Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Almost Excellent Hiking Adventure

An Almost Excellent Hiking Adventure
Fr. Jim Mulloy and I went hiking in Catskills Park on Monday-Tuesday, April 13-14. We had intended also to be out there on Wednesday. He'd been to Trout Pond before, so that was where we went on Monday, parking along Russell Brook Rd. (the only car around) and hiking about a mile up a fairly steady slope on a woods road, following a stream the whole way till we came to the pond. It took less than 45 minutes. No signs of spring at all; but otherwise the lake was pretty.

There was a beaver lodge alongside or atop the man-made dam at the south end of the lake and ample signs of beaver activity around the lake.

At the north end are two lean-tos, one maybe 30 yards from the lake and close by the stream that feeds into the lake (and officially 1.4 miles from the parking lot); the other on the northwest corner of the lake and well up the hill. There were even outhouses at the lean-tos. That's never the case in Harriman SP (but it is in the Adirondacks).

We didn't see any other hikers or signs of them; it looked like someone had used at least the first lean-to on the weekend. It was also a bit dirty, so we went to the one up the hill, taking some of the nicely cut firewood with us. Finding firewood certainly wasn't a problem at either lean-to. That's my chore when Fr. Jim and I go out; he fetches the water, which (for you novices out there) involves pumping it thru a filter to purify it so that we won't get all kinds of dire effects from drinking the water. Then I read from Mary Kate's book while he tried to catch some fish with his rod and reel.

He wasn't successful, but I found the book quite engrossing. It's Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. I'd never heard of him before, but I've found out since that quite a few people have, including even my Indian doctor. He writes a lot like Dave Barry, except that he's often serious. This book is about his hiking the Appalachian Trail, which of course is why Mary Kate thought I'd like it. (I've read about 2/3 of it by now.) Each of us also prayed Evening Prayer with my barebones, lightweight photocopy from the breviary.

Eventually as the sun got behind the mountain behind us and clouds moved in, it got a bit chilly. Unusual for him, Fr. Jim got real cold. So I started up the fire. Starting it wasn't hard at all--one match and no accelerant. But keeping it going was a challenge; we figured that was because the bed of ash under the fire was very wet--previous campers had done their job well of dousing their fire. But eventually, with a lot of fanning and one of Fr. Jim's firestarters, it caught well.

While we were struggling with our fire, a couple of guys came down the trail on the other side of the lake in ATVs. They weren't rangers but seemed to be guys maintaining the trail--maybe members of a trail club. They disappeared for 15 minutes or so, then came back up the trail, toting a sign, and went to work briefly taking down some yellow tape that had been across a side trail. And they left with hardly a glance in our direction. They were the only people we saw in 2 days of hiking.

By then, around 6 o'clock, we were getting hungry. I'd packed a little grill for the occasion, so Fr. Jim set that up and put on the sausages he'd brought for our supper. I also started up my Pocket Rocket backpacking stove to heat a little can of string beans (and later heat water for cleaning and tea for Fr. Jim). And we had ourselves a nice little supper washed down with Crystal Lite. Then we bear-bagged our remaining food, hanging it from a tree limb about 12 feet off the ground with the clothesline that I always pack.

Fr. Jim crawled into his sleeping bag to stay warm while I read for a while. When it got too dark, I changed clothes and got into my bag. That was around 8:30. And we settled down for a long nite--longer from me than for Fr. Jim, who slept very well. Anyone with ears could tell! He does snore. I didn't sleep well--not so much because of that racket as because the wood floor was so hard, even with 2 sleeping pads between it and me. So I slept in fits and starts.

We both got up as dawn was breaking over the eastern mountain about 6:30 to visit Mother Nature. I tried to take a photo of the pretty sky over the mountain, but it was so cold that the camera batteries weren't working. (It must have been in the low 30s.) I prayed the Office. And we returned to our snug sleeping bags till about 8:45. Such decadence!

We got up, packed up a little, celebrated Mass, ate breakfast. My experiment of packing 2 eggs that I could scramble with a little olive oil worked quite well. Of course I also had coffee. Fr. Jim eats just a few munchies with tea.

And we hit the outbound trail around 10 o'clock and got back to Russell Brook by 10:30. Downhill required less huffing and puffing from us, of course. On our way in we'd noticed a waterfall to the east of the trail, where a footbridge crossed the brook. We went to investigate and found the ruins of an old bridge (apparently intended for vehicles) and a very pretty fall and pool. Then we returned to our van.

We had several options for where to go next. Of course we could also just have hung out at Trout Pond all day too. We decided to try going to Seager and following a trail down to the Shandanken lean-to. It took us quite some time to drive over the local roads and get up to SRs 30 and 28, for much of that distance driving alongside a large reservoir. We stopped in Margaretville to eat our lunch in a little park (crackers, sardines, cheese, and such, plus water for me and Canada Dry for Fr. Jim). He'd spotted a 99-cent store, so we investigated it. I bought a box of band-aids, mostly because my supply at home was getting low, and he bought a couple of cigarette lighters, which he prefers in camp to my matches.

A short distance farther on 28 brought us to Arcville and then Dry Brook Rd. Dry Brook didn't live up to its name. It was roaring along quite nicely and picturesquely, and the road followed it southward into Ulster County, where it became CR49, with little farms and small homes all along the way and mountains straight in front of us (at least one still with snow on it--it was the north face; in various well shaded spots there was also ice). Several covered bridges crossed the brook, heading to short side roads and various homes and cabins.

Eventually the road became just a one-lane dirt road, and as indicated on the maps it dead-ended 8 or 10 miles south of 28 at the trailhead to the lean-to. (The trail continues up a mountain and connects with another trail along a long ridge that separates the Hudson River basin from the Delaware basin, according to Fr. Jim's map.) Again, no cars there. The register at the trailhead indicated that there were no other hikers out there.

We loaded up our backpacks--mine weighed about 30 pounds, Fr. Jim's somewhat less. The trail followed the brook, very gradually climbing. We crossed little tributaries here and there.

After about a mile we came to a pretty little waterfall with a large, deep-looking pool in front of it. I descended from the trail to the waterside to shoot a couple of photos.Fr. Jim stayed on the trail and crossed another tributary about 3-4 feet wide (coming in a bottom right of photo just above). I worked my way along the brookside to the tributary and then edged along that bank till I came to where a small fir tree blocked the way, maybe 5 feet down from where Fr. Jim had crossed and was waiting for me on the other side. I looked at some large rocks and figured I could cross on them. Fr. Jim advised me not too--they'd be slippery, he said. I sort of tested the first big one with my walking stick. Seemed OK. I stepped onto it with my left foot and (as John Madden would say) BOOM! Down I went in less time than it takes to think about it, slamming my right knee onto the rock and then my left temple. I guess it was fortunate that my eyeglasses were between me and the rock! They broke, one lens popped out, my hat fell off, and there was blood in the water. I grabbed hat, lens, frames, and temple, and struggled to my feet. Fr. Jim very graciously did not say, "I warned you!" Instead, he asked whether I was OK. I must have answered in the negative, as if all the blood didn't make that obvious. (Actually he was much more worried than I was--he could see all that blood without knowing that I seemed to be otherwise intact, and I know that head wounds bleed very scarily.) So I muddled my way to the proper crossing and ascended the bank, and Fr. Jim re-crossed behind me. It was 2:31 p.m. (according to the photos I'd just taken).

I noticed that my camera bag had gotten a little wet, so I took the camera (and cell phone) out of it. Fr. Jim exclaimed, "You're not going to take a picture, are you?" "No," I said, "I just want to keep the camera dry." Later the thought of having him take my picture with blood all over my face like Indian war paint did cross my mind. He kept assuring me of what a sight I was as first I and then he daubed at me with a damp handkerchief, and then he applied anti-bacterial stuff from my first aid kit and one of the band-aids I'd just bought.

Even before I was out of the water I knew we'd have to go right home. Not only were my glasses broken, but we weren't sure I was all right. (The remembrance of Natasha Richardson's recent death was in both our minds.) But with the bleeding mostly stopped and nothing apparently broken other than the glasses, we trudged back to the car. I changed into dry socks and my slippers, and Fr. Jim took the wheel while I chose the homeward route (SR 28 to the Thruway). We drove away at 3:30. En route Fr. Jim said I was still bleeding a little, so I applied more direct pressure with my soggy, bloody handkerchief, and that seemed to do the trick. Then he commented that my cheek was showing some discoloration. "Oh no!" I said (or something like that, maybe not printable in a family blog). "That means some internal damage."

We got home at 6:30 for a nice supper of leftovers after I'd fetched my old glasses from upstairs and told Fr. George that we were home, and why. While upstairs I looked in the mirror: no discoloration under my eye. Later it occurred to me that what Fr. Jim saw as discoloration was bloody residue from my handkerchief. And after supper I iced my right knee--while reading more of A Walk in the Woods!

Well, it was a bummer not to have reached that lean-to and stayed at it. It must be beautifully sited alongside the brook. On the other hand, it rained quite a bit Wednesday, and we'd have had to hike the 2 miles out in the rain, with possible complications crossing all those little tributaries, and drive home in the rain.

Wednesday: a trip to the optician as soon as they opened, and new frames ($40--not bad), same lenses. And a quasi-emergency appointment with my doctor to have him examine my head; as the joke goes, he didn't find anything. He cleaned up the wound--I'd left the original dressing on it lest I restart the bleeding--and glued it shut. Yes, literally glued it shut with what he called Krazy Glue, almost the same as what you buy in the store, except, he said, for the price. And that's still there on my left eyebrow. He also checked my knee, which is tender (still) where it hit the rock and, now, a bit discolored. And he told me about all the Bill Bryson books he's read.

So that was Fr. Jim and Fr. Mike's not-quite-excellent adventure in Catskills Park during Fr. Jim's Easter break!

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