Report to Hikers May 22 – May 28

Wednesday May 24

Kennedy State Forest, Cortland County

Hike report and photos by Jim

Nine hikers met on the seasonal portion of Owego Hill Road for a loop hike combining portions of the Finger Lakes Trail and the Spanish Loop. This was the first time the group has hiked at this particular location. It was a cool, sunny day, the sunlight filtering through the leaves around the trailhead. Flying gnats were present but in greatly diminished numbers from recent hikes.

We picked up the Spanish Loop from where it completes a road section of about half a mile on Adams and Owego Hill roads. From the parking area, we descended into the forest on a footpath thick with old pine needles. The trail makes a series of gentle turns as it approaches Enrique Creek. After a quick stream crossing (almost unnoticed due to the low water levels), we hiked the opposite side of the stream in a northeasterly direction. We paused briefly at Mercedes Spring for a group picture before pressing onward.

The trail begins a gentle climb to the east, passing over the seasonal Liddington Hill Road and across a power line right-of-way. Here, the trail swings back to the north, and the remainder of the Spanish Loop is an easy route that weaves between trees, across old logging roads, and past stone piles and walls before arriving at the Finger Lakes Trail.

Here, we paused briefly for  a trail journal entry and a map and clock check. I found that we had completed the route to that point much faster than on my Friday prehike. In order to burn some time, we  turned east on the FLT, descending through a series of switchbacks until we arrived at an open field.

After turning around here, we retraced our steps to the Spanish Loop junction and continued north on the FLT until we arrived at Owego Hill Road. We roadwalked back to our cars, arriving only a minute late.

Counting both the Spanish Loop and FLT miles, we hiked about five miles today, for anyone who’s trying to get their FLT50 patch this year.

Saturday May 27

Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, Newfield

Hike report and photo by Dave B.

This hike saw 23 hikers meet at the Connecticut Hill Cemetery, a beautiful morning for a hike… and some unexpected, um, excitement? 

It all started innocently enough as I reviewed with the group the note that accompanied the hike’s announcement: “Note: These trails are not marked, are hard to see in some places, and occasionally intersect other trails. With the objective that we end the hike with the same number of people who started out, it will be important that the group stay together!

Spoiler alert: We did accomplish the objective of ending the hike with the same number of people who started out… eventually. 

With that goal in mind at the outset, we had a volunteer sweep who knew the trails, hoping that would ensure that no one went astray. An open area about halfway around the loop would have served as a great spot for the traditional group photo, but the fact that you are not seeing that picture at the top of this report is a clue: By that halfway point we no longer had the whole group together. As it turned out, at one point a hiker in the middle of the line, out of sight of both leader and sweep, answered nature’s call. (I’d say, “Beck and call,” but I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone…) 

Lesson #1: Don’t leave the group without alerting someone!

A short while later, as the group paused while people negotiated a downed-tree obstacle course (OK, we did get one picture!), someone noticed that a hiker was missing. Another hiker said that she had seen him step aside (correctly identifying the purpose) perhaps 15 minutes earlier.

Lesson #2: If you see someone leave the group, be sure to check that the person returns soon.

There being no cell service in this remote area, two people (including Dave G, who knows the region better than anyone) went back on the trail we’d been hiking, shouting for the missing hiker. 

Lesson #3: Especially don’t leave the group where there’s no cell service!

Now down three people, we continued the planned loop into a valley at the western edge of the WMA, waiting occasionally in hopes that the others would catch up. Nope.

Finally, we started the mile-long climb back to the cars. At a planned break point halfway up the hill, where we’d intended a brief side trip to the remnants of an old homestead, some hikers were concerned that the delays meant they’d not be back to their cars within two hours. Our intrepid sweep assured us that he knew the way out from there and proceeded on with about half the remaining group. 

Those who stuck with the original plan found the homestead interesting: stone walls outlining the basement of a barn with a ramp for getting hay onto the upper floor; the basement of the main house with more stone footers for adjoining smaller rooms; what had perhaps been a cistern or root cellar; and a deep, stone-walled well still holding water.

And then we finished the climb back to the cars. All of the cars. Not only was our hope unrealized that the missing hiker would be there or his car gone, but the we-wanna-leave-early folks’ cars were still there. Yikes! I had joked at the start of the hike that a 10% attrition rate was within the allowable guidelines for hike leaders, but now we were down to less than half of the initial group. Missing were the one original miscreant, the two searching for him, and about 10 people who followed a previously confident sweep who-knows-where. 

As we were standing around plotting what to do, ’twas with much relief that someone spotted the missing hiker calmly walking up the road toward the trailhead. Whew! He explained that, once finished with his, um, task, he thought he’d be able to catch up with everyone and started walking in the direction of the faint sound of voices. Good plan! Then the voices faded out. So he got out his cell phone that had been tracking the hike route, turning around to use it to follow the trail back the way we came. Another good plan! Until the phone died… 

Lesson #4: Be sure you have a fully charged phone!

Remember the prehike note saying that the trails on Connecticut Hill are not well marked and are hard to see in places? Yeah. Soon he found himself in unfamiliar woods with nothing that looked like a trail leading in any direction. He had the presence of mind (fortunately) to keep going in a relatively straight line by walking toward the sun, eventually coming out on a road that (fortunately) was the one the cars were on, where he (fortunately) turned in the right direction. 

As the telling of his tale wrapped up, someone else spotted the missing sweep-led group emerging from the woods down the road in the other direction, victims of one simple wrong turn. Ironically, it was the folks who wanted to finish the hike as soon as possible who were the last to get back to their cars. Well, except for the twosome search party, about whom I had no concerns. Finally able to make cellphone contact, I had assured them that everyone else was accounted for. They were a while longer returning than expected, though, because even they made a wrong turn!

I’m sure we’ll be hiking again in the WMA, hopefully with important lessons now learned. There’s a fundamental rule for hiking in areas that lack cell service and/or have trails that are not clearly marked: Stay together as a group and pay attention to the welfare of fellow hikers. See y’all on the trails!

Sunday May 28

Compton Road to Upper Buttermilk area and back

Hike report by Hank

12 Hikers and one dog met at 112 Compton Rd for a 2 1/2 hour, 3.7 mile hike.
It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the mid 70s.
After some socialization, we proceeded to walk down Compton Rd, crossed 96B, down Comfort Road and picked up the Upper Buttermilk Trail, circumnavigating Treman Lake in  a counter clockwise direction. There were a few Hikers I had never encountered on the hikes before. And a few that had never taken this hike and seemed very grateful to be experiencing it, remarking on the beautiful topography of the area as well as the abundant bird habituation.
At about the half way point, we made a deliciously spontaneous change to the predetermined route, turned right instead of left, and hiked up to FireLight’s Glamping area on the advice of long-term hiking group member Mary. Along the way, we encountered a very large old growth gorges shagbark hickory and I put in a plug for its preservation. Upon arriving at Firelight’s,  Mary put in a plug for how generous Firelight is that lets a small group of Ithaca Hiking Group members come in and play bocce ball and listen to musical grooves on Tuesdays during the warmer months.
Some of us were even able to relieve ourselves of the morning coffee and whatever beverages may have been consumed at Firelights restrooms.
We backtracked to Upper Buttermilk park, and Treman Lake to the remainder of our hike looping around Treman, to Yaple road, and then Comfort, when lo and behold, we stopped at the high bridge over Upper Buttermilk Gorge only to look down and see the groups Paparazzi Cian- noticeable by a  billowy yellow shirt, and the trademark floppyhat, down below-well, that and the camera affixed to the long stick. Next appeared Ithaca Hiker  appeared Ithaca Hiker, Jamie, then Barb, and Barb in tow by Thor the husky Husky. After saying our hellos to the late arrivals, we hiked Comfort with minimal discomfort ( at least on my end ) back up to the house.
It was really great to meet some new people on this hike. To paraphrase one of the great ones, Forest Gump-The Ithaca Hilking Group is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get!