Taking it easy for a change
Long Path Sections 5 + part of 6: Mount Ivy to Lake Skannatati to 30 feet past the White Bar trailhead
This is the third installment in a series on section hiking the Long Path. The series begins here, and you can read the previous installment here.
On the Saturday before Labor Day, we once again boarded the Short Line bus to a stretch of road in Mount Ivy, New York, to resume walking north towards Albany. However, this time we were weighed down with full packs, because Section 5 of the Long Path would finally bring us to Harriman State Park, where camping is allowed near shelters. For hikers starting the Long Path in New York City, it’s the first timespending a night on trail is possible.
E and I were joined by a friend carrying a mishmash of hand-me-down and borrowed gear because this was her first-ever backpacking trip—indeed, it was her first time camping!
The first part of this section follows a narrow strip of wood alongside the Palisades Interstate Parkway, one of the weird, liminal half-wild, half-suburban pockets that make the Long Path possible. This isn’t why you hike the Long Path, but it’s increasingly, to me, an important part of the journey. Or at least an inescapable one.
Our itinerary was uncharacteristically light and easy, which was partly a strategic decision because E and I were well into marathon training, and wanted to avoid injury even more than usual. Just the day before I had squeezed in a 16-mile morning long run before starting work, so my legs were tired already. We also didn’t want to drag B on an interminable march on her very first backpacking excursion, especially with heavy and unfamiliar gear. But mostly, the best place to camp was at Big Hill Shelter, less than six miles from where the bus dropped us off, so short and easy made sense.
Late summer had been very, very dry, and though the leaves were still green on the trees, there were already plenty crunching underfoot. The shrubs and bushes lining the trails drooped and sagged.
This also meant that the stream we planned on filling up at before camp was completely dry, so E volunteered to fetch us water at a reservoir down the hill from the shelter, a long side trip, while we set up the tents. Arriving early as we did, we had time to play a couple games of rummy before making dinner.
We prepared dinner out on a wide flat rock on a backpacking stove, far away from any dry brush. (There were multiple wildfires in Harriman State Park in August, at least one of which was caused by an unattended campfire.) While cooking, I accidentally squirted a tube of vegetable paste all over my hiking shorts. Luckily, I had packed a spare pair to sleep in, so I was able to change and stash the smelly, stained shorts in the bear bag, which we hung on the convenient bear-hang pulley system. (Harriman has also had a recent spate of bear-human run-ins, which never end well for the bear.)
Shortly after we began hiking again the next day, we came upon a memorial to the victims of a 1974 plane crash. There’s still debris from the plane scattered about the clearing.
Up to this point, we had encountered a number of hikers, as would be expected on Labor Day weekend, but coming to the end of Section 5 and beginning of Section 6, at Lake Skannatati, was still a bit of a shock. The parking lot was crammed with people milling about their vehicles, although as is so often the case, as soon as we re-entered the woods, we left most of the crowds behind.
We paused for lunch at the far side of the lake, where a small family quizzed E about the trail and insisted the blue blazes would take them on a loop hike around the lake (they would not).
We followed the Long Path until it diverged from the Arden Surebridge Trail. If we had wanted a more strenuous, challenging weekend, we would have continued on the Long Path, camped at Stockbridge Shelter, and hiked out to Woodbury on Monday. But, we didn’t, so we left the Long Path to follow the Arden Surebridge Trail to the Appalachian Trail and then out to Route 17 to flag down the Short Line bus back to the city.
Hike it yourself (from NYC)
Take the morning Short Line bus from Port Authority (there’s only one departure) to Mount Ivy, New York. Pick up the Long Path blazes at the intersection of Route 202 and Highway 45. Here’s the guidebook entries for Section 5 and Section 6. Camp at Big Hill Shelter. If you don’t also want to do Section 7 to Woodbury, don’t forget to turn off the Long Path where it leaves the Arden-Surebridge Trail. Follow the white Appalachian Trail blazes out to the road and flag down the bus. Get an early start on the morning of day two! The last bus will go by around 2:20, and it’s best to get to the road a few minutes early so you don’t miss it.
Alternatively, or if you miss the bus, you can continue on the Appalachian Trail to the Sapphire Trail and hike out to the Harriman Train Station, but this adds several miles. Walking along the road may be more direct, but less pleasant. Or you could see if you could catch a ride with a friendly day-hiker, if you happen to meet one in the parking lot at the trailhead. But the trains run into the night, so you’ll definitely be able to get home.
Camping is allegedly also allowed in Cheesecote Park in the Town of Haverstraw, but it requires a permit, and when I tried to see how to get one, it looked like you had to apply in person. So that seems basically impossible for hikers.