Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trail Log: Wells Mill County Park, NJ

Last Saturday I did the entire Penns Hill trail at Wells Mill County Park.  I'd done part of the Penns Hill trail, and I loved the Park so much that I knew I had to come back again to do the 8.4 mile white-blazed trail.  I'm sorry but I think my affinity for white-blazed trails means that I'm destined for the Appalachian Trail (which uses white blazes, of course).  Unfortunately, I'm writing this a week later, so I don't remember much of the hike other than that it was very serene.  I packed a lunch, but had to eat quickly because it was pretty cold.

Oh yeah, and it's hunting season.  The crack of gunshots every few minutes scared the crap out of me because I wasn't sure if hunting was permitted in the park, and I was not wearing the standard orange blazes since I forgot the season started already.  Fortunately, Wells Mill does not permit hunting, but my guess is there's a shooting range nearby.

For the most part, Penns Hill Trail is extremely easy.  There are a few climbs, but no scrambles or anything.  A number of boards are in place where it might get mucky.  You also cannot possibly fall off the trail, not only is it extremely well-marked but also the blueberry bushes, that cover much of the park (which are all bare by now), really keep you on track.  I think Penns Hill will be my go-to hike when I can't make a hike with the club.

Here is the trail map in case you're interested.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Trail Log: Merrill Creek, NJ

I participated in my first hike (two weeks ago; sorry for the delay) with a group - an all-women's outdoors club, so aptly called Adventures For Women.  It went really well.  The drive itself was quite a hike- an hour and a half.  It seems all the good hiking is in North Jersey; not to mention I think that's where most of the members are from, so its where the majority of adventuring takes place.  It was well worth it.

I have no idea about the exact mileage of the hike since I opted not to use my Spring GPS hiking app on my iPhone, as technology on the trail is sometimes frowned upon.  My guess is we only did about 4 miles.  I opted to go with a hike listed as "easy/leisurely" for my first adventure with the group so as not to make a fool of myself.  I have to say I did leave slightly dissatisfied, but now I have a better idea of how the rating system works.  There were 8 other women, and I was (by far?) the youngest.  I generally feel more comfortable with people slightly older than me, so I didn't feel out of place in the least.  It was nice to be with like-minded people who aren't concerned, at least for those four hours, with gossip, celebrities, work, school, or general superficiality.  Not that I'm above all that stuff, I fall prey to getting consumed with the day-to-day monotony, but it was nice to spend a few hours with people, women no less, who wanted to discuss nature or simply just be silent for a little while.

Merrill Creek is a only a small attraction of the hike, as the creek feeds into a large reservoir that supplies water to the Delaware (I think).  When the reservoir was built nearby farms and homes were flooded.  As some sort of restitution, the powers that be preserved the surrounding areas as a state park for passive recreation.  There's also a wildlife center at the park that houses two large stuffed black bears and other informative exhibits.  The views (pictured below) were serene, but the overcast sky sort of dulled the landscape.

I have to say that area of New Jersey (near Phillipsburg) is downright stunning.  Rolling hills and mountains in the distance surround the landscape of small farms and country homes.  New Jersey gets such a bad rep (thank you, Sopranos).  Honestly, I'm happy to let people believe we're one big armpit of filth.  You just go on thinking that America, as long as it's keeping you and your industrialism and commercialism out.  We have enough that, but the ares that are left more or less untouched should be preserved.  I'll be happy if another shopping mall or drugstore never goes up again in New Jersey.  Sadly, that's not likely.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Trail Log: Wells Mill County Park, NJ (4.93 mi)

I decided I'd better do some hiking before my hiking club debut on the 20th.  I'm booked this weekend with social events, but I knew the weather would be beautiful today (60 degrees in November!), so I headed to Wells Mill County Park for what turned out to be one of my most successful solo hikes yet.  I was the most prepared I've ever been.  In fact, I was too prepared - the day pack was unnecessary, but if I'm ever going to do the AT, I'd better get used to carrying extra weight (although my 5lb pack is nothing compared to the 40lb+ pack required for long distance backpacking).  Anyway, I had my route well-planned, printed out the best map I could find, and was able to greatly enjoy myself.

On my last hike, the 8.6 mile Mt. Misery Trail at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest), I left too late, and by the time I got back to my car it was almost dark; it's not the absolute best feeling to be in the woods alone in the dark with only a few granola bars and half a Camelpack of water left - in Jersey Devil country no less!  I also decided last time not to print out the map and just look at it on my phone, which was fine, until my phone died (also making the aspect of darkness a little more frightening).  Fortunately, I'd studied the map pretty thoroughly and it wasn't too complicated a trail.  I only fell off the trail once, but I got back on almost immediately after realizing I was on a side trail (adding a couple miles to my hike).

Mt. Misery Trail Brendan T. Byrne State Forest 10/30/10

This time, however, I printed out the map.  I even wrote my route on the back of it because I wasn't taking one trail the whole way through.  I switched between three trails, which proved to be a satisfying challenge in orienteering.  I manage to get lost all the time when driving, but for whatever reason, I haven't had much difficulties at all on foot, probably because I'm super paranoid and check the map compulsively.  Anyway, I was able to visit Wells Mill Lake, Penns Hill (126 feet), and Laurel Hill (130 feet).  I didn't see another hiker/cyclist the entire time, which I personally enjoy.  I don't worry too much about animal attacks as I do people attacks.  I was pretty deep in the woods of the Pinelands, and felt safe from onlookers.  The trails I took don't cross any roads, so I wasn't consumed by turning around in fright every time I heard a branch crack or leaf fall.  I chose not to sign the trail log even though they say that's for "your safety;" I think it just makes a rapist's job even easier.  Anyway... sadly, I didn't see much wildlife.  I think maybe a mouse (or something) scurried across the trail, but that's about it.  I did, however, enjoy hearing the chestnut oak and white cedar trees sway in the wind like welcoming old creaky doors.

Wells Mill Lake

My 4.93 mile route:
  • Take the first 3 miles (approx) of the Penns Hill Trail (white blazes), at around .25 mi cross over the Estow (green blazes) and All Terrain Bike (yellow) trails, and Raccoon branch around 2.75 mi (Penn's Hill and Laurel Hill aren't marked, but you sort of know when you get 130 ft high)
  • After approx 3 miles, bear left for the Estow Trail (green), which runs along with the yellow trail for a little ways, then bear right to stay on just the green trail
  • After about a mile on the green trail (4 total), crossing the white trail at some point, turn left onto the Conrad Trail (blue).  This trail seems to end abruptly in a mildly wooded area near the parking lot, I just cut through the woods to go back to my car.
The trails at Wells Mill are extremely well marked.  It's reassuring when I can see at least one blaze from wherever I am on the trail.  However, it looked like someone was scraping off the green blazes, which was ineffective anyway because you could still tell where they once were.  At any rate, the trail was so well marked with blazes, you could easily tell where you were supposed to go.  The trail itself isn't always clear, as it must not get much use, but that just made me feel all the more like I was deep in the woods.  It's also a very winding trail, which keeps things interesting.  I can't imagine it would be good for mountain biking as they've put a few boards and even some steps in areas that probably get swampy.