Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hiking Vacation

Hiking Vacation

In the New Rochelle Province we're all granted 2 weeks' vacation each year. By September of this year I'd used only 3 days, back in July. So I asked for some time to go hiking and camping in Harriman State Park, Sept. 27-29. I was gone exactly 48 hours, so I guess that's another 2 days.

Originally some of our guys in formation were supposed to meet up with me on the 28th; but the weather forecast caused them to alter their intentions. And I was solo for the entire 10.3 miles of hiking, except for seeing 3 guys in the parking lot on U.S. 6 on the 28th and meeting 2 guys and 2 dogs on the AT later that day, and meeting a large party of day hikers on the Long Path on the 1st day.

I had to plan a loop hike since I was solo. I parked at Silvermine Lake and went north on the Menomine Trail, which climbs steadily for 1.5 miles and had me huffing and puffing a little bit. I didn't actually weigh my pack, but it usually comes in around 35 pounds--food, water, sleeping bag and pad, hatchet, saw, first aid kit, a few toiletries, change of socks and undies, poncho, cool weather clothes, slippers, minimal Mass kit, photocopied breviary, reading material, flashlights and extra batteries (which proved to be needed), camera (or you wouldn't be seeing pictures below--doh!), cell phone, various little "in case" materials like spare boot laces, nail clippers, sponge, rope, twine, duck tape, sunscreen, insect repellent....

The Menomine ends at the Long Path. At the intersection I could hear people to the north, and I worried a little that someone might have beaten me to the Stockbridge Shelter, which was just a steep .1 mile climb away. As I started up the Path, I met a large party of Koreans coming down the trail. We greeted each other. And I huffed and puffed my way on up to the shelter.
The shelter is a fine one with a sturdy, fairly new roof and twin fireplaces. Someone has left a broom there, and the wooden floor was clean. There wasn't any litter inside, altho there was a little scattered here and there in the vicinity, some of which I picked up to pack out. Someone had also left 5 cans of food and soup, which I didn't use, and a half gallon of Poland Spring water, which I did use. I got there exactly an hour after leaving the parking lot, which is what I'd figured on. And I had a lot of afternoon left to relax. 1st, of course, I set up my little camp.

Then I hunted up some firewood in case I wanted to make a fire. Besides various small bits that would serve as tinder and a few slightly larger items, there was a very large piece of oak that had fallen from a tree a month or so ago. I cut a lot of pieces from that. The day was warm and heavy with humidity, a good breeze (maybe 20 mph) notwithstanding; so I never did make a fire. Instead, I left a nice stash of wood for someone else.

Besides that work, I also did some reading and prayed the breviary. I'd brought some crossword puzzles with me but, carelessly, only 1 pencil, the point of which broke when I started to answer the 1st clue. Bummer!
The area around Stockbridge Shelter is pretty. Above is the Long Path leading northeast from the shelter. There's a lot of good camping area back there too. As with almost all the shelters in Harriman, tho, there's no water nearby. You have to haul what you need in with you. You can't count on finding it left for you in the shelter (and half a gallon would hardly be enuf anyway)--or on finding a case of beer stashed nearby, as my hiking bud Fr. Jim did on one occasion here at Stockbridge.

There wasn't much sun; the photo below shows about as much of a neat sunset as I got, around 5:30 p.m. I boiled my water and made pasta primavera, followed by dark chocolate cheesecake (cold water for that). Tasty and filling, and plenty of carbs.

Indeed, once the sun did set, it got pitch black. Not a star to be seen. So after reading by the light of my little lantern--I got thru a whole issue of America--and saying the Rosary, I turned in a little after 8:00 p.m.

I tossed and turned most of the nite, as I usually do when trying to sleep on a wooden floor with only a thin foam pad beneath me and my sleeping bag. I was quite awake when it started to rain at 1:05 a.m. And it rained for most of the rest of the nite.

I got up around 7:00. The rain had pretty much stopped, tho the wind was still blowing water out of the treetops. Lots of fog outside. Not especially chilly. I said Mass, ate breakfast (almonds and a granola bar, and of course coffee). Then Morning Prayer and packing up--and throwing on my poncho. At 8:45 I hit the trail.

Remember that pretty view of the Long Path above? A little less pretty in the fog (not the same scene here).

The Long Path runs pleasantly along the ridge of Stockbridge Mt., with a steep descent to the Cave Shelter (I noted that both little parts of that were dry, even after all the rain of the nite).

The Path descends gradually until it crosses Rte. 6. Given the general wetness of everything and the likelihood of more rain, I thought seriously about shortening my planned route and going directly down 6 to the Anthony Wayne Trail. One look at the narrowness of the shoulder, and the distance involved, however, induced me to stick with my original plan. So I entered the parking lot (met the 3 aforementioned guys, greeted the only one I saw close enuf), and headed north into the woods.

When I got to the trailhead of the Popolopen Gorge Trail, I started down that, literally down, toward Turkey Hill Lake. I debated whether a dip in the lake would be refreshing, or would risk slowing me up too much--still worried about rain before I'd get to the Brien Shelter. But that was a decision I didn't have to make after all. I got careless and missed a turn in the trail. I was well down an unmarked woods trail before I realized it. Since I was going in the right general direction and the trail was clear, I kept going--until it suddenly just ended in a big patch of briers on the edge of a bog. Oops! I checked the map. It wasn't supposed to end like that but go right on to the Anthony Wayne. Well, it was either go all the back to the PGT, or bushwack up to Rte 6. I bushwacked, crossing without incident what I think was Queensboro Brook, and got to 6 with maybe a quarter mile of highway to walk along till I reached AWT.

The Anthony Wayne Trail between Rte. 6 and Seven Lakes Drive isn't really a very nice trail. It's narrow and muddy and runs thru a lot of thorny plants. There are traces of poison ivy. At one point the trail was blocked by woodfall, and someone made a sort-of trail around that, which went thru briers that kept snagging on my poncho. But finally, there was the old comfort station and 7 Lakes Drive. Rest stop, remove poncho, eat granola bar. 11:00 a.m. Try to make phone call to let folks back home know I'm OK and how I'm doing--but it's a dead zone.

The AWT goes thru a constuction site, which was active at the time, alongside Queensboro Brook. More people. I waved to them and headed into the woods. Shortly, the AWT hits the 1779 Trail, and I headed south on that. It's level and open--very nice hiking. There's some litter along the way, big stuff (5-gallon plastic bucket, folding chair).

At noon I stopped for lunch when I found a fairly level rock in the middle of the trail on which I could set up my stove. While water was boiling, I called home; got thru, reported my progress cheerfully. Then I ate ramen noodles with tuna and another granola bar and a little bottle of Gatorade. Rested a bit to help digestion. All told, a 45-minute stop.

The Harriman Trail Guide said there were 2 cairns marking the boundary between Orange and Rockland counties. If so, I missed them. The only cairn I saw on the 1779 was at the intersection with the Appalachian and Ramapo-Dunderberg Trails, which run together coming away from West Mt. and heading over Black Mt. to Letterock Mt.

I headed west on the joint AT-RDT, which very soon began to climb, climb, steeply climb up Black Mt.

A little more huffing and puffing. And of course, careful stepping since I was out there all by myself and any accident could have very serious consequences.

Eventually, I reach the top of the mountain, which afford spectacular views to the south and east, as the guidebook says. Here's the view toward the Hudson River and Haverstraw Bay--which I suppose must be much better on a clear day, which this certainly wasn't.

The trail ran along the top of the mountain with various ups and downs for quite some distance. One of the downs is so steep, the footing so unsure, that I was afraid to try it with my pack on, facing either the rocks or the open air. So I did something I'd never done before--lowered the pack by rope, then half climbed, half slid down. It was only 10 or 12 feet.

On the other side of the mountain, another great view, this time of Silvermine Lake, my starting point and my destination.
Then a steep descent that ended at a little brook where I pumped some water in case the spring at the shelter should be dry, and the Silvermine Ski Road. And--oh, no!--another ascent, up Letterock Mt. Up there I met a guy doing a day hike with his 2 dogs, which he held up till I got there. They were big and friendly, and he didn't want them to jump on top of me in their exuberance--which they nearly did anyway. I asked him to take my picture, and he managed also to get one of the dogs in the background. Behind the dog (Charlie) you also see the white rectangular blaze of the AT and the smaller white square, with a red dot in it, of the RDT.

A 2d hiker, a thru hiker of some kind, was about a quarter mile behind this trio. We talked briefly--about my missing poncho, which, it turned out, had fallen off my pack a short distance from where something led me to sense it was missing, which this guy confirmed. While I took off my back and left it on the trail, he bounded on ahead, and in about 2 minutes had found the poncho, which he threw to me as I came up.

Poncho resecured, on I went. The trail descended steeply, finally, to the William Brien Memorial Shelter, which I reached around 3:30. It wasn't occupied. It was also filthy--dirt all over the floor, and litter scattered both inside and out. The back of the shelter--which is native rock--was damp from water leakage (same as last time I camped there, but Fr. Jim and I didn't find that out until it rained during the nite and our packs got a little wet).

The Brien Shelter is unique in Harriman in having a pair of bunk beds. I took one and unpacked. Then I went to the spring for water, happy to discover that there was plenty of it. I'd have more than enuf for supper and breakfast.

I was also quite soggy, between sweat and the moisture of the trail. I gathered some firewood, which also was moist, mostly. Someone had made an "illegal" firepit inside the shelter, and I used it for a small, somewhat smoky affair, to dry some of my wet clothes--not completely, but at least a little bit. Then I let the fire die.

I found a pen in the shelter and was able to do a crossword puzzle. I prayed, then boiled water for supper--chicken a la king this time, and the rest of the dark chocolate cheesecake, with some Crystal Lite and, later, herbal tea.

And it began to rain, lightly and sporadically. It was pitch black by 7:30. So after the Rosary, to bed. The rain got intense, and all nite it rained off and on, sometimes very heavily. Around 5:00 a.m. a thunderstorm rolled thru, including one huge crack that sounded like it was right over my head. I wondered whether some tree might come crashing down on top of the shelter.

Well, the shelter and I survived. When it was light enuf to see, I learned that most of the floor was wet; there was a leak in the center of the roof, pretty much over where I'd hung my poncho to dry. Oh well. At least the bunk beds, where all the rest of my gear was, were dry.

I got up in the dim light of 6:45 a.m., said Mass by lantern light, and cooked my oatmeal and made my coffee; then a granola bar. I couldn't do Morning Prayer; I'd forgotten to photocopy the psalms. (A breviary was waiting in the car, so I would get to it.)

The rain had finally stopped. At 8:45 (again, by coincidence with yesterday's start), I started down the Menomine Trail toward Silvermine Lake. The trail had eroded a lot from all the recent rain. I had to pick my way rather carefully, lest I turn an ankle or just slip.

But it got worse. Before long it wasn't erosion but a good stream of water running in the trail that made footing an issue--trying to find reasonably dry places to walk along the edge of the trail. A strange roaring noise came to my ears. Seven Lakes Drive already? I didn't think so. I could hear something from the water rushing down the trail, but that couldn't be everything I was hearing.

And I turned a bend to find Bockey Swamp Brook roaring across the trail and, just to the right of the trail, cascading down, down over rocks on a long descent to the lake.

I looked at the trail. No stepping stones, an uneven, rocky bottom under at least a foot of swift water. I looked upstream--just deep stream with nowhere to cross in sight, and no trail going upstream anyway. I looked downstream--lots of white water and rocks and certainly no sure footing anywhere.

Take off pack, camera, cell phone. Put 2 objects into pack. Sit down, take off boots, 3 pairs of socks (wickers and 2 woolens, keeping my feet pretty dry these 2 days), and unzip lower leggings of pants. Stuff socks into boots, pants into pack. Tie boots together. Put on pack. Drape boots over neck. Grab trekking pole securely and wade very carefully into brook, feeling, feeling, feeling for footing that's both secure and not painful. The water doesn't reach my knees and isn't cold, fortunately, and the brook's only 10 or 15 feet wide. The current is indeed swift, and I'm sure would be a real struggle were it deep. But I cross slowly and without incident.

Reverse the pack, boots, socks, camera, phone procedure. Leave the pants short. The rest of the trail is mostly water-logged, but there are stepping stones in many places. In other places, one just mucks along the edge as best one can. There's another, much wider stream to cross, but this one is only inches deep. It takes a long time to make my way across, tho, trying to keep from walking in the water and soaking my boots (when I finally got home, I realized how wet they actually were, for all my efforts--but at least I kept the socks and thus my feet fairly dry), and trying to keep my balance from one rock to another, aided most of the way across by a fallen tree that supported my left side while my trekking pole covered my right.

So, instead of the 45 minutes it would've taken in dry weather, I got down the Menomine Trail to the parking lot in over an hour. My car was the only one there for a short while. Then 2 cars pulled in, and 3 guys got out and headed north (not south toward my flood zone), and later another car from which an older couple got out, evidently preparing to go walking.

And after stashing my gear and changing into the dry sneakers I'd left in the car, I prayed Morning Prayer and headed home. Short vacation, a little damp, but relaxing in its way and worth doing. And, perhaps to the surprise of some of my confreres, I came home in one piece!

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