November 22, 2010
On paper, today’s run into the woods appeared to be an awful lot like the name of the mountain that I’d be running up and down not just once, but twice. The topo lines made it look like a real bear! Over the course of the project I had learned that most of my runs had to be approached strategically, and this run appeared to be one where strategy was especially important. So I decided that I should start from the top of Bear Mountain, at the Perkins Tower, and work my way down the mountain on the Major Welch Trail. Boy was I ever glad I did!
As I set out from the parking area, the trail was fairly flat at first, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. The upper portion of the trail is under some measure of construction, so there was yellow tape directing me away from these areas and toward by-routes down the mountain. I had to stop in a couple of places to be sure I was following the proper course, and I even got lost (briefly) and had to backtrack once. But I eventually got into a groove and was moving along quite nicely. And then it happened – I fell!!
The route down was comprised almost entirely of rocks, the majority of which were sloped downward away from me. The sun was out, and it tricked me into thinking that the rocks were dry. They weren’t. :( I got a little too cocky as I ran downhill, and sure enough, my right foot went out from under me on one of my swifter steps. I cracked my anklebone and elbow on the hard surface as I went down. Now bruised, scraped and minorly bloody, I decided that the rest of the way down the mountain would be with my ‘wussy hat’ on. Coming to a dead stop in many places to assure that I was putting myself in no more danger of falling, I made it to the bottom of Bear Mountain without further incident. But it had taken me about 35 mins to run the 1.8 miles downhill – not exactly speed record pace. ;p
My next task was to find the beginning section of the yellow blazed Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail (SBM). Todd Van Sickle and I had missed it somehow back in September when we ran the 23.5-mile SBM trail end to end. As I circled around behind Bear Mountain Inn, there it was, three yellow triangles on the front of a tree. I jogged the 200 meters or so of trail that Todd and I had missed, and then proceeded to the Appalachian Trail. Todd and I had unintentionally run a large portion of this section of the AT on that day in September, but today I would run it all the way to the top, to Perkins Tower. Although quite steep, the first half of the run up is appointed with many granite steps, hauled in by trail-building technicians and meticulously put into place. Although I was grateful for the help up the mountain, to a runner it almost makes it feel as if you’re cheating. Needless to say, I got over it.
On the way up, I passed over one of the scenic roadways a couple of times, and then near the top, I saw a smattering of tourists and other day-hikers. Many of them gave me the now common “Why is this man running up the mountain?” look as I passed them by. Little did they know that although it looked like I was working, I was having just as much fun as they were!
Arriving at the tower, I was now at the unofficial half-way point of today’s adventure. In the span of less than 3.5 miles, I had already encountered about 2300 feet of elevation change. But I was nowhere near done with the descending and climbing. My final section of the Appalachian Trail was yet to come, with another 1400 feet of total elevation change. Boy would I be glad to have this run behind me, as there was almost nothing flat in the entire distance!
And so down the west side of Bear Mountain I went on the AT. One of the first things I encountered was a burned out and abandoned truck about 100 meters along my path. It appeared to be an erstwhile park vehicle that has simply been left here to rust and rot. I giggled as I swept by it on the rocky top of the mountain. One thing was for sure – the rocks had dried off now, enabling me to run downhill with a greater sense of security, and for that I was quite grateful. Not long after passing the truck, I passed a man who I thought to be a NY/NJ Trail Conference volunteer. But upon my stopping and asking, he told me that he worked for the company that was managing the Appalachian Trail restoration project here. And here I had thought that all of the people working on these trails were volunteers. Um, I guess not. Anyway, I wished him well, and continued on down the mountain. As I did, I realized that the map I had been using to guide me along here was no longer accurate. I scratched my head a bit, but stayed the course.
About halfway down the mountain I came across a semi-paved woods road that had blue trail blaze markings on it. Although this trail was not on the map, the road was, and I could see that it wasn’t long. And so I decided to take a small risk (in terms of my time commitment) and run this trail. After all, if I was to truly say that I ran ALL of the trails in the park, I couldn’t well skip this one now, could I? Well, the risk paid off. The trail was less than half a mile long, and although slightly uphill at first, was an easy run. I made it back to the original junction with a sense of accomplishment, and turned left to complete the descent.
I reached the bottom, and followed the AT across Seven Lakes Drive. From here I had a fairly short run out to the junction of the Fawn Trail, and then I could begin the climb back to Perkins Tower. Although the conditions on this part of the trail were fairly wet, it was manageable, and I did my about face knowing that the 700-foot climb back up the mountain would put an end to the hard work for the day. :) After a check of the map, I decided that I should pursue the final section of the Major Welch Trail by running up the mountain via the road, and connecting from there. But reaching the point where the Major Welch was indicated to meet with the road, I struck out. I found the place that appeared to be the trail head, but it wasn’t marked. :( I ducked into the woods and quickly found a red trail blaze. Good, I had it! But then, there were no more blazes. I followed what seemed like the trail, but I couldn’t find a trail blaze to validate my direction. Even so, I was moving up the mountain, and could actually see the sun reflecting off the windows of the Perkins Tower in the distance. So I followed my nose, as it were, and before I knew it, I had reconvened with the trail maintenance employee who I had met on the way down. OK, good, so at least I knew that I was back where I was supposed to be! But what about the Major Welch Trail? What had happened to the final piece of it that I was seeing on my trail map?
Soon after I arrived back at Perkins Tower, I would have my answer. I skulked around at the top, trying to find the place where it extended from the parking lot down the west side of the mountain. And just like I had done about 20 minutes earlier, I found one trail marker – one - but no more. As I stood there scratching my head, a day hiker asked me if I was looking for the trail, and upon my acknowledgement, he told me “It’s gone. They closed it. Said it was too dangerous. “ So that explained it. In all the reworking of the trails here on Bear Mountain, this last section of the Major Welch Trail had been a casualty.
And so, with my run day abruptly done, I sighed, and smiled, and completed the experience by taking photos of a family of Japanese tourists that had been milling around the paved paths here on the mountaintop. Well, they practically shoved the camera in my hand, so how could I say no?