Pulling Up A Seat At (The) Table

Psalm 78:19

“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?”

 

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Full moon over the WWTS camp on Table Mt., Catskills (Image courtesy of Matt Bealor)

Psalm 78 is in the middle of a narrative of God’s goodness vs. man’s wickedness, so yes, it is a little out of context. Matt and I were fighting a different battle; God’s goodness in providing us a Table in the wilderness (Table Mt. in the Catskills that is) vs our sort of being in shape and climbing a mountain in the winter (well, last day of winter/first day of spring).

This trip started out as a trip to the Old Loggers Path in Pennsylvania that eventually morphed into “Hey, let’s go to the Catskills instead”. I took out the maps and poured over the possibilities, and every time I was drawn back to the area around Slide Mountain. The decision was made to hike to Table Mountain from the Slide Mountain trailhead, a hike of about 5.8 miles each way. After a 4 hour drive we pulled into the trailhead parking lot only to discovery just how popular Slide was as a day hiking destination – not a space remained. What’s a road weary hiker to do? I tried to make a spot work, but when you drive a F250 extended cab behometh there’s no squeezing into anything. Instead we decided to go to the trail head in Denning since it’s in the middle of nowhere and would shorten our hike to about 3.6 miles. Turns out this was a good choice.

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As the pavement turned into a winding gravel road I thought, “There’s no way anyone is out here”. I underestimated how popular this area is. There were plenty of spaces in the lot, but there had to be at least a dozen cars there. We only saw about 4 other groups on the trail all day, so I have to assume this is another semi popular access route to Slide Mountain.

It felt good to saddle up, and the trail starts out as a pleasant walk on an old woods road. My guess is this was an old carriage road from way back, and the first 1.2 miles to the Table-Peekamoose Moutain Trail is nice, easy walking.

Turn off to Table Mt.

Turn off to Table Mt.

Interesting thing to me is that the junction of the Peekamoose Mt – Table Trail and the Curtis – Ormsby Trail is the terminus of the Finger Lakes Trail (or one of the spurs). I don’t understand why they just didn’t end either at the Denning Trailhead,or after crossing Table and Peekamoose, instead of here in the woods. How many licks to the center of a tootsie pop? The world may never know.

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After turning onto the TPT (Table – Peekamoose Mt Trail) we started downhill on a moderate grade until we came to the two crossing of the East Branch of the Neversink River. The bridges that cross the Neversink are very well made, and you can tell that there are certain times of year (spring melt comes to mind) that you are not hiking here.

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By the way, that rope on the second bridge is totally worthless.If you lose your balance your taking a fall.

Around this time we stopped to talk with a man and his son and we asked them if they were coming back from Table. His reply was, “No, we only made it partway up the steep section before turning back.” He told us he got his butt kicked by the mountain.

Upward and onward the trail started to climb, and shortly we realized we were on the section the guy was telling us about. He gave up too easy, as I think this was the toughest part of the whole hike.

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I thought we were climbing Table, but it soon became apparent we were just crossing a shoulder, and once over the top we met a group who confirmed my suspicion. They gave us some good info and encouragement,and once again off we went. We came to a viewpoint over Table and Peekamoose that allowed me to get my bearings, and we realized we were almost there.

Table Mt (left) and Peekamoose (right)

Table Mt (left) and Peekamoose (right)

Soon enough we passed the spring and came to the Table Mt lean to,which sits about 7/10 of a mile and about 500 (?) feet below the summit of Table Mt.

Table Mt Lean to

Table Mt Lean to

If you’re a hanger the trees are slim pickings, and Matt and I spent probably at least a 1/2 hour trying to find a halfway decent set of trees to hang on.

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My rig

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Matt’s setup

After getting set up Matt decided to hike to Table’s summit, while I took a nap. I was using a 20 degree 950 fill power goose down bag I had thrown together for this trip, and even though it was about 30° I was not as warm as I would have liked. After a bit of tossing and turning I decided to get up and look at my underquilt. As I turned to swing out of my hammock my butt bumped something underneath – the ground! I had hung my pack and trail runners from my webbing and it allowed enough slack for my suspension to slide down the tree! The hammock had sagged down, creating air gaps underneath,and no amount of top insulation was going to fix that.

That's a no no

That’s a no no

After resetting everything and climbing back aboard, aaaaah, instant heat!  Now that I was sure of a good nights sleep, dinner was the plan. I walked down to the lean-to so I would have a flat platform to cook on, and was met by three fellows from Jersey that were spending the night. The one fellow, Dan, was in the market for a hammock and quilts, and had a ton of questions. It was fun to answer their questions while I was cooking (Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili, one of my favorites), and after we were done I plodded back to camp to see how Matt was making out. He had returned and offered that there was a limited view, and some snow on the summit of Table.

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Summit of Table Mt

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Sunset from Table Mt

In addition to the forest of rotten trees where we camped, all of the down wood was wet and rotted as well. That’s no issue for Matt, as he seems to be able to set water on fire. His trail name should be the Torch, because you will always have a campfire, no matter the conditions,when Matt is around.

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The breeze seemed to keep the heat from escaping the fire ring, and we both decided to call it a night. I have to say, I slept fitfully, and got up at least three times during the night. At one point it sounded like it had started raining,and while I normally like sleeping in the rain, I jumped up in a panic. Neither of us had thought to bring microspikes, and if it was raining it would freeze and turn the trails to a sheet of ice! As I climbed out of my warm bed I realized it wasn’t raining, although I couldn’t tell you what the sound was I heard on my tarp. Back to bed, heart pounding, waiting for the morning.

Morning finally broke, and we were a pretty efficient affair, eating breakfast and breaking down in record time. The hike out was actually over rather quickly, as it was downhill most of the way. We stopped to snack at the Neversink, and then we were done! Not even a picture to be had on the way out.

All in all,I think we made a good call heading to the Catskills. Our trip over the Burroughs Range last year didn’t leave us warm and fuzzy on the Catskills, but Table Mountain renewed our desire to explore more of the area. I’m sure we’ll be back.

 

 

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.

 

 

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

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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!

 

 

 

 

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.

Coming Full Circle on the Appalachian Trail

Numbers 23:9

“For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”

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Click Here To See All Trip Photos

Day 1

The very first section I ever completed on the Appalachian Trail was Pennsylvania section 3, from Rt. 309 north to Lehigh Gap near Palmerton, PA. Ever since that June 1989 hike I have expoused my love of this section, calling it my favorite in Pennsylvania, but for some reason never returning. Now as things have come full circle, not only was it the first section of the AT I ever completed, but it currently is the last I’ve completed. On May 3-4, 2014 I had the honor of taking along some of the usual suspects (Paul Cummings along with sons Brian and Joshua, Dave Darrow with son Noah, Josh Gordon, and Brian’s friend and first timer Jeremiah). The coolest part about redoing this hike nearly 25 years later is that I didn’t remember the details. I remembered The Knife Edge, Bear Rocks, and Bake Oven Knob, but I didn’t remember the “in betweens”. It was nice to have to fill the pieces in, so to speak, and it made for a few pleasant surprises and some great new memories.

 

Old friends circa June 1989

Old friends at New Tripoli circa June 1989

Old friends circa 2014

Old friends at New Tripoli circa 2014

After shuttling vehicles the trip started around 11:15 am on Saturday morning. The first part of the trip between 309 and New Tripoli Campsite flew by rather quickly and we were taking in the first of many views that day. Beyond New Tripoli the trail becomes very rocky, as should be expected anywhere on the Pennsylvania AT north of Duncannon. Before long we reached an area along the trail known as The Cliffs. This spot has obviously become somewhat overgrown over the last 25 years, and after a climb to the top I was disappointed  by the lack of views.

Joshua posing like a BOSS on top of the cliffs

Joshua lookin’  like a BOSS on top of the cliffs

No matter, I still enjoyed the breeze as I sat and enjoyed lunch. I could catch glimpses of the PA countryside through the trees, with the occasional hawk giving us a fly-by. “I’m back old friend. What other changes do you have in store for me?”

Back on the trail we hiked further along the rocky spine of Blue Mountain, until finally reaching The Knife Edge. What great fun to be hiking on the very top edge of the mountain, scrambling over boulders and taking in views.

Paul on The Knife Edge

Paul on The Knife Edge

Dave on the Knife Edge

Dave taking in the views from The Knife Edge

IMG_1364

Along The Knife Edge

Once again, the same only different – my memory again left me coming up short. I seemed to remember a slightly shorter version of the real thing. It was actually a good thing since I enjoyed the scrambling all the more this time.

Just about the time I was ready for a break, we reached Bear Rocks. This was the one feature that really showed me how much I had forgotten. In my faded memory I remember walking along and Bear Rocks was next to the trail at trail level. Not so. Bear Rocks actually entails a bit of a climb to the top.

Climb up to Bear Rocks

Climb up to Bear Rocks

Nothing crazy mind you – just not what I remember. Once up on top the views were just as good as I remembered, with Bake Oven Knob ahead in the distance.

View from Bear Rocks

View from Bear Rocks

The next stretch of trail was pleasant easy walking until just beyond the parking area for Bake Oven Knob. We walked straight through the circus scene of people goofing off and partying at the parking lot (a dirt lot in the middle of know where, mind you) and reentered the woods. As we climbed to the knob the trail became increasingly more rocky until we at last reached the prize – Bake Oven Knob.

Bake Oven Knob

Bake Oven Knob

From the knob on a clear day you can see for at least 20 miles to the north, following the trail along Blue Mountain. The only sad thing about this area is because there is a cross mountain road and parking area just 7/10’s of a mile away graffiti has become a real problem. It’s very unfortunate that there are those who, when given easy access, destroy the beautiful things that others work so hard to enjoy. That’s why I rarely hike the AT these days – I like to go to places where only people who truly enjoy the outdoors (and don’t mind a little hard work to get there) seek the solitude that keeps the vandals away. Don’t get me wrong, the AT has it’s place and has some beautiful sections. I just prefer solitude over the social experience the Appalachian Trail provides, but enough of me and my soapbox.

North of Bake Oven Knob the trail is a little less rocky, which was good because the rain the forecasters were calling for finally caught up to us. It started drizzling as we approached Bake Oven Knob shelter, our destination for the day. The shelter was occupied so we set about setting up tarps and hammocks, and just as I helped set up the last of the tarps the rain stopped. Ya just gotta have a sense of humor folks.

Three hammocks in a row, with the tarps down low

Three hammocks in a row, with the tarps down low

After dinner we decided to skip the fire since everything was soooo wet. By night fall everyone was ready to sack out. Just after dark the rain started coming down in earnest, but it was short lived. All in all, it was great night to be in the woods. Our first time hammock hanger, Noah, had the high ground and judging by how hard it was to get him up I’d say he slept well.

Jeremiah rising to join the morning

Jeremiah rising to greet the morning

Day 2

Aah, morning, oh precious morning. Never do I sleep as well as I do in the woods in my hammock. When I finally drag myself from my fluffy, downy cocoon, I appreciate what a great night’s sleep feels like. It must be a mutual feeling because I’ve never heard anyone else in our small circle of hangers say they hate sleeping off the ground. As usual Dave was up early, perking up some of his industrial strength coffee. Little by little camp came to life, and before we knew it breakfast was done and all signs of our visit disappeared into eight tidy bundles.

Ready for a new day

Ready for a new day

Before heading out Paul shared from 1 Timothy 2:1-7, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” There is no more powerful prayer than selfless intercessory prayer for a lost and hurting world. Intercessory prayer mirrors the very heart of God ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” What a blessing to start our day in prayer!

Noah leading the way

Noah leading the way

Once again we started off with my memories of the trail clouded by snippets of a time long past. I seemed to remember the trail being very rocky northbound from Bake Oven Knob shelter, but instead we were marching on very pleasant trail. After a good bit of hiking we hit the rocky section I remember, but that wasn’t until just before Ashfield Road. I had prepared myself for some rough travel, but I have to say most of this day would be very nice walking. After a snack break on a very rocky power cut, we dove back into the forest along some wet, but easy trail.

Nice steady climb

Nice steady climb

The trail climbed steadily at an easy grade, eventually reaching the height of the land where it would remain for most of the rest of our hike. At one point during the climb I hit a bit of a low energy wise, but after a little bit of nose to the grindstone effort pushed through and got back into a better state of mind. There’s no doubt that I need to get in better shape so I don’t have these “walls” to push through. That will be one of my goals for our upcoming hikes. Anyway, it didn’t hurt my outlook that the trail was much easier than I had anticipated, and I was rather enjoying the views to the north that were vaguely visible through the trees.

Views to the north

Views to the north

We took a lunch break at a cell tower that I don’t think was here 25 years ago (but I could be wrong), right above the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel through Blue Mountain. It was kinda cool to think that here we were on top of Blue Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, eating lunch, and 1000 feet or so directly below us cars and trucks were flying by on the interstate oblivious to the beauty above.  We made it a slightly longer break since this would be our final push back to the trail head.

After passing George Outerbridge shelter the trail takes a nosedive off the ridge on it’s journey to Lehigh Gap. My one memory of this area years ago was that the rhododendron were in full bloom, bright whites and purples adding to the beauty of the day. Unfortunately we were a little early to see the blooms, but it was a nice walk in the woods regardless. As always seems the case, we were suddenly thrust back into a world of man made things as we broke from the trees into Lehigh Gap.

Lehigh Gap

Lehigh Gap

I guess there’s no gentle way to reemerge from a pleasant hike in the woods, but it just seems so abrupt every trip. This one was special for me, and even now I am grateful to look back at the “new” memories I have of what is still my favorite section of the Pennsylvania AT.

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Whoops! In my hurry to publish this post I forgot to include this great video of the trip put together by Brian Cummings. He has knack for getting the shots that make for a great trip video. Many thanks Brian!

 

 

 

 

Puttin’ A Few Miles On A Set Of “Retreads”

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The "Retreads" (John, George, David

The “Retreads” (John, George, David)

Click HERE for Trip Pictures

While I may have recently purchased a new set of tires for my truck, I decided to put a few miles on a set of retreads in Louisiana. Now you may be thinking, “Really George, all you had to do was ask. I would have pitched in and helped you get something better than retreads.” (Of course you were thinking that – not!) No matter, the retreads I refer to are none other than my long time, but never met, brothers from another mother, John Donewar and David LeBlanc. We are the “retreads” because we all have a few miles on our tired worn out bodies, and are all in need of retreading.

I flew into New Orleans and John and his wife Cheryl were kind enough to pick me up and open their home to me for my visit. (I love the term “visit” by the way – “Where ya’ll going?” “Gonna go visit for a while”). Our original plan had been to drive to the Natchez Trace Trail and do an overnight, but as the trip grew closer things conspired to change our plans. David was under the weather, I took a nasty little fall at work and my ankle was swollen, John was a little worn down and the weather looked pretty rough on day two. No matter, as it turns out the Retreads are little more resilient than they sound. At this point I will say, “Go ahead and laugh young men. If you’re lucky enough you’ll live long enough to have the same aches and pains too!”

In the morning John and I set out across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to pick up David for a day of hiking. The causeway is the longest bridge in the world at just under 24 miles long, and gave us plenty of time to share in the word. Since it was April 5th I started out in Proverbs 5, and the warnings about the adulteress quickly led us to 2 Samuel 11 where we talked of David and Bathsheba. Needless to say, there is comfort in knowing that God uses men with “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you” (Psalm 51:17) When you go looking to serve in God’s kingdom the sign on the door says “Perfect people need not apply”.

Lake Ponchartrain Causeway

Lake Ponchartrain Causeway

After arriving at David’s and heading into town for breakfast, we set off in search of a hike. By now we were all feeling better, but were glad not to have to deal with the upcoming bad weather on the Natchez Trace. We landed at Bogue Chitto State Park in Washington Parish, and quickly arrived at the Gorge Trailhead.

The Gorge Trail

The Gorge Trail

The park and it’s trails offer some nice hiking and camping options and a few amenities I’ve never seen at home. The trails were very pleasant for hiking, and wide enough to walk two or three wide and talk.

Beautiful paths

Beautiful paths

Any worries of pain and suffering disappeared as three friends shared stories and good natured ribbing, mixed in with lots of belly laughs. If you didn’t know any better you’d think we had been hiking together all our lives. We hiked until the trail started to become ridiculously slippery and muddy, then started back to the trail head. At one point I stopped to take a picture of the Bogue Chitto River, and slipped and fell in the mud. My initiation into the  Retreads was complete now that I had a Louisiana mud bath!

Bogue Chitto River

Bogue Chitto River

At one of the road crossing a nice lady flagged us down and we thought she had car trouble. Turns out she just wanted to show us some nesting Night Herons she spotted in the forest. I’m not much of a bird watcher, but it was pretty cool to see. Before we knew it we were back at the trail head and another adventure was over.

Bogue Chitto State Park

Bogue Chitto State Park

We visited a while with David and his wife Barbara, and all too soon departed my new “old” friend. As I write I am still visiting with John and Cheryl, and tomorrow will be a sad adieu. It, however, is not good bye, but, à la prochaine fois – until we meet again.

 

 

 

A Second Chance For Harriman

Isaiah 43:18

“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.”

 

Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms

Click Here To View Trip Pictures

Back in October I paid a visit to Harriman State Park in New York State, and it met me with beautiful trails and vistas, but the crowds and lack of water left me wanting a do over. I vowed to return in the off season to see another side of this diamond in the rough. I got my chance on the final weekend of December 2013. The forecast was for cold and rain on day two, so I set out, with my brother Paul Cummings, to see how the character of the park would change.

Day 1

I planned three different loop hikes so that we could assess the conditions when we got to Harriman and make an informed decision, and due to winter road closing and such we decided to do a repeat of the hike I did in October. The parking lot at Reeves Meadow was full, with just one spot left for my pickup in a snow pile by the trash dumpster. For the most part any snow from recent storms had melted, except what was piled high on the parking lot fringe. I was hoping this would be the case on the trail as well, since there were a few steep ups and downs to contend with during day one.

As we started it was cool and cloudy, not the sunny day we were promised. No matter – any day hiking is a good day.

Nice clear trail

Nice clear trail

There was breeze that added a nice crispness to the air, and it created the only sounds in the forest aside from mine and Paul’s conversation.

Cool boulder

Cool boulder

As we climbed ever higher on the Seven Hills Trail it became apparent that the heavens were going to bless us with the warming sun we were hoping for. By the time we reached the top of the ridge and the junction of the HTS Trail it was clear, with awesome views to the north and south.

Looking north toward Torne View

Looking north toward Torne View

As we climbed toward Torne View we came across some ice that made hiking interesting, but not all that difficult. Thankfully that would be the case the whole trip.

Icy patch

Icy patch

Paul and I took a short break at Torne View, but the stiff breeze chased us onward.

Amigos at Torne View

Amigos at Torne View

The trails were rather empty, however we did run into a large group of scouts on the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail near Chipmunk Mountain. We continued on and their sounds disappeared as fast as they had appeared. As we turned onto the Kakiat Trail I was optimistic that we would find water, given the recent snow fall. Even though the streams were all dry in October, I could now hear the unmistakable rush of flowing water. In fact every stream was flowing, even the ones I was told about that aren’t on the map. That makes me happy, happy, happy indeed.

Takin' a picture because it might not be there next time

Takin’ a picture because it might not be there next time 🙂

As we hiked along I was thinking about how I figured my food just right and would eat the last of my days rations before camp, and we had water so life was good, and we would hit camp just before dark and all those things that you think about when you don’t have to think about anything at all, when it happened. Somewhere on Cobus Mountain I bonked. I completely ran out of steam. Rationing properly doesn’t mean a hill of beans if the food you eat doesn’t keep the machine going. Fortunately we were in the last mile or so, but it was a drag gettin’ it done.

Stone Memorial Lean-to

Stone Memorial Lean-to

Paul and I set about the business of setting up camp, and the unmarked stream that flows downhill from the lean-to was flowing, so we had everything we could ask for in a campsite, including solitude.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I set up my stove, put on warm clothes, and started to second guess whether or not my paper thin quilts would keep me warm. As Paul attempted to start a fire I tried to force down my chicken and stuffing dinner, but my appetite just wasn’t there. I ate what I could and decided to hit the sack at 6:30 pm, just as darkness settled in. The wet wood just didn’t want to cooperate and since it wasn’t all that important Paul gave up and hit the hay as well. To my pleasant surprise I woke up an hour later quite comfortably (almost too toasty, in fact) warm. Even though it dipped into the 20’s overnight I slept happily warm all night. All I can say is I will never doubt my Hammock Gear quilts again.

Day 2

After a great nights sleep I think we packed up in record time. Paul and I were eager to get underway, as the days forecast called for rain in the late morning. We were so eager that as we started out of camp it occurred to me that we forgot our morning devotion. We stopped and took time to thank God for all that He has blessed us with, and away we went, only stopping to water up.

The trail back to the parking lot is generally downhill to level, and the highlights are Pine Meadow Lake as well as Pine Meadow and Stony Brooks.

A frozen Pine Meadow Lake

A frozen Pine Meadow Lake

The great thing about a winter hike on a rainy day is the lack of crowds, and I reveled in the fact that we would pass only about two dozen hikers on the way out, as opposed to the 200 or so I probably saw in October.

Pine Meadow Brook

Pine Meadow Brook

As Paul and I hiked the last 100 yards the rain drops started down. After we loaded up our gear and climbed into my cab it started coming down in buckets. Timing is everything, I always say.

So was the second time the charm? I enjoyed this hike just as much as my first experience, and all I can say is I think I found a new winter hiking destination.

 

 

 

 

 

Hangin’ In Harriman

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”

Starting out at Reeves Meadow Visitors Center

Starting out at Reeves Meadow Visitors Center

Click Here For Trip Pictures

Sometimes the circumstances that direct our paths through life (as well as our paths in the forest) can’t be imagined until you get there. So it went in the days leading up to this hike. I was supposed to meet up with a couple of dear brothers on a hike over McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Central Virginia, but while I was en route life intervened. A few days later, with a pack still loaded for a three day walk, I decided to stay close to home and hike in New York state’s Harriman State Park. For those of you unfamiliar with Harriman, it lies approximately 20 miles north of New York City, and contains the first miles ever constructed of the Appalachian Trail. My plan was to stay away from the crowds (as much as one can) and hike in the south-west corner of the park. As I parked my truck at the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center I found it hard to believe I was so close to New York City, and yet there were only 6 cars in the parking lot. I guess I should have known better – it was a Friday after all.

The first of many uphills

The first of many uphills

My walk started with a short walk west on the Pine Meadow Trail which led me to the Seven Hills trail. As the name states, the trail crosses seven hills if you follow its entire length. My plans were a little more loose and free-spirited, and I decided my route based on a whim of the moment. When I reached the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail I decided against the views from Ramapo Torne and instead stayed on the Seven Hills Trail to Torne View.

Seven Hills Trail straight up to Torne View (yes the trail goes that way)

Seven Hills Trail straight up to Torne View (yes the trail goes that way)

The trail takes a vertical approach for the last 20 feet, then suddenly you’re standing on a ledge enjoying views to the northwest of the New York countryside.

Looking northwest from Torne View

Looking northwest from Torne View

There were a few day hikers out, but I was able to pick my degree of solitude merely by varying my hiking pace. In this instance that meant an extended lunch/nap while taking in the views. Soon enough I was alone again.

The world through my eyes

The world through my eyes

Back on the trail with my belly full and mind empty, I made the turn onto the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail. This was one of my favorite trails on this hike, since it was mostly a hilltop trail. There’s just something about hiking above the surrounding countryside that is really cool.

Raccoon Brook Hills Trail

Raccoon Brook Hills Trail

View from the Pulpit

View from the Pulpit

Right about the time I dropped down into the Torne Valley I realized I needed to start looking for water. No big deal I thought – the map showed two streams on the Kakiat Trail, so I made the turn. One half mile later I was looking at a dry stream bed. No problem, I’m not dry yet. I stopped to snack and look at my options just in case. Another half mile and another dry stream bed – yikes! I said a short prayer for safe passage and continued on, but by now I was rationing water and starting to dehydrate. I adjusted my pace to conserve energy and as I reached the Suffern- Bear Mountain Trail I knew that the next stream would be no better. The song “Oceans” by Hillsong United was stuck in my head, “Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”.   I reached a viewpoint where I could make out the New York City skyline 20 miles distant, and at least for a short while that helped to take my mind off my immediate trouble.

New York City skyline 20 miles away

New York City skyline 20 miles away

I might as well kill the tension right now – I wasn’t going to die. I was just going to get a reminder of how much you can trust maps. Anyway, I knew what I had to do, like it or not. My destination for the night was Stone Memorial shelter, which is a dry shelter. That meant I would first have to detour down the Conklins Crossing Trail to Pine Meadow Lake for water. This added an extra mile or so round trip that in my dehydrated state I did not appreciate. At the lake I filled both of my bottles, then proceeded to drink 32 ounces straight down. This upset my stomach, but I knew I knew I needed to drink up. I briefly debated finding a stealth camping spot somewhere around the lake, but I knew I couldn’t do it. I remember someone telling me once, ” It’s not what you do when people are watching, but what you do when no one is watching that defines your character”.  Camping is only legal around the shelters in Harriman and I was determined to do the right thing.

Stone Memorial shelter

Stone Memorial shelter

I’m glad I did, because the hike back up to the ridge wasn’t that bad. I reached the shelter around 4:30 pm, and was immediately impressed. Made completely of stone, with three fireplaces, it sat on top of a rock slab (but unfortunately no views). There were five guys already camping in the shelter so I walked to the bottom of the rock and found a site that was as good as I could hope for anywhere.

What could be better?

What could be better?

I set up the hammock, got water boiling and hung my bear bag. At that point there was nothing to do but relax. Nothing is sweeter than chilling in camp after you’ve earned it. Stuffing, gravy, and chicken for dinner followed by some reading and before I knew it, it was dark. The guys up on the hill were drinking and whooping it up, so I just kept to myself. Eventually everyone settled down and all that was left was the sounds of the woods. Aaahh, yes!

Day 2

Boiling water for breakfast

Boiling water for breakfast

I awoke a few times during the night to answer mother nature’s call, but otherwise slept well. In fact I didn’t get up until around 8 am. There’s nothing like a great night’s sleep in a hammock, and if I could convince my wife I’d sleep in a hammock every night. Before finally committing to a new day I spent some time reading Psalms; “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” (Psalm 135:5-7 ESV). It’s by God’s great grace that I get to enjoy another beautiful day!

As I waited for my Mountain House scrambled eggs with ham to rehydrate, and my tea to cool, I broke camp.  I was originally going to make this a three day hike, but not wanting a repeat of the day before and given the uncertainty of the other water sources I was depending on, I decided to hike out instead. Since I was retracing my steps back to Pine Meadow Lake I was certain I would have no further water troubles.

Pine Meadow Lake

Pine Meadow Lake

It’s amazing what a good nights sleep can do for a person, and as I walked along I felt great. I knew I would be near good water all day, so I didn’t bother filling up at the lake. It was a crisp, clear, beautiful morning and nothing could spoil it. Well, almost.

Along Pine Meadow Lake

Along Pine Meadow Lake

As I walked along the shoreline I passed a large group of day hikers, about 30 in number. The closer I got to the upper end of the lake, the more people I passed. I continued on the Kakiat Trail as more and more people appeared. By the time I hit the Pine Meadow Trail, it had become a steady stream of day hikers, many of which were woefully ill prepared for any type of outdoor activity. Some looked like they genuinely didn’t want to be there. Maybe they hate crowds too, heh, heh.

Along the Pine Meadow Trail

Along the Pine Meadow Trail

I wasn’t sure how much further I had to go, so I finally gave in and filled my water bottle and took in a few snacks to keep me going. Better safe than sorry. Little did I know I was only about a quarter mile from the trailhead. Oh well.

The end is near

The end is in sight

Funny thing – you would think that all the people I passed would have prepared me for the circus I would see at the trailhead parking lot. Not so. As I meandered over to my truck I was struck by the immensity of it all. People fighting their way into the crowded lot, and people fighting their way out. Cars were parked as far as the eye could see in both directions along the road, and yet cars still pulled in, as if one of the twenty spots in the lot would miraculously be available. It was a mind blowing juxtaposition from the day before.

So what did I think of hiking in Harriman? Harriman has a lot to offer in terms of terrain, scenery, and resources. I personally thought it was beautiful! Unfortunately it’s incredibly taxed, particularly on the weekends. I would certainly go again (and I will, God willing), but never on a weekend. I would hike the southern section of the park and do it during the week. My next trip would be during the spring when water would (should) be more available. It’s not the solitude I find in the Adirondacks, but for me, Harriman State Park is a good opportunity to get away within a few hours of home.