October 26, 2010
I knew that the forecast for tomorrow was for rain. I also knew that the previous time I had run in this area of the park, it had been raining, and although I had fun that day, I wanted my next experience here to be…. how shall I say? ….. a little less wet. And so although I had planned to do this run into the woods tomorrow, mother nature modified the schedule.
As has happened to me once or twice in the past, the first challenge of the day was finding the trail head. The parking location at the base of Popolopen Torne was not along a main road, but rather, on an isolated back road in the village of Fort Montgomery. Although the road did appear on my trail map, it wasn’t labeled, so I had to resort to my Hagstrom street map of Orange County to help unfurl this mystery. I found the proper road easily enough, but then I got lost while looking for the trail head. At one point I found myself going through an open gate and into the lands of the United States Military Academy (known more colloquially to you all as West Point). It took a few iterations of driving back and forth past it, but I ultimately pinpointed the road crossing of the Timp-Torne Trail, and pulled Maxine into the empty parking area.
Climbing this trail up to the top of Popolopen Torne would be my first order of business. I had skipped this section back on Day 18 when running with my friends Dick and Ellen. In retrospect, I was glad I did, because it turned out to be a heller, and it would have taken me a lot longer to run than I would have wanted to leave Dick and Ellen waiting for me.
Finding the blue blazes showing me my way into the woods, up the mountain I went. I immediately had nightmares about my previous run up and down Dunderberg Mountain, and wondered whether my legs would stand for this climb without making a lot of noise about it. As it turned out, this trail wasn’t runnable, but that was fine by me! For one, I had wanted to loosen up my hamstrings slowly, so I started out with a very deliberate pace. And besides that, the terrain was very rocky, and my eyes were on high alert for timber rattlers. According to most of what I had read about rattlesnakes in the past two weeks, most of them would probably be in hibernation by now, but the memory of two weeks ago was still too vivid for me to lower my guard.
As I neared the top, I reached a scenic viewpoint, and stopped to catch my breath. I had engaged myself in this run immediately following a return train trip from NY City, so in what was now a late afternoon sun, the western sides of all of the mountains were shimmering with glorious light. After another push – this one substantially shorter – I found myself atop the Torne. Wow, this was some view! From here you had 360 degree views, just like I had had on top of Bald Mountain a few days ago. As I alluded to in my prior entry, it reminded me of the 360 attraction that I had been to in Disney World back in the late 70′s.
It was windy, and it was also late in the day, so I didn’t stay long to soak in the view. My next goal would be to get back down the torne without breaking my face or my back. It was slow going due to the fact that it was a downward rock scramble. But I managed to make it safely back to and across the road, and followed the trail down the hill to its junction with the(PG)/Timp-Torne/1777W/1779 Trail.
I had mentioned in a previous entry that the common ground between four different trails here in this area is a basis for much confusion. But having seen these trails only a few weeks ago, and being really good with maps, I was clear on how to navigate this area of the park. Before reaching the PG trail, I crossed the bridge over the Popolopen Creek, and to be sure, this is one of the sturdiest and most well-constructed bridges in this whole trail system. What that tells me is that in the Spring time and after heavy rains, the creek here must run very strong, thus the need for a solid bridge to withstand the surging waters.
So, over the bridge and a quick turn left and I was now on the PG Trail. All that was left in today’s undertaking was to run this trail all the way through the famous Popolopen Gorge (cited in some references – including my trail map – as “Hell Hole”) and I would be done. As it turned out, the majority of this trail was fairly easy to run. It was only moderately technical, and was almost all downhill. Due to the rapid change of seasons in the past week, the trail was completely leaf-covered now. It made for slightly trickier running conditions, and I knew enough to run with the appropriate level of caution, so no worries there.
But as I continued to get closer to the creek’s level, I could feel the air getting damper, and it seemed as though the sides of the gorge were closing in on me. At one point, the trail descended a set of “stairs” that took me all the way down into the pit of the gorge. This was Hell Hole indeed!
When I finally reached a large swimming hole, I knew that I had arrived in the spot that had given this place its name! I took a moment to give it the look that I felt it deserved, imagined rascalous teenagers jumping off the rocks and into the water, and then made considerable haste in finding my way to trail’s end, which was probably just a few hundred yards ahead.
Although I had originally planned to do an about-face and run this trail backwards to the car after completing it, the strange feeling of danger that it gave me made me change my tune. And so, when I hit the eastern end of the trail (which according to the map, met with Route 9W), I waved goodbye to the PG Trail and began a run back to the car by road and trail that was probably twice as long as it would have been if I had backtracked.
I finished the run ascending a short section of the Timp-Torne Trail that I had begun this run on, and arrived to see Maxine patiently waiting for me. And despite the strange and foreboding feeling that the gorge had given me, it was another great day of running…..