Our first two day group backpacking trip was in the Eastern Pinnacles on the Appalachian Trail in New York. I met Erik at a Voices from the land workshop and I discovered the we are both nature lover and avid hikers. We kept in touch, reconnected during bird quest, and he invited us to go to a backpacking trip with him and his wife Kris and their friend Nancy.
We were going to meet the night before and camp, but the rain put a damper on that plan, so we arrived bright and early the next day and prepared to put in a good 9 miles on the trail. As we navigated our way through the forest, Erik became our naturalist guide sharing his vast knowledge of different bird songs, plant species, tree genomes, and much more. Lady slippers decorated our path as we walked. Once we discovered one of the beautiful pink orchids, we looked around and saw them popping up everywhere. Erik showed us that when rock tripe gets wet, it turns from brown to a brilliant green, as Chris began spraying it with water. We climbed the Eastern Pinnacles and reached the Puddingstone, which is a conglomerate of different stones, made from glacial activity. From the top of Puddingstone, we snacked on winter berries, and saw Cat Rock in our view as we ventured on our journey. We passed the Wildcat Shelter, and reached the base of Fitzgerald Falls, which is a raging 25 foot waterfall, fed by all the rain from the previous night. The waterfall offered a cooling mist through the air and gave a peacefulness to the woods. After our little photo break, we began our ascent up the rocky steps beside the waterfall. We made our way up Mombasha High Point and began to get attacked by tiny annoying gnats. We sped up our pace, only stopping shortly for water breaks.
As we made our descent, Erik brought to our attention the frail Hemlock trees that were being attacked by the tiny white wooly adelgid insects. The infestation was seriously damaging the trees and killing them slowly. We also discovered how the American Chestnuts were also almost totally wiped out by blight imported from China. Scientists are trying to save the trees by genetically crossbreeding them with the Chinese Chestnuts. We saw a bunch of small Chestnut trees, but unfortunately most of them will never reach adulthood.
Upon reaching Little Dam Lake we discovered that the bridge was swept away in the previous storm, and the lake would be unpassable till the stream went down, unless we wanted to get wet. Chris proactively took charge and began building a bridge out of logs that were laying on the shore of the lake. Eventually, Chris and Erik built a bridge that was sturdy enough to carry us all across. After we crossed the bridge, we hung our hammocks, ate dinner, and Erik shared a campfire story about The Bullfrog and Brer Raccoon. Later, we fell asleep listening to the chorus of frogs and owls.
The next morning, we walked around the lake, watched the yellow warblers nesting, and heard the calls of the red winged black bird bouncing in and out of the marshy grasses. In the distance we discovered a beaver lodge, which explained the splashing sounds of water off the banks of the lake throughout the night.
After taking in the beautiful views around the lake, we strapped on our backpacks and began the final 3 mile climb through hemlock grove to Arden Mountain. Along the trail we came upon a trail angel who created a small shelter and maintained a medicine cabinet in the woods. Before crossing the road, we also discovered that this angel also stocked a cooler full of refreshments and snacks for both thru and section hikers. Reaching the scrub-oak covered summit of Arden Mountain, we applied sunscreen, had a snack, and began our final descend to Harriman State Park. After two days of hiking, learning, and great conversation our journey came to an end. We were both extremely grateful for all the knowledge that Erik, Kris, and Nancy shared with us on the backpacking trip. They truly exposed us to how we are all connected to nature and how sometimes our actions ultimately affect the environment around us. As a result, we now know how to really open our eyes and ears to our surroundings, and we have both formed a strong lifelong appreciation of the natural world.