Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 5 | Stage 4: The Gorge

July 10, 2013
Location: Neversink Unique Area, Sullivan County, N.Y.
Trails: High Falls Trail (Blue Trail East), first and third Yellow Trails, very briefly Mullet Loop Trail (Red)
Elevation: ~935-1,600 feet
Surface: Crushed stone, rock, and dirt hiking trail
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 6
Special equipment: Black Diamond trekking poles
Wildlife spotted: Chipmunks, frogs, spiders, red eft
Companion: Erin

View of Mullet Brook under a very shaky wooden bridge.
Of all the stages I planned, this one made me most nervous. Why? Because this area and its trails are quite rugged and remote, I had no real trail description to go by, and only a black-and-white printout of a map.

Anyway, the 4,881-acre Neversink Unique Area is a DEC-administered public trail area providing access to the breathtaking Neversink Gorge and River. The river, which feeds the Delaware River at Port Jervis, is popular for fly fishing, although we didn't see any anglers here. It's located in southeastern Sullivan County. Although the terrain is different and lower in elevation than the cliffs and trails of Minnewaska State Park, the gorge is technically part of the Shawangunk Ridge.

We set off from the small parking area at the end of Katrina Falls Road (Rock Hill exit off SR-17) and immediately began descending. I remarked that we'd have quite an uphill walk on the way back, to which Erin smartly replied: "Well, it's a gorge." We immediately felt the presence of mosquitoes and other bugs. Thankfully, we'd sprayed a lot and brought the pump with us. However, soon I realized I had some bites on my upper arms even though I was covered. Here's why: I wore an Under Armour Heat Gear top with three-quarter length sleeves and the bugs bit me through the material, which is skin-tight. Lesson learned for both of us: the mosquitoes bit Erin's legs right through her running tights.

The trail is quite rugged. Certainly walkable, but running was tougher. A trail runner with technical trail expertise would be fine, but for us it was a tougher sell. We did run a few of the smoother parts, but found ourselves hiking a lot. Again, lesson learned: trail running on very technical hiking trails and singletrack is not easy.

Denton Falls
We passed under and over a few fallen trees and crossed a very shaky wooden bridge over Mullet Brook. After the bridge bounced noticeably as we crossed it, Erin said: "Maybe on the way back we should cross one at a time!" Agreed. Not far past the bridge, we saw the third of three Yellow Trails, which the map indicated lead down to the river. We decided to give it a shot and descended down the steep trail, walking gingerly over mossy and loose rocks. We soon found ourselves emerging from the woods to the edge of the river.


Erin poses at Denton Falls.
My family has been traveling to Sullivan County, N.Y., and Wayne County, Pa., since the late 1970s. We have driven over the Neversink River via an SR-17 causeway hundreds of times, but we never really knew what the Neversink River looks like. (You can't really see the river from the highway.) It's no Mississippi, of course, but in this area it rivals the similarly scenic Upper Delaware River. We admired the falls (Denton Falls, I believe) for a few minutes, took some photos, swigged some water, and then braced for the climb up the side of the gorge back to the Blue Trail.

I won't lie: this was hard for me, so I went slowly and stopped a few times to calm my breath and heart rate. We were in no rush and the last thing I wanted was to overdo it or slip and fall with no rangers or even other hikers in sight. (At this point we hadn't seen anyone.) The trekking poles really helped, and I was really glad that I had purchased them months earlier.

Once back on the Blue Trail we continued south because we needed more mileage (at this point we'd done about 1.75 miles including the spur down to the river). The trail rose and then fell again, narrowing somewhat forcing us to dodge some greenery (tick alert!). Then we came upon a very wet section where the trail crosses a small stream. We could have kept going, but both of us got wet and muddy and swarmed by bugs, so we decided to turn back.

On the return, we turned east and briefly walked up the Red Trail (a.k.a. Mullet Loop Trail) just to see what it was like. It seemed to be narrow, overgrown, and rugged, so we headed back to the Blue Trail.

We recrossed the bouncy bridge (one at a time), retraced our steps, and approached that final incline when we finally encountered other people (two women and a man) coming the other way. We exchanged pleasantries at the crossing of Wolf Brook and then headed down the first Yellow Trail.

Within a few minutes, the man we had met at the stream crossing was suddenly behind us, asking us where the trail led. I guess I'm a suspicious city boy because the man made me nervous. We let him pass and turned around to get back to the car. Yes, I glanced back a few times. Then... there he was. As he closed on us, my nervous imagination ran rampant. But up ahead we saw the two ladies (one was carrying a purse, Erin pointed out). So we realized they were obviously neither hardcore hikers nor murderers and were simply taking a quick stroll. The man caught up and told us they were from Wyoming and were curious about the trails. He said we should have kept going down that first Yellow Trail because just a few hundred feet away was the river. Phew.


Final notes:
  • Trekking poles are kind of awesome. I got mine on sale at REI.
  • Bugs like tight clothes and will bite you right through them.
  • The parking area at the end of Katrina Falls Road is very small, so it's possible that on a busy weekend it could fill up. But I doubt it.
  • The flat stone area next to the river at the bottom of the third Yellow Trail is a good place to take a snack break, even though we didn't. You could probably fish from there.
  • This DEC property really seems desolate, so be prepared in case of emergency and consider going with a partner. We did not seem to have a reliable wireless signal.
  • We saw signs saying that ATVs are allowed on some trails by permit to provide access to people with disabilities. 
  • The trails are very shaded because of the thick forest cover.
  • Be prepared to do at least some walking/hiking unless you're really comfortable on technical trails and steep inclines.
Erin checks on me as we climb the Yellow Trail back to the Blue Trail.
Denton Falls
Mullet Brook flows into the river.
The river as seen from the third Yellow Trail.
Purdy! I think it's mountain laurel.
An intersection of the Blue and Red Trails.
Fallen tree across the trail.
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