Short Hike Notes – Mianus River Gorge

The Old Growth Forest Trail

The Old Growth Forest Trail

This is the first of a new category of post, “Short Hike Notes”. I’ve been posting “Day Hike Notes” for two years now, mostly for treks of 4-5 hours and up. Since my – hopefully recovering – knee will probably see me taking shorter outings for a while, I decided to create the new category. Knee-cessity is the mother of invention. I expect the hikes will be much like this one to Mianus River Gorge Preserve; about 2 hours, 4-5 miles, fairly local.

DATE: Friday, October 30th.
START & FINISH: Mianus River Gorge Preserve parking, 167 Mianus River Rd, Bedford, NY.
ROUTE: Old Growth Forest Trail, out and back, but ending with the River Trail.
DISTANCE: 5 miles.
TIME: 2¼ hours (10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Mostly smooth trails with gentle ups and downs.
MAP: Available at Preserve kiosk and website.
OTHER INFO: Dogs not permitted.

WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, low- to mid-50s.
WILDLIFE: A murders of crows gathering noisily in a tree.

UPS: If a sunny fall day in the northeast is not heaven, what is?
DOWNS: The background drone of leaf blowers on one stretch of trail.
KIT: Superfeet insoles, a brace, one ibuprofen, and trekking poles to cosset my knee.
COMPANY: A few other walkers, not many. I bet weekends are busier.

Taking a Hike – Hiking with Kids

Find other activities to break up a hike.

Find other activities to break up a hike.

When I learned on September 22nd that my injured knee was going to need many weeks’ treatment with a wonder drug called rest, and that, consequently, I was facing another “Taking a Hike” column without actually taking a hike, I quickly thought “I’ll write about hiking with children” …

You can read the rest of my October “Taking a Hike” column at The Hour (Tips on hiking with children) and Hersam Acorn (Hiking with children: Be brave!). My wife liked it; you may too.

As for my knee, it made steady progress for a month. I got to take a couple of short, gentle hikes without problems. I got back on my bike. I did a little wood-splitting. Then, this past weekend, I felt the progress stop, even reverse. I am now being very cautious again. Even so, I am optimistic that November’s “Taking a Hike” will be back on the trails, gentle ones.

Bears on the Brain at Jacques Lake

Looking north from Jacques Lake outflow

Looking north from Jacques Lake outflow

Jacques Lake is in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It is not a big lake, but it sits in the spruce forest beneath massive, bare-rock peaks. There is a primitive campground at the lake’s northern end, 7.5 trail miles from the park road. When we told the warden (as Canadians call rangers) in Jasper town that we were thinking of spending a night at the campground, he said something like “A group encountered a nuisance bear up there a few days ago. They ended up taking refuge in the warden cabin. There’ve been no reports since, so you should be OK.”

So when my middle daughter (nearly 14 back then) and I set off for Jacques Lake the next day, bears were on our mind. It was a rainy day. We’d covered our packs in blue trash bags, and Caroline, a photograph reminds me, had on a red poncho. We had hardly walked any distance at all when Caroline said “Dad, it’s a bear!”.

The trail was swinging left, and Caroline was walking on my right, so she saw the animal before I did. I had a split second to imagine an enormous grizzly before the fluffy little black bear came into my view. I would not have been surprised to see stuffing falling out of a torn seam behind its ear.

On the trail to Jacques Lake

On the trail to Jacques Lake

But it was close, perhaps 20 yards ahead; and it showed no fear of us, even edging a little closer. Spraying this cub would have felt about as good as kicking a puppy, but even so I unholstered my pepper spray. Mama had to be around. Then cub ran into the undergrowth, from which we continued to hear its movements for a while as we pressed on for the Lake.

The rain eased off as we walked through the afternoon, and angular gray peaks sticking out of forest and cloud did their best to distract us from bear-thoughts. We sang as we hiked though (at least, I did; it was hard to get Caroline to join in the sing-song).

The campground was indeed of backcountry standard. A rough-hewn table and a pulley system for hanging food are the facilities I remember. There was no privy, for sure. On the hike in, I had kept the warden cabin in mind for insurance against nuisance bears. We wandered over to it before supper, but found it unoccupied and locked. We were on our own.

Fresh mid-August snow above Jacques Lake

Fresh mid-August snow above Jacques Lake

The night passed wet and cold, but undisturbed by wildlife. In the morning, there was fresh, mid-August snow on the peaks. Caroline was looking at the scene while I fiddled with gear at the rough-hewn table. Suddenly she said “Look, Dad!”. This time, I thought, it will be that enormous grizzly. I looked up, toward the outflow of Jacques Lake, and saw a large cow moose standing in the rain and the river, ducking for food. Relief and excitement at once.

(I am still grounded from hiking by a bum knee. Reliving old hikes is the next best thing.)

Taking a Hike – Fairfield County

The Saugatuck River in Redding, below the falls, above the reservoir

The Saugatuck River in Redding, below the falls, above the reservoir

You probably don’t hike in Fairfield County, CT unless you live here, or in an equally crowded place nearby. We are packed together tighter than the Dutch, and far emptier places to get outdoors lie only an hour or two away.

But if we are to hike often and green, we need to hike locally; and in this we are fortunate that Fairfield County still possesses some excellent landscapes.

Since, for a month and a half, I have not been able to hike anywhere, I used my “Taking a Hike” column this month to think about our local landscape and how it got to be the way it is. The column appeared this week at Hersam Acorn (With a bum knee, a hiker can still dream) and The Hour (‘Rambling’ around Fairfield County).

I have also just finished reading A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir. The book was a useful reminder that the best hiking places everywhere are not accidents of history, but places that men and women worked hard down the ages to preserve from development.

As development pressures increase, there is nothing inevitable about the survival of Fairfield County’s natural areas. We should actively support organizations that seek to protect and expand them, and make sure our town and state governments act as conservationists as well.

Regarding some of the places I mention in the column:

Pine Mountain is a Town of Ridgefield open space.
Trout Brook Valley is managed by Aspetuck Land Trust.
The Devil’s Den is managed by The Nature Conservancy.
The Mianus River watershed is protected by Mianus River Gorge, Inc.

We owe them our support.

150 years ago more of Fairfield County was field and meadow, and less was forest

150 years ago more of Fairfield County was field and meadow, and less was forest

Pain, Disappointment, Some Perspective

It looks like a beautiful evening up in Piscataquis County, Maine.

The sun will be setting soon, after having the sky to itself all day. The night will be clear and cool (low, 40 degrees). Season and weather would be perfect for camping next to a pond in the forest and mountains, getting rested before a day’s hiking.

Whidden Ponds, Baxter State Park, September 2006

Whidden Ponds, Baxter State Park, September 2006

And that is what I had hoped to be doing this evening. There might even have been time, after the day-long drive from home to Baxter State Park, for a pond-side walk to listen out for loons and spy for moose.

I think it was on Saturday that I finally accepted that the trip would not happen. My big hope for a serviceable left knee – even just temporarily – was a cortisone shot. I had it on Thursday morning, and waited for the miracle. By Saturday morning, I was convinced the doctor must have injected me with his tea by mistake so unchanged were my symptoms.

This morning, when I should have been driving north, I instead called Baxter to cancel my six nights of camping. Now, compared to the pain and sadness that can afflict humans, my missing out on the north woods this year is small potatoes. Unlike some pain, mine probably has a cure. I am off to speak to a surgeon about that tomorrow.

It is a pretty evening in Connecticut too. I am going to limp outside to enjoy the last of it. Maybe I’ll find my wife already out there. We won’t hear a loon, but maybe an owl.

Perspective and compensations, but disappointment nonetheless.

The Great Autumn North Woods

Mt Washington from Mt Webster, decorated with rime, mid-October 2007.

Mt Washington from Mt Webster, decorated with rime, mid-October 2007.

I mentioned in Heading Back to Baxter that I’d visited that state park in 2006. The trip took place at the very end of summer (September 20-22), but it was definitely autumn up there. The following year – mid-October this time – I escaped the office again for a few days and based my hiking out of New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch. I was catching the bug for the Great North Woods in fall.

" ... but woke to a glorious dawn". Zealand Ridge, October 2012.

” … but woke to a glorious dawn”. Zealand Ridge, October 2012.

Work and other matters got in the way for a few years (although I did find time to get Lost in the Adirondacks with my youngest one September). Then, three years ago, I returned to the October White Mountains for a backpack from Crawford Notch to Zealand Ridge and back. I pitched my tent on the ridge in gloom and rain, but woke to a glorious dawn. It was likely on the trek back to the Notch that I decided to make a habit of a short fall adventure up north.

Thoreau Falls Trail, Pemi Wilderness, October 2013.

Thoreau Falls Trail, Pemi Wilderness, October 2013.

Two years ago, I circled and crossed the Pemigewasset Wilderness over the course of four days. Last year, I spent the same amount of time in and around the Wild River Wilderness. Both treks left inerasable and sustaining memories.

Which is why I am very reluctant to let this year’s expedition be scuppered.

Sunrise lights up the White Mountains, October 2014.

Sunrise lights up the White Mountains, October 2014.

The troublesome knee I talked about in my last post is still troublesome, very much so at times. The orthopedist did not offer a quick fix. There are, he thinks, several things wrong at once. He also said that, short of running a marathon or playing a lot of basketball, I cannot do it much further damage. That leaves pain as the limiting factor. Right now it is limiting me to getting around little and slowly. I am hoping that a cortisone shot will change that dramatically, and allow me to enjoy Baxter later in the month, even at the price of restricting myself to its lower, flatter, joint-friendlier parts.

Taking a Hike – Peekamoose-Table Trail

Let me quickly proclaim publication of my August “Taking a Hike” column, then move smartly on to what is really preoccupying me right now.

So, “Taking a Hike” – Peekamoose and Table mountains in the Catskills – can be found at The Hour (Exploring the Catskills) and Hersam Acorn (Peace and big views in the Catskills). May’s column (about Shenandoah National Park) is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2015: “May – Shenandoah NP” – or by clicking here).

The human knee - courtesy staff

The human knee – courtesy staff

Now, my left knee!

It gave me significant trouble in June, then seemed to fix itself. I did some strenuous hikes and trail maintenance in late June and July, and everything stayed OK. The knee was fine after the Peekamoose-Table Trail too. Then, after a short stroll on asphalt, it began to play up again – big time.

One of the nice things about writing about my hikes is that I can go back and check a better record than my memory. A year ago, in the Catskills again, I complained of “bashing my knee on a misplaced boulder”. Hmm. In Shenandoah this spring, I was “feeling my knees a bit”. That was a month after my “legs fell unpredictably and knee-jarringly through the [snow] crust” on the CT Appalachian Trail. Then came the two weeks of soreness and stiffness in June, right after the Ives Trail.

So this has been coming, and there are potential causes aplenty (chief among them simple wear and tear). Last week, my difficulty putting weight on the knee, pain even at rest, and the size of my left knee relative to my right, combined to send me to an orthopedist. The doctor reckons it is a torn meniscus. I am hoping the MRI will confirm a nice, clean, fixable tear, just like one a friend had. He went waterskiing a week after the operation to remove the offending fragment of cartilage!