Stony Brook – Halfway Mountain – Pine Meadow – Reeves Book: aka Todd, Joe and the Rattlesnake (Day 20)

October 12, 2010

There are a lot of days when I simply don’t have the energy to map out my run, get in the car, and drive to Harriman State Park to run into the woods. On most of my scheduled days, I end up running anyway, but it isn’t always easy. Today it was easy, however, because I was planning to run with my friend Joe Marchesano, and Joe is one of the most grateful, easygoing runners that I know.

Like me, Joe has unexpectedly found himself out of work recently, with his weekdays free, so to speak. He had reached out to me to suggest we do a run together, and I was – in a word – delighted. 🙂 And so it was that we planned to cover some yet undone trail ground in the southwestern section of the park. It had been rainy overnight the night before, but the forecast was for the rain to taper off and end in the early morning, so the prospects looked good for a weather-friendly run.

I picked Joe up at his house sharply at 7:00am, and we headed south from Harriman on old Route 17 toward Sloatsburg. A quick turn onto Seven Lakes Drive, and a mile and a half later we had the car situated at the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center. In my experiences so far, this locale had to be the most popular spot in the park to hike from. In mid-summer, Catherine and I had seen legions of cars parked alongside the road near the visitor center, overflowing its fairly small parking lot. When Joe and I pulled in at 7:20am on this Tuesday, there were already two cars there.

After taking a moment to use the bathroom facility (a rare option for me during this project), off we went down the Pine Meadow Trail. Right away I could see why this was a popular tourist/day-hiking spot. The trail was wide, and it skirted the extremely scenic Stony Brook. After a short time, the trail became a bit rugged, but we were having too much fun to care that we were working a little harder than usual. About a half mile into the woods, we veered left onto the Stony Brook Trail. Although the weather was overcast and gloomy (or perhaps even because it was overcast and gloomy), this is one of the most picturesque trails I have run in the park.

From end to end, the trail was beautifully wooded, with the brook on our left, happily singing its song to us the entire length. The rain from the night before had conjured up many sweet forest smells, which we enjoyed as we weaved back and forth over the semi-swampy terrain. As we made our way along the brook, we also crossed over at least three bridges, which is always fun. 🙂 But the joy of this trail did not last long enough for me. About a mile and a half after it began, we had reached trail’s end, and the junction of the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail.

I had warned Joe about this next segment, a very steep climb up to the top of Halfway Mountain. We would scale about 500 feet over the course of the next 1/4 mile. Needless to say, this brought our progress to what could be described as a dead crawl. It wasn’t of the “hand-over-fist” variety, but the terrain was so steep in places that we were walking almost parallel to the ground. And whereas this seems a bit extreme, it’s actually quite common here in the park. After a reference from Joe about mountain goats (it was something to do with me, but I don’t recall the exact quote), we finally saw the light at the top, and took a well-deserved break as we crested the mountain.

Now at the junction of the Seven Hills Trail, we could see Lake Sebago over our shoulder, and Pine Meadow Lake in the distance in front of us. We traversed Seven Hills for a short distance, and then turned right onto the Diamond Mountain Tower Trail. Diamond Mountain Tower is a v-shaped trail that is steep and rocky on both sides of the ‘V.’  From what I could find out about this trail’s history, it seems that it had once been two separate trails – the Diamond Mountain Trail on the left-hand side of the ‘V’ and the Tower Trail on the right.  At some point in the recent past, these two trails were combined into one.  Anyway, this being our first descent of the morning, I reminded Joe that he had a marathon to do in three weeks, and so should be mindful about footing. The last thing I wanted was to be responsible for blowing Joe’s NYC Marathon. Ugh!

We managed to make it down the mountain in fairly good stead, and once at the base of Diamond Mountain, we bore left onto the Pine Meadow Trail. Yes, if you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that this was the trail that we started the day on. But at this point, we were about 2 miles out from where we had started, and were running in the opposite direction. The trail itself was flat, almost a woods road in places. It was shadowed by Pine Meadow Brook on our left, and along the way, we saw a few points of interest. First was a pair of structures that we simply couldn’t figure out. Made of concrete and field stone, they appeared to be partially built, and then abandoned in mid-construction. One of them had a pair of what looked like chimneys, and the other a collection of columns. Perhaps the columns were intended to support a bridge that was never completed, I don’t know. Also along this trail was an aesthetically pleasing rock formation known on the map as “Ga-Nus-Quah Rock.” Near the rock, the brook went through an elevation change, and there was a beautiful pool of water behind it.  “This would be a great place for a picnic!” I thought to myself.

But we continued along the trail until we reached a bridge at the junction of the Seven Hills Trail. Yes, we had been on this trail before as well, about 25 or 30 minutes earlier, in fact.  But now we were at the base of the Diamond Mountain (one of the seven “hills”), and about to make our way up the somewhat gentle northern face of Chipmunk Mountain. Along this portion, Joe and I came across a number of small, downed trees, and went into ‘volunteer mode’, stopping to move large tree branches off of the trail as best we could. And I must admit, every time I do something like that, I feel as though I am participating with the trail, even though it be in a decidedly small way. There were some especially large tree trunks that would simply have to stay where they were until a stronger person (or someone with a saw) could come by and relocate them. This runner’s chicken arms were definitely not up to the task. 😉  But we cleared away what we could, and it put a smile on our faces.  🙂

Moving on to the top of Chipmunk Mountain, we crossed over the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail, waving to the orange blazes that we had seen earlier in the run, and began to make our way south along the ridge toward the Tourne View. The views from here were broad, and on a sunnier day, would probably have been breathtaking.  But at this altitude, the clouds and fog made for a limited view. The air felt damp, and probably because we were out in the open now, it seemed as though the temperature had dropped 5 degrees.

Further along, we crossed another junction, this time the Reeves Brook Trail, and just before the Seven Hills Trail began its descent down from Torne View, we found the trail head of the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail. This was the first time I had set foot on this particular trail, and although it was not especially distinct from so many of the other trails I had run, it would be different in one very notable way! {keep reading}

Joe was beginning to tire now after almost 2 and a half hours of running, so I was finding myself getting a bit far ahead of him at times, and then stopping to allow him to catch up. I was clearly anxious to get the run done. 😉  We would be following the Reeves Brook Trail back to the car, and we were nearing the trail junction, so I was on the lookout for it.  As I quick-stepped down the slope of the mountain over a series of large rocks, I came to a halt as I spied the white blazes of the Reeves Brook trailhead. I turned around to wait for Joe, as this was our next turn. But as I looked up the slope at him, he also came to a dead stop about 20 yards away from me. “Whoa!” he exclaimed.  “What, did you see a snake or something?” I replied.  “Uhhhh, yea-ah….” he said, making his way cautiously around the snake.  After a further exchange of words (I asked Joe if the snake’s head was triangular), I realized that we had met up with my very first rattlesnake!  Not wanting to miss a chance to get a photo of this exciting pitviper, I asked Joe to show me where it was.  Sure enough, it was right under a rock that I had stepped across!  I had probably roused it, and then it had stuck out its head before Joe got to its den.  Lucky me that I hadn’t stepped on the darn thing, lest we would have been headed for an urgent care center as opposed to laughing about it. 😦

I approached slowly to a point of about 12 feet away, carefully raised my camera, and clicked.  And even though that I had assured Joe that he wouldn’t strike unless we provoked him, I wasn’t excited about sticking around to see what he would do next.  And so off we went on the Reeves Brook Trail, with less than two miles to go to get back to the car.  The rest of the run was done – at least on my part – in a mild panic.  My eyes were darting everywhere, wary of seeing another slithering friend.  As we went down North Hill and into the shadows of the woods again, I breathed a small sigh of relief.  I knew that we were out of rattlesnake territory at this point, and all that was left was a sweet downhill glide back to the Pine Meadow Trail and we would be all through.

Arriving back at the visitor’s center, we noted that the lot was almost full now.  Despite the dreary day, and the fact that this was a weekday, there were a lot of people out there enjoying what they could of the Fall foliage.  For Joe and I, it was about the foliage, but so much more.  It had been a great day of fun in the woods.  In Joe’s gratitude for my bringing him along, he bought me a warm cup of coffee, and as we drove back to Harriman sipping our sweet java, we talked enthusiastically about the “next time.”  🙂

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About Todd Jennings

I am a runner, a father, a philosopher, and a writer. I am also a seeker. Among the things that I seek are beauty and truth. From an external perspective, I've found both of those things when I run in the woods or on the quiet trails of the mountain tops . With each new run, more truth and beauty reveals itself to me. And so I keep running....
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7 Responses to Stony Brook – Halfway Mountain – Pine Meadow – Reeves Book: aka Todd, Joe and the Rattlesnake (Day 20)

  1. PVPatrick says:

    Those ruins next to the Pine Meadow trail at the bottom of the Diamond Mt tower trail are from the camp that was under construction around Pine Meadow lake.The camp was never finished as need for it dimished towards the end of the great depression. The ruins appear to be waste water treatment facilities. Alongside the north side of Pine Meadow lake are the ruins of the pumphouse stone building which was to be used to pump water up to storage towers on the hills above the lake.

    • Wow Patrick, thanks for solving the mystery. I have seen the pumphouse alongside Pine Meadow Lake – even took a picture of it (https://trailtodd.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/000_0075.jpg) – and all of the pipes that run along the lake’s shore. I had wondered what the heck that was all about! And now I know. 🙂

      • PVPatrick says:

        I run Bear Mt/Harriman trails basically every day…don’t ask! So…. I have a huge interest in the park and its many secrets. How goes the project?

      • OK, I won’t ask. 😉

        To answer your question, the project is essentially done. My last day is tomorrow, and I am running from Elk Pen at 10:00am. Will run the AT up to the Lemon Squeezer, and then the Ramapo-Dunderberg from there back to Elk Pen. I think it’s about 4 and a half miles. I have 25 or 30 people who will be joining me, and you’re welcome to join us as well. It’d be great to share my “Completion Run” with a fellow trail run enthusiast!

  2. OK, I won’t ask. 😉

    To answer your question, the project is essentially done. My last day is tomorrow, and I am running from Elk Pen at 10:00am. Will run the AT up to the Lemon Squeezer, and then the Ramapo-Dunderberg from there back to Elk Pen. I think it’s about 4 and a half miles. I have 25 or 30 people who will be joining me, and you’re welcome to join us as well. It’d be great to share my “Completion Run” with a fellow trail run enthusiast!

  3. PVPatrick says:

    Todd,
    Thanks for the invite to your completion run. A nice bunch of people, a beautiful run and a celebration of your achievement…quite a Sunday morning!
    Should any of those pins happen to fall out of your corkboard, I’d be happy to help you re-run the route! Looking forward to seeing your piece in “TrailWalker”.
    Patrick

    • Patrick, it was MY pleasure to meet you, and thank you SO MUCH for joining us on the run. 🙂 Please send me email, todjen (at) optonline (dot) net, so that I can put you on my mailing list for future trail runs. I will look forward to running with you again!

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