Monday, February 27, 2012

Harriman/Bear Mountain Reconnaissance Run: Part 1

Earlier in the week my plan was to run the 17 mile western portion of The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k at Bear Mountain on Saturday

On Friday morning we had an inch of snow on the ground and it poured on the drive home. Wind advisories were issued for Saturday with temps in the high 30s but with 45+ mile per hour gusts the windchill would be in the teens to lower 20s. The forecast for Sunday was much friendlier, wind advisories were lifted and the report was for mostly sunny skies with temps in the 40s.

Since this was going to be my first real run of any distance in Harriman State Park and I'm unfamiliar with the trails and I'm sure the winds would be pretty strong in the higher elevations, I thought it would be best to let the Saturday plans turn into Sunday plans.

I woke up pretty early on Sunday and started to get ready for the run, I tried not to wake my dog because he loves joining me on trail runs, but I didn't think I should take him with me today. There was too many unknowns for me to risk taking him along on what I was expecting to be a 17 mile run.

I arrived at the empty parking lot at Anthony Wayne Recreational Area and was out and on my way into the woods of Harriman at about 7:45AM. It was chilly and a little breezy but nothing in comparison to the day prior.

Silvermine Ski Road
I exited the parking lot by following the Anthony Wayne Trail (White) out the ramp I had driven in on and crossed the bridge over the Palisades Parkway and turned into the woods.

I was excited but I needed to control my heart-rate, it was going to be a long day in the woods with considerable elevation gain. I've been told on more than once that the Bear Mountain Ultra was one of the tougher Ultras around so I needed to be smart about today's run and not take it too lightly.

Bridge on Silvermine Ski Road
Although I have never run here, the terrain was familiar. Hilly with lots of rocks! The path was a partially covered by about a 1/2 inch of crusty snow.

Before long the path left the woods and I had about a half mile run on Seven Lakes Road. The turn-by-turn directions indicated I would be taking a left on Silvermine Ski Road, which I assumed would resemble a fire road and was unmarked.

I took the first of several leaps of faith and assumed that the road I found was correct and that it would lead me on a climb to the eastern edge of Silver Mine Lake.

Eastern Shore of Silver Mine Lake
Because of the snow, I nearly missed the right hand turn onto the Ramapo/Dunderberg Trail (Red). Something caught my eye and I noticed a thin trail dropping off to the left and I turned around to see I had just missed the path I was supposed to take up to the lake.

I followed a lovely path around the lake, feeling how crisp the wind coming off the water was. Across the lake, the western shore was bathed in a warm glowing sunlight as I was in the windy shadows.

Rock Field
The trail  left the lake and started a crusty climb. There was more snow here and I was crunching into about a 1/2 inch on every step. The path curved to the left a bit and I was running into the rising sun. I continued along, managing my pace as the grade increased and my heart rate soared.

In typical Hudson Highlands fashion I crested the hill to get but a short recovery period before coming across a rock field at the bottom of yet another climb.

Mountain Laurel Single-Track
I crossed the top of this particular hill and descended into some cool single-track running, the path followed through a tunnel of Mountain Laurel down short stair-scapes and around corners and up short boulder scrambles.

It was refreshing to leave behind the labor of a grueling uphill climbs to use the momentum from the down grade to staircase up the small winding up-steps of rock and shrub.
Sighting the Shelter from Above

As I lost myself in this motor-cross like series of accelerations and quick climbs I rounded an exposed boulder emerging from the Mountain Laurel and beneath me saw the first shelter.

I looked down to see what has always intrigued me and yet I've never experienced. For years I wondered what these shelters were like and if they were used and the biggest question of all, "Where are they"?

With a kind of jubilation I had felt I made it to some sort of milestone just to find a shelter.

As I descended from the boulder I was able to hear voices and the faint smell of wood smoke. I was kind of surprised that someone was here given the conditions yesterday and last night.

I stopped to check my map and directions, I don't think they knew I was here (there was a tarp across most of the opening of the simple structure).

My directions were to take the right that goes past the shelter onto the Menomine Trail (Yellow) and down to Silver Mine Lake.

As I passed the small dwelling, I saw someone emerge from behind the tarp. I waved and continued down the path to Silver Mine Lake.

The down hill was frustrating and difficult. It was like a dry riverbed full of roots and rocks to navigate allowing no time for the mind to relax.

Western Shore of Silver Mine Lake
I reached the bottom of the rocky gulch and reached some softer more level ground. The sunbathed western shore of Silver Mine Lake was void of snow or ice. The sun was out and the ground had a soft springy quality.

On several occasions I experienced an excitement in knowing that among the many ways to navigate around a tree, roots and rocks that I  had taken the smoothest path and that the momentum was unhindered and the impact minimal.

The temperature was significantly warmer here and it felt (dare I say) Spring-like.

 As they say, "all good things come to an end".

Abandoned Ski Hill at Silver Mine Lake
I exited the lake path to come out in a small snowy meadow at the bottom of what looked like an abandoned ski hill.

On closer inspection, I realized that I had been here before.

I had met folks in this parking lot to do a training ride for (the now defunct) The Forest Ride. The Forest ride was a fund raising ride we did for 3 years to benefit Black Rock Forest Consortium.

Nawhunta Lake
I proceeded through the field and around an abandoned parking lot. I had some trouble following the path at this intersection.

I crossed Seven Lakes Road for the second time and came upon the beautiful Nawhunta Lake. A little lake lined with gorgeous pines and softer needles.

The directions had me merge to the right onto Nawahunta fire road. A gradual turn but I fell. I just caught a toe and went down. I rolled with the momentum and came up pretty much unscathed.

The fire road was about a mile and a half long with some gentle uphills and some more of the frustrating downhills. I thought to myself it would be so nice to be able to just relax on a downhill.

Long Path Climb up Stockbridge
Eventually the fire road joined with The Long Path (Aqua) and I turned back against the direction I was heading to follow The Long Path up and across the ridge of Stockbridge Mountain.

The Long Path started down in a marshy wetland which I later found out is an underground stream. My feet broke through the frosty surface into the wet murk more than once.

After passing through the marshy flat the path was spotted with rocks which eventually gave way to a pretty serious snow covered climb.

Stockbridge Ridge
Stockbridge has some pretty interesting rock structures and overhangs. There was a scramble that was a bit of a challenge because of the snow and ice cover. I had hoped to take a picture but my camera was acting funny (probably because of my little fall at he bottom).

I managed the climb and there was a period of easier running as I followed the ridge line. I was beginning to feel it in my legs and started thinking about my nutrition.

The Stockbridge Shelter Chimneys
As I was thinking it might be a good time to find someplace to stop and eat lunch I saw the two rising above the rock line I was on.

A welcome site couldn't have come with more perfect timing, as I'm sure there was a smile across my face as I unclipped my pack and made for the inside of the Stockbridge Shelter (built in 1928).

I got out of the wind and sat down in the shelter. I pulled out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had made this morning as well as a scrumptious home-made granola bar my wife made yesterday.

The View from the Shelter
The granola bar was a little crumbled, also probably due to my little fall and roll maneuver. But that didn't stop me from pushing half of it into my mouth. My hands trembled a little while I tried to pull the PBJ out of the bag without getting the stickiness all over myself.

Parting View of the Stockbridge Shelter
I managed about 2 or 3 big bites when I thought I heard voices. I chewed a couple more bites being a little more conscious of what I could hear.

I washed down a dry bite with some Gatorade and I heard it again... definitely voices. Coming from the direction I was heading.

I don't know why, but at the time it seemed to make sense. Instead of relaxing and finishing my lunch, I put everything away and put on my pack and started out again. I guess I didn't want anyone to see me sitting down and relaxing (when I should be running).

I don't know but I started out of the shelter and down the steep descent. This portion of The Long Path is relatively steep with a lot of rocks and trees. I found it a little difficult to keep my eye on the blazes and more than once had to stop and look for where the trail had disappeared to.

Before long I came across the five hikers with trekking poles on their way to the shelter. Harmless, we exchanged hellos and kept with our own plans.

Eventually it was time to depart from The Long Path. My directions said to take the Fire road down. Apparently it meant a different fire road then the one I had taken because I ended up on Seven Lakes Road (again) a good distance from Lake Tiorati (which was the intended destination).

Now I had to make a decision. I was off of my highlighted course. I had to choose whether to run up the road for what looked like about a  mile or so to get back on the course as it's been defined. Or do I want to take the red trail (that I can see right across the street) and follow that to where it will eventually meet up with the turn-by-turn directions.

Since I've been in the woods for so long and I didn't much feel like running on the road, I opted for the red trail. It wasn't an easy path, it was an uphill climb and there was only one set of footprints in the snow. More than once, I watched those prints mistakenly leave the trail and come back on track.

Eventually I met up with the intended route. I may have added another mile and some climbing to my totals but at this juncture, I was glad to be back on course, at least for a little while.

I continued to follow the red trail to Bockey Swamp. It was a little confusing here.

The directions said to take the unmarked trail but I hadn't anticipated the difficulty in making this decision. It was easy to highlight it on my map, but to actually take an unmarked trail going off into the wilderness of Harriman was another story. What if it was a mistake?

Not to mention I was very much aware I was running low of fluids.

I reviewed my maps and directions for a few more minutes and somehow I decided to push on and take the unmarked trail. Again assuming that this was the unmarked trail the directions had intended for me to take.

Views from the Unmarked Trail
Very quickly I realized that there were only one set of footprints on this path and the path was very narrowly defined amongst the encroaching scrub brush and fallen logs.

By the looks of the tracks I was following I determined that the other set of prints were also from a runner, someone probably doing the same reconnaissance that I'm doing.

Boy oh boy was I happy they were ahead of me venturing out either yesterday or earlier today. I sure needed to be seeing those footprints.

As happy as I was that those prints were there, I still wasn't 100% certain I knew where I was. And I certainly wasn't confident in my assumption that this was another runner training for the same event I was. I mean, what are the odds? And that I would find their track in the snow to follow? Seriously...pretty low right?

Ecstatic to find the Yellow
As it turns out the narrow little unmarked path with the lone runner's footprint abruptly came to an end as it intersected with The Bear Mountain Trail (yellow). I stopped to check my directions and map and guess what? This was exactly where I was supposed to be! I was ecstatic!!

The yellow trail followed a gentle down hill. The ground was a little softer and the rocks were spaced a bit further apart. At last it was a little easier going. At times the grade was almost a little too fast. I didn't want to jam up my toes too much after such a long run.

Once again this trail also came to an abrupt stop. It came to an intersection with The Red Cross Trail (red cross on white). My directions clearly indicated I was to take a left, the other extension of the red cross trail went in the complete opposite direction of where I eventually wanted to end up.

I was getting pretty tired now. I was nearly out of fluids and my Garmin said I had put in 16 miles when I had scoped out this run to be 17 miles.

I had already had a few mentally tough spots deciding on continuing into the wilderness when I wasn't sure if it was the right decision. Now I was just out right tired.

The red cross took me down a gentle grade to a small wooden bridge crossing a brook. I stopped here to check my maps and directions to try to get back to my car as efficiently as possible.

I sat on the steps of the bridge trying to figure out where my next turn was. I knew from the turn-by-turn that I was supposed to take Owl Lake Road. Where the hell was Owl Lake Road? For the life of me I couldn't figure out where it was.

Was this poor decision making on my part or bad directions represented poorly on the map? Who knows?

I had little choice but to keep moving and hopefully the road will show up. Again, not the situation I wanted to be in but it's not like a solution was going to come to me out here in the woods.

So I suffered through some more rolling hills and some swampy ground. I reached a spot where I could barely follow the path. I probably lost a lot of time here looking for both the possibility of The Owl Lake Road or the continuation of the red cross.

I found a brook that was moving pretty well and the water looked reasonably clear so I took in a few handfuls of water.

I was getting really tired now, small hills were grueling. I couldn't wait for this to be over.. where the hell is Owl Lake and it's damn road?

I never found it. The red cross took my all the way to the Palisades Parkway. Which is exactly what I was hoping wouldn't happen, but if everything went to crap I knew I could follow that North to Anthony Wayne.

I checked the map and saw the blue trail was a little further up and it seemed to join at the parkway as well. I started jogging up the side of the Palisades. A bit more stressful than any other portion as cars whipped by me at 60-70 miles per our. There was garbage and torn up tires. Quite unsettling, I didn't know if I could take this all the way back to the parking lot.

Soon I saw a wooden bridge in the woods, I was excited to see it, in anticipation of getting on what I thought was the blue trail which would take me to the 1779 trail and back to Anthony Wayne.

But it wasn't the blue trail at all, it was the 1779 trail. The trail that would go parallel to the parkway and eventually take me home. So by calculation it looks like I've add about another 2 miles to my journey.

I puttered along the 1779 and tried to put as much of the exhaustion behind me. Then another climb presented itself. I walked it. I was in a bad place. I was searching for something. I finished the last of my drink and was suffering when I remembered I had a packet of Sports Beans in my pack.

What a stroke of genius. I couldn't wait to get to the top of this hill and peel off my pack and dig into that packet of beans. I sucked and chewed and relished those beans. I ate all but 3 and took those with me as I started out again. I chewed on those 3 beans for as long as I could. They gave me some energy and moistened my mouth.

It was a brutal last leg, I was miserable, I tried to keep moving, pace I didn't care about anything, I just wanted to get back to my car. Fortunately the remainder was either flat or a slight down grade.

Eventually I could hear the parkway in the distance, I knew I had to be close to the finish.

As the cars got got louder I began to get more hopeful and found my spirits rising.

There was the last turn to The Anthony Wayne Trail (white). The trail I had started this adventure on. It was far longer than I remembered and than I would have like it to have been, but eventually it exited beside the ramp from the Palisades to the parking area.

I trotted along the grass and across the cement bridge over the parkway. As I approached the sign welcoming me (back) to Anthony Wayne, I looked at my Garmin and it read 20 miles.

I spent 6 hours in the woods and covered 20 miles of unsupported trail running with an elevation gain of 2,920 feet.

Not too bad if I do say so myself

The Route
The Elevation Profile


  1. Very descriptive writeup, Jim. I naturally recognize the majority of these pictures. I especially love the one you took of Lake Nawahunta. In case you didn't know, the "banner" photograpn on my blog was taken right around the corner from there, amidst all those beautiful white pines.
    We'll have to do this run together sometime, and perhaps between the two of us we'll be able to avoid getting lost. LOL :)

  2. let's see, 6 hours 20 miles and one fall. Not bad. It would probably be 8 hours and 6 falls for me. I am the clumsiest. Seems you are ready for a marathon!