Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for November, 2008

I miss commuting

Friday, November 21st, 2008

It may seem like a weird thing to say, but since we moved, I’ve been working from home — and I’ve been missing having a commute. Sure, I can still go out for rides, but there’s something to be said for having a constant ride each day, with a real purpose. It’s harder to make myself go ride when it’s cold, windy and dark, and I don’t have anywhere I need to be. Perhaps I should start running more errands by bicycle, or scheduling rides for certain days/times each week, or something. I’m a creature of habit, and my routine is a bit off at the moment.

Skyline Trail and Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Sarah and I did some more hiking at Hickory Run State Park on Sunday. We hiked the Skyline Trail (a 3.4-mile loop), and afterwards went to see the Boulder Field, which is like a lake, only with rocks instead of water.

The forecast called for some possible drizzle, and as we ate lunch in the valley before heading to the park, it did rain a bit. But once we started hiking, rather than rain, a few flurries were falling. It was chilly and quite windy, with gusts hitting 30+ mph. The hike started by following the Fireline Trail, which we’ve hiked part of before.

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Fireline Trail

After a short time on that very wide trail, we turned onto the Skyline Trail, which is much narrower. We immediately started seeing some interesting plants that I would like to identify. If anyone knows what these are, please let me know. I have a wildflower book that’d probably tell me, but it’s still packed somewhere. I noticed when my hiking staff accidentally hit one of the plants that a cloud of white dust emanated from the plant. I’m assuming this was some kind of pollen.

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Unidentified plant

The trail was moderately rocky for a while, but it was clear that for this trail, they had at least attempted to clear a path for walking (unlike Saturday’s hike on the Pinchot Trail). Many rocks were cleared to the sides.

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Rocks line the trail

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One humorous rock

The trail was generally well-marked, which was essential since it crossed other trails at several points. However, one sign had us a bit puzzled and looking at our map and compass.

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Not the most helpful sign

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Creek

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Winding trail

We had been hiking across a ridge, and the trail descended a bit before turning to follow the curvature of the land, and climbing for a while. We got glimpses of neighboring mountains through the trees.

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Sarah

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Looking through the trees

We climbed higher, and inched closer to the edge of the mountain. The whooshing sound of the Lehigh River rapids below us was constant. The wind blew in strong gusts and now we were exposed. We were glad the wind was blowing us toward the mountain, rather than toward the gorge. At several points we could clearly see the Lehigh Gorge Trail, where I rode my bicycle just a few weeks ago.

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Getting closer to the edge

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Looking toward the gorge. You can see the Lehigh Gorge Trail, and the river

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Sarah by the gorge, looking “gorge-ous,” I must say.

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Me.

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Mistakes could be costly

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Another view of the gorge

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Sarah again

Eventually, the trail rejoined the Fireline Trail, and we had another view we saw before. The pine trees sure stick out, now that they’re the only thing green.

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Lehigh Gorge

We immensely enjoyed the Skyline Trail. It’s not too difficult, but excessively easy, either. It covers a variety of terrain, and it offers some fantasic views of the Lehigh Gorge.

After our hike, we drove to the Boulder Field. It’s a longer drive than I expected on some gravel roads. Just as we arrived, so did some other people, and they immediately walked out onto the rocks, severely limiting our photo potential. Oh well.

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Sign explaining the Boulder Field

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Boulder field

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Looking at the boulder field

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Sarah

It was another fun outing. Hickory Run State Park has a surprising number of trails (23, I believe), with a total length of 45 miles. We hope to hike all of them, eventually.

Pinchot Trail, north loop

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Last week, The Blasphemous Bicycler (hereafter known simply as “TBB”) invited me to hike the north loop of the Pinchot Trail, in Lackawanna State Forest on Saturday. If you haven’t read his blog, check it out. It’s an excellent combination of cycling, hiking/backpacking, and of course, blasphemy and other topics. Always an interesting read. Anyway, I accepted the invitation and throughout the week watched the forecast for Saturday get increasingly gloomy. By Friday, the forecast called for temperatures in the 50s and a 90% chance of steady rain throughout the day.

Admittedly, I felt a bit concerned. I had never done a hike this long (10+miles) and I had no idea what to wear for 6-7 hours of hiking in the rain. But I had waterproof* boots and a $2 poncho, so I figured what the heck? Why not? This would be a good way to test rain gear, TBB’s new stove, and our will.

* My boots claimed to be waterproof, but I had not fully tested this claim.

We started hiking around 9:45 am, in moderate drizzle. A short ways into the trail we found a box with a log book and maps. We signed in and took some maps. Our first impression was that our ponchos were working well. In addition to keeping us relatively dry, they covered our packs and allowed some breeze to flow through. The ventilation was much appreciated. They did give us a bit of a hunchback look, with our packs under there, but we made the most of it.

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TBB, rocking the hunchback look. This stream popped up seemingly out of nowhere and disappeared under the rocks, and reminded me of the Orangeville Rise of the Lost River in Indiana

This trail must not see a lot of maintenance, because there were a ton of downed trees around which we had to maneuver. But the defining quality of this trail, at least to me, was all the rocks. I am not used to such rocky trails, coming from Indiana, but in this area long sections of trail basically amount to huge rock gardens. TBB tells me this trail was actually fairly moderate, in terms of rocks.

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One of many fallen trees blocks the trail

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The first of many sections of very rocky trail

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Creek

The trail mostly climbed for the first few miles, but it was mostly very gradual climbing that was fairly easy. There were a couple of short steep sections, but nothing bad. At some point we encountered some dense fog for a good 45 minutes to an hour, making for an even more beautiful hike. We alternated between conversation and quiet hiking, getting lost in the crunch of the leaves beneath our boots, the pitter-patter of the rain drops on our hats and the sounds of the blustery wind rushing through the trees and over our ears. The trail was very straight and flat for some time. We heard a loud noise that sounded like a small engine starting. Startled, I asked, “What the hell was that?” TBB said it was a grouse; a few minutes later he spotted another one, although I didn’t see it.

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Straight, flat, and easy foggy trail

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Bare trees

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Hiking through the fog

We crossed a gravel road, the first of several we would see. We commented that these roads would be great for cycling. Bikes aren’t allowed on the trails, but the roads were smooth gravel and looked extremely inviting.

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Gravel road

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Foggy, mowed clearing

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Tree

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More fog

After a while, the trail got considerably rockier and passed by a cranberry swamp (I think). We climbed a bit more, ending in a large, bare rock face.

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Exposed rock face

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Cranberry swamp

We started a long, difficult rock-riddled descent. The rocks, wet and leaf-covered, were quite slick, and there was no way to get even footing. This made it tricky to move without slipping, and the weird angles punished our ankles. We took our time and made it through safely. TBB’s poncho billowed like a trenchcoat in an action movie.

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Billowing poncho

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Rocks. Yes, that’s the trail.

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Making progress …

We saw a small stream and wondered if it was the creek we saw on the trail map. It seemed like it might be; we were a little disappointed, expecting something bigger. TBB filtered some water from the creek, and we took a break under a hemlock tree that shielded us from the rain so well we thought it’d stopped. Some trail mix and water had us feeling more energized. Only when we started hiking again without our ponchos did we realize it was still raining, and put the ponchos back on.

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Small creek

Now we had more rocks to deal with, this time going uphill. Once we reached the top of the hill, we realized we had another big, rocky descent ahead of us and suspected that the creek we had been looking for was up ahead. We could see a big mountain on the other side of the valley, and wondered if we had to climb that next.

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Rocky climb

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Descending into the valley

As it turned out, we were right. We took another, shorter break by this much-bigger, rushing creek and scouted out some potential campsites there. It was an incredibly peaceful scene, quiet except for the sounds of the rushing water.

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Creek

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Potential campsites

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Another shot of the creek

We lingered for a bit, then decided to move on. TBB said, “It’s difficult to leave a spot like this,” and I couldn’t agree more. The creek was probably the highlight of the whole hike in its scenic beauty and placid setting. There was no bridge across the creek, so we crossed on some rocks. They were very wet and slick, and one was loose. We both got our feet wet crossing the creek, and I noticed a leak in one of my boots after I crossed. Air bubbles escaped from my boot with each step. Hopefully I’ll be able to reseal it.

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Creek crossing

Shortly after leaving the creek we saw a handsome large buck run through the woods ahead of us. Now, we had to climb for quite a while. We encountered a couple of other hikers, who were covering the entire Pinchot trail system over the course of three days. We chatted for a couple of minutes, then moved on. This climb was rocky, but not as bad as some of the places where we had just hiked. We didn’t have to hike all the way up to the top of the next ridge, though, as the trail gradually climbed up the side as the ridge came down a bit. Still, it took a lot of effort to reach the top. Hiking on the ridge, we got some glimpses of surrounding mountains through the trees; just a few weeks earlier we wouldn’t have been able to see very much.

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Climbing the ridge

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Ridgetop hiking

Once we reached the top, it was flat for a while. We soon came to another road crossing and decided to make that our lunch spot. I had a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and some Cheez-Its, TBB brought his stove and made some Ramen. The hot meal was an awesome idea; next time I’m on a long, cool hike, I’ll bring my stove. The rain stopped and started back up briefly but we took off our ponchos and for a few glorious minutes, the sun came out. I took my boots off and let my socks and feet air out a bit. I wished I had brought dry socks, something I had considered doing.

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Lunch spot

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Testing TBB’s new stove

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Cooking

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The sun came out for a few minutes

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Ramen

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TBB’s hat, GPS and trekking poles

We started hiking again, this time without our ponchos. We soon came across a bright orange salamander. He wasn’t moving very fast, but he was still alive. It seemed awfully cold to be a salamander. A few minutes later we saw another one that wasn’t as brilliantly colored.

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Salamander

It felt great to hike for a while without the ponchos. They do restrict your range of motion a bit, and also make climbing over rocks more challenging, since it’s harder to see your feet. It’s funny how something you take for granted under normal conditions — hiking relatively unencumbered — can feel like such a luxury at a time like this.

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More brush covering the trail

Sometime around 3 pm it started getting darker. It had been fairly dark all day, but we were surpised at how quickly we were losing light. It was a bit disheartening, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. We did pick up the pace a little during the easy stretches. But soon we had a tricky, rocky downhill section. We had some good views as we hit the edge of the ridge and hiked down.

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Reaching the edge of the ridge

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About to descend. A boardwalk is visible below.

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The wooden boardwalk was very slippery

We knew we were getting close to the end of the trail. We had a little difficulty figuring out which way to go. Eventually, we figured it out and before long reached the road, where we’d walk the last mile back to the car. As soon as we reached the road, the skies opened up, the wind blew harder, and the rain began pouring down on us. These were the kinds of conditions I feared we’d have all day. I was glad it didn’t rain this hard earlier in the day. Water was running down the back of my poncho. I put the hood on to stop it, but I was already drenched. We walked along the road fairly quickly, although it made no difference. We were already drenched. This was an important lesson: the ponchos worked fine when it was only drizzling, but heavy rain, especially combined with strong winds, meant we got soaked.

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The road

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Reaching the trailhead. You can see raindrops falling, if you look closely

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TBB by the trailhead sign

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Me

We were glad to be back at the car. It had been a fun hike, despite the conditions, but I think we were ready to be out of the rain, and it was getting quite dark.

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