Sunday, October 3, 2010

All the Way on the Western Ridge

It couldn't have been a more gorgeous day for a walk in the mountains: clear and cool and just a little breezy, with sunlight glowing through red and gold leaves,

and all the little streams rushing full from the past week's rains.

Since I've promised to lead a group along the whole length of the Western Ridge Trail in Moreau Lake State Park next Wednesday, I asked my friend Sue to come along with me for a trial run of this trail yesterday. I hadn't hiked its full length in many years and wanted to make sure I could still do it. And we did! All six-and-a-half miles, one-way, up and down a mountainous ridge that follows the Hudson River, with a few steep climbs and sometimes a nearly indecipherable trail. And I'm not even sore this morning. Here's Sue leading the way as we start up the first climb.

Huff! Puff! That was a good way to warm up!

I thought we could do the trail in three or four hours, and we probably could have, if we had walked right along. But that's not how Sue and I do things. There were a thousand attractions along the trail that caused us to stop and pay attention, even wandering off into the woods at times. Unfortunately, many of my photos did not turn out (too little light or too much contrast of sunlight and shadow), but I did manage to salvage a few. Like this bright yellow Chestnut Oak acorn at rest on a bed of moss:

A spiky beechnut rests on a leaf from its parent tree.

This robust clump of Beechdrops has caught a Red Maple leaf as well as a ray of sunlight.

Another ray of sunlight has picked out a shining spider's web, high in a maple's branches.

At first, we though these Starflowers were sprouting new flower buds (the weather has been really crazy this fall!), but those little white knots must be the ripening seeds.

A woodland pool has caught the blue sky and the sunlit green canopy in its rippling waters.

The Maple-leaved Viburnum has turned its marvelous purply coral, a vivid color unlike that of any other plants of the undergrowth.

The woods took on a different character as we passed through varying stands of trees. It was all warm reds and golds as we moved through maples and hickories, dark and green as we wandered under the oaks and hemlocks, and shimmering with silvery light as the path ran through pure stands of American Beech and White Birch, as this photo shows.

Because of all the recent rain, the path was sometimes a little muddy, and under the oak trees the trail was littered with more acorns than I've ever seen. At one point in the trail we walked along a stretch of bare rock as smooth as any paved walkway.

On another stretch of trail we discovered that some jokester has ripped all the trail markers down. I wonder if this jerk realizes how dangerous that could be for wandering hikers? There's lots of woods up here to get truly lost in. Luckily, not enough leaves had yet fallen to mask the well-trodden trail, so we were able to follow it even without markers. And even better, we came upon these two trail workers (and fellow friends of Moreau Lake State Park), Sam and his grandson Nate, replacing some of those markers. Thanks a lot, you guys!

A major attraction of the Western Ridge Trail is a series of beautiful overlooks, where the path leads from the shady dark woods to sun-brightened boulders providing wide-open views of the winding river below and the forested mountains to the north. We stopped to enjoy our lunch at an overlook that looked down on the Spier Falls Dam, full to overflowing from the recent heavy rains.

A bit further along, we stepped from the woods to enjoy this view of the river above the dam.

Still further along, we encountered a group of mountain bikers enjoying the view from yet another overlook. How they manage to cycle these steep and rocky trails is a wonder to me, and no doubt an exciting challenge to the bikers.

When we reached the overlook above this familiar bend of the river, we knew we were almost home. Longtime readers of this blog will recognize this site as one of my frequent destinations. A relatively easy ascent from a parking area on Spier Falls Road, I come here often, in every season, to enjoy and photograph its spectacular view.

Sue and I sat a while to enjoy this dearly familiar view and to rest our feet for our final descent to where we had parked one car. No, we did not intend to retrace our steps to where we started. We had spent over seven hours on this adventure, and folks at home were probably starting to wonder where we were.


John S said...

I'd like to try mountain biking, it seems very exciting and satisfying.

And of course, beautiful early Fall photos.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire said...

The glowing red leaves picture is incredible!

Don't you wonder what possesses people to do things like taking down all the trail markers? In my mind, the types of folks who are inclined to go for a walk in the woods don't seem like the types of folks to engage in vandalism, but clearly my stereotypes aren't accurate. *sigh*

suep said...

Another fabulous day !
A great ramble with you,friend.
(Although it was a challenge to our usual "sauntering pace")

Surprisingly, my legs feel fine after that long scrabbling walk, but my EYES were a little fatigued by all the colors and beauty we saw ... a pleasant tiredness to be sure.
Ah the joys of trying to follow a YELLOW-marked trail in early Autumn...!

Louise said...

Six and a half miles! Holy crow! If I tried that, I'd probably take 12 hours to do it. It was surely lovely along the way, and I enjoyed your beautiful pictures, as usual. You made me feel like I had taken that walk with you.

Virginia said...

Wow, wow! All of those beautiful views. Now I know what we are missing, but it wouldn't be anywhere near as nice in the rain.... You have me salivating. Thanks again for offering to help me out, and I'm glad you had such a great day for the "trial run."

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

John, it's a great mystery to me why folks would want to torture themselves with mountain biking, but obviously lots do. Go for it. The trails at Moreau Lake State Park are certainly a popular destination for mountain bikers from all over the area who work hard to maintain the trails here.

Yes, WoodswomanX, I certainly do wonder. I suspect in this case it might be local folks who used to be able to tear along these trails in off-road vehicles that now are banned since the state park acquired the land, but I'm probably revealing my prejudices with that opinion.

As always, Sue, I could not have a better companion on the trail. Thanks for making the journey with me.

Louise, it would have been fun to have you come along. Our pace was slow because we were constantly stopping to take it all in, so we hardly noticed the distance we had traveled until we began to worry it might get dark with us still in the woods.

Virginia, I'm sorry our trip together didn't happen (because of rain). But thanks to you, I had to try out the trail in advance, and what a wonderful hike it was. We could do it again any time. Or a shorter portion of it, if time is limited.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora,
What a great walk. No need to hurry, you would miss too much.