28 May 2013

Spruce Mountain - 25 May 2013

I have had a bad, bad case of wanderlust for the past few weeks, and this weekend I finally got to satisfy a small chunk of that.  For the most part, I have spent this year on level ground, working on cardio fitness and overall training.  It has been fantastic, and while I feel great and have had some wonderful experiences, it’s time to get some elevation.


I also needed to test out my gear, since I am pushing myself to transition fully into minimalist footwear.  Since, I knew that none of the shoes I have are waterproof, I wanted to know how bad it would really be.  Saturday looked like the best bet, and when the opportunity presented itself that afternoon, I geared up quickly and headed out.  The day was cold and rainy, so I stopped at the Stewart's in Greenfield Center to get some coffee.  I was at the trailhead by 15:15, and headed up the trail by 15:20.

The trail itself is comprised primarily of multiple logging roads with a few single track segments thrown in to keep you guessing.  There are very few markers, and some of the markers that do exist lie boldly to your face.  “The trail goes this way!,” they whisper, knowing full well that no one believes them.  Only an idiot would choose to blunder out the door without at least reading the trail description one more time, so as to be forewarned about these myriad follies.

I am that idiot.

And I stumbled through myriad follies.

I managed to guess correctly at the first junction, based on a trail marker that consisted of the remnants of a piece of paper stapled to a tree.  I wish I was joking.  When I arrived at the point where trail cuts back on to private land, I wasn’t convinced that I was supposed to proceed across the private land, and instead followed what appeared to be a trail that went off on the public side of the property line.  That turned out to only be a herd path, going nowhere, fast.

Backtracking, I started to head back down the trail, looking for an unmarked junction that I must have missed.  Eventually I gave up and consulted my phone; I confirmed that the trail did, in fact, still proceed over private land.  Eventually the trail dwindled down to a grassy old woods road with a single track running through it.  To keep up the excitement, it disappeared briefly right near a junction.  To the left, I could see a woods road that was still in use, based on its condition.  To the right, I could see the grassy remains of a wood road, with a broken single track pretending to wander down it as it had down the previous lane.  After a minute or two of Pooh-ish pondering, I headed up the right-hand track, which turned out to be the correct route.  Eventually I saw a few cairns marking the path, and knew I was on the correct course at last.

The excitement was short-lived.

After the grassy section, the trail heads into the woods again, following a stream up the mountain.  I stopped and took several pictures of the first honest marker I had seen that day: a white Saratoga PLAN marker.  As the trail proceeded upwards, the stream got wider and wider, until there was no distinction between the two.  This was good for my LNT training, since it gave me ample opportunity to walk through the wet sections.

Not far up the trail, I came to a proper pond, the size of any respectable kiddy pool.  To the left, just a short way up, I could see a Saratoga PLAN marker.  I waded up, only to find that I was quite literally walking up a stream.  There was no sign of a trail at all, except for the markers on the trees that told me I was heading in the right direction.

They lied.

This was the abandoned side trail that the ADK Guide Book authors had warned me about.  Once again my decision to not give the guide book a proper read came back to haunt me.  I blundered onward, and came out to an old woods road, which I would have been able to follow had I gone straight at the kiddy pool instead of angling to the left.

C’est la vie.

The rest of the trek was uneventful, aside from losing the trail several times over the next quarter mile.  Eventually I came to realize that the trail just kept splitting and rejoining itself, and that it didn’t really matter.

By 4:30 I was standing on the summit.  I took a few pictures, had a snack, and then headed over to check out the fire tower.  Right next to the fire tower was an interesting looking pool.  It wasn’t immediately obvious what was feeding it, but it seemed to fall away at the far end.

Summit Marker

As for the descent, well, the service road that went back down to where I had parked loomed right behind the fire tower.  The wind had picked up, and it was still raining, so I opted for the easier route down.  Down I went.

The road leads past several buildings and numerous side roads. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the road and the surrounding land was how open it was, often with grassy fields on the side.  At one point, I came to a junction with a map and several signs sitting on one side of the field.  Walking over, my first thought was that it was some kind of promotional sign, but it turned out to be a map for snowmobilers.  The map showed where the user was, and the trail network in general. There was also a junction sign on the other side of the clearing, similar to what you would find on a hiking trail.  To top it all off, there were route markers (corridor 8) and real, reflective trail markers leading off into the woods.

Near the bottom I passed one soul enjoying his or her (or their) cabin.  I realized that that was the first sign of another person that I had seen on this hike.  A few minutes later, I was back at my car.  I cranked up the heat, downed the rest of my coffee, and headed on my way.

This trail crossed private land, so I’d just like to say “thank you” to everyone who opened up their land for us hikers to enjoy.  Thanks!

P.S.  I realized while I was posting this that I forgot to describe how the shoes did on the hike.  I intend on writing a full post on this in the future, but for now, here's what I wrote on the Flickr picture, which I think sums it up:
So, this was my first hike up a mountain wearing VFFs.  They did very well, in terms of traction, but this particular model (Bikila LS) has no water resistance at all.  They breathe really well, which works on warm days, but doesn't work so well on wet ones.  Especially not trails that have been turned into streams by the May rains.

So, I'm looking in to my options.  There are a few water-resistant models (no GoreTex, though). There's always wax/oil, as well.

Despite the permeability issues, I had no blisters after the hike, which is the main reason why I transitioned into them: to reduce blisters caused by my feet getting crushed inside traditional boots.

One other positive aspect is how well they flex; on several occasions I felt more of my foot go against a slanted or rounded surface than would have made contact if I was wearing a traditional boot.  This extra traction was a plus, and I can't wait to see how they perform on more difficult hikes.
Thanks for reading!  Until next time: "be excellent to each other!"

25 May 2013

Slide Mt - 30 Mar 2013

Ken and I set out from his house around 9:00, and made our way down and around to the trailhead on the west side of Slide Mountain.  We made it to the trailhead by 10:25, and by 10:40 we were on our way.  We opted to hike using micro-spikes instead of snowshoes; the trail was hard packed, and we figured that we would switch whenever we hit softer snow.  The first stretch of trail stays mostly level for a little while, and then it starts to climb up, at a steeper grade, to meet an old woods road.  We were on the road by 11:00, and 10 minutes later we were at the next junction, which would take us up to the summit.

The trail was still incredibly hard packed, so we continued on in our spikes.  It was mostly flat along the woods road, and then beyond, but it wouldn’t last forever.  After a few stream crossings the trail started to climb again.  Through this stretch we met a few people, including the requisite man-twice-our-age-and-in-better-shape.  We were also passed by a guy and his dog who was trail running; it wasn’t obvious until he passed us on the way down, though.  On the way up, at least where we saw him, he was hiking fast.

Around this time the trees started to shift from mostly deciduous to mostly evergreen.  To our right, we could see a valley, and on the other side of the valley was another of Slide Mountain’s shoulders.  As we ascended, the grade started to ease off slightly, and we found ourselves at a hard left turn in the trail.  A short distance later, and a hard right turn, and we were on the ridge that we would follow to the summit. It was wide, relatively flat, and offered decent-to-excellent views at select spots along the way, always on the left (north).

At one point, we stopped and took a measure of the snow depth with Ken’s walking stick.  It was somewhere between 2’ and 3’ (I know, very accurate).  I couldn’t believe it.  The snow on the packed trail didn’t move underfoot when we walked on it, and when I jammed my trekking pole into the snow beside the trail, it barely went in a foot.  Yet, the snow itself was actually well over two feet deep.

That snow depth explained how tight the foliage around the trail was, though.  At times we had to duck quite low under the partial blowdown that was ubiquitous up here.  I could imagine how fierce the wind must be up here at times, since it’s the highest point around by several hundred feet.  There was a section of heavy blowdown at one point, off to the right, possibly the remains of the eponymous slide.

We got to the summit itself at 12:40.  The only way that you can tell is that the trail ahead starts to go down instead of going up or staying on the level.  There was no view at the summit, but a short distance down the trail there’s an open area where a couple of other groups were stopping to lunch.  We could see Wittenberg and Cornell, and a bit of the Ashokan Reservoir, and the landscape beyond, but trees blocked the majority of the view.

The best view, by far, was actually seen five minutes before we got to the summit.  We were standing near the top of the col between two of Slide’s shoulders; the one that goes roughly north toward Panther and Giant Ledge was on our left, visible but unobtrusive.  The whole of the Catskills were laid out before us.  Panther was visible, over the shoulder, and peak after peak after peak stretched out before us.  I could even make out a bit of the Blackhead range, way off in the distance.  What struck me the most was how level the tops of the peaks looked.  For the first time, the geological history of the Catskills really settled in to my mind.  I could see the plateau that had once been here, before it eroded away to form these mountains.  In many ways, the plateau still exists, in the peaks of these summits.

The Blackhead Range

Lunch was relatively uneventful, aside from my ever continuing experiments on hiking food.  I decided to bring a can of tuna, and eat it on some rice crackers.  I had gotten the idea from my friend Justin, who often brings a can of sardines with him for lunch.  The tuna worked out well enough, but it didn’t sit as well in my stomach as I would have liked.  The granola that I had made the night before did, however, and that will be accompanying me on future hikes.

At around 13:20 we started heading back down, and an hour later, we were back at the trailhead.  The descent was uneventful, aside from slipping a few times.  Oh, and the couple headed up whose gear consisted of a cloth shopping bag.  At least they’ve got the “going lightly” bit mastered.

On our way back, we took a slightly different route, and ended up going right past Hunter mountain, the second highest Catskill peak.  The snow in the valley had completely melted, but there was still plenty of snow on the mountain itself, and it was a warm day.  We saw a few skiers getting in their last runs of the season, taking advantage of the nice weather.  In a way, it paralleled our own hike.  This would be our last snow-enhanced trip until next winter, and we were completely taking advantage of the mixture of warmer weather and snowy terrain.  All-in-all, I had fun.

08 May 2013

Five Mile Trail - 04 May 2013

This isn't exactly a trip report; more of a trail description.  After three full passes, and several shorter forays, I'm comfortable writing up a trail description for the Five Mile Trail at Saratoga Springs State Park.  I'm sure that I've made mistakes, and potentially omitted sections, so please consider this a work in progress.  The tag "Five Mile Trail" should take you to the latest trail description, if I decide to update it in the future.  I also plan on making a GPX file of the route available, once I've got a clean one.

Five Mile Trail

This route may have been originally designated as a racing trail and may still be used today.  I haven't been able to dig up anything definitive with my (very) limited searches to date, but there are references to five mile races being held at Saratoga Springs State Park (which could have been held along any number of roads or trails).

At any rate, without any further chitter chatter, here's version 1.1.

Five Mile Trail
Saratoga Springs State Park
Doug Harple, 8 May 2013, v1.1

These directions describe the route from the Orenda Pavilion.  Due to reservations at this pavilion, it may be easier to park near the Hathorn Spring #3, or near the Roosevelt Baths.  Both parking areas lie along the trail itself.  It is also possible to pick up the trail at numerous points from the picnic area near the Geyser pavilion.

The marking along this trail is occasionally sporadic, so it is important for the user to keep their eyes open.  The trail starts and ends at the grassy area near the Orenda pavilion.  Look for a pair of yellow "Five Mile Trail" signs near the head of the pavilion, and follow those into the woods.  The trail quickly descends down almost to the paved walkway before climbing back up to the level of the pavilion.  Poison ivy grows freely in these woods, and thickets of it have been observed in this area during the summer and fall.

The trail follows the pavilion green momentarily, and then heads back down again.  Keep your eyes open for signs in this area.  After a short distance, the trail makes its way down to the paved walkway.  Continue left, toward SPAC, past the Orenda spring, and under the SPAC walkway.  Head down the stairs, and then continue along the Vale of Springs trail back toward the Island Spouter.  The portion of this trail that crosses the runoff from the Orenda spring is always wet, and will leave a mineral residue on your footwear and/or feet.  Once past the Island Spouter, head left along the road and then take another left as the trail once again heads off into the woods.  Climb up to the SPAC fence, head right along the fence, and then head right once again across the Roosevelt Bath's parking lot.  Watch for markers, as there are a number of trails in this area.

From here there appear to be two possible routes.

I am describing the main route as the main route only because there is a mileage marker along this route.  It could very well be that someone stole the arrow marking the route, and that the alternate route is the correct route.  They could have also moved the 1 mile marker sign.

Main route: Follow the trail toward and past the Ferndell pavilion.  After a small open area, continue along in the same direction, toward a yellow sign that looks slightly different.  This is the 1 mile marker.  Follow the obvious path as it swings around and then heads over to the Ferndell parking lot.  As it approaches the parking lot, look for a trail heading slightly to the right, and run along side the road before heading to the right again.

Alternate route: As you approach the Ferndell pavilion, a marked FMT path to the left leads off just past another trail coming in from the right.  The turn is not marked.  Follow this to the road that leads to the Baths, and head right, through the grassy area, running parallel to the road.  Find the marked FMT trail markers on the other side of the grassy area, and follow them through a criss-crossing network of trails.  Head left once you get to the Ferndell parking area, and then take an immediate right.

Which ever route you took, you should now be running along side the North-South Road.  Avoid the trail going down and to the right, and take the second right, heading off into the woods, but more on the level.  Follow the well marked path through the woods, staying at roughly the same elevation now.  The trail loops around the cliffs above the picnic area as it makes its way over to the Columbia pavilion's parking area.  After a hard right, the trail immediately ducks away to the left, at a 45 degree angle.  Look up to find the signs.  Follow this well-marked section as it makes its way around the Columbia pavilion.  Watch out for a hard left that can be easy to miss.  A 1.75 mile marker is found in this area.  After a short while, the trail comes to an open field.  Head straight across, then down a short hill, and around a bend.  Cross over a small culvert, and make your way toward the road to cross the creek.  Watch out for traffic, as you have to actually walk on the active road for part of this crossing.

On the other side of the bridge, head right along a wide, grassy lane.  The 2 mile marker is found on the right along the creek.  This is the last mile marker on the course.  The trail heads gently to the left as it prepares to cross the road at a crosswalk, then follows the creek briefly.  Take the first obvious left, toward the Karista pavilion, and then head left again when possible, to pick up the trails heading up the cliff.  Follow the signs to get to the top.

Once you have reached the top, head generally to the left, following the row of trees, and make your way around the massive field.  This is a picnic area around the Peerless Pool.  The trail is mostly unmarked at this point, but follows the edge of the woods.  Avoid the trails leading back down the cliff, and instead follow the edge of the woods until you come to a squared off clearing.  Diagonally across the clearing is a trail that leads through a small strip of woods.  Once through the woods, head directly across the grassy area and make for a small stand of birches at the far end of the grassy area, directly ahead.  You will be walking parallel to the East-West Road at this point.  After crossing over the two access roads for the Peerless Pool, start looking for the trail.  The trail heads through the woods now, making a left as it goes to cross the East-West Road.

The trail now merges with the blue-marked Wetlands Overlook trail.  Follow the blue markers around a swampy area until you find yourself at a junction with a very wide grassy lane.  Head left along this lane, then take the next right to pick up the blue blazes once more.  Follow this trail, passing by the park fence and the wetlands overlook, before crossing over a small bridge that meets up with the same grassy lane.  Continue moving in the same direction, heading toward the road that's visible in the distance.  Cross this road, making for the paved walkway on the other side, and pick up the trail as it heads diagonally off into the woods once again.

As of 2013, this section has had recent improvements, and much of this next stretch is gravel.  The trail crosses the picnic road and then heads left at a T-junction.  A short distance later it heads left again, running through an occasionally wet area before crossing a walkway and ducking back into the woods around the Peerless Pool.  Take a left at the next T-junction, and then a short distance later head right.  At the junction with the gravel road, go right, and start looking for a marked trail heading off to the left, about 20' down the road.  Follow this for a short distance, before coming to another junction.  Go right at this junction, following the wide dirt lane as it crosses high above a stream and then crosses the picnic road once again.  Head right, following the signs, and find yourself once again standing at the Orenda pavilion's green.

So, that was my first attempt at a trail description.  This trail weaves in and out of the park, using many other paths for its route, and can be quite confusing at times.  My first attempt at following this trail was a dismal failure, but my second attempt was much better.  That left several questions unanswered though, so I headed out for this third trip to try and solve them.  Aside from figuring out what is going on near the Ferndell pavilion, I think I have it worked out.  I used the mile markers to figure out that the most likely starting and stopping point is at the Orenda pavilion, which aligns with my theory about this being a racing trail, since you would need an open area to stage the start and end of the race.

At any rate, as always, I welcome any comments, suggestions, or even the occasional "hey, idiot, the official trail description is over here".

07 May 2013

Resetting Keyboard Shortcuts in GNOME 3

  1. Run dconf-editor.  You can do this by opening a terminal and typing "dconf-editor" and hitting enter, or by searching for an app called "dconf Editor".
  2. Navigate to: org -> gnome -> desktop -> wm -> keybindings.  You may see this written as "org.gnome.desktop.wm.keybindings", which means the same thing.
  3. Scroll through the list on the right.  Any settings in bold have been changed.
  4. For each changed setting, click first on the setting, so that it's highlighted, and then click "Set to Default".
  5. Rinse, lather, repeat.
  6. Once you are done with that, you should also check org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power, and org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.media-keys.

Thanks to this help page for pointing me in the correct direction!