Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Southeast Harriman Loop

Southeast Harriman SP
I love backpacking in late Fall - the weather is fine during the day for hiking, and gets cold enough at night to keep the fair-weather campers at home and allow for more solitude.  This is particularly true for Harriman State Park - being so close to the densely populated NYC and northern NJ suburbs, Harriman's trails can be teeming with hikers during fine weather.  And while I believe that everyone should get out and enjoy the outdoors, I don't have to like them doing it in the same place as me - I prefer to have the trail to myself when I'm out.  The best ways to have the woods to yourself id to hike longer, higher, or deeper than the day hikers; and/or backpack during the colder weather.

So, it's mid-November and I have the week off through Thanksgiving - perfect time to get outdoors.  My daughters are staying at school for the holiday, and my sister-in-law won't arrive until Thanksgiving day, so I decided to sneak out for a quick two-night outing (I should have made three or four).  I pulled out my NY/NJ Trail Conference maps for Harriman and planned a route...my son wanted to stay at home this weekend, so I marked out a loop through southeastern Harriman that would not be too hairy for a solo hiker.  In summertime with fair weather I might take some more rugged trails solo; but, in the Fall with slick rocks, high elevation ice, and leaf cover obscuring holes and unstable cobbles, I like to play it a little more safe when out alone.

Top of the first ridge
For a lot of weekend, two-night trips I like to make the first day a short easy hike to camp, then a longer full second day of hiking, followed by a half-day hike on the third day back to the vehicle.  I try to arrange for loops, to avoid taking two vehicles, which is important when going solo.  So, I didn't even leave home until about noon on Saturday, after grabbing some lunch and stopping at EMS to get a new insulating jacket.  At 2:30 I arrived at the parking area - it was the Town of Ramapo Equestrian Center off of Rt 202, just north of Suffern, NY.  From the parking area, you head to the rear of the property past the pole-barn to the trail-head at the base of the ridge (you'll see the triple-blazed trail-head markers on the side of the barn).  This loop starts on the red-blazed Pine Meadow (PM) Trail, and the first half-mile is a good warmup as it zig-zags up the rocky slope in the notch between Panther and Catamount Mtns for 600 ft of elevation gain.  The trail is covered with loose cobblestones typical of hiking in Harriman; but it is made more difficult by the dense cover of fallen leaves that hide holes, rolling sticks, and other ankle twisters.  You will cross a gas pipeline trail and a powerline trail on your way up the ridge, then at the top you will turn left (south) to join the yellow-blazed Suffern-Bear Mountain (SBM) Trail.  

After that initial climb to the top of the ridge, the rest of the day is a more leisurely hike along the crest of the ridgeline.  In about another half-mile the PM trail veers off to the right, while the SBM trail continues south.  There is a brook that crosses the path right at this junction, and since it was the last water shown on the map before the shelter, I took the opportunity to load up with 2 liters in my Sawyer Squeeze bag.  From this point, it is only a little over 3/4 mile south along the ridge to the Stone Memorial Shelter.  The trail rolls along the top of the ridge with some terrific vistas of the Mahwah river valley to the southeast, below.  Stone Memorial Shelter with its fire ring sits on a rock ledge overlooking the valley below, and there is room surrounding the shelter for a few tents (but there is a lot of exposed rock and boulders which limit the number of spots unless you move farther away).  As it turns out, there was a rather large brook, that wasn't shown on the map, running down in the valley a short climb down from the shelter.  Perhaps the stream is intermittent, but was flowing fine this afternoon.  I set up camp on a rocky platform behind the shelter, and started dinner as the sun was setting.  There were four other guys, in two groups, at the shelter; but everyone was pretty laid back, and we just listened to some low music until turning in.

The temperature dropped to 27-degrees (F) overnight, with a slight breeze blowing up the ridge.  I stayed warm in my new Snugpak sleeping bag, and I've finally worked out the best ways to ventilate my 4-season tent to prevent condensation.  Like the previous weekend in the Catskills, I awoke in the pre-dawn hour to find no condensation on the inner lining of the fly despite temperatures below freezing.  The outside of the fly did have a little frost, though, on the rear (north facing) edge; but is brushed off easily before packing.  After some tea and oatmeal, I was back on the trail at 7:00 am.

Pine Meadow Lake
From the shelter, SBM trail descends the rock ledge and travels about 1/3 mile south, where you bear right onto the white-blazed Conklins Crossing trail.  This half-mile spur trail is a gentle hike down to the east bank of Pine Meadow Lake, where you rejoin the PM trail.  Just before reaching the PM, Conklins Crossing traverses a stream that feeds the lake by flowing in, under, and around a field of boulders, across which you must hop-scotch to the other side.  This spot also provides a great morning view of the lake itself.  

You can then follow the red blazes of the PM trail along the north bank of the lake.  Pine Meadow Lake is a favorite spot for stealth campers, and with the moderate weather this was no exception - I passed two rather large groups of campers set up right on the shore. One group appeared to be a family of 7-10, and the other group (camped about a half-mile away) looked to be a scout-pack...they should know better.  While I'm not opposed to stealth camping, those who practice it should at least abide by the etiquette for primitive camping, so as not to impact the environment or enjoyment of others.  Stealth camping, while not authorized in areas where dispersed camping is not allowed, does provide for solitude and a chance to camp in some picturesque spots.  However, disbursed or primitive camping (specifically in NY) requires camps to be 150-ft from the nearest trail, road, or water body - and those primitive camping rules are there for the protection of the environment, the safety of the campers, and the respect of others enjoying the outdoors.  (I'll now get off my soapbox)

Pine Meadow Lake Ruin
The PM trail passes a cool, old, stone ruin midway along the both shore of the lake; and then at the far, western end of the lake the trail begins to climb again.  Around the lake you could also see much of the impacts from Hurricane Sandy, several weeks before.  Primarily there is a much larger number of downed trees along or across the trails. The rocky ground does not give the roots much to hold onto, and when the trees are toppled it is easy to see how shallow the root systems were.  There were indications along the main trails (like PM) that the Trail Conference volunteers had been out with chainsaws, clearing the trails.  I'm not sure that I agree with so much maintenance of the trails from the effects of mother nature...maintaining signs, markers and blazes is a very important service that the conference supplies; but hikers are plenty capable of stepping over or walking around downed trees.  I, personally, would rather work my way around or over fallen trees than look at sawn-up logs that just remind me of the impacts of man.  Wow, I'm really opinionated today.

Follow the path
From the lake, PM trail starts the climb up Diamond Mt; and on the 300-ft of elevation gain, you cross from the PM trail to the yellow-blazed Diamond Mountain Tower trail (staying straight up the mountain) until you intersect the orange-blazed Hillburn-Torne-Sebago (H-T-S) and the blue-blazed Seven Hills trails at the top.  There is another fantastic vista from the top of Diamond Mt. back down to Pine Meadow Lake.  Turning north, you then follow the blue blazes along mountain's ridge peak, which is a like strolling a beautiful stone walkway.  There are some terrific views of Lake Sebago to the west; and this section of trail may have been my favorite of the trip.  At the north end of Diamond Mt. you bear left onto Tuxedo-Mt Ivy (T-MI) trail, which descends into the valley and meanders over a few knobs and knolls.  I stopped on top of a small glacial knob and sat down to cook up some lunch and enjoy the scenic quiet of the woods.

Lake Sebago
After my Mac-and-Cheese, I started on my final leg for the day.  I was making much better time than I had anticipated, as the route was fairly relaxed, with only the occasional scrambles or climbs.  After about 1.5 miles the T-MI trail bears right; but I stayed straight onto the Breakneck Mountain Trail (white blazes) which follows along the top of a low ridge line for about another mile before intersecting the north leg of the SBM trail (north of where I started the day before).  At this intersection, you are mid-way up the ridge and looking down at Third Reservoir.  This marks the last water before reaching Big Hill Shelter, which was my destination for the day.  So, I descended the SBM trail to the east, down to the reservoir and filled up, before retracing my steps back up the SBM to the top of the ridge and on to the north.  From here it was less than a mile along the rolling ridgeline to the shelter; and let me tell you, this place was like Grand Central Station.  

Big Hill Shelter or Grand Central Station?
Other than the stealth campers that I passed at Pine Meadow Lake, I neither saw nor heard any other people the rest of the day...granted, it was only about 4 miles from the lake, but it seemed like a long way.  However, as I approached Big Hill Shelter, I encountered a dayhiker coming the other way; then when I reached the shelter, there was a steady stream of people stoping by for the next several hours.  Two guys with their dogs stopped for awhile at the shelter; a threesome perched on a rock outcrop for a picnic; a family of four dropped in to cook s'mores over the fire ring; and just before it started to get dark, a female trail-runner jogged through.  It almost seemed like a Monty Python skit or the opening scene from Hitchcocks' "The Trouble With Harry" - so many people happening by what should be a remote spot in the woods.    

Perfect Perch
Anyway, once the sun started going down around 4:00, things got quiet; and I did not see or hear anyone again on the trip.  I set up my tent on a great little ledge overlooking the valley below; cooked up my favorite Hawaiian Potatoes (recipe coming soon); and started a small fire to stay warm.  The night was clear and the sky was awash with stars despite being so close to suburbia and the associated light pollution.  I picked up a classic jazz station out of NYC and listened to a tribute to Stan Getz well into the night.  I didn't think that I was that tired from the relatively light hiking; but I passed out as soon as I laid down, and didn't move again until 5:30 am.

Tucked amongst the rocks
The next morning seemed particularly chilly.  Although the temperature only dropped to about 34-degrees, there was a breeze that made you shiver.  Some hot cocoa with breakfast fixed the chill; and I packed camp just as the sun was coming up.  The inside of the tent fly was still pretty dry thanks to excellent ventilation, but the exterior of the entire tent had a light frost covering it - that slowed me down in packing a bit, as I tried to brush most of the frost off so that it wouldn't soak into the fabric after melting in the compression sack.  By 6:45 I was back on the trail and heading out.

Early Morning at Third Reservoir
I started by backtracking south from the shelter to Third Reservoir, then continued on past it on SBM trail.  The first 2+ miles on Monday were an easy stroll down the ridge, across the valley, over Ladentown Mt, and past Limekiln Mt.  The hike finishes up with an energetic 1.5 miles up and over Panther Mt on the way back to the equestrian center.  It is a somewhat steep climb up Panther Mt, and you then roll and wrap around the peaks on numerous rock outcrops with excellent views down to the east.  On the far (southern) side of the mountain you pick up the red blazes of the PM trail again, close to where we started.  The final stretch is back down the ridge to the parking area, picking your way amongst the cobbles and trying not to strain an ankle on the way down (those damn leaves).  Back to the car by lunchtime, and on the way home.

It was an easy and enjoyable hike - only about 11 miles total.  I should have done another day - well, if my sister-in-law keeps my wife busy then I can head out again next weekend.  I love backpacking in Fall.   

1 comment:

  1. Great read, thanks to you. Hoping to get out this weekend for an overnighter and your travel log scratched an itch.