Last week a friend of mine who does a lot of work with the Appalachian Mountain Club recommended that I look into what trips and events they have scheduled for their NY/NJ chapter. I did, and they are a busy club indeed. For anyone interested, please check out their website; it is well worth a look.
One trip caught my eye. It was marked as an advanced bushwhacking and navigation trip in the Catskills. It was planned for this past weekend. I quickly submitted an application, and after speaking with the group leader, was accepted into the group. The group size was limited to five people, so I felt lucky to have been accepted.
Interestingly, when the day of the outing came, it turned out that everyone had backed out, and only I and the group leader were left to do the trip. I have to say, it made things even better because we could do whatever we wanted, and go wherever we wanted without having to worry about anyone else.
In the above map I have outlined the plan for the trip. We would enter the forest along a river bed. The river bed starts at about 2100 ft in elevation, and would take us up to about 2600 ft, and to the bottom of Balsam Cap (the peak at the right most end of the map). After ascending Balsam Cap at 3623 ft, we would turn, go down the mountain to about 3200 ft, and then climb Rocky Mountain at 3508 ft. From there we would again descend to about 3200 ft, and then climb Lone Mountain at 3721 ft. From there we would follow the ridge back down to the river, and then follow the river out. We would camp for the night either down by the river, or between two of the mountains.
We had calculated that we would be able to travel at about 2 mph along the river, and then slow down to 1 mph once we left the river bed and started climbing the mountains. Above 3200 ft the mountains are covered in spruce, and since there are no trails and the areas are not traveled, the vegetation would be very dense.
We started out around 9:15 am. Moving along the river was fairly easy.
For this trip, since I was with other people, I only brought a small point and shoot camera, and didn’t have time to stop and set up shots, so sorry for the low quality of the pictures.
By noon we had reached a fork at the end of the river. Our plan was to take a bearing at this location, and then follow it to the top of Balsam Cap. We ate lunch, and took the bearing.
When we headed out however, we decided that it would be better to follow one of the inlets partway up the mountain.
There was quite a bit of rock hopping, but it was much better than the alternative.
At the end of the stream, we took a second bearing and started following it towards Balsam Cap. The undergrowth slowed us down to about the expected 1 mph.
At about 3200 ft we hit the spruce trees. They were much thicker than I expected. Not only did it make it difficult to hold to a bearing when you have no line of sight for a distance of more than 10 ft, but also pushing through the trees has very time consuming.
Combined with the occasional rock ledge, our speed fell to about 1/2 mph.
Eventually however, to my great surprise, we had managed to keep to our bearing and reach the top of the mountain.
In the Catskills, the peaks that are over 3500 ft, and are not accessible through trails, i.e. you have to bushwhack to them, have a canister at the top, where you can sign in your name.
From there, we took a bearing towards our next target, Rocky Mountain. There are no exposed tops on these mountains, and everything is densely covered with spruce trees. We could not take a line of sight bearing to Rocky Mountain, so we again had to take a bearing from the map.
The terrain was just as hard on the way down, although, from time to time we were able to see the top of Rocky Mountain through the trees, making navigation slightly easier.
At the bottom of the mountain, the terrain cleared and the spruce forest ended.
For a short distance the going was very easy. This nice terrain however, soon ended as we started ascending Rocky Mountain, which lived up to its name. While the vegetations was less dense, there were plenty or rock ledges blocking the way.
We would have to look for ways up the rock, which meant we often had to deviate from our bearing and then try to reacquire it.
Eventually, we made it to the top.
After a few pictures, we decided that we would not have enough time to get to Lone Mountain. It was already after 5 pm, and our speed was much slower than we had anticipated.
We decided to head straight down the mountain towards the river, where we intended to camp for the night. A little after 6 pm, we made it down.
We set up camp, ate dinner, and called it a night around 8 pm.
The next day we followed the river out. There is nothing new to report in terms of gear. I made some slight changes to some of my food, and have done some additional modifications to my stove, which I will talk about in more detail later.
As I have done with the last few trips, I was recording my tracks with a GPS unit. Unfortunately, when I checked it in camp, it had run out of batteries somewhere along the way. When I got home, I was able to download the part it had recorded. It looks like the batteries died right before I reached the top of Rocky Mountain. The red line you see in the picture is my interpretation of the way we took out of the forest. The blue line is the track recorded by the GPS.
Here you can see the part of the elevation changes that were recorded. Again, I have estimated the later part of the trip. The dark areas you see on the top of the mountains are actually the spruce caps that slowed us down so much.
Overall, it was a great trip. I am fairly scratched up from going through the spruce trees, but it was well worth it. I was surprised we were able to keep so closely to our bearing in terrain like this. I also picked up a few tricks on calculating the bearing. The way I was doing it was more complicated that it needed to be. I think that because of the thick cover and low visibility, this is one of the toughest navigational challenges I have done.