Friday, November 28, 2008

Harriman Park Hike -- the Irish Potato

A Pleasant Surprise

After several long hikes alone it was a pleasure hiking with my son Eli today. We hiked a 5 mile stretch of the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail and the miles flew by. We started by climbing up to the Irish Potato, a giant free-standing rock on the top of the mountain. The trail then curves along a ridge overlooking the Pound Swamp (looks like a pond to me) before making a long descent to the stream and the Palisades Parkway.

I hadn't hiked this stretch since the 1980s and didn't have high expectations for it. I've also not been a fan of the SBM trail. It's the longest in Harriman Park at 24 miles and goes over many hills and it's quite rugged, in places needlessly so to my way of thinking. But this piece and one I did yesterday morning on West Mountain are certainly beautiful stretches of trail.

In many ways this is a classic beautiful hike in Harriman Park: several climbs, some woods roads, big rocks and a stream and a pond and some good views. With the trail full of brown leaves, it's a little difficult to find the footway and some of the turns were more abrupt than we anticipated. Still, it was a pleasant late afternoon stroll and a chance to walk off some of the excesses of Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Harriman Hike -- Timp Pass 2

Harriman Hike - Timp Pass I

A Steep Climb in the Gathering Darkness

For the third weekend in a row, I found myself in Timp Pass late in the afternoon and with darkness approaching. Each week I'd approached Timp Pass from a different direction. This time I had planned an escape route that on the map looked flat. Standing in my usual spot in Timp Pass, I realized that the trail had other ideas. My route home was going to be steeply up for quite a while. This was not a welcome bit of news coming at the end of my longest and toughest hike in a long time.

Still, this week I thought I had enough time before dark. I was in Timp Pass 45 minutes earlier than the week before and I'd gotten out then just as darkness was settling in. As I climbed the ridge of West Mountain on the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, one that I had never covered before, I found that it was a beautiful stretch of trail but treacherous in places as the wet leaves and precarious ledges made a bad combination. I was rewarded with outstanding views of the Timp and Haverstraw Bay with alternating hills and valleys in and out of light. Again, it was dark when I got to my car.

Once again I was reminded that my project to complete all the trails in Harriman Park this year has had unexpected rewards. It has taken me to many places that I'd never been before and nearly all have been exciting and rewarding. Some of the ones I've left until the end have been among the most remote and rugged and best trails in the park. Nearly every mile has been worth it. The project has gotten me out ten times as much as I would have in a normal year, often when I've been tired or the weather has been iffy and I've enjoyed nearly every minute of it.

Harriman Hike on the Nurian Trail

On a rainy Saturday I hiked in Harriman Park on the Nurian, White Bar and Dunning Trails. I wasn't expecting it to be hard or especially beautiful but I was wrong on both counts. It had been many years since I'd hiked parts of these trails. I didn't remember how many beautiful streams or waterfalls there were and that was a pleasant surprise. The recent rains meant all of the streams were flowing fast and added to the attraction.

I did have a dim memory of the Valley of Boulders, a rock formation with similarities to the nearby Lemon Squeezer. The trail besides Green Pond feels especially rugged and remote. This section even had some views and that is definitely something I hadn't expected. The whole area is rough and rocky but rewarding. It's also far enough from parking lots that while we saw other hikers, it never felt overcrowded.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hiking Books

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

I've read a lot of books on hiking the Appalachian Trail and the variety of new and different stories is endless. Because each person is different and each trip is different, there's always something new and exciting in each book.

I do have to confess that I've been reading fewer A.T. books in recent years. But this spring I met AWOL at Trail Days and read his book. I consider it one of the best accounts of a thru-hike. He had an unusual story, a middle-aged father with young daughters breaking away to do a thru-hike in mid-career.  Naturally, being away from his family affected every part of his trip and he was candid in his portrayal. He seemed to suffer more than his share of injuries and pain and took more than his fair share of joy from the thru-hike. I also found it unusual that his younger brother had thru-hiked several decades before.

AWOL's descriptions of the trail were fresh and original and brought me back to experiences of many years ago. Some things about the trail are timeless and some are new with each fresh class of thru-hikers. I  took a great deal of pleasure in this chance to spend vicarious time in the company of AWOL and his companions.

Linda "Earthworm" Patton has put together a great site on hiking books across the U.S. There's no more comprehensive listing online that I'm aware of and Linda's site is also filled with links and information on the trails as well as lively features.

A good source of hiking books and maps is the book department at Campmor, Inc. in Ramsey, N.J. and in their online catalogue. Their selection is as comprehensive as I've seen in recent years and includes books on hiking in all 50 states as well as related topics dealing with the outdoors and nature. Their book buyer , Roger Williamson, is one of the real experts on hiking literature.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A.T. Museum Update

Walkin' Jim Concert

We were excited about the great Walkin' Jim benefit concert last weekend. It was wonderful seeing Jim back on tour and we really appreciated him doing the benefit. The final numbers aren't in yet but we sold about 215 tickets. Half the crowd came in at the last minute and we were sweating till then. Special thanks go to Karen for three months of hard work in organizing the concert and arranging publicity and sponsors; and Bill, who did a great program (hand printed), poster and press release and redid the display board. Gwen showed up with half of York County. Laurie and Rich participated as readers in the show. Bruce, Erich, Pam and several others pitched in.

There was also great support from the local hiking and environmental groups. The main sponsor was the Susquehanna A.T. Club. Other sponsors were the Appalachian Audubon Society, Canoe Club of Greater Harrisburg, John W. Gleim Jr. Inc., Susquehanna River Trail Association, Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and the Manada Conservancy.

Also, a reminder that the next meeting of the board will be Sunday April 5 at 9 a.m. at Iron Masters Hostel. All museum meetings are open. Once again we will be coordinating our spring meeting with the ALDHA steering committee and the Earl Shaffer Foundation.

Immediately ahead, we'll be working on our year-end fundraising letter. Maurice has agreed to work on that again. Terry is actively working on the photo digitization project and will be going to Harpers Ferry next month to make arrangements. She's looking for volunteers to help out. We're also still working on the Old Mill project.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pushing the Envelope

(Top left: view of High Tor and Manhattan skyline from West Mountain. Top right: tree on West Mountain. Middle: West Mountain Shelter from behind. Bottom: West Mountain Shelter one week before from the Timp)

Racing Against Darkness

It's easy to get into trouble in the woods when you are pushing to achieve a goal. This year I've set my sights on hiking all of the marked trails in Harriman Park during the calendar year. I'm getting close to my goal but running out of weekends that I'm free. This past weekend I got back from a trip early Sunday afternoon and tried to squeeze in an ambitious hike before dark.

By now I've hiked most of the easy sections. Often I have to hike quite a ways to get to an interior stretch that I haven't covered before. On this hike, I climbed West Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, a section I'd hike this summer. It was beautiful with views of Bear Mountain, the central area of Harriman and even a clear view of the New York City skyline. By the time I got to the West Mountain Shelter, I figured I had an hour and a half of daylight left and I had just reached the new trail I needed to cover.

The descent took me longer than I thought. The entire time I'd been pushing myself to go fast even though I knew to be careful on the wet leaves and I didn't want to take a spill on the rocks. As I finished the hard descent and walked through Timp Pass, I knew it would be tough to get out in daylight. I took out my map and calculated that I could probably pick up a new stretch of the Ramapo-Dunderberg and the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail and be back on the ridge of West Mountain with a little less than half an hour of daylight to do.

I figured that would leave me doing a hard descent for fifteen minutes in the dark. I've hiked enough in the dark to want to avoid that situation. After dark, it's a much slower walk with a much higher chance of getting hurt. In the middle of Timp Pass with high ridges all around me, I kept looking at the alternatives and decided the best was give up on trying to cover new trails. I'd try to follow an old woods road into Doodletown and out to the parking lot on the 1777 West Trail, one I'd hiked on several weeks before. Everything worked perfectly and I got out just as it was getting pitch black -- the only thing was it was a half hour earlier than I'd thought.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Golden Era of Trail Building

National Trail Efforts

This has been a golden era of trail building nationally. For the major national trails, much progress has been made toward completing them, protecting their routes or improving their marking and footway. Several new national trails have come off the drawing boards and are starting to take shape. Until recently, I wasn't aware of two big ones, the Great Eastern Trail and the Great Western Loop. The Great Eastern is a formal effort that will tie together existing trails plus some new ones to form a giant loop with the A.T. and provide an alternative along much of its route. I'd heard about similar ideas for a loop for many years and Earl Shaffer had long talked about it. But the organization and name are relatively recent. The Great Western forms a loop with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trails with east west connectors. Versions of it have been hiked by Andy Skurka and Nimblewill Nomad although I'm not aware of any effort yet to formalize it. The International Appalachian Trail continues to extend its route through Canada and is now investigating geologically related routes in Europe and Africa. The Ozark Highlands trail is featured in the October issue of National Geographic which also has an article and map on the 40th anniversary of the National Trails System Act.

I'm including links for some of these trails as well as a new site on ultralight-hiking by Linguini.

Harriman Park New York Fall Folliage Hikes

Taking advantage of the spectacular fall weather and remaining folliage, I hiked in three separate parts of Harriman Park over the weekend.  The picture of the reservoir is along the Long Path on the southern boundary of Harriman Park. Several shots of yellow leaves are in the Doodletown area. The pictures of the Hudson River are from the southern end of the Timp-Torne Trail. I'm nearing completion of a project to hike all of the marked trails in Harriman Park in one calendar year. This goal has gotten me into the woods more than at any time in years. It's also taken me to far-flung corners of the park that I've never seen before. I am amazed at how many great stretches of trail the park has and how few bad trail sections I've seen. Despite how densely populated Rockland County is, I'm also impressed at how quickly the trails get away from the roads and how quickly I feel I'm in a remote stretch of woods. I've done 43 hikes (mostly short) in the park so far this year and I figure it will take another 8 or 9 to finish. I'm hoping to finish by the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a hike up Bear Mountain.