Alander Mountain, 2014

We wanted to plan a four person camping trip over the fourth of July weekend that didn't entail hauling all our gear up a mountain first. Cris proposed Mount Washington State Forest on the borders of MA/NY/CT with a short hike into our base camp. There were some foul weather backup options of shelters and a cabin nearby as well, so we settled on it. The original plan was to find a hotel room for the Thursday night, but that fell through and we left Somerville early on Friday morning instead. That worked out relatively well due to a strong rain storm on Thursday night, and more rain on Friday, but lovely days on Saturday and Sunday. I had just moved to a new apartment but had tried to keep my camping stuff available, so I was packed and ready to go to bed just after 11pm on Thursday.

Friday July 4, 2014

I just managed to remember to raid my fridge and add the bagels I'd slathered with peanut butter the night before, as well as my farm share zucchini and squash for campfire grilling. My pack came in at just under 40lbs, I wasn't being too strict with weight due to the shortish hike in. Cris picked me up at around 7am, then we picked up Forest and Vanessa (dropping their farm share at their apartment at the same time). We had a brief shuffle for toll cash, my wallet was in my pack (well, my id and cash were in a ziplock bag, along with everything else not waterproof) but Vanessa had some bills to get us on the Pike. The next cash needed point was the final exit after getting a card as we left the Boston area and I could dig my money out from under Forest's pack by then. Vanessa's pack sat in the back seat with them, glad that the car worked out for 4 people + packs! Traffic wasn't bad, just a few slow downs, we missed most of the long weekend exodus I think. I requested a tea stop and then a final running water stop before we hit the trail head. The rain started coming down enthusiastically as we were winding our way past Great Barrington, so we agreed to stop for an early lunch (a bit before 11am) at a diner. It was good to fuel up on plentiful hot food before leaving civilisation behind.

I tried to navigate us through the forest roads, missing one turn but getting us to the trail head eventually. There was a ranger there, he let us put our rain gear on in the garage and use the rest room, but soon it was time to hit the trail. I signed us in as overnight users of the area and we were off, crossing a meadow and then heading into the trees. I'd looked at a contour map and thought that it was a 500ft elevation difference between the trail head and the camp site, but it seemed to be a negative one, we were mostly trending down I think. There was a sturdy bridge over a fast flowing river, and then another river we had to forge. And then the trail pretty much turned into a river as well, since it didn't stop raining. 2 miles later, we saw the sign for the Alander Campground and turned in. Vanessa and I checked out sites 1 and 2 while Cris and Forest explored further in. 1 was too open, 2 had every flat spot sporting a puddle. They came back to report that 5 had decent shelter, and we did end up happy there. I'd packed a small tarp and some parachute cord, just in case I needed to rig an extra shelter, and Forest put it up over the fire pit and we scavenged some (allowed) firewood to pile under it. I got my tent up in record time, with only a little water getting inside, but I was damp through (my rain pants had failed, I'd sweat through my top) and starting to shiver. I voted that we do an afternoon hike to stay warm, it was only about 2pm then.

We went back to the main trail after stashing our food in the supplied bear box (though I kept forgetting energy bars in my pack), and a quick stop at the non stinky outhouse (side benefit of a cool day). We continued on up the trail toward the peak of Alander Mountain (about 1.3 miles further on), crossing a double river junction and trying to figure out which stream of water was actually the trail. At one point a part of the trail that had sunk between banks was deep under water and I had water flowing in over my boot top. My feet had been okay until then, a bit damp, but now they were squishing. We were so so wet. We found some more primitive camp sites (no bear boxes or outhouses) along the river, they looked like pretty places to hang out, and continued on up to the cabin just under the summit. Some campers had signed in before us with +1 dog noted by their names, and we saw the dog nose peeking out from behind the cabin door, but no sign of people. We passed it by and did the short steep push up to the peak. The clouds were starting to disperse a bit, but still mostly filled the valley. We peered through the clouds for a bit, then turned around to head back down to camp and some warm food.

The water logged trail wasn't much better on the way back, but at least the rain had lessened slightly so we could occasionally put down our hoods. As we approached the camp turn off, Cris pointed out the water creek, and after dropping my pack at the site and changing out of my soaked shirt, I turned around and went back to fill it up. I was trying out my new Steripen and prefilter, they worked well! Filling the 1L bottle took a little longer than normal, but I'll take it for lack of grass and grit in the water. Cris and Forest had also brought Steripens, the Adventurer model, as well as stoves so we definitely had gear redundancy. That turned out to be good when one stove ran out of fuel halfway through the weekend. Forest and Vanessa got all fancy for the first night and made steak tips and sliced zucchini. I just boiled water and made rehydrated mac and cheese, though it ended up not being enough for dinner and I ate one of my bagels afterward. Cris made fire roasted potatoes, zucchini and squash that we shared out of the foil packet. The rain lessened and we saw the sun peeking through the trees as it went down. The fire was hard to start and to keep going, Vanessa remembered that birch bark burned well, and we were lucky to have quite a few downed birches around the site. Forest got it going and the rest of us took turns tending it as he tired of the constant vigilance. We had to break up sticks and put them near the fire to dry out a bit, but they still steamed for a while before catching, everything was waterlogged. Vanessa had brought a camp chair that was a nice alternative to sitting on the wet picnic bench or logs. I did my last outhouse run after dark with my headlamp and was convinced the bears were lurking behind every tree. I'd put on my wool undershirt and a wool beanie and was glad of them that night, it cooled down enough that I put the down overbag on over my light weight sleeping bag to stay warm in the tent. At least it stayed dry.

Saturday July 5, 2014

Sun! Glorious sun! :-) We had clothes lines strung all over camp and packs hanging up to dry - well, I forgot to hang my pack, so the pads were wet and irritated me throughout the day, and I didn't have camp shoes so I was stuck with still damp boots, but it was sunny! :-) I ate my granola out of the ziplock bag and boiled just enough water for my tea. It took us a while to get going, we hit the trail at around 10:15. Cris had talked up a deli in NY that we could walk to from the end of the ridge, so we were aiming for it. I didn't quite realise that this would translate into a 10+ mile day... I think we saw the cabin sleepers checking out the other camp sites as we went out, they had a familiar dog with them (might have been the next morning).

We retraced our steps to the summit of Alander, 1.5 miles or so. The river was at least couple inches lower, and the trails weren't nearly so water logged. The view from the top was much better, we stopped for a snack there. Then a fairly easy 2 miles across the ridge, tree heights lowering and raising depending on elevation, but never above the tree line. A pair of trail runners passed us at one point, but otherwise I think we were mostly alone - maybe a group with dogs were there then as well. I spotted a slew of blueberry bushes near the top, we stopped for a snack there too. :-) It felt like a really long trek across the ridge as we were keeping an eye open for the junction where we'd descend the ridge, the South Taconic Trail markers were pretty beat up. It was 1.3miles down to the parking lot near the camp ground and Bash Bish state park. The descent wasn't as steep as I'd worried about, just a few short segments that were still a bit shy of what I've seen in the Whites, but I was still getting a bit tired and hungry. As we neared the bottom, we saw a large amount of cans and plastic bottles that looked like they'd been used for target practice, and picked up most of them. We also passed one of the trail runners from earlier, but with a different friend, wonder if he was doing a round trip with two or three cars or something. There was a "campers only" rest room that we used since we were camping, just not there, and then a brief sit in the sun by the parking lot. I asked if we were stopping there to eat and turn around, but nope, boots went back on and we made the walk along the road to Depot Deli (just shy of a mile, not a lot of shade, nor shoulders, with speedy cars).

My feet were not happy about walking on concrete with my hiking boots and the sun was wearing on me - the woods were much nicer! After I got a drink (orange mango) and a turkey and brie sandwich, I stripped off my boots and socks, dug out my first aid kit and doctored my blistered toes. They were pretty painful. :-/ As we were eating outside on the porch, next to the bike trail and across from the park entrance, they closed down the park for emergency vehicles. I'd asked for a 2:30 or so turn around time, projecting getting back to camp by 7pm or a bit after, but it was close to 3:30 by the time we finished eating and resting. Vanessa and I were quailing a bit at the trek back, but when I floated the idea of renting bikes and riding back, Cris reacted in horror. Apparently the climb over Bash Bish falls was horrible on one of his brevets. The only other alterate to was to wait for hours while the others hiked back to camp, then out to the car, then drove around to get us, then we'd still have to hike the 2 miles into camp anyway. So, back on the trail it was, racing sunset. Oh, and only Cris had packed his headlamp (I'm usually good about always bringing mine, but I'd hung it up in my tent the night before and forgot to grab it in the morning). Darkness backup plan was to send him ahead to retrieve headlamps if necessary.

We retraced our steps back along the road to the trail head, getting engulfed in a party of tourists who were there to view the falls, but then breaking off onto the trail back up to the ridge. The climb was a bit of a challenge, I was glad that the steep sections were short. We were making good time, and were soon up on the ridge - less dawdling than on the way there, and pushing where it was flat, helped. There was lots of long grass along the ridge, but I was leading and mostly remembered where the trail had wound. It wasn't very well blazed. Forest also had to brush a tick off of Vanessa's pants, so we were trying to keep an eye out for disease bearing bugs at the same time. But then I spotted something wriggling on a fallen tree just to the side of the path and screamed bloody murder when I realised that it was a snake. I involuntarily jumped backward as well, I was lucky we were on a fairly flat part of the ridge, but I scared the rest of them into thinking that I'd seen a bear or something. Ooops. After breathing hard for a while and seeing that the snake was gone, I was able to continue, but I was super nervous and soon let Cris lead. He promptly encountered a frog on the path but managed to refrain from yelling. After that, no more mobile wild life, just a few quick pauses to snack on blueberries. Well, I thought I'd been stung and the bug was still inside my shirt, but when I shucked my pack and had Vanessa check for me, there was nothing there. As it continued to burn, I realised that I had prickly heat all over my back. :-( The wet pack pads and the warm weather and the sweating from the hike messed me up, and I had to slow down a bit to try and avoid sweating more, since that would cause more fire to run up my back. The shadows were starting to stretch a bit longer, but we made it to the peak of Alander with some daylight to spare and headed back down to our camp.

Vanessa had run out of water (we'd all topped up from bottled water at lunch but were drinking heavily), so she and Forest stopped at the first big river to get more. They caught up fairly easily, I wasn't going very fast by then since each step was a painful reminder of each blister. We made it back with about 45 mins to spare before sunset, at about a quarter to 8, having done about 11.5 miles (though the signs were showing longer distances than the contour map was).

Forest had more success with a small box fire this evening, it was much easier to start and keep going (the lack of rain probably helped too). I boiled up some water and made a prepackaged chicken teriyaki packet, it was pretty good, nice spices. As it got darker, a blinking light off in the woods worried us a bit until we realised that it was a lone firefly. I think Forest and I were up last, I wasn't feeling very sleepy, but headed into my tent at around 10. It was pretty scary brushing my teeth at the edge of the camp site, I was imagining bears lurking all around. It was a lot warmer than the previous nigh, I wore a sleeveless top and was wiggling out of the sleeping bags by morning.

Sunday July 6, 2014

I had a leisurely wake up, finally getting out of my tent at 7am. I'd saved a boil in pot breakfast mix for the last day to try out a recipe I'd found in a backpacker cookbook. It was tasty, a mix of couscous, dehydrated milk, brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts, though I added too much water, and it scorched the bottom of the pan a bit. We broke camp and got packed up - my footprint and tent bottom were still a bit damp, but I'd slept dry. I weighed my pack at home, it was down to 35 lbs for the return trip, including volunteering to pack out the garbage. We had a nice walk out of the site back to the parking area (bright and sunny, not too warm), and passed an older couple going in. It was amazing and awesome to change out of my still vaguely damp hiking boots into my nice dry trail shoes. Bliss. :-)

Since we were all feeling a bit worn out from the long day yesterday, we decided to go look at Bash Bish Falls by car. This translated to driving to the MA overlook then hiking about a mile down a fairly strenuous trail (and then back) to get to the viewpoint. Turns out that the NY parking lot has a flat trail, as we saw people with strollers. Some older people were turning back near the top of the MA trail, probably a good call. My heat rash came back though, I was going fairly fast to try and keep up with the others. We passed a group of people who missed the easy trail down and ended in a bit of a muddy spot that they were complaining about, I honestly couldn't see what was wrong with where they were, it was maybe a skim of mud, nothing like the stuff we were slogging through on Friday. I (and F&V) stopped at the final lookout point before climbing down to the rocks by the river, but Cris went down. Lots of signs about not swimming there, a nice multi stage cascade, it was pretty.

Back up to the car, passing some older motorcycle riders starting down (Forest said they asked him how tough the trail was, and said they were missing body parts (like lungs) but would make it). We went back to the Depot Deli to get ice cream, and another cinnamon log thing since the one from yesterday kept falling on the ground. From there, we decided to go back to Great Barrington for brunch. I thought I'd filled up on ice cream too much, but was able to eat most of a 4 egg fritatta and toast. Poured lots of tea down my neck, my eyes were so heavy. Back to the highway and a not surprising rest stop request yielded a pint of blueberries when I checked out the farm market in the parking lot. Traffic was heavy but flowing, we were early enough to miss the worst of the returning holiday crowds. I had time once I got dropped off to unpack, start laundry, and hit up the grocery store. Not quite sure why I thought it was a good idea to walk, something about the bike being more painful? I made it a slow stroll and babied my blisters, then roasted up a batch of veggies for supper. Ah, indoor plumbing and cooking. :-)

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