Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Annual Easter Hike

The Annual Easter Hike

Every year during Easter week, while Catholic schools are on holiday, Fr. Jim Mulloy and I try to get together for a couple of days of hiking and camping, usually in Harriman State Park, which is convenient, has hundreds of miles of well-marked trails, and has good lean-to shelters.

In 2009, however, we made a foray into the Catskills that didn't work out so well, thanks to my own carelessness.

In 2010 we had only 1 nite available and, interestingly, encountered a hiker at Bald Rocks who came down from the Adirondacks to enjoy our more modest state park!

We didn't do a hike in 2011.

In 2012 I had to go out solo, on the Pine Meadow and Suffern-Bear Mountain trails, and made the mistake of not bringing a tent.

In 2013 we had a remarkably cold and windy--but sunny--outing, visiting Fingerboard and Stockbridge shelters.

Last year I didn't blog our hike into some of the lake country of the park.  Sometimes it just gets too hectic in the communications office! We included 2 friends (photo) for a 2-day, 1-nite jaunt. It was cold and sunny, and we had a good time:

This year we didn't have much luck with weather after my calendar opened on Easter Tuesday.  The rest of the week had rain in the forecast until Friday afternoon, and I had commitments again on Saturday.  So we planned to take our chances on the rain on Tuesday afternoon thru Thursday morning, pretty sure we could land a shelter in mid-week when almost everyone would be back in school and the weather would deter sane folks.

Given the forecast, we considered making Fingerboard, Big Hill, and Stockbridge our destination. Tom Jones is open on 2 sides, Brien Memorial leaks, and Stone Memorial is a real trek to get to. We opted for Big Hill.
Big Hill Shelter, built 1927, from the west
After parking along the road near St. John's Church, behind 2 other cars, we took the connecting trail down to the Long Path, glad it wasn't raining (which it had been doing in New Rochelle and on my way toward Ramsey to pick up Fr. Jim) and hurrying to reach the shelter before the rain caught us. Maybe hurrying too much; only about 10 minutes into our hike, Fr. Jim tripped and fell hard. He seemed to be OK, tho, except that a toe hurt. So we continued, stopping to catch our breaths a couple of times.

Neither of us had hiked this approach to Big Hill in a while, and we'd forgotten how long it takes to reach the old turnpike woods road, altho the Long Path kind of skirts it in a few places. We were hoping to meet some day hikers coming out (returning to those 2 cars), but we met no one. So with some trepidation we finally approached the shelter after about an hour on the trail.

I smelled campfire smoke as I came near, but we were fortunate: the shelter was empty. There were still hot embers in both fireplaces, tho. Evidently some day hikers had gone out by another route, or perhaps they were backpackers heading further, one way or the other, on the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, which crosses the Long Path at the shelter.

So we dumped our backpacks and, still in our ponchos, went out to round up firewood. There was almost none to be found near the shelter, certainly nothing substantial--lots of twigs.  It had rained, and everything was damp. So were we by the time we finished!

We observed that a good bit of standing wood had been cut by previous occupants of the area--always a no-no in the state park.  Eventually, ranging hundreds of feet in either direction along the SBM and general area, I managed to find some more serious firewood--all of it quite dead--on Tuesday and Wednesday, some of which I had to cut with my very reliable Sven folding saw.

More distressing than the hunt for firewood, which we'd expected, was the amount of litter in the vicinity of the shelter.  I don't think I've ever seen so much: various kinds of paper, food wrappers, beer cans and bottles, water bottles, and other detritus. We packed a good bit out with us in addition to our own little bit of trash.
Fr. Jim reviews the trail map before going for water.
We haven't found a lot of firewood.
Fr. Jim performed his customary chore of going to fetch water, which involved a long hike to the Third Reservoir.  While he was gone, I prayed part of the breviary, then started a fire so that we'd have coals for cooking when he got back.

In the meantime, the clouds lowered, and it drizzled.  Visibility got down to a couple of hundred feet.

When Fr. Jim returned, he took his turn with the breviary while I cooked hot dogs on my little grill over the fire, and added cheese and crackers to the menu.  I topped my supper off with an orange.

The temperature seemed to be dropping; it must have been in the low 40s, and it certainly was damp.  So gradually we added layers of clothing, and we kept the fire stoked.  Lots of talking about past hikes, school, Salesian doings.

Not very long after dark, both of us retired to our sleeping bags.  When I had to get up in the wee hours (that could be a pun!) to go visit Mother Nature, the sky had cleared, and in the 36-mile distance the lights of Manhattan shone wonderfully.  I didn't think to take a photo.  Besides, it was really cold!  While outside in the wind, which was brisk, I shivered like a leaf.  So I put on more clothing and got back into my bag as soon as I could.

I woke up (after a fitful sleep in any case) with dawn and bird song. The sky was still low, but at least it wasn't raining.  Before long, the sky cleared quite a bit, remaining gray (and no more Manhattan). I could see the Hudson off in the eastern distance.
That horizontal sliver of water in the distance is the Hudson River.
I got up at 6:45 and restarted the fire--didn't even need a match because the embers were still not from last nite.  That took off the chill inside the shelter.  I cooked scrambled eggs, but to my distress I'd forgotten to restock my instant coffee and had enuf for only 2 cups--1 on Wednesday, 1 on Thursday. I finished breakfast with a granola bar. I prayed Readings and Morning Prayer.

Then I went foraging for more firewood, venturing a quarter mile out along the SBM (photo above; see yellow trail blazes).  By my 2d trip back with wood, Fr. Jim had gotten up.  I cooked eggs for him too (I had the skillet-mess kit, and the backpacking stove; he didn't). His ankle was giving him a lot of pain--a result of that trip yesterday that hadn't revealed itself until the middle of the nite, he said--and he suggested we not stay the 2d nite. Besides, the forecast was for still colder weather and more rain in the afternoon and evening. So we decided.

That gave me the opportunity for more breakfast: some oatmeal and that 2d cup of coffee!

We continued to feed the fire for another hour or so, chatted, read a bit. Around 10:30 we celebrated Mass, using the shelf of the other fireplace as our altar.

Then we packed up. As we were finishing that, a day hiker approached cautiously, not wanting to disturb us. I called out a welcome, and she came up, a middle-aged woman (apparently), named Amy. She was obviously a
The blue-blazed Long Path heads north toward St. John's Church from Big Hill.
veteran of the area and was toting her own firewood! She took advantage of the remains of our fire and soon had a nice little blaze going as we finished our packing and chatted with her.

The only substantial water one has to cross on this stretch of the Long Path is Beaver Pond Creek,
for which the trail maintenance crews have provided a fine little bridge.
At 12:15 we were on the trail back toward our car, which we reached in about 45 minutes without any rest stops along the way (downhill's easier that way!). No other cars at the spot this time.

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