Some of my most memorable, satisyfing moments on the trails are when I start to feel exhausted, when I start to feel the muscles ache, and when I know I'm pushing myself to my limits.
Recently, Christian and I hiked Stonetown Circular to Horse Pond Mountain - making for about a 12-mile loop. It was an arduous hike and I knew it would be. The last time I hiked Stonetown Circular, I had a bit of a rough time.
Although this recent hike went right to plan, its difficulty was apparent in the sheer distance and reinforced by the number of elevation gains and losses throughout. This hike requires perseverance and, to me, that is the best kind of hike.
Last summer, I hiked Stonetown Circular for the first time...
"Are you doing the loop?" the old man asked. He held a leash in his hand while 2 dogs excitedly scurried and sniffed through the surrounding brush. His appearance here in the middle of the forest, some number of miles into the Stonetown Circular loop, was thanks to a smaller auxiliary path that shot off of the main trail.
"Yep," I proudly answered, "the whole loop." I took advantage of his question to sneak in a very short break. I pulled my last bottle of water out of my pack and took a sip.
"Very nice," he said as he turned to check on his dogs, now a few yards further behind him, "you're almost done!"
I brought the water bottle down from my lips and stared at him for a moment, perplexed. Although I was exhausted and felt as though I had been hiking for many miles on the nearly 100 degree day, my phone lost service shortly after I arrived and I failed to bring a map!
My bearings were not only lost, but I left them at home. With no actual navigation taking place, my plan had been to steadily follow the white blazes until I arrived back at my car.
This stranger's casual proclamation was enough to convince my thirsty, hungry, and overheated mind that I had actually already hiked nearly 9 miles and that I would soon emerge from the trees to the comfort of my car and a full case of water. I thanked the man for the information and happily polished off the remainder of my water. For good measure, I reached into the small pocket on my pack, pulled out my last granola bar, and finished it off as well.
"Just over this hill and it's straight back to the car!" I told myself as I secured the straps of my bag across my chest. I wiped my face with my shirt sleeve, already completely soaked in my own sweat, and moved toward the rock scramble ahead with renewed vigor. I began to envision myself meeting back up with the trail that initially led me into the forest hours prior and walking toward my car from the opposite angle.
As I pulled each heavy foot further up the incline, my head rising above the hill's horizon, the imagined trail junction didn't materialize. Instead, more trees, no cars, more mountains, and no cases of water. I can't blame the old man for the feelings I began to feel at just about this moment. It was I who didn't fully charge my phone, bring a map, pack enough water, or properly condition for such a daunting hike.
There were countless elevation gains and losses and the temperature steadily rose as the midday sun proudly took its position directly above me. Water consumed my every thought as I stumbled along the trail, ignoring much of the lush surrounding forest and instead staunchly focusing on the white blazes racing by me.
I wouldn't necessarily call this a dire situation, but it was by no means good. I had seen a very large bear lumbering through the trees when I arrived, I was out of both food and drink, and I wasn't sure just how much further I had to go. To make matters worse, as I began to sense that I was reaching the end, I suddenly stopped seeing those blazes. I turned to retrace my steps and was reminded that I had just descended a very steep hill; I simply didn't have the energy to go back up to find the trail - especially if there was any chance that they were too far back.
It turns out, I hiked for another 3 hours and about 6 more miles after the old man told me I was almost done. I wound up having to bushwhack a bit, rock hop over a wide tributary, walk through somebody's spacious yard, and then follow the road for over another mile before I was thankfully drinking a warm bottle of water in my driver's seat.
Hiking is a great lesson in perseverance. Once you've gone a certain distance, you really don't have any choice but the persevere and finish - one way or another. As much as you may want to stop and give up, it will do you no good; you'll eventually have to pick yourself back up and move on. This hike of Stonetown Circular was a perfect example of carrying on in the face of adversity.
I can only blame myself for number of follies I performed before and during this hike, but these were the mistakes of a novice and taught me great number of lessons as I moved forward. Nevertheless, despite proper preparation, sheer perseverance is sometimes necessary either when things don't quite go as planned or when you intentionally set out for a more demanding trek.
Stokes State Forest
I booked a spot at the Shotwell Camp Site in Stokes State Forest with the intention of spending the daylight hours hiking. My goal was to set out early and return to my tent by the time the sun was setting; it was November, so I knew I had until about 5:30 PM to get back to camp. Yes, these were arbitrary, self-imposed goals, but goals nonetheless.
The day was gorgeous, bright blue skies and crisp autumn air. The leaves had turned and the fall foliage was in full effect. I didn't necessarily have a destination in mind, but after twisting leisurely along the trails on the map, I settled on traveling in the direction of Sunrise Mountain.
I had originally traveled to Sunrise Mountain in early September. At that time, the forest was lush and full and felt far different than it did now with a good amount of leaves on the ground as opposed to the trees.
In fact, I entirely missed the pavilion during my last visit as the route was not clearly apparent. This time, there was no obstruction and I enjoyed the early afternoon hours basking atop the mountain, enjoying the sweeping panoramic view. Eventually, another hiker climbed the pavilion and offered me a ride back down the junction of Sunrise Road.
I hiked along the road for quite a while before cutting back into the forest for my return to the camp site. As I arrived back at Shotwell Campsite and walked toward my tent, the sun was setting over my shoulder. This route turned out to be nearly 14 miles, with very little break time, and a self-imposed time limit. Without any hindrance, this trip required perseverance to resist the desire to rest while the sun was high in the sky. Too many breaks and moving too slowly may have caused me to fail in my own commitment to reaching the campsite by sunset and would have made for a more harrowing hike back home.
Butter Hill & Black Rock Forest
Forgetting a map shouldn't be the end of the world in 2018. Just about everybody has a phone with the ability to pull up whatever information they may need. However, when one forgets a map and doesn't have their phone completely charged in nearly sub-zero temperatures, then their sense of direction may become a bit skewed.
As it happened, I visited Butter Hill with the intention of hiking to the summit of Storm King Mountain. It was early January and our region was suffering from a cold spell. Temperatures had been below 20 degrees for nearly an entire week, with no end in sight. There had been a good snow fall and the mountain was covered by nearly a foot of fresh snow.
I realized I forgot my map when I parked in the lot as my third eye immediately pictured the map sitting atop my dresser in my darkened bedroom at home. Fine, I thought, I would use the Alltrails app to navigate.
Unfortunately, as I moved slowly along the side of the hill, the half-charged battery began to rapidly deplete. All of a sudden, I found myself attempting to memorize my next few moves before the phone completely died. To make matters worse, the external battery charger I carry completely malfunctioned and failed to turn my phone back on.
I was on my own and, on my own, made a wrong turn into Black Rock Forest. I traveled a good distance before I began to realize I was not on my way to the summit of Storm King. I was trudging through knee-deep snow and traveling up and down many slopes.
Once it was apparent that turning back would be more of a challenge than moving ahead, I came to a junction of the trail and a fire road so I decided to let it take me wherever it would take me. I had intended on doing a short hike that day and it turned into almost 6 miles in harsh conditions.
I eventually emerged from the forest and onto the side of 9W. Although I had hiked far into the woods, I wound up amazingly close to my vehicle, which a police officer thankfully directed me to. I can admit that, on this occasion, I was as close to lost as I have ever been. Although I knew I was always close to the road, there were many times where it was hard to follow the trail with blazes covered by the snow and with the conditions making it difficult to turn back.
This is another situation where the sunset would have made for a somewhat dangerous situation and by just continuing to move, deciding to follow a fire road without knowing where it would spit me out, I was able to make it to the end safely with just enough time. Another lesson learned - never forget your map if you can help it, despite your familiarity with a trail.
This was another hike where the snow made it difficult to navigate. I started off this morning by parking my car at Old Albany Post Road. I entered the forest onto an fire road that had not been plowed after a heavy snow storm. Next, I had to bushwhack a bit onto the Wilkinson Memorial Trail. It was icy and difficult to move at a decent pace.
After hiking for a little over a mile, I came to a point where I could see no blazes and no apparent trail due to all the snow. I spent nearly 45 minutes, searching for the route and couldn't come up with anything. The only clear path was back down the way I came.
I had already exerted enough energy to be determined not to leave without a picture of a killer view. I had all of my equipment and everything was charged up. I pulled out my map and examined my route. Without wanting to waste anymore time, I traced the map with my finger before stopping at an alternative parking area off of Mountain Lane on Pocket Road.
After a difficult trek back to the car, in less than 30 minutes, I was parking on the site of a small road, right on top of a pile of snow, and began hiking the Fishkill Ridge Trail towards Dry Brook Falls. The falls were frozen over, an amazing sight in this winter landscape.
With the toe and hand warmers starting to wear off, my appendages were starting to go numb as I trudged further and further into the snow. Eventually, I found myself climbing vertically, quite precariously, up the side of Fishkill Ridge before arriving at the Overlook Trail for some great views of Fishkill and Beacon Mountain.
I took some time to think, as I knelt in the snow on the side of the mountain, that I could have easily went back home earlier when I couldn't find the route. If I had, I would have totally missed the opportunity to lay my eyes on the frosty view I was enjoying. I felt extreme satisfaction when I passed Dry Brook Falls on the way back and safely made it back to my car.
Bald Mountain to Doodletown
Snow wasn't the antagonist of the story on Bald Mountain, in fact, the snow was a saving grace on this day where the ice had completely taken over. Within a few seconds of stepping onto the trail, I began to slide over the transparent, all-encompassing ice sheet that covered every surface underneath my feet.
It was slow, slow going through the forest on this day. The safe areas to step were scant and I had to stop to consider each and every step. However, it is in my nature to complete a loop when a loop is ahead of me, and so I was determined to carry on ahead until I eventually made it back to my car.
Part of loop included climbing over Bald Mountain. Not only was the mountain in my way, therefore requiring a climb, but the views from up there were amazing.
From the foot of the mountain, it was immediately clear that this would be a challenge. If not for the leaves on the ground allowing me to gain a small modicum of footing, I would certainly have not made it up even a portion. The switchbacks were impassable as large ice flows traveled across the path and down the side of the mountain. I was off the trail for most of the way.
With the view of the Hudson River and Bear Mountain Bridge rising above the horizon behind the trees in the distance, I could see a flat area just yards ahead. I was using trekking poles, which turned out to be a major help. Near the top of the incline, I suddenly slipped on the ice and grabbed a tree root to save myself from sliding down the mountain. It was a fortunately placed root and I was happy to finally pull myself to my feet a few feet ahead of a flat, yet still very slippery surface.
This brush with disaster, and my subsequent survival, made my time at the summit all the more satisfying. I felt great by the time I found myself leisurely gliding through Doodletown, still very slowly over the ice, on the way back to my car.
Camp Smith Trail & Anthony's Nose
I have been fortunate to have not found myself injured on the majority of my hikes. In fact, my hike to Anthony's Nose and along the Camp Smith Trail is one of the only times I can remember having to completely stop hiking for a period of time due to pain.
My ankle rolled early on after relaxing at the vista over the Bear Mountain Bridge. Nevertheless, I carried on. I figured I would walk off the gentle throbbing pain that was slowly working its way up my shin.
By the time I found myself near the very end of the Camp Smith Trail, I could barely put any weight on my foot and I was having a difficult time climbing some of the ledges that I had climbed down earlier. This descent clearly placed increased pressure on my already injured ankle.
There isn't really any other way to get back to the car except for pushing on. So, I dug through my pack and found a backup pair of socks. I tied one suck under my heel and the other around my ankle, forming a makeshift brace, and jammed my foot back into my boot. It was actually quite comfortable and made the rest of the hike quite bearable where it may have otherwise been intolerable.
With the pain temporarily handled, on the way back I took time to return to the vista to enjoy the view for bit longer before returning to the car. I had enough tenacity to climb back up the trail in a less-than-ideal state that I owed that time to myself.