A section of New York Appalachian Trail, finally

by Rob McWilliams

Any old hike won’t do. Usually, you have some qualities in mind. How long, how strenuous, how tranquil, how far from home, and so on. This month I wanted to hike somewhere new. I wanted a little adventure, but nothing too long or knee-stressing. Since I would go alone, it had to be a loop. I did not mind driving a while to get there. But where was there?

Over the years of writing this column, I have mentioned some resources for finding hikes in our region (though none, of course, beats reading “Taking a Hike” every month). There is the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, the Appalachian Mountain Club guidebooks and group hikes, and town guides like Redding’s “The Book of Trails”. But a resource I have not mentioned yet is the website of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. This is a significant omission, because www.nynjtc.org has a handy “Find a Hike” feature.

“Find a Hike” found me this outing. Under “Difficulty”, I chose “Moderate”. For “Features”, I selected “Views” (and could have added others, like “Swimming” – way too cold! – or “Historical feature”). This yielded a list of over 100 hikes. To make it more manageable, I sorted by region. Many of the regions were too far off or unfamiliar to interest me this time (New Jersey’s Kittatinnies and Wyanokies, for example). But many were just across the state line in New York, east of the Hudson. I picked one in Fahnestock State Park.

On the Monday before, Friday, Feb. 5, had looked a grand day to get out. It didn’t look so grand on Friday morning. In my yard, a breeze was pasting snow to the tree trunks. Two hours later, at the trailhead, the sky was the same gray as the ice on Canopus Lake. I walked to the Appalachian Trail on an inch or two of powder, to which a few flakes were still being added. The NYNJTC hike description told me to look out for a brown “wand” marking the Appalachian Trail. I had not heard of a wand on a trail, and wondered what to look for. It turned out to be a flimsy pole bearing a logo and rules. I set off toward the first – and well camouflaged – A.T. white blaze, my first ever steps on the Appalachian Trail in the Empire State.

I followed the A.T. for an hour and a half. There were two or three short, steep-ish descents, which the snow required be made with patience; but otherwise the trail was easy going, following at first the bed of a narrow gauge railroad from iron mining days. I remember coming down to Canopus Creek, black amid its snow-covered bed stones and the forest’s powdered branches. On a ridge, I looked up to the tops of tall pines set against the gray sky, but noticed too a lightening of the gray far off to the southwest. Soon, a strip of palest blue appeared between the lightening gray and the line of the next ridge over. The A.T. came down to a frozen wetland and, at its outflow, a beaver dam. A fallen trunk showed evidence of incisors. Beneath the dam, the outflow stream poured down a pretty stepped waterfall.

It happened on Sunken Mine Road. I left the A.T. still in an overcast, muffled world. Then, on the woods road above Canopus Creek, clearest blue sky showed in the distance, divided from the gray of the storm by a ruled line. The line approached minute by minute until, with a gust that sent sparkling snowflakes flying off their branches, the sun came out and changed everything. I stopped for lunch in this new world of light, shadows, and sharp colors, and felt alone, hearing nothing but the wind and the calls of a bird.

I was heading back now, about to climb the ridge on the Blue trail. The trail is named, of course, for its blazes, but today fitted nicely too with the sky pushing over from the southwest, plowing the storm out to the Atlantic. The ridge – 1,000 feet above sea level – was a delight, a mile of sunlit boulders and trunks, and here and there the glowing copper leaves of a little beech. After half an hour the trail came to open rock with a view down to Clear Lake and, I think, Oscawana Lake beyond. (Photos taken on the ridge, and on the hike as a whole, can be found at “McWilliams Takes a Hike” on Facebook.)

The trail fell, rose again, and then came down for good, joining Three Lakes trail after a short green-blazed stretch. Three Lakes skirted a wetland for a distance, a place filled with straw-colored reeds as tall as I, and lit up in the sun. It is good to finish one hike with an idea for another, and Three Lakes may be my next Fahnestock outing. At 8.8 miles, it would be longer and more strenuous than today’s loop. If that doesn’t fit, I’ll go back to “Find a Hike.” It worked well for me.

Rob McWilliams is a local resident. Taking a Hike appears monthly. Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.

PARKING By Canopus Lake on NY Rte 301, 1 mi SW of intersection with Taconic State Parkway.
DISTANCE 6.3 miles.
DURATION I was out for 4 hours.
ROUTE & MAP Broadly, Appalachian Trail south to Sunken Mine Road, then Blue trail north back to parking area. NYNJTC East Hudson Trails, Map 103 (the Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park trail map is an online option).
WHAT TO TAKE Best to put the NYNJTC hike description in your pocket.