Last Sunday and Monday (Oct. 13-14), I finally had another chance to "escape" into the woods, this time with Fr. Jim Mulloy and Jerry Gutierrez (Don Bosco Tech Paterson, Class of 2002). I met up with them around 2:00 p.m. at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, where Fr. Jim teaches.
|Jerry at left, Fr. Jim just after our arrival at Stockbridge Shelter|
But the hikers definitely were out in force. As we drove up Seven Lakes Drive from Sloatsburg toward Bear Mountain, Reeves Meadow's little parking lot was full, and there were scores of cars lined up on the highway shoulder. The larger parking lots at Lake Skannatati and Lake Tiorati also were packed. I wasn't too worried about the lot at Silvermine Lake and the Long Mountain Parkway lot along the Long Path, where we meant to leave our cars; those areas are crossed by only one trail each (unlike the other sites).
Sure enuf, there were lots of empty parking spaces at Silvermine, which is one of the larger lots in Harriman Park, besides. So we parked the Prep's car there and went on to Long Mountain Pkwy, which is much smaller and had a couple of dozen cars, but still plenty of space. And there we parked the provincial house car,
I'd forgotten how many upward slopes there are in those 2 miles, but I think it's still an easier route than coming up from Silvermine, which, tho half a mile shorter, is almost all uphill. Anyway, we had the trail to ourselves until we met about 10 day hikers coming up the trail, who told us the shelter had been empty when they passed by it. That was encouraging!
About halfway to the shelter we came to a trio of hikers resting on some rocks off the trail. We greeted each other, and we 3 moved on. A short while later, I noticed that they were coming up the trail behind us, well laden with camping gear. Naturally, we supposed that they too were heading for the shelter. Since the shelters are first-come, first served, that didn't bode well. (I also wondered why the day hikers hadn't mentioned meeting them on the trail.)
So, with a word from Fr. Jim, I went into overdrive, so to speak, hiking faster for the last half mile than I'd ever done before with full pack, including the steep ascent adjacent to the Cave Shelter (but being very careful about my footing, not carelessly hasty). Whenever I glanced back up the trail, no one was in sight, not even Fr. Jim and Jerry.
|The southward view from Stockbridge Shelter|
The shelter was unusually clean, and some previous camper had left a piece of a broom with which to sweep off the platform. Someone also had left some wildflowers in a Sam Adams beer bottle in the back corner; I moved that out by the fireplace (see photo below) and on the morrow carried out the bottle with our trash and recyclables, plus a little bit that we did pick up.
Had we not gotten the shelter, we'd have pitched our tents somewhere on the ridge just north of the shelter, where there are many good spots.
We all went hunting for firewood, and as we were doing that the other 3 hikers came up. They told me they were heading for Island Pond to camp, which, if true, meant they had another 5+ miles to hike and weren't likely to get there before dark. But they stayed and chatted for a while before moving on.
Finding firewood bigger than kindling wasn't easy; the whole area had been well picked over and even a lot of standing trees, it appeared, cut down. So we found only a few large pieces and a lot of kindling. Both Jerry and I did some cutting of the larger pieces. (A folding saw is invaluable for such work. Forget about using a hatchet, and obviously you don't want to haul an ax with you.)
A couple of other hikers came up the Long Path, Koreans we judged, carrying full packs and leading (or being led by) a large dog. They said they were just checking out the shelter but intended to tent camp in a nice spot just down the steep rise that leads up to the shelter from the south.
Fr. Jim and I prayed Evening Prayer, whose photocopied sheets then gave me a base on which to lay our fire in one of the shelter's 2 fireplaces. On that base I set some of the tinder that I carry: laundry lint, used cling-free sheets, candle drippings, small bits of wood. A little after 5:00 p.m. I lit the fire. One match was sufficient to start a fine blaze, easily fed by our store of kindling and then the slightly larger pieces.
I heated a can of soup on my camping stove, which Jerry and I shared. When our coals were ready, I set up my little grill (on shelf at left, above) and laid out the hot dogs that I'd brought, and then some that Fr. Jim had brought. We ate those with rolls and mustard, and Fr. Jim had cheese and chips. I drank Crystal Lite, Fr. Jim had soda, and Jerry took water. I offered tea, but there were no takers. Jerry and I had oranges for dessert, and he'd also brought Oreos, which he and Fr. Jim partook of. So we had a simple, satisfying supper, and even some leftovers.
By the time we'd cleaned up, the sun was setting in a western blaze of orange. It was only 6:30 p.m.
|That's Fr. Jim's backpack hanging from a rafter.|
The setting sun struck a golden pattern over my bed.
It also offered a good look into the shelter's interior.
A fine half-moon rose, and Venus came out amid the clouds. We sat and talked for a couple of hours, feeding the fire as needed, including with the big stuff. Fr. Jim looked for stars, but it clouded over and eventually even the moon was obscured--peeking out now and then. I'd brought reading material, but there really wasn't much light and when the others retired around 8:30--Fr. Jim to an outdoors pad such as he prefers--I didn't feel like reading. So Jerry and I settled into our opposite corners, and soon he was snoring away!
|Below the western side of the ridge on which the shelter is built, |
the setting sun lit up a carpet of scarlet flora.
It seemed like it was barely dawn when Fr. Jim came in at 7:00 a.m., and Jerry got up. So I followed. The sun wasn't over the horizon yet, and it was still dark inside the shelter. But after a quick wash-up, we celebrated Mass on the outer ledge of the fireplace, where there was daylight.
Fr. Jim had his customary breakfast of a bagel and water. Jerry had a PB and J sandwich and the coffee that I offered, and I had oatmeal, a leftover hot dog, and a granola bar with coffee. As usual, I was the last one to get packed up--the cooking gear as well as my 2 sleeping mats, bag, and the clothes that had been my pillow.
But around 8:15 a.m. we were on the trail, down the Long Path, steeply at first. We waved to the 2 Koreans and their dog and proceeded a tenth of a mile to the Menomine Trail trailhead, marked not only with yellow blazes but also with a cairn.
|A typical cairn--this one's at the intersection of the 1779 and Appalachian trails.|
We were moderately tired from our excursion of about 20 hours, and contented with the relaxing break from our daily lives, the good weather that the Lord had provided, and of course a safely uneventful trip. Thanks be to God!
I got home around 10:40 a.m., and after lunch was back to my regular communications office work. No Columbus Day holiday for the provincial house staff.