Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Most Dangerous Trail

The Most Dangerous Trail

When I was teaching English to 9th graders in days of yore, one of the short stories that usually appeared in their lit books was "The Most Dangerous Game."  A week ago, April 24, what I was dealing with wasn't a game, and I found it nasty enuf to be telling myself, "This is dangerous!" as I navigated it.  But at least I wasn't being hunted.

What was dangerous was the descent from Pingyp Mountain on the Suffern-Bear Mt. Trail.  More about that later.

During the SDB provincial chapter, which met in Haverstraw from April 18 to 27, we had a weekend break so that the priests from Orange, Ramsey, Port Chester, New Rochelle, and Haverstraw itself (the Marian Shrine) could carry out their usual weekend pastoral ministries.  Ours from the provincial house were covered, so I was free to do a rare overnite hike.  The daytime weather was perfect, but Saturday nite was quite cold.

Fr. Tom Ruekert of the Marian Shrine dropped me off at 2:50 p.m. on Saturday at the 1779 trailhead at the dead-end of Queensboro Rd. in Stony Point. This trail, associated with "Mad Anthony" Wayne's attack on and capture of the British garrison at Stony Point in--you guessed it!--1779, climbs gently toward intersections with the Red Cross and Suffern-Bear Mt. trails and was already familiar to me from 2 previous hikes.  
The ascent of 1779 Trail from Queensboro Rd. in Stony Point

I was about halfway up to my SBM turnoff when I met a damsel in distress!  (I think that was a 1st for me in Harriman SP.)  She was coming down the trail and queried, "Is the Red Cross Trail down there?"  I had to inform her that she'd already passed it, but I was happy to walk with her on her way back toward it, which she found readily enuf when we got there (the turnoff is poorly marked).

I continued the short distance to the SBM--which is well marked--
SBM westward turn off 1779

and started ascending toward the Pines.  I soon began to encounter little clusters of day hikers, all seeming to be in good form both physically and psychologically, including a senior couple that I guessed to be older than I am (I am a senior citizen myself).  When I finally asked one bunch of hikers where they were coming from, they told me there were about 20 of them, and they'd started at Suffern in the morning and were heading for Bear Mt.!  That's more than 23 miles.  But apparently a lot of people do that.

1st pair of the 20 SBM day hikers
Anyhow, as I was peaking the Pines, another bunch of guys came up toward me, huffing and puffing a bit, I think.  I remarked that they were "ambitious," and one muttered, "Stupid!"  I figured he was just referring to the length of the hike and the fairly steep haul up the Pines from the south.  

Ascent of the Pines from the south
(I had no idea yet about the climb up Pingyp.)  One hiker told me there was a great view on Pingyp, which I was already expecting because of the notation on the trail map (Harriman-Bear Mt., northern section).

I descended steeply from the Pines to the vale between it and Pingyp, where an old woods road crosses and there's an old fireplace.  I'd been this far once before (and had taken the woods road back to 1779).  There was a moderately steep climb up Pingyp Mt.  At the top, there's a large plateau with lots of trees, and I found 4 fire rings, at least 2 of which were serving campsites.
The plateau atop Pingyp Mt.

There was also another old road crossing the mountain top, not indicated on the map.  Beyond that road I picked a disused firepit with a mossy, pretty flat spot nearby to pitch my tent at.  It was 4:30 p.m.--so, about an hour and a half of hiking 2 miles, mostly uphill.
My tent set up, sans fly in late afternoon sun

After pitching my tent, I gathered firewood--no shortage of that, well seasoned and ranging from tinder to arm-thick stuff easily broken--and building up the stones of the fire pit a little bit after cleaning out the grass and leaves.  

Cleaned-out fire pit with wood
I explored the plateau, took in the fantastic views of the Hudson and the Manhattan skyline (and took photos),

Hudson River, Stony Point, Croton Point, etc., from my camp

Manhattan seen--past Haverstraw--from Pingyp summit

Triangulation marker at Pingyp summit
found the Geodetic Survey triangulation marker (wasn't looking for it), prayed parts of the Divine Office, and around 6:15 prepared my supper of freeze-dried lasagna and Crystal Light.  I could easily have eaten the whole package of lasagna (it was tasty) but wasn't sure whether I'd finish my hike on Sunday in time for lunch back at the Shrine--so I ate only half of it, which turned out to be prudent indeed.  I followed the lasagna with a granola bar, and later with a 2d one.

Preparing supper

This spot is certainly one of the best I've ever used in the entire park.

After hanging my bear bag, I sat and read part of an issue of America, and around 7:30 started my fire--only 1 match needed, as usual.  I continued reading, took a few dusk photos of the lit-up Hudson and Manhattan landscapes and later of the rising nearly-full moon.  It started to get cold, and there was a breeze, but I layered up and was comfortable.

After letting the fire burn down, I retired to my tent around 9:30.  I made a couple of mistakes:  using my poncho to cover my backpack instead of bringing it into the tent as a sort of blanket, and not using my hiking pants as part of my pillow stuffing, which would have allowed me to wear a couple more shirts; so I had a chilly nite.  (I'd also not been attentive enuf to check the Stony Point weather forecast before leaving New Rochelle on the 17th, and thus had brought my summer sleeping bag instead of a winter one.)

I slept in fits and starts, typical for me in the woods.  I dreamt of getting up in the morning to find that all my gear except what I had at the tent had disappeared overnite!  Fortunately, that was only a dream.

The sun was up early, but I let it get up further because of the cold.  I finally got myself up at 7:30 a.m., and by 7:45 was hunting for a reasonably flat and high rock to use as an altar.  I celebrated a quick Mass with semi-numb fingers.  Then an oatmeal-and-trail mix breakfast with coffee.  I'd have liked to restart the fire, but of course couldn't do so without a consequent need to use precious water to douse it before departing the site.  Instead, I stirred up and dispersed the ashes around the pit and removed half-burned wood chunks to make sure it was quite dead.

I prayed Readings and Morning Prayer, with a pause between to do part of my packing up.  No hurry.  I figured I had maybe 3 hours of hiking to do, and we weren't due back at the chapter until 4:00 p.m. (I thought).  So it was 10:15 by the time I was ready to resume the trail after a final review of the site to make sure it was clean (cleaner than when I arrived, because I'd picked up a little bit of litter).
Clean campsite, Sunday a.m.

SBM descended rather steeply, with terrific view of the river, Stony Point and Haverstraw, and the Palisades Parkway.  
Looking north over the Palisades Pkwy. from near the top of Pingyp Mt.

The contour lines on the map advised the trail would be steep, but I had no idea how much so.  Ere long I came to a spot that trail expert Dan Chazin describes as a "challenging spot, where the trail climbs steeply through a crevice in the rock"--in my case, "descends steeply."  I muttered to myself and took a few moments to debate whether to use my rope to lower my back but finally decided I could manage it very carefully without removing my pack.

I was happy to reach a fairly level stretch thru some pitch pines, where I took a little break for water and a granola bar.  
(The blur in the middle is a from a scratch on my lens.)

Then came the bad parts!  Dan Chazin again (describing the trail in reverse, south to north): "... the steep, rocky climb up Pingyp Mountain. This climb is one of the steepest in the entire park, and in some places, you will need to use your hands as well as your feet. After climbing a vertical distance of about 250 feet in only about 0.15 mile," you'll get to that level stretch in the pitch pines.
Palisades Pkwy. junction with Lake Welch Dr. from about 300' up Pingyp Mt.

So I came to the 1st really tricky descent on a steeply sloped, narrow rock with a drop-off to the right.  "This is dangerous!"  Long pause to size up the possibilities.  
Looking down

Time to resort to the rope.  I looked down, and there was a guy about 50 feet down shooting photos up my way--of either his impending climb or me or both.  As I was securing the rope to my pack, a woman came down behind me with a dog.  Her 1st time on this trail too.  She edged past me--there wasn't a lot of room to pass--and went down; and then the guy came up and slipped past.  He asked me whether I was going to abandon my pack!  I hope he was kidding.  I finished my chore and lowered (and kicked) the pack down, then scooted down carefully on my butt.
After descent, looking back up

Before I'd gotten much farther, I had to repeat that whole process--except that I'd left the rope tied to the pack, "in case."  Wow!  I said to myself, I'm never coming on this trail again!  Of course it must be much easier with just a few pounds in a day pack as opposed to 35 lbs. of pack, clothing, food, water, tent, pad, stove, etc.

I came to another apparently really steep descent, but this time there was a way to scoot around thru some rocks, fallen timber, and leaves off to my left.  (Somewhere in there is probably where I lost the tip to my brand-new trekking pole.)  I regained the SBM perhaps 50 feet above the Parkway, and down there was a couple munching on their lunch--with full backpacks at their feet.  It was about noon.  They'd started at Suffern on Saturday and spent the nite at Big Hill, and they had little idea what lay immediately in front of them; nor did they have any rope.  (Only later did I think, maybe I should have given them mine.)

Then the dog showed up--very friendly fellow (?--I hadn't actually checked that detail up in the rocks, nor here) named Parker--but with his mistress nowhere to be seen.  Eventually she did appear.  She was doing an "out-and-back" hike and had to return to her starting point by the same way she'd come.  At least this time she knew what she was in for.

The 3 of them headed on their way upward, 
Backpacking couple are just left of center; single gal to right of center.  Dog?

and I went the other way, crossing the northbound Parkway, walking along Seven Lakes Drive over the southbound lanes, and then into the woods along Tiorati Brook.  I stopped to filter some more drinking water from the brook, 

then headed up the SBM onto Pound Swamp Mt.  That was an amazing climb of its own, relentlessly up and up but never especially steep.
SBM heading southwest from Tiorati Brook

As I neared the top of the ascent, at 1:00 p.m. I decided it was lunch time.  After starting my water-boil, I called Fr. Tom to inform him of my whereabouts and projected arrival at Gate Hill Rd.  I enjoyed the rest of my lasagna and Crystal Light and another granola bar, and around 1:20 resumed the hike.  In about 3 minutes I reached the crest and saw Pound Swamp Pond below me; now I knew just where I was, having been out that far on the SBM from the opposite direction before.

After more steady climbing, the trail leveled off and shortly after 2:00 p.m. the humongous boulder known as the Irish Potato loomed into view.  

Reaching it, I called Fr. Tom again to give him a more definite ETA.  As I descended, I met 6 college-aged youths coming up the trail with 2 dogs.  We greeted each other and went our ways.

About 2:15 I got to Gate Hill Rd. and the parking areas, where Fr. Tom was waiting for me and eventually spotted me (I didn't know what car I was looking for, and there were about a dozen scattered about).  It had taken me 4 hours (including lunch, the water stop, and a couple of breathers) to cover 3.25 miles.

As we started back to the Shrine, he informed me that the chapter's afternoon session was to start at 2:30.  Oh my goodness!  We pulled in at the retreat house door at 2:30, I walked hurriedly to my room lugging my pack, dumped on the bed, grabbed my laptop, and got to the meeting room just before the vice provincial finished calling the roll in my stead.  (And I wasn't the last to arrive, either!)

PC 2016

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