After a few days of mulling over where I would go this week, I eventually chose a relatively overlooked trail in Norvin Green State Park. I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I had read some reviews describing this trail as overgrown and poorly blazed. However, while reviewing my map, I was intrigued by the handful of vistas and respectable elevation gain. The Manaticut Point Trail, named for the Native American word meaning "a place of observation", could go either way.
The trip to the trail took me up Skyline Drive in Ringwood, NJ. I've probably taken this road over 100 times on the way to a friend's house on Erskine Lake. From the time we were in grammar school, groups of us would spend weekends fishing, barbecuing, and swimming. For Independence Day, we would shoot fireworks off of the dock that hovered atop the water just off the banks. Now, I find myself winding up the steep slope on a cold January morning, ready for a hike.
I passed all the familiar landmarks along the way before arriving at the Lakeside Diner. Surprisingly, for all the times I had passed this establishment, this was the first time I ever went inside. The restaurant was completely empty except for one much older gentleman and I - the place was painstakingly quiet. I wasted no time devouring a Belgian waffle with some bacon and sausage before heading out. My GPS told me I only had a 10-minute trip to my destination.
The trailhead was located off the side of a wide, secluded road. Further ahead on this same road, there were a few of the largest, most impressive homes I have ever seen. Although they seemed slightly out of place, I feel like I'd greatly enjoy living in a mansion minutes away from some great hiking. I was feeling very alive as I stood at the trailhead located to the left of a huge glacial erratic. The sky above was a very deep blue and almost entirely clear aside from some wayward transient clouds and chemtrails from passing planes crossing above.
Immediately, as I stepped into the trees, I felt a wave of optimism come me over me. I was happy to find a well-marked trail ahead, split in many directions by an array of small tributaries, large rock formations, and leafless beech and hickory trees. I took a moment to breathe in some fresh air as a cool breeze lilted some of the few remaining leaves clinging to the branches.
Prior to arriving, I had already determined that I would try to slow it down for this hike and truly take time to appreciate the forest, as opposed to focusing on speed and strenuousness. So, I meandered along this initial spur, stopping regularly to turn around and examine the landscape. There were a number of very interesting rock formations in each direction, some with water breaking through or around them.
For the second consecutive week, the air smelled of fresh spring, yet flaunted a winter chill. The Manaticut Trail proper began to climb, hugging the edge of immense stone walls. Green moss competed with intermittent white ice sheets to color the ground and protruding rocks along the trail. I have always enjoyed a rocky trail and this definitely turned out to be one of the rockiest I have traversed.
Following yellow blazes, I eventually came over a ridge and spotted Lake Sonoma through the trees to my right. The lake was covered by a sheet of splintered ice which would groan loudly from time to time as I passed. I was able to climb down off of the trail just a few feet to a clear vantage point near the inlet. Recently, I purchased a new Kodak PIXPRO camera, a significant upgrade from the basic (but worthy) Samsung camera that I have been using.
The lake offered an excellent opportunity to debut my new toy. All three of the pictures below were taken from the same spot. This is impressive as I can now zoom clear across the lake and maintain vivid details in my photography. I am really excited about how much I will be able to do with this camera in the future.
The trail continues around the lake for some time before splitting off to the left and deeper into the forest. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful in the woods on this day and I actually managed to maintain a deliberately slower pace as I carried along into a small, wooded valley, crossed by a muddy woods road. The trail would follow the dirt road for a few hundred yards before going directly up the mountain to the left.
As I stood still for a moment, staring up at the expansive gleaming sky being cut by two planes' condensation trails, a sudden commotion shook the thick patch of beech trees up ahead. Four deer abruptly appeared in between the thin trunks and made a mad dash in the opposite direction away from me, kicking up leaves and dirt as they made their hasty getaway. Unfortunately, I did not have time to reach for my camera and snap any shots before they disappeared further into the expanse.
I spent another moment staring at the patch of woods, hoping that the creatures would return for a photo shoot, but they were long gone. My attention then turned to the mountain to my left and my impending arrival at Overlook Rock. The path became more wonderfully difficult now as I worked my way up the incline. When I arrived at the top, I walked a short distance before I spotted a large rock ledge at the edge of the cliff.
The view was not yet apparent, but I knew that all I had to do was step onto the large stone ahead. I removed my pack and leaned my trekking poles against a tree on the trail and pulled myself onto the aptly-named Overlook Rock. The vista was long and wide, a large rock face sloping back downward into the forest.
Lake Sonoma was visible below and rolling hills and mountain ranges lay ahead. The sun was hanging prominently in the sky the entire day and appeared larger and brighter than I had ever seen before. Although the strong wind was blistering, the rays from the sun made this spot incredibly agreeable, so I decided to take a moment to take some more pictures, eat a snack, and drink some coffee.
Dunkin Donuts is always my first stop when I leave the house whether I am going to work or going on a hike. I usually only drink coffee prior to my hike. However, a friend of mine had given me a Fifty/Fifty brand, vacuum-insulated thermos for Christmas and I had not yet used it. When I went to Dunkin Donuts earlier in the morning, I ordered two coffees - one I drank on the drive and one went straight into the thermos. As I sat, staring into the distance, I opened the thermos and found the coffee inside still piping hot. Despite the temperatures being low and having purchased the coffee hours ago, I was able to blissfully enjoy a hot beverage as I absorbed the view.
Over the course of the previous few days, I had been attempting to teach myself the proper use of an orienteering compass. Although I am proficient in the use of a lensatic compass, this type of device is not quite sufficient for navigating between points on a map. The steps to use the orienteering compass are not difficult, but in an apartment it is difficult to assess your proficiency. I am happy to report that my initial test went well and, after some more practice, I should be able to start taking excursions off the trail for some further exploration.
A few moments later, feeling refreshed and satisfied, I gathered my things and began to follow the white blazed Overlook Rock Trail. The portion of the trail starts as a brief,
gentle decline before climbing to the highest elevation on the loop. Green hemlocks appeared sporadically, shattering the otherwise brown and beige design of the forest. At
some angles, the sun would project a ladder of long shadows across the carpet of dead leaves.
My pace had unconsciously picked up as I moved along and I began to break a good sweat. The elevation gain and many rock scrambles were providing me with the physical exertion I usually strive for. The temperature had improved slightly, but the wind continued to pummel my face and made massive trees creak and wail as they swayed. Nevertheless, white blazes continued uphill to connect with a blue blazed trail on the NNW boundary of the loop.
As I neared the ridge, power lines came into view, running across huge metallic structures on a continuous plot of cleared land that stretched for miles in either direction. I am generally dismayed by any type of man made structure appearing on my hikes. However, in this instance, I had to take a moment to appreciate the work that went into installing this system so high up in the mountains.
Sure, if it were up to me, there would be no deforestation. But, when something as valuable and absolutely necessary as electricity can be harnessed and delivered into an area as difficult to navigate as the forest, this is a feat I can celebrate for the ingenuity of mankind instead of being greatly disappointed by it.
I had hiked underneath power lines like these before during my daunting hike of the Stonetown Circular in August. Unlike on this hike, with the comfortable temperatures and somewhat leisurely pace, that day back in the summer was nearly 100 degrees and, due to a number of mishaps, I arrived at the power lines struggling to stay upright and likely severely dehydrated, as I trudged onward.
Now, the power lines crackled and hissed as I crossed below. Eventually, I arrived at yet another amazing overlook that faced east. Despite the clear blue skies above me, there was a slight haze in the distance which obstructed my view a bit. However, the NYC skyline was still visible beyond the hills.
Back on the trail, the forest became thicker and as I moved further and further from the power lines, things again felt remote and secluded. It is at times like this, well into a hike and deep in nature, that I truly feel most confident in my ability and can layout long-term plans in my head without much else seeping in to distract me. I buoyantly ascended West Brook Mountain where I took in a panorama of the forest floor below. The tops of surrounding mountain ranges barely appeared just above the trees.
There was still one more scenic view on the trail, the trail's namesake, Manaticut Point. I continued following the blue and white blazes before the markings changed to blue and yellow. This section of trail is mostly flat and only variably rocky, so I slowed my pace once again. When I finally arrived at Manaticut Point, the sun appeared to have grown even larger than it was earlier!
The initial view from the point stretches out ahead, overlooking a few large, impressive homes and a road snaking through the mountain to the left. The green bush that calls the rock home contrasted beautifully with the vast leafless trees beyond.
I removed my binoculars from the pouch on my belt and scanned the forest below hoping to spot some wildlife, but had no luck. A few feet away, the trail opens up to the main attraction.
The mountain and trail slope downward at a very steep angle, but the spot is above treeline which makes for any amazing panoramic overlook. Surrounded by hills and mountaintops decorated with sinewy trees, the NYC skyline reappeared in the distance, clearer now. Tucked away in the woods, a large stone quarry, completely hidden at street level, buzzed with activity below. A few planes and a helicopter were scattered throughout the sky, causing me to strain my neck to try to find the source of the noises coming from above.
I again removed my pack and leaned my trekking poles against a nearby rock. Gazing to the horizon, I sat down on the angular slab and began to think as my brain sparked. I suddenly felt very contemplative as I sat on the side of the mountain. As I have said, over and over, brain stimulation is very important. Sometimes, when I try to brainstorm or write at home, I run into a mental block that I know is caused by the familiarity of my surroundings. Now, looking out at an angle of the world that is entirely new to my brain, my mind started working its way through a wide array of topics.
I thought about the progress I have made since a few months ago, a year ago, and even a few years ago. I spent about 20-minutes, taking some sun and lightly meditating, enjoying the payoff for the 7-miles that I had just hiked. With ProactiveAHW.com now officially launched, I feel even more motivated to embrace where I have been and where I hope to be. It's at times like this that life is so clearly full of potential.
It was about 20 minutes later when I found myself, with a natural smile stretched across my face, bouncing along on the spur trail that I had entered the forest on a few hours prior. The Manaticut Trail was definitely a dark horse; I enjoyed this hike far more than I would have ever expected. The claims that this trail was overgrown and/or poorly-blazed turned out to be completely wrong and I found quite the opposite. I will go as far as calling this one of my favorite hikes thus far and I feel like this might be a perfect trail to take first-time hikers on to give them a little. I will likely attempt to hike this trail once every season this year.