Hiking in the Gunks in the Spring - Adventure Time!
by Amber Rodriguez - Administrative Assistant
I had a mid-week day off last week. The sun was shining and the ice was melting (well the ice was starting to melt), and after a long winter cooped up I HAD to get out there! Smell the air! See some sights! No one was game for going with me. So I loaded some snacks in my car and headed for Minnewaska State Park in New Paltz.
If you've never been to Minnewaska, make the effort! It houses some of the most beautiful terrain in the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge. There are lakes, waterfalls, carriage paths for easy walking and serious cliffs for rock climbers. But, when's there's snow on the ground it's ALL serious stuff. I wanted to do the loop from Lake Minnewaska to Lake Awosting - it's around 6 miles total. It took me about 6 hours. I had a fantastic time. Very relaxing - except for the couple of times when I really wished I'd made just a few more preparations. Early Spring hiking is just a little different than Summer hiking. The good news is you don't need to bring any bug spray. The bad news is that in order to be safe you need to be a bit more prepared than I was.
On my way in I ran into a Park Ranger. He looked a little askance at me and asked if I was on my own. I perkily told him "yup". He asked me to make sure I checked in with them on the way out and said if it got near sunset and I hadn't made an appearance he was going to send someone up after me. My hero! It's nice to know that there's someone looking out for you. BUT by the end of the day, I had learned enough lessons to understand why he was going to send in the calvary if I didn't make a formal goodbye. Here are my tips for safely embarking on an early Spring hike in Upstate NY.
Consider your footwear. Guess what? Sneakers don't cut it in the snow! Spring hiking in the Gunks can be slippery. I would have been served well by some heavy duty hiking boots and wool socks or even some of those great spikey/rubbery cleats you can pull over your boots (you can get them at Kenco in Kingston or at Rock and Snow in New Paltz). Since I hadn't come quite as well as prepared as I should have, when faced with a rocky, icy patch that looked like a on- way ticket to a leg injury, I broke down and slid on my bum. Which leads me to my next tip....
Consider your clothing. The hike to the top of the mountain may make you warm, but the Spring wind is still carrying that winter chill. Wear layers that can be removed and easily carried along with you: scarves, gloves, hats, several shirts, and a wind-breaking outer layer will make for a more comfortable journey. IF you think you might be either forced or tempted to slide across icy rocks on your bum, wear something that is going to block horrible shards of ice from making contact with your skin. Ouch! Good thing I have a healthy sense of humor.
Bring Sustenance. Remember to pack plenty of water and a few snacks to bring with you. You might sweat even though it's chilly and you need to make sure you have not just enough to feed to you during the time you expect to be out, but also enough if you end up being out there longer than you expect.
Speaking of food, don't forget you're consorting with wildlife! Carry in and carry out, and don't leave a trail of bread crumbs or hamburger bits! I ran into a GIGANTIC porcupine. He was up in a tree. I had no idea they were climbers! He seemed pretty surprised to see me. I was pretty excited because I'd never seen one before. but, I have seen "Homeward Bound", so I oggled him while giving him a nice, wide berth. I've heard they can throw those quills pretty far, and since I didn't want that burly park ranger having to come after me only to find a human pin-cushion I was very respectful.
Put on sunscreen and bring some shades. While the sun is not as strong as it is in summer, it's still shining. The light bounces off the snow and ice, so it is possible to end up with a sunburn in March. I had a lovely pink glow the next day.....
Bring a map. The park offers them as you arrive, pick one up and stay on course. With less foliage in the Spring, it's easier for hikers to see the trail markers on the trees. If you loose track of them, turn around immediately and re-trace your steps until you pick them up again. It took me an hour per mile of this hike. You can see where I'm going here....
Bring your smart phone. Make sure it's well charged, turn off unecessary apps and put it inside a plastic baggie in case you drop it in the snow or a stream. If you get lost, rescuers can use the GPS signals from your phone to triangulate your location. You'll also be able to get some snazzy nature photos!
Bring a buddy. All kidding aside it's never the greatest idea to head out on a hike solo. It's even less brilliant when the conditions are icy and chilly. If you're in the mood for solitude bring your most Silent-Bob like friend as a companion. You won't have to lean over the cliff to get a good selfie (like I did) and if you take a spill you won't have to wait for a park ranger rescue.
Go Whole Hog. Pack one of those tiny super-warm blankets, some protected matches, and a fire starter. Better safe than sorry!
Even with all the lesson learning I did, I had an amazing time. Only the brave are going to get to see icicle encrusted rock faces and the shadows of hawks on snow. Be smart and get out there and enjoy nature in its perfect imperfection.
Amy Wallace - Marketing