Saturday, December 31, 2011

Walk and letterboxing - H. G. Reist Sanctuary

This afternoon, Holly and I got out for a walk in the H. G. Reist Sanctuary in Niskayuna. It was a convenient place to meet for a short outing while getting some other stuff done. Although there are a few geocaches in this preserve, today I brought along clues for some letterboxes instead, just for a change. Letterboxing is a little different from geocaching, in that clues and landmarks are used to guide the seeker to the letterbox, rather than using a GPS and latitude/longitude coordinates. It existed long before geocaching, and originally got its start in England.

We don't get into the whole letterbox rubber stamping routine, nor do we normally log our found geocaches. We just enjoy the hunt and finding the hidden items. The three we found today were very easy, but added some interest to a walk on a balmy New Year's Eve afternoon.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Geocaching - Return to Indian Meadows

This afternoon, Holly and I got in another walk, this time at Indian Meadows Park in Glenville. We'd come here a few weeks back and found 4 of the 5 geocaches we were looking for, so today, we tried that fifth one again along with 3 others we'd never tried. We found ourselves way out the far southern end of the park where we'd probably never been before, along the trail that supposedly connects to Van Buren Road near Swaggertown Road. We got in about a 3-mile walk and found all four of the geocaches we were looking for, including the one that had confounded us before. The ground was frozen, and it was a good thing, since there was lots of ice on the trails that would have otherwise been water and mud.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hiking - Taconic Crest Trail

Today, I joined an ADK and Taconic Hiking Club hike on the Taconic Crest Trail south of Hancock, MA. The trail follows a high ridgetop along the NY/MA border for about 35 miles. If a hiker completes all sections of the trail in winter, a very nice patch is awarded.

Although I received this patch a year or two ago, some friends are still working toward it, and it's a very nice place to hike relatively close to home.

Hiking a section of this trail first requires pre-positioning a car at the day's end point, driving everybody to the beginning point, and then a long steady climb up from the valley below, to about 2,000 feet above sea level. Despite green and brown fields in the valley, we found a few inches of powdery snow at that higher elevation, giving us our first taste of local winter since a freak October snowstorm.

We soon reached Berry Pond, in the Pittsfield State Forest. As the sign says, this is the highest natural body of water in the state of Massachusetts, at 2,150 feet. There are picnic tables and campsites here, and it's a popular place in warmer weather.

Just north of Berry Pond, there's a wide open view to the west, stretching from the Catskills on the left around to the valley we'd left below.

Rain was expected later in the day, but this was a very strong group, and we finished the 6.8 miles by early afternoon, despite considerable ups and downs. Conditions were great, and so was the company, and we all enjoyed a nice wintry day outside.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Walk - Sanders Preserve

After three celebrations of Christmas in the past two days, and with a fourth coming up this evening and a fifth on Wednesday, Holly and I got out for a short walk this afternoon in the Sanders Preserve in Glenville. The usually wet trails were partially frozen, so the walking wasn't too sloppy. Though there were several cars in the parking lot, we didn't see anybody else, and we enjoyed the relative quiet of the not so wintry woods.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Walk - Schenectady County Forest

Cards are sent. Gifts are bought and wrapped. Cookies are baked. Calendars are full for the next week. And today was the calm before the upcoming storm of holiday get-togethers and events. So I got out this morning and took advantage of it.

With a cold rain overnight, I had some slim hopes of finding a dusting of snow at higher elevations. So I headed to Schenectady County Forest, which at over 1,400 feet often gets snow when we lowlanders get rain. Unfortunately it was not to be. I found plenty of mud and standing water, but no snow at all. The only snow anywhere locally is at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam, where a narrow strip of the man-made stuff stands out brightly against the greens and browns everywhere else. Looks like no white Christmas this year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Geocaching - 4 for 4 at the Woods Hollow Preserve

After a morning of baking Christmas cookies, Holly and I got out for a walk this afternoon in the Woods Hollow Preserve north of Ballston Spa. Though it's now officially calendar winter, temps were in the upper 40s, and there is still no snow on the ground.

We like to include a few geocaches on these walks just to make it more interesting, and it turned out there were four here that we hadn't previously tried to find. We had the preserve mostly to ourselves, with only one dog walker encountered on the trails. We found all four caches easily for a change, and enjoyed a warm afternoon stroll at the same time.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Disc golf - last one of the year?

With sloppy weather coming in later this week, along with the holiday crunch, I ignored the mid-30s temps and the gusty winds to get in another disc golf outing in Central Park. I actually wasn't the only one with the same idea - several other groups were also out. The first round was an abominable 76, a whopping 19 over par, and tempted me not to play a second round. But I did anyway, and came in with a 67, not spectacular, but about average, and much better than the first round. That may be it for the year, with snow possible over Christmas. A good snowfall would be a VERY welcome thing anyway at this point, so fingers are crossed.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Walk - Niskayuna's John Brown Trails

This afternoon, Holly and I got out for about a 2-mile walk on the relatively new John Brown Trails, off Whitmyer Drive near the former Schenectady Museum Preserve. I'd been there several times before, the most recent about 2 weeks ago, but it was new for Holly. We'd actually skied some of these trails many years ago before they were formally marked. It felt good to get out and walk off some of the stiffness and achiness from yesterday's hike. It was obvious that trail work continues in this area, with some big logs recently cut and a couple of new trails marked. Looking forward to snowshoeing here if we ever get a winter this year.

Hiking - Waterfalls and big trees on the NCNST

Yesterday, I joined a Schenectady ADK trip to scout the location for a new section of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST). When completed, this trail will extend over 4,000 miles from North Dakota to Crown Point, on Lake Champlain. The exact route through the Adirondacks is still being determined, and we were checking out a possible route for one of these sections on our trip.

The area we were exploring was adjacent to Berrymill Pond, northeast of Adirondack Northway (I-87) Exit 29. The plan was to follow existing trails southward, and then continue bushwhacking along Berrymill Pond to a beaver pond previously reached on a trip from the south by our leaders Walt and Norm. That would result in an entire road-to-road section having been explored. Other explorers in the group included Susan, Dale, and Herb.

Our route - north to south and back again

Starting south from the car on the trail along Berrymill Brook, we soon came to the first of many waterfalls we'd see on this trip.

Waterfall on Berrymill Brook

Reaching the point where we'd leave the established trail, we started through open woods along the east side of Berrymill Pond, ducking out through the trees for an occasional view.

Southbound along Berrymill Pond

Reaching the outlet of Moose Pond high above, there was another very nice waterfall, the best of the trip.

Waterfall on Moose Pond outlet

The entire route south passed through an area that contained many dozens of huge white pines that towered above us.

One of numerous 2-3' diameter white pines

Near the destination beaver pond, Walt and Norm recognized landmarks that they'd reached northbound on their previous trip, so our mission was accomplished. We stopped for lunch on the shore of the beaver pond before returning north the way we'd come.

Beaver pond - the lunch spot at our southernmost point

We varied our route a little on the return, trying to bypass a few of the tougher areas we'd discovered earlier, but the return trip took about the same time. Reaching the north end of Berrymill Pond, we stopped for pictures in the waning afternoon light.

Owl Pate overlooking Berrymill Pond

As always, the last mile seemed endless, but we finally reached the car not long before sunset after a satisfying day. With its waterfalls, ponds, cliffs, and huge trees, this area will provide a very attractive addition to the NCNST.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Disc golf - A quiet day in the park

Today I took a break from the ongoing Christmas madness and got in a couple rounds of disc golf in Schenectady's Central Park. There were very few people out this morning as I started, but the dog walkers and joggers began to appear as I was finishing up by late morning. I scored a pair of 65s, several shots below my usual average, so it was a good day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geocaching - Indian Meadows Park

This afternoon, Holly and I got out for a walk in Indian Meadows Park in Glenville. To make it interesting, we added on 5 geocaches that we hadn't visited before. We wound up easily finding 4 of the 5, but on the other one we were stumped, even though we were probably right on top of it. Unfortunately, we decrypted the wrong clue at that point, and kept looking down instead of up. We didn't discover this until well on our way to the next one (whose clue we had decrypted), so didn't go back. Senior moment. We'll get it next time. Nice day for a walk, with some sloppy weather coming in later in the week.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hiking - Baldwin Mountain

Yesterday, I joined a Schenectady ADK trip to Baldwin Mountain, a small trailless peak near Newcomb, NY. I was actually the only one who signed up for this bushwhack, so leader and friend Herb and I threw cold-weather common sense and safety out the window and did this one with a party of only two.

Herb had picked this destination based on a large open area on the south side of the summit, as shown below by Google Earth. I had also noticed a smaller open rock area, so we decided to try to get to them both, in addition to the actual summit.

We parked at the entrance to the Santanoni Preserve, a popular cross-country skiing destination later in winter. Signing in, we were somewhat surprised to find a couple of other past entries, also headed to Baldwin Mountain. Then we started the walk down the closed carriage road until we reached the point where we needed to set off through the woods. There was about an inch of new snow on the ground, and we noticed various animal tracks as we walked.

Leaving the road, we headed basically northwest toward the base of what I was now calling a "slide". Herb didn't share my optimism, and would only call it a "possible open area". I was pretty sure we would be ascending the open rock, with wide views behind us all the way up, but he wasn't yet convinced.

In this first leg of the trip, we found sporadic remnants of an old road that made the going much easier than we'd expected. Arriving in the general vicinity of the base of the slide, GPS guided us through some thick spruce and then out onto the open rock of the old slide. The views south were stupendous, and even better than we'd hoped for.

After spending some time here enjoying the views, we headed up the slide and back into the woods toward the actual summit. There were no views here, so after enjoying a snack, we headed down the SE ridge toward the other possible open viewpoint. We tried to stay on the northern side of the ridge, in hopes of finding an open view of the High Peaks to the north, but never found a really good one. With the leaves off the trees, there were several glimpses of the snow-covered peaks, and an occasional small opening like the one below, but nothing that provided wide sweeping views.

Arriving at the next knob that promised the possibility of the other open rock view, we fought our way through some very thick spruce to the top of a sheer drop over an open rock face. This was certainly the other possible view we'd identified, but it paled in comparison to the earlier one from the slide.

Back on the top of the ridge, we stopped for lunch and plotted our next move. We decided to stay on the ridge as we descended back to the carriage road, and looked for other possible views to the north. We didn't find any, but it was worth a try, and was on our way in the right direction anyway.

We managed to hit the carriage road near where we'd left it, and started the easy walk back to the car. All told, we covered a little over 6 miles, most of it off-trail, and got to see some views that few have probably seen. It was an interesting trip, and we were both glad we'd decided to go in spite of our better judgment.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hiking - Bailey Pond and Hayes Mountain

Yesterday, a rainy day in the Capital District, I joined a Schenectady ADK hike to scout part of a route for the North Country National Scenic Trail as it passes through the Adirondacks. While a general trail corridor has been pretty much decided, the specifics within that corridor are still being researched by boots-on-the-ground efforts such as ours yesterday.

We started at the end of Loch Muller Road, west of Schroon Lake, and our destination was a small col on the south ridge of Hayes Mountain. The approach to this col from the west had been previously scouted and found to be a satisfactory route for the NCNST. We were looking for any traces of supposed old roads in this area that could be easily followed and used as the new location for the trail.

Reaching Bailey Pond, we found it covered by a thin sheet of ice, and Hayes Mountain's summit well up in the clouds. It was just that kind of day, with temps hovering in the mid-30s.

Attempting to avoid the thick spruce thickets surrounding the pond, we took a circuitous route to higher ground and open woods before continuing our route southwest. The two vleis we reached next were no longer flooded, and the edges were walkable. Ascending away from the valley, we soon reached the destination col, and stopped for lunch.

We tried a slightly different route on the return trip, avoiding the vleis by staying higher in the more open woods, and skipped Bailey Pond altogether by doing the same, heading more directly for the trailhead. This worked out well, and cut nearly .75 mile from our original route.

It wasn't a very pretty day, but we never got rained on despite the weather to the south. Though we didn't find any old roads, we got a better feel for the best way to route the new trail, and enjoyed a day outside with a great group of friends.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Disc golf - dodging the raindrops

Weather radar is a really useful tool for sneaking in a short outdoor activity, despite the overall forecast. It was supposed to be a rainy day today, but the radar didn't reflect that when I got up this morning. It looked like at least a few hours of non-rain were available, so I headed to Central Park for my usual disc golf outing. As it turned out, I got in 35 dry holes, and a bit of drizzle on the last one, so timing was everything.

The first round was a 33-34-67, just about average and nothing special. I started off the second round like gangbusters, with a very hot "putter", finishing that nine with a 29, just one over par and my best ever. But on the back nine, the trees apparently got wind of what was happening and decided it couldn't be allowed to continue. They were reaching out and batting down my shots over and over again, ballooning my score to a 39. The resulting 29-39-68 was OK, but could have been so much better. I was at least glad I had been able to get out on a day I had pretty much written off in advance.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Walk - Colonie Town Park

Every two years, the Taconic Hiking Club hosts what's called their "End-to-End" hike of the Taconic Crest Trail. Actually, the trail is over 35 miles long, and this one-day hike only covers 25-30 miles of that total distance, but it's plenty. The total elevation gain up and down on the ridge is over 6,000 feet, and it's a long tough day. I finished it in 2002, and don't care to do it again. Anyway, today was the first organizational meeting for the 2012 event, scheduled for May 12, 2012. I went to the meeting, enjoyed lunch, and volunteered for a couple of tasks that make this event possible, so will now be looking forward to it in the spring.

After the meeting, there were still a few hours of daylight, so I stopped on the way home for a walk in the Colonie Mohawk River Park, off US-9 north of Latham. There are a few miles of wooded trails here, in addition to the pool and ballfields, and I mostly had them to myself on another sunny brisk fall afternoon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A walk in the park, and a late-season tick

After a chilly morning, I got out for another walk this afternoon, this time in the former Schenectady Museum Preserve, now the Mohawk River State Park. The state has done nothing with this property yet, and it hasn't changed much over the years. Knowing it well, I decided today to do some exploring instead of just walking the usual trails.

I parked at Lock 7, and followed the Mohawk River Bike Path a short distance, until I noticed an unmarked trail heading toward the river, near where the concrete piers jut out into the water. Following this trail, I hugged the river pretty closely, and then returned to the bike path a little further west. From there, I headed up the new Whit-Shaker Trail with blue markers, until I reached the white-marked former mountain bike route that is now a dead end. I decided to follow it and see how that worked. It actually circled around and dropped me very close to the blue trail again, so I followed that to Whitmyer Drive and the main parking area for the "park". Then, after wandering around some of the usual trails, I dropped back down to the bike path and returned to the car.

A little while later, at home, I noticed a tick crawling off my long sleeve and onto my bare hand. A TICK? In December? I threw all of the clothes I was wearing in the wash, including the outerwear, and did a quick body check, but there were no more. I suspect must have I picked it up on that brushy stretch of "trail" by the river early on, but it was certainly unexpected for this time of year. Guess that's the price I pay for my wanderings.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Walk - H. G. Reist Preserve

With other stuff on the plate this morning, I got out for a short walk in the H. G. Reist Preserve, in Niskayuna. It's a property of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club that covers 111 acres and has a few miles of mostly level trails. There are several wetland areas within the preserve, and it can sometimes be a pretty wet place to walk, based on past experience. I set out today expecting the worst, given the sloppiness of the last few places I've walked. But I was pleasantly surprised by the many sturdy bridges that have recently been installed, many apparently as Eagle Scout projects. I kept my feet fairly dry and covered about 1.5 miles on a much cooler November afternoon.