Monday, November 14, 2016

Harriman Fire at Catamount and Panther Mountains

Harriman State Park, near Suffern
New York

On Sunday, November 13, brush fires broke out at Harriman State Park. I first noticed it driving home on the Palisades Parkway after my hike in the Palisades at Ft. Lee. There was smoke coming off the mountain in the distance clearly visible where the highway descends off the Palisades escarpment.

As dusk settled in, the flames were clearly visible on the top of the ridge from my area in Wesley Hills. It was very eerie seeing the line of flames atop the mountain. The fire area was contained mostly small fires, but it covered an extensive part of the mountain, from Catamount Mountain (at the area called "Hawk Cliff" on the new maps) to the notch between Catamount and Panther Mountains. I came with my camera towards evening and photographed the fire at Ari Drive and Powder Horn Drive in Wesley Hills, which afforded an unobstructed view of the mountain.

On Monday night, November 14, the area which had the fire the previous night was still smoldering, but the fires were out. However, a fire with even larger flames was now burning atop Panther Mountain, from the area from the previous night all the way towards where the Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail meets up with the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail. This fire featured even larger flames and burnt zones than the fire the previous night. I came again to take pictures, from both Powder Horn Drive and Ari Drive, this time with my tripod and zoom lens for better pictures.

The fire on the second night had clearly been an outgrowth of the fire of the previous night. Thankfully, the next day featured a soaking rain storm, with about an inch of rain. This effectively put out the fires, though there was still some additional smoldering after these rains. It wasn't until the weekend when another storm came, this one dumping several inches of snow on the mountain tops, that the fire was finally completely put out.

The summer had been very dry, and fall was exceptionally dry, with very little rain. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that the area was very vulnerable to the fires. However, I suspect that these fires were caused by arson, as its unlikely to have so many fires, including the one near Tom Jones Mountain, within the same time frame.

Fire from the First Night - Catamount Mountain

Fire on the Second Night - Panther Mountain

Fire on the Second Night - Panther Mountain

Fire on the Second Night - Panther Mountain

Fire on the Second Night - Panther Mountain

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Long Path Trailhead in Fort Lee

Palisades Interstate Park
Bergen Co.
New Jersey

Hiking Trails:
Ft. Lee Historical Trails: Unblazed
Long Path: Green blaze
Carpenter's Trail: Blue blaze
Shore Trail: White blaze

Total Time: 2:00 hours
Estimated Distance: 5 miles
Level of Difficulty: Slightly difficult
Level of Recommendation: Recommended for being near Manhattan

Points of Interest: Excellent Bridge and Manhattan Views
Cons: Surrounded by very urban setting

Who would think that right outside the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, right across the George Washington Bridge, there is a network of hiking trails in a large wooded area along cliffs and climbs? The Palisades Interstate Park is just that area, preserving these famous cliffs jutting straight up 500 feet from the Hudson River shoreline, with several trails traversing the area, most notably the Long Path on the top, and the Shore Trail on the bottom.

While the area is far from tranquil, with views of dense urban build-up across the river and in the general vicinity, together with constant highway noise, it is still surprisingly serene and pretty while in the continuously forested area.

I had a continuing education training event in Brooklyn on Sunday morning which I had to attend. We were finished at about 12:30, and as the clocks had just been changed, there wasn't going to be time for a full hike further upstate. Being on the way home, I got off the highway after crossing the George Washington Bridge, and decided to check the area out. I had been intending to visit this area, and especially go to the start of the Long Path, but never had a good opportunity before. This was my opportunity.

While the day had started off seasonably chilly, it had warmed up by early afternoon. Although it was already late in the season for foliage, being further south and in closer proximity to the city, this area had a surprising amount of foliage color remaining.

I parked at Fort Lee Historical Park, which is immediately south of the George Washington Bridge. The parking lot here costs money, so in retrospect I would have been better off parking further north at Ross Dock. I ended up spending $5 on parking, which is the minimum weekend rate. I explored the visitors center, which documents the time of the Fort and George Washington's positions in the Revolutionary War, and then walked along the paths of the park which show some historical relics such as soldier's huts and cannons. I also walked to the overlook right above the George Washington Bridge, which contains one of the best viewing vantage points for the bridge.

I then started at the beginning of the Long Path, which goes alongside the sidewalk of the entrance road to Fort Lee Historical Park. It then goes northbound on Hudson Terrace crossing over and under the bridge highways, and then goes to the right on a pedestrian bridge crossing over the Palisades Parkway. At this point all gets quiet as the trail is in the quieter woods, with occasional views at the clearings at cliff edges (which are roped off for safety.)

At the intersection with the Carpenter's Trail, I took this trail west, crossing over the Palisades Parkway, to Linwood Park. This is a small local park in Ft. Lee. I walked through this park to the end, and then turned around, heading back on the Carpenter's Trail. I continued along the Carpenter's Trail, crossing the Long Path and the descending steeply down the Palisades Cliffs using stone stairs. Near the bottom, the trail went under Henry Hudson Drive in an old stone tunnel, and then ended at the Shore Path concurrent with the side of the road. I took the trail/road north to Ross Dock, which was very busy with weekenders enjoying the good weather.

After walking through the boat basin area along the side of the river, I headed back along the shore trail concurrent with the road, going under the George Washington Bridge. The road ends at this point at a boat launch into the Hudson River. The trail continues south, and then right before Edgewater, it hooks west and snakes up the Palisades. It then goes along the sidewalk of Hudson Terrace heading back north and continuing uphill. I followed this route, and the sidewalk back into Ft. Lee Historical Park and then back to my car.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why I am not Renewing my Mohonk Membership

As all my readers know, I am an avid hiker, and especially enjoy hiking the mountains of lower New York State. One of my favorite areas to hike is the Shawangunk Mountains, particularly the Mohonk and Minnewaska areas. This area affords breathtaking scenery with exceptional hikes, challenging scrambles, and ice cave exploring.

Since I visit the area frequently, I decided to support the Mohonk Preserve and become a member in December 2015. I purchased my membership from the Spring Farm entrance, on my way to a hike around the Bonticou Crag area. I was told by the attendant at the toll booth that parking at the Mohonk Mountain House would be available for Preserve members on quiet days.

I arrived on June 26 at the toll booth early in the day, with the hope of being able to drive up to the Mountain House area for a hike on one of the great scrambles. I understood that even though I arrived early, since it was a summer weekend, the attendants might not allow me to park at the Mountain House as it might fill up later. I would have respected that had I been told that. But instead, I was told by the attendant that the policies have changed and they no longer allow Preserve members to drive up to the Mountain House parking area - even on quiet weekdays. She also informed me, rather rudely I might say, that the shuttle to the picnic area is also no longer operating, permanently. These new policies now require all day hikers - even Preserve members - to park their cars far down out of the way, and severely limits the usage of the area.

I was very upset about this, and wrote an email of complaint to Mohonk's public relations department. I received a reply from Eric Gullikson, Vice President & General Manager at the Mohonk Mountain House, as well as a Mohonk Preserve board member. Eric had asked for my phone number so that we could chat on the phone. We ended up having a very good conversation, where Eric apologized for the behavior of the Mountain House toll booth attendant, and then told me he understands my concerns and will work on addressing the matter.

Fast forward several months, to November 6. I had planned a late-foliage autumn hike to the Mohohk area, starting at the Mountain House tollgate area, and going through Rock Rift Crevice onward to the Giants Workshop and Cathedral Path. It was a brisk fall day, and was surprisingly quiet in the parking lot despite there being lots of sunshine.

I pulled up to the tollgate and gave the attendant my credit card and member pass to charge me the additional $12 fee to park at the Mountain House tollgate area. He came back to me and told me that I would have pay the full $27 fee - because it's fall. This was quite a surprise to me that Preserve members still have to pay full price in the fall. I told him I was not aware of this; and clearly there should have been better communication to Preserve members about this. Although this hefty price is clearly worth it to hike the area, I felt wronged and could not accept this in good faith. I told the attendant I travelled a distance to get here and the parking lot is rather empty, and asked if he could make an exception. Once again, this attendant, too, was also apathetic and rigid.

Very upset, I turned my car around and headed down the mountain on Mountain Rest Road, towards the Klein Kill parking area at the Duck Pond area. Thankfully, I know the area well, and at least was able to plan an alternative hike to the area I wanted to visit. Parking here was plentiful, and I was able to hike up to some of the scramble areas I had originally intended to traverse. I took the situation in good spirits and really enjoyed myself, having an exceptional hike overall.

However, I will not forgot that the Mountain House is being increasingly hostile toward legitimate day hikers, including Preserve members. I do understand and respect that there are day-use visitors who abuse their privileges and enter the Mountain House and spoil the atmosphere for hotel guests. However, the vast majority of visitors - especially Preserve members - respect the rules and understand why they are necessary. The recent difficulties placed on hikers and Preserve members to restrict their visitation of the area and keep them out is upsetting.

I am sharing my experiences with the hope that my concerns are heard and shared by others, and perhaps a positive change will be made by the staff of the Mountain House and Preserve to be friendlier to the hiking community, especially Preserve members.

For the time-being, I will not be renewing my membership for 2017.

Mohonk Scrambles: Giants Workshop and Cathedral Path

Mohonk Preserve and Mountain House Area
Shawangunk Mountains near New Paltz
Ulster Co.,
New York

Hiking Trails:
Lenape Lane: Carriage Road
Oakwood Drive: Carriage Road
Forest Drive: Carriage Road
Forest Drive Connector Shortcut: Unblazed
Short Woodland Road: Carriage Road
Short Woodland Road Path: Unblazed
Humpty Dumpty Road: Carriage Road
Giants Workshop Trail: Blue blaze
Laurel Ledge Path: Hiking Trail
Plateau Path: Red blaze
Catherdral Path: Blue blaze
Copes Lookout Road:  Carriage Road
Copes Lookout Path: Unblazed
Lake Shore Road: Carriage Road
Spring Path
Crevice Connector Trail and Staircliff Path
Duck Pond Trail: Red blaze
Duck Pond Road: Carriage Road

Total Time: 3:45 Hours
Estimated Distance: 7.3 Miles
Level of Difficulty: Very Difficult
Level of Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Points of Interest: Great views and excellent scrambles
Cons: Full price even for members during fall

It had been a while since I had been in Mohonk during the fall foliage season. This was a beautiful fall day and a great day for a hike up in the Gunks. I was able to get an extra-early start because of the clock change. I went to sleep regular time and woke up an hour early at the crack of dawn, so got up the mountains quite early.

I had a very disappointing experience once again with the Mohonk Mountain House staff. I had gone to park at the Mountain House gatehouse area and would hike from there to the scrambles area below Eagle Cliff. I had my entire route planned out. Being a Mohohk Preserve member, I had discounted parking at that area. Anyways, to my disappointment, I was told because it was the fall foliage season they couldn't honor my preserve membership to park at the gatehouse area unless I paid the full $27! I had no idea about this, and was very disappointed. That is a lot of money, and on principle I couldn't bring myself to that. I will dedicate a separate post to this and urge the public against getting Mohonk Preserve membership.

I turned around from the gatehouse, and went back down Mountain Rest Road, and went to the Kleine Kill area instead and restrategized my plan to ascend the mountain from the Duck Pond area. I took Lenape Lane, as it snakes up the mountain, to Oakwood Drive, and then Forest Drive, as it goes along the eastern side of the cliff. I then took the Short Woodland Road, to the Short Woodland Path, to Humpty Dumpty Road.

From Humpty Dumpty Road, I took the Giants Workshop Trail to its end. This trail is a very good and tight scramble through narrow rock passageways, requiring tight squeezes. At the end, I took the carriageway towards the Plateau Path and cut across to it, and then took the Cathedral Path back up the mountain. The Cathedral Path is another one of those super-tight and crazy scrambles in the area. At the top of the trail is an incredible view facing south and west.

At this point, I took the Copes Lookout Road, to the Copes Lookout Path, to the Mohonk Mountain House. I took some nice pictures overlooking the lake, then walked around the northern part of the lake to the Lake Shore Path. I then cut across to the Spring Path, and climbed up the rock talus to the Crevice Connector Trail and Staircliff Path. I then climbed down the rock talus on a connector trail back to Forest Drive. I then took the Duck Pond Trail all the way down the mountain, taking a short bread down at the Duck Pond. I then took the old Duck Pond Road and curved back on the carriage road to the Kleine Kill trailhead area.