Monday, April 8, 2013

Neither Rain Nor Hail Nor Snow Nor Gale-Force Winds

Neither Rain Nor Hail Nor Snow
Nor Gale-Force Winds
(Nor Dark of Nite, for That Matter)...

... shall stay these hardy (or foolhardy) trekkers from braving Harriman State Park in some pretty cold conditions.

Catholic schools across the country are closed during Easter week (March 31-April 7 this year), turning what is liturgically or religiously a most solemn week of holy days (one long Easter Day) into a week of holidays, as well.

So most years my confrere Fr. Jim Mulloy, who teaches, and I try to get together for a day or two of backpacking and camping. My schedule allowed only Easter Sunday evening thru Wednesday afternoon to fit in such an outing. The weather (rain) nixed Sunday.

So on Easter Monday (April Fool's Day, and Mother Nature was in a fooling mood) we met up at Lake Skannetati in Harriman State Park. He had Bro. Minh Dang with him, another SDB from the community of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey. We left our New Rochelle car there and took the Ramsey car to Lake Tiorati, where we started hiking under cloudy skies and in mild temperatures just after noon.

We took the short Lake Tiorati Trail from the parking lot to its end at the Ramapo-
Fr. Jim and Bro. Minh with Lake Tiorati behind
Dunderberg and Appalachian trails, which run together for over a mile along Fingerboard Mt. We headed southwest up the mountain, whence we had some fine views of the lake thru the leafless trees.

We huffed and puffed a little--none of us had done any strenuous hiking for quite a while--but covered the mile from the trails junction to the Fingerboard shelter in less than an hour.
The R-D and AT (note blazes on tree) run together along the top of Fingerboard Mt.
Fingerboard shelter from the rear, north
The Fingerboard shelter is a good one--full-width platform that can sleep 8 adults; 2 working fireplaces--set on the eastern slope below the ridge, and so sheltered from any weather out of the west. There was a good view of the lake, half a mile below (not that the mountain is that high, but that's the distance down the Hurst Trail to Seven Lakes Drive and the lake)--a view you have only when the trees are bare.
Some of our firewood stashed in front of the fireplace we didn't use,
and Bro. Minh in front of the other one, which we did use but weren't using yet

We were there only a minute when we got company--a 40-ish, athletic-looking woman with her teenaged son. They were from Yorktown, Va., and were doing the AT thru the park (from the Elk Pen to Bear Mt., about 18.5 miles), with the Brien shelter as their destination for the nite; they'd come about 4.1 miles and had another 5.2 miles to go to reach that. We offered to share the shelter, in view of the impending rain, chatted a few moments, offered a little advice, and sent them along with a blessing. We thought of them often during our hiking, wondering whether they made it to the shelter before dark and how they fared on the mountains beyond it. They turned out to be the only people we saw during the 2 days we were hiking and camping.

Then it began to rain, lightly.  We went out to get water (Fr. Jim, Bro. Minh) and firewood (moi) nevertheless, until the rain got a little heavier.  The temperature started to drop, then some very fine pellets of hail fell, then more rain, then big, wet snowflakes. We got a kick out of all that--but also were getting chilled, having gotten a little wet from exertion and the first rain. We put on some drier clothing, but it was still cold. We may have been asking ourselves, "What are we doing out here in this weather?"
Bro. Minh pretends he's freezing in the snow
Then the sun came out, and with it the wind rose--not so badly in the lee of the mountain, of course.  We all got more firewood, and Bro. Minh and I passed time sawing it up; all of us moaned about the weather that had turned our spring hike into a winter one.

A fire, lit earlier than we'd have preferred, warmed us up quite a bit.  We prayed Evening Prayer, then fixed our suppers. Fr. Jim shared cheese and crackers and hot dogs with buns with Bro. Minh; I had half a pack of Ramen noodles, half a package of freeze-dried beef stew, some of the cheese and crackers (Fr. Jim always carries a good stash of those), and an orange, washed down with a pint of Crystal Lite.

We did a little walking and exploring up on the ridge and thru the campsites adjacent to the shelter.  We saw a couple of deer that weren't at all skittish around us.
This guy was about 50 feet from me
Up on the ridge we really felt the wind, and none of us stayed up there very long. But there was a really good view--all the way to the Hudson and to Westchester County beyond.
Ridgetop of Fingerboard Mt. near the shelter. Up here the AT comes in
from the west to link up with the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail.
With dark, we admired the stars; none of us is an astronomer, so we could identify only the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt. Fr. Jim spotted a satellite, briefly.  And it got really cold, eventually dropping below freezing, colder still with such wind as hit us below the ridge.  We fed the fire and yakked until about 9 p.m., when we all turned in, reasonably snug on our bags.  Fr. Jim got up a couple of times during the nite to stoke the fire. 

We began to stir at dawn and got up around the same time as the sun. We restarted the fire--the embers from last nite were still glowing under the ashes. Then we celebrated Mass, with numb fingers. (By the end of the trip my right thumb had chapped open from the cold, as it often does, despite my wearing gloves much of the time.)

Breakfast followed.  Fr. Jim always goes light--Irish soda bread and a bagel this morning.  I go for substance--scrambled eggs, an energy bar, and coffee (sine qua non, whether camping or at home).  Then packing up, tamping down the fire, and departure at 8:30 a.m.

Bro. Minh had an obligation back at the Prep and took off down the Hurst Trail to return to the Prep's car at the Tiorati parking lot, taking our trash with him (as well as a little bit we'd collected that wasn't ours).  Fr. Jim and I continued southwest on the R-D. That part of the trail, all the way to the Dunning Trail (2.7 miles), was new to me.

The sun was out, gloriously so, but the wind was blowing strong and cold from the west, letting up every once in a while and when we dropped into the lee of something or other. But we had a couple of mountains to hike over--up to Fingerboard's 1367-foot summit, down to Times Square, up and down Hogencamp Mt. (1353 ft.), then part of the way up Black Rock Mt. (the highest point in Harriman, according to the trail guide, at 1382 ft.), until we reached Bald Rocks shelter.
Along a pleasant stretch of the R-D, Fr. Jim takes a short breather
before we'll be crossing a patch of icy snow--one patch among many
Discretion's the better part of valor: Fr. Jim goes down a steep lot of rocks, with some ice,
 on his rump. With such caution we both survived this hike!
The descents were tough in a couple of places, not only on account of steepness but also on account of snow or ice, still lingering in the shady places all over the park and added to somewhat by yesterday's rain. On the other hand, there was a lot of ridgetop hiking, which both Fr. Jim and I like--not much up and down, easy on the feet (whether the trail's rocky or dirty), not much in the way of trip hazards, and some terrific views.

The storm damage all over the park was terrible, and we passed thru some large areas of shattered trees. We can't give enuf credit to the NY-NJ Trail Conference for their work in clearing passages thru those areas and many other places along the trails, and for maintaining the blazes, many of which came down with the trees they were on.

You'd have to be blind or totally distracted to miss this trail marker!

The rock at left is blazoned "Times Square" and has trail markings on it.
All around--arboreal devastation.
One of the worst areas of devastation was Times Square, where 3 trails cross: the R-D, the Long Path, and the Arden-Surebridge. It was about an acre of trees strewn around like matchsticks, and we had a bit of trouble finding the R-D thru it. Then it was up Hogencamp Mt., where we took a breather and drank some water, and I ate an energy bar. We took some pix too.
Your blogger on top of Hogencamp Mt. The gray bag atop my backpack is a 2-lb., 1-man tent, which I didn't need on this trip. But the last time I backpacked without it I didn't get the shelter I was counting on. See
 Be prepared!
The descent brought us to a little creek with a rude log bridge. 

A little farther, and I discovered the welcome yellow blazes of the Dunning Trail--and the unwelcome sight of an ascent, starting up Black Rock Mt.

But we knew we were close to our destination, and in a few minutes Bald Rocks shelter was in view. Fr. Jim had been very worried it would be taken and we'd have to pitch our tents and deal with the wind all day and nite. Not so. No one around. It was just about 11:00 a.m.

But plenty of campers had been around--that was plain to see. There are a lot of nice campsites behind the shelter and a couple down the western side of the ridge. There wasn't a stick of firewood to be found in the area, and anything smaller than 3" in diameter had already been sawed off the many large fallen trees.

Happily, we took off our packs, having trudged 2.9 miles in 2.5 hours. Fr. Jim went off to find water, and I went off to find wood; there was plenty about 100 yards off, and somewhat down the hill. I did a lot of sawing and a lot of hauling, both of what I'd cut and of some stuff that didn't need to be cut.
Five good-sized tree limbs that I dragged uphill about 100 yards to the shelter; I always pack sturdy clothes line in my pack, which may serve as just that as well as a tarp support or as an aid to hauling stuff.
After a lunch of tuna and crackers and an energy bar, I did some reading--and continued finding firewood. I think Fr. Jim had more cheese and crackers for lunch when he eventually got back after a pretty long search for good water. Then he took a nap and sawed a different kind of lumber.

The Bald Rocks shelter apparently leaks a little; there were wet spots here and there on the bare rock half of the floor. Previous campers had attempted to stuff bits of plastic in various openings at the top of the walls, just below the roof.

This shelter has only a half-platform and can sleep only 3 comfortably, 4 in a pinch. Without water on the other half, which isn't level, you could of course sleep 3-4 more. We used part of that space for our firewood.
Fr. Jim in Bald Rocks shelter with his radio, trying to find a weather forecast.
Just a prediction of more wind!
The nice thing about the shelter is the center fireplace, radiating heat directly into the shelter. It was quite effective once we lit our fire around dusk. The shelter is just a little below the ridge and got a lot of the wind that had continued blowing all day. If the wind let up for a moment, or you could get out of its way, it was very pleasant in the sun.

So we passed the afternoon. Eventually we prayed the Divine Office, started the fire, and prepared our suppers. Mine was the second half of the Ramen noodles and the beef stew, with a bit of Fr. Jim's leftover sausage thrown in, and some more of his cheese and crackers; another energy bar; and another orange. I drank hot tea.

We didn't have a lot of conversation in us, and the sun had scarcely set when Fr. Jim crawled into his sleeping bag.  I continued to feed the fire while praying the Rosary. But well before 8:30 I too turned in. But I got up every time I saw the fire had died down, till past midnite, to stoke it up again. So we were comfortable enuf despite another sub-freezing nite.

During the nite and when I first got up in the morning (at 6:30, after dawn but before sunrise), I thought the wind had stopped. It was quiet right at the shelter. But that proved to be either temporary or illusory. In any case, I got up to tap a kidney and restart the fire, which was down to buried embers; I gave Fr. Jim a false alarm about rising for real. We both went back into our bags, but only for about 15 minutes.

It was so cold that we agreed not to celebrate Mass there; I did so after I got home, and that was Fr. Jim's plan too. So we went right to breakfast. Fr. Jim had just a bagel. (How can he manage on that?) I had the de rigeur coffee plus oatmeal, an energy bar, and the rest of the soda bread that Fr. Jim had brought and didn't want.

We packed up, put out the fire, double-checked the shelter for our stuff--and each strapped a shopping bag with trash to his pack. Most of that was garbage we'd picked up around the shelter; a little of it was our own.

And at 7:55 a.m. we set out for home, going east on the Dunning Trail for 1.4 miles, with a little ascent to the scenic Bowling Rocks and their fine views, including one of the shelter. That spot isn't as barren as it used to be, with brush and pines growing back after a years-ago fire.

I think this was a shot southwestward;
certainly it's from Bowling Rocks
For sure that's Bald Rocks shelter, from Bowling Rocks

The approach to the lake is especially scenic, with conifers and streams, including one little cascade right where the trail crosses.

Then it was down into the woods, the trail pretty much following an old woods road. And we were out of the wind.

At the Long Path we turned south and then eastward again to Lake Skannetati, a march of 1.3 miles.

We traversed it with great care. I was mindful of the bad fall I had on a slippery rock in the Catskills 4 years ago (

And in a few minutes more, the parking lot was in view--with a car in it that wasn't ours and a live human being--the 1st we'd seen since 1:00 p.m. on Monday.

That turned out to be a woman about to day hike with 2 dogs. She graciously agreed to take our picture with the lake behind us (a set-up more or less demanded by the position of the sun anyway).

The 2.7 miles of our hike out, mostly downhill and not steep, had taken just an hour and a half.

By 10:00 a.m. we were at Don Bosco Prep for some coffee and a mid-morning snack, and by 11:15 I was home in New Rochelle. Despite the cold--which really was pretty miserable when combined with the rain on Monday, despite the appellation of a "winter camping trip"--it was a good outing. Nothing like God's nature, good confreres as companions, and no timetable, provided you've brought the right gear with you for the place and the conditions.

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