Archives for category: hiking

After reading about it in the paper, we tried a new trail (new to us, I mean) in Fahnestock State Park.  We’ve been hiking in the park for years and it is exciting to realize that there are still significant portions that we have yet to explore.

We checked our trusty—and well-worn—trail map and found that the trailhead for the Sunken Mine Railbed Trail is located just a short distance (about half of a mile) closer to us than a trailhead we have been using for many years.  We’ve passed by the parking area a hundred times with only a vague notion (at best) that another convenient hiking opportunity awaited us there.

As its name implies, the trail follows an old mine railroad.  This seemed apparent for the first quarter of a mile from the trailhead as the path was wide and flat.  However, the trail then traversed up and over a ridge (where several trees, toppled by Hurricane Sandy no doubt, made passage difficult) and dropped steeply down to a pond.  I don’t think even a mine railcar could manage that terrain.  While we were enjoying the view, we noticed that the night had been cold enough that a thin scrim of ice had formed over the pond’s surface.

From there, the trail widened and continued in a straight and level alignment along a raised berm; clearly, this was the former railbed.  Although not physically challenging, I enjoy flat, roomy trails because they allow two or three hikers to walk side by side with less fear of stumbling or tripping.  This, in turn, facilitates conversation making for a much more social experience; walking and talking in the wilderness.

When we’d been hiking for half an hour, we came to a sharp turn in the trail and again checked the map for potential routes back to our starting point.  A loop was possible and would have been preferable except that another quarter hour of outbound walking would have been needed.  We didn’t have the energy for what would wind up a hike of 90 minutes duration and so decided to turn around and head back the way we came.

Further study of the map revealed that the comeback point on the loop we could have taken is the same trail intersection that we passed, from a different direction, on a hike last month (about which, for a change, I did not blog; for photographs, however, see October 7, 2012).  I was reminded that everything, potentially, connects to everything else.  (And I wonder, for instance, whether this section of mine railbed connects to a similar section of the Appalachian Trail; see January 1, 2012.)  With today’s hike, I have filled in a gap in my mental map of the park.

On the walk back, the sun was in our faces and its warmth felt good (even if it was also blinding).  There is a quality to the light at this time of year that always makes it feel later in the day than it actually is.  Even at its highest inclination, the sunlight remains oblique and thus heavily filtered by the atmosphere.  In the summer, this condition only occurs near sunrise and sunset but in winter, it lasts all day.  As a result, the look of early morning quickly transforms into the appearance of late afternoon.  It is a strange sensation to completely skip a time that feels like midday.

On the other hand, the low angle of the light is great for studying textures.  The shallow rays accentuate the smallest surface irregularities so that even tiny pebbles and diminutive tree roots cast shadows that drape across the full width of the trail.


Generally, I like to get up early in the morning.  I’m not talking crazy-early which by my definition is any time earlier than 5:00 am.  That still counts as the night before.  No, for me early is in the 5:30 am to 6:30 am range.  For the last few years, my alarm clock has been set to 6:00 am.

In mid-summer, getting up at that hour is no problem.  It is already light by then and because my circadian rhythms are usually in sync with the sun, I am fully awake when the sun rises.  But as summer progresses into fall and the day shortens, it becomes increasingly difficult to haul myself out of bed for the same reason.  Rising before the sun takes considerable effort.

Luckily, it is not still dark in the early morning but that won’t last for long.  To take advantage of the light (on what looks to be a particularly sunny day), we decided to take a quick hike in Fahnestock State Park before getting to work.  One of the nice things about being so close to the park and knowing some of its trails so well is that we can complete a short loop before 9:00 am.

And one of the nice things about doing anything that early is that by the time I sit down to my desk to start the day’s work, I will have already accomplished a great deal.  In this case, my body will have gotten an hour’s worth of exercise and my mind will be fresh and clear from the meditative peace and beauty of the great outdoors.

With a visiting friend in tow, we took another hike in Fahnestock.  We consider this state park an extension of our back yard and we have several favorite routes.  Today, we chose the Dennytown Road trailhead (which I love for the name, if nothing else) and another Three Lakes/Appalachian Trail loop (see January 1, 2012 for the other).

The last time we hiked this trail, we missed the turnoff for the Appalachian Trail and ended up at the turnaround point for the loop that starts at Canopus Lake.  That essentially doubled the length of our hike and left us exhausted when we finally got back to the car just before sunset.  This time, we were sure we would stay on track and get back to where we started after an hour or so.

Well, we paid close attention to the blazes and other trail markers (including some pretty blue metal diamonds with a red cattle-brand-like HT blaze, for the Hudson Trail) and did not stray from our chosen path.  But this time it was our memory that failed us.  The loop was much longer than we remembered and took us almost two hours to complete (albeit at a leisurely pace).  We returned home tired, hungry and ready for homemade waffles.

Usually, when the weather is as hot as it has been, we rely on cooler overnight temperatures to keep the conditions inside the house bearable.  We have fans blowing fresh air in through the windows all night long and it is often comfortably cool—chilly, even—by the time we get up in the morning.

That’s usually.  This summer there has been very little weather that could be described as cool, at any time of the day or night.  Even with the fans running continuously (we almost never turn them off, June to September), it has remained warm in the house.  We wake from fitful sleep only partially rested, even when we have turned on the air conditioner.

And after yesterday’s heat, humidity and haze (perhaps the most unpleasant day so far), we were expecting another warm night and muggy morning.  To our surprise, however, the temperature dropped, the moist air blew out to sea (or wherever it goes) and the sky cleared.  The morning dawned cool and crisp, at least by August standards.

Energized by the favorable conditions, Rachel suggested a hike in Fahnestock.  We grabbed our boots and a water bottle and drove to the head of one of our favorite trails.  Actually, the loop we planned to walk comprises three different trails that traverse striated rock outcroppings, blaze through patches of overgrown wild azaleas and lead us back past sun-dappled, fern-covered meadows.

At the half-way point, a short spur disappears into the underbrush and emerges beside a pond.  The ever-thoughtful volunteers who maintain this trail have provided a bench here which awkwardly straddles an older raised concrete slab (the foundation of a previous bench, perhaps?) and allows weary hikers to sit and enjoy the view of an active and well-maintained farm across the way.

When we arrived, the morning was still and the pond’s surface was flat and mirror-like; the trees and their reflections looked like big green Rorschach inkblots.  We sat quietly, resting and snapping photographs.  Later, as we were leaving, a flock of Canadian geese came in for a landing, honking a warning as they descended.  Dragging their feet across the water to slow their momentum, they sent ripples across the surface that disrupted the reflections before slowly dissipating.

We left the pond to the waterfowl and started back towards the trailhead, feeling centered by the peacefulness of the woods and meditative calm of the views.