November 3, 2010
I expected my run into the woods today to be one of those “mail-in” type of runs. In front of me was a leftover from the southwesternmost part of Harriman State Park, and in my mind, I simply wanted to get it over with. I would not have made such an emotional comment a month ago, but as the weeks have worn on and the project has continued to gradually sap my overall energy stores, each run has – on paper – appeared as a chore.
And it was in this mindset that I parked for the third and final time at the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center, and made my way onto the Pine Meadow Trail. Today I would actually complete four trails that I had run parts of in the past, so as I think of it now, this was probably one of the most trail-productive runs in my entire schedule! On the docket were the Pine Meadow, Seven Hills, Hillburn-Torne-Sebago and Raccoon Brook Hills trails. Of particular note is that today I would be passing back through the same spot where I had seen a rattlesnake about three weeks prior. It would be interesting to see how I would react (with caution, no doubt) once I arrived at that junction. 😉
But the first step was to find the Seven Hills Trail, and from there, I would have a slow climb up South Hill until I reached the junction of the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago (H-T-S) Trail. The Seven Hills was not a major challenge compared to most of what I had seen here in the park to date, but it did come with a lovely surprise. Just after passing a swamp and crossing a small creek, I saw him up ahead of me. It seemed like a dream, but as he approached, it was clear that it was not. It was………another runner! My word, this was a first!!
And so, upon arriving face-to-face with this unexpected counterpart, we both stopped, and my alter-ego removed his ear buds to say hello. After I introduced myself, he told me that his name was David, and as it does in these kinds of situations, conversation naturally ensued.
He also told me that, like me, this was the first time that he had ever seen another runner out here on the trails. We talked about running these trails, and racing in the local area. I told him about my project, and how far along I was. I also told him about my blog, and even told him the address. Heck, if I had had a pen and paper with me I would have written down his contact info. But in the woods, these accoutrements are not often at one’s disposal, so I relied on my memory, and hopefully he on his, in hoping that we would we remember enough about one another to connect again someday soon. But after what must have been 10 minutes of joyous conversation, we felt our body temperatures starting to drop, and anxious to get moving again, we wished each other well and went on our respective ways. 🙂
Upon reaching the H-T-S Trail, my next task was to scale the Ramapo Torne. In my travails here in the mountains, I have come across the term ‘torne’ a few times now, but I haven’t figured out its precise origin. The best that Google can seem to come up with is that it’s the name of a major river in northern Sweden and Finland. Somehow, I don’t think that translates into a rocky mountaintop in the Hudson Highlands, but whatever. 😉
Anyway, on paper, this climb up the torne really didn’t look so bad. But as my experience in these mountains had now taught me, it’s not a good idea to rely on the map, so I kept an open mind. As it turned out, I was glad that I did. The slope and terrain was reminiscent of the Black Mountain climb I had done near Silvermine Lake back in August. Only this one was longer! I crested the top, or what I thought was the top, only to see that I had been hoodwinked by this clever mountain. Still another 50-75 feet to go, and practically straight up ! And as I had also been doing in the past few weeks, I was again on the lookout for rattlesnakes. It would take a while before I would completely shake the memory of the one I had seen up in this area when running with my friend Joe last month.
When I finally got to the real top, I stopped, sucking lots of wind as I realized how warm I had gotten in running up this baby! But it was a beautiful view, just as expected, and I was glad to be able to take a short break to regroup. As I looked out over the valley below, I could see various remnants of civilization, including parts of the N.Y. State Thruway, a cell phone tower sticking up through the trees, and a large hotel in the distance (in nearby Mahwah, NJ). But the real story here today was what was going on above my head. Six or seven hawks were circling the mountaintop, diving, soaring, and swirling around in the winds and various warm updrafts that are so common here upon high. When you see nature in action like this, you simply can’t help but be drawn in by it, and so was I. 🙂
But I knew I still had a long way to go, so I moved on, and after a short scamper along the top of the torne, I reached the next junction of the Seven Hills and H-T-S trails. From here began a gradual (and very technical!) 200-ft descent, which was then followed by a climb of nearly the same magnitude up to the Russian Bear, another breathtaking rock formation, from which you could see all the way into the heart of Rockland County below.
As this point I was beginning to feel like I had grossly underestimated the time it would take to complete this run, as my watch showed almost an hour and a half already elapsed, with still a long (and apparently quite technical) way to go back to the car. 😦 So I began to make haste, or at least as much as was possible on this terrain.
My next trail junction was with the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail, made famous in my mind by virtue of having seen the rattlesnake there. Today I would have to run right over (or maybe around would be a better idea) the same rock formation where my “friend” had been sleeping. I approached the spot with the same brand of caution that a hyena might when approaching a fresh kill, making sure that vultures aren’t making a dive for the food from above. I sure didn’t want ANY surprises this time, so rather than be a hero and run right back over the same rock, I circumvented the erstwhile snake den and continued my way up the 250-ft rise in front of me until reaching the junction of the Seven Hills Trail once again.
Tiring from all of the climbing and highly technical terrain, I stopped and took a long drink. Although almost all of the climbing was now done, I really needed to recharge. From here it was the Seven Hills Trail all the way back to the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center, and almost all downhill. When I resumed, it was clear that my legs had had enough of the pounding on the rocks. And not only that, but toejams were aplenty, and I could only imagine how purple my poor toenails would be later on tonight. 😦
So with a hurried pace, I rambled across and then down each of the various ridges I had climbed on my way out to this most beautiful spot in the park. The area here is rife with what I always refer to as “scrub pines.” You’ll typically only find this type of dwarf pine tree at higher elevations and on rocky terrain, where there’s very little useful soil. A scrub pine will often be seen growing on top of…well, nothing but bare rock. It does make a person wonder what the heck the tree does for water, but they obviously have that figured out, don’t they?
Near the top of South Hill, I passed the swamp where I had seen David, and smiled as I did so. Further down the mountain, the terrain took on the more woodsy look that is characterized by tall white pines and deciduous trees. This is so often the way that I know I’m getting close to where I started from. 🙂
As I reached the terminus of the Seven Hills Trail, I had but one more task in front of me, and that was to run the final 3/4 of a mile to the end of the Pine Meadow Trail. At the tail end of a challenging run, this section turned out to be more than I bargained for! The ground beneath me was very uneven, and as I neared the stream that the trail girds in its final stretches, it was tree roots everywhere! But the scenery was terrific, and the trill of the flowing water was like music to my ears, so the experience was a manageable one. As I emerged onto Seven Lakes Drive, all that was left was a mile run on the road back to the parking lot. Compared to today’s trails, the road felt smooth as glass, and I breathed heavy but grateful sighs of relief all the way to the car.
So long to you, Seven Hills Trail, but not goodbye! I will be back to see you again another day… 🙂