DECEMBER 21, 2014 — One of my biggest frustrations with outdoor adventures is that most of the best, epic ones require a large time commitment. Hikers need six months to hike the Appalachian Trail (a hiking trail connecting Georgia to Maine in the eastern US), six weeks to hike Spain’s Camino de Santiago, a month to hike Turkey’s Lycian Way, and even three weeks to hike California’s John Muir Trail. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible for me, my brother, or my friends to take enough time from work to attempt adventures like these with me. Recently, I’ve come to the annoying realization that neither I nor my friends will ever be able to set aside enough time to hike the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. However, facing this fact has freed me from obsessing over hiking the entire Trail in one shot or with any one person, and I have started considering hiking the trail in small, non-continuous sections. By the time that I turn 60 years old, I hope that I’ll be able to finally say that I’ve hiked the entire Trail.
So, when my brother, Brian, appointed me the Best Man for his wedding this year, after a moment of panic, I realized that this would be a great opportunity to start on this hiking project and spend a few days with him on the Appalachian Trail. Knowing that we’d both agree that hiring strippers for a bachelor party is a ridiculous and problematic tradition, I suggested that we gather the wedding party and hike for three days on a section of the Trail just north of New York City, where my brother lives. Though it wouldn’t be an epic adventure, it would be a fitting “last hurrah” for our last both-of-us-unmarried moments together. Unfortunately, with only a week before the trip, one of the Best Men broke his toe and another threw out his back, reducing our bachelor party attendees from five to three. But, we decide not to let this stop us, and, four days before the wedding, Brian, Brian’s childhood friend Eric, and I head to the Appalachian Trail trailhead in Garrison, New York.
On the first day, we hike to the top of Anthony’s Nose, a hilltop with a fantastic view of the Hudson River, and then cross the River by hiking across Bear Mountain Bridge. Most of the hiking that Brian and I normally do is in total wilderness, so this detour through civilization is a welcome change. Next, we head up the steep, granite steps leading to the top of Bear Mountain. It’s a hot and humid day, and by the time we’re about halfway up, we all feel like we can’t take another step. Eric looks like he’s going to keel over. Nevertheless, we eventually make it to the summit and enjoy our lunch while the sun sets. We hike in the dark for about an hour before finally setting up camp below Bear Mountain, and the three of us can’t stop sweating during the humid, 80-degree night.
Thankfully, the weather is cooler when we wake the next morning, and the cool breeze and dense forest scenery is a stark contrast to yesterday’s humid death march up Bear Mountain. We stop for lunch at Brien Shelter, lying in the grass while eating our tuna wraps, and I realize that I’m starting to understand one of the things that makes the Appalachian Trail so great: the well-maintained shelters and their attractive surroundings make for a rewarding trekking experience. From there, we head to shimmering Lake Tiorati, where we buy some PowerAde and popsicles from a vending machine and then jump in the lake for a refreshing swim. Already exhausted, we hike a couple more miles before finally setting up camp at Fingerboard Shelter. We spend the night playing board games and eating gummy bears.
On our final day, as we pack up camp and begin hiking again, I feel sad. I know that these last five miles on the trail will be the last I hike with my brother before he gets married, and I know that the frequency of our (at least) yearly hiking trips may diminish over time as obligations to his new family increase. I hope that there’s a chance that may both of us will have managed to hike the trail’s entire 2,200 miles by the time we turn 60 years old. But, for now, the forest canopy envelops us, and we still have five miles remaining in this section, together, on the Appalachian Trail.
How to Do a Weekend Appalachian Trail Hike in New York
OVERVIEW: The Appalachian Trail is 2,200 mile hiking trail, connecting Georgia to Maine in the eastern United States. It is possible, of course, to hike smaller sections of the Trail. For my brother’s bachelor party, we chose to hike a three-day, 30-mile section between Garrison and Arden, New York.
DIRECTIONS: To get to the Appalachian Trail Elk Pen trailhead in Arden, New York, take the Henry Hudson Parkway to the Palisades Interstate Parkway to I-87 north to NY-17. Turn right on Arden Valley Road and drive until you see the Elk Pen parking lot on your right. Then, to get to the trailhead in Garrison New York, take NY-17 north to US-6 east to NY-9D north. The Garrison trailhead is just south of the Appalachian Market, near the intersection of NY-9D and Cat Rock Road. Parking can be found on Cross Road, just north of the trailhead.
LOGISTICS: Since this hike is a one-way traverse, we drove two cars and parked one at the Elk Pen parking lot and then proceeded to park the other in Garrison to start our hike. Water sources are available frequently along the route, but bring a water filter.
ROUTE: The excellent Appalachian Trail Guide to New York-New Jersey makes it easy to plan any hike on the Applachian Trail in NY/NJ, and the book’s mileage counts and route descriptions make getting lost nearly impossible. Here’s the route we followed, with help from the book:
- DAY 1 (13 miles): From the Appalachian Trail trailhead in Garrison New York, we walked south, following the AT’s white blazes on trees (watch carefully!), with a side trip to the fantastic view of the Hudson River atop Anthony’s Nose, then proceeding across Bear Mountain Bridge. From there, we south past Hessian Lake then west up the hundreds of steep, granite steps leading to the top of Bear Mountain. We were so tired in the evening that we camped south of Bear Mountain, just off the trail, on our first night, though hikers with enough energy, may want to camp at West Mountain Shelter.
- DAY 2 (12.5 miles): We hiked from Bear Mountain to Brien Shelter, where we had lunch. Then, we proceeded to Lake Tiorati, where we bought snacks from the vending machines and went for a refreshing swim in the lake. Then, we hiked to Fingerboard Shelter in Harriman State Park.
- DAY 3 (4.4 miles): We hiked from Fingerboard Shelter to Elk Pen, where we had parked our second car at the beginning of the trip. The forest in this section of the trip is surprisingly beautiful and peaceful.