Saturday, December 9, 2017

Hiking Wissahickon Valley Park

This week's Ramblers hikes was in a state I've never hiked in, so I couldn't resist. Mind you, it was in a state I've been in - not to mention in a city I've been to many times. It never occurred to me that the city of Philadelphia would have good hiking - but Wissahickon Valley Park is truly both right in the city and very much a real hike.

OK, it's not wilderness - there is ample evidence of bridges and other similar improvements - but you rarely see houses or roads. The park surrounds the Schuylkill River, making for a scenic walk.

Getting there took three trains to Chestnut Hill and a road walk. Once in the park, we walked southeast until we exited the park and followed a greenway to the 30th St. train station. The greenway was sandwiched between the river and a busy road, so while the river was still nice, it wasn't as magical. The highlight here was walking past the boathouses along the river. I don't know if this is a Philadelphia thing - I've never seen anything like it anywhere else.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Exploring Birch Creek Owl Pond Park

Birch Creek Owl Pond

Hiking on Long Island can be a weird experience. There are a fair number of trails, but information on them is scarce, and they aren't typically well marked.

J and I tried to go to a hike in the pine barrens mentioned in my LI hiking guide, which isn't a very helpful guidebook. Now I mean no disrespect to the author's knowledge - he clearly knows a lot about the area. But it isn't arranged well as a guide. Often, it's not clear which trailhead to park at, for example, or the map isn't sufficient guidance. Which might be fine if there was enough info online or at the trailhead.

Birch Creek Owl Pond

So when we got to this park, every parking spot was marked "for archery permit holders only," and, one, we didn't have an archery permit, and two, that didn't make us feel very safe, what with it probably being some kind of hunting season. Fortunately, while looking for the park we had seen a kiosk at the start of another hiking trail. We decided to try it with really no idea of what we were in for.

Birch Creek Owl Pond Park (a name with at least two too many nouns) is, per usual, not easy to find info on. When I Googled it, tide tables and sunset times were among the top results. Nor was a map posted at the trailhead.

Birch Creek Owl Pond

Without guidance, we had to make random decisions about turns (with the occasional assist from Google Maps). Handwritten signs pointed to various landmarks, with no suggestion of how far they were. (Answer: In some cases, in other parks entirely.)

The good news was that it was a very pretty park, so well worth exploring. We only did about 2.5 miles.

Friday, November 17, 2017



I was in Texas for a conference last weekend, and they made sure we couldn't forget it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Trail crew work report

Cleared areaFor this month's Van Cortlandt Park work day, we headed up to the north side of the park where it borders Yonkers. Every time I think I've seen every part of the park it turns out there is a corner I haven't been yet, and these entrances were new to me. It's just east of where the Old Croton Aqueduct enters the park.

These two entrances, about 50 feet apart, didn't look great. Between the dumping of old Christmas trees and trees that had been cut back but not carried away, there were mounds next to the trail that needed to be cleared. We trimmed branches, pulled out invasive plants, removed a log on the trail, and raked brush and vines back. I didn't get a before picture, but you can see the after above. Our crew leader wants to come back in the spring and do some planting in the area to improve it further.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Torrey Memorial Hike

Torrey scouting hike

The New York Ramblers, like several other local clubs, have an annual tradition of hiking to the Torrey Memorial in Harriman State Park. This year, I was leading the hike for the second year in a row, using a different route. We had scouted it two weeks ago, which is when I took the above photo at the memorial.*

The weather for the official hike was not so promising. The forecast for the day had been holding steady with torrential downpours, vacillating on whether there would also be lightning and wind. I contemplated cancelling but was reluctant. For one thing, the previous week's hike had been cancelled. For another, last year's hike had stopped short of the memorial and turned around due to thunderstorms. I didn't want the hike to fail again.

Still, I must admit that as I waited at Port Authority, part of me hoped no one would show up.

But, no - one hiker did. So we set off for Harriman on the bus that stops at Bear Mountain Inn before our stop, Fort Montgomery. Somehow, our driver managed to get lost on the way to Bear Mountain. Nevertheless we arrived, and faced only light rain to begin.

The plan, as it had been scouted, was to hike around Brooks Lake, through Popolopen Gorge, then take the most direct route to Torrey Memorial. From there we would keep heading west, joining the Long Path to a bus stop in Central Valley. Although only one trail passes over the memorial, there are several ways to get there (and several more that only make sense if you have a car). 

Over the course of the morning, the rain only let up very briefly. We had trouble finding a spot for lunch; my original plan of eating on the open mountaintop was of course out of the question. But there really is no shelter anywhere along the route. So we scarfed a quick lunch down under a dryish tree before finishing the climb.

Torrey Memorial

The above photo is of the memorial in the rain. We only lingered long enough to discuss what we should do. The second half of the hike was going to be much hillier, and wet leaves on wet rocks seemed like a recipe for danger. If we headed back, it would be easier and faster. I proposed turning around but instead following another trail through (although not up) Bear Mountain to the Inn. While I had never done it, it seemed straightforward enough. My fellow hiker agreed, so we set out.

Immediately the rain redoubled. I gave up on keeping my feet dry. I gave up on keeping my camera lens dry - there was nothing to dry it off with. Eventually, I gave up on calling it a "hike" altogether, repeating to myself like Dory, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

We made it back to the Inn in time to change into dry shirts - I even had a hot chocolate - before catching the return bus. (Naturally, we had the same driver on the way back, and he asked us how much our fare was.) Both of us were glad that we'd be back to the city almost two hours earlier than planned, thanks to the route change.

If I lead this hike next year, I fully expect, like, a sharknado.

* I neglected to blog about it, it would seem.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hiking to Heceta Head

Heceta Head Lighthouse

I've just returned from a trip to Oregon, during which it mostly rained. However, on the one nice day I was there, my sister and I went to the coast. We traipsed along the ocean and we also visited Heceta Head Lighthouse. I thought I had been there previously but was confused. (To give myself some credit, the buildings look similar, and on my previous visit, the fog totally obscured the view.)

From the parking lot, we strolled half a mile uphill to the lighthouse. The view above is from partway up the trail. The lighthouse itself looked reasonably cool, although we didn't tour it. For one thing, we had her dog with us, and for another, the tower was closed for lens repair. But the view itself was a sufficient reward.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hiking Coney Mountain (Tupper Lake 1 of 3)

Coney Mountain

With beautiful weather last Sunday, we decided to head up to the top of Coney Mountain. Yes, it's a mountain. Yes, it's uphill most of the way. But it's also only one mile, and that mile isn't particularly steep. And the views from the top are 360 degrees of panoramic goodness.

As you can see, we didn't exactly have it to ourselves. That wasn't unexpected, given the nature of the hike. Still, it was totally worth it.

Click here to see a video of the top!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hiking Haystack (Saranac 6 no. 5)

Haystack Mountain

After our quite Hyde Park hike, and after a night in a horse-racing themed hotel halfway to the Saranac Lake area, we drove up to the Adirondacks to climb the next peak in our Saranac Six quest.

Haystack (not to be confused with the other Haystack, an Adirondack high peak) starts from the same parking area as the main route up MacKenzie, the hardest of the six. We set out not sure what to expect; it was a greyish day, and we weren't sure we'd have any view awaiting us at the top.

The climb is relatively easy from a technical point of view - not a lot of scrambling. The hardest part is crossing the stream below a dam relatively early in the hike. We enjoyed our new poles, however, as they provide a slight assist.

Near the top, there is a small ledge with a view. There we met a couple from New Jersey who were hiking with their Yorkie, who they are aiming to make the smallest Saranac 6er. He (and they) have one peak left. 

From there, it is a short distance to another viewpoint, not technically the top but very close. We were pleasantly surprised that despite the grey day, the view was not totally socked in. We enjoyed the view before heading down to a local brewery for dinner.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Hyde Park Walkabout

Winnakee Nature Preserve

J and I went to the Adirondacks this past weekend and did some fun hiking in the mountains, but we also sandwiched our trip with two easy hikes in the Poughkeepsie area. She had discovered the Hyde Park Walkabout, which rewards you for doing five local hikes with an annual patch.

Both of the hikes we did were about a mile long and mostly flat. On Friday, we went to the Winnakee Nature Preserve (above) for a quick evening hike. On Monday, we ended a rainy day with a hike at Val-Kill, Eleanor's Walk (below). Both of these are loop hikes through the woods - pretty and pleasant.

Eleanor's Walk

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hiking in Basha Kill


On Sunday, the Ramblers took a long bus ride up to Wurtsboro to hike in an area that's generally hard to reach by public transit. After a road walk, we got on the Long Path/Shawangunk Ridge Trail, part of which is an old canal towpath, and which in this area is mostly flat.

We soon reached an area J and I had previously done a birdwatching stroll in, then continued on past wetlands.


Eventually, the trail heads uphill through Gobblers Knob State Forest. After leaving the forest, we proceeded a bit further before taking an old road to the Otisville railroad station.

Let's ride the train

Okay, okay, that's not the actual train station - it's a park in Otisville maybe half a mile before the station.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A flat hike in Harriman

Lake Sebago

"Flat" and "Harriman" aren't usually seen together, but last weekend's Ramblers hike was in fact mostly devoid of hills - aside from a long descent at the end. We started at Sloatsberg, wended our way along the western shore of Lake Sebago, and ended at Tuxedo. Along the way we encountered a nice creek, a second lake, and the Victory Trail, a trail I rather enjoyed for its wide, easy walking.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Visiting the Albany Pine Bush

Albany Pine Bush

After the Catskills, we headed up to Albany - my first time there. Our first stop was the Albany Pine Bush, a preserve for an endangered ecosystem. J hoped to see some fun birds, although our chances weren't good, since we visited in the heat of the afternoon.

We did a 2.6-mile loop hike, mostly flat, at a leisurely, bird-spotting pace. As predicted, we didn't see any new birds. I did get some nice flower photos.

Also, we didn't see the Karner Blue butterfly, one of the original impetuses behind the preserve - it wasn't the right season for them. But it would be fun to visit again at another time of year.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Hiking Panther when it's not winter

Giant Ledge and Panther

I have hiked Panther twice in the past, both of those hikes in winter under snowy conditions. I was curious to see what it was like in another season. Turns out it's great year-round.

It's one of the gentler slopes in the Catskills. (You're still climbing a mountain, of course.) That makes it very popular - or at least the first half of it, to Giant Ledge. Giant Ledge is a flat peak with a cliff on the eastern side, making for many fine views. The NY/NJ Trail Conference map shows three views; another hiker referred to four or five; we counted 11 ledges, plus one view that was not a ledge. The photo above shows one of the views.

Much of the traffic turns around after the Giant Ledge, and the trail heads downhill into a small col before turning up to Panther. The peak of Panther isn't as exciting as Giant Ledge, nor is it as clearly marked. (Last time I was there, the leader said, "I think this is it, not sure.") There is a small view at or near the top.

The leaves were just starting to turn on our hike. I imagine in a few weeks it will be truly spectacular. It is also quite nice in winter, but unlike some Catskills peaks, you don't need winter to have views.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A visit to Sag Harbor

The beach

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hiking from Cortlandt to Scarborough

Oscawana Point

This week's Ramblers hike started at Cortlandt, wound through several parks, and then headed south to Tarrytown. A few of us cut it short at Scarborough, however.

There was much less road walking than I expected (although a fair bit of paved greenway), and the hike was mostly flat, particularly in the second half. Some of the parks we wended our way through were more scenic than I expected, like the short trail to Oscawana Point, shown above.

After having lunch by the Hudson, we more or less headed straight south, eventually joining up with the Old Croton Aqueduct. By the time we exited at Scarborough, we had hiked 16 miles, with supposedly three more to go. They ended up hiking seven more, so I'm glad I cut out!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Inwood Park stroll

I had planned a bigger hike for Sunday but ended up under the weather, so I did a short stroll around Inwood Hill Park.


On the way there, I went through Isham Park and discovered a garden I hadn't seen before - Bruce's Garden. It was quite charming. Below is what I assume is a student art project in the garden.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Prospect Park birding

Prospect Park

We went to Prospect Park to go look for birds. This, of course, is the Audubon Center on the pond.

Prospect Park

Here are some tiny little berries.

Prison duck

This guy is behind bars. Without a really great camera, you can't get good bird photos of smaller or faster birds, but ducks are easy.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Visiting Mt. Utsayantha

Mt. Utsayantha

Mt. Utsayantha is a Catskills peak but under 3500 feet, and the only one you can drive to. It's also a pretty spectacular bit of cultural appropriation. Back in the day, the town of Stamford wanted to get its share of tourists, so it made up a story about an "Indian princess" who killed herself when her lover died in war. They built a fake grave, and an observatory on the mountain where she supposedly died.

The observatory is still there (visible in the photo above), although a newer fire tower has been built, and the signage acknowledges the fakery. The view from the top is quite nice, as you can see.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hiking Table and Peekamoose

Table & Peekamoose

I have only the vaguest recollections of previously hiking Table and Peekamoose. That's because I did them as part of The Six, and by the time we got to Table, we had already done four bushwhacks. I do remember literally kissing the trail, though, because I was excited to be on one.

This time, we did a shuttle hike from the Slide trailhead at Frost Valley Road to the Peekamoose trailhead on Peekamoose Road. At the Curtis-Ormsbee trail we made a slight detour. Well, actually, half our group went up the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide trail and down Curtis-Ormsbee, while half of us turned up the Curtis-Ormsbee just as far as the second viewpoint. Neither viewpoint is particularly grand, although there is some steep climbing to get there.

From there we continued south. At one point we passed the eastern end of the Finger Lakes trail, which extends 580 miles through, you guessed it, the Finger Lakes, all the way to the border with Pennsylvania.

The hike is half over by the time one reaches Table, and from there it's a short jaunt to Peekamoose. Both have views, but neither have views right at the peak. The top photo is the summit of Table, and the bottom photo is the summit of Peekamoose.

On the way back to the car, we supposedly pass Reconnoiter Rock, which caused us the same doubts as Cornell Crack - there are so many rocks, why name this one? In this case, we weren't even sure which rock was Reconnoiter. But it's a long three miles out to the end of the trail - I guess we needed something to keep us on the lookout.

Table & Peekamoose

Friday, July 28, 2017

Revisiting the Burroughs Range

Slide-Cornell-WittenbergAfter warming up on Tremper, we headed out to the Burroughs Range the next day. We followed the same route I had taken previously on this hike, starting from the Slide parking lot at Frost Valley Road and ending at the Woodland Valley parking area. My previous hike had been in the fall, however, so it looked quite different in the green of summer.

This trail is a showcase for Catskills rock formations, with lots of climbing. One of these climbs is named the Cornell Crack, but the rest are unnamed on the map, which we found amusing - Cornell Crack didn't seem to be any more significant than all the other climbs!

The trail first reaches Slide, then Cornell. There are views near both peaks, and again rather typical of Catskills view - you have to peer over trees to see the mountains over yonder, with little view of the valleys in between. But once you climb up to Wittenberg, it's an entirely different story. I think it's probably the best view in the Catskills. That's true even on a humid day, where the haze obscures the farthest details.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hiking Mt. Tremper another way

Mt. Tremper

Both of my previous hikes of Tremper have been out-and-backs from Phoenicia. This time, we hiked it one-way from the town of Willow.

After parking at the post office on Jessup Road, we roadwalked a bit until we reached the Willow trail. (The photo above is from the post office; I think that is Tremper.) The beginning of the actual trail was a bit weedy - it's clear fewer people come this way. Likely that's because this approach is 3.8 mikes instead of 3.05, and there is no parking lot at the trailhead, necessitating said roadwalk, which makes it even longer. The trail itself is not qualitatively different, though.

The Willow trail dead-ends into the Warner Creek trail, and turning left eventually brought us up to the summit of Tremper, where we enjoyed the fire tower. From there, we went down the usual route to Phoenicia.

It's a nice alternative if you have two cars for a shuttle. Otherwise, you could of course do the hike as an out-and-back if you are looking for a change.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Circumnavigating Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt IslandI had never been to Roosevelt Island - in fact, I hadn't been to any of the smaller islands that compromise New York City. Roosevelt Island is the only little island around Manhattan that is actually inhabited*.

You can get there by subway or by tram, and there aren't many cars on the island. Of course I was excited to take the tram, my philosophy on trams being similar to my philosophy on fire towers.** The island is two miles long but probably only a quarter-mile wide. The tram lets you off near the southern end, so I decided to walk around it counterclockwise.

Roosevelt IslandThat meant I started by going through the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park (at left). It is still being built but is not fully accessible, which is a problem because (a) the Roosevelt in question is FDR, the prez with a wheelchair, (b) Roosevelt Island has a significant disabled population and (c) construction began well after the ADA. The park so far is vaguely visually interesting, but as of yet there was no evidence of the four freedoms, just a giant FDR head.

As I started up the east side of the island, I was blocked by construction and had to retrace my steps, so I figured I might as well go clockwise.

Roosevelt IslandAside from a few historic buildings such a lighthouse and smallpox hospital, almost every building on the island dates from the late 70s or later. The look and feel is very 70s/80s. It's not necessarily aesthetically beautiful, but it took me some time to identify what I was feeling as a weird mix of nostalgia and admiration of the architectural consistency. Smartly, they kept the entire waterfront open, so it's possible to walk around the entire island.*** At the northern end is an old lighthouse; alas, it is closed.

Going down the eastern side of the island isn't quite as attractive. That's partially because the hospital and some public services have their backs to that side, so there are a lot of parking lots, that kind of thing. Also, the view of Brooklyn doesn't necessarily show Brooklyn's best side - the Costco looks as ugly as every other Costco. On the other hand, the power generating plant looks pretty good.

Roosevelt IslandEventually, I ran up against a gate at the edge of construction and returned to the tram.

All told it was a little over four miles, completely flat. Only parts of it were shaded, so bring plenty of water in summer, along with a warm jacket for windy days.

* There is a small population on Wards/Randall's Islands, but you can't just move there. There are various shelters and services on Wards Island, so I suspect the population consists of either users or employees of those services.

** "Never pass up an opportunity to climb a fire tower."

*** Excluding, obviously, the temporary blockage of construction.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hiking from Manhattan to Weekhawken

Hamilton Grange

This week's Ramblers hike was an urban hike, starting at 145th St. in Manhattan, and visiting several sites related to Alexander Hamilton. We started off slow, as we stopped frequently. We picked up speed as we headed uptown, going over Highbridge and then Washington Bridge, then over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. We then followed the water south, eventually coming a bit inland for a more direct route, before taking the Weehawken ferry back to Manhattan.

Some of the group went on to walk south to Trinity Church for a total of 20 miles, but we had already done about 15, so I went home at that point.

We had great weather, although it was a little warm because we weren't in the shade very much. Most of the New Jersey portion of the hike was new to me, so it was interesting to see.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fast and slow at the Wertheim Refuge

Carmans River

On our way back to the city, we stopped at the Wertheim Refuge. We didn't have a lot of time, so we decided to do the shorter loop of the White Oak Trail. J was able to check out a pair of binoculars from the office for bird spotting, and off we went.

Although the short loop is 1.5 miles, we found out that didn't include the .5 mile connector trail to get there. The connector trail and the beginning portion of the White Oak Trail are along the Carmans River, so there were several scenic spots from which to bird watch, although we didn't see much of note. There were quite a few paddlers out on the river, although that didn't seem to disturb the swans.

We took the shortcut to make the short loop and headed back on the portion of the trail that is deeper in the woods. Then J's phone rang - it was the Refuge office, telling us our binoculars were due in 15 minutes. We started walking very briskly, as we figured we were a ways out.

Finally, I offered to run jog to return them. I made it back on the dot of 4, with J only three minutes behind me. I don't run if I can help it so my pace, although steady, is slow. Nevertheless it's faster than we were walking.

It would be best to do this hike when one has enough time (or one's own binoculars), and if you're interested in birds, likely at a different time of day. It was an attractive woods-and-water hike, completely flat of course. If your goal isn't birding but more of a workout, I'd suggest both the White Oak and Black Tupelo Trails, for a little over 6 miles.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Birding at the Morton Refuge Nature Trail

Last September, J and I hiked to Jessup's Neck at the Morton Wildlife Refuge. When we went back this weekend, the beach was closed so piping plovers could nest. We did just the 1.2-mile nature loop, which leads to the beach but not down it.

J has been coming here her whole life and knows where to look for birds. We fed chickadees briefly, including one chick young enough to still have a few tufty baby feathers. We also saw a swan family, pictured above, plenty of frogs, and several ospreys and egrets.

It's an easy walk, but if you stop and take in all the sights, it ends up taking quite a while. Nevertheless, some people just rush past it as a cheap way to get to the beach.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Camping at North-South Lake

North-South Lake

I've camped at North-South Lake many times now, but on this past visit we had the best campsite yet. The above photo was taken where our site met the water. Plus, this same view was visible from the site itself - a few sites have short paths to the water but the view is blocked by trees.

10/10, would do again.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Birdwatching in Bashakill


We decided to explore a new area on our way back to the big city, and J wanted to get some birding in, so we stopped in the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area to try to find the eagles. She wasn't sure where they had seen them before, seeing as her notes were at home, so we took a shot in the dark. We didn't find that area, but we did find visit a nice viewing platform.

After turning on Haven Road, we parked at the side of the road where the Shawangunk Ridge Trail/Long Trail run through on an old rail bed. The trail then parallels Basha Kill Lake for a mile, before a side trail leads to the platform. The view from the platform is shown in the photo above. From the platform, we mostly saw catbirds and red-winged blackbirds, so nothing exotic, but it was pretty. Other birds were around - there were swallows where Haven Road crossed the lake, for example.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Chill hike along the Kaaterskill Rail-Trail

Kaaterskill Rail TrailThe day after summiting SW Hunter, we thought it best to take it easy and do a nice recovery hike. Since the 1.5-mile Kaaterskill Rail-Trail was very close to our campground, we decided to stroll it.

We parked at the eastern end and walked to the other end, where the historical society is located. The entire trail looked very much like the photo at left. Occasional vernal pools or small embankments on either side mixed things up a bit.

Once we returned to the parking lot (which, unlike far too many Catskills parking lots, actually had port-a-potties!), we decided to also head up the .3-mile trail to the viewing platform above Kaaterskill Falls. You can't actually reach it from the main falls trail. Last time we were there, we actually saw construction on this area. I don't know if some day they will connect.

The view from the falls is nice, although popular, given its proximity to the parking lot. The platform itself is sturdy. (Seriously, people, you all have no more excuses for randomly wandering off trail and falling to your death! Stay on the paths.)

Kaaterskills Falls overlook

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Quick trip to Ashley Falls

Ashley Falls

At .2 miles round-trip, the walk to Ashley Falls is about as short as a hike can get. Still, you get to see a waterfall, so it counts, right?

The falls (above) are a little hard to photograph, because there is a large rock slab at the base that dominates any photo. Still, they're pretty.

On this trip, we had the added bonus of a duck couple hanging out in the stream along the trail.

Duck fam