Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day Off in Harriman Park

Day Off in Harriman Park

After completing a new issue of the Salesian Bulletin last month, I felt ready for a day off. Fr. Steve gave me permission to go hiking and camping in Harriman State Park April 11-12. I tried to find some company from SDBs and Scouters but had no luck. So I went solo, as I've done before.

There's my backpack outside my office, loaded with gear and crying to be taken on a little trip. For an idea of what goes into the pack, see my posting at http://http//

We'd been having a run of fine weather. Of course the worst weather in a span of 7-10 days came on these 2, with scattered showers and cold nite temps forecast. Thank God the showers held off (except for a very brief one--including hail!--in the last 10 minutes of my 24 hours in the woods). But the cold nite was accurate. More on that later.

I planned a circular route that would cover some ground, including some I hadn't been on before, and would include a shelter. Mid-week, even during Easter break for Catholic schools--shouldn't be a problem getting a shelter. But for a little extra insurance, I chose the one I think is the most remote in the park, Stone Memorial, on the Suffer-Bear Mt. (SBM) Trail--about 4 miles from the Reeves Meadow parking lot, a steady climb much of the way with a few steeper spots, and very scenic.
Stone Memorial Shelter, March 30, 2005

When I got to Reeves Meadow at noon on the 11th, the lot was half full. I wasn't especially worried because I know it's an immensely popular day-hiking area with numerous trails. I was somewhat amused by seeing a couple with a dog heading out--the dog, too, packed for the trail.

Only later, when I downloaded my photos, did I notice that the guy was barefoot! He must have some calluses on his feet.

Photo also shows a very obvious marker for the Pine Meadow Trail on the tree.

So I headed up the Pine Meadow Trail, noting a sign at the start that a bridge had been washed out up ahead. Probably Hurricane Irene, again, as with the bridge no longer crossing Popolopen Creek (see

I met a good many day hikers as I went along, all coming back. The bridge over Pine Meadow Brook was, indeed, gone--replaced by a lot of small trees and a couple of large ones thrown across the brook, easily crossed when the water's low, as it was this day. Here are pix of the old (left, taken March 30, 2005) and "new" (right).

I have to give a lot of credit, tho, to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. They do a fantastic job maintaining and improving the trails. Here's one sample of their work on the Pine Meadow Trail.
Note not only the trail blazes but especially the stone steps! They also build bridges, and in at least one place, a ladder (see, e.g., a photo in Their maps of Harriman and Bear Mt. SPs are outstanding, and regularly updated as trail are re-routed and other changes arise.

The trail up to Pine Meadow lake is scenic--along the brook for a distance, then thru some mixed forest--including the birches adjacent to a swamp shown at left. Ga-Nus-Qua is really pretty, especially when the water's high, as it was in March 2005 (right).

So after an hour and a half of hiking, without stopping more than a couple of times for a breather, but quite a few times for photos, I reached Pine Meadow Lake, one of the prettier spots in the park and a worthy destination for so many day hikers. 1st I encountered 3 denizens of the lake.
There were more Canada geese farther along, some of them evidently nesting--not that I investigated very closely. You think these are majestic birds when you see them fly, or swim in a pond. But when you have them in your back yard, as we do in N.R.--that's an entirely different story!At the eastern end of the lake there were signs of beaver, such as the lodge in the center of this photo (along the shore).

And here's a shot of the lake itself. A pity it was so overcast on April 11.
There are several nice "lunch" spots along the shore of the lake. From the appearances, people have done more than eat lunch at them. About 3 miles of hiking (from Reeves Meadow) brings you to the east end of the lake. The trailhead for the Conklins Crossing Trail is well marked--a "loud" blaze on the tree at the left in the pic, and a cairn on the ground at the right.

Conklins Crossing is a half-mile link trail, tying together the Pine Meadow and SBM trails. It climbs pretty steadily from the lake, southeastward. From its junction with SBM, it's less than half a mile east to the Stone Memorial Shelter.

1st there's the natural phenomenon called "the Egg."It's a huge, rounded boulder and, yes, it resembles an egg.

As I walked a little further, I heard a noise I did NOT want to hear: an ax striking wood. That had to mean someone was already at the shelter. When I reached the ravine beneath the shelter--where there's often water, by the way (useful information!)--I heard voices, indicating more than 1 someone up there. Darn!

So I made the steep climb up from the ravine, and I found 3 guys--probably on college break--in front of the shelter, dragging in some tree branches, and 1 of them attacking the wood with not an ax but a hatchet. Good luck with that! We greeted each other, I mentally cursed my bad luck (not literally, but I wasn't happy at this turn of events; furthest shelter from parking, indeed!), and I didn't ask whether I could take their picture.

I continued up the SBM northeastward--now looking for a likely spot to pitch my emergency tarp. It's hard to tell distance on the trail. Maybe .25 mile farther on, maybe less, I found a spot that I considered but finally passed on. Just a little bit farther, and I came to a very good spot, open, grassy, a little off the trail, with fantastic views to the east and south. There were a couple of trees close enuf together, with just grass between them, for a good spot to string up my tarp (actually, it's described as an emergency blanket, about 5' x 8'). So I made my camp.In fact, I discovered a while later, others had camped there. There was a large fire ring near the edge of the cliff, but the grass around it was tall and brown. Definitely not a good spot to make a fire at this time--especially in view of dry conditions and recent fires elsewhere in Harriman, on Long Island, and in central N.J.

The views! Here's what I saw looking east and a little south: lots of Rockland County (Wesley Hills directly east of where I was), and the Hudson River is out there, with Westchester's hills beyond. After dark I could see the lights of the Tappan Zee Bridge.Turn a little southward, overlooking Montebello and Viola, and there's the skyline of Manhattan, 25 or 30 miles away. And far lovelier at nite.And a little further south, maybe a little westward:

That's smoke rising, indeed! I could only guess where it was coming from; later I found out it was from a fire in the Meadowlands, in the town of Carlstadt. It continued at least until dusk. More evidence of the dry conditions.

I could also make out the Newark skyline!

Well, my supper didn't depend on a fire. I had my backpacking stove, water, a freeze-dried meal (chicken Alfredo), and a flat rock to turn into my kitchen.

Topped off the chicken Alfredo with Chrystal Lite and an orange. Quite filling.

As the sun got lower, the wind picked up a lot--out of the north. It began to bite. I had my little 3-legged camp chair and a very compact lantern, but it wasn't comfortable for reading much. I read the Breviary of course, but only about half of the magazine I'd brought with me. I admired the lights on the horizon. The only star visible thru the clouds was probably, in fact, Venus (I'm no astronomer).

I went to bed around 9:00. That's when I realized the error in my set-up. The tarp was set up on a north-south axis, and the north wind blew right in. The only thing I could've done at that point, I see now in hindsight, would have been to lower the rope line considerably, and turn myself around too, so that my feet and not my head would've been to the north. Gradually I layered up in the sleeping bag, but didn't have to put on everything I had.

Eventually the moon and the stars came out, and it was a fine nite, except for the north wind. And I slept fitfully, as usual on camping trips.

I woke up snug enuf in my bag, but it definitely wasn't snug out of the bag. It looked like it'd be a fine day, however. I got up at 6:30--a nice break from the daily 5:00 to 5:30 at home, tho of course my bed at home is a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the ground! After visiting Mother Nature, I took a photo of the rising sun.
I said Mass with semi-numb fingers, then eagerly had some coffee and got my breakfast together: scrambled eggs, a little oatmeal, an apple.
As I was eating, a bluebird showed up, perched in the branches of one of the trees to which I'd anchored my tarp. I don't remember having ever seen one in the wild before. And my camera was at my pack. Darn! Later, tho, when I was sitting at my "kitchen" praying the Breviary--this time with camera at hand--Mr. (or Mrs.?) Bluebird came back, and I got some half decent shots. Here's one (at right--bluebird in center).

It took me surprisingly long to break camp--what with Mass, breakfast, Breviary, and careful packing. It was well past 9:00 a.m. before I was ready to hit the trail!

I didn't practice "leave no trace" precisely, but I did pretty well--and picked up some litter that others had left, too.I continued on the SBM--all this being new trail to me. It was mostly easy and pleasant hiking, with a few fairly steep ascents and descents. Ridge hiking is some of the best there is (right).

Eventually the trail descended into the woods, and suddenly a sign appeared (below!). It marked Pittsboro Hollow Brook. As it happened, it was also the intersection of SBM with the Pine Meadow, which was my turnoff.
The Pine Meadow Trail heading back, almost due west, toward the lake was crossed in several places by runlets that, after a lot of rain, must make the trail a little unpleasant. But on April 12 it was OK. Probably a lot drier in July and August, so not reliable water sources, I would guess.

Some of the spots were pretty, like this one (below right).

Pine Meadow Lake was a welcome sight. I'd aimed to be home around noon, but the way the hike was working out, I'd be doing well to reach the parking lot by then.

And the lake was more beautiful in the sunshine than it'd been yesterday. Day hikers were out again to enjoy it, like those on the "point" in the lake (below).

As I headed down the PMT from the lake, I noticed it was clouding over. It'd been so fine at 8:30 when I was packing up that I'd put my poncho deep into my backpack. Mistake! (If you refer back to the photo of my pack outside my office, you'll see the poncho strapped to the outside.)

I was about 10 minutes from the parking lot when it began to rain--and then to hail (very small stones, fortunately). It wasn't bad enuf that I needed to undo my packing, so I trusted to my broad-brimmed waterproof hat. And the rain let up shortly anyway.

The parking lot was jammed when I got there. Evidently a lot of people had days off during Easter (and Passover) week. A trio of guys waited patiently for me to stow my gear and change out of my hiking boots, then claimed my parking spot.

Almost exactly 24 hours in the woods. Great trip! Would've been greater if (1) I'd gotten the shelter, or (2) I'd toted along the extra 2.5 lbs. of my backpacking tent.

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