“Love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had eyes to see.” – Edward Abbey

You can only know from experience, and collectively, the worst ones teach you the most. There is just something about homo sapiens – we like to learn the hard way.

Something I have learned the hard way, repeatedly – good hiking partners are hard to find.

Let me tell you something, internets. If meno invites you on a hike? You better go…

Stepping out of my sister’s apartment on Capitol Hill, I could tell the weather was going to be perfect. Just a touch of crispness in the morning air as I walked to the bus stop. The truly beautiful part of all this is that I just had to show up in my hiking gear and boots. My lovely hostess had packed a lunch, and furnished a pack for my water and snacks, and even provided me with a hiking pole. The bad? I forgot my camera…

During our ascent, we covered topics of great social and political import. In the meantime, we cast occasional glances at this:

Once we rounded the corner and approached the lake, I had a brief fantasy about actually getting into the water. Empirical tests proved this would be a GREAT idea if I were, say, an Arctic sea creature of some type.

While eating lunch, we were joined by a solitary figure.

After dipping our toes in the ice bath, sunning, and rescuing a bar of chocolate from a liquid, melted death (we are heroes, really), it was time to return to civilization, which was really not that far off the whole time.

Behold – I-90

There is a lot of advice out there about what criteria is important when choosing a hiking partner. Let me share a secret with you.

Move “brings cooler with Mike’s Hard Lemonade for post-trip refreshment” straight to the top of your list.

Trust me on this.

I am fortunate enough to have two lovely friends assisting me on either end of this section, one in CT and one in NJ. Here is the updated schedule:

SAT APR 26th – Kent, CT to Wiley Shelter = 12.5 miles

SUN APR 27th -Wiley Shelter to Morgan Stewart Shelter = 16.3 miles

MON APR 28th – Morgan Stewart Shelter to Stormville, NY = 7 miles

TUES, APR 29th – Stormville, NY to Fahnestock St. Park = 14.1 miles

WED, APR 30thFahnestock St Park to Greymoor Friary = 14.3 miles

THUR, MAY 1st -Greymoor Friary to Bear Mountain = 8.6 miles

FRI, May 2nd Off the trail

TOTAL MILES = 72.8

Kent, CT to Wiley Shelter = 12.5 miles

Take off time. We started out under cloudy, cool conditions in the low 50’s. Despite predictions that there would be a) rain and b) no one else on the trail, the sun did break out of the clouds as a slew of Boy Scouts got on the trail right ahead of us – we would pass them eventually.

We climbed three elevations Day One-

Mt. Algo (elev. 1,190 ft)

Indian Rocks (elev. 1,330 ft)

Schaghticoke Mountain (elev. 1,331 ft)

The trail crisscrossed the NY/CT border as we continued climbing. We could see parts of the Housatonic River. At this point, the trail was incredibly rocky, and it inspired Young Dave to write a trail haiku of sorts.

Dead leaves over slippery rocks

All downhill

Steep

Right before the Ten Mile River Camping Area, we came out of the woods and onto the banks of the Housatonic. Incredible views, and we were surprised to see someone had a house right on the banks directly across from the trail.

We paused here for a break. This happened to be the end of the line for the Boyscout Troop – they met up with about 30 of their friends to camp for the evening. I was glad to be pushing on.

Our last climb of the day was Ten Mile Hill – while not ten miles long, the 1,000 ft ascent happens over a very short distance, and it took the last remaining energy we had. Young Dave had maintained the loathsome habit all day of steaming up inclines at the fastest pace possible. I had to inform him at that point that I was more of the “slow and steady” school, so while he was welcome to continue in the style to which he was accustomed, I would not be joining in that pace.

Luckily, we were a mere mile and a half from Wiley Shelter at this point. The remaining trail was fairly flat and leaf-covered, and we arrived with little incident. After declaring the shelter a bit too dirty to sleep in, we pitched our tents and ate a quick dinner. I think I was in bed by 9 pm.

I woke up that night to two things: first, a pair of Barred Owls calling to each other, and then, rain pattering on the fly of my tent in the wee morning hours. Fun.

WILDLIFE

click any of the names below for more information, including bird songs

Seen:

Eastern Phoebes

Mallards

Northern Goshawk

Heard:

Barred Owl

Wild Turkeys

Canadian Geese

Pileated Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Wiley Shelter to Morgan Stewart Shelter = 16.3 miles

Dawn brought showers and overcast skies in the low-50’s. Refreshed from almost 8 hours of sleep, we dutifully put on our rain gear and headed back to the trail.

We had beautiful, easy hiking all morning – a flat, wide trail through woodlands, meadows and farms.

Within the first few miles of hiking, we skirted several trails that led into the Pawling Nature Preserve, which is a 1,071 acre Nature Conservancy reserve. This portion of the hike wound through red maple swamps, with a few groves of hemlocks thrown in for good measure. Around every corner were small streams and waterfalls that looked too perfect to have occurred naturally.

Once we got closer to NY 22, we started crossing fields and farms. We burned 7.5 miles before lunch.

We had to climb over several of these stiles, which helped us cross over portions of electrified fence.

A part of the trail crosses a grazing pasture for cattle, which is where this old water tower is located. The water tower was constructed in 1920 by a local dairy and is still in use, after some refurbishing in the 80’s.

Puncheons like these make for easy walking, too. Each section of the trail is maintained by volunteers, in this state, from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. If any of these puncheons need repair, volunteers hike out onto the trail to do the work.

You can’t imagine the chorus of Red-Winged Blackbirds we heard while crossing Swamp River. The Great Swamp, as it is called, extends across 4800 acres and filters drinking water for millions of people in Dutchess and Westchester Counties.

After lunch, we had two climbs to get out of the way. First, we passed the Dover Oak, which is a white oak considered the oldest on the Appalachian Trail. With a girth of over 20 feet, the tree is thought to be around 350 years old.

The first climb was West Mountain (elevation 1,205 ft)

At the top, we walked through hemlocks until we reached Nuclear Lake, the site of an old plutonium processing facility that was closed in 1972. The sun was definitely making an appearance now.

Our last climb of the day was Depot Hill (elevation 1,265 ft.). The late in the day climb took the last of our remaining energy, again, and the 2 miles to the shelter felt like 10.

Once we reached Morgan Stewart Shelter, we hurried to gather water, do laundry, and eat dinner. The temperature was dropping noticeably, and the wind was picking up steam. The shelter was very clean so we opted to sleep inside to save time and energy. By the time 9 pm rolled around, it was easily in the low 30’s with wind gusts of 20-25 mph – blowing right into the shelter.

The Quote of the Day is courtesy of Young Dave:

“Those last few miles…they were like the last few miles of a marathon.”

AMEN!!

WILDLIFE

click any of the names below for more information, including bird songs

Seen:

Eastern Phoebes-everywhere!

Mallards

Red Winged Blackbirds

Alder Flycatcher

Heard:

White throated Sparrow – would know this song anywhere

Pileated Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Morgan Stewart Shelter to Stormville, NY = 7 miles

At some point during the night, the storm that had been building up let loose. Rain & wind, and barely above freezing were the conditions that we awoke to.

While Young Dave attempted to make coffee in the shelter, I sat wrapped in my mummy bag, trying to figure out how I would extract myself from the (relative) warmth of the sleeping bag and face the day. The wind was whipping the rain into a mist that was spraying everything.

To say I was in denial would be an accurate read on the situation.

This would be when I smelled burning rubber and saw flames shooting out from under the stove. The JetBoil suffered a permanent injury. Luckily it was mostly cosmetic, and the adrenaline rush from seeing Young Dave’s sleeping bag almost go up in flames brought me quickly into the here-and-now.

Originally, our goal had been to hike into the now aptly-named Stormville and pick up a mail-drop of food at the post office. Then we would continue on to Fahenstock State Park and camp there for the night.

As we put on our raingear, I began to revise the itinerary. Depending on the weather report once we got to Stormville, we might have to spend the night elsewhere. The wind was blowing pretty hard, and every which way you turned, water would get sprayed in your face. Not good.

Right away, we had to negotiate a climb (Mt Egbert, elev. 1,329 feet) over slick, leaf covered boulders. At one point, Young Dave turned around and said (get ready for the Quote of the Day)

“Are we on the deck of a fishing boat in Alaska?”

Pretty much…

Luckily, Stormville was only about 4.5 miles up the trail, and after our ascent, it was mostly a woodland hike. From the trail crossing with NY 52, the Stormville Post Office is an additional 2 miles to the west. The wind had shifted, and luckily was at our backs as we walked the road into town. Hitchhiking is illegal in NY, and just as I contemplated maybe attempting it, I counted three NY State Police cars.

I had to remove my soaking gear in the lobby of the Post Office just to get in. The woman informed me that actually, the storm was supposed to worsen into the evening, with a chance of thunderstorms.

We hiked another mile to Stormville Pizza for some nourishment before attempting to find a place to stay. There are no motels in Stormville.

The employee at Stormville Pizza was exceedingly kind, and pointed us in the direction of East Fishkill, about 4.5 miles away. Sheets of rain were coming down now as he asked me “Are you guys going to hike there?”

“Not if I can help it,” I replied.

So began a series of incredibly expensive cab rides.

Ride to motel = $40

Once we got there, I decided to do laundry and dry out some gear. Young Dave went off in search of more fuel for the stove and Budweisers, probably. He ended up with Steve & Eydie driving him around, the wife acting as dispatcher from the front seat of their Chrysler New Yorker, the husband simultaneously driving and squinting at his iPod, which contained the Vegas standards songbook – in its entirety, it would seem. Young Dave came back with a new appreciation for the vocal stylings of Dionne Warwick.

Ride to Poughkeepsie Eastern Mountain Sports =$45 (this was a topic of debate between Steve & Eydie – “What should we charge him?” “I don’t know, what do you think?”)

Meanwhile, back at the motel, I was folding laundry, obsessively watching the weather channel, and trying to piece together an alternative itinerary. The forecast for the following morning was partly sunny with a high of 55, but the rest of the week was not so promising, especially Friday, the day we were supposed to climb Bear Mountain. Heavy rains were in the forecast. Also – all the night time lows were in the mid-30’s.

With dry gear and clothes, we decided to leave early the next morning and head for Fahenstock State Park.

Stormville, NY to Fahenstock State Park = 14.1 miles

We took another shockingly expensive cab ride back to the trailhead at 8 am. Although partly sunny skies were forecast, the rain showed no intention of letting up. Somehow, we manged to tuck 5 miles in before lunch, despite showers and temps that barely reached 40 degrees. We summited Hosner Mountain (elevation 1,010 feet), the views from this vantage point are supposed to be gorgeous, like these –

But all that greeted us was gray.

On the way down met one of the first thru-hikers we had seen, Br’er Rabbit. He had started in Georgia and was on his way to Maine. He was sporting the thru-hiker beard and wearing shorts with knee-high gaiters. His pack was about a third the size of ours.

We crossed the Taconic State Parkway and came to the RPH Shelter. This was actually a small house at one time that was purchased and converted into a shelter in the mid 80’s. It is made of cinder block.

While we didn’t stay here, we did sign the register as passing through, and saw that Br’er Rabbit had taken his first 0 mile day there the day before. That made us feel better about the motel debacle.

As we got close to Shenandoah Mountain, the weather began to worsen. Climbing to the top, the wind really picked up, as did the rain. After eating a cold lunch of bagels with cream cheese, we later agreed this was the low point of the trip. It was almost 1 pm, and it had rained on us continually since we started, and we were missing out on all the views.

Since we were in the center of a storm cloud on top of the 1,282 ft elevation, we missed out on the 360 degree views and saw this instead-

Just when we thought the rain would never end (Young Dave kept saying the worst was behind us, and then it would rain more, so I told him he was not allowed to say that EVER AGAIN) I swore I could see Young Dave’s shadow. And then, as if a miracle had occurred, the skies cleared and the sun shone just as we reached Canopus Lake at the border of Fahenstock State Park.

We still had a few miles to go, but we were done hiking by 5:30 and set up camp. There was hot water on the premises, which was a luxury. We were the only people insane enough to be sleeping outdoors on this particular day -we had the campground to ourselves.

Temperatures wasted no time dropping, and the ranger told us on check-in there was a frost warning for the evening. There was a burn ban in effect in the state of NY, but we figured with the inch of rain the previous night, we would be in the clear. It took awhile to start, but once it got going, we enjoyed a fire for a few hours until a 20-year-old NY State Police dude came and made us put it out.

Young Dave took our water inside his tent with him to keep it from freezing. I easily had the worst night’s sleep of the trip that night, I was so cold.

WILDLIFE

click any of the names below for more information, including bird songs

Seen:

White Tail Deer

Wood Duck pair

Eastern Phoebes-everywhere, always

Chickadees

Crows

Red-tailed hawk


Heard:

Northern Flicker

Northern Cardinal-so loud at dusk

Fahenstock State Park to Graymoor Spiritual Life Center = 14.3 miles

Despite the the overnight cold, we wake up to sunlight& clear skies – the first sunlit morning of the trip! Spirits are generally high as we eat breakfast, and hit the trail with renewed enthusiasm despite the cold morning temps.

We stop at the ranger station and they give us distilled water for our Camelbak’s. I grill the ranger on the forecast, and he lets me listen to the weather band. Friday still sounds bad, and Thursday doesn’t sound so hot, but today is Wednesday – we can figure out where we will end up later. Right now, the sun is out and we need to make tracks.

We spend the morning hiking through Fahenstock State Park. Most of the land was purchased from mining interests and donated to the state of NY in 1929. The park covers more than 12,000 acres, and actually had fully functioning communities inside of it during the Civil War era.

Walking through hemlock groves with streams running through them – this is the kind of hiking we have been wishing for. The trail runs along old mining roads, so it remains relatively flat and rock-free, easy hiking and a wonderful respite from the past few days.

Around noon, the terrain started to change from woodland path to more boulder-strewn climbing.

We finally had the lunch stop we had only dreamt about yesterday – sitting in the sun, dry and relaxed. We would need this break as we had about 7 more miles to wrap up that afternoon.

We climbed Denning Hill (elev. 960 ft), where it is rumored on a clear day you can see NYC. We don’t see it, but it is always nice to look back over the terrain you just finished hiking.

The remaining hike to Graymoor consists of an incredible set of rock climbs that takes all our concentration. As the sun starts to make its way down, the temperature again wastes no time in dropping as the wind picks up. It will be another chilly night.

The guidebook says there will be a yellow blazed trail to the Friary, and we jump at any hint of yellow anywhere, as we want to get set up for the night and don’t want to miss the side trail. We needn’t have worried – this sign was tacked to a tree where the trail splits off.

We wandered the grounds and decided that of our two options, the picnic shelter offered the most protection from the wind and was closest to the bathroom/water facilities.

We chatted with two other hikers that were there – I didn’t write their names down, one had started in Harper’s Ferry, the other in Springer. I gave one of them the rest of my string cheese and a package of home-made dehydrated spaghetti with meat sauce. He was hiking with no tent or stove and relying mainly on hostels, shelters, and fellow backpackers to boil water for him, or eating cold meals. We agreed a hot meal would be nice on a 35 degree night like the one we were in for.

As the temps continued to drop, “we” (I may have made an executive decision – I’m not sure, as I was delirious from the cold) decided that tomorrow we would cross the Hudson and go into Harriman-Bear State Park, tour the zoo, and see if it rained on us. The prospect of climbing Bear Mountain in the rain was not appealing, and after a 1,300 foot ascent late in the afternoon, we would face a rainy hike to the West Mountain Shelter, another 3.5 miles.

Young Dave was fairly optimistic that there would be no rain. Given his weather divination skills earlier in the week, I remained unconvinced. Staying in Bear Mountain the following night and ending on a high note sounded like a lot better option than shivering through another night in the rain.

Those that know me, know I have a fairly low tolerance for cold (that is why living in Wisconsin is SO perfect!). So in case you think I am exaggerating, here is Young Dave geared up for the evening. I am fairly certain he is wearing every piece of gear he brought with him.

Normal night time lows for this area are in the mid-40’s, not the low to mid 30’s as we experienced the entire week. I have been asked by numerous people IF I had long johns with me -umm, OF COURSE I did, and I was thankful for them every night!

I will definitely be bringing a zero-degree sleeping bag if I ever think I will be sleeping in these kinds of temps again. The 15 degree bag was perfect only on the first night at Wiley Shelter, when it was 43 degrees. While I think wind and humidity were a factor, my tent – which has a mesh section designed to reduce condensation and provide breathability – worked against me in the low temps.

More info on choosing a sleeping bag -an inexact science, to be sure.

Seen:

White Tail Deer

Eastern Phoebes-everywhere, always

Chickadees

Crows

Heard:

Northern Cardinal

Blue Jays

Brown Thrasher

Seen & Heard

Hooded Warbler

There were probably a ton of warblers, but I can’t tell them apart from songs alone. This was the only positive ID I made.

Graymoor Spiritual Life Center to Bear Mountain = 8.6 miles

We woke up to sunshine – only the second morning of the trip where this happened, and I for one was thankful. We didn’t have far to go, and the clear skies were supposed to last until noon.

Soon, we were back on the trail and hearing a sound that was familiar from our practice hikes in Wisconsin – gunfire. The trail skirts the property of the US Military Academy and West Point is close by. The hiking that morning was ideal – cool & sunny, the trail was flat and leaf-covered for the first 4 miles.

I was a little bit obsessed with a viewpoint along the Hudson River known as Anthony’s Nose (elevation 900 ft). It is reached by a blue-blazed side trail, and I was worried that somehow we would miss it so I kept checking the mileage stats and the guide book, because we weren’t CLIMBING anything.

No worries – soon, our beloved rocks started to reappear on the trail, and finally, we were ascending again. The sun was starting to be obscured by cloud cover, as predicted.

We signed the hiker’s register at the base of the trail to Anthony’s Nose, and of course, I had to see if Br’er Rabbit had been there…he had…my day was almost complete!

Getting to Anthony’s Nose required a little bit of mountain goat-style boulder hopping at one point, but it was worth it. I took the bitch off my back and went in search of a photo op.

That is Bear Mountain in the background, and the lake you see at the base of it is Hessian Lake, which is inside the park at Bear Mountain.

We ate lunch on this lookout, and then headed for the Hudson. Young Dave got anxious as he saw the road through the trees, and blazed his own trail downhill. As we walked along the shoulder of NY 9, we passed the Appalachian Trail about 300 feet later.

The Bear Mountain Bridge opened to traffic in 1924 and at the time was the longest suspension bridge in the world with a 2,332 foot span. It is 155 feet above the river, and there are suicide prevention callboxes positioned along the walkway.

The trail actually goes right through the zoo at the base of Bear Mountain. The animals in the zoo are all native to the state, and most have been rescued and rehabilitated. Young Dave and I were alone in the zoo as it was about 2 pm at this point.

There is also a statue of Walt Whitman inside the park, which has the verses to “Song of The Open Road” engraved on a stone nearby:

AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

I could have died a happy woman at this point. Leaves of Grass anyone?

We made our way into the rest of the park under threatening skies and sprinkles of rain. It is a beautiful park, and it is hard to believe that the state wanted to build a prison here back in the day. This is Hessian Lake, that you could see from the Anthony’s Nose viewpoint. The Harriman family donated 10,000 acres in 1910 to make this park possible.

After securing a place to sleep for the night – the heat was “off for the season” – Young Dave and I finally experienced the perfect Trail Magic in the form of free rides to and from dinner, which was a BBQ restaurant a few miles away.

As the rain pitter-pattered away on the windows that night, I slept soundly and looked forward to kinder weather conditions -at least warmer, if not drier – upon my return to the Appalachian Trail in 2009.

This past weekend, Young Dave and I squeezed in one more 10 mile hike – just to make sure, you know?

Here in Wisconsin, the list of attractions goes something like this – Favre, cheese, beer, Parfrey’s Glen. Just trust me on that last one.

There was nothing else in the 10 miles that I can really recommend. Do NOT hike the trail adjacent to Parfrey’s Glen – steep, then boggy, and no views.

Our second hike – a 10 miler, and I carried 25 pounds. We started at 9:30 and it was only 34 degrees. We had a climb at the beginning – 700ft of altitude change over 1.5 miles. We were rewarded with these views at the top.  

By 12:30, we had been hiking for 3 hours (with stops) and had gone 5 miles. I was disappointed to say the least.  We finished the 10 miles by 4 pm, after a 1 hour lunch break, a much better pace. It didn’t hurt that it was pretty much all downhill.

My tent, in all its solo fabulousness – not staked out:

 

 

August 2016
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Gear Notes

Pack - Granite Gear Vapor Trail Tent - Sierra Designs Velox 1 Sleeping Bag - REI Sub Kilo Stove - Jetboil
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