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 ūüôā

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

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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.