Saturday, March 30, 2013

High Point or Bust

The AT at Pochuck Mt and Wallkill Valley
[March 24, 2013]
As mentioned prior, the optional (by-pass) route on the Long Path for many hikers is the Appalachian Trail from Harriman State Park in NY to High Point  State Park in Sussex NJ and then on up to Wurtsboro on the Shawangunk Ridge Trail.  My main journey on the Long Path has now reached West Fulton NY, which is a full 2 1/2 hour drive each way, so I can only get up there on days when I can arrange shuttles etc...In the meantime, I've set out to also walk the by-pass route which is closer to home. I left off on this section at the base of Pochuck mt in Vernon NJ and decided to park at RT. 284 in the Wallkill Valley near the NJ/NY state line. My plan was to power walk east 4 miles along the roads to the starting point and then walk back about 3.5 miles along the AT (trail) to the car, have lunch at the car and then basically set off west and again turn around at some point to return to the car and cover 15 miles total distance during the day.  The morning was sunny and cool, but not cold, so I left my pack and jacket in the car and went for speed in the brisk air with just a small water bottle shoved in my back pocket. Less than a mile on Rt 284 from where I parked and there is a gas station with deli food market [End of the line Groceries, 2 RT 284, Westtown NY10998 (845 726 3228)] and is a short walk from the AT. It has provisions for this section and I bet you could make some arrangements with them in advance to get some stuff you might need on the trail if you are thru-hiking.   

Wallkill Wildlife Preserve
A flock of "Birders"
I turned the corner on Oil city rd and continued over hills and dale to the Walkill river. The Wallkill wildlife preserve section is next and part of the Wallkill river flood plain.  This scenic park is pretty big and is an engineered (diked and valved) wetland that is a migrating bird sanctuary. I walked the shorter way through the park and made it to the AT trail on the East side.  The trail here between the wildlife preserve and Pochuck is a boardwalk through a boggy area that ends at county road 667 at the base of Pochuck Mt. I did the first 4 miles in only one hour so I was moving pretty fast which was in stark contrast to my last hike with Chris upstate where we suffered a slow pace in deep snow.  I turned around, retraced my steps over the boardwalk and slowed up a bit as the few inches of melting slush was now becoming really slick on the wet boards. When I emerged back into the wildlife preserve, I followed the AT blazes around the park and saw geese and other water fowl, and many birds flying into the area.  I also saw an elderly "flock of birders" in camo garb laboriously carrying tripods full of spotting scopes and other camera gear. I took a picture of them in their native habitat as they were as interesting to me as the birds they were watching. After crossing back over the river, I tuned left on a road and went up and over some woods and fields to return to my car in about two hours of time to cover 7.5 miles.  My legs were feeling tight but good after the brisk morning walk over the  hills, so I grabbed my pack out of the car and decided to eat lunch while walking west, now towards High Point. As I walked I started thinking about the possibility of walking all the way to High Point. I had called Vernon Taxi (Ron Meyer) in the morning to inquire about leaving my car at High Point and having him drop me off by Pochuck on rd 667. He wasn't able to do it (schedule conflict) and said if I do make it to High point he would be able to pick me up there in the afternoon and drive me back to Pochuck for $45. I initially thought it a steep price for a 12 mile shuttle, but now think it's a fair price when considering the service in back country.  I originally decided against that option which is why I parked at RT284 and walked the morning loop the way I did. It was still pretty early in the day and High Point loomed 8- 9 miles away.  

High Point today is possible
Old Wasp nest next to trail
I decided to reconsider the taxi as an option if I continued to feel really good.  The day progressed well as the miles ticked off one by one. It turned a bit colder here so I put on my jacket and gloves and pushed through the  4 inches of slushy snow that was still hanging on  in the higher elevation near the Shawangunk Ridge line. I was now committed to the full trek to high point and wanted to call Vernon taxi to alert him to my plan to get picked up later but there was no cell coverage anywhere. I looked at my phone again and it was 3:30 and I had at least an hour still to go. I realized I made a rookie mistake leaving my phone on all day as the battery had discharged itself roaming for a non-existent signal. The battery warned me I only had 4% left, which I knew from experience it would be dead within 5 minutes.  I shut it down and continued on my way. I hit Greenville Rd at the base of High Point State park and proceeded up the mountain.  Sweat poured off me as I kept pushing to make time because Vernon taxi advised me in the morning not to be later than 4PM if I wanted to use his service so I wanted to respect his wishes.  It was already past 4, I'm basically out of communication, so I'm thinking I will have to beg a ride or two to get back to my car from strangers. At the top of the ridge, I turned on the phone and was surprised to receive a text message from Vernon taxi inquiring if I was still interested in a ride. Hope surged, and I tried calling him but no signal could be found.  The battery was now at 1%.  I immediately replied with a text saying "yes" and shut off my phone to buy time.  I was still far enough away from High Point and I didn't want him there too soon only to have him leave frustrated that I was a no show. I could finally see the monument was only about 10 minutes away and I rapidly pushed up the steeper section and arrived panting and sweating near the top. On the way up, I passed a side trail indicating a shelter there but I didn't stop to explore it. At the top, I turned my phone on for the last time, sent another text, "come now!" and received a wonderful instant reply of "I'll be there in 15". I suddenly found I was standing at the cross road of the AT and  the SRT trail.  I took a picture of the blazes on the SRT and the camera flash went off and the phone died without power enough to recharge the flash. I walk out to the access road and away from the monument and slowly walked another mile towards Rt23 in the direction I thought the taxi would come from.  Ron eventually came uphill near RT 23 in an unmarked van and since I was the only person in the park who looked dog tired and bedraggled, he stopped to pick me up.  He seemed surprised I walked down most of the access road to meet him, but I was so soaked and cold I had to keep walking to stay warm. During the shuttle back I found out Ron is an author of a raunchy book about life being a taxi man and he offered me a copy (for free).  I gave him a good tip for the great service and the book.  What a good guy to have actually sent me a text in the afternoon to check up on me, take off from Vernon Valley late on a Sunday afternoon on nothing more than a cryptic text back from me. He then went into High Point state park without really knowing where I was at [as he did try calling me and my phone was dead]. Ron is very hiker friendly and frequently shuttles AT hikers to the hostel in Vernon. So take my advice, support Vernon taxi when you have the need!  He is not cheap, but not expensive either when you really needed a ride. My legs were pretty sore and it was a personal high point in terms of completing this section like I did in a day. My next hike will be to take time to explore the High Point tower and loop the park to Port Jervis, but not push much more. This will put me in the position to use the Metro North Rail Service to hike the lower SRT.

Trail stats - I went almost 12.5 miles on the AT (including elevation changes)  and about 5 extra miles of road walking for a total of 17.5 miles on foot.

The AT maps for this section are at:

Junction of the AT and SRT (start)
AT Near Unionville 
At at High Point

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