Friday, April 22, 2011
BACKPACKING IN THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY - Part 2
The accent up Castle Rock started with a gradual climb over a broad meadow, still saturated from the previous night's deluge. By the top of the meadow I was starting remember the difference between backpacking and day hiking. The 70 pounds or so on my back added that much resistance to every step, not that I am exactly in peak shape either. We had walked about a mile or so of level ground mostly prior to the meadow - this would end up being the last we ever saw on the trip. The Hudson Highlands aren't the Rocky Mountains, but we would see plenty of rapid elevation changes throughout and also plenty of rock. As we reached the tree line the trail turned southward, away from the castle and toward Sugarloaf Hill.
Sugarloaf Hill appears to be an almost pyramidal mountain, or hill - felt like a small mountain, but is actually more of a continuous ridge. From the entrance to the Castle Rock Unique Area, Wing and Wing Road, we had been hiking on the red trail. When we reached an intersection with the blue trail (The Osborne Loop), the red trail (Carriage Trail and Sugar Loaf Trail) turned west, directly up to the summit of Sugarloaf. This trail stub ended, and also rose almost 300 feet in elevation over less than a half of a mile - we had already at this point climbed to about 500 feet above are starting point at the river. I offered to drop our packs for this hike, but everyone was still pretty fresh so the consensus was to go on.
The climb proved to be as steep as expected and after a rapid climb for the first 1/4 mile we walked the ridge another 1/4 mile to a rock outcropping - we stopped for a rest and for lunch. When we arrived a group of four hikers we just leaving. This group of young folks was up from the city for a day hike - they were "training" for Machu Picchu in Peru. Very friendly and I kept my thoughts to myself - they should have brought full backpacks if they were serious, and even then, there is no way at 780 feet to simulate the high altitude problems they will face. Best of luck to them anyhow. I settled in behind a rock for lunch as the wind was gusting pretty fierce all day and into the night. Great views of the Hudson River Valley here - from West Point down to the Bear Mountain Bridge. The Bear Mountain Bridge looked pretty far away from this perspective and being that in two days time we were supposed to be overlooking that bridge, it looked even further - a lot of highlands between us and there.
The Hudson River Valley is surely unique in some aspects of it's beauty. One can only imagine Henry Hudson sailing up it for the first time with the soaring hills on both sides dropping to banks of the river. Even the names of the peaks and valleys are mystical - Sugarloaf, Storm King, Breakneck Ridge, Dunderburg, Manitou, and - Glenclyffe, Graymoor, Canopus, Iona Island, Sunk Mines,....etc. The real history is equally as rich - Bear Mountain bridge was the location of the first great Hudson Chain and the two forts that protected it's anchors on each bank, and the second chain was strung between Garrison and West Point. The first chain was cut after both forts fell to overwhelming British forces. Nearby Hessian Lake supposedly got it's name from the massacre of American Continental Prisoners. These German mercenaries left an ind
elible mark on the region that echos in folklore to this day. Don't forget, just a few miles south at Sleep Hollow, the antagonist of the Washington Irving story was the ghost of a beheaded Hessian horseman. The trail we took from the river was the "escape route" of the penultimate American traitor, Benedict Arnold - the path he took after he realized his attempt to hand over West Point to the British had been discovered.
Speaking of the trail, we negotiated our way back down Sugarloaf and then started climbing the Osborne Loop Trail (blue trail). On this trail we ran into a very nice couple and their two chocolate lab dogs. We talked for a bit and mentioned that we were thinking of possibly checking out a small lake to the north, near the castle, as a possible campsite for the night. They said we could probably find a place there, but would probably get a visit from the castle caretaker "Chip" . They knew Chip apparently and just told us to mention their name and it would be fine. Legally, it wouldn't matter as we would have been in the Osborne Unique Area which is managed by the New York Department of Environmental Resources. They permit primitive camping in groups of 10 or less without any permit or fee - but the gesture was nice and as Scouts we would want to be a courteous as possible. The Hudson Highlands Park is run by the state Park Service and does not allow camping - the exception being for backpackers on the AT. Ultimately we elected to press on to the AT and not stay at the lake. In hindsight, staying at the lake would have kept us high on the general north south ridge line we were following, instead of dropping down behind it only to retrace our steps the next day.
At the old carriage road to the lake we left the Osborne Loop Trail for the Connector Trail (yellow) which would take us a mile or so, mostly downward, to the AT. On this trail we passed a group of elderly hikers on the accent - hope I am as spry as some of them when I'm their age. Connecting with the AT (Appalachian Trail - White Blazes) we continued on until we came to a swamp, which we crossed using a planked walkway. At this point the trail arrived at what was probably the highlight of the trip for the scouts, the Appalachian Mart. A convenience store at the intersection of two busy roads. Crossing the road the Mart had a small picnic area that we dropped our packs and rested while the Scouts loaded up on candy, soda, and energy drinks. We had only been in the woods since about 10am but you'd think they'd just reached the New World after three months at sea.
Our destination for the night was just across the street, sort of. On Bing Maps it looked like a short 1/2 mile walk to a campsite on the baseball field of the Mount of Atonement Monastery. I didn't notice much elevation, but the "Mount of Atonement" thing should have clued me in. With the Scouts sugared up and blazing ahead, we climbed this Mount and did our own Atonement of sorts I guess. It was another grueling climb and we were about spent. Finally emerging from the woods onto a grassy strip and road, we ran into a group of resting Baptists. Sort of ironic running into a crowd of Baptists at a Monastery - these folks were a church youth group from Maine - they had come down for the week and already in one day covered a lot of ground - we were just about to settle down for the evening and they still were intending on reaching almost the Bear Mountain Bridge - our destination the next night. (It will take us four hours the next day to cover this ground so they must have been pretty tired by the time they reached camp)
At this point, the Friars have marked a trail with blue blazes through the Monastery grounds to a baseball field with a small covered pavilion. There was water available here but not privy (I believe they set Porta-Pots for the warmer months) There was also a cold shower but it was locked for the winter I guess. We pitched our tents in the field and made supper. After dinner the Scouts found an old ratty softball in the woods and made a bat out of a stick and proceeded to play baseball the rest of the night - with the exception of an hour break or so to hike back down to the convenience store for soda and candy. I can't get my kid to take out the trash, but he will hike a mile round trip, up and down a mountain, for a bottle of Mountain Dew and stick of gum. On returning they played baseball until the cover and binding completely fell off the ball. This is something that is unique to the Boy Scout Organization - where else would you see a group of boys playing baseball with a ratty softball, a stick for a bat, and on a muddy field for three hours? Contrary to popular belief, boys can occupy themselves away from X-Box and scheduled sports and activities. This "free time" is during which most of my fondest memories in the Boy Scouts happened - five hour long games of steal the flag, building forts in the woods, damming streams and then letting loose the water, building rafts, frog parachuting, red eff races,...etc. It's nice to see a tradition continue.
Fatigue soon caught up with us non sugar enriched older folks so we headed off to our tents just as rain drops started to fall. The Scouts, still wired had connected their two tents with duct tape to create "Supertent". While it might have looked good from their perspective, the Scouts would soon learn there is a reason people get paid to design tents. To be continued