Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thru-hiking the Long Path

It's official! Scott and I preparing to hike New York State's Long Path in September! I have been holding back on writing a blog post about our upcoming adventure until I knew for certain that we would be hittin' the trail. I can barely contain my excitement as I write the very words. It has been two years since I hiked the Finger Lakes Trail and believe me...these feet are calling for the open trail! We will be beginning in the least likely of places...the 175th Street subway station in Manhattan and traveling 358 miles to John Boyd Thatcher State Park near Altamont, New York. If we choose to follow a mapped but not required roadwalk portion of the trail, we will reach the Adirondack State Park, making the trip a total of 420 miles. We are giving ourselves 4-6 weeks to complete our trek.  

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) 
Now of course we will not only be hiking the Long Path but botanically hiking the Long Path.  Each day we will be turning our attention to the plant life that calls this trail home and highlighting a plant - or a tree or a moss or a rock tripe -  that speaks to us and furthermore to you. We plan to keep a sort of online journal of our botanical finds, insights and musings at and, and here at this blog. For those of you who have been following me on my blog, you know that during my time on the Mountains to Sea Trail and Finger Lakes Trail, I researched the edible and medicinal plants of the trail, keeping a daily list of those that I saw along the way.  Given that we will be hiking during the Fall, there are many plants that have gone to seed and are in the soil awaiting next spring. However, I think that this time of year will allow us to better see those that we do encounter and to appreciate the subtleties of the trail, perhaps even seeing more than we would otherwise. Also, by botanically hiking with a more open structure, we are hoping to illicit the full experience of the trail and its plants, with both head and heart. The Long Path has, afterall, always spoke to me subtly...but it has been persistent.

a portion of trail through the Catskill Park
The Long Path has seemed to always make an appearance when I was on my way to somewhere else. The first time I saw a sign for the Long Path was when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. After shimmying and scraping my way through the Lemon Squeezer, a narrow passageway through which the AT travels between house-sized boulders...I popped out the other side and spied at the intersection a wooden sign with arrows pointing left and right to the Long Path. Huh. Seemed to me I was already on the long path. I snubbed my nose and kept on walking. Although throughout those many miles it continued to reappear in my mind. Some years later, when I hiked the Finger Lakes Trail, I remember taking my last steps at the end of the trail thinking only about the monumental hike I had just endured and displayed just below the terminus sign was yet another wooden sign pointing further down the trail...the Long Path. I knew I could choose to hike the Long Path to the Appalachian Trail to Culvers Gap in New Jersey and pretty much walk my way home. But I had already walked nearly 900 miles and that seemed enough. Then, just this past year when Scott and I were section-hiking the Shawangunk Ridge Trail, what did we keep coming across maps for, and trail descriptions for, and even blazes for while hiking? The Long Path. These past few months when we sought a summer's overnight in the Catskills (and we had began to think seriously that this would be the next long distance venture), we would pull out the maps and begin to follow an enticing loop or spy an intriguing mountain and as we would trace a finger down the dotted line of a trail...smack! The Long Path. In turn, forcing us to change direction and find some other less exciting route so as not to see too much of the trail before we really hiked it! This trail has seemed to beckon me from every angle and with it's aquamarine blazes it's always seemed cool and calm and welcoming, ready to take me in when I was ready to take it on. Now we are ready.

An aqua Long Path Blaze above a blue Shawangunk Ridge Trail blaze
The fact that we keep bumping into the Long Path is actually not all that surprising given that it was initially dreamed up to be a path, like the Appalachian Trail, that connected the hiker to a multitude of other trails from NYC to Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. The idea for the trail was actually proposed by Vincent J. Shaefer of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club in 1931, making its conception nearly that of the AT which was proposed in 1921. So although far less people know of this trail and even fewer thru-hike it - as of today just over 20 people have backpacked it continuously from end to end - it has been in existence for nearly a century. Learning this, I think I better understand the presence of this trail. It is an elder trail, patient and cool, waiting for those who wish to hike a more humble trail, lacking the glory of the Appalachian Trail but perhaps richer in solitude, quiet insight, and wilderness experience.

So just where does this Long Path go?

Map of Long Path in its entirety
From NYC, we will trek across the George Washington Bridge and into the Palisades State Park, walking the cliffs along the Hudson River with views of Manhattan and the active waterway with numerous opportunities to make a quick jaunt down to the shoreline. Entering the Hudson Highlands, we will begin to climb our first mountains, hiking into the grassy boulder-strewn land of Harriman State Park through which the Appalachian Trail also passes. 

View from Sam's Point in Minnewaska State Park Preserve - excellent example of Shawangunk slab stone
From here, we will enter into Orange County and the Shawangunk Ridge, an area that we have explored some already. This is the passageway between the low mountains of the Hudson Highlands and the beginning of the Catskill Mountains further north. Here we will hike alongside railroad tracks that carry the train into Port Jervis, meander through the small villages of Chester and Goshen, through the marsh lands of the Basha Kill Wildlife Refuge, scramble over chunks of Shawangunk slab rock, and marvel at the far-reaching views of Sam's Point in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Because the AT parallels and the Shawangunk Trail parallel the Long Path so closely for roughly 50 miles with easier camping, the NY/NJ trail conference does consider hiking those trails instead of the official Long Path through part of this section acceptable, however at this point we have not decided to do that.

Scott looking out along the Basha Kill Wildlife Refuge
Looking out from Burnt Knob in the Catskill Park

We will then reach the rugged and remote Catskills, summiting Slide Mountain, the tallest in the Catskill Mountain range and intersect with my familiar Finger Lakes Trail. We will summit a few of our favorite peaks, Acra Point, Windham, Burnt Knob, and a host of others above 3500 feet that we have been sizing up for a long time now.  Gradually we will descend from the Catskills into the Schorarie Valley, home to early Dutch settlers and into the Mohawk River Valley following a long escarpment through land that has long been appreciated from native tribes to loggers to farmers. If we continue past the Mohawk River we ramble along winding rural roads heading towards Lake Desolation and finally into the Adirondack State Park

It should be quite the journey! I will be posting again as our date gets closer so please do stay tuned here and at our facebook pages: and  Join us for a virtual botanical hike on the Long Path!  

Planning the route from a view at Acra Point in Catskill Mountain Park