Monday, June 22, 2015

Meeting Thru-hikers on West Mountain, Soloing the Timp, and Dawdling in Doodletown

Meeting Thru-hikers on West Mountain, Soloing the Timp, and Dawdling in Doodletown

The vice provincial (who's also my local superior) advised me that it won't be feasible to take any vacation time in July and August during the interim between directors (Fr. Steve's term ends on June 30, and, as noted in the previous post, the new director won't be here until Sept. 8), and further advised me to take some time off in June.  I managed to eke out 2 days of hiking and camping in Harriman State Park.

Originally, Fr. Jim Mulloy was going to join me, but then he was compelled to remain at Don Bosco Prep on our planned start date, Thursday, June 18, and wouldn't be free until Friday afternoon.  So I went by my lonesome.

The last time I hiked up West Mountain, July 22, 2008, was a near disaster:  an out-of-shape hiking companion, a poor decision regarding the weather, a violent thunderstorm (monsoon-like) that caught us in the wide-open ridge-top, and the shelter nearly full of hikers (a couple of whom had set up their tent inside the shelter, so violently was the wind blowing the rain).

This time I fared considerably better!  The weather was warm, even if not sunny.  A better sign was an empty parking lot off Seven Lakes Drive--meaning there probably weren't any backpackers out there.

I had doubts that the Appalachian Trail thru-hikers would be coming by already.  Little did I know!  I wasn't 10 minutes heading south up the AT before I met one who'd left Springer Mt. on March 17.  As we chatted about his intended destination for the day (Hemlock Springs), another northbound hiker passed by--from his looks, also a Georgia-starter.  A minute or so after the 1st guy and I parted, another chap came along, and we talked for a minute or so.  So in less than 15 minutes I'd met 3 thru hikers.
Bear Mountain

I had the trail to myself the rest of the way up West Mountain and all along the ridge where the AT and the Timp-Torne run conjointly.  There were a couple of excellent viewpoints toward Bear Mt. and one toward the Hudson River.  
Hudson River from the back side of West Mountain. It's also visible from the shelter on the front side.
 Then the trail switched to the east side of the ridge with long, long views over Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, the Palisades Pkwy., Long Mt., etc.  I was making decent time despite a pack that weighed about 35 lbs. (including a gallon of water) and despite not having hiked for about a month.
With all the rain lately, Harriman is lush with greenery--here, along the joint AT (white blazes)-TT (blue), which indicate a right turn on the trail ahead.
Where the AT comes up from the south, a young woman hiker was standing.  We greeted each other.  She was wondering about a companion whom she'd left at the parkway to go to the visitor's center for some kind of first aid (companion never did show up; I don't know whether they eventually connected by phone).  This gal's trail name was Second Star, and she was from Fort Myers, Fla.  We headed up the Timp-Torne toward the shelter, and she quickly outdistanced me (like St. John outrunning St. Peter toward the empty tomb), reaching the shelter (a half mile away) maybe a minute before I did.

There was already a fellow named Eric there.  Eric's from San Francisco and was hiking "just" from Tuxedo to Bear Mt., over 3 days, I guess.  The 2 agreed they'd like a fire--the day was feeling dampish and starting to chill.  So I went to gather firewood from a ring 50 yards off and to cut a small log right in front of the shelter.  (While gathering the wood, I called Fr. Steve to "check in.")  Before I'd done much, Second Star had gone off to set up her tent somewhere, and then 2 more hikers showed up:  Myles, 22, hometown somewhere south of Richmond, Va., who'd started from Georgia in mid-April, and Wrecker (short for Homewrecker, he said, telling us the story of how he'd unintentionally dislodged a warren of mice from an old log), 31 and from Charleston, S.C., who'd started sometime in March.  Someone had calculated that Myles (that's how she signed the shelter's log book) was making 22.5 miles a day--hence her trail name.  Wrecker was distressed over the church massacre that had taken place in his hometown the day before.
Myles and Wrecker starting to lay out their gear. Unfortunately, it's not a very good shot, but it's the only one I got of the 2 of them.

A little while later, Solo turned up, saw the 4 of us in the shelter, and pitched his tent just outside.  I didn't catch his hometown or age (I'd guess 30-ish).  All 6 of us made a sociable crowd, with the 4 AT guys doing a lot of trail talk (naturally) and Eric asking a lot of questions not only about hiking and gear but also about them (and eventually me, at which point I identified my vocation, to which they responded "Cool!").  One topic that came up was the Sawyer water-filtering system that they were all using, and which I'd bought at EMS just on Tuesday but hadn't had occasion to use yet.  The AT 4 thought it was terrific, and when Eric asked about an MSR pump, they practically laughed at him.  I showed him my bag with its instructions.  He seemed convinced it was time to upgrade.

Another big chunk of the dialog concerned Myles's eating habits.  She's a vegan and, moreover, was eating cold, i.e., not carrying a stove or heating anything--as was Wrecker, too, but not vegan.  She was also attributing a lot of her energy to something she called cookie mix, which (I gather) is just flour and sugar without water or eggs.  She also said that the base weight of her gear (without food and water) was a mere 8 lbs.  Amazing!
Second Star, Eric, Solo, and Wrecker having great conversation after supper.
Both Eric and I ate freeze-dried meals--beef stew in my case.  I had an orange for dessert, and I drank a generic equivalent of Crystal Lite.

Most of them lamented the lack of any sort of privies along most of the trail but were quite used to that by this point.  They all looked forward to the occasional chance at a shower, e.g. at Graymoor, as well as the next store where they could stock up on supplies (about a mile before Graymoor).  They were grateful for trail angels and lamented having to lug a lot of water up West Mt. (in fact, Myles had to repair a shoulder strap damaged by too much weight in her pack).  No one had enjoyed hiking thru Pennsylvania, and Wrecker also disliked Virginia (but Myles liked it, of course).  They liked New Jersey, except for some trail that needed clearing of woodfall, according to Wrecker, and New York thus far.
This is why I bother to bring along a folding saw!
Everyone enjoyed the fire, which I kept well stoked.  Long before dark the clouds had lowered over the valley below, obscuring the Hudson and then the Timp and then just about everything.  There was moisture in the air when one stepped away from the shelter.  Everyone felt the chill, and everyone put on a fair bit of clothing before getting into his or her sleeping bag.

Solo and Second Star retired 1st, to their tents, then Myles and Wrecker to their bags in the center of the shelter platform.  The chimney wasn't drafting very well by then, and Eric was getting smoked in his corner.  So we had to break up the fire around 9 o'clock as he and I retired to our opposite corners.  And all was quiet.

Evidently Myles and Wrecker slept very soundly; they didn't hear the rain in the early morning hours.  Apparently Eric didn't hear the first, soft rain either.  So it rained at least twice overnite, the 2d time pretty hard.  By morning it had stopped, but the clouds still hung low.
Early Friday a.m., the clouds hide the Hudson, but the Timp stands above them.
Myles and Wrecker were up at 6:00, moving and talking very quietly.  I soon followed, and then Eric.  They went right to breakfast; I did a little packing and prayed part of the Office, waiting for a moment to celebrate Mass.  Solo walked by, greeted us, and was on his way.  I gave the 2 kids a "God bless you" as they set out at 6:50--probably should have asked whether they'd have liked a more solemn blessing.  When Eric stepped out for a few minutes, I began Mass, which I finished after he returned.  We chatted a bit as I started breakfast, particularly about his route toward Bear Mt., and he finished his packing.  He gave me an unfinished propane canister for which he had no further need.  Then he was off, and I was "solo" to finish breakfast (scrambled eggs, coffee, an apple), packing, and Morning Prayer.

If any of these guys (Second Star, Myles, Wrecker, Solo, or Eric) read this, I'd be happy to hear from them.
Looking directly south toward Stony Point from West Mountain along the Timp-Torne Trail east of the shelter.
At 8:45 I got on the trail, going east on the TT toward Timp Pass.  It was treacherous with wet rocks, wet leaves, loose stones, and a long, long descent.  I slipped once, falling backward a couple of inches into the bushes.  Safely down to the pass, I discovered the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail and the trailhead for the Red Cross--but couldn't find any blazes for the TT.  I'd taken off my fogged-up glasses, which didn't help!  
Where I just descended from
 I started up the RD because I thought I saw a little blue blaze, but then there weren't any more.  There was a young buck munching quietly on the foliage ahead, and he put up his head alertly as I got near and stopped to reconnoiter my position (and get out my camera).

Back to the Timp Pass Road, down it a couple of hundred feet, and there were the blue blazes again, heading right up the back side of the Timp.  
And now I gotta go up that! (Note blue blazes.)

Climb, level a bit, climb some more!  As I already knew (from having come down this way twice before), there was a spectacular view of the upper Hudson, Bear Mt., and the Bear Mt. Bridge.  Fortunately, the clouds had lifted considerably by this time.  

Then there were great views to the west, including West Mt. and its shelter.  
The West Mountain shelter is at the top center.
And at 10:20 I reached the summit of the Timp.  I called the receptionist back home to inform her of my whereabouts and safety.  I took some photos, ate a granola bar, drank water (by this time my gallon was reduced to about a quart), did some reading, looked around at the camping area (excellent, except of course there's no water on site).
Looking over Stony Point and Haverstraw from the Timp. You can also see down the Hudson as far as High Tor and beyond Croton Point (but not in this photo!).

Around 11:00 I got going again.  I wanted to pick up the RD to cut off a little bit of distance on my route to the 1777 Trail, and I'd have walked right by the intersection but for the large cairn in the middle of it.  
Behind the cairn in the middle of the RD-TT intersection, the tree bears the RD's blaze of a red dot inside a white circle.

Down the RD a ways, or perhaps it was after I'd reached the 1777, I stopped for lunch (peanut butter and jelly with a protein drink and another granola bar).  The 1777 was rocky, pebbly, and mostly downhill, so a bit tricky.  But at least the day had pretty much dried out by then.

Around 1:00 I came to Timp Brook and the Timp Pass Rd.  I tried out the Sawyer system and had trouble collecting much water in the bag; but it filtered thru OK.  Around a bend, there was the brook in larger form, with the ruins of the Moore homestead on the right (photo below).  A very inviting camping spot!  Altho it was so early in the day, I took it (which turned out to be the right decision because there wasn't anything as good farther along).

I changed out of my rain pants (which I'd donned because the trail was so wet after the nite's rain) and hung them up to dry out, adding the other clothing that I'd sweated in yesterday. 

I fetched more water, and eventually resorted to shorts and flip-flops, wading right into the deeper water of the brook to hold the Sawyer bag down till it filled up satisfactorily.  I had more than enuf filtered water for drinking and washing; what I cooked with I boiled straight out of the brook.

As I was busy about some camp business or other around 2:30 p.m., a young couple hailed me from the road:  "Which way is the parking lot?"  I thought at 1st they meant the Bear Mt. lot, but they seemed confused by my called-out directions.  So I brought out my map; it turned out they meant the lot on Seven Lakes Drive.  They'd been hiking for 4 or 5 hours on the 1777W to the Timp-Torne and down the 1777 without a map or compass and were a bit disoriented.  Using my map, I pointed them down the 1777 toward its E/W split and told them to go left/west (food for my Sunday homily!).

The sky got gray and threatening, so I pitched my tent around 3:00, way earlier than I'd intended; but I wanted to be ready for rain.  After some reading (and swatting at mosquitoes), I went into the tent, read briefly, then napped.  Human voices in the distance got my attention.  They didn't seem to come any closer, but they persisted.  Eventually, when I emerged, I saw campers setting up in the woods off Timp Pass Rd., about 150 yards from me.  And then I realized they were Scouts (uniformed and highly organized).

I had supper at 5:30--the rest of the package of beef stew, another orange, and more "Crystal Lite."  It was quiet over at the Scout camp; they'd gone off hiking somewhere.  As I said the Rosary, I walked along the road (1777 Trail becomes Pleasant Valley Rd. in what used to be Doodletown); the Scouts' troop flag, hung near the intersection of Timp Pass Rd. and 1777, showed the letters NEOLA, whence I deduced they were from Mineola on Long Island.  They didn't return till after dusk.

I stayed out reading as long as I could stand the mosquitoes (I came home with about a dozen bites).  The hard seating on rocks and logs wasn't real encouraging either, even with a foam pad under my posterior.  So before dark I retired to the tent and read by flashlight for a while.  This nite, unlike last, was warm, and no long pants, long shirt, or hat were needed inside the bag.  All was quiet except for the murmuring of the brook 15 feet from my tent.  (No noise from the Scouts.)

As usual, I didn't sleep real well either nite.  But I wasn't in any hurry to rise either.  I finally did so at 7:00.  Mother Nature called me (she was over-persistent at this spot; don't know what caused that).  Then I celebrated Mass on a rock by the fire ring in front of the old garage, ate breakfast (granola mix with hot water, and coffee and an apple), packed up, and prayed the Office.

Meanwhile, the Scouts had fetched some water from the brook by the roadside and then broken camp very quietly.  No idea where they went, but it wasn't north.  At 9:30 a.m. I was ready to go and proceeded north down Pleasant Valley Rd., reading each of the Doodletown homestead markers as I came to them.  I met one birder along the way.

It seemed like a long hike down to where 1777 splits east and west, and that area didn't look at all familiar.  It was a long time ago that Troop 40 used 1777E from Bear Mt. to 1777W to camp along the Doodlekill!  I had to double-check the map to be sure I was going in the right direction, which I was.  When I got to the Doodlekill, the whole area was thoroughly overgrown; no sign that it was once a good camping spot.  (For that matter, all the homestead sites seemed well overgrown except the Moore place.)
Wild roses on the Moore home site
I met one other hiker coming along and espied one going up the Suffern-Bear Mt. Trail where it crosses 1777W and one going up the AT from Seven Lakes Drive.  When I got to the parking lot at 10:30 a.m., tho, I was mildly surprised to find it jammed full of cars.  I put my stuff into the car, dumped my trash in the lot's barrel, and was off toward home--in good time, because by the time I got down the parkway to New City, it was raining!

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