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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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

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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!

 

 

 

 

Living A Resurrected Life

1 Corinthians 1:18

The teaching about the cross seems foolish to those who are lost. But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (ESV)

 

As I ponder the most significant day in history for most Christians, my heart leaps at the thought that my God’s not dead, but instead lives on in resurrected victory. The grave could not keep Him, sin had no power over Him – He is risen! Jesus truly is “the way , the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and by His death , burial, and resurrection Jesus created a way to the Father.

The Bible teaches that we were also crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), died with Christ (Romans 6:8), were buried with Christ (Romans 6:4), made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5), and raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). It is in our resurrection with Christ that we are to be a “new creation” – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

We were connected to Jesus at the cross because of our sin. Just as Jesus was buried, so should we bury our sin. In His resurrection Jesus rose up free from our sins, so too should we flee from our former sins. But we can’t do it alone. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit walks alongside us (para) convicting us of our sin prior to our conversion, and dwells in us at the time of our salvation (en), He also flows from us (epi) as we walk in Christ. I believe that we need to pray daily for a filling of the Holy Spirit since, to quote D.L. Moody, “I leak”. That, I believe, is the humble beginning to living a resurrected life – prayer. Pray daily for the strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, and love that our Saviour Jesus Christ lived every day in His life here on earth. Then pray for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, and I believe you’ll find the building blocks of living a resurrected life.

Happy Resurrection Day!

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.

 

 

 

Getting Back To Whack

Psalm 119:1

“You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.”

Back in November I hosted a Critical Incident Stress Management (CSIM) class which was the first step in the new CSIM team my church is starting. During the training we were discussing how severe stress can throw a person “out of whack” in their day to day routines. The inside “joke”, if you will, was that we help people “get back to whack”. Well, I’m trying to do just that with WWTS.

It’s been my desire to post here every 2-3 weeks, and the process of putting these posts together is one of my stress management tools. I love setting out on the adventures that I post here for you, and there something cathartic about putting them into word after it’s all done. It has been difficult lately to achieve that mission, and I guess from time time that’s life. With that in mind, it seems I’m getting back to whack.

I’ll be heading off to Mississippi for an overnighter in a few weeks, and I have a long overdue review of my ULA Ohm 2.0 pack that seems to call my name every time I log on here. There are also a few half finished drafts that beg for my attention now and again.

There’s been a lack, but I’m on track, and getting back to whack (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Stay tuned.

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

An Attitude of Gratitude

Job 1:20-22

“Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.  And he said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”

In the story of Job we are told that he was a “blameless and upright man”. When he lost everything -kids, house, wealth – he mourned his loss, as we humans will do. But Job continued to bless the name of the  Lord even as he grieved. Yes, he hit more bumps as time went by, but Job remembered where his true wealth lies. In the end God restored His faithful servant Job to even greater wealth than he had in the beginning.

Where does your treasure lie? On this Thanksgiving Day I pray you remember to bless the name of the Lord., the God who gives and takes away.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Few of My Favorite Things

Luke 10:3-4

“Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

One thing most backpackers have to concede – we’re gear junkies. We can’t imagine going on the (road) trail without a few of our favorite things. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s fun to peruse the latest and greatest gear sites and catalogs, dreaming of how much better our next trip would be IF ONLY we had that piece of gear we’ve been drooling over. With that thought in mind I thought I might suggest a few things (based on my experiences) to might make your Christmas shopping (or catalog browsing) season brighter.

Backpacks

I have carried Granite gear packs for quite few years now. The company has a wonderful reputation and makes a darn comfortable piece of kit in the AC 60.

Granite Gear AC60

Granite Gear AC60

While I still highly recommend their packs for the lightweight crowd, I have most recently become a convert to ULA Equipment. I became the proud owner of a ULA Ohm 2.0, and can honestly say that it instantly became my favorite pack.

ULA Ohm 2.0

ULA Ohm 2.0

The Ohm 2.0 weighs in at half of what my AC 60 did, and is great if you are the type who has his or her gear kit dialed in. If you are looking for a lighter alternative to your current pack I recommend giving ULA a look.

Shelter

I am a long time tarp user, and for years one of my favorites was the FlatTarp3 by Oware . Dave Olson has a reputation for making quality tarps, and it really shows in the details.

Oware FlatTarp 3

Oware FlatTarp 3

Since becoming a bonafide hammock hanger my choice has changed. I am a huge fan of the Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Tarp w/ Doors .

Hammock Gear Cuben Tarp with Doors

Hammock Gear Cuben Tarp with Doors

You’ll hear me gush whenever I mention Hammock Gear, and rightfully so. They’re quality and customer service is second to none.

Hammock

If you are in the market for a hammock, in my honest opinion there is no better brand than Warbonnet. I currently use a Warbonnet Traveler , and their Blackbird is legendary among hangers for comfort, quality, and resale value.

Relaxing in my Warbonnet Traveler

Relaxing in my Warbonnet Traveler

Sleeping Gear

There is nothing more important to me than a good nights sleep on the trail, and for years I have sung the praises of Mountain Hardwear Phantom series sleeping bags. I owned a Phantom 15 and a Phantom 45, and I considered these my most essential pieces of gear for years.

Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15

Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15

Lately I have said good bye to my old friends and converted to the Hammock Gear Burrow line of top quilts. Now I get top of the line quality in an even lighter package.

Hammock Gear Burrow 20

Hammock Gear Burrow 20

My Burrow 20  comes in at 17.1 ounces – half of what my Phantom 15 weighed. Combined with my Hammock Gear Incubator 20 under quilt my whole insulation package comes in at the same weight as my old sleeping bag alone!

Cookware

I’ve owned more than my fair share of cookware – titanium, aluminum and stainless. Of all my cookware the piece that gets the most use is my Evernew Titanium 550 ml cookpot.

Boiling water for breakfast

Evernew 550 ml pot

This pot weighs in at 3 ounces even, including lid and stuffsack, and has the capacity I need for most freeze dried meals. On top of that it’s the perfect size to use as a mug.

Clothing

I never (NEVER) go on a hike without my Black Rock Gear Down Beenie .

Black Rock Gear Down Beenie

Black Rock Gear Down Beenie

There’s just no reason to leave it home! My BRG Down Beenie provides incredible warmth, whether in camp lounging or settling in for a night in the hammock, and weighs in at a scant 9/10’s of an ounce. Unfortunately the only thing it can’t do is make me look cool.

Another must have for me is my Smartwool Socks.

Smartwool socks

Smartwool socks

 

You’d think merlino wool would be a problem in the summer, but not these socks. My feet are cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and comfortable anytime I wear them. I have a few pair of Adrenelines from 8-10 years ago that are still wearing like iron. Smartwool socks are a little pricey up front, but you’ll get your money’s worth out of them.

‘Tis the season and Black Friday’s a comin’, so why not treat yourself to some of those goodies you’ve been drooling over? What’s on your wishlist?

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.

 

 

Resting In The Unknown

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The Four Geezers (Matt, Dave, Paul and George)

Click Here For Trip Pictures

Paul approached me a while back and said, “What about a trip just for the geezers?”, meaning all of our cohorts in the 40+ age range. Now if you’re over 40 we mean no harm. This was just our tongue in cheek way of saying we’re going on a men’s only trip. Fresh air and fellowship, food for the geezer’s soul. Something within a few hours of home, with some degree of solitude. We wanted to do reasonable mileage – not too hard, but not a lollipop hike either.

In the planning stages I first thought about Harriman Park in New York, but while I was doing my homework instead came upon the Shawangunk Ridge Trail. This trail seemed to fit the bill – it was 2 1/2 hours from home and it was a ridgeline trail so it should have views. The only real issue was a lack of info. There were no topo maps to be found, so I had no idea of how rugged the terrain was, and I deducted that water was going to be an issue. Because of the unknowns, and the fact that we were looking for a leisurely (or was that geezerly?) stroll, I kept the mileage down to about 5 miles per day. On top of that we were able to cache water at the halfway point, sooooo, problem solved.

After hiding water at Ferguson Road we went in search of the trailhead where we were going to leave my truck. I am so spoiled; between the Appalachian Trail and the Adirondacks I’m used to having good trailhead signage. Don’t count on that on the SRT. We spent a good half hour or better looking for the yellow blaze side trail where we were to park. We only found it by God’s grace because the only yellow blaze was 4/10 of a mile down from the trailhead, and Matt and I almost didn’t go that far looking for it.

After driving back to our starting point we had a short road walk and then finally, the journey began. We encountered a large blow down about 100 yards in and I thought, “I hope there’s better maintenance than this or this is going to be a long day!!!”. Thankfully, that was the only real blow down we would see all weekend. As we left the road the trail climbed higher and higher, trying to gain the ridge in earnest. Upward we climbed leaving the hardwood behind, until we finally we claimed the ridgetop with it’s covering of scrub oak and blueberry bushes. Somewhere near the top Dave and I were taking a breather and talking when all of a sudden Dave took off running, yelling something like “I gotta get outta here!”. He was standing on a ground nest full of angry yellow jackets and they decided to chase poor Dave down the trail. He got away, but not before getting stung about a dozen times. For whatever reason they never even gave me a look. We wound up taking a long break at an overlook while Dave got sorted out.

 

View toward Wurtsboro, NY

View toward Wurtsboro, NY

It was an idyllic spot for a break. There were views of the valley, and we could see gliders riding the clouds after being launched from Wurtsboro airport, climbing the same breezes that were cooling us after our climb up from the road. I haven’t been on a mountain hike in quite some time and this was a nice change of pace. Even so, my lack of conditioning was evident. I wasn’t dying, but I wasn’t leading the pack either. As long as I kept my own pace all was well.

A nice walk along the ridge was soon interrupted by a steep dip into a col, followed by a gentle climb back to the ridge. The payback for the effort was another nice view.

Dave taking it all in

Dave taking it all in

At some point along the ridge Dave and I caught up to Paul and Matt who were trying get a picture of the biggest porcupine any of us had ever seen. This critter looked like he was 40 pounds and stayed just far enough ahead of us on the trail to avoid our feeble attempts at becoming trail paparazzi. He finally bid us adieu and disappeared into the scrub as we descended into Roosa Gap. Down, down, down, and then finally back up to Ferguson Road. As we recovered our cached water we had a decision – climb up the ridge not knowing if there were any decent campsites, or double back (downhill, no less) to Roosa Gap. The decision became easier after consulting the weather; 100 percent chance of rain with thunderstorms. No one likes to retrace their steps, but fewer still want to be on top of a ridge in a thunderstorm.

Three hammocks and a tent

Three hammocks and a tent

While Dave pitched his tent the rest of us decided on hanging spots. Paul was spending his first night in his new Warbonnet Blackbird (very nice rig, if I do say so), while Matt was spending his first night hanging in my Hennessey Hammock Expedition Asym. In the meantime I hung my Warbonnet Traveler and cuben Hammock Gear tarp. After dinner Matt got a small fire going to cut the inky blackness, and as we were taking it all in the first drops of rain started. By the time we our hit respective bunks it started to rumble and pour. And pour it did for most of the night. I know I mention it every time, but I love the rain on a tarp. Everyone slept comfortably; even Paul, who is typically an early riser, couldn’t resist the comfort of his hammock.

Day 2

After breakfast and packing I had the pleasure of sharing from Hebrews 3:7-11,

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”.                                                                                                                                                                   This is an exhortation to be faithful and not harden our hearts. Weary and heavy laden? Jesus promises in Matthew 11:30, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”. We can only enter into God’s rest through faithfulness and obedience.

Climbing out of Roosa Gap

Climbing out of Roosa Gap

After packing up we once again started the climb out of Roosa Gap. The morning was cool and the sun was fighting a losing battle with the clouds. After a mile we reached the ridge top, with it’s cooling winds and awesome views.

Views south, with High Point, NJ some 35 miles in the distance

Views south, with High Point, NJ some 35 miles in the distance

Once again today would be dominated by a beautiful ridge walk. Scrub and blueberry lined trail gave way to the occasional view north toward the Catskills. Once again we dipped into a col, and stopped to snack at the base of an escarpment.The weather had turned decidedly cloudy and as we sat a chill started to settle in. A pack on one’s back does an amazing job of retaining core heat, and we decided to saddled up before we cooled too much.

Escarpment and stone walls

Escarpment and stone walls

A pleasant walk through hardwoods interspersed with the forgotten remains of old stone walls gave way to a gradual climb to regain the ridge top. At one of the last views we took a break as Dave took care of a cut he received after his foot lodged between two rocks. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s say I might have been a little less sympathetic than I should have been . Dave’s a good sport, evidenced by the fact that he hikes with us.

As we started down off the ridge for the last time I remarked to Dave that the trail reminded me of hiking in Maine, and he agreed. The Appalachian Trail in Maine follows some very similar looking terrain including stunted conifers, and views while walking over canted slabs of bare rock.

Descending trail with views toward the Catskill Mountains.

Descending trail with views toward the Catskills Mountains.

Down we went, steeper and steeper, until finally we hit bottom at the yellow blazed trail that led to my truck. A short walk to the road and this trip was history.

The Shawangunk Ridge Trail turned out to be everything we wanted and more in a geezer hike. The weather was great, the fellowship was sweet, and the challenges were just enough to satisfy that itch to get out.