Wednesday February 22
Monkey Run Natural Area
Hike report by Jim
Fifteen hikers met at the dead-end on Monkey Run Road for a hike of the Cayuga Trail system on the south side of Fall Creek. The weather forecast was for snow, but over the course of the hike we encountered only a few stray flurries.
We set off from the parking lot, climbing the red-blazed trail. The temps were cold enough that almost all of the muddy spots we encountered on the trail were frozen over and inconsequential. Other than a handful of other day hikers, we had the trail to ourselves.
We paused at one fork in the trail for a group photo before continuing on the red-blazed trails, crossing open fields and returning to the woods to follow the trail as it passed along the stream.
Eventually the trail climbs the bluffs far above the waterway, which is always my favorite part of this hike. It isn’t long until the trail finds its way back to lower elevations, and multiple side trails offer hikers a way to cut their hike short if the need arises.
Normally we do the last bit of this hike as an out-and-back, hiking to a convenient point where we turn around and retrace our route to a side trail that takes us back to our cars. On this day, we decided to try something different, so we followed the red-blazed trail to a junction with the orange-blazed Cayuga Trail. This part of the Cayuga Trail is normally quite muddy in all but the driest months, which is why we usually avoid it. Despite the other muddy areas of trail we’d encountered on the hike being mostly frozen, this section was still quite muddy, causing a fair amount of cautious mudhole avoidance by many hikers and a resigned state of “might as well slog through it” in others. I’m not sure why this section of trail has never been properly outfitted with a boardwalk, as it’s a section of the Cayuga Trail most in need of it.
We made it through the mud and emerged onto the solid ground of the Dryden Rail Trail, which we took back to another section of the Cayuga Trail, which led to Monkey Run Road and our cars.
Saturday February 25
Potato Hill State Forest, Caroline
Hike report by Jim
On a very snowy morning, seven hikers met on Level Green Road and set off on the Finger Lakes Trail through Potato Hill State Forest toward Blackman Hill Road. Casey set a quick pace through the mixed pines and hardwoods of the forest around us.
It had been around 17F at hike’s start, and despite a cold overnight period many of the small puddles we passed were only partially frozen. The minimal snow depth was not a barrier to a good hiking pace, and soon the new parking lot at Blackman Hill Road came into view.
After Blackman Hill Road, we reached in Summerland Farm Preserve. We traversed a small section of woods and then entered the open fields. Normally, on a clear day the views from this field are impressive. On this particular day, the snow and cloud cover obscured any distant views, and the winds tore at us as we passed through the open areas to the cover of the treeline on the far side of the field.
Back in the woods, we began the gradual descent that ultimately comes out at Rt. 79. The hardier hikers kept going until the turnaround time, while others were happy to simply take shelter from the wind and await their return.
The group reunited, and we began our return trip. By the time we’d crossed Blackman Hill Road again, the wind had died down and the snow had stopped falling. The rest of the return hike was made in relative – and greatly enjoyable – calm.
Sunday February 26
Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca
On Sunday we tried something new, offering two options for this hike: an earlier, longer hike starting at 9:00 a.m. and a traditional hike at our regular Sunday start time of 9:40.
Four hikers met at 9:00 at lower Buttermilk, in the parking lot at the base of the falls. We hiked up the Rim Trail in about 25 minutes, meeting up with Jim’s group in plenty of time to socialize. Although the day was sunny and warming up quickly, the steep ascent up the Rim Trail was icy in spots and foot traction was helpful.
Both groups hiked together in upper Buttermilk. Then the four hikers who’d parked at the bottom of the hill made their way back to the cars, arriving at about 11:50.
In the future, we will continue to offer a longer option on some (but not all) hikes for those who would like to spend more time exercising in the woods, so if you’re interested in a longer hike, watch for details!
Hike report by Jim
Twenty-one hikers and two dogs met in the upper Buttermilk Falls State Park parking lot, for a hike of the upper park trail system. They were joined by four hikers who opted to start early from the lower park and hike up the Rim Trail, bringing the total number of hikers to 25. It was a bright and sunny day, with clear skies. The sun gleamed off the fresh snow.
We started the hike a little unsure of what trail conditions would be. Quite often the upper Buttermilk trails are so heavily used that they become an icy hazard in the winter. Some spots were a little slippery during our hike, but the trails were not dangerous. Most people wore some type of foot traction and used their poles, which were also useful in navigating the trail’s ups and downs. Although we found ourselves sharing the trails with a handful of other hikers and dog walkers, for the most part we had the trails to ourselves.
We crossed the wooden bridge at the parking lot and started up the Bear Trail. This trail is an enjoyable footpath that winds gently up and down around the hillside, sometimes coming close to the water before returning to the hill. The fresh snow, dark trees, and contrasts of shadow and light between the forest edge and the nearby open spaces all made for an extremely pleasing hike experience. Soon enough the trail emerges from the woods near the vehicle fordway; we paused there briefly for a group photo before resuming the hike.
We walked to the Treman Lake loop trail and hiked that to the stone bridge near the headwaters of Treman Lake. Finding the bridge still unrepaired, we turned around and walked to the nearby FLT spur trail and hiked that to Yaple Road. To use up some time, Casey took the main group to Comfort Road before turning around.
Back at the fordway, we found that the wooden footbridge there was in place, so we opted to hike back to our cars via the park service road, arriving a few minutes early.
Welcome to new hikers Mark and Ainsley!