Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Harriman S.P. - Scrambler Loop

Daughter sporting her librarian specks at Harriman
This ended up to be a pretty punishing overnight trip, but well worth it - although my legs might not agree.  It felt like there was as much vertical distance traveled as there was across the map, so we ended up naming this 14 mile loop The Scrambler.  My daughter and I wanted to get in a backpacking trip before she headed back to college, and wanted to make it more challenging than the usual trips to Wharton State Forest here in south Jersey.  So, we planned this trip up to Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks for a change of pace.  I forgot how close these parks are, and how many miles of trails there are - I'll have to make this a more regular destination.

We left for the trail on a Tuesday morning, getting a leisurely start at 9:00.  Only 2 hrs and 15 minutes up the NJ Turnpike to the Palisades Parkway, and we were there.  Taking exit 16 off of the parkway, we parked in the gravel area along Tiorati Brook Rd, and were on the trail by 11:30 - a bit of a late start, but we only planned to hike about 5 miles to the West Mountain shelter.  For those not familiar with Harriman, dispersed camping is only allowed for thru-hikers along the AT or Long Path trail - all others are expected to camp at, or surrounding, the numerous shelters located throughout the park.  We chose a mid-week trip in order to avoid the weekend crowds at the popular West Mountain shelter.

Are you sure you're ready for this?
The first leg of Scrambler loop starts on the yellow blazed Suffern-Bear Mountain trail that crosses Tiorati Brook Rd right at the junction with Palisades Parkway.  Crossing to the east side of the parkway, the trail begins with an immediate set of scrambles up Pingyp Mtn.  The first scramble rises steeply for 300'+ of elevation to the Scott Memorial plaque before making a slight jog to the east, and then climbing another 300' up two additional scrambles to the top of the first of the four ridge peaks of the afternoon.

More steep than it looks!
The hike down the north side of Pingyp is the first introduction to the rugged terrain of Harriman - just about every trail is strewn with boulders and rock talus, which tests your ankles and boots.  After a quick decent, the trail rises again across another scramble to the top of The Pines mountain.  We stopped here at 1:30 for a quick lunch of miso soup and tuna with crackers, before descending to the Red Cross Trail.  The Red Cross Trail continues a slow side-slope descent that crosses three small streams, after which it begins a long uphill climb to the Ramapo-Dunderberg (RD) Trail at Timp Pass.  The last reliable water source before the West Mountain shelter is located on the Red Cross Trail just before making the final scramble up to the pass.

View from The Timp
The RD trail is marked with red-dot blazes, and it runs south, skirting around the valley before zig-zaging up two serious boulder field scrambles to the junction with blue blazed Timp-Torne Trail.  The blue blazes continue the steep climb up to the top of The Timp mountain with its spectacular views.  From the Timp's overlook, you can actually look across the valley to the West Mountain shelter on the adjacent ridge...it's 4:00, and still over an hour to traverse the last mile to camp.  The northwest side of the Timp is a slow, sometimes steep, descent back down to the north side of Timp Pass, before the trail winds its way up the West Mountain ridge, testing your thighs; but, culminating at the shelter.  The tough terrain made the 5 mile section a 5.5 hr hike that really proves what you're made of - this is not a novice trek by any stretch of the imagination, so if you try it then Be Prepared.

There is a nice view of the Hudson River from the shelter, and it is kind of cool to hear horns from boats in the river while you sleep, and the sound of the train on the far side.  We had the whole area to ourselves (other than for a family of deer), and had a relaxing evening by the fire.  A dinner of salmon and spanish rice with soup finished off a fine day.  A light rain overnight provided a calming patter of the fly, and wasn't enough to make the trail too treacherous on Wednesday.

The following day was a more leisurely 9 mile hike, but still took over 6 hrs to complete.  The day started by heading north along the ridge-top of West Mountain on the AT with numerous picturesque overlooks of Harriman Park to the west, and Bear Mountain Park and the bridge over the Hudson to the east.  At the junction with Fawn Trail, the loop heads west from the AT and descends to the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area.  

On top of Black Mountain
You can refill with water at the recreation area before crossing over Palisades Parkway to the west side, on the white blazed trail.  In one-half mile, we turned south on the 1779 Trail which gently rises over the next 1.3 miles before we turned right onto the western leg of the RD trail.  The RD traverses Black Mountain, past the Spanish Mine, and then see-saws over two more knobs before scrambling down to the Brien Memorial shelter.  

There is a hand-dug spring well just south of the shelter; but when we were there it was full of leaves and dead floating bugs, so we opted to refill about a half-mile south where the yellow blazed Menomine Trail parallels Stillwater Brook.  The Menomine ends back at the western leg of the Red Cross Trail, which we followed southwest for another mile to the blue blazed Beech Trail.  The second half of the day's trek, after the Brien Shelter is more flat - allowing for faster travel; but is more overgrown in spots.  The Beech Trail heads southeast, and deposits you back on Tiorati Brook Rd right by a small waterfall, just a half-mile west of your vehicle.

If you want to give yourself a workout that really pays off with fantastic views and fun trails, then give this loop a try.  Make sure to pick up the Harriman Bear Mountain Trails map-set from the NY-NJ Trail Conference to plan your trip, and guide you along the way.  You'll make good use of the maps, because this will become one of your favorite backpacking destinations.


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