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

Nuclear Lake from the Appalachian Trail side

Nuclear Lake from the Appalachian Trail side

For many years, my habit has been to hike on Black Friday, blowing away the cobwebs after Thanksgiving and burning off any excess. This year, family schedules moved the turkey & stuffing to Friday, and my hike moved accordingly.

NYNJTC’s interactive map suggested a 12.7 mile New York AT loop starting from NY Route 22. That was a bit more than I wanted, so I shortened the lollipop stick by starting farther west/south. I parked at The Dover Oak, a thick old tree.

As for Nuclear Lake, I had hoped its name might have nothing to do with nuclear energy, let alone nuclear accidents. Not so, I am afraid. According to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, a 1972 bang in a research facility beside the lake sent “an unknown amount of radioactive plutonium dust dispersing throughout the structure and surrounding shoreline and woods”. Cleanups followed, and the lake I found on Thanksgiving Day was attractive, and home to waterfowl not nuclear scientists.

DATE: Thursday, November 23rd.
START & FINISH: The Dover Oak on W. Dover Rd, Pawling NY.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail south to Nuclear Lake Loop Trail, then AT north back to start.
DISTANCE: 7.2 miles (5.4 on the lollipop stick, 1.8 around the lake).
TIME: 4¼ hours (8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A steep climb (650 feet) from W. Dover Rd, then level or descending on good trail to the north end of Nuclear Lake. Nuclear Lake Loop Trail (lake’s east side) had a few short rocky bits, but the AT along the lake’s west side was often broad track.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Sunny and cool (just below freezing at start, upper 30s by finish).
WILDLIFE: Squirrels; waterfowl; and I believe I heard a turkey in the woods!
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Danbury.
LUNCH: Cheese baguette, eaten on ledges overlooking Pawling.
UPS: A mostly gentle hike to a pretty lake.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I nearly forgot my gloves, and was glad I did not.
COMPANY: Later in the morning, I ran into several groups of backpackers. I assume they were using their Thanksgiving holiday to hike a section of AT. I can’t think of better weather for it as long as they carried warm bedding.

Boardwalk on the NY Appalachian Trail

Boardwalk, or puncheon, on the NY AT

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (5): Salisbury to Sages Ravine

Lions Head, CT Appalachian Trail, Mount Greylock

Mount Greylock—right of center, far distance—45 miles away in Massachusetts

Last year, Katie—my eldest daughter—and I hiked across Connecticut north-south, down the middle of the state. We covered 111 miles on 11 day-hikes between late February and early December. This year, we stuck to Connecticut’s northwest corner, hiking the 51.6 miles of CT Appalachian Trail—five hikes, early February to this one on November 4th. It has been a busy year for both of us, and even squeezing in five hikes has been none too easy. Back in February, we had notions of completing the CT AT in high summer and hiking on into Massachusetts. If we are lucky, we may still get a Massachusetts hike or two in before winter.

DATE: Saturday, November 4th.
START: CT Route 41 north of Salisbury.
FINISH: Undermountain trailhead, CT Route 41, 3mi north Salisbury.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north, Paradise Lane and Undermountain trails.
DISTANCE: 9.9 miles (6.7 A.T, 3.2 side-trail).
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 51.6 A.T. miles.
TIME: 5.5 hours (9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
TERRAIN: 1,000-foot climb to Lions Head, some easy miles, then 500-foot climb to Bear Mountain summit (2,316’). Steep descent, even scramble, off Bear Mountain’s north side, followed by easy going down to Route 41.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 3.

WEATHER: Sunny or hazy sunshine, cool-to-mild (40s to low 50s).
WILDLIFE: Nothing on the trail, but a stag trotted across Route 7 on our drive up, and another hiker talked about bears invading her Cornwall home and bull moose she had run into nearby.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagels, J.P. Gifford, Kent.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwiches on Bear Mountain.
UPS: Great hiking weather, great fall scenes.
DOWNS: I have been feeling under the weather for a few days and, by the end of the hike, was feeling weak and drained.
KIT: Glad, once again, to have trekking poles that collapse down and stow in my pack—useful for the steep descent off Bear.
COMPANY: Katie, of course; and lots of friendly hikers, notably Jim and his dog Dexter. We gave Jim a ride back to his car at the end, and bumped into him again over coffee is Salisbury.

Mount Frissell from flank of Bear Mountain

Mount Frissell from flank of Bear Mountain

Pacific Crest Trail Backpack

Heather Lake, Desolation Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail

Heather Lake, Desolation Wilderness, with the Carson Range in the distance

Dave told me about his plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) more than a year ago. I said I’d like to join him for a week or so. Dave lives north of Sydney, Australia, so this communication, and those that followed, was by e-mail or Skype call. I was serious about joining him and read Chris Townsend’s Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles to get an idea of which sections of the trail I might like (I’d already read Wild).

By the time Dave set off from the Mexican border on April 24th this year, I was leaning toward Washington in September. But hiking the PCT does not permit firm itineraries, and Dave was always going to be a moving target. Sure enough, in June, Dave found the High Sierra blocked with lingering snow and swollen streams. He skipped it, planning to return in late summer. Between June and the last day of August, Dave hiked from northern California to Canada.

By early August, I was confident enough of Dave’s Sierra schedule to book flights and time off. We targeted meeting at South Lake Tahoe and hiking together to Donner Pass. Even so, it was touch and go until the last minute whether Dave’s schedule and mine would coincide. Just before I left home, Dave called to say he’d run into the first snowfalls of the season and might be delayed.

In the end, on Sunday, September 24th, I drove my rental car to Echo Summit and started hiking south. After about a mile, I met Dave hiking north. Dave took a “zero day” in South Lake Tahoe on Monday and I set out on the PCT. Monday and Tuesday, I hiked alone—18.5 PCT miles. On Tuesday, Dave covered those miles in one day to catch me up at Fontanillis Lake.

DATES: Monday-Friday, September 25-29.
START: PCT Mile 1090, Echo Summit, south of South Lake Tahoe.
FINISH: PCT Mile 1153, Donner Pass, west of Truckee.
ROUTE: PCT north, plus an unintended—but rewarding—excursion to Half Moon Lake.
SECTIONS:
MONDAY: Echo Summit to Heather Lake—10.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Heather Lake to Fontanillis Lake—8.0 miles (plus unintended side-trip).
WEDNESDAY: Fontanillis Lake to Mile 1127—18.5 miles.
THURSDAY: Mile 1127 to Mile 1144—17.0 miles.
FRIDAY: Mile 1144 to Donner Pass—9.0 miles.
TIME: 9 a.m. Monday to about midday Friday.
TERRAIN: The only real difficulties were some rubbly sections of trail, and a few long ascents (made tougher by the 7,000-9,400 feet of elevation). Otherwise, the PCT was rarely steep (lots of switchbacks) and nearly always dry. In places, it was a near perfect trail. Just one stream involved wet feet.
MAPS: Downloaded and printed from Halfmile’s PCT Maps (California Section K).

WEATHER: Sunny until the very last miles; temperatures from upper 20s to maybe lower 60s.
WILDLIFE:  Around South Lake Tahoe, before the hike, several coyotes. On the trail, a mule deer and very little else. On Friday, we saw scat, possibly mountain lion.
PHOTOS: Here.

CAMPSITES: All good, but the first was the best—right on the shore of Heather Lake.
MEALS: Freeze-dried meals for supper, cold stuff otherwise. Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala was the best.
UPS: So many, but Monday’s and Tuesday’s Desolation Wilderness scenery was spectacular.
DOWNS: Nothing really, but I was very tired on Thursday evening.
KIT: Pleased to have the right stuff to deal with some blisters that had developed by Thursday.
COMPANY: Dave, with whom conversation and silences were equally comfortable. The PCT, particularly in Desolation Wilderness, provided just about the right amount of company, neither empty not crowded.

Granite Chief Wilderness, PCT

Dave somewhere in Granite Chief Wilderness

Day Hike Notes – Hunter Mountain

Notch Lake, Devil's Tombstone Campground, Hunter NY

Notch Lake, Devil’s Tombstone Campground – Start and Finish Point

The Catskill Mountains are over 100 miles from home. It’s hard to get an early start to a hike. I solved the problem this time by camping at Devil’s Tombstone Campground the night before, more or less right at my planned trailhead. I didn’t take much gear—1-person tent, sleeping bag & pad, pillow. It made for an easy, low-stress morning. I’d struck camp, breakfasted, and packed my day-pack in time for a 7 a.m. departure. The one drawback was no coffee, but I got over that eventually.

DATE: Friday, September 1st.
START & FINISH: Notch Lake, Devil’s Tombstone Campground, Hunter NY.
ROUTE: Devil’s Path, Hunter Mountain, and Spruceton trails to Hunter summit, then Spruceton and Colonel’s Chair trails to the Colonel’s Chair. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: 10-11 miles.
TIME: 7.5 hours, with rests and a (short) wrong turn (7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A real mix: A steep, rough 1,000-foot climb for starters, followed by much gentler grades for the next 1,000 feet. Hunter Mountain summit has flat soft trails. The 950-foot drop to the Colonel’s Chair is accomplished mostly on good, broad tracks.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Sunny and cool (48 degrees on Hunter Mountain at noon).
WILDLIFE: I scared a covey of ground nesting birds, that’s about it.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: A bagel at the trailhead.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwich on Hunter Mountain.
UPS: September 1st, but no bugs!
DOWNS: Hunter Mountain resort at the Colonel’s Chair must give a lot of people a lot of fun, particularly skiers. For a summer hiker, it’s an eyesore.
KIT: I could have done with gloves at times.
COMPANY: South of Hunter Mountain, a solitary backpacker; north of it, two runners and, at the Colonel’s Chair, a troop of zipliners.

Looking northwest from the Hunter Mountain fire tower —Thomas Cole Mtn, Black Dome, and Blackhead right of center

Looking northwest from Hunter Mountain fire tower —Thomas Cole Mtn, Black Dome, and Blackhead right of center

McWilliams is not taking a hike—yet

Lake Erie Sunset

Lake Erie Sunset, west of Cleveland

Oh dear, a month has passed since I posted and almost as long since I hiked.

The main culprit has been work, but there was also a lightning trip to Ohio to see in-laws and a friend’s visit from the UK. The Ohio trip did not involve any hiking, but it did yield a memorable Lake Erie sunset which I am happy to share here.

My last hike was a quick loop at Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted CT at the end of July. The outing provided raw material for August’s Taking a Hike column:

The View from Peoples State Forest at Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure.

I never got around to posting July’s Taking a Hike either. Here it is:

A Walk on the Saugatuck Trail in The Hour.

Finally, the good news is that I do have a hiking adventure pending!

I booked an airline ticket to Reno NV for late September. I’m not going gambling; I’m planning to hike in the Sierra Nevada, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Much more about that plan to come. I can buy Cheryl Strayed red bootlaces at REI, right?

PCT Lower Echo Lake

Pacific Crest Trail, Lower Echo Lake – courtesy of Ray Bouknight–https://www.flickr.com/photos/raybouk/

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (4): Falls Village to Salisbury

Rand's View, Appalachian Trail, Salisbury CT

Rand’s View, mile 40.9

I have hiked most sections of the Connecticut AT multiple times, but I know for sure that the section Katie and I hiked on Saturday had only felt my boots once before. That was 15 years ago, when I walked it in the opposite, Salisbury-Falls Village direction. I recall a heart-pounding climb up Wetauwanchu Mountain. I recall passing Billy’s View, and I recall a café in Falls Village where I ate a sandwich and drank a great deal of Diet Coke. And I remember the rain, which started at Billy’s View and didn’t give up all day. I do not remember Rand’s View, which is surprising, because Rand’s View is stunning, possibly the best view on the CT AT. I can only assume that the rain in September 2002 had blocked it out entirely. I won’t wait another 15 years before trekking out to Rand’s View again.

DATE: Saturday, July 22nd.
START: Route 7 south of Falls Village.
FINISH: CT Route 41 north of Salisbury.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 44.9 miles.
TIME: 5.5 hours (8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Easy to moderate. It is a 1,000-foot climb to Prospect Mountain, but it is achieved over 2-3 miles. Grades thereafter are mostly gently downward until a steep descent off Wetauwanchu Mountain.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 3.

WEATHER: Cloudy or hazy sunshine, warm and humid (high about 80).
WILDLIFE: Wild turkeys, a scarlet tanager.
PHOTOS: Here.

Appalachian Trail at CT Route 41

CT Route 41, mile 44.9

BREAKFAST: Sweet William’s Bakery, Salisbury.
LUNCH: Manchego and jamón sandwiches at Billy’s View.
UPS: Lots of friendly encounters with thru-hikers and others, notably a young guy from Lyons, France, dashing to Maine before his US visa expires.
DOWNS: We met a couple of thru-hikers playing music for all to hear. What are earbuds for?
KIT: Nothing to comment on.
COMPANY: Katie McWilliams, plus more casual encounters on this section than on any other.

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (3): Sharon to Falls Village

Appalachian Trail on Route 7 Falls Village Connecticut

The end, not the beginning, mile 34.7

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked our third section of Connecticut AT plenty. But compared to sections one and two it lacked variety. Section One, which Katie and I hiked in February, included a walk beside the Housatonic River. Section Two, which we hiked in April, gave us summits, cliffs, fields, and another river walk. Much of this hike, in contrast, was true “Green Tunnel”, hours of ridge walking broken with only occasional views. Admittedly, the vistas from Pine Knob and – five and a half hours later! – Hang Glider View were fine ones. Also, while this trek might have lacked feature, it had a more isolated feel than outings one and two. Everything changed at the very end; where we came down to Route 7 near Falls Village, we found feature and civilization again. And a blackening sky.

DATE: Saturday, July 8th.
START: Route 4, Sharon CT.
FINISH: Route 7 south of Falls Village CT.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north.
DISTANCE: 12.1 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 34.7 miles.
TIME: 8 hours (8:40 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.)
TERRAIN: The ups were tough in the high humidity, and there were plenty of them, particularly on the first half of the hike. After Pine Swamp Brook shelter, the ascents were less demanding.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 3.

WEATHER: Sunny, warm (high close to 80), very humid.
WILDLIFE: An owl, we think, cruising the branches.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, New Milford, once again.
LUNCH: Cheddar and chorizo sandwiches, plus snacks, at Pine Swamp Brook shelter.
UPS: Nothing in particular, everything in general.
DOWNS: None really.
KIT: 2.5 liters of water, and I was still thirsty at the finish.
COMPANY: A few day-hikers like us, and assorted AT thru- and section-hikers. We had thought we might meet thru-hikers, high summer being when Georgia-to-Mainers usually pass through CT. Did they inspire us? Not entirely!

Connecticut Appalachian Trail's Hang Glider View

Hang Glider View, mile 31.7