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.


Day Hike Notes – Aspetuck Valley Trail

Aspetuck Valley Trail, Connecticut

Shade, rocks, roots, twisted trunks

The most memorable part of this local hike was my logistics. I “spotted” a bike near the end of the route and rode it back to my car when the hike was done. This was a first for me. I suspect my bike would have been safe anyway, but I locked it to a tree and felt sure no one would be interested in my old, dirty helmet left hanging from its handlebars. As mentioned below, I made a couple of changes to my usual hiking gear to make bike-riding more comfortable afterward. The logistics worked well and I’ll certainly use them again. As for the bike ride, it was a breeze, especially the long downhill on Route 58! The Aspetuck Valley Trail itself is a pretty outing that fits a lot of variety into its 6.9 miles.

DATE: Sunday, August 11th.
START: Southern trailhead, Route 58, Easton CT (GPS 41.282006, -73.341421). There is a pull-off to park just south.
FINISH: Northern trailhead, Collis P Huntington State Park, Newtown/Redding CT (GPS 41.346706, -73.345383).
ROUTE: Aspetuck Valley Trail (AVT) north.
DISTANCE: 7.8 miles (the AVT is 6.9 miles; I repeated the final 0.9 to get back to my bike).
TIME: 3½ hours excluding bike ride (7:30am to 11:00am).
TERRAIN: Gentle woodland trails with modest ups and downs; a mile of broad, flat track; a very short road-walk; a residential lane.
MAP: Not necessary, but the trailhead kiosks provide maps.

WEATHER: Cloudless. A cool start (50s), warming to 70s.
WILDLIFE: A bird of prey of some sort cruising the canopy.

BREAKFAST: Half a bagel in the car, half sat on a rock with the hike half-done.
LUNCH: Back at home.
UPS: Cool, sunshiny woods early on.
DOWNS: Meeting a group of fat-tire cyclists hurtling down a trail they shouldn’t have been on.
KIT: I walked in lighter boots than usual to make pedaling easier after the hike. I wore convertible pants so I could hike in longs but pedal in shorts. Surprisingly for mid-August, I wore a second layer (for the first 1½ miles).
COMPANY: None apart from DOWNS.


Day Hike Notes – Ashokan High Point

Slide Mountain from Ashokan High Point

Slide Mountain from Ashokan High Point

This was my first visit to the Catskills in a year and a half. The Catskills are just that bit too far from home to encourage frequent trips. The trailhead for this hike is a 110-mile drive each way and I had to be on the road soon after 5am to hit the trail decently early. But the Catskills are my nearest big mountain range, both in terms of elevation (up to 4,190 feet) and extent (half a Rhode Island of mountainous forest), and when my Friday opened up, I decided to make the trek. Ashokan High Point was a new hike for me. I enjoyed it, but would not rate it as highly as some of my other Catskill treks.

DATE: Friday, July 26th.
START & FINISH: Kanape Brook parking area on CR 42, West Shokan, NY (GPS 41.934993, -74.328989).
ROUTE: Ashokan High Point Trail, which is a lollipop loop. I went around the loop counterclockwise.
DISTANCE: Just under 9 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (7:45am to 12:45pm).
TERRAIN: It is a 2,000-foot, 3.6-mile climb to High Point. The first 2.6 miles are a very steady 1,000-foot ascent on a broad track; the next mile, obviously, is steeper, but still on good trail. Coming off the summit, the longer part of the loop is rough and overgrown in places, and occasionally hard to follow. I don’t think it is much used.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Sunny and warm (60s early, rising to low 80s).
WILDLIFE: Nothing much.

BREAKFAST: Bagel on the road.
LUNCH: Cheese & ham baguette sat on a log near the end of the hike.
UPS: Undoubtedly the blueberry bald just beyond High Point with fine views of Slide Mountain and other peaks to the NW.
DOWNS: Pushing through brush, cobwebs, and bugs on some sections of the loop on the return leg.
KIT: A few months ago, I started recording my hikes with Gaia GPS. Gaia lets you see your route on a topographical map, which I enjoy (the track of this hike is shown below). But I have also discovered that you can import a Gaia track into Google Earth and see your route across the landscape in 3D. Very cool!
COMPANY: On my way up I met a young woman with a full-size backpack. She’d spent the night out, she said, and had felt scared. I was much older than her when I spent my first night alone on a mountainside and I had felt anxious too.



Ashokan High Point -- GPS

Day Hike Notes – Verkeerder Kill Falls from Awosting Reserve

Shawangunk Ridge, Sam's Point

On the Shawangunk Ridge, Sam’s Point to the right.

I arrived at Sam’s Point just before 8am, anxious to get walking! But the entrance to its ample parking lot was barred and a sign said the gate would not open until 9:00. “No parking” signs lined the approach road. I could have foreseen this issue, but I hadn’t, and now I was a little angry. Why on earth wait 3½ hours after sunrise to open a state park! Other cars were arriving too. At 9:00, the gate would be like the front door of Macy’s on sale day. This was not what I had come for at all.

I looked at my map and saw another entrance to the park about 30 minutes’ drive away. It looked very much like a back door, with “unmaintained trails” leading from it to the Shawangunk Ridge, which was my destination. I set off immediately and discovered an empty, informal, and OPEN parking area at the foot of the ridge. By 8:45, I was climbing the slope toward Lake Awosting.

DATE: Sunday, June 30th.
START & FINISH: Aumick Road, Gardiner, NY (GPS 41.675857, -74.263490).
ROUTE: Awosting Reserve trails to the Scenic Trail just south of Lake Awosting; Scenic Trail to Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail via Mud Pond; Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail 0.3 miles to the Falls. Return more or less by same route.
DISTANCE: 13.5 miles.
TIME: 6¾ hours (8:45am to 3:30pm).
TERRAIN: Long, steady climb from Start to ridge (1,300 feet over 3 miles). Although the ridge-walk is all between 1,800 and 2,000 feet in elevation, the trails are not flat and easy. There is a lot of stepping up and down and the occasional scramble.
MAPNYNJTC Shawangunk Trails, Map 104.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny; breezy; warm (heading toward 80).
WILDLIFE: Two timber rattlesnakes (see photos for one of them).

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Fishkill.
LUNCH: Sat on a ledge just after starting the return leg.
UPS: The sights on the ridge come thick and fast, from close-up flora to the distant Catskills.
DOWNS: See intro.
KIT: I should have slathered by neck in sunscreen, though no serious damage was done.
COMPANY: None until the Falls; plenty at the falls; a few conversations on the return leg.