Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hiking Breakneck Ridge, Hudson Highlands State Park, New York

Breakneck ridge is one of the most famous hikes along the Hudson River in New York. Its panoramic views and steep trail make for a great 1/2-full day hike. The views of the Hudson Highlands are certainly worth its relatively short but steep ascent.
View of the Hudson River from Breakneck Ridge, New York
Gosh, I started this trip as way to visit family and friends in Boston and now I'm in... upstate New York? Such is the way of this traveler! To be completely honest, I knew almost nothing about hiking in New York. I mean, I know about the Adirondacks and the Catskills, but my knowledge of the other 75% of the state is quite limited. As it turns out, there's some great hiking just 60 miles north of New York City. 

Breakneck ridge, so I have read, is one of the standard hikes in the Hudson Highlands and is famous for its views. The trail sports great views of the Hudson River, Storm King Mountain, and much of the Hudson Highlands. The large cliffs on the Southeastern side of the mountain are due to a quarry which once existed. 

View Hiking Breakneck Ridge, Hudson Highlands, NY in a larger map

The parking lot for the hike is just past or before the tunnel, depending on which direction you're coming from. Its not marked but its an obvious pull out and there are about 6 parking spaces. I imagine they probably fill up quickly when the weather is good.

Experienced hikers will not find this trail challenging; its pretty much standard steepness for anything in the White or Green Mountains. However less-experienced hikers may be tempted to think this trail is easy with a short distance; it is a shorter hike (3.0 miles) but the steepness at the beginning of the hike may be too much if you're not used to hiking steep mountains.

The hike begins immediately ascending and crosses over the tunnel and up the mountain. Its pretty steep and you have to keep a good eye out for the white blazes which mark the trail. Its somewhat of a scramble in several sections so you may or may not want to use your hiking poles. Fortunately there are views at nearly every part of the trail up. At any point, you can just stop and enjoy a view of the Hudson while you catch your breath. 
Storm King across the Hudson
View of the quarry cliffs on the upper section of the trail
There are, of course, a half dozen false summits on the way up but it shouldn't take more than an hour to an hour and a half to make it to the highest point on the trail. You can make a longer hike out of the day by continuing on to the actual summit of breakneck ridge but there's not much to be seen after the main ridgeline.

After you top out, you will meander around the woods for a while before you come to the red-blaze trail which veers off to the left. It is NOT well marked and it took a bit of wandering around to find the true trail at first. It gets better marked as you come down further. Its not nearly the steepness on the way down as it was on the way up. Eventually you will get down to the highway and just hang a left to walk back to the parking lot. Overall distance is about 3 miles and the time it takes is about 2.5-3 hours. 

So there you have it! Its a great hike which will take most people about a half to 3/4 of a day. Its steep enough to be a challenge but short enough to be done with time for an early dinner. Plus its not too far from New York City! 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hiking Mt Frissell, Connecticut's Highest Mountain

You may have thought I would have rested my laurels on the accomplishment of hiking Rhode Island's highest mountain. However as soon as my body recovered from that deadly ascent, I crossed the border and headed off to Mt Frissell, Connecticut... well actually it is in Massachusetts...
Hiking Mt Frissell, Connecticut
New England has a mixed bag of high points; some are challenges, some are pretty, some are strange and well... others aren't even really mountains. Mt Frissell is definitely a mountain, but the summit is in Massachusetts. Hence, the highest point in Connecticut isn't exactly a mountain but more a part of a mountain. So Connecticut falls under the same curse as Nevada and Maryland who also have substantial mountains but the highest "point" happens to be part of another mountain in another state. Nevertheless, they must still be climbed...

While Rhode Island's Jerimoth Hill was a whimsical little hike with a dubious history, Mt Frissell was an actual hike and it was in a beautiful part of the Taconic Mountains. Located in the northwestern corner of the state, it is actually accessed from Massachusetts. 

View Hiking Mt Frissell, Connecticut in a larger map

So the trail up to the summit is located on the border of Connecticut and Massachusetts and I ended up driving in from the North. Its on somewhat of a high plateau and you're taking country roads and dirt roads to get there. Not that its difficult to get to, but it is off the beaten path and you won't see any signs for it along the way. I ended up taking the Mt Washington Road out of Egremont Massachusetts which heads south up the large plateau and into the mountains. Again, its a bit of a backroad but it's paved for most of the way until the last 5 miles. Just keep driving south on Mt Washington Road until you get to the dirt road part of it and keep going until you see the MA-CT border marker on the left. The parking lot is just across the border and it is marked as Appalachian Trail parking lot. The trailhead is just back on the Massachusetts side and heads west into the mountains.

From here, the trail meanders through the woods and climbs a steep promontory which is NOT the summit. It looks like it would make for a great high point, however the destination is still west of this point. However there are excellent views of the Taconics, Berkshires and most of rural Connecticut from this point. Actually, its the best view you will get on the hike!
The summit of Mt Frissell, Connecticut and Massachusetts
From here, the trail heads down to the saddle between the two mountains and races back up to the true summit. At the top, there's a register and a little map showing where to go. It almost looks as if the trail continues north but this is not the real trail. Head back south and follow the trail around for about 1,000 yards. Some trees were cut to give you a good view of Connecticut and before you know it, you'll be standing at the high point!

There is a summit marker but nothing too celebratory, unfortunately. The summit register can be signed and its neat to see the other high pointers and how far they have traveled for this peculiar spot on the side of a mountain.
Pretty views along the hike to Connecticut's highest point
After the CT high point, you can continue on for about another 1500 yards to the Connecticut-New York-Massachusetts triple point where all the borders come together. Its nothing to see but its a quirky little place anyways. There's a marker that denotes the spot but otherwise its indistinguishable from the surrounding land. 

Well this was my 14th state high point! I've also done- California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. Not too bad and I have the rest of my life to do silly things such as these!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hiking Jerimoth Hill, Rhode Island High Point

I hiked the highest mountain in Rhode Island and have the photos to prove it...
Jerimoth Hill, Rhode Island's High Point
High Pointing... what a ridiculous pursuit. In the grand scheme of lunatics who climb mountains and routes only to check things off on a tick-list, high-pointing is perhaps the most pointless list of them all. I mean, to have climbed the high point in all 50 states involves some impressive ascents of famous peaks like Mt Rainier, Denali and Hood while also making incredibly demanding trips to isolated summits like Granite Peak (MT), Gannett Peak (WY) and Kings Peak (UT). So those are an accomplishment in their own right, but you also have to make silly trips to slightly elevated mounds of land on otherwise flat surfaces like Nebraska's Panorama Point, Ohio's Campbell Hill and, of course, Rhode Islands Jerimoth Hill. Why do I believe that climbing the 50 state high points is an accomplishment? Credo quia absurdum

So... Jerimoth Hill... 812 feet. Block Island, Rhode Island was a genuine adventure so its not like this is the state's only attraction. However this little hill is just ridiculous enough that I drive out of my way to get to it. Located near the town of Foster, Rhode Island in the rural, northwestern corner of the state, it isn't exactly a difficult place to get to and it is not too far from Providence.

View Jerimoth Hill Trail in a larger map
(Like you really need a trail map)
Although its hard to believe, Jerimoth Hill was once infamous for being the most difficult state high point to climb. This is not because of any technical difficulties, it was just owned by a guy who was sick and tired of people trespassing over his land to get to the "summit". So people were literally getting chased off with shotgun blasts and police threats at one point. Yep... Jerimoth Hill was once a more elusive high point than Denali or Rainier. Here's the full story.

I had no such trouble on this fine New England spring day. 
A nice little stroll through the woods to the Rhode Island High Point
These days the point is owned by the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the proper name for the state). It is maintained by the Highpointer's Club.  Yes... there are more crazy fellows out there just like me who have to climb them all. The trail is very easy to follow but don't veer of the trail- everything else is still private land so please be respectful. 

It shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to get to the hill. There's nothing more than a few rocks and an American Flag to mark the otherwise unnoticeable point. In all seriousness though, it was a nice drive through rural Rhode Island and spring was hitting it just right so that the trees were green and the flowers were blooming. Rhode Island often gets overlooked due to its size, but whether you're strolling along the beach or strolling to some famous hill, there's plenty to see. 
The summit of Jerimoth Hill
So there you have it. I've done 14 high points to this day- everything in New England several difficult summits out west. Its a fun pursuit, really and it takes me to places I never thought I would go and that's enough for me to say its worth it. Next up... Mt Frissell, Connecticut's High Point!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Beach Hiking and Biking Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island is a secluded little island 10 miles south of the coast of Rhode Island. The Nature Conservancy included Block Island on its short list of the "Last Great Places" to recognize its pristine environment and unique landscapes. Block Island is an inexpensive day trip and a great place for biking, hiking and outdoor activities. 
Block Island's secluded beaches make it an ideal place to hike
Its nice to be back on the road and doing some more exploring of New England. Finally done with finals and school for at least four months! This also marks two years in the great state of Maine. While its been great up here, I've really not seen southern New England, specifically, Boston, Rhode Island and Connecticut. So I headed off after finals and went down south to see the other part of New England.

After spending some wonderful times with family and friends in the Boston area, I turned south and headed to Block Island, Rhode Island. A good friend of mine had recommended it as an excellent (and cheap!) day trip. I had heard about it before but never thought that I could get there and back for about $20. As it turns out, the ferry out of Point Judith is affordable and easy to get to. So one moment I'm in Boston and the next I'm on the open ocean headed to a new adventure!

I was very fortunate to meet a gentleman who had extensive knowledge of what to see on Block Island and had been traveling there for years. So I got a great perspective on the island and what was worth seeing. Although I didn't have a bike with me, it quickly became clear that renting a beach cruiser was the best way to see everything. So I paid $25 for a day rental and headed off!

I headed in a counter-clockwise direction towards the famous Monhegan Cliffs which are not to be missed. The ride down was great too- the town's main street was distinctively New England as were the beach houses with large yards. I'm not well versed in architecture, but there's just something appealing about those old, part-colonial, part-beach house homes all along the island. Maybe when I make my millions, I'll buy a home out here...

What really makes Block Island special though is its unassuming and quaint nature which so starkly contrasts the more well known Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Islands. The small town atmosphere and abundance of friendly residents made me feel like a welcome visitor. After speaking with people who had been to the Vineyard and Nantucket, I realized how nice it was to come to an island and not feel like I needed to be a movie star or politician to kick back and enjoy myself. Indeed, it reminded me of the many islands I've been to in Maine.
Classic scene of the South East Lighthouse on Block Island
Shoreline Stairway, Monhegan Cliffs
Before long I was at the South East Lighthouse and overlooking the tall Monhegan Cliffs which have become a symbol of the island. It was a gorgeous Rhode Island Day with a brisk breeze but warm temperatures and that classic smell of the Atlantic Ocean. I went on a little further to the walkway which actually goes down to the beach and walked along rocky shores. I was the only one at the bottom of the cliffs and I just wandered around the shoreline listening to the waves and wind. What a perfect day!

From the South East Lighthouse, I headed east along the main drive which hugs the coastline. Large mansions overlook the cliffs but there are at least 3-4 turn-outs with little trails to overlooks. Again, the island was so accessible to visitors and beautiful views were not reserved for residents only. Eventually I came to another trail which leads down to Black Rock Beach. This was a sandy beach on the south end of the island which was also pleasant to stroll along. 
My own beach on Block Island
Could be a scene out of Europe!
Biking along the roads was hilly and slightly challenging but not difficult enough to be a nuisance. As I was riding along, I was thinking, "this looks like a scene from the U.K. or Ireland!" It was so lush, hilly and green that I thought I could be taking a country ride through some rural part of England. As it turns out, Block Island has the same climate as much of Europe.

As I headed north along the same roads, the terrain leveled out a little and I came down to the Great Salt Pond which serves as the islands primary anchorage. I walked along the beach which is directly south of the entrance which was also sandy and empty of people. The salt pond was somewhat of a marsh and I would have loved to take a kayak out along this protected cove. There are several larger resorts on this bay which still seemed humble enough to not deter from the island's environment. Before too long I was back in town and I grabbed a quick bite to eat.
As New England as it gets!
North End Lighthouse and Beach
Riding along towards the North End of the island was also hilly but not too challenging. The east beaches are, in the summer, very crowded but a good place for swimming and beach combing.  My final destination was the North End Lighthouse where I was told that two currents collide causing a magnificent scene. When I finally made it up to there, I also saw the Block Island National Wildlife Reservation which was full of birds and seals! I strolled along yet another empty beach to the final tip of land in the island. Sure enough, waves from the east and west crashed into each other shooting water into the air. 
Colliding currents on the North End of Block Island
Well what a day! I took the beach cruiser all around the island, got a few beach hikes in and found a new spot to enjoy when I need a beach vacation. The most surprising thing about the whole affair was its affordability- $20 for the round-trip ticket, $8 for parking, $25 for the beach cruiser, $10 for lunch... So a grand total of 63 dollars for a whole day on a New England paradise? Worth it. After all, $63 is what, the price of a bottle of water on any other nearby island? I went at a perfect time too- it was before the "official season" but the weather was still excellent. I was told you could get a hotel room for about 60-70 dollars a night at this time too- perhaps early May is the best time to see Block Island? Although it would be hard to imagine a bad time to see the island.

Its no wonder that the Nature Conservancy named Block Island one of the "Last Great Places". Its not common that you can visit a place that is populated but environmentally friendly and affordable to the public. There were so many options of hikes and rides that the island seemed like a beacon of preservation along the otherwise over-populated and over-developed coasts of southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Thank goodness!

Block Island was a lovely location to visit and something that can't be missed with a trip to Rhode Island. I can't wait to return!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Kayaking, Canoeing and Camping on Catalina Island

Several years ago, I was able to take one of the best adventures of my life with Camp Emerald Bay when I kayaked around Catalina Island. I like the trip so much that I did it again a few years later when we did a canoe circumnavigation of the island. Catalina Island is a kayaking and canoeing paradise!
Kayaking Catalina Island at Camp Emerald Bay
Canoeing Catalina Island
Its been a while since I last posted and I don't want it to look like I've forgotten about my website! This semester of grad school has been quite the ride and I've been working a new job at the hospital which has made it difficult to get out there lately. However summer is coming and you'd better believe that its going to be a whole new round of grand adventures and blog posts about places you've never heard of (I'm a hipster traveler). This is a post that has been several years in the making.

Catalina Island is really where I first learned to kayak and its also where I first started going on multi-day kayaking excursions. Kayaking and canoeing around the island has been one of the best experiences of my life and after 6 summers of working out at a Boy Scout camp on the island, I became very familiar with how to kayak Catalina.

Kayaking the remote cliffs of the far side of Catalina Island
I've circumnavigated Catalina Island once by canoe and once by kayak and it is a daunting affair any way you slice it. On the mainland-facing side of the island, campsites tend to be close together and there are many options for landings. The ocean-facing side of the island is much more rugged and is marked by towering cliffs, massive currents and few options for landings. This is to say, once you cross around the East or West End to the far side of the island, you are entering an area of extreme remoteness and better know what you're doing.

Hopefully this map will clarify what I'm saying

It can be anywhere from 52 to 66 miles to circumnavigate the island depending on how closely you hug the shoreline and how many coves you cross. While it looks tempting to make some of the longer crossings over open water to cut off mileage, the currents and surf can get especially strong the further you get away from the island. 

Getting you and your kayak to Catalina Island

Its quite expensive to get to Catalina Island from Los Angeles, unfortunately. The Catalina Express makes multiple runs out of Two Harbors and Avalon every day and the round trip ticket price is 72.50 (when I was your age, you could get there and back for $55!). I've never tried, but I am sure there's an extra surcharge for bringing your kayak on board as well. If you don't have your own kayak, it is possible to rent them on the island but I would recommend against it because the prices are very expensive and you won't get a touring kayak. You NEED a touring kayak to circumnavigate the island. A sit-on-top kayak will NOT handle well in difficult surf and currents. My recommendation is, if you can, rent a kayak on the mainland and bring it over yourself. You will get a cheaper deal on a better kayak. 
Open water kayaking, south side of Catalina Island
Crystal Green Waters on the South Side of the Island
What to See!

I've kayaked Maine, Minnesota, Alaska, New Brunswick and part of the Colorado River and I still think Catalina is one of the most fantastic places for paddling. The mixture of thousand-foot cliffs, secluded beaches, kelp forests and wildlife make it a unique trip. Its only 20 miles off the coast of Southern California but its a world away.

Canoeing into Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island
Assuming you head in a Northwesterly direction out of Avalon, the first leg from Avalon to Two Harbors hugs the land-facing side of Catalina and you pass by many established camps and primitive sites. Canyons predominate this leg and it seems like every canyon has a small settlement tucked away by steep walls. As you round the light on Long Point, there is a sea arch that is curiously shaped like the outline of Catalina Island. From here, there begins a series of remote boat-in campsites which must be rented from the Catalina Island Company. They do not have any amenities and you will have to pack in your own water and food. Nevertheless, there are some particularly beautiful sites such as Italian Gardens, Cabrillo Harbor and Lava Wall Beach.

After these sites, you continue in a more westerly direction past the old quarry and into Two Harbors. Just before entering the Harbor, there are massive sea caves which can't be missed along Blue Cavern Point. If the tides are right, you can canoe through the cave. Bird Rock and Ship Rock are clearly visible from the harbor as well. Campsites abound

From Two Harbors you begin the arduous journey around the West End of Catalina Island which is marked by significant currents, waves and surf. Arrow Point, the northernmost part of the island is particularly hazardous. However you are rewarded with incredible sites of the underpopulated part of the island. Parson's Landing is a fantastic campground with plenty of options. The next available campground is Starlight Beach which is remote and difficult to find if you haven't boated in to it before. It is just before the tip of the West End.

Rounding the West End, Catalina Island
Coming around the West End of Catalina Island will undoubtably be one of your greatest challenges. It is exposed to many currents and submerged rocks. Its best to give the West End much leeway. Its also best to camp out at Starlight or Parson's Beach the night before and hit this tricky section in the early, early morning when weather and currents are light. However you will have stunning views of the Bald Eagle Reservation and Eagle Rock (pictured above)

The backside of the West End is nothing but cliffs. Its a good 10 miles too- best not to end up on the far side of the island when the wind and currents are bad. Radio transmissions become difficult. But the 1,000 foot cliffs and Ribbon Rock will keep your mind off the any headwind you might be paddling in to!

Its possible to land in Catalina Harbor on the opposite side of the Isthmus. Here you can get back to Two Harbors village but there are no particular campsites in Cat Harbor. The next available campsite is Little Harbor which is several miles further. Little Harbor also has many campsites but paddling into the cove can be difficult as the waves can pick up.

Paddling by Little Harbor
After leaving Little Harbor, you once again enter an oceanic wilderness as you round the widest section of the island and come around the rugged, southern part of the island. There are no roads, campsites and only one landing at Silver Canyon. It is, without a doubt, the farthest you will be from others on your trip. But the waters are crystal green and the cliffs are imposing. I always looked forward to this part of the journey where you feel like an ancient explorer or Catalina native. Its so far from anything and there is nothing save for what's in your kayak or canoe to remind you of what century your in. 

Silver Canyon is a feasible landing and it is possible to camp here if need be. Past this are the Palisades and the East End. Sea Lions love this area and every small beach and rock is covered in sea lions. You'll be able to hear their noisy conversations as you round the East End and head back to Avalon.

Its somewhat sad to leave the far side of the island behind with all its splendor and majesty. At this point you may be thirsty for a margarita or pina colata and a hot meal, but there's no doubt you'll feel a twinge of regret leaving the wilderness behind. 
Silver Canyon and the Palisades, Catalina Island 

Sunset on Catalina Island

Counter-Clockwise Circumnavigation Route

Circumnavigating the island is more than just making a big circle; there's some important logistics that go into planning this trip. Winds and currents can be unpredictable, but for the most part, they come from the West which is why most trips I've ever taken were in a counter-clockwise direction. It's better to have the wind and currents with you as you travel east along the backside of the island where you have little options for campsites and landings. When you're paddling into the headwind on the land-facing side of the island, there are more options for campsites and landings should you get into trouble. Having said that, I've had trips where the winds and currents completely switch day by day. 

The route you take will determine how much wind and currents you will deal with along with how many miles you travel. Catalina Island has about 54 miles of shoreline with many inlets and secluding coves. Its a figure-8 shape which makes for an interesting route. Its tempting to want to cut off some mileage on the ocean-facing side of the island but that exposes you to more currents and surf. If the conditions are right and you're comfortable being 2-3 miles off shore, its can sometimes be worth the trouble. Hopefully this map will put it into perspective.

Other Logistics: Water, Food, Camping ect.

Its important to note that Catalina Island is essentially a desert and although the marine layer moves in and out every morning, it rarely rains and there are no real water sources along the trip. Two Harbors, Avalon and Little Harbor have water available as well as firewood. Parson's Landing also has firewood and water available but make sure you reserve the campsite. Its also possible to buy food at Two Harbors and Avalon.

If it hasn't been said yet, just know that there are no services available on the ocean-facing side of the island save for the long paddle into Catalina Harbor and Little Harbor. Otherwise, you're on your own. 
Catalina Sunset
Its a heck of an adventure to circumnavigate the island or even just to go out for a couple of days afloat. Any trip requires careful planning, good orientation and mapping skills. Get yourself well trained in kayaking or canoeing before you go too. Also, don't forget, there are other Channel Islands to paddle as well!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!