This weekend I went hiking again. It was my fifth hike of the year. The others were the Chief in British Columbia, Breakneck Ridge (which I wrote about a few weeks ago), Bear Mountain, a return trip to Breakneck my friend Jeramy that took different route up Bull Hill and into Cold Spring. All of those were day hikes, but these things tend to escalate and so for the last few weeks I’ve been planning a multi-day hike that would basically follow the Appalachian Trail from the western side of Harriman State Park to the eastern side of Bear Mountain State Park, which is about twenty-five miles. In preparation, I have been putting together a basic set of camping supplies that can be carried in a backpack. My list of necessary items was based on what has come in handy other times I went camping but I was aware that all of those other times I drove to the campsite in a car—size and weight was not a consideration. So I knew that this trip was going to be a dry run in more than one way: it was my first attempt at multi-day hiking, and it was a dry run for future backpack camping, a chance to discover what was useful, what wasn’t useful, what was nice to have but too heavy to carry.
Aware that the weekend was something of an experiment, I made a list of what I was taking so I could analyze the benefits and costs after I’d finished. My pack contained: about half a gallon of water, food (apples, carrots, broccoli, whole wheat bagels, peanuts, veggie burgers, etc.), a tent, a sleeping bag, a foam mat, a small ax, a collapsible shovel, a pair of metal tongs (for moving burning logs in the campfire), a mess kit, a camp towel, a cooler, an plastic box for things that might get lost of crushed (hamburger buns, matches), an extra tee shirt, an extra pair of socks, a change of underwear, a bathing suit, waterproof trail maps, a compass, a back-up compass (in case the first one breaks), a monocular, a hunting knife, a flashlight, a headlamp, a small first aid kit, an Ace bandage, two emergency ponchos, three plastic garbage bags for trash, a book and a survival guide (just in case).
It also must be said that backpacking alone is probably the most difficult way to do it, when it comes to packing. When you go backpacking, there are some items that you need to carry one for each member of the group (sleeping bags, canteens, etc.) but there are some items that you only need to carry one for the entire group whatever its size (a tent, for instance). When you’re backpacking in a group the items in this second category are divided up amongst the members of the group but when you’re on your own you’re stuck carrying the whole lot.
On Saturday morning I took the train from Penn Station to Tuxedo, which is about fifty miles north of the city on the southwestern edge of Harriman State Park. After a quick stop off at a newstand for the one item I forgot, a free newspaper for kindling, I found the trailhead and started hiking. On the initial uphill I was still coming to terms with the weight of the big pack. The entry trail was a beautiful climb which skirted some breathtaking rock formations and yet had the decency not to force me to climb directly over them. I dropped my pack for a moment to climb around inside the fissure in one of these formations, which provided an excellent view of the forest I had just hiked through. I also had two wildlife encounters on this trail. The first was with two deer, a white-tailed doe and a buck with the fuzz still on his antlers. The second was with a snake. I have seen snakes before in this forest but they have always been little ones, around a foot long. This snake was about three feet long and wide enough that if you wrapped your thumb and index finger around it the tips of your fingers might not touch! It was an enormous snake for New York State, from what I know, and it was lying directly in the trail. In fact, it was so large and it was lying so still that my first though was that it was a rubber snake and that someone had left it in the trail as a practical joke. But on closer examination its head was moving, so I walked about ten feet off the trail and gave it a wide birth so as not to disturb it.