2020 Analysis

Ok, first, a comment.  Totals for this year, while accurate, are going to be out of whack compared to previous years.  I got out on the trail much more this year – thank you pandemic, and looking for solitude – and the numbers do not really correlate or compare to prior years.  However, the numbers are interesting none the less.  And, I hope to get out about the same this year (hopefully more), so that will be a better comparison.

But, enough of comparisons, the reality is I traveled to many more destinations and got to see much more of this and neighboring  states, and was able to experience more environments, sites and trails.  So, without further ado, let’s look at some numbers.

2017 hikes: 12
2018 hikes: 10
2019 hikes: 5
2020 hikes: 23

So, right off the bat I went on (almost) as many hikes as the last three years combined.

2017 miles: 40.45
2018 miles: 41.54
2019 miles: 23.35
2020 miles: 149.57

And yep, more mileage than the last three years combined.  In the beginning of the year I hoped to hit 100 miles.  The shortest hike occurred in the Great Swamp Wilderness, when all but one trail were impassable due to mud.  The longest hike happened in Brendan T Byrne State Forest and encompassed part of the Batona trail along with a ramble through a good portion of the forest.  My sweet spot for hike distance seems to be in the 7-9 mile range.  I don’t mind longer, and sometimes with shorter hikes I feel short changed.

New this year, total elevation gain.

2017 elevation: 2555 feet
2018 elevation: 3300 feet
2019 elevation: 2192 feet
2020 elevation: 17838 feet

I’m not even going to attempt commentary.  In looking back through my notes I see hikes (in previous years) where I did not record elevation gain.  And, I had some hikes this year that had more elevation gain than any of the prior year’s totals.

So, let’s look at my favorite hikes of the year.

Honorable MentionLord Stirling Forrest

I said on this hike’s write-up that I would be surprised if this hike was not in the top five hikes I took for the year.  Well, I was pleasantly surprised.  Lord Stirling Park was a great hike on an absolutely gorgeous day.  I loved the boardwalks, especially the section that goes through the swamp.  The only reason this hike did not place higher is I went bigger with some crazy views.

5Kittatiny State Park

Come on, how can you compete with a hike that had some climbing, a walk by a lake, and an airport?  This hike was taken on another absolutely gorgeous day at the beginning of the pandemic.  I remember sitting by the runway eating lunch, and if it were not getting a little too crowded for my liking I would have stayed longer to watch the planes.

4Apshawa Preserve

What can I say?  Again, another absolutely perfect day.  Minus an airport, this park checked all the boxes for a great hike:  scrambling, a couple of good strenuous climbs, a walk around a lake, cascades, and a waterfall.  It’s also the site where I learned of the need for trekking poles.

3Schunnemunk State Park / Schunnemunk Mountain

Water crossing and rock hopping.  Some good-sized scrambles.  While not above tree line, a little exposure at the top.  I thoroughly enjoyed this park on a journey outside New Jersey.  The views were intense once I reached the ridge to the top of Schunnemunk Mountain.  Of course, with the wind blowing as hard as it was, I’ll admit, I was a little uneasy.  But, I had the place all to myself for a mid-week hike on election day – I saw ONE other person the entire hike (results not typical – it appears weekends are packed here.)  And it was nice to get some good elevation.

2Stairway to Heaven

For my money, this is THE view for New Jersey.  And. You. Will. Work. For. It.  Yes, the view at Mt. Tammany is iconic and a great hike to boot.  However, the hike across the boardwalks and through the cow pasture are serene.  And the climb up the mountain to Pinwheel Vista is one tough thigh-burning climb.  But the payoff is totally worth it.  I could have sat there for hours.  For another absolutely perfect day, it got crowded – even during a pandemic.  My only downside would be the crowds.  That view, though, has become my Zoom background.

And…..

1Bearfort Ridge

I had trouble just picking a picture for this hike.  And I probably don’t have to say it, but it was yet another absolutely perfect day weather-wise.  Heck, you can see New York City in the picture.  To me, this hike had it all:  great elevation gain, some great scrambles, puddingstone ridges, a lake, views, views, and more views.  It seemed after every scramble, or every turn, there was yet another fabulous view trying to outdo the last.  Heck, the view overlooking Greenwood Lake is massive, and really, requires a panoramic lens.  While this hike was not as crowded as, say, Stairway to Heaven or Tammany, it’s popular.  But that doesn’t matter, I will go back to do this hike again.  I can’t recommend this one enough.

So, those are my top five hikes for the year (and one honorable mention.)  With 23 hikes there were some other great standouts:  The waterfall at Schooley’s Mountain is extremely picturesque, and a good scramble to reach.  Norvin Green State Forest has some great views and little something for everyone.  The epicly long Stonetown Circular trail is a beast, with five mountains in almost 11 miles of hiking.  Climbing to the top of New Jersey at High Point State Park was notable, even if I did blow out a boot at the end.  A little closer to home, the swinging bridge at Princeton Battlefield / Institute Woods was fun to find and cross.

Where will 2021 take me?  I have a list.  My goal is to keep going upwards.  And ever since being on Mt. Etna, I have a desire to climb volcanoes.  But that’s probably a ways off.  Of course, the pandemic will probably have a voice in where I actually end up.

Here’s to a great new year; with great weather, great elevation, great views, the open air, wildlife, a pack on your back and traveling blaze to blaze.,

National Park Service Free Entry Days For 2021

2021 will see the following days where entry is free:

January 18th – Martin Luther King’s birthday

April 17th – First day of National Park Week

August 4th – One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act

September 25th – National Public Lands Day

November 11th – Veterans Day.

See the press release here.

Clayton Park

Park Site

Trail Map – surprisingly, there were printed brochures

Hike Distance:  6.09 miles

Trails – all (Glen Trail, Bridges Trail, Clayton Fields Trail, Doctor’s Creek, and Old Forge Trail)

My Map:

I wanted to do something shorter and close to home, so off to Clayton Park, a Monmouth County Park.  While a typical Monmouth county park, with very little signage or blazing, the trails were wide, dirt, with leaf covering and some roots.  It was nice to not have rocks.  Be warned though, there are LOTS of mountain bikes.

You can see by my map that I hiked almost the entire park, I tried not to double-back, but there were two spots I had to.  You really can’t get lost, and you can make as many loops as you want.  Bring a paper map or GPS to guide you around the unmarked trails.

With all the brown, it would be easier to pick out plants and mushrooms.

Bracket Fungi
Japanese Honeysuckle

I did not see one blaze in the park.  The closest thing to a blaze are the signs at trail junctions.

Greater Celandine
Garlic Mustard

There is very little elevation, there are a couple of hills to ascend and descend.

Stinking Orange Oyster

I found some of my favorite, and I never just find one.  Trees and logs are always covered with them.

Turkey Tail
Christmas Fern

Striped Wintergreen

I walked a good portion of the Clayton Fields Trail though I did not walk to the lake.

And I ended up going around the pond twice.

Ticks: 0

Hiked:  11/27/2020

Terrace Pond – West Loop

Park Site – a note here:  The trails are located in Wawayanda State Park, however they appear on the Abram Hewitt map.

Trail Map – here is the official map, linked to the site.  However, trails have been re-blazed.  This map is much better (until the official map is updated.)

Hike  Distance:  4.9 miles

Trails:  Terrace Pond Loop (Yellow)

My Map:

The weather was supposed to be nice, with rain coming in the week, so I figured I would head out again.  When I reached the pond, with the sun out, it was pretty hot.  But, overcast moved in, and the temperature dropped though out the day.  I did this hike clockwise, which put the scrambling and the ups and downs at the beginning of the hike.  As you move away from the pond, you will go downhill and finish up on a woods road, and a smaller trail.

A note about the pond, swimming is NOT allowed, not that I had planned it.  There is ample signage both at the trailhead and at the pond.    Bear in mind that much of the edge of the pond is surrounded by rock and if you get in trouble, search and rescue will take a while to reach you.  While I was at the pond, it was starting to fill up with people – hiking just to the pond is a nice hike.

A note on parking:  I got to drive on New Jersey’s most haunted road.  I had read about this road often enough in Weird NJ, so it was fun to actually visit this landmark.  I can safely say I didn’t experience anything.  Park in lot P-7, when I arrived at 9:00 in the morning I was the third car; when I returned a little after 12:00, the lot was packed.  Walk across the street to the trailhead.

The new blazes really stand out, and are spaced appropriately.  They’re easy to see – maybe because they are so new.  The hike starts out on nice wide trails, and early on you will cross some streams.

The big rocks are a nice touch.

The Ents are still asleep.

After a short distance, you will arrive at a power-cut, make a right, and head up.

Puddingstone!

You won’t go up the whole hill, but will turn part way up.  At that turn is a nice view.

There will be a couple of good scrambles before you reach the pond.

From the top of this scramble, there is another nice view.

With leaves down, it’s easier to pick out anything not brown.  Unfortunately, no mushrooms on this hike.

Rock Greenshield Lichen
Smooth Rock Tripe
Eastern Teaberry

Just before reaching the pond, there will be a good-sized scramble that ends at this fin-shaped rock.

The trail goes around the rock, but you can scramble to the top for a great view.  I did not.  There’s not a lot to stand on, and a sheer drop on the other side.  Crawling most of the way to the top, I can vouch that the view is nice.

More puddingstone

Eventually you will reach the pond, and connect with the Circular Trail (White.)  I put the pond about a third of the way into the hike.  While there is some minor scrambling after the pond, you’re mostly done with the hard stuff.

After leaving the pond, and going over some rocks, I came to this smallish cave.  You can see that it goes back a bit, and there’s water; but I wasn’t willing to find out who might be napping in there.

Haircap Moss

There were a couple of sections of the trail that were just perfect to walk…wide dirt trails covered in pine needles.

Desiccated puffball

Eventually the trail will wind down to a swamp, and join a woods road.  You will go over three drainage pipes, that form small cascades across the road from the swamp.

Follow the woods road for a while.

Bracket fungi

Eventually, the road will veer left, with the trail making a hard right, and becoming more of a trail than a road.  You will follow this back to the trailhead.

Flat-Branched Tree Club-Moss

Just before descending to the trailhead there is a good-sized Rhododendron tunnel to pass through.

This is another great hike.  I may attempt the northern loop in the future as a new trail has been cut to form a true loop.  I can imagine this hike would be much more crowded in the summer and nicer weather.  Because of the popularity of the pond, I did come across more people, but not the insane crowds on some of my previous hikes.

Ticks: 0

Blazes:

Hiked:  11/21/2020

Point Mountain

Park Site  (northern section)

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  6.9 miles

Tails:  Orange, White, Blue (northern section), Red, Blue (central section)  (The brochures have actual trail names, I’ve just used the colors from the trail map.)

My map:

Point Mountain has been a place I’ve been to a couple of times as I dropped off and picked up my daughter from Camp Bernie.  It was time to climb to the viewpoint and explore the park.  Arriving at the trailhead, it was in the mid 40s, yet when I reached the viewpoint, it was already in the upper 60s.  The sun felt great, and I’m not going to complain about 70 degree weather the first weekend in November.

I have some mixed emotions about this hike, which I’ll get to.  However, know that practically all of the leaves are down (which hasn’t happened yet at home.)  This was a blessing and curse – the curse to be revealed later.  However, as the ground and surroundings are brown, anything non-brown became picture-worthy.

From the trailhead, start on blue (for a very short time) until orange splits off.

American Wintergreen
Resinous Polypore
Christmas Fern

And those were just within the first 100 feet.

Orange splits off, and you can see what you will be in for as the trail works its way up to the top.

Ultimately, you will wind your way around to the right, and come up the shoulder.  Once to the top, there are numerous viewpoints looking north over the farmlands.

The Orange trail leaves and meanders northeast along the ridge.  You’ll see a couple of rocks to scramble out on for more viewpoints.

Garlic Mustard

The ridge walk was especially pleasant as temperatures had really warmed up.  The trail was easy to follow and you can see views off to your left.  To the right is all forest and an army of squirrels gathering food for the winter.

As you descend, you will reach an area with a small stream crossing.

I took the White trail north heading into the Northern Section of the park.  This trail was well marked and easily followed.  I had read that there were sections that were overgrown, I did not find that to be the case today.  As the trail emerges by Penwell Road and a creek, I found these Turkey  Tail fungi.

 

Spotted Wintergreen

This tree was covered with Turkey Tail.

The trail comes out on Penwell Road and it is not immediately obvious where to go.  Cross the road, and head to the left.  There is a private driveway, with a “No Outlet” sign.  Just to the right is a large cairn marking the continuation of the trail.

Head up.  It’s another climb.  And at this point, on this day, all the leaves were down.  I felt like I was wading through water.  The leaves were knee-deep in some parts, and it was very easy to lose the trail.  I’m pretty sure I was off trail quite a bit.  Essentially, I hiked blaze-to-blaze, when I saw the next blaze, I walked to it whether the trail could be seen or not.  And, it was very loud, with all the leaves.  Coming down I figured would be treacherous.

I took the White, which crested the mountain, then descended, to the Blue, to the Red, which connected back to the white.  On the red you go through a large stone wall.

Funeral Bell Mushrooms

Don’t eat those…they’re toxic.

I backtracked on white to eventually get off the mountain, and head back to the central section of the park.  What I found interesting is there a section of the white trail where it appears that someone walked with a portable blower and blew off the leaves.  It’s only for about 100 feet or so, and you can see where this person’s trail heads back towards private property.  It was a welcome, brief, respite from the noise.

Back in the central section of the park, I continued on Orange until it joined with Blue – which paralleled the Muscunetcong River.

While walking this section there are many nice rocks to sit on, take a break, and watch the river flow by.

Canadian Wild Ginger

The Blue trail splits, taking the left fork will take you back to where you parked.  I went right and followed the river a bit more.  Eventually the bridge comes into view.

Clustered Black Snake Root

I decided to cross the road by the bridge, and finish up that last section of the blue trail.  You can see by my map that I didn’t finish the whole trail.  There was a huge blowdown obscuring the path.  Also, this section is wildly overgrown, and you don’t want to go off trail.  I’m sure I picked up a hitchhiker here.  On my way back, there were so many leaves down, that I’m sure I was off trail in spots.

Thin-wall Mazed Polypore

The lot was full when I reached it after finishing the Blue trail.  And it was warm, in the 70s by now.  All in all, I really enjoyed the Central Section of the park.  I do not think I would hike the northern section unless it is before the leaves dropping.  I did not see a single person on this hike until I reached the river, and back at the lot.  I would definitely hike to the viewpoint again.  Trails were well marked, and aside for the overgrowth and leaves, were easy to follow.

Ticks: 1

Blazes:

Northern Section
Northern Section

Hiked:  11/7/2020

Schunnemunk State Park – Schunnemunk Mountain

Park Site

Trail Map

Hike Distance:  8.23 miles

Trails:  Trestle (White), Barton Swamp (Red dot), Jessup (Yellow), Dark Hollow (Black dot), Otterkill (Red)

My Map:

It’s election day and my company gave me the day off to vote.  The joke’s on them, I voted three weeks ago.  So, with all the rain this past weekend, I planned on hiking today as the weather was supposed to be better.  It started out nice at home, by the time I reached the trailhead and parking lot on Otterkill Road, it was cloudy and there was a smattering of rain drops on my windshield.  By the end of the day the sun was out and it was gorgeous.  The wind was blustery, and at the top it was downright howling, especially in the exposed areas.

I started by heading up the Trestle trail, aptly named as it starts into the woods under the MTA train trestle.  On the way, I took this picture of what I would be doing very shortly.

I started out with a jacket on as I wasn’t entirely shore if I would get soaked.  And the trail heads steeply up.  By the time I reached Sharon’s Bench, I took the jacket off.

Sharon’s Bench, with the Gunks in front of the Catskils

The trail kept climbing until it got onto the ridge.

Smooth Rock Tripe

There was lots and lots of puddingstone.

Once onto the ridge, there are lots of views in all directions.

After a short walk, you’ll run into cairns; which is where the Barton Swamp trail meets the Trestle Trail.  Hang a left, then head downhill.  For my entire trip, most of the difficult scrambles were in the downhill direction; and made worse by the large amount of leaf litter.  Yes, I slipped a couple of times.  This picture will give some idea of what the downhill scrambles look like.

 

Winter Russula

Barton Swamp heads down (with extensive scrambling) into a valley where it comes to Baby Creek.

After crossing the creek, you’ll head uphill to the junction with the Jessup trail.  This climbs onto the ridge of Schunnemunk Mountail, with views-a-plenty.

Did I mention puddingstone?

I wonder what this is?
Eastern Teaberry

Before reaching the ridgeline, there was a viewpoint where I could look across to the western ridge – looking across the valley I had just traversed.

When I got onto the top of the ridge, the wind really picked up.  And while I wasn’t above tree-line, there was a little exposure here.  Much of the walking was on huge, long, flat puddingstone rocks; almost like walking on a roadway.  At least the sun had finally come out and took the bite off the wind.  I got as close as I could to the top of Schunnemunk Mountain.

From here I retraced my steps to the Dark Hollow trail; which would be my descent off the mountain.  You could almost skateboard on some of the sections of rock.

The Dark Hollow trail is one continuous descent.  There were lots of rock scrambles, one with water pouring from it (tough to see in this picture.)

Here’s a shot looking back up.  Treacherous, with all the leaves on the trail.

Also, there would be numerous stream crossings, many of the streams were too deep to rockhop.

And what do we have here?

I wasn’t sure, until I checked here (scroll down until you get a match.)

To my eyes, it looks like Bobcat.  I certainly wasn’t prepared for that.

There are a couple of nice viewpoints coming down Dark Hollow.

The trail junctions with the Otterkill trail at the railroad tracks.  DO NOT CROSS the tracks.  At this point most of the uphill/downhill is over, and the Otterkill is more of a woods road.  There will be some small climbs, but it is a good way to finish the day.

You cross a small stream

before eventually crossing Baby Creek again, this time over a bridge.

Bracket Fungi
Oyster Mushroom
Eastern Wintergreen
Asian Beauty

There is one last viewpoint on the Otterkill trail before it meets back up with the Trestle Trail.

This was a great hike and it turned into a great day.  It felt great with the sun out, and the wind was bearable.  The trails are fairly well marked, there are only a couple of spots I had to really look around.  On the large puddingstone rocks on top of the ridge, there are cairns to keep you from getting off trail, and painted arrows on the rocks when there are turns.  What was nice is I only ran into one other hike the entire day.  Though, there are signs along Otterkill road warning not to park on the sides – so I suspect it’s pretty busy on the weekends.  All in all, a great day.

Ticks:  0

Bobcat:  Well, I didn’t see one, I saw where one was.

Blazes:

Hiked:  11/3/2020

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. Minsi

It 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