Sunday, February 12, 2012

Poppin' Up the Popolopen

Poppin' Up the Popolopen

We've been having a pretty mild winter in N.Y. State, so far anyway. Last Sunday (Feb. 5) was a bright, sunny day with temps hitting the low 40s--fine hiking weather. So after Mass and breakfast, Bro. Tom Higgs and I packed lunches (and other useful gear) and headed to Bear Mountain State Park.

The only time I'd hiked up Popolopen Gorge from its mouth--or from the 9W bridge over it, anyway--was on Aug. 17, 2001. I thought it was time to do it again. We parked conveniently at the Ft. Montgomery State Historical Site around 11:15 a.m. and set off.

There was a surprise when we'd crossed the bridge and come to the trailhead: a sign announcing that the trail was closed. Of course we wondered why (trail washed out by summer storms?) and proceeded anyway, there being no other trail right in the gorge. (The 1777W and 1779 trails skirt part of its northern rim.) We soon came to the old dam that, according to the Harriman Trail Guide, was built to furnish water to a 17th-century grist mill that once stood in the gorge a little west of the present bridge. You can see some stone foundations down there that must have been the mill site.

Water was gushing over the dam from Roe Pond behind it, and rushing down the gorge toward Popolopen Creek's mouth into the Hudson.

After lunch overlooking Roe Pond (very serene), we continued. Above the pond it was rapids all the way up the creek--very few small pools of relatively calm water.

I got Bro. Tom to pose overlooking the 1st rapids above the pond.

Further up the gorge, Popolopen Torne comes into clear view (it's also clearly seen from the parking lot). It's a pretty impressive height--and, from experience I can say, a quite strenuous climb even when you start from the closest parking spot, along the road on the north side of the gorge.
Rapids after rapids explain why the whole section of the creek above Roe Pond and below the hikers' bridge is known as Hell Hole (so marked on the trail maps). One can only imagine what it's like during the spring thaw or after a really heavy rain.

About 3/4 of a mile along the trail, it climbs uphill to the left, partly out of the gorge up to an aqueduct-woods road (the aqueduct supplies Bear Mt.), just a little below the Palisades Pkwy. That's when Brother and I found out why the trail was "closed." The Park is doing a major construction project along the aqueduct, apparently putting in a new water line. The trail is now a construction road up there, there's pipe everywhere, and several pieces of heavy equipment. Fortunately, since it was Sunday, all was quiet, and we just walked along.

It was so quiet, in fact, that along our hike we didn't see a single other person, and hardly any wildlife either. But there were plenty of people around the Ft. Montgomery museum.

At 1.4 miles the Popolopen Gorge Trail is intersected from the right by the 1777W, 1779, and Timp-Torne Trails, all of which have just crossed over the creek down below. I suspect this is the only place in the whole complex of Harriman and Bear Mt. SPs that 4 or even 3 trails run along together--which the 4 of them do for something like a mile, all the way up to the edge of Queensboro Lake.

But it was our intention to cross the creek if we could and return to Ft. Montgomery along the 1777W-1779. I thought I'd read in the Trail Conference newsletter that the bridge had been washed out by Hurricane Irene in July, so we weren't sure whether we'd be able to cross.

I knew well that the simple old wooden bridge had been washed away years ago. Its mortal remains are still lodged in the rocks on both sides of the creek (see photo).

The Trail Conference and the Park had worked together in 2003-2004 to build a new, stronger bridge--steel, in fact--and anchor it solidly to rocks well above normal water levels.

They didn't get it above Irene levels, however. The mass of the bridge is lodged solidly to rocks, all right, all on the south side of the creek (see photo), with small bits of it scattered downstream for a hundred yards. From a safe distance I'd like to have seen what the creek looked like in Irene's immediate aftermath!

Looks so quiet, doesn't it?

We looked up the creek a few hundred yards, and down the creek a few hundred yards more for a place where we might cross over safely and drily.

After my experience in the Catskills in April 2009 (see my earliest post, 4/19/09), I had no wish to test my footing on creek rocks, and I didn't especially want to strip down the way I did in September to cross a much smaller brook (see my "hiking vacation" post below)--this time on slippery rocks over a wider span. I think Bro. Tom was a little readier than I was, even to get wet. But the water wasn't much warmer than freezing, judging from the ice clinging to some wood a little out of the water. If we'd HAD to cross, we would have. But we didn't have to.

So, guided by discretion, we returned the way we'd come. The afternoon sun gloriously lit up the Bear Mt. Bridge, Anthony's Nose, and the lordly Hudson. Here's a photo taken from the 9W bridge.

Back to the car at 3:00 p.m., having hiked more than 3 miles, mostly easy trail but some clambering over rocks while we searched for that elusive crossing.

No comments: