Friday, May 22, 2015

The Finger Lakes Trail

A portion of the Appalachian Trail through New York's Harriman State Park 

I am excited to announce that in less than two weeks I will be beginning my next long distance hike. This time along the Finger Lakes Trail in New York state. As many of my readers know, I was born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, minutes from the border of New York and New Jersey, with the Delaware River creating a natural division. I also lived for some time in the tiny town of Port Jervis, New York which rests along the banks of this same river. This area will always be my home and my first love. It was here that I came to know the woods and mountains, rivers and streams, and the allure of the trails that leads one into these places, and when I followed, the magic that it was to travel there.

I have not done a long distance hike in this region since the Appalachian Trail in 2008. Even then, it was just a tiny portion region that I traversed, although when asked, I still tell folks it was one of my favorite portions of the AT. New York, at least from what I've seen in the southeastern portion is a land of rocks- from giant boulders the size of houses to random razor-sharp rocks that litter the forest floor. It is lined with water, streams, rivers, waterfalls, and natural springs (even if NY is presently in a drought). Pine of all kinds are plenty here as are the black bear.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
It is also filled with edible and medicinal plants a-plenty. And so, as you may have guessed...I will again be hiking this trail to chronicle the edible and medicinal plants that can be found along the Finger Lakes Trail. I'll be keeping a daily list of plants I encounter, making a record of them in the evening and whenever possible incorporating them into my backcountry meals and wilderness first aid needs. I'll be blogging as I go, now upgrading to a lightweight tablet and keyboard that connects through bluetooth. So stay tuned northeasterners for a first-hand look at your local useful plants. For my southern readers, many of these plants can also be found in your region, although the new ones you meet may entice you to come check out the trail up here! Once I've completed my trek, I will get to work on writing a backpacker's guide to the edible and medicinal plants of the Finger Lakes Trail.

Allow me to tell you a little about where the journey will take me...

A bridge along the Appalachian Trail in Harriman State Park in New York close to an intersection with the Long Path
The Finger Lakes Trail begins at its western terminus in Allegany State Forest on the border of Pennsylvania and New York and travels 558 miles to its eastern terminus in the Catskill Forest Preserve where it intersects with the Long Path, and lands me just a little over sixty miles from my hometown of Milford, PA. Branching off of the main Finger Lakes Trail are an additional 6 trails: the Conservation Trail, Letchworth Trail, Bristol Hills Trail, Crystal Hills Trail, Interloken Trail, and Onandaga Trail, which tack on roughly 300 additional miles. I will be hiking these trails as well, bringing the entire trek to a total of 860 miles.

Comparing it to my other long distance treks, this trail includes more conventional trail and time in the backcountry with longer resupply times like the Appalachian Trail however without the AT's dramatic ascents and descents. The FLT's highest point is at 3600 feet in the Catskills and its lowest point at 430 feet near Ithaca. It is also outfitted with lean-to's along the trail as the AT is, however nowhere near as many. Like the Mountains to Sea Trail, it possesses portions of roadwalk along country roads as well directly through the center of numerous towns and what I am most looking forward to of this civilized walking...down abandoned railroad beds. It is also a patchwork of state, national, and private lands, regularly changing due to the permission of landowners. Also similar to the MST, it has only seen a handful of thru-hikers. 379 people have completed (by thru-hike or section-hike) the main FLT since 1962, whereas the AT sees at least this many successful thru-hikers every year.

A rock cairn marking a continuation of trail, these will often times be built where blazes are few to assist hikers in finding their way

My predictions about terrain and difficulty are in all reality though, just that. From what I understand the blazing is pretty good, with its more difficult areas through some private lands that are ever-changing, as well as areas where the blazes are a different color due to running along with other trails such as in the Catskill Forest Preserve. And as for maps.... I have downloaded 53 covering the entirety of the main FLT and branch trails. And I thought the MST had a plethora with about 10 of which to keep track. But these maps are thorough, complete with info on water sources and camping, as well as accompanying text regarding mileage markers. There is one guidebook to the trail but it has unfortunately not been updated since 2011. I have had this guidebook in my possession since this time, as I was toying with this trail even when I set out for my first hike on the MST. I plan to still carry this guide as it looks like it provides a wealth of information about lodging, restaurants, and resupply points...I will just have to bear in mind not to count to much on reaching that road crossing with the little family diner as it may be nothing more than a boarded up shack leaving my hiker belly growling grumpily.

Acorn - the well known fruit of the Oak tree (Quercus spp.)
I plan on making some stops along the way to share my journey and plant findings with some communities located along the trail. If you live along any portion of this trail and would like to join me for a few miles or have a group that you'd like to gather to learn more about either the flora of the trail or simply long-distance hiking, please drop me a line here in the comments section. Also, if you'd like to offer any accommodations or assistance along the trail, as I will need help with lodging in some areas where it is illegal to camp, as well as shuttling back to the main trail from end of a branch trail (right now I definitely need a shuttle from the end of the Interloken Trail back to the main FLT), please let me know.

Check out this link to the FLT conference website to learn more about this beautiful trail!