Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Taconic Skyline Trail - April 2002
After the Winter that wasn't, this is the Spring that isn't.
It's April. The wood frogs started up three weeks ago here (five miles north of Boston). The peepers followed soon after, and just this past week, I saw a ribbon snake on one of my afternoon hikes. I've seen swarms of gnats and just know the mosquitoes and black flies are soon to follow.
So, getting in some pre-bug three-season hiking always seems like a good idea. That is, except when you're hiking with Skeeter.
Three weeks ago after a beautifully warm week, Skeeter and I went on a great hike along the South Taconic Trail where the temps dropped to below 20 that night. The day after our hike, one of the largest snow storms of the season dumped on us.
This weekend, once again after a pleasantly warm week, light snow flurries came the night before our hike and left an inch or so of snow along the trail. Of course it didn't help that the anticipated 40 degree weather probably never got about freezing the whole weekend and I think the nighttime lows were probably in the mid-teens. The winds off the snow didn't help the situation.
I started the trip off with a three hour drive during which I spotted four hawks (red tail), an owl, a turkey vulture, and 13 wild turkeys. Not a bad way to start the day. Met up with Skeeter and soon after spotting a car, we started up the Taconic Skyline Trail. Right at the trailhead, there was this really cool, very old tree that had hollowed out and had a birch tree growing up through the hollow portion of the tree. It really looked like the birch tree was part of the bigger tree.
The trail was blazed - sort of - with white blotches here and there of uneven sizes. The walking was primarily on on old woods roads. We crossed US Route 20 and soon found ourselves on trails frequented by ATVs. We laughed at the recent thread about skirting puddles as we refrained from fording the ponds and mostly took any of the alternative ATV trails around the puddles. Forget about LNT.
We eventually rounded a corner and found ourselves on a trail now blazed with perfect AT style, dollar-sized, white blazes. We were beginning to feel right at home - but they didn't last long. At places where the trail wasn't clear, the guidebook generally helped out a bit. We got to one junction and carefully ignored the ATV trail markers we had been seeing and followed the route as marked on the map - or so we thought. We soon remedied the situation and regained the ridgeline only to find ourselves back on nice backcountry trail not marred by ATVs but still with the ATV markers. On closer inspection, they weren't ATV markers, but were marked lightly with "Taconic Crest Trail." We laughed and speculated that they got a deal on the Taconic Crest Trail markers because we were still on the Skyline trail and the Crest Trail didn't start until just north of where we would be camping that night.
Between the official markers, there were white plastic markers nailed to many trees. These took on all sorts of shapes - from squares, to diamonds, to arrows, etc. On closer inspection, they were from cut up plastic bottles like White Rain shampoo bottles and the like.
These markers led us through beautiful forest with barely discernable (or in some cases, nonexistent) sidehill. We eventually made it to our campsite for the night. It was windy and cold so we found a spot protected from most of the wind and clear of the snow with eastern exposure for morning sun. We quickly toured the pond, took in the view, got our water, and made dinner.
That's when I came to understand how best to light an alcohol stove. Step one - Pour an ounce or so of alcohol (prewarmed inside neck gaiter) in the stove and about half an ounce right on the table. Step two - using butane lighter prewarmed inside glove, light table on fire. Step three - put stove with a dribble of alcohol going down the side on the burning table. Tada!!! One nicely lit stove.
[Note: Do NOT try this at home folks. Just because it worked for us by accident the first time and at least one additional time, does not mean that I recommend this technique! ;-) ]
Eat quickly - before dinner gets cold. Drink hot chocolate quickly - before it gets cold. Look at watch. Groan because it's just 6:30 and you know it's going to be another LOOOONG night in the sleeping bag. Turn in. Take small pleasure in turning my watch ahead an hour - the night did just get an hour shorter, didn't it?
Trade damp socks for warm dry socks. Remove wind gear. Leave all other possible clothing ON. Pull on silk sleeping bag liner. Pull on 200 weight fleece sleeping bag. Pull on ancient 20 degree lite-loft bag that is probably really just a 45 degree bag by now. Try to sleep.
Curse myself for not bringing the closed cell foam pad to put on top of my Luxury Edition Long Therm-a-Rest (how many people have I told about closed-cell vs open-cell pads and how to use two in cold weather?). Get cold within the hour feeling any warmth my body can generate being sapped through the pad. My toes got cold. Think about bailing down the road into town.
Get out of three bags. Put on my wind/rain gear. Crawl back into three bags. Position empty backpack so the hipbelt is under my feet and the rest at least helps insulate my knees.
Sleep. Crawl out of bags and tent. Pee. Admire stars. Crawl back into tent and bags. Sleep. Crawl out of bags and tent. Pee. Admire stars. Crawl back into tent and bags. Tent sort of half collapses. It snows inside tent. Crawl out of bags and tent. Reposition tent stake. Crawl back into tent and bags. Sleep. Sunrise!!! I made it through the night and even managed to sleep. Woohoo!!! I think all that crawling out and in probably kept warming me up.
Continue following the trail. At this point, we know to watch for the intersection of the Taconic Skyline and Crest trails. We never see it. The trails descends. Oops! The Skyline trail doesn't descend - we're on the Crest trail. We get to a road and go DOWN far enough to figure out that we do know exactly where we are on the map. Walk up the road to the height of land to regain the Skyline trail. It doesn't seem to be there but there are ATV tracks.
Read the 1989 era guidebook. Ooops! The trail no longer continues this far. We consider our options for getting back to the bar. ATVers come by and indicate the ATV track goes to Jiminy peak. We go to Jiminy Peak and descend on the easiest trail we can find.
Trail magic strikes! Just as we get to the base, a nice couple shows up just to look around the ski area as they are fairly new to the area. We talk. They recommend a sugar shack for a pancake breakfast. Sounds good but we indicate that we have to get to our car first which is at Brodie Mountain. "Might they be going past Brodie?" They indicate yes and agree to take us in a few minutes... Just enough time to pull our packs together. Cool! A textbook hitch.
A great noon-time breakfast at the sugar shack followed with an uneventful trip back home. Only two hawk sightings on the way back.
Post hike tasks - Skeeter to get current trail maps - Stitches to straighten out tent stakes and get warmer sleeping bag.
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