Happy Days!!! I received word that I’m in – I made the cut and I’m eligible for the 2018 TGO (The Great Outdoors) Challenge, a coast to coast Scotland backpacking adventure.
I just sent in my entry fee to make it official and now I have to plan out my route to present to the TGO Challenge vetters. For those who don’t know, the TGO Challenge, in its 39th year, is a self-sustained backpacking trip from the west coast of Scotland to the east coast. Scotland is very unique in that they allow for “wild camping” on most outdoor private and public land and the culture is very accepting of this (unlike here in the States where you’d probably get shot as a trespasser).
So, now I begin the planning. I’m in the infancy stage but my initial thoughts are to:
1. Fly into Glasgow
2. Take a train to Mallaig and sign in
3. Take a ferry to Inverie
4. Backpack several days over to Loch Ness (gotta check out Nessie)
5. Backpack down to Newtonmore, stay in a hostel and have a nice shower
6. Backpack several days over to Aberdeen
7. Take a bus down to Montrose and sign out
Averaging 15 miles a day, this will take me approximately 12+ days to complete. That should allow me an extra day in Aberdeen and an extra day in Montrose if all goes well.
It’s Wednesday morning. I woke up to rain again. It’s a bit annoying for the simple matter that wet gear and wet clothes are no fun. I suppose that simply adds to the challenge and it has been a challenge. Three bushwhack peaks now bagged. Let me take advantage of the rain and use the time to bring you up to date.
I arrived at the DEC Denning parking lot on Saturday, September 2 around 3:00pm – later than originally planned. Speaking of plan, the plan was to backpack in along the Neversink River using the Fisherman’s Path (a herd path), camp, and fill up with water at the base of the col between Friday and Balsam Cap, bag them the following day then camp in the col of Balsam Cap and Rocky, bag Rocky and Lone the following day, camp out and finally on Wednesday, hike back to the bike and head home.
Well, it’s Wednesday morning, it’s pouring outside, and I’m sitting in a tent in between Rocky and Lone, well off plan.
I packed away my motorcycle gear, donned my backpacker persona, and headed in. The hike starts on the Trail, a path nestled within private land. It’s only 1.2 miles and extremely easy (ie, flat). At its end and where the … trailhead begins is a primitive camp. It’s also where the Fisherman’s Path begins, marked by a makeshift cairn. This is what I was looking for. The path would take me to the point where I would begin my climb up to the first of the bushwhack climbs, Friday.
I fumbled around the primitive camp site (there were three) a bit trying to orient myself and locate the path. After five-ten minutes, I happily noticed a cairn marking a well-trodden herd path heading ENE – this must be the place.
The Fisherman’s Path heads east and follows along the south side of the Neversink River and provides not only beautiful sights but also a constant source of refreshing water – no need to ration.
The path is fairly well worn but easy to lose from time to time as your attention strays. This happened to me when the path crossed the river without me realizing it and I found myself traversing up a steep slope. At this point it was nearing dusk and I needed to set up camp for the night. The steep side of a mountain wasn’t going to work. I came upon a gully and took it back down a hundred feet or so. I found a flat spot but being at the bottom of the slope that I had just climbed down and knowing that rain was in the forecast, this caused concern. I could easily find myself waking to a waterfall streaming into my tent in the middle of the night.
I looked across the Neversink and saw a few potential campsites. In fact all the while I had been hiking, I noticed many times what appeared to be a herd path along the northern shore.
Crossing the river across the myriad of stones available, I alit on the north shore. Within a few minutes I located a nice spot making sure that I was a minimum 50 paces away from the river. I set up the tent, hung the bear bags (one containing six days of food, the other my cookset), and retired. I wasn’t hungry and decided to wait and eat in the morning.
Then the rain started and except for a few momentary respites, didn’t stop for 22 hours, from approximately 7:00pm Saturday till 3:00pm Sunday. Heavy and relentless. I didn’t deem it safe for me to venture out on a bushwhack during a torrential rainstorm, not to mention how miserable I would be, so I opted to wait it out in the tent. It was boring. I slept and read but I was dry. At one point around 10:00am, the rain let up as it had done a few times before (and then promptly started up with gusto). I went to check on the bear bags. I had heard a thud during the night and was worried they had fallen. They were fine. The sky wasn’t clearing up so I expected the rain to return. I reached up to pull them down (hung via the PCT method) to grab some food bars and sure enough the rains started back up.
Not wanting to get in the tent with soaking wet clothes (call me no fun), I stopped and quickly ran back. Just as I zipped the door closed, the rains kicked into overdrive. The day officially became a zero. Not in my plans. When the downpour finally ended at 3:00pm, it was too late to pack up and head out. Sure, I could get in a few hours of travel time before having to set camp but I didn’t know where this would land me. I would be completely off trail in unknown rugged backcountry and felt safer to fresh in the morning. Additionally, the rain would have soaked in allowing for much safer footing. Looking back, I suppose I could have done a Skurka and simply battled it out, but I was on vacation and wanted to have fun and be safe. No worries, though, as you’ll see that I ended up taking this approach at a later date in the trip.
Monday arrives. I ponder whether I’ve ever slept as much in a 24 hour period. Probably only when I’ve been sick.
Work’s been a bit grueling. My boss offered me Friday off which I gladly accepted and turned it into a three day Catskill weekend. The plan was to ride up on Friday morning, climb up Eagle Mountain and camp out on Haynes Mountain. Saturday, I would bag Balsam and then trek back over Haynes and Eagle and camp out near the Shandaken shelter. This would give me #14 and #15 on my Catskill 3500 list. Sunday would be a nice leisurely trek back to the bike and (sniff) back to Manhattan.
The forecast called for lots of rain over the weekend. It was raining pretty hard first thing Friday morning, so I waited it out until it stopped around 9:30am. This was good timing as it got me on the road after rush hour. Anyone who’s taken 17 during rush hour knows what a horrible experience that can be.
I arrived at the empty Seager Road DEC overnight parking lot around noon. It barely sprinkled during my ride up. I was worried that I’d have to pack up my motorcycle gear wet – fortunately this wasn’t the case.
I mapped out taking the yellow-blazed Seager-Big Indian Trail (SBI) to the blue-blazed Pine Hill West Branch Trail (PHWB). The first two miles of the SBI trail are actually through private land. The owner has been gracious enough to allow hikers to pass through on the sanctioned trail but anything outside the trail is private and not to be trespassed on, nor is any camping allowed. The path crosses the Shandaken Brook a few times, so there is plenty of opportunity to fill up with cool stream water. Make sure to follow the yellow blazes and make sure to keep an eye on them. There are a lot of trails branching off but these are private jeep paths.
Once past the two mile mark, the land becomes public and is marked as such. Shortly past this is the Shandaken Shelter, poised right on the bank of the Shandaken Brook. I was actually quite surprised that the DEC has a shelter directly on the water. Anyway, be warned that this was the last water source until I returned.
From the shelter, it was a mile before hitting the junction for the blue-blazed PHWB trail. It started drizzling but nothing that warranted wearing any rain gear. I took a louie and headed north up Eagle Mountain, and the rains came. It began coming down hard. I recently purchased a Snow Peak ultralight hiking umbrella and this provided a perfect opportunity to give it a go. I don’t like hiking in rain gear because it never breathes well and it just makes me sweat, so I thought that the open air ventilation of an umbrella might do the trick. It did, however I immediately realized that using the trekking poles was no longer viable. Maybe an umbrella hat, ha ha.
Reaching the summit of Eagle Mountain was a bit steep at times but nothing outrageous. As you near the peak, there is a short herd path that heads west of the SBI trail and takes you to a large cairn, an obvious marking of the peak.
Ahh, #14. Unfortunately, there was no view whatsoever. I was planning on using the occasion to boil some water and cook up some dehydrated Chana Masala. In bear country, it’s always best to cook any food far before you reach campsite. However, I pulled a Reese Witherspoon/”Wild” – I forgot my flint (she bought the wrong fuel). So, I ate a meal bar, took my photographs of the cairn, and continued the trek north towards Balsam. This would take me over Haynes Mountain which, at 3420 feet, is too short to be a Catskill 3500er. As such, however, it’s legal to camp at the peak which was my plan.
Reaching the top of Haynes, I realized that there weren’t any good camping options. The peak was lush with vegetation, along with being riddled with rocks and fallen trees. I scurried down the north side of Haynes and soon found a very favorable bare, level spot surrounded by trees and ground covering. It was quite serene and exactly the kind of spot I love to set up in. Nature at its lushest. The rain had stopped a while ago and I was able to pitch in the dry. I had about a liter of water left but no worries as my plan was to fill up at the designated water source marked on the NY-NJ Trails map. I hung the bear bag, laid out my wet clothes, and was sawing logs by 7:00pm.
I got in a good 12 hours of slept, my body was happy. I woke up 7:00am, packed up, and headed northeast to Balsam, approximately 1.5 miles away. Nothing eventful, just a steady, rocky incline to the top. Again, no view, just a makeshift cairn. The NY-NJ Trails map showed a “starred scenic view” a bit north of the peak, so I decided to take a look. Wow! I was taken aback by the view, it was truly mesmerizing. I sat there for an hour and soaked in the view and the sunshine. I also took the opportunity to take off my shoes and socks and see if I could get them to dry out a bit.
Balsam is one of the required winter peaks, so I’m going to remember this spot and plan on setting up camp on the perch. What an amazing view to wake up to in the white of winter.
The hour passed and I strapped everything back on to begin the trek back to the Shandaken shelter. Down Balsam, up Haynes, down Haynes, up Eagle, down Eagle.
Coming down Balsam, I stopped at the designated water source to fill up but… it was nowhere to be found. There wasn’t even any evidence of one in the past. I had half a liter left. This would need to be rationed over the next 4.5 miles and it was quite humid. I’ll be fine.
As I was huffing and puffing back up Eagle, having traversed Haynes, some guy in his 50s comes flying past me. “Come on, this is an easy one.” I hate people like this. I reached the herd path to the peak and figured I’d go in for a second look. The same guy is there, typing into his cell phone. He has absolutely no sweat going on and I’m standing there drenched. Did I mention that I hate these people?
Turning around, I headed down the south side of Eagle Mountain for the last 2.1 miles to the shelter. I arrived around 3:00pm with 2-3 ounces of water left and filled up with glorious Shandaken Brook water. Finding a spot far enough from the shelter and privy, I set up for the night, and eventually dozed off while reading my Kindle. Later in the night proved to be quite eventful. I was awakened by bright LED flashlights scouring the area. There were quite a few people at the shelter and I assumed that one of them must have lost something and a few of them were looking for it. Either that or they were drunk and looking for the loo. The lights eventually subsided and I fell back to sleep, only to be awaken a couple hours later by another bright flashlight, this time someone night hiking through the trail (not a good idea). Oh, and during this time, it rained quite heavily throughout the night. I had pitched my tent underneath some overhanging foliage, so I was spared the brunt of it.
Morning came, I arose, packed out, and hit the trail by 6:30am. It was a nice easy two mile trek back to bike, albeit quite sloggy from the rain the night before. Pack up the bike and back to Manhattan with a recharged soul. Nothing is more invigorating than being off the grid and breathing in pure mountain air for a straight 48 hours. See you on #16.
Last year during the month of May, I rode my trusty BMW R1200GS 5,000 miles/ 8,046 kilometers through Canada over the course of 17 days and camped out along the way (Labrador was the best, though I did love Québec).
I loved the journey and it was an amazing experience but it left me wanting to explore more on my own two feet. That led me into backpacking and I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Catskill mountains hiking and camping on the various mountains (see my Catskill 3500 posts).
I spend a lot of time reading blogs for tips and experiences and every once in a while, I come across a photo of someone pitching tent in the Scottish highlands. Nothing is as picturesque as seeing a pitched tent with the rolling Scottish hills in the background. Amazingly beautiful.
As part of my stateside backpacking ventures into the Catskills, I’ve been on the quest to go lighter and lighter in order to allow me to go further and enjoy my trips better. This quest brought me to Zpacks and I’ve fallen in love with their products. A couple weeks ago, I surfed around other parts of their site, notably the “Adventures” section. Here I read about Joe’s TGO trek in 2010. I was immediately hooked by the thought. Entralled, I tell you.
Fast forward… much Googling… reading many blogs of past TGOs… WOW!!! I’m hooked! Backpacking from the west coast to the east coast of one of the most picturesque lands in the world (Scotland, in case you’re not paying attention). Sign me up!
So yeah. This is my planned vacation for next year – the last two weeks in May. Per protocol, I have to submit an application to the The Great Outdoors magazine starting September 15 and I think that I won’t know if I’m accepted until November. Not sure, either all the literature is a bit fuzzy or I’m just not reading it correctly.
This is COMPLETELY up my alley. I’m going for it. Fingers crossed I’m accepted. I’ve hung up a map of Scotland in my office, so now all my co-workers think I’m crazy. Actually, I ride my motorcycle every day, including winter, so they already think I’m crazy. This is nothing new.
In terms of physical preparedness, I backpack most weekends, with the goal of adding summits to my Catskill 3500 list, but I’m stepping up and throwing in 24 mile New York urban hikes. The TGO trek will be, give or take, 200 miles. This equates to a minimum of 15 miles a day for 14 days straight. That’s one thing if it were on level ground in wonderful weather, but it’s going to be in up and down terrain in quite possibly miserable weather. Much more strenuous. Gotta prepare.
Regardless, it’s going to be a lifetime experience, one that I will cherish. Stay tuned. I will post as I prepare.
Okay. I’m on number 13, lucky 13. I (overly optimistically) thought that I could tackle Twin back in June when I climbed Indian Head but that was dumb. When I got to the trailhead of Twin after descending Indian Head, my legs were butter. Maybe next time.
Okay. It’s next time. This weekend I added Twin to my list. I left Manhattan later than planned and arrived at the Prediger Road DEC parking lot around 1:00PM, much later than I wanted. I had pulled into Tannersville to gas up and realized that I had a flat tire. I located some Fix-a-Flat and that seemed to solve the problem though I knew that I would need to replace the tire as soon as I returned home.
The initial hike on the blue blazed Jimmy Dolan Notch trail was nice and calm, ie flat. After a mile or so, that changed and the ascent became quite challenging. The funny thing, I descended this way last weekend from Indian Head and it didn’t seem so vertical. Did I mention that it was yet another humid weekend up in the Catskills? Not as bad as the previous few weekends but still extremely sweaty. Bugs, however, were much less abundant this go-around though I did get a few Zika bites.
Topping out gave way to a small clearing and gave a bit of a reprieve in terms of climbing. The Devil’s Path intersected here. Though the Jimmy Dolan Notch trail technically ended, you could continue north off trail for a 100 feet or so and get a nice view from the actual Notch.
I went right on the red blazed Devil’s Path to ascend Twin (going left would take you to Indian Head). The climb became immediately quite steep again. It was grueling all the way to the first of Twin’s two summits. This first one is the lower one, so don’t get fooled into thinking that you’ve peaked. It’s easy to think this because the view is spectacular, right up there with Giant Ledge.
Heading over to the second, and official, summit consisted of a bit of a drop and then back up but it was short and not too difficult. Again, spectacular views. At this point, I took off my pack, sat down, rested my feet, and soaked in the scenery for a good 1/2 hour. Beautiful!
Heading back down, I made a rookie mistake and headed on to Sugarloaf. It took me approximately 20 minutes for me to realize my mistake. I was having to descend down some serious verticals and trying to remember if they had been so difficult going up. I pulled out my compass (which I should have done much sooner) and saw that I was heading west when I should be going east. Oops. I had to turn around and climb up all of the rock cliffs that I had just climbed down. To add to the misery, it started sprinkling and now I’d have slippery rocks to contend with but luckily it never rained past a slight sprinkling.
Now that I was heading in the correct direction, I hoofed it all the way back down to the level portion of the Jimmy Dolan Notch trail and set up camp for the night. I pitched the tent, hung the bear bag, and promptly fell soundly asleep. I woke up once around 2:00AM and it was eerily quiet, so much so that I could hear a dead twig hitting the forest floor several hundred feet away.
The next morning, I packed up and hiked the remaining mile or so back to the DEC parking lot. The front tire of the motorcycle was holding up nicely thanks to the Fix-a-Flat. Unfortunately, riding out on the dirt road stressed the tire and it began to go flat again. I didn’t have my plug kit and nothing was open on Sunday mornings, so I made the calculated risk to ride home, checking the tire every so often. I went slow and made it home. The rim looks good. The bike is going into the shop for a new set of tires and a rim inspection. I’ll let you know how that goes.
This past weekend I decided to knock off two bushwhacks from my Catskill 3500 list. The plan was to backpack up to the summit of Big Indian, cross over east to Fir, and then back down.
I was excited to get away from the humidity of NYC but unfortunately, it was incredibly humid up in the Catskills. I never felt it cool down the whole ride up. Not a good sign.
Upon arriving at the Biscuit Brook DEC parking lot, I de-suited, switched into my hiking clothes, saddled up the backpack, and headed up the road to the Pine Hill West Branch trailhead. Yep, it was super humid. Within 15 minutes, I was drenched in sweat and it was like this the entire trip. Lots of black flies, gnats, and mosquitos also.
My first destination was the summit of Big Indian Mountain. Technically, it is a bushwhack but coming from Biscuit Brook, 99% of the approach is along the blue blazed trail. A herd path branches off about 4.5 miles past the trailhead and goes off for, at most, 1/4 mile before reaching the summit. I can’t imagine an easier bushwhack.
From there, I continued my journey east towards Fir Mountain. Now began the true bushwhack. The herd path quickly disappeared and I had to rely on my compass to ensure that I was moving in the correct direction. The plan was to make it to the low point where Big Indian and Fir met, and set up camp for the night. Unfortunately, thunder quickly rolled in as I started down Big Indian. A major thunderstorm appeared to be looming. I didn’t want to get caught in it and since I was planning on setting camp soon, I decided to stop and drop. I was on some level ground and wasn’t sure that I’d have better options until the valley which would require me backpacking through the storm.
Space was very tight and the stakes wouldn’t bite due to the ground being all leaves, but I got the ZPacks Duplex pitched. I hung the bear bag and my sweat drenched clothes and retired for the night just as the rain picked up.
Bright and early the next morning, I packed up and headed over to Fir Mountain. Using my compass, I tried to still upon the Catskill Divide ridge as best as possible as it links the two summits. This was a true bushwhack. Every great once in a while, I would come upon a herd path but it never lasted long. The majority of the trip involved pushing through deep brush, thick tree layers, and jockeying over rock ledges. At one point, I fell down into a gully trying to jump across a ravine and had to administer some minor first aid.
It was slow going but I made it to the Fir Mountain gray canister around 12:30pm. It was tricky to find but you have to just keep going up. One thing to note is that there were no water sources. The day before was abundant but not today.
After a short rest and requisite photography, I began the descent back to the parking lot. The plan was to go south west until intersecting the Pine Hill West Branch trail near the shelter and then take the blazed trail back to the bike. I followed the herd path leading from the summit for perhaps a half hour but then it disappeared. I was now back to bushwhacking and a noticeable decline in pace.
The descent was steep and long. After a few hours, I came upon a brook and filled up with fresh water. I moved further down and waded across Biscuit Brook and on to the Pine Hill trail. From there, it was two miles back to the bike.
Sunday was a tough day. It took me approximately 11 hours to bushwhack from Big Indian to Fir to the parking lot. Very slow going but exhilarating, nonetheless. I switched out of my drenched clothes and into my bike gear, and headed home excited about the shower soon to be had.
I finally broke into double digits this weekend, bagging West Kill Mountain, #10 on my Catskill 3500 list.
There was call for a lot of rain this weekend but I managed to have luck on my side. It was pouring in Manhattan early Saturday morning when I woke up. I packed up and then waited. I didn’t want to ride up in the rain and then have to pack away my riding gear wet. Around 9:00am the storm passed, I packed up the bike, and headed north, arriving at the Spruceton DEC parking lot around 12:00 noon. This trip took a bit longer because I had to travel down backroads quite a bit to get to the lot.
I arrived to an empty lot, switched clothes, and saddled up the backpack, which by the way, was a brand new ZPacks Arc Blast. I love my Osprey Exos but I’ve been reading about the Arc Blast (and the cutting edge ultralight products of Joe Valesko) for over a year now and have been wanting to try it out for myself. I was not disappointed and will post a side by side review of the Exos vs Arc Blast when I’ve spent a few more trips with it.
This trip was also the maiden voyage for a Zpacks Duplex tent which blew me away far more than the backpack. I’ve been backpacking with a Hilleberg Unna tent for over a year now but its strength isn’t as a lightweight, hot weather tent. These two new ZPacks additions have taken my base weight down almost five pounds. More to come on these two products in later posts.
The weather was gorgeous the entire day in West Kill. The hike started off on the fairly flat blue blazed Diamond Notch trail that runs along West Kill (kill being a dutch word that means creek), then veered onto the red blazed Devil’s Path which was a consistent steep climb up until a bit past the 3,500 ft marker, and then eased off for most of the rest of the way to the summit (though there were a few steep portions) with a mandatory rest stop at Buck Ridge Lookout for spectacular vistas.
Heading back down, I found some perfect forest floor at 2,400 ft to pitch tent for the night (however, the bear bagging experience was fraught with inordinate amounts of bad luck). The timing was perfect as it began to rain approximately an hour later and rained all through the night and early morning – a great test for the ZPacks Duplex tent which performed swimmingly (and I don’t mean this literally, I stayed completely dry). The rain finally stopped around 7:00am. I packed up and hiked out dry, back to the bike.
Anyway, enjoy the following photos. See you on #11.
I wanted to go backpacking up in the Catskills this weekend but rain was forecasted quite a bit. I didn’t want to ride up there in the rain, change in the rain, pack up my motorcycle gear wet, and then start backpacking wet knowing that my gear would be wet the entire time. So I compromised. I had to run an errand Saturday morning and figured that I would stay in town and do a pseudo-hike by trekking on the Henry Hudson bike path from 59th street to 200th. As the crow flies, this would probably be a minimum of seven miles. With all the meandering, it was probably close to eight miles albeit with little elevation gain.
I ran my errand and then started the trek home. The rain was coming down hard. Because I was trekking urban, I took my homemade frameless Ray Jardin backpack with an umbrella tucked in the side pocket.