Wednesday, August 5, 2015

FLT Eastern Terminus: Claryville

Celebrating at the eastern terminus of the Finger Lakes Trail
I made it!!! After hiking nearly 900 miles along the main Finger Lakes Trail and its six branches, exactly 2 months later, I arrived Monday, August 3rd, at the eastern terminus of the FLT in the Catskill Forest Preserve just outside the tiny town of Claryville, New York.

Finger Lakes Trail eastern terminus sign
I could barely believe it as I took my final steps down the wide dirt path that would lead to this humble lil marker. How had two months passed already? For so long the end had seemed so far away and now suddenly I was here and I wanted to make every step, every breath, every swaying tree limb and nearby birdsong count. As I crossed the Neversink River just before town, a river that I knew I could follow all the way into the town of Port Jervis, New York where I had lived for sometime, I knew I was close. I did my best to soak it all in knowing that as much as I had anticipated this moment, part of me would be sad when it had finally come and gone.

Neversink River
I was thrilled to have my parents, Pam and Doug Houskeeper, my father better known as House the Cat, on the trail join me for my last mile. Although there is a 13 mile roadwalk between the Willowemoc Wild Forest and Slide Mountain Wilderness (both part of Catskill Forest Preserve), the hiker is graced with at least the final mile of trail being true woods trail. You must walk one mile from the trailhead parking lot on Denning Road to the terminus and then turn around and walk back to the parking lot. I was grateful for this mile as it gave me time to reflect. These reflections will come in my following blog, for now there is so much to tell you of the days leading up to the end!

Walking the abandoned NY Rt. 10
I headed out of Bainbridge on mostly roads, passing through the even smaller town of Masonville and finally back into the woods. I was grateful to have not started until late in the day, considering although it had been hot to begin it was considerably cooler with the sun beginning to sink behind the mountains and I neared my lean-to for the day at Getter Hill. The following day, I hiked 24 hard but beautiful miles beginning to get a taste of what the eastern part of the trail had to offer. The morning had been cool but the end of the day had been brutally hot, the trail ridden with mosquitos and black flies. I ascended altogether well over 1500 feet of elevation that afternoon up the steepest climbs I had encountered yet, the last one with 3 liters of water on my back as there was no water to be had where I was camping for the evening.

A view of the Rock Rift firetower
In the morning I passed the Rock Rift firetower and then did 8 hard miles over what I had been anticipating would be easy miles given the railroad grade that was shown on my map. Scratch that notion. As many of you know I hike in shorts out here, as normally I'd rather incur the scratches and scrapes than endure the heat of long pants however...when it comes to thigh-high stinging Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) that stretches for miles...mmm perhaps some long pants or gators would be more sensible. About halfway through my miles I seriously thought about putting on long see the Wood Nettle kept alternating with large patches of Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.)conveniently enough, so I kept hoping that perhaps the Jewelweed would persist. When I finally gave up hope I stopped to change but was swarmed so quickly by a whirlwind of buzzing squeeters that I decided I'd rather keep swooshing through nettle at full speed than stop and rifle through my pack. Ah least I got to this smiling face a lil faster...

Anita and I on trail
 Anita came to join me one last time on my thru-hike and lemme tell you...this woman is hardcore. As soon as we met up, she announced that this was a day for record breaking heat in New York state as we both swatted the relentless biting flying critters. Didn't stop her! And I was thankful because now I at least had a partner to take my mind off all the discomfort I was experiencing. We trekked through the woods for some more miles and then thankfully, back out onto the road where the breeze blew the squeeters away. Once back on wide grassy horse trail for our last miles, we even glimpsed a black bear. He moved quickly out of no pics were taken...but stay tuned for that...

Thank you Anita, for your friendship and support out here on the trail. You were not only a hiking partner but a trail angel! Keep hikin' woman!

Rachel and I on trail
After having dinner with Anita at the DEC horse campground, I compiled my plant notes and wondered if my dear friend, Rachel Horn, who was driving all the way from Asheville that day would be able to find me at my lil picnic table and fire ring in what felt to me like the middle of nowhere. Thank you to Seth, a state park employee who offered me fresh water and a shower up at the main campground while I waited! But sure enough at 9pm...she rolled up without a single hitch in her plans. We caught up about our lives over the last 2 months until the moon was high in the sky and hit the hay. However, we couldn't have all of our fun on this night, as the towns of Downsville and more importantly, Roscoe were in our future the next day.

The mason jars displaying the 5 different herbs used in the making of Prohibition's gin. The last jar is a combination of all of these herbs.
Although we hiked into Downsville, after lunching in town at the Schoolhouse where Rachel had dropped her bike overnight for safe keeping, so that she could hike with me in the morning and bike back to her car, we headed onto the funky lil fishing town of Roscoe. We had our priorities straight and so before checking into our room at the Rockland Motel, we hit the Prohibition Distillery located in the old Roscoe firehouse. Here I found quite the botanical treat. We took a tour through the distillery and learned that their gin is quite literally infused, imagine a giant tea bag full of herbs being dropped into a giant vat of high alcohol content gin, with fresh orris root, coriander, juniper berries, lemon verbena, and bitter orange peel. The young man working here was very excited about their process and his energy was contagious. A great start to the town adventure. By the way, while sampling their fine beverages, their parking lot is also a great place to dry out wet clothes from your nearby hike on the FLT after walking in drenching rain.

Drying clothes atop Rachel's car after our morning of walking in the pouring rain - method works great!
At the Rockland House, we enjoyed an affordable room and nearby Rockland House Restaurant, eating piles of fresh vegetables  off  the salad bar and sampling the also local Trout Town brews served on tap. However, our fun didn't end there as there was still one more local watering hole to visit. At the Courtyard, which was about to close, we didn't sample any drinks but we did entertain ourselves with their creative country d├ęcor. Later that night, we also had the fine opportunity of meeting Lonnie and Rod, who were visiting to welcome new pledges into their fraternity, which had originated in Port Jervis. These guys were quality, full of support for my hike, handed over granola bars for the road, and even cooked up a big breakfast the next morning outside the hotel that we made sure to get in on as well. And, man did we luck out given that Lonnie is a hired chef for the New York Jets. He knew how to cook up some grits!

Endless plates of salad from the salad bar at the Rockland House, as well as complimentary cheese and crackers.

Getting up close and personal with a friendly fish at the Courtyard - there were so many creatures on the walls at which to marvel!
Of course, even after eating breakfast with the guys, no trip to Roscoe is complete without a visit to the world famous Roscoe Diner. However, the food didn't last long enough our plates for any pictures to be taken. I love northeastern diners. Needless to say I left Roscoe one happy hiker full of both food and gratitude for a visit from a friend.

Rachel and I in Downsville
Hiking out of Downsville I returned to the Campbell Mountain Lean-to, the first place I had visited on the FLT, a week before beginning my thru-hike. What a feeling to be here once again, now just three days from the end of my journey. It was also here that I glimpsed the note on the final map that read: This is bear country...protect your food! Ah, all of the northeast is bear country. I had encountered plenty on my other hikes and hardly any to speak of on this hike, plus the map had been published in 2013. Even if the men from Lancaster Construction that I passed earlier in the day had warned me of a very large black bear that had lumbered across the woods and down my trail. It was probably a hollow warning.

Campbell Mountain Lean-to
The next three days were some of the most beautiful scenery I have passed through the entire hike. Just as I had said about the Onandaga Trail, this too was what I had envisioned when I dreamed of hiking the trail.

Trail through the Catskill Forest Preserve
The climbing was intense, especially on one day in which I climbed Brock Mountain, Mary Smith Mountain, Middle Mountain, Beech Mountain, and Cabot Mountain all in the course of a mere 15 miles, and was rewarded with an astounding view of green then blue layered mountains in the distance at nearly every summit. Also with few road crossings and heavily wooded trail filled with peeling Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) growing amidst, atop, and between boulders the size of cars and covered in Rock Tripe lichen (Umblicaria). I thrived on beauty and enjoyed being a such a physical being in such a physically substantial environment. At my feet grew entire carpets of various Lycopodium, Catskill specific species such as Large Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago macrophylla), and Mountain Aster (Aster acuminatus) and near the marshy areas I squished by Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) and bright fushia stands of Bee Balm (Monarda didyma).

Large Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago macrophylla)
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Atop Balsam Mountain, I even surpassed 3500 feet, reaching the FLT's highest point on the entire trail at 3660 feet. This may not sound very high to those who have hiked extensively on the west or even east coast, but here in New York, the environment changes dramatically. Trees were stunted and the trail was nothing more than a narrow corridor. I thought I may have stumbled into Vermont on accident.

These signs were visible approaching from either side of the Balsam Mountain summit
To top it off, I was able to take a .25 mile sidetrip to the Balsam Mountain Fire tower, which is the only one I've had the opportunity to climb this whole hike. Luckily I had just caught Tom and Laurie Rankin, caretakers for this particular weekend, who guided me up the tower and pointed out where I had come from, what mountains I would be heading over and the PA and NJ mountains close to my parents home in Milford. I was also given a history of the area, learning that Laurie's father had been the last full time employee to man the tiny box atop all those flights of stairs and had also built the cabin that visitors may now tour full of historical photos and woods gear. This was a special place for me, but it held an even greater significance for these two. Thank you for sharing it with me Tom and Laurie! Also, thank you to Lou Werner of Bovina who I shared a picnic table with atop that mountain, enjoying lunch and pleasant conversation in the bright midday sun.

View from Balsam Mountain firetower

Laurie and Tom Rankin outside the cabin that Laurie's father built.
I lolly-gagged for quite sometime at this tower, thinking I had lots of time to get my miles done. However I had not anticipated meeting a friend in the marsh nor not being able to find the water source at the much overgrown Fall Brook Lean-to.

Bear in the marsh just west of the Fall Brook Lean-to
Apparently this fella thought this was good place to grab a snack as well. I was just noticing the abundance of wild food here along the marsh and examining a Bedstraw (Galium spp.) when I noticed the tree trunk at my feet had been gnawed through to shape of an hourglass. Just then I heard a rustling in the tall grass and could see it parting in a zig zag heading away from the trail. A beaver! I had thought to myself. I stopped and looked and listened to the huffling of a busily breathing beaver and click clack of teeth on a log, when this fuzzy round-eared head popped up. Not a beaver. I snapped a pic and he soon plopped back on his rear, disturbed in his dinner, to look about. I got a good look at him but was too enthralled and spooked to snap a pic. He then dove head first back into the marsh grasses. I took this as my opportunity to get a move on.

Arriving at the shelter less than a half mile away and reading numerous accounts of not only a black bear in the area and the stream having gone dry, I decided to keep on walking. Where to...I didn't know...but the FLT wasn't gonna let me go easy on my last night!

After stumbling across an unmarked stream, I ended up pitching my tent precariously on the edge of an embankment just inside state land. I made a late dinner, hung my food bag high in a tree a ways down the trail, whooped and hollered some like a crazed woods woman to scare off any nearby 200 pound furry friends and drifted off to sleep. My last night on the trail.

To close this post, allow me to share with you my real eastern terminus photo...

Feeling victorious and donning a traditionally fabulous summit outfit at the eastern end of the Finger LakesTrail
One must be properly attired to hike the Finger Lakes Trail...especially the goggles...these are essential in the monsoon season of June, not to mention that even a hiker needs to pick up the occasional souvenir such as a t-shirt from the Outpost. I told y'all I had another outfit!

Finger Lakes Trail you have been quite the adventure...stay tuned for my next blog in which I'll share my...ahem...more serious reflections on the trail and my future plans!


  1. Congratulations, Heather! It was so nice to meet you while you passed through the Finger Lakes. Safe travels! Brittany Gibbs, Tourism & Marketing Manager, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce

    1. Thank you Brittany! Watkins Glen was so incredibly welcoming and such a beautiful place to visit. I can't wait to come back when I have more time to simply relax and take it all in :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Matt! You know what sweet bliss it is to finish a long distance trail! Any upcoming hiking plans for you?

  3. Congratulations Heather! Glad to see that the shoes are appropriately unpinked.

    1. Thank you Roger! The best shoes I had the entire trail - who woulda thunk it. That pink was stubborn but it eventually turned the mud brown it was meant to be :)