Dolly Sods Wilderness

Dolly Sods, Harman Trail

Start of the Harman Trail, aka Trail 525 (on Hike One)

I knew about Dolly Sods 18 years ago at least. In 2002, our family took a short vacation nearby. If I remember correctly—a big if—I set foot on the Sods ever so briefly with my youngest daughter in a carrier on my back. Then I decided that walking into a wilderness, barely prepared and toting a 20-month-old, was unwise, and I returned to my car and filed the Sods mentally under “another time”.

Over the years, Dolly Sods sprang to mind now and again when I got to thinking about a new place to hike, but somehow they never quite fit the bill. Finally, this fall, they did. The Sods seemed near and far enough, big and small enough, south enough (!) for, hopefully, a few days of pre-snowfall hiking. I set off on the 425-mile drive from Connecticut.

Dolly Sods covers 17,776 acres—not enormous but, larger than Manhattan and without a single deli, enough to feel some space in. The Sods are a federally designated wilderness and hiker conveniences are correspondingly restricted to rough trails and scattered trail signs. I encountered no bridges or shelters.

If the Sods are wild today, it hasn’t always been so. They are not the Allegheny Plateau as it was 300 years ago. Wikipedia has a history of the Sods. It’s enough to say here that, since European settlement, Dolly Sods have been logged, burned, grazed, and used as a firing range. Some of this was the work of Johann Dahle, the German settler whose name was Americanized to “Dolly”.


The drive up to Dolly Sods on dirt forest roads looked just a little familiar from 18 years ago. This morning, it felt like a drive into winter. As I climbed, rime ice appeared in the trees and I had to watch the road carefully for areas of snow and ice. Readying myself to hike beside Forest Road 75 at 3,900 feet, a bitter wind forced me into abundant layers. Otherwise, this hike across the Sods and back was not about endurance. Grades were moderate, big plateau views frequent, and creek crossings pretty. I met deer and saw, I think, the tracks of a bear. By afternoon, the sun was even turning parts of the trail to mush.

START & FINISH: Blackbird Knob trailhead on Forest Road 75 (GPS 39.033651, -79.314311).
DISTANCE & TIME: 9.2 miles, 5½ hours from 8 a.m.
ROUTE: Lollipop loop created by trails, 511, 524, and 525.
WEATHER: Partly sunny; very cold early.
ELEVATION: Between 3,600 and 4,100 feet.

Trail Map



Rather untraditionally, this hike began at its highest point, descended into valleys, and ended with a climb back to start. It was also far more forested than yesterday’s route, including stretches in dense rhododendron thickets. The highlight was the spectacular views from ledges three quarters of the way along Trail 508. I had been advised to find the unmapped trail to the top of Breathed Mountain for more views, but I didn’t see the trail and was anyway by that point (lunchtime) becoming concerned about getting back to my car in daylight. Red Creek crossings were attractive too.

START & FINISH: Rohrbaugh trailhead on Forest Road 19 (GPS 38.963086, -79.354163).
DISTANCE & TIME: 14 miles, 7½ hours from 8:45 a.m.
ROUTE: A loop made from trails 508, 510 (SW), 514 (N), 554, 513 (S), 514 (SW), and Forest Road 19.
WEATHER: Sunny, milder.
ELEVATION: Between 4,100 and 2,600 feet.


GPS TRACK (blue line):

Dolly Sods - Southern Sods GPS


Bear Rocks are located just outside Dolly Sods Wilderness, easily reached from Forest Road 75. The trail I set out on this morning—numbered 522—is named for the rocks, but it led me away from them, not toward them. This turned out to be fortuitous. Had I experienced the Rocks in the same conditions I readied myself for my hike in, they’d have been shrouded in freezing, wind-driven mist. Not just a little freezing either; the temperature was in the teens, windchill not considered. The plateau was atmospheric in these conditions, and I enjoyed my loop around Dolly’s northeast corner. And when I returned to my car and found the short trail to Bear Rocks, the mist was lifting and the wind was abating a little.

START & FINISH: Bear Rocks trailhead on Forest Road 75 (GPS 39.063622, -79.303171).
DISTANCE & TIME: 7 miles, 3 hours from 8:50 a.m. (excluding time at Bear Rocks themselves).
ROUTE: A loop made from trails 522, 521 (S), 526 (NE), an unmapped trail, 520, and Forest Road 75.
WEATHER: Misty, windy, and cold, but clearing toward finish.
ELEVATION: Between 4,100 and 3,700 feet.


Day Hike Notes – Mount Moosilauke, White Mountains

Moosilauke summit - snowcapped Presidential Range center, far distance; Franconia Ridge left of center, middle distance

Moosilauke summit – snowcapped Presidential Range center, far distance; Franconia Ridge left of center, middle distance

The highlights of my White Mountains trip last month were undoubtedly Mount Hight/Carter Dome (Saturday) and Mount Moosilauke (Monday). I climbed on Sunday and Tuesday too but they were lesser—if perfectly OK—outings. Since I’m in the happy position of being backed up with my posts (happy because it means I’ve done more hiking than reminiscing), I’ll post the good stuff first. This particular route up Mount Moosilauke can be divided neatly into three parts: (1) a strenuous, deep-woods climb beside Beaver Brook, (2) a gentler, mostly conifer-forest ascent to reach Moosilauke’s alpine zone, and (3) that bald mountain top. No prizes for guessing which section was the most rewarding.

DATE: Monday, October 21st.
START & FINISH: Parking area on New Hampshire 112 in Kinsman Notch (GPS 44.040195, -71.792700).
ROUTE: Beaver Brook Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) to Mt Moosilauke and back.
DISTANCE: About 7 miles.
TIME: 7¼ hours (8:10am to 3:25pm).
TERRAIN: The toughest is at the beginning and end—a 2,000-foot ascent (on the return, descent) beside Beaver Brook that is accomplished in a mile and a quarter and which requires great care with foot placement. Elsewhere, inclines were more gradual. Moosilauke summit (4,802’) is more or less 3,000’ above the trailhead. Some “gradual” sections of trail were nonetheless rough underfoot, just jumbled boulders in places.
MAP: Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) White Mountains Map 2.

WEATHER: Perfect! Sunny, calm, and becoming mild.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: White Mountain Bagel Co, Lincoln.
LUNCH: I ate on the summit and again at Beaver Brook Shelter on the way down. Usual trail rations.
UPS: The breathtaking views from the top of Moosilauke (see pictures).
DOWNS: I did not relish the long, steep descent at the end, especially as surfaces had been slickened by overnight rain.
KIT: Nothing of note—all the usual, well-used stuff.
COMPANY: Nobody until very near the summit, then a few hikers who had arrived by different routes. On the summit, I took a photo (on her phone) of an excited lady who had just climbed her first Whites 4,000-footer. On the return leg, two or three parties came up the Beaver Brook Trail.



GPS Track

Day Hike Notes – Carter Dome, White Mountains

Emerging onto Mount Hight

Emerging onto Mount Hight

This was the first of four climbing hikes I took in the White Mountains of New Hampshire last month. It was unfinished business. I’d planned to climb Carter Dome five years ago on a backpacking trip but a cold front and forecast of thunderstorms forced a change of plan. I reached the Dome (4,832 feet) this time but it didn’t prove the highlight of the hike. The summit of the Dome is mostly treed in. But the top of Mount Hight—a mile NE of Carter—is not, and there I enjoyed views that made me hungry for more.

DATE: Saturday, October 19th.
START & FINISH: Hiker parking lot on New Hampshire 16, 6.8 miles south of Gorham (GPS 44.302434, -71.221133).
ROUTE: Nineteen Mile Brook and Carter Dome trails to Zeta Pass; Appalachian Trail over Mount Hight and Carter Dome to Carter Notch; Nineteen Mile Brook Trail back to Start.
DISTANCE: Just under 10 miles.
TIME: 7¾ hours (8:35am to 4:20pm).
TERRAIN: There is 3,350 feet of net elevation gain between the parking lot and the summit of Carter Dome. The descent from Carter Dome to Carter Notch is steep—1,500 feet in about a mile. Trails are uniformly rough and, today, often wet from meltwater or, higher up, icy. So, the going was tough.
MAP: Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) White Mountains Map 5.

WEATHER: Sunny and calm; just above freezing at Start.
WILDLIFE: Gray jays on Carter Dome (see pictures).

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Lincoln.
LUNCH: Tortillas with cheese sat on a bench outside Carter Notch Hut.
UPS: The scenes from Mount Hight.
DOWNS: Concentrating on every foot placement on the long descent from Carter Dome to Carter Notch.
KIT: I did not think to bring microspikes and, probably, the ice was too patchy for them to have helped much.
COMPANY: Plenty, particularly at Carter Notch where a big group had taken over the AMC hut for the weekend.


Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Dover Oak to Pawling Nature Reserve


Near the start, looking back to West Mountain/Cat Rocks

Over the years, I’ve taken little bites at the New York Appalachian Trail—a nibble at Bear Mountain, a morsel in Fahnestock State Park. Two Thanksgivings ago, I hiked a stretch to Nuclear Lake and back. Last month, setting off from the Connecticut line, I walked to Quaker Lake. This latest hike, last Sunday, was a tidying up exercise, filling in the gap between the Nuclear and Quaker hikes. And when, after Sunday’s tidying up hike was done, I drove to Route 55 in West Pawling and tidied up some more by hiking the mile or so from there north to Nuclear Lake, I had to admit to myself that this all added up to a project.

The project is to hike the NY AT south to the Hudson River. It’s 52 trail miles from Connecticut to Bear Mountain Bridge on the Hudson. I’ve already hiked at least 16 of them. My project has no target completion date; I’ll do what I can, when I can, and when I feel like it. Section-hiking long trails alone (and therefore out-and-back) is slow, but I think a friend is interested in the next section, which might, in 12 miles, get me almost to Fahnestock.

DATE: Sunday, September 29th.
START & FINISH: The Dover Oak on W. Dover Rd, Pawling, NY (GPS 41.602817, -73.611541).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) north to its junction with Pawling Nature Reserve’s Red trail; return by same route (AT south).
DISTANCE: 9 miles, including overshooting my destination by a quarter-mile or so.
TIME: 4¼ hours (8:20am to 12:35pm).
TERRAIN: A gradual climb of a few hundred feet, followed by a bigger, steeper descent to the Swamp River and Route 22; then a 600-foot ascent to Hammersly Ridge in the Reserve. AT excellent throughout, including a boardwalk section across the Swamp River wetlands.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Perfect—sunny with a mild breeze; temperatures between 60 and 70.
WILDLIFE: An abundance of grasshoppers.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and (very good) bagel from Empire Bagels, Brewster, NY.
LUNCH: On the return leg, sat on a boardwalk bench over the swamp.
UPS: The diversity of scene—fields, woods, and swamp; a mild wind in my face.
DOWNS: Very minor—early on, taking small, careful steps on dew-slick bog bridges.
KIT: I didn’t use it today but, given how often I lie out on rocks, I packed an inflatable pillow!
COMPANY: On the out leg, I only met an elderly lady waiting at Appalachian Trail railroad station to dispense maps and information to passengers on the 9:22 arrival from Grand Central. On the return leg, more hikers were about.


Two Hikes in the Blackhead Range

Cliff east of Black Dome

Cliff east of Black Dome.

September 14th/15th, I took two hikes in the Blackhead Range. The range lies in the far northeast of New York’s Catskill Mountains. I hadn’t planned on two hikes, it just turned out that way.

The first trek—the longer—took me over the range’s three main summits—Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and Blackhead, all nearly 4,000 feet high. There were things to enjoy along the way. I’ve always liked Catskill rock formations, which somehow are easy to imagine as the seabed they once were. The hike also involved some ridge-top flat stretches on soft carpets of pine needles. But the day did not offer views. From start to finish, the Blackhead Range was shrouded in wind-driven cloud. This was atmospheric but it meant I missed, on the flank of Blackhead, views that according to the Catskill Mountain Guide “are considered among the Catskills’ very best by knowledgeable hikers”.

At nine miles, amply filled with summits and saddles, rocks and roots, this out-and-back Blackhead traverse had been fairly strenuous, and I only committed myself to returning the next day in search of those best views after a long sleep and confirmation of a much-improved weather forecast.

My second trek was shorter and easier, a quick climb of Blackhead via Batavia Kill and a short descent to the ledges on its flank.

And what a difference a day makes! From those south- and west-facing ledges I felt I could see most of the Catskills, from the summits and notches traversed by the Devil’s Path in the middle distance to—far off—Slide Mountain, the Catskills’ highest peak.

Blackhead Mountain Trail - view from Blackhead Mountain

Looking SW from Blackhead – Hunter Mountain middle distance, center image; Stony Clove Notch between Hunter and Plateau Mountain left; Slide Mountain far distance just left of center.





Blackhead Range Routes

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Quaker Lake “Lollipop”

Big mouth and eyes, flat nose

Big mouth and eyes, flat nose

This was one of those hikes that grew out of wanting to go hiking but not having much of an idea where. Looking for ideas, I browsed my maps, this blog, and my old Taking a Hike newspaper columns. I didn’t want to drive very far but I did want something new. The New York Appalachian Trail, starting at the Connecticut line, fit the bill—an hour’s drive north but virgin path for me. Then there was the matter of what I’d hike to, so much better than just turning around at some nondescript point on the trail that just happens to be far enough. Studying the map, I noticed Quaker Lake sitting off the AT but reachable via side-trails. That, surely, would do as a target. And so it proved, the lake providing welcome sun and sky after a long forest trek.


DATE: Sunday, September 8th.
START & FINISH: CT-NY line, Hoyt Road, Sherman/Dover (GPS 41.641020, -73.520110).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) south to Pawling Nature Reserve; counterclockwise loop around Quaker Lake on the Reserve’s Red and (for a short while) Yellow trails and Quaker Lake Road (dirt); return to Start on the AT (north).
DISTANCE: 12.4 miles.
TIME: 5¾ hours (8:50am to 2:35pm).
TERRAIN: A gradual climb to the Reserve, a dip down to Quaker Lake, a return to the ridge, and a steady descent back to Start—all on good, well-blazed trails.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Sunny and mild (upper 50s to low 70s).
WILDLIFE: The standout was a spotted fawn beside Quaker Lake Road.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagel at J.P. Gifford, Kent even though it was a little out of my way.
LUNCH: Propped against a pine in Pawling Nature Reserve.
UPS: A long walk in peaceful woods.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: No bug spray required.
COMPANY: Very little but, nearing the end, I met a group wearing Gaia GPS caps. Turned out one of the group worked for Gaia and kitted out the whole crew.



Gaia GPS Route

Day Hike Notes – Belvedere Mountain

Whence I had come

Whence I had come

When I arrived at the end of Tillotson Road, I almost drove away to find another place to hike. My mood that morning had anyway been a bit ragged and then the approach to Belvedere Mountain had failed to impress. Seen from Mines Road, Belvedere lacked stature and grandeur and was scarred by, well, mines. The turnaround at the end of Tillotson appeared little used and boasted no indications that it was a trailhead at all—most conspicuously, no obvious trail.

But memories of good hikes that started unpromisingly, and fearing I might waste a beautiful morning driving ill-tempered around backwoods Vermont looking for a place that met my ideals, I set off down a partially overgrown cut in the woods, and in a few minutes came to a distinct, blue-blazed trail heading west and upward. Thereafter, both ragged mood and mines disappeared.

DATE: Monday, August 26th.
START & FINISH: End of Tillotson Road, Lowell, Vermont (GPS 44.790902, -72.519444).
ROUTE: Frank Post Trail to Long Trail at Tillotson Camp (a hikers’ shelter). Long Trail south to short side-trail to Belvedere Mountain summit. Return via Forester’s Trail.
DISTANCE: About 7½ miles.
TIME: 5¼ hours (7:50am to 1:05pm). I spent an hour on the summit.
TERRAIN: 2,000-foot net elevation gain between trailhead and summit, but on good and not especially steep trails; no scrambling that I recall.
MAP: Northern Vermont Hiking Trails.

WEATHER: Sunny and mild (50s early, rising to maybe 70).
WILDLIFE: I startled some ground birds, probably grouse, into flight soon after setting out. At Tillotson Camp, a snake slithered across the path in front of me—perhaps a ribbon snake.

BREAKFAST: Nut bar & trail mix at the trailhead.
LUNCH: Snacks on the summit—apple, super-dark chocolate, more trail mix.
UPS: (1) Beaver pond near Tillotson camp; (2) summit views—of course! (3) laying out on a very comfortable summit rock and admiring the few, high clouds.
DOWNS: After I started walking, none.
KIT: Nothing to note.
COMPANY: A downbeat Long Trail backpacker at Tillotson Camp who told me how slow he hiked; an upbeat Long Trail backpacker near the summit who told me, not immodestly, how fast he was moving; a young woman on the summit who just told me to have a nice day.