Taking a Hike – Fahnestock Summits

My April Taking a Hike column has been published by The Hour and Hersam Acorn Newspapers. It describes an early spring (aka wintery) hike in Fahnestock State Park:

Relishing hardship, starkness of Fahnestock State Park at Hersam Acorn
Gray skies don’t dim the appeal of state park trek at The Hour

One thing I liked about the hike is that it helped me join up some bits of local landscape. I’d hiked in Fahnestock twice before, but it had stayed a disconnected, standalone kind of place in my mental atlas. I knew the Hudson River was off to its west and Connecticut to its east, and that the Appalachian Trail ran through it. Other than that, I had little sense for how it fitted with other places I like to hike.

Bull Hill (right) and cliffs south of Storm King Mountain (center) from Round Hill

Photo 1 – Hudson Valley from Round Hill, Fahnestock SP

The joining-up happened on west-facing slopes near the end of the hike. I saw the Hudson Valley, the steep-sided part of it near where the river flows between Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain (Photo 1). Now, I had seen this stretch of valley from another angle, on another hike, years ago (Photo 2).

Most of the scenery in Photo 2 (taken looking south from Sugar Loaf Mountain) is hidden in Photo 1 behind Bull Hill (middle-distance summit in the right of the picture), but the scenes definitely join where the Hudson flows beneath the bluffs just left of center in Photo 2. It is possible to cover most of the distance – about 4 miles in a straight line – between where I took each photo on trails. I’d like to do that one day.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Hudson Highlands State Park, NY

Photo 2 – Looking south from Sugarloaf Mountain

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (2): Kent to Sharon

On Caleb's Peak, Connecticut AT

On Caleb’s Peak, mile 15.0

Hike One of our trek up the Connecticut A.T. took place in early February. Katie and I did not expect then to wait ten weeks for Hike Two. It was, mainly, March snow that got in the way. On Friday, there was not a trace of that snow, not even a smidgen in a deep, dark crevice on a north-facing slope. This was a true spring hike – an early sunrise, signs of blossom, full brooks, and a day that felt much warmer than advertised. It also covered a pleasantly varied section of the CT AT – ridge, of course, but also cliff and riverbank. Hopefully, Hike Three will happen within a month.

DATE: Friday, April 14th.
START: Route 341, Kent CT.
FINISH: Route 4, Sharon CT.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north.
DISTANCE: 11.1 miles.
TIME: Just under 7 hours (8:20 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A 600-foot climb to warm up, then relatively level until Caleb’s Peak and the scramble down St John’s Ledges. Next, a flat, five-mile river walk, followed by a slog over Silver Hill.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 4.

WEATHER: Perfect – partly sunny, then wholly sunny, high in the low 60s.
WILDLIFE: Sight and sound of woodpeckers.

BREAKFAST: Cornwall Country Market.
LUNCH: Manchego and chorizo on olive oil ciabatta at Stewart Hollow Brook lean-to.
UPS: Pretty much everything.
DOWNS: Very minor, realizing too late that the back of my neck was getting sunburned.
KIT: It was great to have, at last, poles I can collapse and stow in my pack – very useful for the scramble at St John’s Ledges.
COMPANY: Surprisingly little given the glorious weather.

Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-to

Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-to, mile 18.5

Day Hike Notes – Fahnestock Summits

Unnamed summit at about 1,200 ft, Fahnestock State park

Summit on Fahnestock Trail, about 1,200 feet

Snow lingers longest where lots of it fell in the first place, and where the sun’s rays don’t reach it afterward. My backyard, southwest-facing, was mostly clear of the effects of the March 14 nor’easter by last weekend. The countryside between home and Fahnestock State Park looked quite clear too. But this was a snowy hike, even at lower elevations. These lowlands lay in a valley, sheltered from the sun’s warmth by big hills. Near the summits, where the storm would have dumped the most snow anyway, outcrops and clefts preserved calf-deep cover. Only on the south- and west-facing slopes of the big hills was the forest floor bare. It wasn’t beautiful snow. It was old, walked over by deer, and sprinkled with debris. The sun did not come out to make it shine. But it gave me a workout, and probably peace.

DATE: Sunday, March 26th.
START & FINISH: Hubbard Lodge, Philipstown NY (41.444478, -73.914883).
ROUTE: School Mountain Rd, East Mountain Loop, Perkins, and Fahnestock trails in a clockwise loop.
DISTANCE: 7.9 miles, according to the park trails map.
TIME: 4¾ hours (8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)

TERRAIN: Significant remnant snow made everything more difficult, but the circuit would anyway have been moderately strenuous, rarely staying on the level for long (start = 420’, highest point = about 1,200’, three significant summits).
MAP: NYNJTC East Hudson Trails, Map 103.

WEATHER: Overcast, calm, cool (high around 40).
WILDLIFE: A bald eagle took off from Round Hill while I was having lunch.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Cortlandt.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese on ciabatta, nuts, on Round Hill.
UPS: Getting a good workout and a lot of peace.
DOWNS: Very minor, but much more snow on the ground than I expected.
KIT: A new quilted vest, which I slipped into for lunch. It kept me warm, then squished down to almost nothing in my pack.
COMPANY: Nobody until the very end.

The view from Round Hill, Fahnestock State Park

From Round Hill – the Hudson River is at the foot of the steep mountainside at center

Taking a Hike – Westchester Wilderness Walk

Finally, it looks outside as March should. We have a motionless gray sky. The ground is half-covered in dirty snow, half in wet, crushed leaf litter. Two weeks ago, when Charissa and I walked the Westchester “wilderness”, it was more like April, even down to some whistling frogs. In between times, we have had January. Tomorrow, I am going to hike in gray, drizzly March, before May suddenly arrives. And before April arrives, I’d better post my March Taking a Column – about that Westchester wilderness. Here we go:

Finding Wilderness in Westchester at Hersam Acorn.
Westchester preserve is a charming oasis of wilderness at The Hour.

Late afternoon swamp, Zofnass Family Preserve

Late afternoon swamp, Western Loop, Westchester Wilderness Walk

First Day of Spring TV Chat

On Monday, I chatted with HAN Network Arts & Leisure hosts Sally Sanders and Steve Coulter about hiking plans and ideas for the spring. It was a ramble of a conversation, touching on the Smokies and Maine, as well as hikes closer to home. I think we gave the poor guy in charge of syncing the photos to the talk a few problems. Never mind, here’s the link (chat starts at 4:05).

HAN Network Arts & Leisure, Monday March 20th

Sally, who also publishes my Taking a Hike column in Hersam Acorn Newspapers’ e-editions and website, is retiring at the end of the month. Have a happy and active retirement, Sally!

On Gregory Bald, Great Smoky Mountains NP

We discussed Gregory Bald and Great Smoky Mountains NP

Day Hike Notes – Peoples State Forest

West Branch Farmington River

West Branch Farmington River from the Jessie Gerard Trail

I was supposed to go hiking on Friday, but it snowed. The snow did not look from the forecast as if it would pose a problem for hiking, but it might make for a slick drive to the trailhead, so my daughter and I postponed. On Saturday, I felt restless, in need of exercise and a change of scene, so I made plans for a Sunday outing. I leafed through AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut and settled on Number 20, Peoples State Forest (compelling attributes, “strenuous” and “incredible mountain views”). I had never hiked Peoples before. It did turn out to be strenuous, but only for a half-mile, until those incredible mountain views. Thereafter, the only difficulty was a wind that caught me when I stopped to admire – and photograph – a swamp. I would surely have ended up with frostnipped fingers if I had kept my gloves off any longer than I did. Otherwise, this was a near-perfect short hike.

DATE: Sunday, March 12th.
START & FINISH: East River Road, Barkhamsted, CT.
ROUTE: Falls Cut Off, Jessie Gerard, Charles Pack, Agnes Bowen, and Robert Ross trails.
DISTANCE: A little under 5 miles.
TIME: 3¼ hours (9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.)

TERRAIN: A rough, steep climb to start, then mostly easy going. Scenery a mix of big views, attractive forest, and beautiful swamp.
MAP: Available from CT DEEP website and at the trailhead.

WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, with a p.m. high of 25 degrees.
WILDLIFE: A flight, over the swamp, of small birds I could not identify.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Torrington.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese on ciabatta, sat on a rock on the Robert Ross trail.
UPS: A perfect winter’s hiking day; cold and just enough snow – decoration not impediment.
DOWNS: Frosty fingers when the wind caught me with my gloves off.
KIT: Took microspikes, but did not need them. I did without water because it froze in the reservoir tube.
COMPANY: A runner; a friendly couple hiking together (carrying full packs to prepare for longer treks).

Swamp on the Charles Pack Trail

Swamp on the Charles Pack Trail

Day Hike Notes – Westchester Wilderness Walk

Zofnass Family Preserve, Eastern Loop wetland

Wetland, Zofnass Family Preserve, Eastern Loop

If 150 acres formed a square, the sides would be less than a half-mile in length. I think I’ve got that right. Anyway, it is not a big area to hike in. All the more remarkable, then, what Zofnass Family Preserve holds within its 150 irregularly shaped acres – streams, wetlands, high outcrops, distinctive boulders, and some 10 miles of trail! The Preserve sits in a quiet neighborhood too, and I do not recall the sound of traffic from nearby roads. So, maybe not exactly wilderness (the trails are too many and too well-signposted for that), but a fine open space nevertheless.

DATE: Thursday, March 2nd.
START & FINISH: Upper Shad Road, Pound Ridge, NY.
ROUTE: Pretty much the outermost trails of Zofnass Family Preserve hiking counterclockwise, and skipping the Northern Loop.
DISTANCE: 6-7 miles (counting an accidental repeated section and additional loop).
TIME: 3½ hours (1:15 to 4:45 p.m.). An afternoon hike, not a day hike.

TERRAIN: Mostly easy, but not always smooth underfoot.
MAP: From Westchester Land Trust website.

WEATHER: Sunny and breezy. High in the 40s.
WILDLIFE: Whistling and croaking amphibians in some wetlands.

BREAKFAST: At home, hours before departure.
LUNCH: Cheese sandwich in the car, driving to Pound Ridge.
UPS: Finding so much to enjoy in just 150 acres.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I need to learn how to take photographs with my phone without having to key in my passcode every time.
COMPANY: My wife, Charissa, and no one else. Charissa says she saw a woman with a dog near the start, but they escaped my notice.