Wednesday, April 20, 2011
BACKPACKING IN THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY - Part 1
For the past two years I've posted pictures of Jimmy's April Boy Scout backpacking trip to the Adirondacks. This year, the usual four day trip, scheduled for this past Saturday through Tuesday was cancelled due to expected bad weather, including possibly snow. Being an Eagle Scout, my initial reaction wasn't positive, however, sitting inside on Saturday night listening to the torrential downpour and then thinking about how much colder it would have been up north sitting in a tent, I'm glad smarter heads prevailed. There was talk substituting the backpacking for a canoe trip, however, the consensus was to press on with the backpacking, abet one day shorter, and a bit closer, and hence warmer. I suggested hiking part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) through New York State, east of the Hudson River - my old Boy Scout Stomping Grounds. I also suggested mostly eliminating driving and instead taking trains to the trail head and trains back home. Surprisingly there was interest in this. In addition to giving the drivers a needed rest before and after the serious hiking, it also gave the Scouts a chance to experience rail travel - for at least one it was his first train ride.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates Metro North Railroad is surprisingly backpacker friendly. On their Harlem Line they have a separate station at the point where the AT crosses the tracks just for disembarking hikers. This is close to the Connecticut border, while some 45 miles down the trail at the Hudson River, there is a short walk from the trail to the Hudson Line train station at Manitou. While convenient, both these stations are weekend only stops, however, there are still stations within range of the trail at both ends on weekdays too (more on this later) With only a three day trip, the AT between these stations was not doable by anyone other than some very experienced, very hardcore backpackers, so I came up with a plan to stay near the Hudson. We would travel to Garrison, NY on the Hudson Line, backpack on a series of trails within the Castle Rock Unique Area, and the Hudson Highlands State Park, connect with the AT and take it North (actually traveling east but on the AT you either say North - Maine, or South - Georgia), then double back for a mile or so and take the AT South to the Camp Smith Trail and that trail to the Toll House on the Bear Mountain Parkway - from there we would make our way to the Peekskill Train Station, also on the Hudson Line.
So, with the one day delay, we gathered at the New Jersey Transit Hamilton Station at 6am Sunday morning for the trip into New York's Penn Station. Arriving in New York City the hike started - we could have taken two subways but it was more interesting walking the mostly deserted (relatively speaking of course) fifteen or so blocks between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal. We arrived with some time to spare so the Scouts were able to take in some of the grandeur of my favorite railroad station.
We took the Hudson Line train out of the city. Going both ways most of our group was either sleeping, talking, or had windows blocked by our backpacks - so we were unable to take in the some of the beautiful views from this train. Running on what was the original New York Central mainline, the "Waterlevel Route", it feels like the train is literally running on the river - even more so on Sunday as the previous evening's storm had left the river high - several waterfront parks were mostly submerged and I saw at least one yacht club's members scrambling to recover boats, docks, and gear, now adrift. The train was an express so we by-passed all the stations until Croton-Harmon, the home of Metro North's Shops and the former end of the electric zone - locomotives were formerly changed here from electric to steam, and later diesel for the continued ride northward. Today, the electric zone extends to Poughkeepsie so it was only a station stop.
At Garrison we disembarked and readied ourselves for the hike ahead. We were able to pick up the Arden Point Trail at the south end of the station parking lot. From the start the trails proved to be as flooded as the river banks were. For most of the day we would literally be hiking up streams as when it rains like it had the night before, the trails become catch basins and gutters to drain the highlands. The initial hike was pleasant enough despite the water and generally paralleled the river and the railroad for about a half of a mile south, passing a few ruins that looked to be some sort of small factory. The trail split and we took a short spur to reach a restored pavilion with a wonderful view of the West Point Military Academy. We took a short rest and a few photos.
Departing from the narrative a little - the former New York Central West Shore Railroad, now CSX runs along the bottom of the cliff that West Point sits on. Virtually against the cliff the railroad built a bridge. I'd never seen this bridge before but it sure looks like a Double Intersecting Whipple Through Truss, of which I thought the only extant example of one in New York was L-158 in Goldens Bridge on New York Central's Mahopac Branch. I've walked on and photographed L-158, and from across the river the West Point bridge sure looks like the same bridge, right
down to the same number of verticals. I also know that L-158 was originally on the West Shore Railroad in Kingston, built there in the 1880s by the Phoenix Bridge Company, and then taken down in 1904 and rebuilt at Goldens Bridge, but reduced from a double track to a single track bridge. What am I missing? It was impossible to tell if the West Point Bridge had the Phoenix Columns like L-158 from across the river. I'm not wrong about the Whipple Truss, but was it rebuilt so is no longer historic? Bridge people - help me out - send email.
Back on the trail, we left the pavilion and got on a trail called Marcia's Mile. The trail was a little difficult to follow and skirted the property of the Monastery of Mary Immaculate, but private property warning signs usually turned us around and kept us on track. The trail ended at Route 9D. A very short hike along 9D brought us to Wing and Wing Road and the gates of Castle Rock. Castle Rock is the estate of William H. Osborn, the former president of the Illinois Central Railroad. It's prominent feature is the castle Osborn built as a home on a large rock about 620 feet above the river. Most
of the "castle grounds" have been donated to the state of New York and make up the Castle Rock Unique Area, whatever that means. Now this castle is truly pretty creepy looking, right out of a horror movie like Dracula's castle, or maybe even the Rocky Horror Picture Show (don't forget to throw coffee grounds) . Either way these movies have taught you to stay away from the castle on the hill - end up with your blood drained, or raped by a transvestite, take your pick. So what do we do- walk up the hill.
Hiking up Castle Rock was the start of many grueling accents in the days to come, and they didn't get any easier. Made me think of the Navy Seal slogan - "The only easy day was yesterday" . To be continued soon.