Monday, September 7, 2009

Blue Dot Special

Blue Dot Special
On Sunday afternoon Fr. Jim Mulloy and I undertook an overnite backpacking trip into Harriman State Park. Since it was Labor Day weekend, we knew there wasn't any chance of landing one of the dozen hikers' shelters scattered thru the park, and even finding a place to park a car overnite would be a challenge. I suggested the parking area at the end of Johnsontown Rd. in Sloatsburg, and he agreed.

Then we picked out route: the Blue Disc Trail (white blaze with blue dot), which starts there and goes 2.8 miles up a couple of strenuous climbs and then down to an end at Tri-Trail Corner, where it runs into the the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail (at 21 miles, the 2d-longest in the park, I think) and the trailhead for the Victory Trail. There's water there, running out of Black Ash Swamp into a creek, and I remembered some likely camping spots around there. (My memory was better than the reality in this case. But at least we had no competition for a site.)

As it turned out, there were exactly 2 parking spots available when we got there, and about 20 cars parked. We ran into lots and lots of day hikers on our route, and other trails (e.g., the White Bar and the Kakiat) are easily accessed from Johnsontown Rd. This morning, as we drove by the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center on our way home--it's on Seven Lakes Dr. not far from where we parked--cars lined the highway for at least a quarter mile on either side of the visitors center, indicating what the main parking lots were like, just for hiking areas (not to mention those that also serve picnickers).

There are a lot of things to remember about hiking, some of them essential to your safety, others just to your convenience. One that falls in between is "pay attention to the trail blazes" on your chosen route. In the photo above, the Blue Disc Trail (bet you can figure out which one that is!) is turning right, indicated by a double blaze with the top one to the right of the lower. The Kakiat Trail, which had joined the Blue Disc for a very short distance, is forking off to the left. In Harriman there are numerous unmarked side trails and woods roads. Miss a trail marker, and you'll soon get lost!

The trail map indicates a spot called "Almost Perpendicular." That sounds not just challenging but a little scary. (Someone I was backpacking with once let it scare him, and therefore me, from attempting it.) The Harriman Trails guidebook (very valuable) gives a fair description of a pretty steep climb--that's it in the photo above, which doesn't quite do justice to it, but it is manageable. In fact, we encountered several dogs along the route, a mom and dad each toting a tot (on their way down the climb pictured), one or two bigger kids, and many other hikers. The views make it worthwhile.

From the top of Almost Perpendicular, this is one view: that's the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center parking lot and Seven Lakes Dr. If you're able to enlarge the photo, you'll see what I meant above about parking. This shot gives you an idea of how much climbing we'd done just to get to this point.

When we got back into some woods, Fr. Jim saw this orange fungus growing at the base of a large tree and got excited. He called it "sulphur shelf" and said it was edible. For a minute I thought he was going to grab a handful and eat it, but he didn't. I sure wasn't going to!

Eventually, after some hard hiking we got to the large cliff where Claudius Smith Den is located (he was a notorious outlaw in the 1770s). The Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail crosses the Blue Disc here, and we considered cutting short our original design and heading along the TMI to the Dutch Doctor shelter, where there's usually water in a nearby creek and quite a few camping spots if the shelter's already taken. But Fr. Jim wanted to check out the view from the cliffs, which we found at least 7 hikers and a dog already doing: grand westward views toward Tuxedo.
Once up that high, on top of Claudius Smith Rock, we decided we might as well continue on the Blue Disc (not having noted that there was still one big climb to come). There's nice woods up on that ridge, including a lot of birch.

When we reached Big Pine Hill, the highest point on the trail, we had a fine view to the north. Here you see Black Ash Mt., and in the center, Black Ash Swamp, whose west end was our destination.
It took us almost 3 hours to do the 2.8 miles of the Blue Disc Trail, with several pauses to enjoy views or catch our breath.
The available water at Tri-Trails Corner was less than we'd expected, but it was usable (with a water filter). We found 2 camp sites flanking the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail just above the "corner," with existing fire rings; neither had been used for a while. I picked the slightly larger of the two and set up my little home for the nite:

This, with the rain fly, weighs just over 2 pounds and is roomy enuf for me and a tiny bit of gear (mainly whatever nite wear plus the change of clothes for the morrow). This shot was before I put in 2 sleeping pads (which still leaves quite a hard bed to sleep on, but not as hard as bare ground!) and my sleeping bag. The sleeping bag's stuff sack plus some extra clothing, e.g. a quilted jacket, makes for an adequate pillow.
Fr. Jim and I have a nice arrangement: he fetches the water, I fetch the firewood. That wasn't hard here: there was a superabundance of it, almost all very dry. After we ate our freeze-dried suppers (beef teriyaki and chicken teriyaki) plus a few other morsels, we got a little fire going around 8:00 p.m.--one match required, plus a bit of paper and one of Fr. Jim's unpatented firestarters (lint and parafin in a section of egg carton) and the ample kindling wood. We kept the fire going for an hour while we talked or listened to a radio (Fr. Jim) or read (me). He was disappointed there weren't many stars out--lots of clouds instead. We could just barely hear traffic from the Thruway, there were lots of cicadas, and otherwise it was very, very quiet. We turned in at 9:00 p.m., Fr. Jim in sleeping bag under what stars there were, I in my tent.

Monday morning, after rising between 6:45 (me) and 7:15 (Fr. Jim), we prayed and celebrated Mass. Fr. Jim's a light breakfast eater--a little bit of bread and cheese. I went for a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee (see above, with water almost boiling on my Pocket Rocket stove), plus some bread and cheese.
At 9:00 we got onto the trail. With no desire for serious climbing, we took a longer--3.7 miles--but easier route: the Victory Trail toward Lake Skenonto, but picking up the White Bar Trail about halfway to the lake and following that south to the Dutch Doctor shelter, thence west back to Johnsontown Rd.
Along the White Bar Trail we had a little bit of uphill, especially as we went over a shoulder of Blauvelt Mt., and a lot of downhill. There were already signs of autumn. If you look behind me in the photo above, you'll see a tree already turned red. Most of the trail is quite pretty with fairly open woods. There was one vista with a good view toward Tuxedo.

When we got to Dutch Doctor, we took a good rest. The shelter had indeed been used Sunday nite; in fact, the users had left their campfire still smouldering in the fire ring! That's a big no-no! We didn't have enuf water to douse it well, but we at least made sure all the remaining wood was removed. From there the White Bar Trail pursues pretty much a straight run down a woods road to within a quarter mile of the Johnsontown Rd. parking area; that last stretch is a narrow footpath.
This morning at first we met almost no one: a trio of hikers going up the RD Trail before we left our camp, another trio on the Victory Trail coming, apparently, from overnite camping at Lake Skenonto. But there was more traffic once we got to Dutch Doctor, two pairs of day hikers and a trio of overnite backpackers (one a small lad) heading toward Tuxedo's train station.
We got back to our pickup truck about 11:15: a longer route in mileage, but a shorter one in time and energy expended. The parking area was nearly full. Since we hadn't seen that many people, I guess a lot of hikers were heading up the Blue Disc Trail....

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