Today was all about seeing if I could do a long hike of somewhere around 20 miles. The longest one-day hike we've done on the road was 12 miles, and the most grueling was the 10 miles from Phantom Ranch (bottom of Grand Canyon) to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail (4,460 feet of elevation change).
Since the Finger Lakes Trail runs right by the Sugar Hill Recreation Area and through Watkins Glen State Park, I thought that would be a great hike. But doing it roundtrip was a whole other thing. It's a ten-mile hike one way and the return is all uphill with an elevation change of 1,400 feet. Am I really up for this?
If I get there and determine I can't make it back, I'll somehow get a ride. I let Linda know the plan last night.
So, it's a half-mile from our campsite on the Onondaga Trail to the Finger Lakes Trail. I left right at 7:00 a.m.
Here is some info on the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT).
The Finger Lakes Trail system, over 950 miles in length, runs from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve, with branch trails to Niagara Falls, the Genesee River valley, the Great Eastern Trail south of Corning, the central Finger Lakes, and the Syracuse region. From the PA border to the northeast end of the Onondaga Branch, the Finger Lakes Trail is also the North Country National Scenic Trail. This system is built and maintained almost entirely by volunteers. Covering some of the most scenic land in New York, we welcome you to hike it, and volunteer to keep it beautiful.
Unlike the wide paths on the Six Nation Trail System around the fire tower area, the Finger Lakes Trail is a narrow path and I joined it here.
The FLT is a footpath open only for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. It is marked by orange or white FLT medallions and by white blazes painted on trees.
Most of the time, the trail is very well-marked by white blazes, but sometimes that's not the case, and if you aren't paying attention you can easily get off track.
On today's trek, the FLT crosses three sections of private property. Notices are posted along with warnings to respect the property owners and limit activity to traversing the trail.
I made the first road crossing after about a mile.
The trail was narrow and often it was impossible to avoid the brush, grass, and trees on much of the trail. It will be a small miracle if I can avoid ticks and not end up with poison ivy. The trails I've been on in New York so far have more poison ivy and more signs warning of Lyme Disease that anywhere else we've been. At least I wore long hiking pants today.
The first four miles through the woods was pretty much what I expected. It was fast and fairly easy as it gradually went downhill. I keep reading how long distance hikers are opting for trail runners as opposed to hiking shoes or boots because of the lighter weight. They say each pound on your feet is like five pounds on your back. Mention hiking footwear online, and it turns into a great debate with lots of pros and cons for everything. But since my hiking boots (technically, hiking "shoes"), were killing my toes on the downhills at Fillmore Glen State Park a couple days ago, I decided to hike in my running shoes today.
I certainly felt more nimble, but it didn't take long before I was feeling "hot spots", and I knew I was going to end up with blisters. The good news is my toes weren't hurting on the downhills.
At about 4.5 miles, I came to a lovely little waterfall that I had been expecting. I quickly determined it would be a resting spot on the way back.
After crossing the stream, I learned the setting was not quite as idyllic as I thought - there is a road 50 feet up the hill.
A mile later, and after another road crossing into a short patch of woods that came back out on the same road (a rather pointless route to keep from having to walk 50 yards up the road instead of the ten you do have to walk) I came to another private property section. It's actually closed by the owner October thru December.
It wasn't really clear where to go. There was a gate and as I approached the gate, I happened to see a tiny path on my left going through the tall grass, and I could see trail signs back in the shade of the trees.
This was a big section with some interesting highlights like these views.
This section of trail also included the steepest parts of today's journey, and I was not looking forward to them coming back.
When I finished the section on the private property, there was a wide creek crossing, but there was no water in the creek bed. There was a sign about the crossing saying trail markers are often washed away. Fortunately, there were orange ribbons tied to trees leading the way as it was again unclear exactly where to cross.
On the other side, I ran into a trail runner that told me it was another four miles to Watkins Glen.
I walked along the dry creek until it turned into a small lake. I went down the hill off trail maybe a tenth of a mile to get a better look at the lake.
There was a lean-to, a firepit, and bunch of canoes locked up by the lean-to.
I figured the canoes were for the Hidden Valley 4-H Camp which I should be getting to shortly. The trail went up high above the lake and I could see the lake ended at a high dam. I could see water flowing over the dam, but the view wasn't clear enough for a photo.
Eventually, I came to a couple of camp access points that had signs saying "Camp Is In Session - Visitors must come to the office". The trail turned at the second sign, and there was a walkway, steps, and a bridge over a pretty stream.
The trail runs along the southern bank of Glen Creek which created the gorge in Watkins Glen. Eventually, the trail came out on another road (white blaze on the right in the shadows).
I walked up the road about a tenth of a mile and the trail picked up on the other side where I took a left and continued on the Punch Bowl Road.
It was a straight gravel road and the white blazes were pretty far apart. There was another dam on the creek, and after about a third of a mile, the trail left the road on the left. I almost missed that turn.
From that point, there are views down into the gorge. The trail dropped and passed an old picnic shelter .....
and Punch Bowl Lake.
There was another dam at the end of Punch Bowl Lake, and below that the Glen Creek gorge resumed. The trail climbed above the gorge and passed under an old railroad bridge. At that point, I felt like I finally reached Watkins Glen State Park.
With the drought conditions in the area, I was concerned there would be little water flowing through Watkins Glen, but having passed three dams on Glen Creek, it's clear the water going through the park is controlled so all visitors should have a scenic experience.
About a half mile from the railroad bridge was a set of steps leading down to a bridge (Mile Point Bridge) across the creek to the park's famous Gorge Trail. I declined to walk down and decided to continue down to the park's main entrance, refill with water, find a spot to eat lunch, and then do the Gorge Trail starting at the beginning. That's also where the South Rim Trail of the park runs with the FLT.
The FLT turned out to be more interesting than I though it would be, but now it was time to check out the main attraction.
I didn't go all the way to the park entrance, but I took a picture of the parking lot from top of Couch's Staircase (which is just above the entrance).
I stopped to take quite a few pictures along the way, but didn't take any long breaks, and arrived at that point around 11:30. So that was ten miles, mostly downhill, in four and a half hours. I was thinking it would take me six hours to get back. :)
My feet were hurting as were my shoulders. I don't think it was the weight of my pack as it was the use of my hiking poles over such a long stretch. I don't use them often but knew they would be necessary today.
I climbed down Couch's Staircase and joined the throngs of people.
I took the first right down some steps to a slightly hidden overlook to rest and have lunch. The spot is in the upper right of this photo looking down the gorge.
And here was the view looking up the gorge from my picnic spot.
Three waterfalls were in view and Watkins Glen was pretty impressive right from the start. Here's a link to the park trail map which includes descriptions of many of the highlights on the Gorge Trail.
I texted Linda that I had made it. Then, after a good rest and replenishing some calories, I collapsed my hiking poles, strapped them to my backpack, and started my climb up the gorge. There are a lot of steps, but going uphill took the pressure off the hotspots on my feet.
Here's a look at Cavern Cascade tucked back in the shadows.
You walk behind the falls, ......
and then continue up through Spiral Tunnel.
Popping out of the tunnel brought me to this view of the Suspension Bridge 85 feet above Glen Creek.
At the top of those steps, you can go right and head up more steps to the Indian Trail (basically a "north rim" trail).
Today was not the day for me to hike all the trails, so I just continued on the Gorge Trail.
This is the Glen Cathedral area.
Next is Central Cascade, the tallest waterfall in the park at over 60 feet.
Above the waterfall is what I thought was the most beautiful part of the park. The Glen of Pools was gorgeous.
The pools led to Rainbow Falls .....
and more cascades just around the bend.
View from the bridge above Rainbow Falls looking back down at the pools.
Next was Spiral Gorge .....
and Pluto Falls.
After that was Mile Point Bridge (the one-mile point on the mile and a half trail) ....
Past that bridge, the last half mile isn't nearly as scenic, but it's still pretty.
I went ahead and completed the full trail, so I now had 11.5 miles in. At the end of the Gorge Trail, you can turn around and walk back, or you can go up the 180 steps of Jacob's Ladder to the Upper Entrance where there is a snack bar and gift shop. Also, during the summer, a shuttle runs back and forth between the Main Entrance and the Upper Entrance.
I walked back to the Mile Point Bridge (now I'm at 12 miles on the day), and climbed the steps back up to the South Rim Trail and the FLT.
Okay, here we go. It was 1:00, and I texted Linda I was heading back. I expected to take more breaks and go slower on the way back, so I told her I'd be home between 6:00 and 7:00.
Since my starting point was a mile into the park, I had nine miles to go instead of ten.
I just kept my head down and trudged on. Except for the few really steep areas, it wasn't that bad.
I did stop for a break at the little waterfall at the approximate half way point. I texted Linda a photo of the waterfall and let her know my progress.
While I was taking my break, a young lady backpacker walked by - the only other hiker I saw on the FLT today. She said she was hiking to join some friends for a music festival in western New York. She was much fresher and faster than me.
I checked my water, had a snack and continued on. I saw the backpacker had taken a break at the Buck Settlement Lean-To which is about 3.5 miles from the fire tower.
I was going slow but making progress and the steepest parts were behind me. Then the backpacker appeared. We started talking and I learned that she is an intelligent young lady from the area, but who goes all over the country working farm, gardening, and various other jobs. She often volunteers for room and board, but also gets paid as well. Her name was Melissa and she doesn't have a car. She bikes and hikes locally and then gets rides or flights when necessary.
I told her our story, and she seemed to like people who are "doing something different". I told her she didn't have to wait for me as I knew she was trying to get as far as possible. But she slowed down (I probably sped up just a bit as well) and we kept the conversation going. I thanked her for "dragging" me home as I arrived at 5:30, well ahead of schedule (mostly because I didn't take any more pictures).
We got numerous, curious looks as we hiked into the fire tower area together, the tired old dude in his long pants and funny-looking hat with the young, long-legged gal in her shorts with the huge backpack that looked like she had only been hiking a few minutes. :)
I texted Linda that I was back, stripped off my clothes leaving them inside out in case there was poison ivy oil on them, and examined my feet. Yep, a blister on the heel of each foot, but the other hotspots were okay.
I made it. Twenty-one miles. Sure I was beat, but I'm twenty pounds overweight, I'm not in real hiking condition, and I just hiked nine miles longer than I ever have in my life. I met the mind and body challenge, and was pretty happy about it. I was even happier after a shower.
Now, how I'll feel tomorrow may be another story. We'll see. :)