but no lights. At about 11:30 pm I awoke and my back was chilled. I tried to ignore it (you’d think by now I’d know better), and finally got up with the excuse that I had to”commune” with mother nature anyway. I keep my camp shoes on my pack while I’m hiking with a piece of shock cord with a mitten hook on either end, and after retrieving that and attaching it to the center D rings on the underquilt and over the ridgeline it was like someone turned on the heat. Next time I use the WBRR I’ll have a proper bridge underquilt.

As a side note, this was the stillest, quietest night I have ever spent in any forest.

DAY 2

Good morning

Good morning

Other than waking about 100 times I had a great night’s sleep (and I won’t mention the dream I had of a serial killer attacking me in my hammock, brrrr). No Aurora Borealis either – double bummer. No matter, I still arose feeling refreshed, and broke down camp before heating water for my breakfast; Mountain House Scrambled Eggs and Ham on a burrito with cheese and Chick Fil A Jalapeno Salsa.

After I was finally packed up and prayed for safe travel I hit the trail around 8:30 am. One last look at the falls and I was off to the races. Most of the todays hike was on another old railroad grade, and it would be an easy day of hiking.

Western loop trail

Western loop trail

The trail is mostly dry, but there would be much more flooding due to beaver activity. Here’s a hint: if you go somewhere called The Five Ponds Wilderness, you’re gonna get wet feet Jack. In reality even though there was more flooding, there were also more beaver dams to cross on.

Beaver flooding

Beaver flooding

Wet spot

Wet spot

After a bit of flooding the trail ran along the Oswegatchie River, and as I walked along I heard a dull roar – High Falls. I got to listen to the roar of the falls for a few more minutes until the trail dove back into the cover of the forest and I instantly missed it. The trail and river both meander along, occasionally bumping into each other until the Oswegatchie finally decides to part ways for a while, leaving you to be swallowed up by the silence of the forest.

Oswegatchie River

Oswegatchie River

Old railroad grade

Old railroad grade

The interesting (or not) thing about this part of the hike is that you can see far ahead on long corridors of trail. The trail is smooth, so you can actually look ahead instead of looking at your feet. I passed the junction to Big Shallow, vowing to one day visit that part of the Five Ponds, and before I knew it I was at the junction to High Rock.

View from High Rock

View from High Rock

It’s a short .1 mile side trip, and the view is a classic. There are campsites and a privy, but surprisingly no lean-to. It’s a beautiful spot, but only 3.6 easy miles from the trailhead. If you want an easy hike, or don’t mind company this is a nice overnight destination. Me, I’m just passin’ thru.

The rest of the trail from here on out is what I would classify as boring. At one point I was trying to judge distance by comparing the trail to how many blocks that would be in my neighborhood. Maybe I’m better off not being able to see ahead, lol.

Aaaah, that's about 1 1/2 or 2 blocks i'd guess.........

Aaaah, that’s about one and a half or two blocks I’d guess………

Finally I could tell I was at a low point; the ridge on the right disappeared and the Oswegatchie River appeared in a marsh on my left. One last flooded spot to squish through (thank you very much Mr. Beaver) and that was all she wrote. The time was 11:30 am and when all was totalled I would drive about 13 hours to hike for 5. In my opinion it was very worth it.

All in all it was a nice, easy, peaceful trip. I didn’t pass anyone on the trail in two days, and although some of the walk can be a little monotonous, I’d like to come back. If I can find the time I’d like to dust off the pulk and snowshoe to Cat Pond this winter (as well as climb Cat Mountain) and I’d also like to do a 4-5 day trip traversing the entire Five Ponds Wilderness.  As always, so many trips, so little time.

 

 

Digging Deep on the Burroughs Range

Psalm 121:1-3

“A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber”

He who knows not smiles a lot

He who knows not smiles a lot

For Trip Pictures Click Here

Due to injuries in the early part of 2015 (a strained shoulder, then a full distal tear of the left bicep) I hadn’t been on the trail since last December . Happily, my recovery has progressed to the point that I can once again cruise the piney woods and make up for lost time.

Matt and I discussed a number of options and settled on the Catskills, since neither of us had ever backpacked there before. We wanted a loop hike, and settled on the Burroughs Range. We would start from Woodland Valley, cross Whittenberg, Cornell, and Slide Mountains, finally returning via the Phonecia-Eastbranch Trail. It looked like a nice tidy little loop of about 14 or so miles.

We arrived at the parking area at the Woodland Valley Campground around 9:30 am and paid the $6 parking fee at the campground office. The nice lady at the window informed us that the trail we were taking was rated extremely difficult. Undeterred, we thanked her and saddled up for our adventure.

Trail uphill

Trail uphill

Three things became evident right out of the gate; 1) whoever mapped this trail was in a hurry to gain altitude, 2) he obviously never heard the term switchback, and 3) this old man is out of shape (correction, my shape after 9 months of no exercise is round). No matter, I was just happy to be in the mountains.

While the climb was steep, it was nice to gain some altitude for a change. We came to a nice level spot with a sorta view, and decided to break for an early lunch.

Sorta view

Sorta view

While it wasn’t the sweeping panorama that one dreams of when in the mountains, it certainly was encouraging to see just how much we had already climbed.

Back into the fray, we continued on our upward journey until, finally, we hit a fairly level stretch. Not the kind of level that says “we made it”, but that kind that says “get ready sucker, cause it’s gonna end soon”. We passed a spring that was flowing good, and took that as a sign that they all were flowing as well. We took a break at the junction of the trail to Terrace Mountain Lean-to, since my map indicated the next 1.3 miles to the summit of Whittenberg would be steep.

Hiking up Whittenberg, ha ha

Hiking up Whittenberg, ha ha

In places the climb was steep and unrelenting. There were ledges to scramble over, and if I were in better shape it would have been a blast. As it was, we just met each climb head on and claimed our victory one battle at a time.

Matt trudging ever upward

Matt trudging ever upward

Finally, a little past noon, we reached the summit of Whittenberg Mountain, with it’s fantastic views over Ashokan Reservoir. Sitting in the breeze, taking it all in, the struggles of the morning seemed to vanish.

Ashokan Reservoir from the summit of Whittenberg, 4180 feet

Ashokan Reservoir from the summit of Whittenberg, 3780 feet

View north towards the Devils Path

View north towards the Devils Path

We finally pried ourselves away, and started the trek toward the summit of Cornell. Cornell summit really doesn’t offer anything in the way of views, and was more of an obstacle to our ultimate destination for the day; the col between Cornell and Slide. Someone told us the climb up Cornell was a cakewalk, but we found there was more ledges and scrambles, and at one point we had to take our packs off, and hand them up a small chimney like ledge.

Whittenberg from Cornell

Whittenberg from Cornell

Chimney ledge

Chimney ledge

Matt checking out Slide Mountain from Cornell

Matt checking out Slide Mountain from Cornell

After what seemed like an eternity of downward scrambles the trail leveled out in the col between Slide and Cornell. We reached the first designated campsite and it really looked kind of dismal. We were pressing on to the spring anyway, so we decided to go to the next campsite near the base of Slide. As we moved on we passed a hiker who informed us that the spring was dry. I was down to my last few swallows and because of  the exertion and my water rationing I started to feel nauseous. As I sat and attempted to recover, Matt went ahead and looked for the next campsite. A nice couple out for a day hike offered me an extra bottle of water they had and I gladly accepted. It wouldn’t be enough to get me past my malaise, but it was a welcome help. They also offered that there was a flowing spring 1/2 mile and 500 vertical feet up Slide. I thanked them and plodded on, finally catching up with Matt at the campsite.

The wind had picked up and it looked like rain, even though the Weather Channel had assured me otherwise. Matt had a 1.5 liter Nalgene of water, so we decided to call it a day. First order of business, before I ran out of steam or it rained, was to make camp. We got set up in record time, but I had my concerns about my tarp choice for this trip. Since I thought it was going to be nice I had brought a paltry little Asym tarp. Now it didn’t look like much coverage, but I’d have to make do. Maybe it won’t actually rain !!??!! Saving that 3 ounces over my cuben full coverage tarp wasn’t so smart after all!

Woeful little tarp

Woeful little tarp

I still wasn’t feeling too hot, so I sat and ate some crackers as Matt cooked his dinner; a big, fat, 15 ounce steak. He kindly shared some with me, and I finished off my dinner with a blueberry Odwalla bar. I was disappointed not to eat my Pakit Gourmet Texas Fair Chili, but that wouldn’t have been very wise given my condition.

We settled in a little before dark and I drifted in and out of a light slumber, until I awoke to the sound of large raindrops hitting my tarp at 12:45 am. The wind was howling, and with every gust my silly little piece of silnylon lofted like a hot air balloon, letting the rain pelt me directly. I knew I didn’t have a choice, so I threw my rain jacket on, lowered the tarp as much as possible, and generally tried to batten down the hatches. To add insult to injury, I went to sit in my hammock and missed, landing flat on my back. Well, at lease there weren’t any rocks. Grumble, grumble, dust myself off and back to bed. Feel around – everything isn’t perfect, but it’s much drier. Finally, back to sleep.

Day 2

By the time morning rolled around the rain was done. I wasn’t quite feeling normal, but forced myself to eat breakfast anyway. Matt and I talked as we broke down camp, and we decided to cut the trip a little short. Instead of hiking the Phonecia-Eastbranch Trail we would cross Slide and hike down to the parking area at the base of the mountain and try to get a ride back to my truck. As we headed out, the trail decided to get steep again, but we were ready this time. After a few more dicey ledges we finally reached the spring. We tanked up and filled our bottles, taking a few minutes to rest.

Cornell and Whittenberg from the shoulder of Slide.

Cornell and Whittenberg from the shoulder of Slide.

While this climb was steep, including some ladders, we were in much better spirits.

Ladder on Slide Mt.

Ladder on Slide Mt.

Slide is the highest mountain in the Catskills at 4190 feet, but the climb to the summit wasn’t all that bad. We had fought the hard battle the day before, and before we knew it we were at the summit rock. Sadly, there were no views due to cloud cover.

Slide Mountain summit rock

Slide Mountain summit rock

Burroughs plaque on Slide Mt.

Burroughs plaque on Slide Mt.

The trail down the west side of Slide Mountain was a cakewalk compared to everything else we had endured on the Burroughs Range. The trail used to be an old carriage road to bring wealthy tourists to the summit.

Old carriage road on Slide Mt.

Old carriage road on Slide Mt.

The hardest part of the walk out was the constant rocky downhill the whole way. As we hiked lower toward the valley, quads screaming the whole way, Matt said,” Well, I can check the Catskills off my bucket list” to which I replied with a chuckle, “Next week we’ll be talking about how great this trip was!”.

When we finally made it to the parking area we saw a couple of fellows we had talked to the day before. Thankfully they agreed to take us back to my truck. Some people call that “trail magic”, but I know a blessing when I see one.

I saw Matt at church last Sunday.

Matt: How you feeling?

Me: Pretty good

Matt: That was a good trip.

Me: Yeah it was.

 

 

It is Well

It Is Well With My Soul – Horatio Spafford

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

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“Been a little quiet over that WWTS these days George.” You betcha! Haven’t been on a hike since December 2014, and the prospects of one before September of this year are glum, as evidenced by the above photo. It’s been a rough 2015 so far, but oh boo hoo. These things have been a blessing of sorts. This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to slow down, and I can truly say it is well with my soul. I have a few new things that are now coming to the forefront, and  I believe everything that has happened is a part of God’s greater plan. Maybe I could live vicariously through one of you. Tell me about how you’ve been walking with the Son!

Staff Sergeant Thomas William Logan Sr.

American Soldier by Toby Keith

“I’m an American soldier, an American
Beside my brothers and my sisters I will proudly take a stand
When Liberty’s in jeopardy, I will always do what’s right
I’m out here on the front line
Sleep in peace tonight
American soldier, I’m an American soldier”

 

 

Uncle Tom

Staff Sergeant Thomas William Logan Sr.    December 8, 1942 – March 27, 2009

A few days ago I decided I didn’t want to do the same old Memorial Day post. I wanted to memorialize an individual who represents the heart of Memorial Day. I see posts that say “Happy Memorial Day”, but the reality for anyone who has or had a loved one who served, it can be a very somber day.

I decided to write about Staff Sergeant Thomas William Logan Sr, or Uncle Tom as I knew him. My first recollection of Uncle Tom was when I was very young – maybe 5 years old. You see I was born in 1964, and my Uncle Tom did 3 tours in Vietnam, so when this soldier showed up at the house and was hugging my mom I was wondering who this guy was. Tommy, as my mom called him, was her twin, and he was on leave, and had to shovel through 18 inches of snow to visit.

Uncle Tom earned two purple hearts in Vietnam. On one occasion he was riding in the back of a duece and a half (2 1/2 ton truck) with another soldier who was on his way home. The truck ran over a landmine and both men were throw into a rice patty. My uncle had a shoulder wound, but “commandeered” a motorcycle from a local to ride and get help. Sadly, that soldier never went home. Uncle Tom signed up for another tour in Vietnam after that, and completed 3 tours.

Sadly, my next memories of Uncle Tom were running into him when I was about 30 years old. He sometimes worked with my Uncle Jack, and I saw him on a job site. I would see him on a rare occasion, and he always would laugh and joke with me. I regret not getting to know him better.

In the above picture Uncle Tom was 66 years old. Even as the war and it’s memories followed him through life and eventually caught him, he was still proud to be an american soldier. Rest in peace Uncle Tom. God Bless the American Soldier!

Why Happy Resurrection Day?

 

The Revelation Song – Kari Jobe

“Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain,
Holy, holy is He”

lionandlamb

Easter/Resurrection Day is the most important day of the year. Yes, even more important than Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. You see, Christ’s birth would have no meaning if it were not for His atoning death on the cross. Jesus did not come to live here on this earth, but rather to be a sacrifice for our sins and die on a cross. Why? Through the cross we all have the opportunity of eternal life in heaven, because by dying on a cross Jesus paid the price for all of our sins, past, present, and future.

Hebrews 52:13-53:12

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.
53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation,who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

If you know Christ, then you already celebrate with me today. If you don’t, please don’t let this day go by without praying to God to become real in your life!

A Winter Tradition

Psalm 19:1

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

Continuing a tradition

Continuing a winter tradition

For Trip Pictures Click Here

Last year Paul and I went to Harriman State Park in New York state on the weekend after Christmas in search of a winter hike. This year we decided a 2nd annual WWTS Winter Hang was in order so we returned to Harriman, only this time visiting the northern end of the park.

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain loomed over the parking lot of the Bear Mountain Inn, and as we prepared our gear I thought, “Man, that looks like a rugged climb!”. It turns out I was wrong. We would be starting out southbound on the Appalachian Trail, and when a  trail sees as much use as this section does trail maintainers have to take serious steps to minimize erosion. About half of the climb is on stone steps that climb just steep enough to let you know that you’re going to breath a little harder before you reach the top.

Stone steps on Bear Mountain

Stone steps on Bear Mountain

Not to worry, the grade relents and becomes more of a foot path, with nice views of the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson River.

Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

We paused long enough to take it all in, and with a little coaxing Paul convinced me that lunch on the summit would be so much better, although that might be hard to imagine.

Hudson River view

Hudson River view

We passed through a nice little stand of pines and then the trail turns onto the paved road that goes to the tower on the summit of Bear Mountain. After a short road walk, and another short pitch with some nice views, we stood at the top, looking over the southern half of the park. There was a parking lot and folks sitting on benches, and even one of those doodads that you put a quarter in and look out over the views. Paul and I decided to pull up a comfortable rock and enjoy the scenery while chowing down. It was a nice, clear, comfortable day, with a light breeze, and by the time we finished lunch we had cooled enough that we knew it was time to get moving again.

Views from Bear Mountain

Views from Bear Mountain

Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain

Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain

Instead of taking the bypass trail to avoid the hike on the summit we stayed on the AT, and I’m sure next time I’ll take the bypass. Not a whole lot to see, but I had to hike it once. The trail down off the mountain top was just as nice as the trail up, and soon we were in the valley again.

Paul negotiating rock steps

Paul negotiating rock steps

After crossing Seven Lakes Drive we got to talking about life and some of the things that good friends talk about, and I didn’t notice that were missed a turn on the AT. We walked along the 1777 trail, and then the Timp-Torne Trail, and finally we turned onto the Fawn Trail. About 100 yards onto the Fawn Trail I notice the white blaze with the red “F” and thought,” hmm, this doesn’t seem right”. A family was walking up from the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area parking lot and they confirmed my suspicion, I WAS in fact meandering without a clue of where I was. Well, to be fair, I had a clue, but I was meandering. Anyway, I also knew that we wanted to be on the Timp-Torne Trail, so after a short bit of backtracking we turned onto the blue blazed T-T trail.

Bear Mountain summit from the Timp-Torne Trail

Bear Mountain summit from the Timp-Torne Trail

Timp-Torne Trail

Timp-Torne Trail

Up, up, up we climbed, over slabs and along some nice trail. Once again cluelessness set in as I commented to Paul that I guess we were on the section that paralleled the AT, but where were the white blazes? I swear to you folks, I’m a much more competent operator than this, or I’d at least like to think so. It turns out that we never doubled back to the AT, but got right on the blue blaze, but I guess I knew that at the time. I tell ya, it’s a wonder my brain doesn’t melt down sometimes immediately upon awaking in the morning. Oh well, no harm, no foul as we eventually linked up with the Appalachian Trail once again. What’s an adventure if everything goes as planned, eh? Soon enough we were walking up on our destination for the day – West Mountain Shelter.

West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter

Camp behind West Mountain Shelter

Camp behind West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter has a bit of a bad reputation due to it’s easy access and lack of water, but the view from the front is amazing, with the New York City skyline some 25 miles distant. On top of that, there had to be a hundred places to hang a hammock. Paul and I immediately set about making camp and securing firewood, and although the wood was slim pickings we did find enough to get a small fire going.

Warming fire

Warming fire

As I inhaled my dinner (Packit Gourmet State Fair Chili, and mighty tasty I will add), something told me to turn around. It was one of those magical moments in the outdoors that plays out over and over, even when no one is around to see it. The NYC skyline had suddenly become ablaze with the reflection of the fleeting sun, and in just a few short moments it was gone.

NYC skyline on "fire"

NYC skyline on “fire”

As the fire died we took in the views of civilization there below us, lights coming on one by one, and reflected on how fortunate we were to be here and now.

Dusk at West Mountain Shelter

Dusk at West Mountain Shelter

As always happens on winter hikes, we wind up in the rack early. Winter nights in camp are long and it’s hard to sleep that long. I was down and out somewhere around 6:30, but by 9 I had to get up to readjust my tarp. The wind had picked up substantially, and I couldn’t stand the flapping of my tarp any longer. By the time I got done resetting everything Paul was up as well, and we did the same with his rig. We went over to the shelter and took some more night shots before resettling in, and I only woke a few times during the night. Somewhere around 6 am it started to rain, and the pitter patter on my cuben tarp told me it was time to rise and shine. I made breakfast and a hot cuppa tea, and as my meal soaked I broke down my hammock.

Under Paul's tarp in the rain

Under Paul’s tarp in the rain

I had brought along a camp stool I got from Jacks R Better(the same one Shug uses), and it was well worth the weight when you look at the comfort it provides. It’s funny how as the years go by I fuss over the weight of some things, and then add weight back in other places. It was nice to sit under the tarp and pack in comfort.

Packed up and ready to go

Packed up and ready to go

After packing and preparing for our walk out in the rain, Paul told me he had been thinking about our conversations of the prior day, and it led him to the days’ devotion in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” As the priest of our home we will one day give an account to God as to how we conducted ourselves in that mission field. Did we lead with the kingdom in mind, or did we compromise with the world? Put on the whole armor and be not ashamed of the gospel.

Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail

Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail

Our walk out this morning would be on the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, and I was anxious to see the northern end, as I hope to hike the length of the park on this trail in the spring. The trail started with a few ups and downs and water was plentiful. Eventually the downhill got serious and very rocky. There were fleeting views of the Hudson, and then the trail turned into an old road as we reached Doodletown.

Doodletown Map

Doodletown Map

IMG_2167

Old foundation in Doodletown

Doodletown was a hamlet that had been inhabited at least since 1762, and at it’s peak 300 people had lived there. The park eventually bought out the residents, and by 1965 the town was completely abandoned. As you walk along the trail/road, you can’t help but imagine how rugged life in Doodletown must have been. These were some hardy folks.

The miles flew by, and as we drew nearer to the trail head civilization became more apparent. First we passed some highway construction equipment and powerlines, then on the final downhill stretch we could hear music. It was the sound of the outdoor ice skating rink at the trail head.

Skating Rink

Skating Rink

And just like that, bam, we were back. It was interesting to me how close, yet how far we were from people and niceties like ice rinks, and inns, and merry go rounds. It just goes to show you don’t need to go very far to get away. Just far enough. I can’t wait until next years winter hang!

 

 

 

 

Oh Holy Night Indeed!

 

Oh Holy Night by John Sullivan Dwight

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth”

As the Christmas holiday approached I found myself singing my favorite songs, especially Silent Night and Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel. As I sat down to read the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke I was suddenly taken with “Oh Holy Night” and felt the urge to seek out it’s origins. There are others who will tell the story much better, so I will leave it to the reader to do his or her own searching. All I can say is that this wasn’t what I planned to pen here on this most holy night, and so I will yield to the promptings of the Spirit. I have included Josh Groban’s version for your listening pleasure.

Merry Christmas from Walking With The Son!

Just as an after note; when I attended church last night what was the first song the worship team sang? Oh Holy Night! God is good. 🙂

Bitten By The DIY Bug

Acts 18:3

“Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was.”  NLT

Brother xl2600i thread injector

Brother xl2600i thread injector

I’m a bit of a tinkerer. In fact I made and sold thousands of alcohol stoves over the years while operating End2End Trail Supply. Wood burning sheet metal stoves, no problem. Anything metal was my forte. Even so, I always admired anyone who could create something from fabric.I never thought I would be able to sew projects like the folks at Hammock Forums and Backpackinglight. I decided to give it a go and bought myself the above pictured Brother xl2600i for my birthday a few years ago, and then it sat, probably mostly due to my lack of confidence. I visited my good friend John Donewar back in March and saw his projects and sewing space and finally decided to give it a go this past July. Now I’m bitten by the DIY bug and I’m here to say if I can do it so can you.

I started out making stuff sacks and small (pin cushion size) pillows, and there’s a good reason why folks start out with these simple projects – you get familiar with the machine and how to sew a straight stitch. In fact, 90% of the DIY projects out there just call for the ability to sew in a straight line. In my opinion learning the functions of the machine and why it might not sew properly were tougher than actually sewing (hint: most of the problems I came across were from improper top tension and improperly wound bobbins). Once I got the hang of it, sewing became quite cathartic. I become absorbed by the hum of the machine and the flow of the fabric.

I will outline some of my projects to date, and include any links I think are applicable. My first project of any real size was a bug net affectionately know as the Fronkey Bug Net, named after it’s creator Fronkey, of course!

Fronkey Bug Net

Fronkey Bug Net

I bought the no see um from DIY Gear Supply, and the design is basically a hem at the bottom for a length of shock cord, and a couple of hems up the side. Best of all, I finished it in about a half an hour! Final weight came in at 7.3 ounces, including stuff sack.

By now I had become obsessed with a camo hammock setup, and decided to knock off a camo Asym style tarp made from some 1.1 silnylon I purchased from Ripstop By The Roll. Using a pattern found at DIY Gear Supply this project was a breeze!

Asym camo sil tarp

Asym camo sil tarp

Corner reinforcement

Corner reinforcement

Self tensioning guyline

Self tensioning guyline

With stuff sack, ridgeline, and guylines with self tensioners the tarp setup weighs 6.8 ounces. Throw in a couple of MSR groundhog stakes and the kit weighs 7.8 ounces.

Well, what good is a camo tarp without a camo hammock, so I tapped Dutch over at Dutchware for some Argon 1.6 fabric. Once again, just a few straight seams and the hammock body was done. The ridgeline and whoopie sling suspension was made from 7/64″ Amsteel from Redden Marine, the toggles were cut from aluminum arrow shafts, and the camo 1″ webbing for the tree huggers came from Dutchware as well. I whipped up a bishop bag (basically a stuff sack with openings on both ends) from some Momentum 90 I had laying around and viola, she is fini. Or so I thought.

Camo Argon 1.6 hammock

Camo Argon 1.6 hammock

Yup, it's camo!

Yup, it’s camo!

Amsteel suspension

Amsteel suspension

That’s when I decided to sew up a ridgeline organizer, ala Dream Hammock.

Papa Smurf Dream Hammock style organizer

Papa Smurf Dream Hammock style organizer

I like the idea that I can slide a water bottle in the middle so I don’t have to fumble in the dark. The weight of my whole hammock rig including hammock, ridgeline, whoopies, toggles, tree straps, ridgeline organizer and bishop bag comes in at 15.7 ounces.

By now my skills were improving and I took on a project that I must admit I was quite nervous about – a down under quilt. I love my Hammock Gear under quilts, and was going to pay for a custom super ultra light summer UQ to go with my 50° top quilt, but I thought, “why not give it a try”. I found a very detailed description of an under quilt someone had made at hammock forums, and decided it didn’t look all that bad. Once again I tapped Dutch for some Argon 67 in Coyote Brown for the inner shell, and Argon 90 in camo for the outer.

IMG_1991

 

Hem detail

Hem detail

Inner shell color

Inner shell color

I went with 1″ baffles and 3 ounces of down, and according to Catsplat’s UQ Calculator my under quilt should be good down to 51°. I slept in it shortly after finishing, and it got down to 52°, which kept me plenty warm sleeping in only sweat pants and a tee shirt. Best of all it only weighs 8.5 ounces!

Here’s the whole rig:

100% DIY camo hammock rig

100% DIY camo hammock rig

Shortly after finishing my UQ my buddy Matt asked if I would make him a full length 20° UQ in the same colors as mine. I challenged myself and was able to make it in one day! Whew! I made it from Argon 90 inside and out and filled it with 11.5 ounces of 850 fp down.

20° full length UQ

20° full length UQ

Inside view

Inside view

It weighed in at 20.6 ounces and should be good to 19°. So far Matt’s tests have given a big thumbs up! Now if I can get Paul’s UQ done I can get on to making my silnylon rain gear, heh heh.

 

Stickin’ Three Forks In It

Psalm 23:1-3

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” 

Lovin' life in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

Lovin’ life in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

For Trip Pictures Click Here

I’d have to say I’m a guy who likes variety in my hiking adventures. My hiking to-do list has many flavors, and I’m not one to get stuck on vanilla. That’s why I was a little surprised that me and the boys wound up back in “Almost Heaven West Virginia” and the Dolly Sods Wilderness so soon. Actually, it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever visited the “sods”, since there are so many different types of terrain in one tidy package. Joining Matt and me on our return visit would be Matt’s son Matt, as well as Paul Cummings, Dave Darrow, and his son Noah.

During the trip planning phase Matt and I kicked around a few ideas of how we envisioned the hike. My hike started at Bear Rocks trailhead at the top of Dolly Sods, while Matt’s originated at the Red Creek trailhead in the lower end of the wilderness. The only thing we had to take into account was the fact that Dave and Noah were hiking in and joining us at our camp on the second afternoon, and it made for some interesting ideas. In the end we all agreed that Red Creek was the best choice.

Day 1

An early start and many miles later and we were turning onto Forest Road 19. As we traveled toward the Red Creek trailhead, FR19 started a rather long descent and it became apparent that we were beginning in the lower valley as opposed to the plateau that Dolly Sods North is known for. My only hope was for nice grades as we regained any lost altitude while on the trail.

One continuing theme in this wilderness area is the lack of trail markers other than junction signs, and other than a few confusing areas early on, the trail was relatively easy to follow, with a nice, steady, moderate grade. It started along Red Creek and would climb in a side slab fashion along the hillside before dropping to meet the creek for a crossing, before once again repeating on another hillside.

Climbing on a side hill

Climbing on a side hill

We stopped at a high point to eat lunch, and this is where I must confess my ultra light backpacking sin – I brought a frying pan! Actually not just a frying pan but an MSR Flex Skillet, weighing in at 6.7 ounces. What’s the big deal you say? Well, for someone like me who has spent years trimming his load and whittling away at non essentials this is unheard of. I decided that I would eat like a king this trip and see if I could shake my fear of extra gear. On the lunch menu was trail pizza, which consisted of two pita halves stuffed with pepperoni, sauce and mozzarella, and then toasted in the pan. Quick, delicious, and worth the trouble, I’ll rate that meal an A!

Our destination for the day was the same camp that Matt and I had stayed at on the last trip, along the left branch of Upper Red Creek. That changed the moment we hit Three Forks. Plenty of beautiful places to hang, and hardly a soul around convinced us we were home for the night. All I can say is this is my favorite spot to camp in the ‘Sods, with everything a backpacker would want in a temporary home. There are plenty of spots for hangers and non hangers alike without crowding anyone out, a couple of nice creeks, and someone actually took the time to construct Adirondack type stone seats around most of the fire pits. Don’t be confused – this is no campground, but back country camping at it’s best.

A room with a view

A room with a view

That's livin'

That’s livin’

Matt roughing it in style

Matt roughing it in style

Matt Jr on his first hang

Matt Jr on his first hang

After making camp and gathering firewood the next order of business was dinner. I told the guys I was bringing steak, but I think they thought I was kidding. If I was carrying a skillet I wanted a steak that was going to fill it, and I think I succeeded in the form of a 16 ounce thick cut NY Sirloin. As it sizzled away the smell wafted throughout the entire area. Thankfully it was bear season or I would have been concerned about visitors. I’ll call meal #2 a success, and something worth repeating.

After dinner Paul and Matt stoked the fire, and I shared from Psalm 51, which has become something of a regular bedtime read for me as of late. I make it my prayer to ask for God’s mercy and to ask Him to “create in me a clean heart” before I sleep.

Day 2

What a great nights sleep! The only thing that could have been better would have been a clear night for star watching. No matter, the mid 50’s temperatures were just the ticket for a work weary body, and looking out from the warmth of my nest the view made it clear that this would be a great day in the wilderness. Up and at ’em, chocolate chip pancakes and let’s pack it up and go!

Morning camp

Morning camp

Before breaking camp it had been on my heart to share from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning”. I am reminded how God is a God of new beginnings from the creation, to the flood, to the cross, to the day you give your heart to the Lord, to every new morning. It says in Lamentations 3:22-23, The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning”. What a promise! 

Everyone was excited for what the day held in store. We would be climbing to the northern end of Dolly Sods, with it’s high plains and open views. As we climbed the Red Creek Trail toward Blackbird Knob we could hear the sound of dogs running a bear not too far from our position, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had seen a bear run across our path. As the dogs excited barks eventually faded we were once again left alone with just the sounds of the forest.  No matter, as we gained altitude the forest opened and there were more and more fields and views to take in.

View along the Upper Red Creek Trail

View along the Upper Red Creek Trail

We stopped for a quick snack at the intersection of the Dobbins Grade Trail and the plan was to ascent via the Raven Ridge trail a short distance away. Only one hitch in that plan – Matt had the only map and I didn’t bother to take a look during the break, so we wound up turning left onto Dobbins Grade instead of right. No matter, I like an adventure, right? Anyhow, we drudged along on a lightly used and slightly boggy section of Dobbins Grade, until at last we came upon the Beaver View trail before realizing my mistake. It’s all good, as my pastor likes to say, we’ll just take that trail instead. After 1.2 miles we intersected the Raven Ridge trail and were back on course. Back on familiar terrain we happily hiked along taking in the views.

View from the Raven Ridge Trail

View from the Raven Ridge Trail

What an awesome day to be walking in the wilderness – sunny, a slight breeze in the air, beautiful scenery and perfect temperatures. It don’t get much better folks!

Once we reached the Rocky Ridge trail we looked for a rock with a view to enjoy our lunch from. Everyone kicked back, took off their shoes, and took it all in.

Lunch view from the Rocky Ridge Trail.

Lunchtime view from the Rocky Ridge Trail.

Back on the trail we were now on a course back to the valley, and over the next several miles we would pass over a number of knobs and rocky features before finally diving down to Stonecoal Creek. Along the way we passed a couple on horseback, and while I like riding I would rather be walking this rocky stretch of trail.

Along the Rocky Ridge Trail

Along the Rocky Ridge Trail

 

As we started down the Big Stonecoal Trail our destination was the second crossing of Stonecoal Creek. It had been described by one author as “the most beautiful campsite in the entire Dolly Sods Wilderness”, with the promise of a nice sand beach and plenty of campsites. I must admit, after our camp at Three Forks the night before I had pretty high expectations. We hit the first crossing and Stonecoal Creek was barely a trickle, not the mighty creek I had expected. When we hit the second crossing we all  had our doubts as to whether this was the spot we were looking for, so much so that Matt and his son dropped their packs and hiked on to the next trail junction just to verify our position. We were there all right, but what a letdown. I will admit that the campsite grew on as as we made it our home, but we had such high hopes. There were few decent spots to hang and the beach we were promised wouldn’t have normally even garnered a look if we weren’t told about it ahead of time.

Stonecoal Creek

Stonecoal Creek

No worries, we were still just happy to be outdoors. Our biggest concern at this point was the fact that Dave and Noah hadn’t made it to camp. It was after 4 pm and I thought they would have been there by now. Knowing there was no way to verify that they even made the trip from New Jersey, we set about the business of setting up camp. Around 5 pm I noticed a hiker coming down the trail and realized it was Noah. They made it! Dave said he had a frustrating time with some of the trail junctions, and apparently there more than a few folks having the same troubles. Somehow he had sorted it all out and found us.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Dave and Matt relaxing by the creek

Paul and Matt relaxing by the creek

After dinner I was relaxing in my hammock when the next thing I knew I woke up and it was dark. I checked my watch – 9 pm. I could hear the guys talking and spied a campfire. By the time I got up to join them it was pitch black. What the heck! Apparently I had caught the last of the fire as everyone was hitting the hay. Oh well, back to bed. I guess I must have been tired as I slept until 7 am.

Day 3

Anxious to hit the trail

Anxious to hit the trail

After breakfast camp broke down rather quickly. I suppose we’re a pretty well oiled machine at this point.It’s not the breakdown that’s tough, it’s usually just getting moving that we struggle with. If you haven’t tried it and you’re the type to likes to get up early I warn you now, don’t buy a hammock. There is always a temptation to just lay there a little longer, and to steal a quote from Dave, “It’s glorious!”.

As we prepared for our journey out Matt shared with us from Isaiah 55:1-9, “Come, everyone who thirsts,come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?………….For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LordFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”. God wants us to be heavenly minded in all we do, to invest in “the bread of life” and “living waters”. These things were already bought at a price that we cannot afford through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Hiking through Mountain Laurel

Hiking through Mountain Laurel

As always the hike out seems to fly by. As we crossed Red Creek we stopped for one last rest stop. It’s funny because that’s when most of us try to eat the last of our food because we want to walk out with nothing left. Like it matters if I get to the trail head with a pack of crackers in my food bag. It’s nice to be strange when no one is looking sometimes, I guess.

First of all, I guess I’d like to rate the campsites we’ve stayed at in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. We’re all in agreement so I can speak for the group. Number one by a mile is Three Forks. I can’t think of one bad thing to say about the spot – it’s a gem. Number two would be along the Left Branch of Upper Red Creek where it crosses the Blackbird Knob Trail. Just an exceptional spot with the right amount of solitude. A distant third would be along Stonecoal Creek, and that’s only because I have yet to camp in the meadows of the upper ‘sods. I can picture a spectacular star show from the open plains and hope to one day experience it first hand. Which brings me to my impression of Dolly Sods after my second hike there. I’m certain that we will all be back here soon.There is so much diversity, just enough of a challenge, and the beauty of the area keeps my mind wandering back time and time again. We have other adventures to pursue, but Dolly Sods will be on my short list for some time to come.

PS: By the way, I’m still struggling with the idea of carrying extra gear on most trips, although a big fat juicy steak on occasion might just sway me!

 

 

 

Well, Hello Dolly

Joshua 2:1

“And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” 

Matt and I getting started

Matt and I getting started

For Trip Pictures Click Here

As a backpacker my to-do list of hikes is relatively short, but it never seems to get shorter as I complete each hike. Part of the reason is because as I explore new areas there always seems to be more options to explore. Well I’m here to tell you my short list just got a little longer after my June 28-29, 2014 visit to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in “almost heaven” West Virginia. Joined by my brother (and not often enough hiking companion) Matt Bealor, we had the pleasure of exploring just a piece of the 17,371 acres that comprise the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

 

Dolly Sods

Dolly Sods

Getting to the “Sods” was an adventure in itself (isn’t it that way on every trip?) that entails a bit of “country” driving that eventual leads to a single lane gravel forest service road that winds and climbs for about 6 miles and 2000 feet before reaching the top of the plain, before connecting to another gravel road to access the various trail heads in Dolly Sods. No matter, the terrain and scenery were beautiful, and the pre-adventure excitement was building, until we finally reached our starting point – the Bear Rocks trail head.

Bear Rocks Trail trail head

Bear Rocks Trail trail head

An ominous warning

An ominous warning

Apparently back in 1943 this area was used by the army for maneuvers and mountain training for WWII, and there was a bit of unexploded ordnance left behind. Much of it was cleaned up in 1997 at the most popular campsites, but there is still this warning, “IF YOU DID NOT DROP IT DO NOT PICK IT UP”. Me: “Hey Matt, is that your grenade under my hammock” Matt: ” Yeah man, sorry it must have slipped out of my pack, Can you pick it up for me?” Me: “Sorry man I didn’t drop it so I can’t pick it up” Yikes!

Matt heading out into the great unknown

Matt heading out into the great unknown

Trails in Dolly Sods have both a name and a number, but no blazes or other markings like those found on the AT for example, and I found that I rather liked it that way. None of the trails were difficult to follow, in my opinion, and all of the major junctions and trail heads were well marked.

Trails in Dolly Sods North

Trails in Dolly Sods North

Day 1

We started off on the Bear Rocks Trail (number 522), and right away knew this would be a different kind of hike. Typically most hikes here in the northeast are wooded with limited views, and that’s kind of what I expected here. Instead we started with rolling hills and open views, and that is what 80% of this hike would be. It was a genuine pleasure to be able to hike with my head up, looking around, instead of watching my feet. We started off on a gently meandering downhill path, and I hardly realized the path had as much slope as it did until the next day when we had to climb back to the trail head. We crossed the Dobbin Grade trail and reached a piece of trail where a boardwalk over a muddy section started in the middle of a mud hole! I was hoping this wasn’t a taste of things to come.

This boardwalk was a little short!

This boardwalk was a little short!

First view of Red Creek

First view of Red Creek

Just beyond the boardwalk we entered a short wooded section and our first crossing of Red Creek. Someone had made camp along its banks and I could hardly blame them. It was just a little too close to the trail head for my liking. The trail climbed gently through the forest, and just before we broke out into the open again Matt and I decided to take a lunch break. As we rested quite a few people passed us by. The one thing I did notice was that just about everyone we saw on day one were day hikers. In fact we only passed a few backpackers all weekend.

One fellow on his way back to the trail head commented on how hot it was out in the open, but as we packed up from lunch some cloud cover rolled in. I was quite grateful since I hadn’t anticipated how exposed we would be, and was happy not to bake in the sun. In fact, between the clouds and the breeze it was a pleasant walk.

Cloudy hike

Cloudy hike

Matt on the Raven Ridge TRail

Matt on the Raven Ridge Trail

The trail meandered along open grasslands, interspersed with the occasional short wooded section, providing enough diversity to keep things interesting. Matt and I eventually came to the Raven Ridge Trail (521) and this trail just felt like an extension of the the first since the scenery stayed the same. Once we hit the Rocky Ridge Trail (524) that would all change. The character of the trail became much more rocky (hence the name –  just call me captain obvious) and as we hiked near the edge of the plateau the occasional view of the valley would open up. In the meantime you could look to the east and see the terrain you had covered over the past few miles. Throw in a little rain and things quickly got interesting as the rocks got more slippery.

Valley views on the Rocky Ridge Trail

Valley views on the Rocky Ridge Trail

The rain slacked as we made the turn onto the Harman Trail (525), but either way our spirits couldn’t be dampened because we knew that with each step lower into the valley we were that much closer to camp. As we reached the Blackbird Knob Trail (511) our pace quickened and at last we reached Upper Red Creek.

Upper Red CReek

Upper Red Creek

Someone had pitched a tent right off the junction of the trail and creek, but we were looking for more secluded digs. Just after you cross Upper Red Creek there is a trail to the left that follows the creek, and after a short 1/4 mile walk we were in a grove of red spruce that just begged for a couple of weary hammock hangers to call it home. Unfortunately right about the time I hung my hammock it began to rain. I hurriedly strung my tarp and dried my hammock before putting up my quilts. After helping Matt get setup I returned only to discover my trees were a little too close, and my ridge line was not taut. At that point I was more interested in getting out of the rain than looking for another hang so I decided to make do.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to cook under cover, but it was a nice change of pace. I enjoyed my Mountain House Beef Patties and Mashed Potatoes dinner. Afterward, I decided to read, lounge, and generally call it a night. It was only 8 PM, and still light out, but I was bushed and it was raining. As I relaxed I could hear Matt up and about, working on a fire and staying busy.

I'm bushed

I’m bushed

Day 2

Even with a lousy setup I still slept very well. I guess it couldn’t have been that bad. I woke up about 5:45 and decided to make breakfast, figuring Matt would also be up soon. After retrieving my bear bag, cooking, and eating Matt still wasn’t stirring so I dozed off again, this time waking at 8:30. Thankfully this time Matt was up.

Matt enjoying the morning

Matt enjoying the morning

On a whim I packed in a package of Jiffy Pop popcorn, and this became my second breakfast (no fire for me last night even though Matt succeeded in making one, and I wasn’t carrying uncooked food out). We took our good old time packing up and I believe we set a new record for latest time leaving camp at 11:00 AM!

Before heading out I read the morning devotion from the Book of Psalms, chapter 8:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens,

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

you have established strength because of your foes,

to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
 how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

It’s mind blowing to think that the God of the universe would not only care to know my name (and yours), but also entrust me (us) as stewards over all of His creation. Very humbling indeed!

Heading back out to the main trail

Heading back out to the main trail

Once again we hiked under overcast skies, as we turned onto the Blackbird Knob Trail (511), this time in the direction of the Upper Red Creek Trail (509). After a bit of mixed hiking we reached an unmarked trail junction (odd, I thought), but I figured it was the 509 trail so we turned left. It turns out that was just a good guess, since a short distance later we came to the real trail junction. The Upper Red Creek Trail doesn’t actually follow a creek as you might presume, but rather crosses a low hill on it’s way to the next trail. After a quick snack and some easy hiking we reached the junction of the notorious Dobbin Grade Trail (526). This trail follows the route of an old railroad grade that hauled timber out of this region many years ago. That fact alone would make you think you were in for some solid,  easy hiking. Not so. This section of the 526 trail is in a low valley (relatively speaking) so it is “famously” muddy. Read any trip report of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and you’ll know what I mean. After you cross Red Creek it becomes unbelievable soupy and boggy for probably about a mile. It’s a real mind game to not become annoyed, but if you just take the time to look up and look around, the views can change your attitude fast.

Matt crossing Red Creek along the Dobbin Grade Trail

Matt crossing Red Creek along the Dobbin Grade Trail

Beautiful views on a boggy rainy hike

Beautiful views on a boggy rainy hike

Somewhere after passing the Beaver Dam Trail (520) the rain decided to get serious, at least serious enough to clean the mud from our shoes. By the time we made our final turn on the Bear Rocks Trail (522) the weather no longer mattered, as we were in “back to trail head” mode. There’s something about being in the home stretch that makes everything okay. We passed a fellow who was camped way too close to the road in my opinion, but other than that we only saw a couple of day hikers all day.

What a trip! Dolly Sods lived up to everything I had hoped for and more. Views, beauty, some solitude – what more could I ask for? There is no doubt we will return again, and if I have my way it’ll be soon.