I usually begin planning my next hike a few days prior to my next designated hike day. My initial plan for December 5th was to get a very early start and take trip out to the Catskills to hike North Point, North Mountain Ledge, and Stoppel Point. I was intrigued after finding out about plane wrecks from crashes that occurred in the 70's and 80's which are accessible from the trail. The 3,400 foot elevation also piqued my interest. However, as weather reports started to predict rain and clouds, I decided to save the Catskills for a clearer day to properly enjoy the views and to more safely reach the crash sites.
Instead of traveling over 2 hours away, I decided to travel a little over an hour away to the Delaware Water Gap area to hike the Appalachian Trail near Raccoon Ridge. I always enjoy spending time on the A.T. and this particular hike promised some interesting terrain and views. Despite the weather looking like it would be a hindrance, the hike also seemed like it would be a nice workout whether it rained or not, so I packed a poncho and set out at about 5:30AM.
Admittedly, I am a creature of habit and enjoy a good routine. For the past few months, I have made my pre-hike breakfast at a local diner as much of a goal as the hike itself. Originally, I would skip breakfast and munch on nuts and granola bars once I was already on the trail. However, one morning I decided to find a local diner before heading out on a trail. I enjoyed this so much that I have made it a point to find a new diner near each trailhead I travel to for a generous breakfast before hitting the trails.
I arrived at Blairstown Diner at about 6:45AM and took a seat near the door. It is a small, old-fashioned place with gritty decor. I ordered myself pancakes, 1 egg over-easy, and crispy bacon. The place was relatively busy for early on a Tuesday morning with what were evidently the "regulars", but the service was friendly and efficient. Furthermore, the food was delicious. On my way out the door, I read an old newspaper article that was hung near the register; the diner was a location for scenes from the original Friday the 13th film.
The trailhead was less than 10 minutes from the diner. I made a few turns before slowly making my way up a narrow gravel road leading to the Mohican Outdoor Center. The center was closed for the season and I could see the cabins through the leafless trees, eerily devoid of human activity, still in the quiet of this early December morning.
The forest was more serene than I have ever experienced. There were no birds chirping, leaves rustling, or distant traffic sounds. It was simply silent. This silence, along with the rolling fog and white sky, created an eerie atmosphere which I welcomed as a unique characteristic of this day's hike. I had a pretty good streak of beautiful weather each and every time I planned a hike so I knew I would eventually face less than ideal circumstances.
The trailhead was down the road a bit from where I parked the car; a large sign welcomes hikers onto the Appalachian Trail. After crossing a small bridge over a stream, the trail immediately became extremely rocky and the white blazes led me upward.
It didn't take long for it to become apparent that the views from this trail, on a clear day, would be plentiful. However, due to the state of the weather, I suffered low visibility and could only see a few miles or so into the distance. Nevertheless, the partial views of the reservoirs below were attractive.
There were still enough leaves on the trees to make the forest feel dense in some areas and the Appalachian Trail is very well-marked. I took some time here to snap some photos and do my breathing exercises. I was finding the absolute stillness and quiet of this day very beneficial. The rain I was expecting only materialized into a few drops, no more than a drizzle.
When I eventually emerged from the forest onto a long ridge, the view to my left opened up wide but was still mostly obscured by the clouds and fog. It was at about this time that the wind picked-up and a thick mist resembling smoke began to inundate the mountaintop. To my right, scattered, leafless trees that decorate the landscape pierced the fog like ghostly apparitions. The eeriness was gorgeous. I put on a poncho for a short period once the rain drops became larger, but I was able to remove it shortly thereafter when it completely stopped raining altogether.
From here the trail begins a winding descent before meeting up with the Keiser Trail which would lead me to the Coppermine Trail and eventually back to my car at the Mohican Outdoor Center. The Keiser Trail is only about 40 or 50 feet below the Appalachian Trail but this elevation change spared the blue-blazed trail from much of the fog I had experienced earlier.
The Delaware RIver was visible through the trees to my left as I made my way along this relatively smooth, descending trail. The colors of the forest were clearer now and ranged from bright green to dark burgundy as if Mother Nature wasn't sure what she should wear. After a couple of miles, I bushwhacked down a little closer to the Delaware River before picking up the red-blazed Coppermine Trail.
The Coppermine Trail marked another vast change in terrain as it hugged the side of a cliff above a series of waterfalls which I was able to hear before I ever saw them. The trail was covered in pebbles and eventually led me by the entrance of the copper mine which is now closed off with a heavy metal grate.
It is amazing to imagine that men once worked up here on the side of this mountain and would enter the Earth like moles in search of resources. In the same thought I can both pity them for working in what were likely very rough, unforgiving conditions and envy them for being able to witness this beautiful scene so often.
After crossing another footbridge over the path of the many small waterfalls below, I came to the most difficult portion of the hike. The next mile or so was an ascent up the side of the mountain on a very narrow, gravel trail that was often obstructed by trees, roots, and large rocks.
The trail eventually levels off and winds through the moderately rocky forest and back to the original bridge I had crossed at the trailhead. As I approached the bed of small boulders that led to the bridge, a pickup truck drove by about 75 yards away on the road marking the first sign of life I would see over the course of the entire hike, aside from a plane that passed overhead somewhere while I was deep in the middle the woods.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this hike. I found the trails to be challenging enough to reach my preferred level of physical exertion, as well as providing some flat areas for rest. The distance I traveled, a little over 6 miles, was perfect. Despite the obstructive weather, I enjoyed the portions of the views I could see and the forest itself is rich and visually fulfilling. This will certainly be a hike I revisit on a clearer day to enjoy the rest of the views that I was unable to properly appreciate. It wasn't quite the Catskills, but it definitely did the trick on a less than perfect day.