July 30, 2016

North Country Trail: Tinker Falls & Jones Hill

Bolstered by our successful mini-adventure at Clark Reservation on Wednesday, I was finally readyexcited to head out for a summer hike in Central New York.  I gave Frankie the choice of a few different sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), showing him maps and pictures from previous hikes.  He decided he wanted to go to Tinker Falls, which is part of Labrador Hollow Unique Area, then hike up to the hang glider launch pad on Jones Hill.  Last year when we hiked here, we took the service road up to Jones Hill, but this year we stuck to the blue-blazed NCT the whole way up and down.  The NCT does follow a short section of the service road, but the majority of the hike is on a narrow single-track in the woods.  It was so charming, I question why we ever went the other way!

It rained for much of the hike, but this was fine by me.  We are having a drought here, so need the rain.  Plus, it kept the temperatures lower and the normally busy trails were practically deserted, good things both.  Unfortunately, I wasn't really adequately prepared for rain.  I had brought Frankie's rain coat, but not his rain pants or rain hat, and had no waterproofs for myself.  In my defense, I checked the weather that morning, and the forecast predicted 0% chance of rain in each hour, all day.  Based on that, I made the decision to carry the smaller pack and travel light.  We did get wet, especially me, but we suffered no ill consequences, as it was plenty warm.  I didn't even bother changing into the dry clothes I had waiting in the car, although Frankie did take off his wet pants in favor of dry shorts.  But I definitely won't be packing light when cooler temperatures arrive.

This is a short, but rewarding hike, even in the rain.  It is approximately 3.2 miles roundtrip with about 650 feet elevation gain.  Tinker Falls is more striking in the spring when snow melt increases the stream flow, but the amphitheater behind the falls is cool any time of year, as is the view point on Jones Hill. 

I have never seen this creek so dry

at the top of the falls
looking upstream

Frankie was devastated that this tree he'd played in last year finally fell down -- there were tears

Working the lollipop I gave him to distract him from the tragedy of the fallen tree

Turns out you can blow bubbles in the rain

July 27, 2016

Clark in July

This was my very first hike since returning from Scotland three weeks ago, an inexcusable lapse that has lead, I am ashamed to say, to no small amount of moping on my part.  I have been extremely discouraged by the horrendous heat and humidity, and compared to the cool perfection of the Scottish climate, it has seemed even more unpleasant than normal.  The day we flew home there was a 40+ degree temperature differential from morning in St. Andrews to evening in Syracuse.  Then, just when I promised myself I'd get out that weekend, no matter what the weather and enjoy myself (dammit!), I was dispatched to western New York for three days of invasive plant surveys.  Field work means very long days, even when it's 90 degrees, so after arriving home late Friday, I was feeling more like crawling into a dark cave than heading back out into the beastly weather.

Finally, this afternoon, something inside me just snapped!  We'd come home after Frankie's swim lesson and changed into dry clothes, then ate lunch.  We were waffling about what to do next, and Frankie kept hinting I should take a shower and let him watch the Weather Channel.  This is not something I normally (or ever!) do, but Erwin does occasionally when I'm at work.  The kid is obsessed with weather, and a half hour of television certainly isn't the end of the world.  However, in my world, watching tv is not something you plan a day around.  So I pitched a minor fit (not my finest moment), then filled some water bottles and off we went.  It was too late in the day to go anywhere far, but we hadn't been to Clark Reservation in a while, and with the drought this summer, I figured the mosquitoes would be manageable.

I told Frankie we would go down to the lake and he could throw rocks, and that is what we did.  We both started out in long pants, but were able to convert them into shorts once we confirmed the lack of bugs.  I let him select the route, and he decided he wanted to go down the stairs, then west along the shore, then up the hill, and finally return via the Cliff Trail.  Erwin had been at the doctors when we left, but came and joined us when he was through; we were still by the water.  Frankie can throw rocks in the water and bathe sticks and such for a very long time, and I was happy to chill in the shade and let him devise and implement various strange projects.  It was getting toward dinner time when Erwin tried to convince Frankie we should take the shortest way back, which would mean re-tracing our steps. My little guy stuck to his guns and insisted we take the Cliff Trail back, as he'd planned -- he wanted to do some scrambling.  I definitely need to get this kid back in the mountains!

July 4, 2016

East Lomond Circuit, Falkland, Scotland

With our vacation rapidly winding down, this was to be our last hike in Scotland.  I was a little worried when Erwin developed cold symptoms yesterday, and more so when he was slow to rise this morning.  However, he finally emerged and managed to pull himself together.  He stuffed his backpack full of tissues and we set out for Falkland, a 35-minute drive from our rental in St. Andrew.  We arrived in time for lunch at the Covenanter, a charming little inn across from the Bruce Fountain and Falkland Parish Church, right in the center of town.  It began raining as we finished our meal, so after settling up, we paused in the empty bar to pull on our rain gear.

The hike described on Walkhighlands starts at Bruce Fountain, so we turned onto Cross Wynd and headed uphill, passing the bag factory, and then leaving the village behind.  The trail enters a forest and climbs steeply, passing through hardwoods and then a conifer plantation, ascending many many stairs before emerging from the woods onto the grassy slopes of East Lomond.  Somewhere in this stretch the rain eased up, and we kept having to pause to remove layers, because even though temperatures were mild, the grade was fairly steep.  The entire loop is only 4.5 miles with approximately 1,245 feet elevation gain, but all the climbing is in the first mile.

The trail through the grass is initially wide and gravel surfaced, and views start to open up over Falkland village and the surrounding farmland.  The path becomes narrower higher up, and eventually becomes essentially a series of earthen step-like features, which look muddy from a distance but were not today, despite all the rain.  We just climbed up them like stairs until we popped over the crest of the hill.  There was a gentleman up top with his dogs, and he charmingly asked us whether we thought the fair weather would hold, before heading down and leaving us with the summit to ourselves.  Frankie enjoyed the view indicator and a brief snack before the rains rolled back in, forcing us to layer up again and start descending to get out of the wind.

the trail ahead, ascending East Lomond
Falkland village

checking out the view indicator
view toward West Lomond

The trail descends the western slopes steeply via a narrow track through the grass, passing the trig point.  After the grade eases, the trail joins with an old road with magnificent view of West Lomond ahead and East Lomond behind.  The track eventually descends to the car park at Craigmead. 

the trig point is on the western slopes

from whence we came: looking back at East Lomond

another look back at East Lomond

picnic area at Craigmead car park
From Craigmead, a footpath leads north across a grassy field.  The trail follows the edge of another forest, passing through an old clearcut before descending into the forested Maspie Den.  This area is super charming, with numerous bridges over a babbling creek, and even a few pedestrian tunnels.  How cool is that?!  Most were brief underpasses beneath larger bridges.  The coolest one just bored through a patch of hillside under some trees, and was longer -- just enough so that at the bend it was pitch black.  Really fun stuff!   The last part of the circuit involves a short road walk back into the village.  I don't normally care for hiking on roads, but there was no traffic, and this loop was awesome, so it was totally worth it.  Highly recommended!

common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Maspie Den

the big tunnel
emerging into the light

the road walk on West Port is initially forested
back in the village
we finally wore him out -- this was his first crash after a hike since Blue Mountain!
route map from Walkhighlands
map from Lomond Hills Regional Park