March 8, 2017

North Country Trail: West River Road to Cortland 9 Road

I've been eager to get out and explore more new sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), not just on the Erie Canal, but back in the woods and hills.  We had such a long stretch of mild weather in February that I felt confident I'd be able to find safe parking, even on a dirt road.  I decided on a section of the NCT that follows the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) through Tuller Hill State Forest.  This section is quite close to Interstate 81, which is part of the reason I selected it, as the proximity to the highway made the drive time comparable to many closer sites.  I fully expected to be able to hear the highway for most of the hike, and was pleasantly surprised not to.  I started on West River Road, and hiked up, up, up, crossing the seasonal Snyder Hill and Pipeline Roads before reaching my turnaround point at Cortland Road 9.  I then retraced my steps back the way I came, for an out-and-back hike of approximately 5.9 miles with over 1,000 feet elevation gain.  Not too shabby! 

About a tenth of a mile into the hike, the trail passes through the backyard of an isolated home.  I started to turn back when I first approached, assuming I had missed a blaze, but soon found more confirming I was on the right track.  It puts me a little on edge to be so close to a strange home.  Rationally, I know the homeowners have granted permission for the trail to be there (thank you!), and of course I kept carefully to the well-marked path.  But still... it felt strange.

The trail follows Howe Creek for the first mile or so, cutting across the steep forested slopes and along the edge of a farm field atop the ravine.  The sound of the running water fully obscures the highway noise, at least in these spring-like conditions.  There are small downs mixed in with the general up, as the trail passes through lesser drainages, and eventually crosses a foot bridge over Howe Creek.  From there, the trail climbs out of the hemlocks and runs roughly parallel to Snyder Hill Road through a stand of young even-aged hardwoods.  After crossing the road in sight of a camp, the trail turns south again, climbing through a recently logged section before popping out in Pipeline Road.  The trail approaches the top of Snyder Hill, but doesn't quite get there, dropping a few contour lines and wrapping around the hill, following the property line of the State Forest and crossing a pipeline before descending a bit more to Cortland 9 Road.

Since I did most of the climbing on the way in, the return trip went quicker.  A front blew in and it started sprinkling when I was almost back to the car.  I jogged the last couple hundred feet because it seemed easier than stopping to pack up the camera.  I didn't see another human on the entire hike, and when I signed the register, saw that the last hiker had signed in December 16.  How I love being alone in the woods!  This kind of thing always leads me to wonder what percentage of people actually stop and sign in, though.  Has no one really hiked here in months?  And if so, why not?  It's a terrific hike.   

trailhead along West River Road
follow the blazes through this backyard

Howe Creek

Snyder Hill Road
just north of Pipeline Road

approaching my turnaround point
Cortland 9 Road

Pipeline Road
bridge over Howe Creek

the trail register was last signed December 16
last descent to West River Road

March 1, 2017

Around the Lakes at Green Lakes State Park

My motivation failed me this morning.  I didn't sleep well last night, so I was exhausted, and it was pouring rain and forecast to continue raining all day.  It didn't help that I hadn't done anything last night to prepare for a hike.  On my school day hikes, I get Frankie up and ready for school, feed us breakfast, pack his lunch, the whole nine yards.  It is always a mad dash just getting the little slug out the door on time, and that's without dedicating any time or energy to my own preparations.  He has a sweet habit of wanting to cuddle on the couch between eating breakfast and brushing teeth, and that is not the kind of thing that can be discouraged... he'll outgrow it soon enough, so we're going to savor it while it lasts (he does the same thing with Erwin the other four days a week when I'm at work).

Since I couldn't pull it together enough to drive to one of the more distant trailheads on my to-hike list, I decided I would hike around the lakes at Green Lakes State Park.  It is quite close by, and I hadn't been lately.  The entire circuit around both lakes is only 3 miles, alleviating the need to bring a lot of gear.  No backpack, no camera, no ten essentials.  Phone and drink in the rain coat pockets, check.  Also, I rarely walk the loop around the lakes, because it is usually so crowded.  Could the rainy day be an opportunity?  Perhaps the weather would keep the crowds away.

I parked in the large eastern lot closest to the bathhouse, so that by hiking in a counterclockwise direction, I could pass through the beach and associated developed area first, getting them out of the way.  The beach is another reason I don't favor this part of the park.  There is simply no way to walk around Green Lake and avoid it entirely.  The rest of the shoreline is undeveloped, and gorgeous, making the incursion of the beach even more of a travesty (it is not a natural beach; the Civilian Conservation Corps hauled the sand in to create the beach).  At least Round Lake is still pristine, enough so to be a designated National Natural Landmark.

Today I lapped both lakes, and while the rain no doubt lessened the hordes, I still saw at least 20 other parties.  The rain let up mid-way through my hike, so some folks probably came out after the weather brightened up.  Many regular runners and dog-walkers probably live quite nearby.  The popularity of this park is well deserved.  It truly is beautiful, and deserves the strongest of protections... just don't come for solitude.  

February 25, 2017

Clark in February

The weather forecast for today was dreary, with rain predicted all day and and drastically plummeting temperatures.  I hadn't planned on hiking.  Morning brought stormy looking skies, but no rain.  After finally finishing his ridiculously sluggish breakfast, Frankie was being crazy, acting like a a typical energetic six-year old cooped up inside.  I started fretting about the prospect of an entire weekend of such behavior.  It still wasn't raining, so I pulled out my phone and checked the weather again.  The chance of rain was 100%, and I could see the wall of storm clouds moving towards us on the radar.  However, it was almost 70 degrees out and the front wouldn't arrive until noon.  Mobilize!!

I grabbed some snacks for Frankie and our raincoats, and we zipped over to Clark Reservation.  It is so close to home, we can get there in a jiffy, which was important today.  It was 10:30 am when we arrived, just enough time to make a short circuit.  From the parking lot, we followed the Cliff Trail, and Frankie was exuberant, enthralled by the short, steep scrambles.  He knows this park so well, and gets so excited about the rocks.  He made a big point today of choosing the "trickiest way" for each little climb.  We followed the Cliff Trail along the rim of the glacial plunge pool, then turned left on the Saddleback Trail, then right on the Pulpit Rock Trail, so Frankie could have another scramble up that little hill, too.

Where the Pulpit Rock Trail tees onto the Long Trail, we turned left on and headed back towards the Cliff Trail.  Frankie was conflicted at the intersection with the Switchback Trail, because he loves the section of the Long Trail between there and the Cliff Trail, with all the "holes" (crevices in the limestone), but also wanted to hike the Switchback Trail.  So we did both, first cruising to the Cliff Trail, then re-tracing our steps and taking the Switchback Trail to the Big Buck Trail to the Dry Lake Trail.  The Dry Lake was decidedly NOT dry today, filled with sediment-laden water coursing down through the intermittent stream.  Ordinarily, such circumstances would warrant a long stop-and-play, but it had started sprinkling, so we kept moving back to the parking lot, just beating the torrential rains.

The entire loop was only 1.7 miles, but it is so good for us to get out in the woods.  It was totally worth it!

the Cliff Trail

Pulpit Rock Trail

approaching the Pulpit Rock

the Long Trail

wiggling a loose tooth
the dry lake
boardwalk over the stream on the Dry Lake Trail