Friday, January 18, 2013

A Flood of Information

Google Earth Image with my GPS tracks:
S Mountain Rd to Mine Kill Overlook
Link to Previous Section: Rt 23 to S Mountain Rd.

January 13, 2013
Today’s plan was to meet up with Chris at Mine Kill State park in upstate NY at 9AM.  It was unseasonably warm (50F) and the warm air was rapidly melting the residual snow and resulted in a wicked fog cover that impaired driving.  I drove closer to my destination and passed Prattsville, a riverside town just north west of Windham NY. I saw firsthand the destruction caused by hurricane Irene.  It’s almost a year and a half later and the few houses left standing included some that were ripped in two and some sat at odd angles, like a “wacky house” in a six flags theme park.  Others bore evidence of mud high on the first story, the home abandoned and destroyed.  The realization was the poor people in this town were possibly betrayed as well since the town was never really rebuilt as some may have promised after the storm.  One aspect of driving to the Long path trail is how many little nearby towns are barely surviving in rural upstate NY. They obviously do not get the same resources and lack the opportunities compared to the big city down state.
I arrived at Mine Kill State park and checked out the park office in the main building. It was open and I noted there are bathroom inside for hikers. I was greeted by Christine, a young park employee. She provided a great deal of information about the park (including the Long Path North) and showed me a printout of several winter events hosted by the park, including snowshoeing, hiking and cross country skiing.  There is also a little table with tourist pamphlets promoting local places of interest. The park has two parking area, the main entrance (closes at 4PM in the winter) and one at the Mine Kill Falls overlook just to the south on Rt 30.  The overlook area was locked off due to ice near the falls, so Christine suggested we park in front of the locked gate.  The main park gate would also be locked tight at 4 PM and possible trap our car there overnight if we didn’t make it back on time. We took her advice and parked one car there and shuttled the other to South Mountain Rd intersection with Cook rd in Conesville. 
I left my hiking poles in the car, as well as my snowshoes, since the snow was rapidly melting and I also thought most of today’s hike was on the road.  We began a scenic road walk after a few minutes remembered I had my Garmin GPS with me in my pack, so I turned on tracking.  My research of this area found no detailed map of the current route we were taking since it was rerouted since the book was last published.  I figured I could publish my tracks here in Google Earth (G.E.) format and you can download this file. So just double click it if you have G.E. installed, you can see the exact journey we walked.  You may even be able to download the file to your gps device to follow the track. Be aware, these gps tracks contain bounce and scatter errors that could put you over an edge or in water if you trust it blindly. ( download track file here). Otherwise it’s pretty cool.  I include a few G.E. page snap shots as well here so you can see the overview of the path.

Graves from 1874
Ghost Rider Sculpture
We soon passed a boot hill cemetery an inspected the large grave.  It was from 1874 and we were saddened to see it indicated a daughter, 10 years old - died on Dec 18th and her 24 year old brother died a few days later on December 24th.  Perhaps the flu ravaged their house back then and killed them both in short order? We take for granted the level of medical care and resources we have now in comparison over a century later.  Further down, we passed an awesome “ghost rider” metal sculpture.  We also passed what we thought was our first sighting of an authentic “Brick Shit House”, but upon investigation decided it was a nook that was used for some unknown purpose related to making maple syrup.  The heat coming off the road was amazing for January, but dropped significantly every time we passed a low snowy area that provided adiabatic cooling. We turned left on Champlin Road and were greeted by a friendly guy named Mark working a tractor and moving logs.  We spent some time shooting the bull, but our conversation turned to the flood damage in the area as Chris asked how he fared since he was living on Manor Kill creek. He solemnly informed us they barely made it that day and it was a very bad day for his family because his mother was lost during hurricane Irene near Windham in the flood.  She was one of about two people lost that day in the region to flooding.  I was very humbled to hear this and said we were truly sorry.  [For what it’s worth, this little blog section is dedicated to his family and also to the folks in upstate NY who still silently suffer from the aftermath of that terrible storm.]
A real Brick Shit House?
Chris (l) and Mark (r)
The trail soon turned into the woods and the snow was only about three inches deep and was not high enough to use snow shoes. We trudged through the rapidly melting snow and I slipped a few inches with every step.  I regretted leaving my poles in the car, but found a big stick and it helped to offset the sliding.  We soon entered into an active logging section on private land that forced us to walk around a like a hundred felled trees.  Please take note of this if you plan on hiking this section.  The snow was nothing to write home about, but it flared up knee pain (again) with the constant sliding.  Such is life on the trail - a friend once told me all of life’s problems can be solved with a straw if you “suck it up”.  We soon approached the Manor Kill Falls area and saw extreme erosion on the slope near the trail.  Be very careful here if you are walking at night with headlamps.  An unstable erosion zone extends to the LP here.  The Manor Kill falls were really cool and scenic and soon dumped directly into the Schoharie reservoir.  We saw a roadhouse biker bar called Nicks Waterfall House on the other cliff of the Manor kill falls. It was either closed for the season or just closed for good [If anyone knows, please add a comment below].  

Chembrew at Manor Kill Falls
Upper Manor Kill Falls
We walked along Rt 990V (pretty quiet road this time of year) and soon passed an open pub called Clarks Restaurant & Bar. We didn’t have time to order food there, so we kept walking and took a PB&J lunch in front of the Gilboa School and continued on down the road to find a new town hall and post office building near an outdoor “Gilboa Fossil” exhibit.  
Rt 990V, Stryker Rd, Nickersons Camp
Dam Construction
Gilboa Fossil Exhibit
This post office is the logical choice for thru hikers to send mail drops if their schedule permits.  The Gilboa Fossils are from ancient fern trees from the Devonian period.  This is the epoch where only plants were found on land and no animals had yet evolved onto dry land.  The fossils were found in the nearby Schoharie Creek.  We crossed the Creek on a bridge and studied the Schoharie dam that was under reconstruction after sustaining damage from hurricane Irene.  The downstream side was completely wiped out with trees and rocks blasted about like a bomb went off.  We saw old LP trail blazes that went down near the creek but we followed the newer blazes on the road instead as this area was impassible now.

Nickerson's to Mine Kill Falls
Scenic Black Angus Lodge
We turned right on Stryker Rd (Rt13) and noted it was closed to thru-traffic.  We expected a serious washout downstream and this was indeed the case as we would later find out.  In the meantime, we passed the humble Gilboa museum and the sign in front indicated the former town is now located underwater from the building of the reservoir. A very scenic farm was across the street and it is also a bed and breakfast with a farm stand that with things advertised like eggs and Angus beef. It’s called the Black Angus Lodge, and the information I found on the web indicated it is owned by Susan and Mike Morkaut, located on 193 Stryker Road Gilboa, NY 12076. Phone: 607.588.6839.  I mention the details here because it seems a great stop for a weary hiker to be pampered a bit and get a real bed and shower and a good breakfast, if they can afford it I guess. [This and other area lodging can be found at]   There was a herd of female Angus cows in the field being closely watched by one massive long horn steer (aka- the stud muffin).  I walked up to the fence and took a picture and the bull took interest in me with a quizzical expression, like I was beginning to come too close to his harem.  I realized the only thing that stood between me and a thousand pounds of swollen bull testosterone was three measly 1/8”steel wires and the Pavlovian promise that at least one fence wire was electrified. I backed away quickly realizing how stupid I was to trust my life to Mr. Pavlov.  Just down the road, I learned that nothing goes to waste on a farm and we had to walk past a steaming pile of manure. If you check the gps tracking info carefully, you may be able to see even we picked up our pace up a bit on the downwind side.  A truck pulled over and it was driven by a hunter in full camo inquiring if we were the guys squatting in a tent on a cliff on the edge of the Schoharie creek near Nickersons Campground. “Nope, not us” we said and added “shoot anything today?” He replied “Yup, a few quail and a rabbit”.  “Good eats” I said guessing.  We talked more about all the deer signs on the other side of the creek.  I find it’s good to chat with the hunters since they know the area well and we also remind them we share the woods.  I was wearing a blaze orange vest for higher visibility during the road walk, but it’s so lightweight that I decided it will be a permanent part of my pack since hunters are also prevalent throughout the year. We found the road washed out below but it was fine for walking as we worked our way up to Nickersons.  The campground was basically void of human activity in the winter and the trail went directly through the camp.  We looked over the edge of the escarpment by the river and saw the bizarre squatter tent sprawled out below.   It was just a few feet away from the raging river and the person had stacks of firewood there so they planned on spending the winter.  I could see why the hunter was intrigued about who was living there under such primitive conditions.  Soon we entered the lower section of the camp and saw that some of it was washed away in the past flood.  It was a really big camp and there should always be room for an LP thru-hiker to find a tent space, for a fee of course. I really began to see Gilboa as hiker friendly with trailside fossils, pub, B&B, post office, museum, campground with camp store (seasonal), a scenic river and lake, and multiple waterfalls.

Squatter tent on cliff below
Schoharie Creek Gorge
We exited the campground and moved back onto snow covered trail that closely paralleled the river.  We were surprised to see a sign that said the falls were still 2 miles away and the park was 2.3 miles away.  There was no way we would make it by 4PM, so we made the right call parking just outside the overlook gate and thus avoided getting our car locked in overnight.  It was remarkably beautiful here and was like an upstate throw back to walking along the palisades.  The river formed a gorge of striated sedimentary rock with huge multi-story icicles clinging to the cliffs.  We made it to a lookout that turned us abruptly inland as we hit a raging stream just before the overhead power lines.  The LP followed the stream uphill and soon showed a turn blaze crossing right over the swollen stream.  Chris and I looked at each other. I shook my head saying “No f’-ing way”.  We pushed on upstream with no trail, now on the inch edge of the embankment with slipping snow.  One section was so narrow and sloped that it required great care not to slip off into the stream.  We were relieved when the section flattened out and we found our snow covered tree spanning the stream.  I studied it carefully – hmm, I did not feel the love here – no hand holds - too dangerous. We came across another tree spanning the creek and it even had a second smaller tree hanging above it to serve as a continuous hand hold.  I felt “the love” here and we crossed safely.  So a warning to fellow hikers: beware of high water conditions here.  If you hit the same thing, go further up stream and you should find the same tree that enabled us to cross.
Winter Creek Crossing
Mine Kill Falls
The Long Path Crossing -No way!
After crossing the power lines and walking a bit more we came to Mine Kill, which was a bigger stream, now full of piss and vinegar from the rapid snow melt. I felt deflated because the old trail map had with me crossed this stream below the falls and I knew no tree would span this one.  We plodded on following the blazes and thankfully it took us to the falls as the trail was now re-routed up and over the falls to Rt 30 instead of forcing the hiker to deal with this water hazard.  The falls were accessed by a short side trail, and even though my left knee was sending SOS alerts to me at this point, I bounded down to see them.  The shear amount of water coming through the narrow gorge was an uplifting sight and capped off the hike as a “10” out of possible “10” on the LP scale.  There was even a second “Angel” falls dropping from the tip top of the cliff on the right. We took some photos in the ending light of day and in very short order walked out to the car with fist pumps shared signaling the end of a great day.

This is a long entry on purpose and I included a lot of photos (and GPS info) to augment the otherwise limited information I previously found about the reroutes.  I sincerely hope it helps other hikers to confidently access this really wonderful gem of an area called Gilboa, here in the northern Catskills! 
275 miles!

Trail Stats: 15 miles on the LP.  [According to the wooded sign near the falls, we are now about 275miles from the start by NYC and we guessed about ¾ of the way done on the trail.]    

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