I recently took a trip north for a long hike through the woods of Harriman State Park in NY with my adventure buddies Loren and Frank. There were no open campsites at the limited car campgrounds - which is what we usually do on the eve before a great adventure, so everyone can meet up throughout the night at various times easily. We decided to hike in to the first shelter area on our trek - which happened to be a sweaty 2 miles up hill. Frank and I car pooled and arrived at the trail head around 6pm. Of course we had to bring beer with us, thats what we do on the first night of our trips, so I loaded my already heavy pack up with cold beers in coozies, and Frank decided to bring his entire soft sided cooler with him - it was hysterical - it even had his name embroidered on the front of it - a groomsman gift from a wedding long ago. When hiking with beer, you of course must drink beer - so we set about climbing the steep hill to our first nights destination with beers in hand, and some extra weight in tow.
Frank and I made it to our first nights stop, the Stockbridge shelter at the top of the trail. It had some pretty incredible views, and we were tempted to make camp up there, but I was quick to remind Frank of the last time we camped on an open mountain top - we didn't sleep because it was so damn windy. I was able to talk Frank into a campsite we had passed just below the summit, so after hanging out and seeing the views, we headed back down to set up before dark.
Frank and I had just about finished setting up when Loren wondered into camp - it was damn near dark and we quickly said our hellos and went back to camp chores. I got some wood ready for a fire while Frank and Loren finished up setting up their hammocks. We didn't need a big fire, since it was near 70, but of course we needed something to stand around and stare at. Our campsite had a fire ring built into the rock wall, which made us feel a little bit like cave men. Frank and I got the fire going and we proceeded to boil up water on Frank's fancy new wood gasifier stove for some Mt house meals. I'm not 100% on the technology involved but it works well, except for the fact that is leaves a ton of carbon on whatever cup, pot or pan you are cooking with. We made sure to drink all our beer (except for the two Frank and Loren had for breakfast) - we certainly didn't want to carry it 10 more miles the following day.
I was up early the next morning as usual and grabbed the camera to see if I could catch the sunrise from the shelter area. First I went about getting the bear bags down from the tree we had hung the previous night - on a dead limb. As I pulled down on the rope, I heard a cracking noise and I quickly dove backwards. The bags came down quickly, along with the twelve foot limb they had been hanging from a second ago. I was able to escape injury and the food seemed to be ok, except for the crackers, which we would discover at lunch, had mostly turned to crumbs. A quick lesson was learned, to make sure the bear bag limb is a live one. After assuring Frank and Loren I was ok, I headed up the trail, unfortunately there were some folks camping in the shelter area, and I figured they would appreciate me not waking them up by climbing on top of the metal shelter roof so I wondered around a bit, but didn't find too much exciting, with trees blocking the sunrise.
The rest of the gang was working on getting up when I finally climbed back down to camp, we had breakfast, packed up our gear and were on the trail by 9ish - not bad for drinking the night before.
We headed southwest along the Long Path which followed a ridge line for the first mile or so, then once you reach the top of Stockbridge mountain the trail descends into a small valley where we found some running water and stopped to filter some for the long, hot day ahead of us. We spent the next few hours hiking past swampy areas and through large sections of what used to be hemlock forest, now a sad graveyard for fallen giants. I can assume the cause is from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that feeds on the sap of hemlocks and essentially sucks the life of the tree.
I was ready for some lunch, but Frank and Loren were determined to eat lunch with a view, so they coaxed me into a serious hill climb on an empty stomach. We veered off the Long Trail onto the Lichen Trail which took us to the top of the bald rocks area, where of course there was a spectacular view - but it was also about a million degrees in the direct sun. Loren went ahead and found us a shady spot off the trail that we could eat in comfortably - so we all took a much needed load off and chowed down in the shade.
After some seriously needed food and hydration we were back on the trail, just as lots of people started showing up at the vista, the perfect time for us to make an exit. Hiking up here was very reminiscent of the Dolly Sods in WV, lots of boulders to traverse, low vegetation, and trails that are sometimes easy to lose.
We barely hiked a mile up on the rocks, but it was a tough one for sure, lots of scrambling and dodging giant thorn bushes, and almost zero relief from the relentless sun. We stopped at the top of Hogencamp mountain to take a group photo, we had a pretty incredible view from up there.
From Hogencamp mt, we descended down to an area known as times square - where a bunch of trails intersect - it was pretty underwhelming. We picked up the Arden Surebridge trail from here and were heading towards what we thought was going to be our campsite along a babbling brook. When we got to the site Loren had imagined, it had a posted sign that it was an illegal site and was patrolled - so we decided against staying there for the night. We wondered around for about half an hour more - looking for sites that weren't deemed illegal, but found none. So we sat down by the buggiest section of the creek to filter some water and sat in misery while we filled our bottles and came up with a plan B. After a brutal 15 minutes of fighting off no see-ums and mosquitos, we were finally ready to head out to find a legit campsite near a shelter on the AT.
We did a little bit of bushwhacking to find a trail, but we managed to pick up one that was marked by bottle caps nailed to trees, it was one that hadn't been maintained for a while, so it was really tough to follow. We managed to stay on it most of the way, and it took us back up to a ridgeline, we followed that for a mile or so and met up with the AT at Fingerboard mountain, where we set up camp for the night.
We got to camp and slowly set up our gear, I was exhausted and I think Frank and Loren felt the same way. We put in about 10 miles, so we were ready for some food and rest. We set about checking ourselves out for ticks, and Frank was the winner with two attached that day - it appeared as though Loren and I were in the clear - I found one crawling on my arm but he hadn't attached yet. After a proper tick check and setting up my hammock, I quickly went about getting water boiled for dinner, and ate it as soon as it was ready to go. Frank and Loren soon joined me and we were all feeling much better after a full meal. We grabbed the whiskey that Loren had been graciously carrying all day, and headed up the hill to check out the sunset.
After a great happy hour on the hill we walked back down to camp and lit a small fire, to sit and stare at for a few hours. I was able to pull together enough energy to put my boots back on and gather my photo gear to paint the tree from our sunset adventure with some light, before the moon had come up.
When I got back, Loren had already turned in, and Frank was working on gathering his gear for the bear bag. He and I got it hoisted pretty quickly and headed to our hammocks to embrace the slumber we had been putting off for the last few hours. We were up around 7 the following day, had our breakfast, packed it up and were on the trail by 830, for a quick 6 mile hike back to the cars.
Our first priority was water, we only had a 1/2 liter between the 3 of us after cooking breakfast, so we decided to take a quick 1/2 mile detour down to a swimming area at the nearby lake to grab some water for the hot day ahead. Once we were back on the AT we made good time and found ourselves back on the Menomine trail that we had started out on after only a few hours.
We made it back to the cars around 1130, just in time to go grab lunch up the road in Tuxedo, at a spot Loren had been to a few times. It was an amazing feast to finish our journey. After a long drawn out lunch, we piled back into our cars for the long ride home - mostly for me, since I had a five hour drive ahead of me. I did happen to find on tiny tick attached to my hip area after showering, it hadn't engorged yet, so we pulled him off fairly easily. I think everyone else managed to catch their ticks at camp and remove them with the swift action you want in those situations. Harriman was a beautiful park, and I am sure we will make a return someday soon, perhaps in the fall to peep those leaves.