Neversink Backpacking Trip – 06/28/13
Instead of going to a traditional Boy Scout camp this summer, our troop decided to stay local and do a trip that we often hear the oldtimers reminisce about doing when they were a scout. So often we find ourselves travelling great distances to “get away” when we have some of the greatest areas right in our back yard. This is the kind of camping scouting is all about. Just you, nature, and whatever you can carry on your back. Not car camping that has become the norm in scouting these days.
We started out on Friday morning by meeting up at Davis Park. From there we proceeded over Peakamoose to the Denning parking area on the east branch of the Neversink River. After divvying up the food supplies we weighed our packs. They all weighed in at ~40-45 pounds with the exception of Dan’s who decided to bring 10 more pounds of stuff. After reducing his load, we were ready to embark on our three day trip up the Nerversink and across the 4 peaks of Friday, Balsam Cap, Rocky, and Lone Mountains. We signed in at the trailhead and headed out. The trail starts out as a jeep road with private land on each side. After about a mile we hit the trail junction going to Slide Mountain and left the jeep road and proceeded down towards the Neversink River. Another quarter mile and we crossed the first major bridge. This is a relatively new bridge with big buttresses filled with rocks on each side with steel I-beams spanning the water. These were obviously brought in by helicopter due to the shear size of them. The next bridge we crossed was a little less high tech. Although it had similar buttresses filled with rocks, the bridge was nothing more than two big trees that had been cut flat on one side and laid side by side. Walking across it was quite an experience, as you had one foot on each of the logs and every step you took caused the trees to flex as your weight went from one to the other. This in addition to the fact that you had a 40lb pack on and just a simple semi-loose cable to brace yourself with. A short distance past this second bridge is where we left the main trail which continued up Table Mountain and over Peekamoose Mountain and down the other side. We continue up the “Fisherman’s Path”, an unmarked trail, which ran along side the Neversink River. About 1/2 mile up the path, we took a break for lunch. As we sat there enjoying our sandwiches it started to rain, so we broke out our rain ponchos to keep us and more importantly are packs with our gear dry. Luckily it was just a short shower and was over before we finished lunch.
After a quick lunch stop, we continued up the path and started to experience some of the washouts and blow downs from the big storms we have had in the area the last couple of years. There were many places where the path was gone and only rocky stream beds remained. It became a little challenging at times trying to maneuver some of the terrain with full packs, but we managed to eventually find our way to the next section of trail. After about another mile, we came upon a great place and decided to set up camp. Fortunately for us, a blown down tree laid across the river and provided us a bridge to the other side where the campsite was located. The site was along the stream, but elevated enough that flooding would not be an issue. Extensive amount of time had been put into building a rock hearth along with a cooking table and seating area also out of rocks. It was relatively flat and under large pine trees which created an ideal area. We proceeded to get our tents and tarp set up and collected drift wood for a fire before relaxing and spending time in the stream.
At dinner time we started a fire in the hearth and broke out our portable cook stoves. Hot dogs were cooked on sticks over the open fire and the mac & cheese cooked on the stove. Despite the simplicity of the meal, it was very enjoyable and hit the spot after hiking in with full packs. We followed dinner with some marshmallow roasting and Jiffy pop. Shortly there after a thunderstorm came through. Luckily we had planned ahead and had a tarp set up just in case this happened. It poured for about a 1/2 hour and we stayed dry under the tarp and passed the time with a game of LIFE. Once the major rain passed, we were getting tired and turned in for the night. It continued to rain on and off through the night, but by morning it had stopped, but dripping off the trees continued.
The next morning Dan was up bright and early before anyone else. He single handedly resurrected the fire from a very small patch of coals left from the night before and without any dry wood available. A lot of patience and determination lead to this great feat. After getting our food down from the bear bag that was hung the night before, we heated up some water for oatmeal for breakfast. After breakfast clean-up, we packed our lunch and filtered water for trip that day. With our day packs full and camp secure, we hit the trail at 7:40AM.
The plan was to continue up the Neversink for another 2 miles to the tributary that fed down the valley between Friday and Balsam Cap mountains. At that point we would bushwack up the valley to the saddle between the two and hopefully find a herd trail that would lead us to the peak of Friday. From there we would back track over the herd train to Balsam Cap. From Balsam Cap across the saddle to Rocky, across the saddle to Lone and then down a ridge along Lone that would take us back to camp. Looking at the map and distances, we planned on making it the the peak of Balsam (2nd mountain) by lunch time.
After leaving camp, we continued up the Fisherman’s path heading towards the headwaters of the of the east branch of the Nerversink. We did not get too far before we ran into the devastation caused by the major storms that have come through the last few years. Major wash-outs and huge trees down left no path or easy route to follow. The downed trees and dense undergrowth, still wet from the previous night’s rain, created a formidable obstacle that caused us on multiple occasions to climb up ridges to get by. Making it the the base of Friday mountain became a trek in itself, but we finally made it by 9:30AM. After a short break we started our bushwack up Friday. The storm devastation was not limited to the stream, but continued up the mountain as well. We ran across areas where multiple large trees had snapped off causing us to redirect and take an alternate route. About half way up the mountain we stumbled upon the remains of a note that had been attached to a balloon and released. The phone number on the note was from Halifax, Canada, but after calling them, it turns out they had released the balloon from Scranton, PA. As we approached the saddle, the undergrowth became so thick that you could not see the person 6 feet in front of you. By the time we fought our way through the obstacles and onto the saddle, we were where more towards the Balsam Cap side than the Friday side. It was 11:30AM so we set a new goal to have lunch at the peak of Friday. We stumbled upon a herd path and followed it back down the saddle towards Friday. Once in the saddle the the path disappeared amongst the blown over trees and we were back to bushwacking. About 200 feet from the peak of Friday, the carnage and under growth became impassable and we had to backtrack a bit. It was now about 1PM, spirits where low and everyone was tired and hungry. We decided to break for lunch and regroup. We had come so far and were so close, although individually we contemplated skipping the peak of Friday, as a group we were determined to make it. We knew if we quit now, we would never make it back. Re-energized from lunch, we fought our way through the dense undergrowth, up a large rock face and made it to the canister at the top of Friday mountain at 1:40PM. After a short rest we where off the Balsam Cap.
From the canister on Friday we found a well defined path and started following it off to top plateau, but quickly released it was the trail coming up the front side from Moonhaw. We backtracked a ways and then fought our way back down the thick undergrowth to the saddle where we picked up the the original herd path that took us to the canister on Balsam Cap. It was now about 3:30PM and we were only 1/2 way through the peaks for the day. If the herd trail continue across the next two saddles and peaks we would be in good shape. Unfortunately our optimism was short lived. I don’t even think we were a 100 feet from the canister and the path vanished. Back to bushwacking! It seemed like dense undergrowth was the theme for the day. We fought our way over to Rocky mountain and arrived at the canister at 4:50PM. After signing the register and a picture we were off to the final peak, Lone mountain, by 5:15PM.
Once again no path and we continued heading west for the setting sun. Once on the saddle, the undergrowth was not bad and we started to make good time. About 100 yard from where we would start to climb towards the peak of Lone, we hit a wall. It is truly amazing how such a distinct line could be drawn. It went from open woods to the thickest undergrowth we had seen that day. Of course we were all extremely tired and it was getting late in the day. The original plan was to transverse around to the back of the peak before heading up. This was to avoid a rather long and tall rock ledge. With such dense undergrowth, we felt we could actually make better time and have an easier time by taking the ledges head on. It was the most strenuous climb of the day, but by this time we were all running on pure adrenaline. We made it to the peak canister at 6:20PM. After a short rest we headed back to camp.
When planning the trip, we figured this would be the leg of the trip without a herd path. But to our surprise, after fighting through most of the day with no path, this section had the best path we had come across since leaving the marked trail the day before. It turns out that folks coming in to day hike travel up this ridge to the peak. We hurried our pace as the sun started to fade behind Slide Mountain and crossed the downed tree bridge back into camp at 7:40PM. Exactly 12 hours since we left. Although we were all physically exhausted, spirits were high due to the great challenge we had just conquered.
Following a much deserved feet soaking in the stream, we cooked beef stew that satisfied the great hunger that we had built up through the day. Following dinner we reminisced about the challenges of the day while sitting around the fire. It didn’t take long before we all turned in for the night. Needless to say everyone slept well and morning arrived rather quickly.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast we broke down camp and packed up for the trip out. Following a round of “Roses & Thorns” we headed out. The trip out was a cakewalk compared to the previous days adventure and we were back to the parking area by 11:30AM.
All in all the trip turned out to be nothing like we had anticipated, but with that said, we had a fantastic time and will have memories of the trip for many years to come. We were very fortunate with the weather, especially on Saturday. If it had rained during our trek across the mountains, I don’t think we would have made it. I could not see us making it through the dense undergrowth wearing ran gear.
For most of the scouts, this was their first “real” camping trip and it was such a great experience that we are already planning another trip this fall.