April 4-10, 2002
Once again, Mike and I collaborated on an Appalachian Trail section hike. In December and February, we’d hiked the trail through New Jersey. The days were short, the trail long and our energy levels high. We’d done big miles and ended up doing a real fraction of it at night. In March, Mike did the northern half of the New York section solo. Now we would collaborate on the southern half and then shuttle me up into Connecticut to do the northern part on my own. With expected April temperatures and daylight levels, we were looking forward to lighter gear and more daylight to work with.
Day 1 – Well, practice makes perfect and we rendezvoused in New York at Rt17A without a hitch and right on time. It was breezy with the temperature hovering around freezing, much like our last two hikes. Rufus was driven up to Rt9 where I would be returning in six days’ time. Unlike the last two hikes, we managed to hit the trail by the relatively early hour of 11pm. The goal was the Hemlock Springs campsite 3.5 miles in, but a nice ridgetop campsite with views down to the Hudson a mile in beckoned. We slept soundly and coldly under clear skies.
Day 2 – Arising with the sun, we shook cold bodies out and quickly hiked the nice ridge toward the Hudson. A great view was had from a side trail up Anthony’s Nose before we descended and crossed the impressively large Bear Mountain Bridge. Impressive rocks and by far the largest river crossed by the AT. On the other side of the bridge is the lovely Bear Mountain State Park complete with a zoo of local wildlife (all of the animals were injured or raised in captivity and couldn’t survive in the wild). Among the menagerie were various hawks and owls, vultures, a sullen looking bald eagle, a pair of coyotes, a porcupine, and a pair of rather doppy-acting black bears. Yes, I have now seen a bear on the AT! Coincidentally, right in front of the bear enclosure is the lowest elevation on the entire trail at an altitude of 120 feet. It’s all uphill from there no matter which way you go!
The ascent up Bear Mountain was a rough bit of climbing after our long rest. The weather was turning grey but we persisted and reached the excellent view on the top. Several more mountains were crossed under increasingly cloudy skies. Occasional snow pellets dropped and by dusk we were only a couple miles from our objective, the Fingerboard Shelter (18 miles from breakfast).
We limped in to the lovely stone shelter at about seven to find it filled with five young folk who were all cousins or were all from Tulane University or something. Very active, friendly bunch who had lit a fire and were cooking and talking up a storm. Our more speedy and basic meal of beans and rice was concocted and we slept soundly in spite of the commotion from the other side of the shelter.
Day 3 started with a light snowfall. The five Tulaners were sleeping coldly and soundly. Mike and I started out over the frosted ground through the lovely softwood forests. At the morning water break, we found an abandoned mine with several water-filled tunnels and piles of excavated rock. Soon thereafter the sun came out and we hiked through the dramatic rock formations of the Lemon Squeezer. Supposedly, there are three places where the AT passes under stone. If that’s true, then I’ve now been through all of them (this along with Mahoosuc Notch, ME, and the Guillotine in VA). Neat stuff!
By mid-morning, we’d descended to I-87 and started up the overly-melodramatically-named Agony Grind on the other side. Difficult, but nothing compared to other climbs we’ve endured. More ridge-walking and we ascended Belvale Mountain after meeting a through-hiker out for the weekend. Belvale Mountain features large outcroppings of this strange, chunky conglomerate rock with great views to the east and south. We paused for a while at Cat Rock and took in the afternoon Sun.
Three miles to go in nice sunlight! Thoughts of Frank’s Pizza in Warwick, NY, filled our minds and we set a record pace to Rt 17A and the waiting car. Franks was very active as usual and Frank himself recognized us immediately from two months before. A sign announced that they would be closing for ten days of renovations starting tomorrow! Whew! Sticking with tradition, we ordered up a Sicilian pie with pepperoni and mushrooms and sat back for some well-earned digestion and conversation with the big man himself.
When we emerged from our calorie-fest, the sun had set and it was startlingly cold. In Crazy Joe (Mike’s gallant jeep), we took back roads up to Kent, CT, restocked at a grocery store and dropped me off on the pitch-dark side of the road at something like 10:30 pm. I hiked in the easy 0.3 miles to the lovely Mt. Algo shelter and slept soundly.
Day 4 – another cold morning! I got a late start chatting with the two other fellows at the camp and noshing on leftover pizza (wonderful way to start the day). It was still chilly, but the sun was out and everything was gorgeous. I spent six or seven miles going up over Mt. Algo and a few other lumps ending up finally (after a brief jaunt into NY and back again) on the summit of Schaghticoke Mountain (no, I can’t pronounce it either) where there had been a forest fire recently. It was eerie! The trees were blackened a bit for the first few feet but were otherwise alive and well and budding out. The undergrowth was also beginning to return. But well-charred logs littered the ground and there were only a few scattered leaves here and there. It was very quiet. Hard to believe that this is a natural process of rebirth!
Back down in the valley, I spent a while along the lovely Housatonic River near Bull’s Bridge where the river falls quite a ways in a series of rocky, potholed falls and rapids before meandering through canyons. After a stop at the Ten Mile Shelter (after 8 miles), I headed up and over Ten Mile Hill, crossed the border into the Empire State and hiked the remaining 1.3 miles to the Wiley Shelter.
The Wiley Shelter is an interesting, unique place. It’s well-looked after with several picnic tables, a tent platform, and a well-decorated shelter replete with tools, reading material and no less than three dial-front thermometers (none of which agreed with each other except to say that it was unseasonably cold). To say that the caretaker (one Robert Woodin) takes an active role in maintaining the shelter would be a drastic understatement. The shelter log is full of his (numbered) shelter checks which are performed five times per weekend (Friday and Saturday nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the day) and occasionally during the week. He rides herd on people with improper fires, camping outside official spots, and so forth. All in all, the shelter looks good, but I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to police it. But I saw no sign on a Sunday night or Monday morning of Mr. Woodin or anyone else. The shelter floor was uncomfortable and the place spooky. I didn’t sleep well and woke up peevish and sore.
Day 5 was a grey day with a cold wind and gloomy skies. The first four miles of trail wound through lovely forest on easy trail–which would have been great if it hadn’t been for the extensive ATV damage along much of the trail. Huge ruts were torn up where they went off the path, stone walls were demolished and trees uprooted. Don’t these people have any regard for posted signs or the rest of us? I’m sure it’s lots of fun, but somewhere else! I spent quite a while dragging dead trees across ATV ruts, rebuilding stone walls and placing occasional large rocks in the trail to make it harder for wheeled jackasses to pass; though it probably won’t do any good. I was in a peevish mood and thinking about severe tire damage and eviscerated transmission casings by the time I descended into the valley.
Things improved somewhat with a chili dog from a vendor cart on Rt 55. After crossing the road, I encountered the AT Train Station where on weekends and holidays you can get in to NYC from the trail. Three miles later I started the steep ascent to the strangely named Telephone Pioneers Shelter, a nice shelter with a good view. Shortly thereafter I reached the excellent view from Cat Rocks. A few miles on I was treated to views of Nuclear Lake, which, despite the name, seems to be mostly occupied by some rather boisterous waterfowl. The final three-mile push of the day brought me, knees aching, to the lovely Morgan Stewart Memorial Shelter atop rugged Mt. Egbert. Nice shelter with not a soul around. Dinner was prepared and I enjoyed the solitude and quiet.
Day 6 – Definitely warmer today; I didn’t shiver and stamp around nearly so much this morning. The weather is still gloomy but looks more promising than yesterday. Two and a half miles of hiking brought me to the crossing with I-84, the noise of which could be heard for many miles before and after. There were some ups and downs and by the time I was crossing the rough slopes of Hosner Mountain the sun was hot and I’d stripped down to shorts and Duofold shirt. Life was definitely looking up. A splendid, lingering lunch was had at the RPH Cabin (Das Bunker) after nine miles in the bright sun and 75 degree heat.
Ascending Shenandoah mountain in the heat was reminiscent of summer trips but by the time I reached the summit, clouds had rolled in and it was spitting intermittant rain. With various leg-oriented pain, I trudged through more nice woods before arriving at the rocky bluffs above Canopus Lake. Stepping out onto the ledge I nearly stood on a large stick which turned out to be a five foot long Black Snake; difficult to say which of us was more startled. The trail wound around on the north side of Canopus Lake and became very rough. I was hurting at this point but limped along stoically.
At the south end of the lake, the trail takes to an old railroad grade into the heart of Fahnestock State Park. Beautiful ferns and tall trees along a deep river canyon. I had been aiming for the Dennytown Campsite twenty miles from the Stewart Shelter, but at the 18 mile-mark, I found a beautiful little campsite on top of a rocky knoll in the midst of luscious swamp. Frogs were croaking and it seemed like the perfect place for the last night of my hike. I quickly deployed camp, rejoiced in the fact that it wasn’t raining at that instant, and cooked a most sumptuous dinner of pesto-filled tortolini. Just after dinner, darkness fell and it started to rain lightly. I crawled into my bivy and was out like a light looking forward to an easy eleven miles to the car in the morning.
Day 7 – It rained a lot in the night; my cook pot had collected about half an inch of rain and my bivy had soaked through. Everything except me was wet. But the rain was tapering off and I had slept soundly and well. Peering outside, I could tell that it was just before twilight, perhaps 5 am and it would be light soon (I don’t carry a watch hiking; it never seems important). What the heck! I leapt up, packed my gear with the recklessness of one who knows he’s headed back to town and was on the trail in short order. The half-pint of water left in my bottles would be more than enough to get me the two miles to Dennytown Road where there was a faucet.
The two miles passed relatively quickly in the dark. The trail was well-marked and flew past. Feeling good but a bit tired, I reached Dennytown road an hour later. The sky was no lighter. But the clouds were still thick and I was confident that dawn would come soon! Finishing off the water, I discovered that the water faucet had been shut off for the winter. Oh well, I’d keep walking the three miles to the next road.
At this point I was starting to get a bit spooked. Night hiking can be a creepy experience and doing it alone is doubly nerve-wracking. I was serious beginning to wonder what time it was. Dehydration was also setting in. Not that I didn’t have the means to get more water, but I was too spooked to stop alone in the pitch-dark woods. Three miles passed at a record pace and I was soon at South Highland Road five miles from my camp. Everything was still dark as pitch; what the hell time was it anyway?! In desperation I set out for another mile to the next road resolving I would pump water and slake my thirst there dark or not.
Canopus Hill Road hove into murky view and it was still dark. I broke out the pump and sat by the stream to pump water. Well, maybe it wasn’t so dark after all. I turned off my headlamp and found I could see details near me. By the time I had eaten some food and finished the water (ah, glorious water!) it was light enough to hike sans lamp.
My adrenaline spent from six miles of highly motivated night hiking, my pace slowed and the accumulated excesses of six hard days on the trail began to catch up with me. The day was gorgeous and clear. Birds chirped all around as I limped the final five miles to complete the New York section. The car was a very welcome sight indeed. The subsequent shower and soft bed were even more luxurious!
It was a good hike, though I am drained and pained after the fact. The mix of solo and companioned hiking went rather well and the territory was quite lovely to hike through. I am quite pleased to have now completed a major swath of trail from Connecticut down to the Pennsylvania border.
Total distance, 94.4 miles.