October 29, 2010
Today was the 100th anniversary of W. Averell Harriman deeding land to the State of New York for the creation of Harriman State Park. Yes, on October 29, 1910, a check in the amount of $ 1 million, along with the land deed, was presented to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC), spawning the process that ultimately resulted in the preservation of all of this beautiful land that I have been running in these past few months. 🙂
As it was, I celebrated this notable day unknowingly when I ran into the woods with my friend Rich D’Ambrosio. I say ‘unknowingly’ because Rich called me about a half hour after the run was done, telling me that he had heard about the 100th anniversary on the radio, and that it was pretty damn cool for he and I to have been doing our only run together in Harriman State Park on this day of all days!
Anyway, today Rich and I would run on the Long Path. I had yet to run the northernmost section of the LP, mainly because it was a point-to-point run, and with considerable distance between the points, so I would need help! But today we had two cars at our disposal, so I met Rich on Estrada Rd, about halfway up Florence Mountain, where a yellow gate quietly protected the entrance to an area of land that was part of the U.S. Military Academy’s reservation. Leaving Rich’s truck there, we made the 20 minute drive to the parking area at the southern base of Long Mountain. We would start our run from here, and our first endeavor was to ascend to the mountaintop where the Torrey Memorial was located.
The start of the run was a brief downhill, but in no time we had reached the junction of the Popolopen Gorge Trail. Continuing from here on the Long Path, the climb up to the Torrey Memorial began. It was about a 300-ft climb, but it was steep, so therefore, fairly short in terms of distance (does that make it a good thing?). Upon reaching the top we stopped to gather in the amazing views of Turkey Hill and Turkey Hill Lake in the foreground, and Bear Mountain and West Mountain in the distance. Rich was in heaven, and I was definitely feeding off of his positive aura.
As we moved on, the trail took us rather precipitously down the slope of Long Mountain and into a section known as Deep Hollow. Along the way, Rich and I shared stories about hikes that we had done with our children, and how much the kids seem to revel in the woods, even if they’re resistant to going hiking initially. 🙂 And he also told me of a time – back when he was quite young – when a family member who he’d been hiking with had slipped and injured herself, and what an ordeal it had been getting her off of the mountain in the Catskill high peaks that they’d been hiking on. The conditions today were quite slippery due to some recent rain and the ever-accumulating leaf cover, and although I would trust Rich with my life, the last thing I wanted was to turn an ankle or fall and be knocked unconscious, leaving Rich to have to drag me out of the woods. So I ran very cautiously……
Once we were in the hollow, the path crossed a creek a few times, and then took us to our next challenge, a steep climb up Howell Mountain. I know that when I say this I’m sounding like a broken record (you’ve heard me say this several times before), but on paper, the climb up Howell really didn’t look that bad. And if the leaf cover hadn’t been what it was, it might have been a lot easier. But as we pushed up the mountain, with each step our feet would slip on the bed of wet leaves, making it seem as though we were in one of those cartoon scenes where the character is running and running but not getting anywhere.
Over the top of Howell we faced another steep downslope, this one culminating at a marvelously beautiful and placid stream that, according to the trail map, is fed by nearby Lake Massawippa. We stopped here for a break and to drink this scene in (no pun intended). When we started moving again, we rambled through a quarter mile or so of some relatively flat trail, and then found ourselves staring at climb #3 of the day. This time, we would go almost straight up the slope of Brooks Mountain. I was already getting tired of the climbing, so I pushed the pace, hoping to reach the top well ahead of Rich and give myself some recovery time while he caught up. But besides just that, I am a major proponent of hill running as a form of speedwork and strength conditioning. And so, up the mountain I went, almost as fast as I could manage, stopping only twice briefly to show some “love” to my diaphragm. 😉
After cresting Brooks Mountain. we ran along the ridge for a bit, and then began a gradual 200-foot descent that would take us to (and across) state Route 293. This particular road runs between U.S. Route 6 (known here in the park as Long Mtn Parkway) and the village of Highland Falls, which is where West Point calls home, and Billy Joel crooned about back in the late 70s.
As soon as we crossed the road, we were reminded of our encroachment on USMA lands via a battery of signs that were intended to make the message clear. Fortunately, as long as hikers (and runners) remain on the marked trails, they are not considered to be trespassers, and this is due to a broad agreement that the NY/NJ Trail Conference has with the very large number of land owners whose property that the many trails here in the Hudson Valley cross.
From here, we began our 4th and final climb of the day, this time up Blackcap Mountain. I’ve had people ask me recently what point is the highest point of elevation in Harriman State Park, and although I haven’t really gone over the map in full detail, it’s quite possible that it’s right here on Blackcap. The map indicates a peak of 1384 feet, and although I see other places that come close (including a peak of 1382 feet on the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, near Bald Rocks), I think this mountain is the highest. Luckily, Rich and I didn’t have to climb all the way to the top, reaching only the 1150-foot mark before turning left and heading down the mountain’s southern face.
We made our way through an interesting variety of terrain over the next half mile or so, and then reached U.S. Route 6. We were in the home stretch now, with the rest of the run being a big net downhill. After paralleling the state road for the next half mile, we ducked into an open area where there was a paved-but-dilapidated road that the green Long Path trail markers appeared to follow. And so we did, too.
From here it was essentially just a road run, and in another half mile, we came upon the yellow gate where Rich had left his truck. Six and a half total miles in 1 hour and 56 minutes, with green trail blazes all the way. And ironically, it had also been on the anniversary of the day 100 years ago that had preserved (hopefully forever) the “green” of this beautiful park. 🙂