Monthly Archives: July 2014

Day 97 – Clarence Fahnestock SP to Nuclear Lake (mile 1439)

We had another day of pretty good hiking weather. The temperature stayed relatively cool until mid afternoon and even then it wasn’t too bad. We left the state park in the morning and had a view of the lake on the way out.

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Canopus Lake in Clarence Fahnestock SP

We then had a small climb up to Shenandoah Mountain (there sure are a lot of things named Shenandoah).

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Shenandoah Mountain, NY

We then chatted with some other thru-hikers at the RPH Shelter. The growing sentiment seems to be that most of us are excited to get further north and back to the bigger and more scenic mountains. All in good time though, it will be here before you know it.

We popped into a pizzeria a half mile off the trail for lunch. They were a little unfriendly towards us hikers in that the dude told me he’d bring the pizza outside to us, which we took as a hint that we shouldn’t sit inside (not really a major problem, it was like 100 degrees in the place). Maybe he wasn’t being a dick, but it came across that way a little. Oh well, it happens. The food was still good.

Most of the hiking was similar to yesterday – nice, but not overly scenic. We stopped and made camp within sight of Nuclear Lake. Yea, this is a real thing. Apparently some company did contract nuclear experiments for the government from the 50’s to the late 70’s. I guess they got some plutonium powder in the lake during an accident. Oops! Tastes fine to me… It’s actually really a nice little peaceful place. I haven’t taken a nice pic yet, but it looks similar to the lake pic up above.

Vital stats for Monday, July 21st :
Miles hiked today – 19.1
Mood – radioactive
Physical state – good, except for the 3rd eye now growing on my ear
Smell – pure uranium
Song stuck in my head – Love Story by Taylor Swift (ugh)

Day 96 – Fort Montgomery, NY to Clarence Fahnestock State Park (mile 1419.9)

We got a ride back to the trail outside the Bear Mountain zoo area again from the owner of the motel around 8:45am. It was nice to get some iced coffee, bagels, and donuts in town first though.
After the zoo, the trail crosses the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge.

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Hudson River from the Bear Mountain Bridge

Roughly 5 miles into the day, the trail goes right past this gem.

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So much good food

We hung out with some other thru-hikers at the picnic tables and rocked some Italian Ice. This place had loads of food and it was a shame we only had done 5 miles out of town when we hit it. If we had hit that after a few days out of town, we’d still be there eating pizza, sandwiches, ice cream, pasta… Well, you get the picture.

Most of the hiking was pretty uneventful. The difficulty level was average, with some short and steep elevation changes, which seems pretty typical for New York.

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Typical scenery in New York

We ended up in the state park around evening. I promptly got stung by a bee that was hanging out in some brush by the trail, so that was annoying.

We are supposed to camp here in some designated campground down by the lake, but we decided due to tiredness to just stealth camp in the woods off the trail behind a big rock formation. We had earlier plans of going down and using the campground showers and such, but that may not happen either due to tiredness. Also, one day of stank out of town isn’t too bad (I think).

Tomorrow we continue trekking through NY. I expect a fairly similar day, with some food near road crossings and probably pretty much the same terrain and sights. It is the AT though, so you never know.

Vital stats for Sunday, July 20th :
Milestone – 1400 miles down
Miles hiked today – 20.2
Mood – New York state of mind
Physical state – tired, but good
Smell – I took a theoretical shower, so, umm, still bad
Song stuck in my head – All of Life Is Peachy by Korn. There aren’t many metal bands from the 90’s that my 34 year old self will still admit to listening to (I finally threw away all my Limp Bizkit albums, weee!), but this album is still awesome IMO.

Day 95 – mile 1388 to Fort Montgomery, NY

We got up pretty early because we were motivated to get to town to do laundry, take showers, and relax in town after 5 full days of hiking. We hiked out of Harriman and towards Bear Mountain State Park. We first had to climb Black Mountain, which had some nice views of the Hudson and a very cool but very faint view of the NYC skyline.

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Hudson River Valley

We then descended and had to play frogger to cross the Palisades Parkway (road crossings are easily the most dangerous thing I’ve seen on the AT so far). We tried to remember the details of the Seinfeld Frogger episode, but didn’t have a Swatsky handy unfortunately.

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Palisades Parkway

Then we climbed West Mountain, which was the hardest and steepest climb we had since sometime in central Virginia. That descended down and then we had our last climb of the day, up to Bear Mountain. It was like entering a different world, probably because it was a Saturday. Tourists and day hikers were everywhere. The terrain was well graded and pretty easy hiking. I’d imagine they were wondering wtf was up with the smelly backpackers. One nice older lady asked if we were thru-hikers and then gave us some fresh apples when we confirmed we are. She said her friend told her thru-hikers crave fresh fruit (true, along with fresh hot dogs) so she brought 3 apples along on her hike, which was super sweet of her.

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Bear Mountain view

This descended down to Hessian Lake, which was teeming with people. It was quite a shock from the relative peace and quiet in the woods. This is probably the weirdest section of the trail we’ve seen. After going past the lake jammed full of people rocking boom boxes and picnicking, it went through the Bear Mountain zoo. We saw two bears, bringing the total count we’ve seen to 11. I’m not sure if these two really count though.

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Zoo bears

I felt kinda bad for these guys considering how many we’ve seen out in the wild. At least they aren’t in danger of being shot by angry farmers in Virginia. Another interesting side note is that this is the lowest elevation on the trail at 124 feet.

We then went to the southwest side of the Bear Mountain Bridge and got a lift into Fort Montgomery from the owner of the Bear Mountain Bridge Motel. This motel is small, but nice and clean. It’s about 3 miles south of West Point. We got some good town food and relaxed for the afternoon. It’s been a nice nearo. It was tempting to stay for a full zero, but I think we will push on tomorrow while the weather is nice.

Vital stats for Saturday, July 19th :
Miles hiked today – 11.7
Mood – chill
Physical state – good
Smell – I think the tourists finally stopped staring and screaming finally
Song stuck in my head – Over & Over by Smallpools

Day 94 – near Wildcat Shelter to mile 1388

Last night we heard a coyote for the first time. Early in the night, it sounded like it annihilated some other animal for dinner. It was crazy sounding. Then late in the night, it started yipping and howling. It was pretty eerie and cool.

Today was another fantastic day of weather for hiking. I decided to take videos of a lot of today to later make a “day in the life of a thru-hiker” video compilation that shows all the routine stuff we do throughout the day that is unique to thru-hikers. I think it’ll be cool, but I won’t get to post it until we’re done. It was good day to do this because it was action packed.

We started the morning with a hike by Fitzgerald Falls.

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Fitzgerald Falls. The water was mostly not orangey yellow like the rest of the water in Jersey and New York

Then we climbed Buchanan and Arden Mountain, which were both very steep and full of rock scrambles. There are numerous swamps and bogs in the gaps between these mountains, too. The terrain is most definitely getting harder again. On the positive side, it’s also getting more interesting.

We ran into some good trail magic around lunch. One of the thru-hikers in this vicinity is a recent retiree named Mad Jack. His wife, Good Vibrations, is following his hike with a brand new Airstream. We chatted with them both for a bit today and Good Vibrations hooked us up with some sodas. Less than a mile later, we ran into a guy named Tent Man who works for campmor.com. He hooked us up with more soda, fruit (gotta eat something healthy once every month or two), candy, darn-tuff socks (usually $20 or so), Mountain House dinners, protein bars, denatured alcohol (for our cook stove), and numerous other goodies. This dude was awesome and was literally shoving this stuff on us. He also gave us some good tips on the area we are in and even some tips about camping up in Maine.

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Crazy Trail magic

We then hiked into Harriman State Park. Wow, this place is cool. It’s like a hiker playground. It has everything. It’s got lakes, ponds, swamps, boulder scrambles, mountain climbs, views, grassy peaks, midgets on grassy peaks, etc.

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Cool grassy meadow peak in Harriman

It certainly seems like it gets a lot of foot traffic, as some of the deer let me get really close, but it’s an awesome place. We also went through the very tight Lemon Squeezer. I have some amusing videos of us trying to fit through with our packs.

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Lemon Squeezer rock formations

We later stealth camped in a nice flat spot a couple hundred yards from the trail somewhat near Seven Lakes Drive.

Tomorrow we are excited to head into Fort Montgomery after about a 12 mile hike. It’ll be excellent to take a nearo to get cleaned up and relax in town with a beer or two or three.

Vital stats for Friday, July 18th:
Milestone – less than 800 miles left to Katahdin
Miles hiked today – 18
Mood – excited for town
Physical state – good
Smell – dirty socks filled with mustard and anchovies
Song stuck in my head – Swing Set by Moving Mountains

Day 93 – mile 1348.7 to near Wildcat Shelter

Today was a fantastic weather day for hiking. We started the morning off by hiking through a mile or so of swamp that has a legit boardwalk on it. This was pretty unique and cool. We saw a beaver in a creek just outside the swamp, but it swam away too quickly for me to paparazzi it.

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Jersey boardwalk. Where's the beach though? I couldn't find it.

We then had a stop at a little deli right off the trail and destroyed a large blueberry danish for a brunch snack. The amenities of the north are plentiful and always tempting. It seems like there are towns and stores every 5 miles or so here.

Next up was a climb up Wawayanda Mountain. It was steep, but short as is the case in the Mid-Atlantic States.

We then said farewell to New Jersey, home of the New Jersey Jets (go Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez!) and crossed over into New York. There were numerous tricky rock scrambles to navigate. They are fun, but tiring. The one part has a ladder. I guess it was too dangerous to scramble through otherwise.

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Scrambling

We had some really nice views down to Greenwood Lake from a couple of the rocky ridges and scrambles.

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Greenwood Lake

We stealth camped very near the shelter trail off on a side trail. Tomorrow we have another full day of hiking and then we are taking a nearo day on Saturday in Fort Montgomery, NY.

Vital stats :
Milestone – finished New Jersey, now in New York. 8 states done, 6 to go.
Miles hiked today – 21.3
Mood – back in the groove
Physical state – tired from the scrambles, but good
Smell – hell on earth
Song stuck in my head – New York, New York by Ryan Adams

Day 92 – near Rutherford Shelter to mile 1348.7

We had some heavy rain overnight again, but stayed nice and dry. The skies were threatening again in the morning, but it blew out and it turned into a great day for hiking. The trail was a bit easier and less rocky today also, so that was a nice change of pace. That combination of positive factors and also a few days of getting back into the groove made today just a lot nicer overall.

In the morning, we went past High Point in Jersey.

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High Point Monument

We hiked through a lot of low lying swamp areas, also. A lot of it had boards over it to protect the swamp.

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Swamp hiking

The trail made its way up to the NJ / NY border and headed east. We went into Unionville, NY to grab maildrop #9 and some lunch. The pizza was pretty good. I have to say pizza in the north is way better than in the south. It’s just an indisputable and proven scientific fact.

After lunch, we made our way back out. We traversed through a protected bird area called the Wallkill preserve. It was reedy and swampy. I had a few glimpses of herons I think, but they were too far away to get a good picture.

Then we climbed up Pochuck Mountain, a short but steep climb.

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View from Pochuck. The preserve is visible in the valley and High Point is in the background on the mountain range.

We camped about a mile or two from Pochuck near a little stream. There is some kind of youth camp pretty near here making a racket. Quiet down, you damn kids!!

Vital stats :
Miles hiked today – 19
Mood – improved
Physical state – good, not pushing as hard before Duncannon
Smell – worse than Bon Jovi’s armpits after a double encore of Dead Or Alive and Living On A Prayer
Song stuck in my head – I’m Free by The Rolling Stones

Day 91 – near Buttermilk Falls Trail to near Rutherford Shelter

We stayed dry last night through a few minor storms. That was definitely one of the nicer camp spots we have had.

Most of the day was very warm and humid, rocky, buggy, and sweaty. Everything is wet, including all the rocks, so it was slippery and slow hiking. Jersey is pretty similar to PA in terms of hiking, but perhaps a little more challenging because it seems to constantly go through minor elevation changes. We might have had a few nice views, but it was so dreary that it was hard to tell. We had one view of Culver Lake in the morning.

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Culver Lake

We also hiked past a little coffee shop, which provided a morning snack attack.

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Sweet treats

We hiked over Rattlesnake Mountain (didn’t see any) and Sunrise Mountain (didn’t see any sun) today. Otherwise, it was pretty uneventful. We somewhat followed the rules of High Point State Park in that we camped kind of near the shelter. I think they wanted us to camp right by it, but I think a quarter mile is close enough. Whatevs.

Tomorrow we are hiking a half mile off trail to Unionville to get maildrop #9 and some pizza for lunch. After that, we will continue on through Jersey. Looking forward to some hopefully drier weather.

Vital stats :
Miles hiked today – 19.2
Mood – pushing onwards
Physical state – good
Smell – Jersey swamp filled with diapers
Song stuck in my head – When You Were Young by The Killers

Day 90 – Kittatinny Visitors Center to near Buttermilk Falls Trail

Today we got a lift to back to New Jersey from Mom and Dad Hnatow. I’d like to say many thanks are in order to Mom and Dad Hnatow and Heiser (and Becca). They were all super hospitable, flexible, generous, and just amazing during our slackpack and zero days in eastern PA over the last two weeks. You guys are all awesome.

As far as the hike today, this is still one of my favorite areas on the AT that I’ve experienced thus far. There is a gentle climb up to Sunfish Pond, which is so cool and peaceful.

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Sunfish Pond

The trail winds along a narrow ridge and provides some nice views.

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Kittatinny Mountain view off towards PA

We also crossed by a neat pond swamp thing that some beavers had gone crazy on. Unfortunately we didn’t see any beavers.

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Pond thing with beaver dam in the very bottom / foreground

On the negative side of things, it was (is) really hard mentally to be hiking away from friends and family. For the last 3 months the focus was always to get home to PA for the big wedding picnic and ride the excitement of being able to see everyone when we got home. Now that it’s over, it’s tough to refocus and stay motivated since it’ll be another 2 months or so until the end of the hike.

To make things more fun today, we got hammered with a downpour in the early afternoon. It was just one of those situations that almost comically sucks and that you have to try to laugh at and keep trucking along.

We ended up camping at a neat spot a couple hundred yards off the trail. Hopefully it stays dryish tonight. Tomorrow we continue trekking through the stormy weather here.

Vital stats :
Milestone – 1300 miles
Miles hiked today – 19.6
Mood – hanging in there. Had a few moments I was wishing I was back chilling in the atrium at work instead of hiking though.
Smell – like a Jersey swamp
Song stuck in my head – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John and Kiki Dee (some other thru-hiker dude was horribly and hilariously belting this out in the rain while he was hiking)

Days 88 and 89 – zero days at home

We spent the zero weekend tweaking maildrops, fixing gear, and hanging out with friends and family. It was awesome to see a lot of you, but it went way too quick.

Tomorrow morning we say goodbye again to PA (only for a couple months, I promise!) and head northbound into Jersey. It’s going to be tough to get back into the groove I think. However, Katahdin is out there waiting and we are coming.

Days 86 and 87 – Little Gap (Blue Mountain Drive) to Kittatinny Visitor Center (NJ)

We finished up our slack packing adventures in PA over the last 2 days. This section is (PA SPOILER ALERT) pretty stinkin’ rocky! We hiked north on day 86 (Thursday July 10) from Little Gap to 33. This section starts with a small rocky climb up Little Gap and then flattens out. For the most part, it’s easy hiking under the canopy.

Green trail near Little Gap

Green trail near Little Gap

On day 87 (Friday July 11), we started out in NJ and hiked south towards 33 for the first time on our thru-hike. This was a pretty cool change, as we saw a whole bunch of north-bound thru-hikers, including some friends we hadn’t seen since back in Virginia. Additionally, the weather was quite nice for hiking. There are a couple of nice views out by the Delaware Water Gap area.

Delaware River and I-80

Delaware River and I-80

The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful and easy. Wolf rocks provides a few views to the Poconos in the north.

Views from Wolf Rocks

Views from Wolf Rocks

We are now done with all of PA after this completing this stretch. This was cause for much celebration.

We are now taking the weekend off to rest up, hang out with friends and family, and to re-jigger our mail drops. We’ve learned a good bit from our rookie mistakes about the logistics on how to re-supply from the first half of the trip, so it’s really nice and convenient to have the opportunity to do this.

We are heading back to Jersey on Monday morning to resume “real” backpacking. It’s going to take some readjustment to get used to carrying full pack weight and being stinky again after having the luxury of showers over the past few weeks!

Vital stats : 
Milestone – finished PA (7 states done, 7 to go), less than 900 miles left to Katahdin
Miles hiked – 32.3 over the 2 days
Mood – psyched to be done with PA, but bummed to have to start hiking away from everyone for the next ~2 months on Monday.
Smell – still showering on a daily basis while I can
Song stuck in my head – Sleep Better by Pete Yorn