Mt. Tammany

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  3.77 Miles

Trails:  Red Dot (Mt. Tammany), Blue (Pahaquarry), Green (Dunfield Creek), White (Appalachian)

My Map:

Nothing says Fall like driving north on Routes 31 and 46 north of Route 78.  The colors, the farmstands, the cool air; it’s all there.  This was not my intended destination, but I figured I would give it a whirl since my initial destination was before this, and I figured if the lots were full I could go back to where I initially intended to go.  I got lucky.

It was in the 40s when I left, and it was probably 50 when I got back to my car after the hike.  The top of Mt. Tammany was definitely cooler.

Be warned.  The lots fill up fast on a weekend. I just missed getting into the lot by the trailhead by one car.  So, it was down to exit one, go under 80, and back to the visitor’s center; which, by my arrival had plenty of spots left.  However, I had a good half-mile walk to the trailhead.  Do not park on 80.

I have fond memories of hiking Mt. Tammany (and Mt. Minsi) back when I was much younger, but it had been a long long time since I was last here.  The visitor’s center seemed very different (it wasn’t open for obvious reasons) from when I was here last.

Even though I was early (9:00 a.m.) the Red Dot trail was crowded going up.  That’s an understatement.  I felt like I was in a conga line and I thought back to Stairway to Heaven a couple of weeks ago.  So, you won’t see many pictures of the way up.  In fact, I wore a mask almost the entirety of the ascent.  You will see all types of people heading up.

The overlook on the shoulder still afforded a great picture.

As I mentioned, it has been a long time since I was last here.  While there was lots of scrambling on the way up, there was a particular rock I remembered, and the trail turned left just before that rock.  I feel like the trail has been re-routed.  What seemed new to me was a real long scramble to a rock-strewn trail to the top.  I have vague recollections of a forest walk before coming to the top that I did not pass through.

Honey Mushroom

It took me about an hour to reach the top, due mainly to having to stop and wait for the line in front of me to make it up the rocks.  Once to the top, you can’t help but take the iconic picture:

Mt. MinsiIt was very crowded at the top, and much colder.  I stayed to eat a little (it was only 10:00) and enjoy the view.  Then it was off before the rest of the crowd got there.

I took the Blue trail back down, and for the most part the trail was exactly as I remembered it.  Fortunately, I had the trail mostly to myself, which allowed me to grab some pictures.

The ridge walk is pleasant, before it heads downhill.

And then, it’s all downhill from there.  Welcome to New Jersey trails:

Eastern Teaberry

I stepped off the trail to let some hikers ascend, and found the following off trail:

I have no idea what this is
Wintergreen

On the way down I came to a section where all the leaves were down.  This area is about a week ahead of where I live in terms of colors and leaves on the trees.

Stump puffballs

Eventually, I merged with the Green (Dunfield Creek) trail.  I’ve always liked hiking by Dunfield Creek. It’s a little darker, as the sun is blocked, and the sounds of the creek follow you in either direction.  Plus, the trail is much flatter, with less rocks.

Looking up the bluffs on the other side of the creek
Bracket Fungus

Just before the parking lot, there was a grove of brightly-colored trees.

This is a fun hike, the view is definitely worth it.  I could do without the crowds, and have only myself to blame; as I called an audible to come in the first place.  Make sure you either arrive early or come on a weekday.  When I got back to the visitor’s center, every space was full, including along the visitor’s center road (this was around noon.)

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

Hiked:  10/25/2020

Stonetown Circular

Park Site  (not really a park, though parts of the trail are in Norvin Green State Forest)

Trail Map  (I made my own with CalTopo)

Hike Distance: 10.72 miles

Trails:  Stonetown Circular

My Map:

Oh boy.

I’ve seen this trail listed as the most strenuous in New Jersey.  I’ve seen it argued that it is the most difficult trail in New Jersey.  I’ll agree that it’s the most strenuous; and it’s a combination of the length, the significant ups and downs, and the rocks.  Oh the rocks.  But it wouldn’t be New Jersey without them.  Also, I’ve seen it mentioned that the trail is not the most well-marked.  I did the trail counter-clockwise; and I can say that when the Highlands trail leaves, there are less blazes.  There are lots of woods roads and if you do not pay attention, you can get off trail easy.  Many of the woods roads reconnect with the trail.  You can see by my map that I got off trail for about 200/300 yards or so, I was on a woods road; and fortunately, I ended up where I needed to be.

But, I will say that the trail is a real workout with some great views.  And when else will you say you climbed 5 mountains on one trail?  (Caveat:  New Jersey mountains, but still.)  It’s a lot of ups and downs.

Wolf’s Milk

When starting by the guardrail the trail is relatively flat.

And this for this hike, many birch leaves were down, which will play a small factor later.  None the less, it looked picturesque.  Probably the peak leaf season will be the next weekend into the following.

Purplepore Bracket

First up would be Little Windbeam Mountain.  And what a way to start the hike, not twenty minutes in.

The view from the top of Little Windbeam was expansive, probably better without leaves.

Next it was onto Windbeam Mountain.

Even the bee was tired – sitting on this Princess Tree

There are multiple viewpoints on the way up Windbeam Mountain.

And yet another scramble.

The top of Windbeam was flat, and the trail was soft dirt, leaves; and a dream to walk on.

Haircap Moss

Next in line is Bear Mountain (not to be confused with Bear Mountain in New York.)  The views were on the way up, not from the top.  When I got to top I took a picture, but it’s all leaves.

And then it is on to Board Mountain.  I read that there is a scenic overlook; so I decided to eat there – a little early, but by the time I reached the overlook, it had been four mountains of up and down, and I was hungry.

I sat for a while and relaxed.

Puffball

From Board Mountain, it was a descent and meandering on to Monksville reservoir.  After descending, the trails are wide and sandy; great to hike on.  You come to a road – hop the guardrail, and cross the road.  You’ll see:

Hop the guardrail again, go down the road (leads to a boatramp) and make a left, the trail is wide with crushed rocks.

It will take a bit before you see a blaze.

The trail meanders around Monksville Reservoir a bit.

After crossing the powercut for the second time, prepare.  It’s at this point that you ascend your fifth mountain, Harrison Mountain.  And the trail heads pretty much straight uphill.  It’s a beast.  I probably could have used more food at this point.  Or maybe I was lulled into complacency by the relatively flat trails before climbing.  After four major uphills (and downhills,) this one was rough.  This occurs around the six mile mark.

When you get to the top, the Highlands trails heads right, and a connector trail (blue squares with a black dot) head left.  It is from this point that there seems to be less blazes.  Keep your eyes open.

At the top of Harrison Mountain (and the south peak) there are not one, but two cars rusting off the trail.  Hey, it’s Jersey.

I can’t even imagine how they got there.  There are woods roads all around, but the roads don’t really look drive-able.

Next up on the agenda would be Tory Rocks.  It’s here where I started to think more about the leaves and pine needles on the trail.  This is the first real scramble in the “down” direction that I can remember.  And a mis-step on the leaves, or a slide, could lead to a very bad day.

Here’s a shot looking back up.

It’s hard to judge slope in the pictures.

The trail meanders for a while, then makes a hard left at a road.  If you see this trail sign (for trails in Norvin Green) you know you just got off trail.

Immediately, turn around, go down about five feet, and head right.  The trail sort of parallels the road.  Yes, I missed the turn, turned left down the road before I realized I was off trail.  There maybe shortcuts back onto the trail, but I didn’t find them.

Wintergreen
Eastern Destroying Angel

With about a mile and a half you will come to two large rock scrambles, certainly not to the height of the five mountains from before, but definitely notable.  My first thought was “This isn’t fair.”  Coming down was pretty steep, and again, with plenty of pine needles and leaves.

The trail finally starts a long descent.  You can see on my map where I missed a turn, and was on a woods road for a bit.  I figured it would lead to where I wanted to go anyway – which fortunately, it did.  The trail deposits you out on Magee Road.  And it is a short walk to Stonetown Road and the parking lot.

You get a great shot of Windbeam Mountain as you walk to the car.  Who knew that over five hours ago, I was at the top:

All in all this was a great hike.  Plan for it to be long.  If I had not done some of the hikes I did over the last couple of weeks, this might have been rougher.  But it is a hike I’ve wanted to attempt for a while.  I can confirm, it IS strenuous.  The feeling of accomplishment is awesome, and the views going up each of the mountains is great.

I returned to the rec center, where my car was parked, to a PACKED parking lot, so make sure you get there early.  It is a large lot, but youth soccer games were ongoing by the time I was leaving.

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

All you need to follow

Hiked:  10/4/2020

Norvin Green State Forest

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance: 9.32 miles

Trails:  Otter Hole, Hewitt Butler / Highlands, Wyanokie Circular, Lower, Carris Hill

My Map:

I ended up with free time today, unexpectedly, so it was off to Norvin Green State Forest; a place I’ve wanted to hike.  Originally, I planned to do about seven miles; but called an audible and climbed Carris Hill.  Starting out today, I drove through fog and drizzle, and expected rain later in the day.  Fortunately, the rain held off, and the sun came out after lunch.  The pictures of the views would have been much better had I gotten to them in the afternoon.

Trails are, for the most part, soft dirt; but it’s New Jersey, and you can’t forget two scoops of rocks.

I was the fifth car in the lot by 8:30, when I returned, the lot was packed.

It was off on the Otter Hole trail.

Eventually, that junctions with the Hewitt Butler and  Highlands trail, which I took until that merged with the Wyanokie Circular trail.  This was the route to Wyanoki High Point.  It was here that I ran into the most amount of people – most going to the High Point and back.  There were multiple views just going to the High Point.

Leaves are turning already….

There were a couple of nice scrambles all throughout the forest.  This one was just before the High Point.

I didn’t stay at the High Point long as there were a lot of people up there.  But the views were fantastic – and would have been better when the sun came out after noon.

Leaving Wyanokie High Point sent me deeper into the forest and for the most part, away from people.  I took the Lower trail, with the intention of finding Chikahoki Falls.

When I junctioned with the Carris Hill trail I sat for a moment to think.  It was here that I changed my plans and decided to climb Carris Hill.  I really wasn’t sure when I would come back, it was early, and I figured I could have lunch at the top.

There were lots of good views from this trail.

And lots of other scenery.

Flax Leaf Astor mixed with blueberries

Toadskin Lichen

I thought the Carris Hill trail the most difficult trail in the forest.  At the top it was time for lunch, though it wasn’t quite noon.  After eating, I looked up, and noticed these guys waiting for me to keel over.

I came down the Hewitt Butler / Highlands trail finding these Honey mushrooms along the way.

When the trail junctioned with the Lower trail I backtracked to the Chikahoki Falls, which didn’t have a lot of water going over it.  In fact, I stood in a dry section, where you could tell the water would normally be, probably in the Spring after the rains.

I walked back to the Hewitt Butler / Highlands trail and took that all the way to the Otter Hole trail.

Spotted Wintergreen
Eastern North American Destroying Angel

With a desiccated puffball next to it.

I walked past the Otter Hole trail to go take a look at the Otter Hole.

Then, it was 2.3 miles on the Otter Hole trail back to the car.

Shelf Fungi

The Otter Hole trail is mostly a woods road, and alternates between nice flat, soft trails, and punishing rocks.

I really liked the forest and will come back to do some of the northern trails, and maybe Stonetown Circular one day.  You’ll find most people around Wyanokie High Point, and with good reason – the views are great.  But, you can hike in solitude on many of the other trails.

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

(not the AT)

Hiked:  9/27/2020

Bearfort Ridge

Park Site

Trail Map

But also look here and here for improvements and changes.

Hike Distance 7.7 Miles

Trails:  Bearfort Ridge, Ernest Walter, Appalachian, State Line

Note on trails:  See the extra maps above.  What was known as the Quail Trial/Jimmy Glick trail appears to have been renamed to make up the Bearfort Ridge Loop.  Also, as of now (September 2020) The Bearfort Ridge Loop trail has been reblazed a lime green color.  It looks like there will be a new trail as well.  Bearfort Ridge used to be white.

My Map:

I was blessed with another perfect day to go out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day.  It was in the low 50s when I left home, yet high 40s when I got to the trailhead.  As I might not be able to hike for a couple of weeks, this was a great way to go out.  This route has been on my list for a while as it is described in 50 Hikes in New Jersey; the next time I go, I may try Terrace Pond to the south.

This was a long day though; I was not prepared for the amount of scrambling I would be doing.  when I come back, I may just do the loop for the views.  However I highly recommend this hike.

Starting out, the trails are fairly wide, and soft dirt.  It wouldn’t be north Jersey without rocks.  And lots of rocks.  There were lots of trees down, but the trail is well maintained.

Eastern Hemlock Varnish Shelf mushroom

I went left when the Bearfort Ridge trail split as I wanted to head up to the Appalachian trail before I got to Surprise Lake.  The trail heads up steeply, then sort of levels out as you near the ridge.  I felt like walking on the ridge was like walking on someone’s spine.  There were plenty of rock scrambles, each affording it’s own view.

Right near the top of the ascent, I noticed a big rock to my left and scrambled up that for a great view to the south / southwest.  Coming down that I was faced with:

I was glad to have to go up that, and not down.  However, there was more to come.  This was a good scramble, and with a crazy good view as the payoff.

New York City

It seemed every scramble had a view, and I was blessed with great weather.  Walking northwards on the ridge was pleasant with multiple scrambles and rocks to walk along.

I came to a swamp with a large rock that seems to have been detached from the rest of the rock.

When the Bearfort Ridge trail junctioned with the Ernest Walter trail, I went left, through a small field, then to some large rocks.  Fortunately, I was going down.  Here’s a shot looking back up.

Just beyond, I ran into a group of three, and warned them of what they were going to have to go up.  They mentioned that I had a big rock in store for me that they just came up.  I didn’t think I would have anything more difficult than the above.  They were right.  I don’t have any pictures (I didn’t want to stick around) but I basically came to a twelve foot cliff that had two spots that sort of looked like steps.  After not finding a way around this, I chucked my trekking poles down, slid out on the ledge, kind of twisted over and lowered myself down.  I regret not getting a picture, but I was more content on getting out of that spot.

Eventually, I junctioned with the Appalachain trail, and saw one thru/section hiker going by.  While waiting for a large-ish group of hikers to come scrambling down some rocks, I found a pretty cool looking web.

Scrambling up wasn’t too bad, though the rocks were in the sun and I thought about snakes sunbathing on top.  I figured the snakes would be gone after the group I waited for had left.

I met up with the State Line trail.  However, I wanted to see how far New York was up the Appalachian Trail.  It was much shorter than I expected.

Standing in two states at once

The State Line trail mostly descended until it junctioned back up with the Ernest Walter trail. Then it was a mad climb back up the Ernest Walter.  Again the payoff would be worth it as there expansive views of Greenwood Lake.  My pictures cannot do it justice.  There was a long walk on a large rock and view kept getting better and better as I climbed.  Stitch these next two pictures together.

It would be easy to sit on the rock and look at the view, but I was hungry and wanted to eat at Surprise Lake, a glacial lake.

And then it was down on the old Quail Trail, now part of the Bearfort Ridge Loop.

Orange Mycena

Many of the rocks were covered with Smooth Rock Tripe.  It was all over the place.

False Death Cap

There were a couple of water crossings, mostly dried up, a few with trickling water.  This would probably be much more interesting in the Spring after the rains.

Finally, it was back to where the connector trail led to the parking lot.

This was an awesome hike; it didn’t hurt that I had absolutely phenomenal weather.  I highly recommend this; though if you are going to do the Ernest Walter trail be prepared for some big scrambles.  It seemed that every facet of the this trail was awesome, there were no dull parts.  And for the most part, it is one big view.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

Hiked:  9/19/2020

Schooleys Mountain

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance: 5.02 Miles

My Map:

Another great day and another great hike.  As I got to the trailhead, it was 59 degrees out, and I was the fourth car.  I seriously debated starting with a jacket on, but packed it – and after a few minutes, I was thankful.  I started with the Blue trail (Falling Waters trail) to head to the falls.  Just before the trail descended, I was able to get this picture of Lake George:

Lake George

Just by the dam, the trail starts down – be prepared, this is rocky and steep in sections.  It was perfect weather on my hike; I can only imagine this section on the wet rocks or with ice.  However, the falls are awesome.  You can scramble all over the rocks to get all kinds of views.  It was nearing 60 degrees, had this been August with high heat and humidity, I might have taken a dip.

The Falling Waters trail follows Electric Brook beneath the falls.  There are ruins of the old power station, but I did not find them.  I followed the trail until the fence marking private property, where the trail bears left and goes straight up hill.  At the top of the hill you will come to a junction of many trails and the end of the Falling Waters trail.  There will be rocks on your right, walk out those for a view.

The map shows a point of interest that comprises a big rock outcropping.  Even though I was making a big loop, I took the Pink trail (not named) to its end where it junctions with the Grand Loop trail.  The Pink trail is more a woods road, so, wide with lots of crushed gravel.  There is an unmarked trail to the right which shortly leads to the rocks.

Behind the rocks there should be a view, but with the leaves on the trees, there wasn’t much to see.  I took Pink back to the junction.

At the junction, I turned left onto a White and Teal Trail (Patriot’s Path and the Highlands trail.)  This I took to Fairview Avenue.

Along the way there was a junction and a sign for a Green trail, not named, but shown, on my map.  On the sign was tacked “most difficult.”  After walking about 100 yards I came to sign that said trail’s end, and a cliff.  The map showed more trail, but I couldn’t find where it went, I must have missed it.  Because what I walked was flatter than the Falling Waters trail.  When I come back, I will have to further explore.

I got back on Patriot’s Path/Highland trail and took that to the parking lot at Fairview Avenue, where I would make a left onto the Yellow Dot trail (Beeline trail.)  Approaching this junction and  parking lot is where I ran into more people – this is a fairly busy lot.  This trail has some steep sections as it climbs onto the back section of Schooleys Mountain.  Junction with the Yellow (Grand Loop trail) and continue.

I rested at the junction of Red (High Cut) but stayed on Yellow to get back to the Orange (Upland Meadow trail.)  Orange cuts through two meadows filled with plenty of wild flowers and trees, bird houses, and lots of crickets.  Under a big tree I stopped for a snack though I was mostly done.  The sun was out, and felt great as it pushed the temperatures into the upper 60s.

I walked back on Yellow to Red to cross over the top of Schooleys Mountain.  Following my GPS, I estimated the summit to be right here:

It gets a little squirrlly at the top, I lost the trail a couple of times; and I suspect I wasn’t the only one.  It doesn’t help when I find blazes in the following locations:

Red junctions with Yellow (again) and I took Yellow back to the car.  This portion of the trail is a wide woods road of crushed gravel.

And just before my car I got one more picture of Lake George.

This was a great hike.  By the time I got back to my car, there were more cars there and more people out and about.  This is a really nice park, as are all of the Morris County parks I’ve hiked in.  The trails are well maintained, well blazed and provide great maps (though print your own, there were none at the trailhead.)

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

Hiked: 9/13/2020

 

Stairway to Heaven

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  7.7 miles

Trails:  Appalachian, blue

My Map:

(a note on my map, I forgot to un-pause GPS after sitting, but I essentially retraced my steps.)

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Oh oh oh oh and she’s buying a stairway to Heaven

Like the famous song, this hike is usually listed in the top three hikes of New Jersey.  The scenery is gorgeous.  The boardwalks and suspension bridge are great.  The “Stairway to Heaven” portion of the the Appalachian Trail is steep and rugged, but the payoff is totally worth it.

This had been on my to do list for a long time; but since I knew it was such popular hike I had to find the right time to do it.  The Sunday of Labor Day seemed as good as any.  Be warned, parking is crazy:  lots are small, the parking on the road in the Pochuk Valley is limited, and the local towns are fierce with their ticketing.  I left the house at 6:00 in the morning, figuring if I got there “too early” I could nap.  I was the 5th car by the boardwalks, arriving at 8:00.  But, I couldn’t nap, so I headed out.

This hike is an out an back.  From Pinwheel Vista at the top of Wawayanda Mountain, retrace your steps.  I’ve divided this hike up into three sections:  The Pochuck Valley boardwalk, the middle, and Stairway to Heaven, with the terminus at Pinwheel Vista.

There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving

The first section contains the boardwalks of Pochuck Valley, and there were plenty of people just walking the boards.  It was 59 degrees when I started, and the temps were only supposed to get into the low 70s.  Boardwalks are easy going, and I made the best time here.  But the scenery is incredible; lots of wild flowers.  There were tons of crickets, making a symphony of noise.   Bozza’s Aria it wasn’t.

One of the neatest features is the suspension bridge over Pochuck Creek.

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

The next section I deemed the middle, and it roughly started at the bike path at Canal Road.  It was here that the boardwalk ended, and I moved into the woods; hard-packed dirt and a wide trail.  Due to the constant shade, it was noticeably cooler on this section.

Also, there were a handful of stiles to go over the fences; though some of the fences were missing.  (I still went over the stiles when I could.)

The stile above deposited you into a farm where there were cows (not until my way back.)  And yes, you had to watch where you walked.

And yes, that’s Wawayanda Mountain in the background.  Imposing.

There’s a feeling I get
When I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking

Upon crossing the last stile you’re deposited in the roadway.  Be careful crossing, cars go flying by.  (There’s also a dairy farm a short trip up the road, I didn’t stop, it was too crowded.)  Here, for a small lot, there were a ton of cars.  All of these people were just climbing the mountain to head to Pinwheel Vista.  I apologize, there are not too many pictures of the climb up….you’ll understand in a minute.

These pictures don’t do it justice.  And really, there are a lot of “stairs.”  A.  LOT.  Plus, in some sections it gets pretty steep.  I didn’t break out the poles because there were sections where you needed at least one hand in addition to your feet to climb. Looking at my split times, this section had the slowest time.  Parts of it were brutal.  And it was slow going with the number of people out today.

And it’s whispered that soon, If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter

You’ll know you’ve reached the top when you reach the humongous pile of rocks.  Head to the left to get to Pinwheel Vista.

I, however, wanted to see the mailbox for AT thru hikers, which was less than a half-mile down the path.

Coming back from the mailbox, make a right at the pile of rocks and head to Pinwheel Vista.  It is easy to see why this trail ranks so highly, the views are definitely worth it.

It was so clear I could see the High Point monument directly across from me (way in the distance.)  And you could just barely see Mt. Tammany in the Water Gap.  I sat for quite a while, as it was an exhausting climb and I needed water and something to eat.

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder

To get back, retrace your steps.  I left Pinwheel Vista at the perfect time, a little before noon.  There was an endless stream of people coming up – switchbacks were jammed up, basically with traffic jams.  And I saw people on those rocks with flipflops and crocs and no water or anything to eat.  I tried to keep a good pace going down, but didn’t want to overtake the family in front of me.  Two little girls were bounding on the rocks until one pulled up sharply and shrieked.

A New Jersey Black Rat snake.  I got a good picture and high tailed it out of there.

I think I stopped counting around 300 people that I passed, and it surely had to be more.

Your head is humming and it won’t go
In case you don’t know
The piper’s calling you to join him
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow?
And did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

On the way back down I was able to stop at Annie’s Bluff, which was packed with people when I was climbing.  It was a limited view, but nice none-the-less.

Upon reaching the bottom it was a relatively flat return to the car.  However, the cows were out.

And I spotted this guy basking in the sun.

There were tons of people on the boardwalk and I got back to my car around 1:00.  The road was packed and there were people still showing up, I suspect many were only walking the boardwalk.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll
And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven

All in all, this was a great hike; it’s easy to see why this hike ranks so highly in polls.  The Pochuck Valley and middle sections are easy enough, you will work hard on “the Stairs.”  But the payoff is worth it.  The trail is super easy to follow, it’s the Appalachian Trail.  Supposedly the trail to the vista is blazed blue, but I didn’t see any blazes.

My only concern is the amount of litter on the trail, presumably a factor of the amount of people. I saw masks, paper towels, tissues, etc.  In fact, I kept my mask on from the time I left the Vista until I reached my car due to the number of people.  If you can do this hike mid-week or in sub optimal weather, do it.  I had no solitude today.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

You only need to know one….

Hiked: 9/6/2020

Thanks to Robert, Jimmy, John, and John for allowing me this cliche comparison.

Turkey Mountain

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  6.26 miles

Trails:  Yellow, White, Red, Green, Blue

My Map:

I had been to this park before, though the other side of the street.  Back in 2017, I hiked Pyramid Mountain with my dad in the rain – rain for most of the hike.  It looked like a higher chance of rain on Sunday, so I made this a Saturday hike.  I arrived at the parking lot at 8:30 in the morning, and it was already packed, so I had to park on Mars Court, across the street.  Be careful parking here, you can only park on one side of the streets; and businesses have ominous signs in their lots.  I was surprised it was that packed that early, though it was a really nice day.  I believe I was the fourth car on Mars Court (and when I returned, there were cars all the way down the street, and on 511 south of the park.)  That’s why there is a gap between my starting and ending points on my map, above.  Almost everyone was on Pyramid Mountain, I had Turkey Mountain virtually to myself.

I like this park:  trails are wide (for the most part) made up of mostly dirt and rocks.  There is great signage and trails are very well marked (except when the turn symbol is on a blowdown.)  I noticed at major trail junctions there were cairns, so it was kind of hard to get lost.

I wasn’t planning on taking the red trail right at the beginning, but I thought I saw a viewpoint on the map.  About 300 yards in, I ran into:

There were numerous blowdowns all through the park, most easily navigable.

A shortcut to…mushrooms (JRRT)

While scrambling in the lower portion of the park, it started to get HOT and very humid.  Unlike High Point, I had to zip off the lower portion of my pants.  Not my favorite thing to do, as I’m susceptible to poison ivy, and it’s too easy to get ticks from the fields and high grass.  And no one needs to see my legs.

If you follow the route I took, you will cross the powercut at least four times.  Twice you will go right under towers.  I wasn’t totally prepared for that, as at the first tower, you could hear buzzing.

This guy almost got stepped on.

Following the Yellow trail along the roadside, it suddenly comes out on the road.

Fortunately, it’s pretty well marked, right after the guardrail, make a left into the woods.  (I noticed a pullout parking spot for one car at this spot.)

Left after the guardrail.

At this point, you are heading up Turkey Mountain, I believe to the highest point in the park on this side of 511.  While the trail is wide, I ran into a stone wall that crosses the trail.

When Yellow T-intersects with Red, I took a quick detour to the right to find the actual top of Turkey Mountain.  I couldn’t find a marker, but GPS confirmed that I did in fact reach the highest point.  I retraced my steps, and continued on Red.  There’s a steep descent where you run into Green.  Then a steep ascent, at the top of which are stone ruins.  This area, at one time, was a limestone quarry.

Following Green you come to a great spot overlooking Lake Vallhalla.  There are numerous overlooks along this route, however with the leaves out, many overlooks did not have views.

Finally, I followed Green until Blue, which traveled uphill and up the powercut.  There were some great views from the base of the powerline tower.

This was the beginning of the 100 Stairs, the path down to the road and back to the car.  In the bright, hot and humid sun, this was tough.  In the Fall, it’s probably great.  On a hot and humid day, it’s strenuous.

All in all this was a great hike.  There were a couple of rock hops that probably are trickier in the spring with more water flowing.  Also, it was nice to come back to this park on a day where it wasn’t raining.  When I got back to my car, the street was packed, but I noticed more people returning from Pyramid Mountain.

Tickes:  0

Blazes:

Hiked:  8/22/2020

Holmdel Park – Ramanessin area

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance: 3.89 miles

Trails:  Steeplechase, Ramanessin

My Map:

Shakedown hike!  I’ve been to Holmdel Park countless times, it’s about 20 minutes from my house.  But, after my last couple of hikes I had to make some changes and this seemed like a great place to a) hike a trail I haven’t been on, and b) test out some new gear.

First:  For Father’s Day I was given money to purchase trekking poles.  After coming down the steep section of the mountain on the Green trail in Apshawa Preserve, I realized I should probably try trekking poles.  I realize that they seem to be a polarizing issue; you either love them or hate them. I can see pros and cons, but if they truly make it a little more comfortable, I’m game.  I purchased a pair of Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking poles, cork handles and lever locks.

Second:  After the debacle with the boots I figured it was time to upgrade to newer boots.  My previous boots were L. L. Bean boots, of about twenty years; though used the most during the past five.  I know there rages two debates, boots or trail runners, and waterproof or non-waterproof. Ultimately, I think I’ll move to trail runners at some point, to save the weight, however; given where I hike and the sheer amount of rocks I went with a more traditional boot.  And, I went with non-waterproof as they will dry quicker.  My choice was Merrell Moab 2 Vents, and a ridiculous deal from Amazon.

So, this hike was to break in new boots and learn how to effectively use trekking poles.

The boots are awesome, they barely need breaking in.  They are extremely comfortable and a noticeable upgrade from my last boots.  As for the poles, it took me a mile or two to really get them right.  I’m sure I looked pretty spastic to the people coming the other way as I was trying to get into the right rhythm with them.  My verdict, I like them.  Certainly, on flat sections I get into a good rhythm and can make good (better) time.  Plus, there is an upper body workout as well.  Holmdel park isn’t known for elevation changes, but I did get to climb and descent some small hills; and I definitely see advantages to the poles.  They’ll make rock hopping and stream crossings easier, though I don’t know how much they’ll get used during scrambles.

As for the hike…this was a typical Monmouth County Park System hike.  There were very few blazes, mostly markers telling you which way the trail went.  And there were plenty of unmarked trails.  Trails were wide and well used, so it is very hard to actually get lost, though I found it difficult staying to my plan.  More than once I had to turn around.

One of the neatest aspects of this section of Holmdel Park is that the park follows Ramanessin Brook which is known to have shark’s teeth and fossils in it.  While walking along the southern portion of the Steeplechase trail I came across a person who had a couple.

I hiked down to the water to check it out.  I would like to come back and walk the brook and see what’s actually there as the brook is shallow and easily walk-able, and on a hot summer day will feel great.  I’ve heard that there are more fossils and teeth at Big Brook Park.

By the end of the hike I was pretty proficient with the poles and will be happy to bring them on future hikes.  And the boots were great.  I didn’t realize that the Ramanessin area had it’s own pull-out lot, which would have shaved about three quarters of a mile off the hike.  I parked in the main Longstreet Farm lot, which was starting to get full by the time I returned.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

Hiked:  7/12/2020

High Point State Park

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  7.5 miles

Trails:  Iris, Appalachian, Monument/Shawangunk Ridge, Cedar Swamp

My Map:

This would be some hike.  I believe that this would be the furthest I drive for a hike in New Jersey as this was a long drive; but a really nice day.  I had never been to High Point or the monument even though it is widely known.  The monument is not open due to the pandemic, it is unlikely that I would have climbed it even if it was open.  Forget the fact that I would have just come up a steep section of the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail, I’m not sure I could do the steps.

I started this hike at the Appalachian Trail pull off lot, which was good-sized and empty by the time I got there.  I took the connector to the Iris trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail until Route 23 and the park office.  I was a little disoriented when I came to Route 23 as I knew I had to cross the road, but I wasn’t sure where the trail picked up.  It became very obvious.

The next section on the Appalachian Trail was pretty strenuous, and I was beginning to think of the other week at Apshawa.  Lots and lots of rocks.  And some pretty steep sections as well.  I usually hike in long pants to keep the ticks/bugs off me.  They are the pants that zip off above the knees to convert to shorts.  It was pretty warm, around 85, and somewhat humid; I considered zipping them off when I got to the monument for some relief.  I found the observation deck on the AT and rested a moment before the next leg – which consisted of a descent into a small valley, then a hike uphill to the monument.

The Appalachian Trail will meet the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge Trail, and that’s where I left the Appalachian.  There is one section of this trail that runs straight uphill to the back of the monument.  The rest at the top was totally worth it.  It was here that I thought I would convert my pants to shorts, but after sitting for a few minutes I started to realize it was a little chilly.  It’s a perfect spot for a snack and by the time I had finished eating, people watching, wandering around the monument I was cooled off.  I took a picture looking back at the observation deck.

Be advised that there is a parking lot about 100 yards from the monument and it gets crowded.  I know I got some looks from people as I emerged from the trail dripping with sweat and probably looking like I would collapse.

Here’s where it got interesting for me.  I wanted to continue on the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail to find the Cedar Swamp trail.  Monument/Shawangunk Ridge continues on the other side of the parking lot.  While crossing the parking lot I felt something flapping on my left boot.  I took a look and I could see where the boot was separating from the sole.  Sigh.  Now what?  I’m a little under two miles in.  It has gotten partly cloudy, to the point that rain may be arriving.  And I have a boot that may be failing.  Looking at the topo map I saw that there wasn’t too much elevation change.  My questions would be a) what if really started raining? and b) could I make it back over the AT if I needed to?

I decided to press on.

Not a bad decision.  I just had to manage that left boot.  Which held up pretty well.  At a break, I looked at the right boot, and I could see where it too was starting to fail.  Granted, these boots were almost 20 years old, but only used heavily the last five years.

I found the Cedar Swamp trail and completed that circuit.  Backwards I found out.  Typically that trail starts from the parking lot east of Lake Marcia.  The park has set the trail direction as clockwise.  I entered the trail from the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail, didn’t see signs, and walked counter-clockwise.  Fortunately, I didn’t see many people, but wondered why I got funny looks from the people I did pass.  When I got to the trail “start” I saw the signs for the temporary directions.  The Cedar Swamp trail was nice, cool, relatively level, and very different from the surrounding terrain.

I finished the loop and got back on the Monument/Shawangunk Ridge trail to complete my loop back towards the AT.  Where the Shawangunk Ridge trails bears right to New York I stopped to take a picture at one of the view points.  I believe that’s Port Jervis in the distance.

I’m pretty sure that’s New York state in the distance.

I continued on the Monument Trail.  After a little bit I noticed some good elevation changes, one of which became pretty rocky.  And, my left boot was becoming worse.  I quickly realized I was going to have to make some decisions soon.  Coming out of the woods, I followed the trail down to Marcia Lake.  The sun was out, it was a little warmer so I stopped to eat and rest again. There’s a beach at the far end, and it was packed with people; some swimming in the lake.

Looking at my boot I realized I would not make it back over the AT.  I decided to road walk the rest of the way back.  And honestly, even without the boot problem, this might have been the better decision as the walk around the lake was extremely pleasant, albeit warmer.

After exiting the park I had a short road walk on Route 23 south, probably a quarter mile or so.  About 300 yards from the AT parking lot, the boot and sole separated.  I am extremely thankful it happened here, rather than on the trail somewhere.  Big lesson learned – I’m now carrying a small role of duct tape for these kinds of situations.

I really enjoyed this hike, I’d like to come back and hike some of the southern area from the parking lot.  The mental stress of the hike was certainly a distraction, but being better prepared on my part would alleviate that.  The AT parking lot was not full when I returned and is a great place to park if you don’t want to pay the fees and/or don’t mind the the extra walk.

Ticks:  0

Blazes:

Cedar Swamp marker

Hiked:  7/3/2020

Apshawa Preserve

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  6.3 miles

Trails:  Blue, White, Red, Green

My Map:

I’m calling it now, this hike will be in the top five at the end of the year, if not the top spot.  This was a great hike, and is a great place to visit and hike.  It did not hurt that the weather was perfect:  sunny, barely a cloud in the sky and very low 70s.  To me, this hike has it all:  some steep terrain, lakes, cascades and waterfalls, ruins, and great views.

The state of New Jersey is slowly re-opening and I looked for a hike that might be out of the way with less people.  I can’t remember where I learned of Apshawa Preserve, my best bet is NJHiking.com. I left early, as usual, and by the time I got to the parking lot, I was almost the last car in; there were lots of people early in the morning.  In the lot, there was a large group of loud people, only a few masked.  I let them start off ahead of me hoping to give them a good head start while I snapped a picture of the trail kiosk.  And this great picture:

I haven’t seen a bear while hiking.  I’d like to, but from a distance.  It was not to be today.  To enter the park, you have to pass through a gate in a fence, which I read is used to keep the deer out.  I didn’t see any deer in the park, so I would say it is effective.  In I went.

It was all uphill to start, which was fun.  It didn’t take me long to catch up to that large group, I could hear them while walking and figured I would catch them sooner or later.  I figured I would pass them, but we got caught in a bottleneck – where the trail descends a rock scramble.  I let them take their time with that while checked out the view.  One in their group was playing music through their phone, one was on their phone trying to send pictures to someone.  I started to plan where I wanted to pass them, but luckily, did not have to.  I turned onto white, which went straight uphill.  I slowly lost their noise, and was rewarded with views from the top.

White descended steeply to junction with Red.  This would be the trail around Butler Reservoir and had some amazing views of the water.  I would have liked to have circumnavigated yellow, but the trail is closed due to beaver activity.

I must have missed the actual trail between the two sections of the reservoir.  I was probably walking on a small footpath when I realized I had to cross a small stream.  I couldn’t believe the trail would present this path to casual hikers.

I crossed without issue.  And after walking about 20 feet on the other side, I saw where the “real” trail rock hopped across the stream.  Either way seemed fun.

Some views of the reservoir:

This is why the Yellow trail is closed

Mountain Laurel were still in bloom and could be found in numerous locations.

On the southwestern side of the reservoir I met up with the large group of hikers.  They were looking for the waterfall, which I knew to be on the Green trail.  I let them know, but they were dedicated to going around the reservoir.  Shortly after, I met up with a hiking group with their dogs, all unleashed.  When they saw me they started to leash up the dogs but I was mostly by them by the time the dogs were all leashed.  I’m a dog person, so don’t mind them, but I would rather they be leashed.

After a brief rest on the rocks in the middle of the reservoir, I headed to the green trail.  This went up, steeply.  There was a great view at the top that was probably much better without the vegetation.  The peak was the highest point in Apshawa Presever, and I’ll say, it was a nice long ascent.  The descent, though, was a different story.  There were two or three switchbacks, but it felt like it was straight down the fall-line and my knees felt it.   Here’s what that section looks like in Caltopo, the switchbacks are in the center, and you can see the contour lines.

I rested at the cascades of Apshawa Brook.

A little ways up the trail (and uphill) I came to the ruins of the old water purification system.  What’s not shown are the massive tanks sitting by the brook.

Up the steep hill to the waterfall of Apshawa Brook.

From here I followed Green until it met back with Blue, and took that back to the car.  Upon reaching the parking lot I noticed that there were police directing the flow of traffic.

This is a great place to hike and I highly recommend it; it has something for everyone.  I hiked as long as I could, but there were numerous paths and circuits to make the hike as long and rugged as you like, or not.  My advice is to get there early as the lot fills up.

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

Hiked:  6/14/2020