Special report to Hikers — A solo backpacking hike on the FLT

By Jim R

Jim is the coordinator of the Ithaca Hikers

This is a short report of my curtailed section hike of the FLT for a few days in mid-May. I will warn the reader that there are no photos accompanying this report. I did have a camera AND a Go Pro AND a cell phone with me the entire time, but I  paused only a few times to even consider taking pictures throughout this short section hike.

On Sunday the 16th of May, the Ithaca Hikers did a group hike of Upper RH Treman State Park from Woodard RD. Following the group hike I had lunch with Katharine, who then drove me to the junction of Rockwell and Porter Hill Rds in Enfield.  I picked this start point for my own walk based on having done most of the FLT from where I left off last Fall in Danby as part of the group hikes I’ve done with Ithaca Hikers; I saw no need to walk solo over miles of FLT footpath that I’ve demonstrably done with the group at some previous point. These criteria left out a few short miles of road walk in Danby that I will do as a day hike at some point.

Based on last Falls experience where I had problems during my last section hike in obtaining water along a route with little in the way of running water after a dry summer, prior to Sundays group hike I pre-positioned a couple of gallons of water along my first days projected route. Other than that, I’d done no hike route reconnoitering, as it was mostly an area I was fairly familiar with, having grown up a few miles away.

Most of you in the group know that I absolutely abhor most road walks, and I knew going into the hike that much of the first days route consisted of  a paved road walk. Hopefully as the years go by, some of these road walk sections can be replaced by re-routes through woods and fields. After walking to the bottom of Porter Hill Rd, the FLT turns left and continues up Trumbulls Corners Rd. Other than a short jog into the woods at the Stevenson Forest Preserve, the FLT route runs along Trumbulls Corners Rd to Rumsey Hill Rd. The short distance inside Stevenson Forest Preserve was a welcome reprieve from asphalt and passing vehicles.

Reaching the bottom of Rumsey Hill Rd, I did notice in looking up Rumsey Hill Rd from the intersection that the pitch of the road seemed a little more severe when observed from on foot rather than from the comfort of motorized transport. The slog up Rumsey Hill Rd was slow, and reaching the next turn onto a section of ( flat ) ( ! ) Connecticut Hill Rd. This section of the hike, along with the next turn onto Griffin Rd, was unremarkable at best, punctuated only by the occasional car that went roaring by.

The Griffin Rd section is relatively short, perhaps a quarter mile at best. Reaching the point on Griffin Rd where the FLT plunges into the woods to continue South was the highlight of my afternoon. Finally, woods!

The trail section South of Griffin Rd is fairly standard FLT stuff for our area; stands of CCC-era pines, with the footpath winding its way amongst them. I think that any of us with little effort can name a dozen similar FLT miles elsewhere in our county. The FLT map shows one observation area along this portion of the trail, a power line right-of-way. It was, I thought, a little under-whelming, and so I continued on my way after taking a quick look.

Soon enough the hiker comes to and crosses over Cayutaville Rd and then in quick order the Southern end of Black Oak Rd. Crossing over that road, a hiker finds themselves clambering the final feet of elevation gain towards the summit whereon is located the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area radio tower that we’re all familiar with from previous hikes. I stopped here and resupplied with water from my pre-placed cache and had dinner. By now the daylight was quickly ebbing, and so I found myself bivouacking on Connecticut Hill. This had been my planned destination for the day given what I saw as a late start to the hike.

As part of my hike planning I had purchased a Garmin InReach Mini satellite communication device, and had pre-arranged with a couple of our Ithaca Hikers to send them both a pre-made message indicating that I had made camp for the night. Part of this planned daily text gave them GPS coordinates to my message location. They had instructions to contact 9-1-1 the next morning if neither hiker received my message by the end of the day.

The first night was unremarkable; I enjoy sleeping out in the woods, and I found Connecticut Hill to be a relaxing location to make camp.

On Monday morning I woke, had a quick breakfast, broke camp and started hiking with no real issues. Hiking South on the FLT, the next road crossing is another section of the multi-tentacled Connecticut Hill RD. South of that piece of Connecticut Hill Rd I knew there would be a reliable water source, and so I planned to stop there and top off my water supply.

It was here that I ran into my first hiccup of the hike. My water supply consists of a three liter Camelbak hydration bladder, in which I put only water. On the side of my pack I keep a one liter plastic bottle; this is used for my cooking water in camp, and I add various tea packets or drink mixes to the contents of the bottle during the day. This is important to me so that I don’t get bored with just plain water over a prolonged period of time. Many hikers who prefer water bottles over water bladders say that they have a hard time tracking their water consumption when drinking from a water bladder. I know from many years in the military what my typical rate of water consumption is, and I keep the plastic bottle as a reserve supply if the bladder runs dry.

Reaching the stream south of Connecticut Hill Rd, I stopped and got my water purification system out of my pack. This consists of a Cnoc brand water bag, a Sawyer Squeeze water filter, and Aquatabs. The Aquatabs are a backup purification method that’s supposed to kill off a few things that are known to slip past the Sawyer Squeeze filter. The system worked pretty well for me last Fall, even when I was forced to draw water from stagnant shallow pools of water. I last tested this system at home a week or so before this hike when I laid out the contents of my pack and tested items like the filter, treated clothing with permethrin, and ran through my packing checklist.

On this day when I collected water and tried to run it through the Sawyer, I found that the Sawyer was completely stopped up; it wasn’t allowing any water through at all. This was a problem. I collected enough water to fill my hydration bladder, added enough Aquatabs and set off along the trail.

Coincidentally at that time, as I climbed the hill towards Boylan Rd, I received a text from Nancy L asking how the hike was going. I explained my issues with the water filter, and she agreed to pick up a replacement filter and meet me along the trail. I agreed pretty readily to this plan, as I didn’t want to rely solely on the chemical purification tablets for the duration of my hike. They might kill off the microscopic stuff, but my visual satisfaction with merely chemically treated water left something to be desired.

I continued hiking, and by the time I got to the part of the Trail where it crosses Connecticut Hill Rd near Cabin Rd, Randy and Nancy L were pulling in with my replacement filter. They wanted to hike with me a short distance and show me some of the aspects of that part of the FLT that they were familiar with from their many local hikes; this was a welcome offer, as they were the first people I’d seen on the Trail since I started.

The three of us hiked Westerly towards and across the Tompkins- Schuyler County line, Randy and Nancy pointing out the many traces of past human habitation and other aspects of the Trail in that area that they knew of along the way. Reaching Todd Rd we crossed over that, and then immediately turned onto the Easterly end of the Van Lone Loop Trail; Randy and Nancy wanted to show me a bivouac area they knew of along that loop. Descending the hills towards  the water we followed the Loop, soon coming to the area they’d described to me. While not an official bivouac site, the close proximity to water, some informal seating and other basic amenities made it a welcome place to set up camp for the night.  Randy and Nancy wished me well and set off back towards their vehicle.

I dropped my gear, had dinner, and set up camp for the night along the stream that raced loudly just a few feet away from the tent. As with my other nights, I skipped having a fire; I was more interested in sleep than sitting around a fire.

Somewhere around 7 PM, I heard the sudden arrival of cars on near-by Todd Rd, the loud rock music and slamming doors announcing the arrival of carloads of people.


This is Part 1 of a two-part report. The second part will appear tomorrow.