A Few Days Spent on the Finger Lakes Trail
September 14-18 2020
By Jim R
I had arranged with my next-door neighbor ( thanks Gail!) to have her drop me off on her way to work at the nearest FLT trailhead/ road crossing to our homes in Freeville; this turns out to be the intersection of State Rte 38 and Star Stanton Hill Rd.
So it was that in the early pre-dawn gloom on Monday I found myself with pack in hand and a handful of chocolate chip cookies that Gail had baked for me the night before ( thanks again, Gail!) on Star Stanton Hill Rd, watching the taillights of Gail’s Jeep recede in the distance.
I will admit that for a second, I asked myself what did I think I was getting myself into. Then I reminded myself that just a few minutes before, Gail’s husband had commented to me as we climbed into our respective vehicles that he wished he was me, able to go off for a few days and do what I was doing. I said to myself, “well, I *am* me, so let’s get going”. So on went the pack, and up the hill we started.
I’ll just point out now that during this trek I seemed to start every day by having to go up a hill. And often not just any hill, but the biggest hill in the immediate area.
I’ll also point out that Tompkins County seems to like its bigger hills. A whole lot.
When I was getting ready for this trip, I asked Nancy H what app she used in her phone to keep track of her daily walks. Based on her recommendation I had downloaded “Map My Walk”, and I now had that app running as I climbed Star Stanton Hill Rd towards Hammond Hill State Forest. The Map My Walk app and I came to have a love hate relationship over the course of the week. The app verbally announces each completed mile, and after multiple miles it announces split times per mile, total time, total miles, and it seemed to take pleasure in announcing that I wasn’t walking at all ( even when I was ). The program would audibly argue with itself about whether it was working or not. At one point the first day after several hours of not seeing another person, the voice of the app making a mileage announcement was enough to make me jump in my shoes.
That first morning, I was extremely disappointed when the Walk app announced that it had taken me a whole hour to travel the first mile up the hill. I had expected that I could set a pace somewhat faster than that.
Fairly soon I found myself cresting the hill and walking the familiar Hammond Hill red and yellow trails that share the FLT for a short time. The sun seemed to break through for a bit, but I also got a good amount of wind on the hilltop. As I left the crest and descended on the other side of Hammond Hill, the gloom returned.
Around 11 AM I crossed Harford Rd, and the sun finally seemed to break free of its cloud cover and stay out. It never seemed to achieve the status of a “warm day” on Monday, however. Always on the “crisp’ side.
Around Noon I reached the Kimmee Shelter area in the Robinson Hollow State Forest. On the FLT maps, Kimmee is noted for having a “reliable water source”. There was no running water in the creek bed, unlike my previous visits to that shelter with Lucy G and others. This, in fact, was the extent of the water available in the streambed:
Thankfully, I had brought two separate means of filtering and purifying water, not including the longer option of boiling.
After a leisurely lunch and filling my water bladder from the water source above, I clawed my way up the hill from the shelter area to continue Westward on the FLT.
Soon enough I came to the edge of Robinson Hollow State Forest near Robinson Hollow Rd, and I had to consider a problem that would nag me throughout the week.
When I was planning this trip, Jack V gave me two pieces of advice from his own FLT through-hike.
Jack said that you had to consider water availability, and having public land to camp on, versus private land which is off limits to camping. I had brought the ability to carry more water; I couldn’t create public land upon which to camp. So on the very first day, with multiple hours still available for hiking, I found myself looking at my map and estimating that if I continued forward, the next public land on which I could camp would be Potato Hill State Forest, still potentially several hours of walking ahead of me if I were to continue on. If I pushed ahead that far on day one it would entail getting to Potato Hill and setting up camp in the dark, not something I was looking forward to the first day. So I set up camp on the edge of Robinson Hollow State Forest, with the intention of getting an early start towards Potato Hill State Forest on the morning.
Total mileage for day one, according to the Map app, was around 6.5 miles
I had not seen a single other person on the trail the entire day.
September 15, 2020
I woke up, broke camp, and left Robinson Hollow State Forest.
A short road walk on State Rte 79 brings you to the edge of Mallow Marsh, which until recently was flooded due to beaver activity. Thanks to the efforts of Dave Priester, that’s no longer the case.
Beyond Mallow Marsh lies a hill. I don’t care what the US Geological Survey people have as the official name for that hill; I have my own name for that hill. I call it the Hesse Hill from Hell. You see, the first time I climbed this hill with the group, the hill went up. And up. Up. Up. Up. The gazelles of the hiking group seemed to run ahead, the leaders eventually returning to the rest of us laboring up the hill to announce that there was a wonderful view at the top, and we could turn around now and return to our cars. I never did get to the top of the hill that day. I don’t think the group has returned to that hill for a hike since that day.
So on day 2 I found myself starting up from the marsh, recalling that earlier experience. The first tenth of a mile or so seemed fairly level, so I began to question the accuracy of my own memory. Then the real grades started to appear, and I realized that my memory hadn’t been wrong after all.
After a couple of hours of climbing I broke out onto the meadows that form the recent re-route of the trail in the Blackman Hill area. I quickly crossed the crest of Blackman Hill, over Blackman Hill Rd and then Level Green Rd. Once past Level Green Rd, I encountered the first water source since Kimmee shelter:
This was perfect timing, as I was down to the last few sips of water. Perfect spot for lunch and to refill my Camelbak. As you can see, there was a little more water in the stream this time. Standing water, but still, it was water.
I continued Westerly towards 76 Rd. Along the way there was the occasional bit of color; this was along the shoulder on the washed-out downwards slope approaching 76 Rd:
After crossing over 76 Rd, I had my one and only bee encounter of the entire trip.
Throughout the trip as I would come upon an area that I knew the hiking group members had reported recent bee activity, I would be concerned. It turned out that at none of those places did I encounter bees. No bees at Potato Hill State Forest. No bees at Curtis Rd, and so on.
Now, as I crossed 76 Rd and continued West, I suddenly heard that familiar thrummmmm. I stopped, looked around, and realized that I was literally standing next to the quintessential Berenstain Bears Bee Tree. In case you didn’t read that book series as a child, you missed a true literary classic. As I stood there and watched, the winged demons from hell started to disgorge themselves from the tree. I didn’t stick around. I didn’t bother taking any pictures for posterity. Here’s an exemplar image to give you an idea of the situation, though:
If that image wasn’t enough, here’s another. Run, Forest, Run:
I managed to escape, unscathed.
Shortly thereafter I cam upon Boyer Creek. This creek was the first water source I had encountered on my hike that had actual running water:
I was soon climbing the hill towards South Rd.
It was here, close to the end of day two, that I encountered my first person on the trail: a man running with his dog from the direction of South Rd.
I crossed South Rd, intending to spend the night at the Shindagin Shelter. I’d never approached the shelter from this direction, and came across interesting things such as this:
It was well into dusk and I was in the hollow expecting to see the shelter any second, when I suddenly realized that I was going uphill and away from the water. I retraced my steps to find the shelter. Somehow in the darkness I’d missed the side trail to the shelter. Because I was concerned about water I chose to sleep in the near-by bivouac area, which was situated closer to the stream. The privy, on the other hand, was a welcome accommodation. Not to mention, a real picnic table to sit at and eat. Total miles for the day was 10.76.
September 16, 2020
I climbed up and out of Shindagin.
Note to the CTC People who might be reading this: the Town of Caroline has re-done the road section along Shindagin Hollow Rd where the FLT crosses. As a result, they’ve wiped out whatever signage existed to point hikers in the correct direction when having to walk down the road to start climbing up the hill. If I wasn’t familiar with the area, and had no map, it would have been difficult to find my way. This is the section in question, as it looked the day I was there:
I saw two bicyclists on the Shindagin bike trails.
I had lunch at the bivouac site just East of Braley Hill Rd; more “barely running” water in the stream there.
I crossed Braley Hill Rd and had another human encounter; a woman running her dog.
As I continued Westerly, I came down across White Church Rd and through the area the hikers had recently pruned back. Good job, all of you, from a hiker who appreciated the cleared path ; )
I stopped at the Ridgeway Rd parking area and ate at the picnic table where we usually park when doing group hikes. I had a dilemma. I had seen no water that was useable in some time. The duck pond water had a green slime on it so thick that I knew it would clog my filters immediately. I knew there would be no water on top of Eastman Hill, and no place to camp before the DEC land on Eastman Hill either. So, I put out a call for help to Cian, who lives nearby. Cian picked me up, took me to his place, gave me water and a place to pitch my tent for the night. Thanks again, Cian.
Per the phone app, 6.5 miles completed. Not great, and a lot of hiking hours lost.
Cian dropped me off at the base of Eastman Hill. You’ve all mostly hiked this one with me, you know just how much I dislike this particular hill as the trail worms its way up the hill.
I got up and over Eastman Hill, and road-walked Heisey Rd to State Rte 96B. A short road-walk up 96B puts you at the base of whatever hill it is that has the Tamarack Lean-to on it. Another hill that starts out nice and easy and then really lays the grade onto you.
By the time I made it to the shelter it was time for lunch.
I sat at the shelter and started to really plan out the rest of the week. It was clear that I wasn’t making the miles I had thought I would. I doubted that I would even make it out of the county in the remaining days I had planned to hike, let alone most or all of the way to Watkins. So I started making alternate plans about where to really end the hike, and where to get picked up and by whom. I now planned on hiking two more days, and having Katharine pick me up at Layen Rd at the end of Saturday.
As I sat at the shelter, a group of four backpackers arrived from the other direction; two father and adult sons from Rochester who were nearing the end of their own multi-day backpacking section hike of the FLT. They had a car staged at Braley Hill Rd, so I advised them of my observations of the trail between our location and Braley Hill Rd. They reported a similar lack of contact with anyone else on the trail, so it was nice to sit and talk with other people for a while. We were all somewhat worried about the forecast of rain, which eventually did materialize in the form of minor precipitation.
It turned out that one of the dads had helped to build that particular shelter ten years ago, so it was interesting hearing some of the stories he had to tell.
All of us chose to stay at the shelter for the night.
Mileage for the day was around 6 miles. I forgot to log the exact mileage by the time we all decided to spend the night at the shelter.
September 18, 2020
Everyone took their time getting up and around, packing up and saying our good-byes.
My plan at this point was to walk the few miles to the Chestnut Lean-to, spend the night there, and then hike Saturday to the corner of Townline and Layen Rd where Katharine would pick me up. It would have been a full six days of hiking by that point. Had I tried to attempt to continue past Layen Rd at anything other than the start of a new hike day, I believe that I wouldn’t have made the next available public camping area in R.H. Treman State Park within a single hiking day. There was no public camping area near Layen Rd that the map indicated. So once again, the lack of available camping areas really dictated where I could plan to stop for a day, or even to end the hike.
I met one day-hiking couple as I crossed Smiley Rd
By the time I made the long descent to Michigan Hollow Rd it was pretty clear that there were a fair number of day hikers out for the day. I saw only a few of them in the area and had no conversations with any of them.
I arrived at the Chestnut lean-to to find it deserted. I laid out my stuff to prepare for the night.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. The lead element of one group of partiers from Binghamton arrived at the shelter. The guy basically walked up, threw a load of wood down, threw down an uninflated sleeping mat in the shelter and started asking distances to various places down trail. When I asked what his hiking pace was, he said that depended on how much he had to drink the night before. That’s when he popped the top on his first can. After a bit more conversation with the advance element guy, I had the small voice in my head saying that I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I managed to get ahold of Nancy L to get me a ride from the road, re-packed my gear and literally bushwhacked my way to the road. Standing by the road waiting for my ride yet another group of partiers loaded down with party supplies started down the trail; they were unassociated with the first group ( I asked ), and so I warned them that these other guys were already staking out the shelter for themselves.
Normally I don’t care if people want to have a good time. After a few days with almost no human contact, and it being clear that this particular shelter being so close to the road turns into a not-so-backcountry party place on weekends, it was more than I wanted to deal with. This will be something I should take into consideration when planning for any future section hikes
Total miles for the day was around 4.
So that’s it folks. Seven or eight days as originally planned, that shrank to 6 and then to 5.
I hope that all of this verbiage can help any of you who may want to consider a similar effort of your own in the future.