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3 nights, 27.5 miles in Harriman State Park to ring in the new year 12/31/16 - 1/3/17

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  • 3 nights, 27.5 miles in Harriman State Park to ring in the new year 12/31/16 - 1/3/17

    I did a moderately easy 27 mile loop in Harriman State Park to celebrate the new year (and start working off the holiday pounds). I also wanted to explore some new areas of the park I'd not yet visited, and to stay in a couple of new shelters.

    I got a late start on Saturday night from the circle parking area at the end of Johnstown Road on the south side of the park. My destination for the first night was the Dutch Doctor Shelter, which was less than 2 miles from the trailhead, so it was an easy hike in the dark. There were a couple of cars at the trailhead, and when I arrived at the shelter I saw a few groups tenting in the vicinity. The shelter only had a single occupant who was more than willing to share, so I moved in with him. The night was cool but not frigid, and midnight was quite obviously marked by the sounds of several fireworks displays in the neighboring cities (and I've no doubt that we could hear fireworks from New York City as well).


    I was up early Sunday morning and heading of camp with the sun rise. I had a fair amount of mileage ahead of me that I was hoping to cover before dark, as I wanted to get to one of the shelters in the norther portion of the park.


    I set off down the Triangle Trail, and before long I was following the shorelines of first Lake Sebago, and then Lake Skenonto. Both were frozen over, and I could hear the ice growing as the early morning sun started to warm it up. Lake Skenonto had some interesting narrow, rocky islands.


    From there, I continued north to the summit of Parker Cabin Mountain, where I reached a junction with the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, which I would follow for the remainder of the day. There was evidence that there had recently been a sizeable wildfire on Parker Cabin Mountain; there wasn't much fresh leaf litter so the fire may even have been as recently as this past fall.


    North of Parker Cabin Mountain, the trail took me over Tom Jones Mountain. I camped at the Tom Jones Shelter back in 2013, and the shelter was as I remembered it. Despite the spaciousness of the shelter, the only room for sleeping inside of it was a small wooden platform that would accommodate maybe 3 or 4 people at the most. Near the shelter, there was also a really nice tent site (on the west side of the summit) with good views.


    The north side of Tom Jones Mountain was pretty icy, but I was able to carefully pick a path down without much difficulty. I crossed Kanawake Road and started the ascent of Black Rock Mountain. The climb was pretty straightforward, and soon I found myself cresting the ridge line. Black Rock Mountain is the highest point in Harriman State Park, and on the same trip in 2013, I'd also camped at the Bald Rocks Shelter. I remembered being able to see the World Trade Center from the summit on than trip, and I looked for it again, but the sun was at the wrong angle for me to have much luck in spotting it. The walk along the ridge was nice and open, though. At times, I could see the Catskill Mountains to the north.


    The last time I camped at Bald Rocks, the area had maybe 4 or 5 groups camped in the vicinity. To my surprise, the shelter area was completely empty and there was no sign that anyone had slept there the night before. As with the Tom Jones Shelter, the Bald Rocks Shelter has only a small platform inside with room for a few people. The shelter is also somewhat impressive in it's construction, as the walls are solid slabs of rock placed on end.


    From Bald Rocks, I continued north on the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. Hogencamp Mountain also had some pretty icy stretches. At times, I considering donning my microspikes, but the icy stretches weren't difficult to traverse without them for the most part. Hogencamp Mountain also had a number of open, rocky areas that afforded pleasant scenery.


    After descending from Hogencamp Mountain, the trail took me through Harriman's "Times Square," a 5 way trail junction where the Long Path, the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, and the Arden Surebridge Trail all meet. Beyond the junction, the Ramapo Dunderberg Trail obviously gets relatively little use as it meanders through the forest towards Fingerboard Mountain. Not far from Times Square, there's a junction with the Bottlecap Trail, a trail that to this day is still marked with bottlecap trail markers. I meant to stop and look for one of the markers, but unfortunately my mind was wandering as I passed through the junction. Unfortunately, there were also some areas along this trail where stands of hemlock had been killed by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect species that is killing hemlocks all up and down the east coast. Some of the still living hemlocks were also covered with the adelgid.


    Continued...

  • #2
    One can't, of course, miss the Appalachian Trail when you arrive on it- the trail is like a super highway and is very obviously well traveled. The Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail runs concurrently with the AT through much of the northern half of Harriman State Park. Just beyond the junction where the two trails meet is the Fingerboard Shelter. The park had undertaken extensive repair work on this shelter during the past season, installing a new roof. (The old roof had been tossed aside, and campers were quite obviously well on their way towards burning all of it up.) I decided to stop at this shelter for a late lunch, and I had a pleasant chat with a geographer from NYC (New Zealand originally) who was out for a day hike.

    After lunch, I continued my trek northwards. The Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail splits off from the AT temporarily near Tiorati Circle, and I chose to follow the former. Shadows were starting to lengthen in the forest as I crossed Seven Lakes Parkway and started up Goshen Mountain to the east.



    I'd originally hoped to make it to the West Mountain Shelter before camping for the night, but as I walked into the clearing where the William Brien Memorial Shelter stands, it was clear that if I chose to continue onwards, I wouldn't reach camp until well after dark. Accordingly, I decided to camp at the William Brien Shelter instead. This was the very first shelter I ever camped at in Harriman, back in 2012. It's a large shelter (I can't help but imagine that it's the sort of dwelling that a large troll would live in), and somewhat unique to shelter designs, it has bunk beds inside with room for more campers on the floor. The shelter log book made reference to a seasonal spring nearby, but I wasn't able to locate it (I later found out that the spring is located south of the shelter, on a faint trail with old and nearly obscure blazes). Instead, I ended up making the quarter mile trek down to Bockey Swamp Brook for water.



    As I cooked dinner, I amused myself by reading the shelter journals. There were two, covering the previous two years of visitors to the shelter. Quite a few thru-hikers lamented at the poor condition of the Harriman Shelters and especially the lack of any kind of outhouse or toilet at any of them. There were also numerous entries decrying the lack of water (apparently even Bockey Swamp Brook runs dry in the summer). I also read a few entries decrying the hilly terrain that the AT passes through in NY... I think those thru-hikers were in from a big shock when they got to northern New England.

    Monday dawned warm but cloudy, and most of the snow had melted during the night. I knew that rain was in the forecast, so again I made an early start. I had a shorter day planned, hoping to get to the Big Hill Shelter for the evening. At first, I started down the Menomine Trail, which passes some impressive boulder fields and rock outcrops as it descended into the Stillwater Brook drainage.


    Less than a mile after leaving the William Brien Shelter, I reached a junction with the Red Cross Trail, which I turned and followed south up and out of the drainage. The trail climbs along a small cascading stream that was quite scenic.



    At the top of the valley, I reached another junction where I turned left on the Beech Trail (which I later found out is surprisingly named for a person, not the tree). I would follow this trail for its entire length. Interestingly, the Beech Trail was also the very first trail ever to use double blazes (with the top one offset) to indicate a sharp turn in the trail. In contrast with many of the trails I'd hiked on the previous day, I was also clearing entering a section of the park that gets relatively little use for hiking. The tread was soft underfoot and the trail generally in great shape. Soon I was crossing Tiorati Brook Road (closed to motor vehicles in the winter). Lake Tiorati Brook had a nice set of cascades near the road crossing.


    South of Tiorati Brook Road, the trail climbs Nat House Mountain alongside another cascading stream. Most of the cascades were hidden from view in patches of mountain laurel, but the glimpses I did see looked nice. This is a stretch of trail I wouldn't mind returning to with some extra time to poke around and explore a bit more.

    Atop the ridge, the trail enters an area that was pretty apparently once farmland. I hadn't read up on the trail any prior to my trip, so the cemetery was a bit of a surprise when it came into view alongside the trail. According to the NYNJTC guidebook, this area was farmed by several families- the Roses, the Youmans, and Charlestons. One of the graves is that of Timothy Youmans, who died in battle in the Civil War a mere 2 days before the war ended.


    South of the cemetery, my route took me through more overgrown farmland, across Kanawauke Road again, and to a junction with the Long Path, where I turned south to follow the aqua blazes. I passed several old cellar holes, crossed Lake Welch Drive, and continued through rocky terrain to Beaver Pond Brook, a small but serene stream emptying out of a beaver meadow from the west. Beyond the brook crossing, there was a phenomenal but illegal campsite in a nice stand of pines... Harriman really would benefit from allowing camping at locations other than the shelters, even if it's still a designated sites only system.


    Not far south of Beaver Pond Brook, I entered a clearing with a large plaque. The clearing was the site of a plane crash, where a Boeing 727 on its way to pick up the Baltimore Colts crashed in late 1974. There wasn't much debris left behind, just a pile of small bits of plastic and metal. I imagine that most of the larger stuff was probably salvaged, and souvenir seekers had probably carried off most of the rest over the ensuing decades after the crash.


    As I started up Big Hill, a light but steady drizzle started. I'd timed things well, as the rain had held off until I was nearly done hiking for the day. I encountered more ice as I climbed the final stretch of the hill. There was a group of Koreans just finishing up lunch in the shelter when I arrived, and they were packed up and headed out not long afterwards, leaving me alone in the shelter. It was early still, and I spent most of the afternoon reading. I did take a short walk around in the rain- the Big Hill shelter (like all shelters in Harriman) clearly gets a lot of use. Firewood was scarce, and evidence of tree cutting was everywhere. The shelter was in a nice spot, though.


    Continued...

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    • #3
      The rain continued into Tuesday, and the arrival of daylight brought with it a fair amount of fog as well. My hike back to the car was relatively short, and I was in no rush to set out into the rain, so I spent a leisurely morning in the shelter, reading and hanging out. As I was packing up, another group of Koreans showed up. I invited them into the shelter, and soon I was sharing the space without 10 other people as finished packing and ate lunch. I think at one point they tried to offer me some of their food, but they didn't speak much English (and I definitely don't speak any Korean) so I wasn't 100% sure. Once I was packed up, I set out southwards into the fog on the Breakneck Mountain Trail.


      I followed the Breakneck Mountain Trail to the Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail, which I followed in turn to Lake Sebago. The hike along Breakneck Mountain was nice despite the rain. The ridge is full of neat little clearings and rock outcrops, and while sounds of civilization are often more than apparent in Harriman State Park, the dense fog filtered much of it out. Due to the rain and melting snow, Stony Brook was flowing very well when I reached it. It's nice to see that the drought that plagued much of NY this past season is over, at least for the time being.


      From Lake Sebago, I turned south on an old woods road which quickly brought me back to the Johnstown Road trailhead, thus concluding my trip. Overall, it was definitely a nice trip. I'm glad to have gotten to explore some new areas of Harriman, and to have been able to plan my trip so that I was able to find solitude in a park where such a thing can be in short supply. Not a bad way to start off the new year.

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      • #4
        thank you so much for sharing your awesome trip - love your reports and hope to get out and camp somewhere myself!!! till this day, I remain a day hiker

        funny you mention the group of Koreans. I have ran into the same group twice on Hunter and my curiosity was piqued. I mean, who would be hauling a full pack to do a full blown BBQ on top of a mountain? and once it was from Beeker Hollow with treacherous ice. I took a photo of their van and had a co-worker translate it for me. they are called Korean-American hiking club or something like that and must really get out a lot. good for them!!!! and they take their food very seriously.
        46/46 as of August 1st, 2014!

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        • #5
          There was a fire recently in Harriman. I think there was a thread on VFTT about it.

          Don't eat the Korean sauce & noodles unless you like HOT food!

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          • #6
            Hmm, Harriman actually looks like it's worth a visit. I always dismissed it as not very wild (and mistakenly thought one couldn't even camp there) due to its proximity to NYC
            ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6

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            • #7
              There are over 200 miles of trails there, old mines, foundations, etc. It does get a lot of use, not all of it good (tree cutting, ATVs, mt. bikes) , but worth the trip. Both the AT and Long Path pass thru the park. In fact, the first section of the AT was created there.

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              • #8
                Nice trip! I have a soft spot for Harriman, it is my local stomping grounds, ~30 min drive for me. It is certainly not wilderness but there are wild patches and it is really quite beautiful. I had a little project where I hiked all the marked trails and I've seen coyotes, fox, black bear, timber rattlers,huuuuge back rat snakes and black racers, bald eagles and more deer than you can shake a stick at, including a tiny fawn in the ferns.

                If you are back in the area and have a chance to hike the bottlecap trail, it is a nice little little hike. There is a well not far from the Brien shelter, but it is very seasonal; standing in front of the shelter it is about 200 feet away traveling at 2 o'clock(ish).

                The Korean group was definitely offering you lunch. We joke that those church groups don't like to hike so much as eat lunch in the woods, but they are always super-generous with sharing their fire and food. Interesting aside - I am pretty sure a Korean manufacturer put microspikes on the market first; I remember seeing them and thinking they were cool long before Kahtoola marketed them.

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                • #9
                  Nice report. I've done most if not all of those trails on day hikes. Harriman is nice when I can't make it all the way to the Catskills or ADK. I was just there yesterday and did a little 5 mile hike. Cheers
                  Cats: 39/39, 26W/35W......ADK: 46/46

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by YanaLG View Post
                    thank you so much for sharing your awesome trip - love your reports and hope to get out and camp somewhere myself!!! till this day, I remain a day hiker

                    funny you mention the group of Koreans. I have ran into the same group twice on Hunter and my curiosity was piqued. I mean, who would be hauling a full pack to do a full blown BBQ on top of a mountain? and once it was from Beeker Hollow with treacherous ice. I took a photo of their van and had a co-worker translate it for me. they are called Korean-American hiking club or something like that and must really get out a lot. good for them!!!! and they take their food very seriously.
                    I think it's actually multiple different groups (many different groups of Koreans, even). The geographer that I ended up chatting with at the Fingerboard Shelter was telling me that Koreans view mountains as being sacred areas, as a significant part of Korean history and culture includes the belief that the first Koreans came into being in the mountains, and that when they die they'll return to the mountains (I'm sure I'm not being very accurate on the specifics but I think I have the gist right). That's one of the reasons it is so common to see groups of Koreans out on day trips in places like Harriman or the Catskills. For them, it's not just a recreational trip, but also a religious pilgrimage in a way.

                    Originally posted by bfinan0 View Post
                    Hmm, Harriman actually looks like it's worth a visit. I always dismissed it as not very wild (and mistakenly thought one couldn't even camp there) due to its proximity to NYC
                    Originally posted by dundee View Post
                    There are over 200 miles of trails there, old mines, foundations, etc. It does get a lot of use, not all of it good (tree cutting, ATVs, mt. bikes) , but worth the trip. Both the AT and Long Path pass thru the park. In fact, the first section of the AT was created there.
                    Yeah, like dundee says there's some nice things about the park that do make it worth visiting. A lot of history in particular. On the flip side, there's a lot of use (and abuse), but with some careful planning (and a willingness to visit in the off season) it's not too hard to find solitude.

                    Originally posted by LeftRightLeft View Post
                    Nice trip! I have a soft spot for Harriman, it is my local stomping grounds, ~30 min drive for me. It is certainly not wilderness but there are wild patches and it is really quite beautiful. I had a little project where I hiked all the marked trails and I've seen coyotes, fox, black bear, timber rattlers,huuuuge back rat snakes and black racers, bald eagles and more deer than you can shake a stick at, including a tiny fawn in the ferns.

                    If you are back in the area and have a chance to hike the bottlecap trail, it is a nice little little hike. There is a well not far from the Brien shelter, but it is very seasonal; standing in front of the shelter it is about 200 feet away traveling at 2 o'clock(ish).

                    The Korean group was definitely offering you lunch. We joke that those church groups don't like to hike so much as eat lunch in the woods, but they are always super-generous with sharing their fire and food. Interesting aside - I am pretty sure a Korean manufacturer put microspikes on the market first; I remember seeing them and thinking they were cool long before Kahtoola marketed them.
                    Yeah, I was eventually able to find the spring but not until after I'd already trekked down to Bockey Swamp Brook. The trail to the spring is not super obvious- I'd surmise that the spring is probably dry most of the year if the trail to it isn't getting a lot of use.

                    Originally posted by Nivek View Post
                    Nice report. I've done most if not all of those trails on day hikes. Harriman is nice when I can't make it all the way to the Catskills or ADK. I was just there yesterday and did a little 5 mile hike. Cheers
                    If this winter remains mild, I may pay a return visit while use levels are still low. I've yet to do any hiking near Bear or Dunderberg Mountains, and I've been wanting to check out Doodletown for a while now.

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                    • YanaLG
                      YanaLG commented
                      Editing a comment
                      very interesting info about the mountains in Korean culture!! thanks for sharing

                  • #11
                    Well my opinion is kind of backwards on usage levels anyway - the more crowded a place is, the MORE, not less, I want to go (correlation, not causation; but ease of access and hiking in heavy traffic seem to go hand in hand) especially when there's even reasonable transit access via Metro-North. With any luck, I might even find a shelter with some room in it and accomplish my 2017 goal of finally sleeping in a lean-to for the first time.
                    ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6

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                    • #12
                      Originally posted by DSettahr View Post
                      If this winter remains mild, I may pay a return visit while use levels are still low. I've yet to do any hiking near Bear or Dunderberg Mountains, and I've been wanting to check out Doodletown for a while now.
                      The park, east of the Palisades Pkwy has the best stuff. Doodletown is definitely worth the visit. Herbert Cemetery is probably the largest woodland cemetery I have ever visited. There is also one of the nicest waterfalls in the park (if there is water).

                      The Dunderberg Mountain loop offers great views of the Hudson and you are likely to see an eagle or two during the winter. I once saw no fewer than 10 eagles riding a thermal above me on the 1777 trail, near 9W.

                      Bear Mountain is a fun little climb (unless you abhor granite steps), and you can turn it into a loop; and in the off-season, the access road to the top is closed and there are waaaaay fewer people. I like to hike it from Seven Lakes Dr.

                      I would also mention the Timp, but I assume you would camp at the West Mountain Shelter (prepare to be unimpressed; though I believe it does have a view of the Freedom Tower and that huge skyscraper that they put up in midtown, which I refer to as "The Shaft"), and would visit it at some point anyway. Just a word of warning: the last time I backpacked in Harriman (in the offseason, but not in winter), I stayed at a tent site near the WMS. I saw things. I will just say that it gets a lot of (ab)use.

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                      • #13
                        I've stayed at West Mt. shelter during the week and shared the area with only one other hiker. I would never stay on a w/e, tho.

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                        • #14
                          Doodle town is on my list too. Haven't hit it yet. Dunderhead mtn and spiral railway is cool hike. You will see/hear the groan of the nuclear power plant on the other side of the Hudson when you start out.
                          Cats: 39/39, 26W/35W......ADK: 46/46

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