After I found out about the NCT100 Challenge back in February, I have made it a quest to explore the local off-road portions of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT). When selecting and planning hikes so far, the section I did today had always seemed a low priority. Only about 3 miles of it is off-road. While that would be a suitable length for a hike with Frankie, there are no "attractions" along the route, so we always ended up on other NCT sections with more notable features. For solo hikes, I prefer something a little longer, especially when I'm investing 35 minutes each way to drive to and from the trailhead. What brought me here today was hunting. This section of the NCT is entirely on private land, and one section of the trail is closed to hikers between October 1 and December 31. If I want to hike this section of the trail for the NCT100, it had to be this month. There is one other section with similar restrictions that I will be trying to visit soon, as well.
Now that school is back in session, I once again have one day a week to potentially squeeze in an adult hike. I have been looking forward to this for weeks! With rain forecast for today, I headed out solo. I parked at the same trailhead on Webber Road that Frankie and I used when we hiked to Kinney Hill and Armstrong Pond. Instead of heading south like we did this spring, I followed the trail east, crossing Parker Road and threading between two barns before crossing the flat valley bottom through meadows ablaze with goldenrod and aster flowers. The trail jogs around the yard of a home, then crosses State Route 80, and follows the edge of a corn field up the hill. This is the portion of trail that is closed starting October 1. The trail veers left and follows mowed paths through a shrubby area before entering the woods and transitioning to the narrow-style footpath with many switchbacks that is so characteristic of the Onondaga Trail, the 42-mile section of the NCT built and maintained by the Onondaga Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club. These folks do beautiful trailwork.
After emerging from the woods, the trail turns north and follows Smith Road up to Damon Road. I don't ordinarily care for road hikes, but when I came out on Smith Road, it wasn't raining and the breeze felt amazing. I was enjoying myself and wasn't ready to turn back yet, so I decided I'd walk the portion of Smith Road down to Damon Road. Smith Road is a dead end and sees very little traffic. It was all downhill, and when I arrived at the Damon Road intersection, I'd been hiking exactly 1 hour. It still didn't feel like enough, so I decided I'd hike the blue-blazed portion of Damon Road, too, until I got to the point where the trail turns north again and leaves the road (i.e., to my turn around point on a hike of the adjacent NCT section through Tioughnioga Wildlife Management Area this spring). It felt really strange to be hiking down the side of a road, but I justified it to myself by rationalizing that had I turned back and gone home, I wouldn't be outside getting fresh air and exercise.
I was passed by eight vehicles while on Damon Road (none on Smith), but adding the roadwalk nearly doubled the length of my hike, as well as the climbing. The out-and-back ended up being 6.4 miles round trip with approximately 830 feet elevation gain. When hiking back through the barnyard, I bumped into the kind and gracious owner of the dairy farm, and had the opportunity to personally thank him for allowing us hikers passage through his land. This pleased me. I really missed my solo hikes over the summer; I hadn't realized just how much I'd come to depend on them this spring. Erwin is hoping to join in next week, but is waiting for fair weather. I never did get rained on today, not that I mind the rain anyway. It's just good to get out!
|the trail goes south right through the parking area off Webber Road -- this leads up Kinney Hill to Armstrong Pond|
|the trail east follows Webber Road briefly|
|the trail goes right between these barns|
|the main reason I selected this hike for today|
|musk mallow (Malva moschata)|
|the trail follows Smith Road downhill (northwest)|
|intersection with Damon Road, where the trail turns east|
|my turn around point on Damon Road|
|back at intersection of Smith and Damon Roads|
|climbing back up Smith Road|
|there is a small parking area on Smith Road where the trail re-enters the woods|
|crossing State Route 80|