Suspension Bridge, Lots of Boardwalk and Marshy Mud Madness

On Sunday April 9, 2017 my son Mike and I hiked New Jersey AT Section #2 which is a 10.8 mile section between the Rt. 284 road crossing south of Circleville, New York just across the New Jersey border and ending at the Rt. 94 road crossing in Vernon, New Jersey. We dropped Mike’s car at the Rt. 94 parking area and drove my car to the Rt. 284 road crossing so we could start our hike northbound. The weather was wonderful and the sky was bright blue.

After a little more than a half hour and a bit of road walking, part of which had us leave New Jersey for New York State, we reentered New Jersey along State Line Road and turned right into the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. We walked along a lush, green grass path which surrounds the perimeter of the refuge.

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After making our first left hand turn, we noticed a bench which was an Eagle Scout project of Brendan Ronzoni of Troop 62 in Goshen, NY. What a beautiful view is available from the bench. Thanks Brendan.

We noticed a water depth reference wooden post in the marsh. The two numbers we could see above the water level were 386 and 387. There were small incremental marks between these numbers but we were not sure what the unit of measurement was for the post. I spoke to Ken Witkowski of the National Wildlife Service and he confirmed what Mike and I suspected that the numbers measured feet above sea level. The incremental marks between showed the decimal marks, not inches. I asked why the post was only a couple of feet higher than the water level and Ken explained that if the water got above the top of the post, noone would be able to come in and check it as everywhere would be flooded.

After making another 90 degree left hand turn still on the green grass path, we saw a blind for bird watching. I went inside and noticed there were handles on the inside of some of the small planks making up the exterior of the blind. I presume it is so bird watchers could arrange the sections of slats in the best way for their camera or binoculars or for the height of the naturalist doing the observation.

We left the blind and after a small distance the AT turns right through some woods. The grass path continued straight ahead. The soft grass path was a pleasure for my feet.

After crossing Liberty Corners Road, we began the climb up Pochuck Mountain. The first part of the climb ascends almost 500 feet in a half a mile so it is pretty steep. There is a post along the trail marking a short side trail leading to an abandoned house which has an outdoor water spigot. This could serve as a water source for those continuing northbound to the Pochuck Shelter which appears another 4/10 mile up the mountain. I did not try the outside spigot but I saw it on the rear of the building. We walked back to the AT and continued north towards the shelter.

The Pochuck Shelter is well marked by a sign and another sign indicates the mileages to the nearest shelters both north and south of Pochuck Shelter. We had hiked about 4.2 miles in one hour and forty two minutes when we arrived at the shelter seen below.

We were fortunate to find two hikers already there. Toothless,(his trail name) a 2016 SOBO thru hiker, was hiking with his brother Willis for a few days. They were nice enough to let me take their picture. Toothless is on the left in the photo below.

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We talked a while about Toothless’ thru hike last year. He started in early July at Mt. Katahdin in Maine and finished atop Springer Mountain in Georgia in early December. He had to battle some winter snow conditions in the later part of his thru hike. We wished them well as they were heading southbound.

I read the trail register and noticed that Troop 334 of the Northern New Jersey Council of the Boy Scouts had passed through a little before we did. After signing the register, I put it inside the shelter on the back shelf along with the pen.

This shelter had a nearby privy and a bear box. I noticed a round mirror fastened to the front wall to the right of the opening. I did not recall seeing a mirror on a shelter before during our other section hikes in New York but Mike recalled seeing them before. I took this photo of the mirror with me taking the photo. Notice the words printed around the edge of the mirror.

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To the left side of the shelter opening is a memorial plaque recognizing this shelter to be in the memory of Jim Quinlan 1953-2015 who had built the shelter. I was touched by this inscription. Mr. Quinlan must have been a wonderful man.

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After a fifteen minute break at the shelter, we continued our northbound journey. We kept walking on what appeared to be a well worn hiking path. On our left we noticed the remains of an old Chevrolet pickup truck, some old refrigerators and other miscellaneous junk. I have no idea how it got there. There were no real roads nearby. Did someone drive the truck with the junk in the rear bed for its final drive of its life?  Paying homage to David “AWOL” Miller and his Treasure Hunt game in his AT guide book, Mike said we could start our own AT trivia contest. This question would be “What is the manufacturer’s name of the pick up truck on the side of Pochuck Mountain?” As we walked a little further past the truck, we realized that we were not seeing any white blazes. We had obviously gone off the AT trail as we followed this well worn path presuming it was the AT. We retraced our steps backward and met up with a person walking his dog. They (well, not the dog really) got us pointed back to where we had missed a sharp right turn of the AT. After finding it, we continued climbing up to the top of Pochuck Mountain, 1147 feet above sea level, and enjoyed at least one scenic view down to the wildlife refuge where we had been earlier this morning. I guess my trivia contest would have to be solved by persons who sometimes veered off the AT.

We hiked some ups and downs a little and then began a gradual descent toward the Rt. 565 road crossing. Just before reaching the road we crossed a small bridge over a stream which is mentioned as a possible water source for southbound hikers planning on staying at the Pochuck Shelter which has no water source at it.

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Mike noticed the words “One Step At A Time” were spray painted on the steps leading up to the bridge.  We did not see any plaques or signs indicating who did the work.

We hiked another mile and a half which featured a little up and down before a steep descent down to the Rt. 517 road crossing. This is a major parking/access area for persons wanting to enjoy the raised boardwalks and puncheon which was erected to protect the Pochuck Swamp. There were even a couple of porta-toilets along the road next to the trailhead. This is the sign at that trailhead.

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We only had about 2.4 miles to go from this point. Most of this part of the AT is along raised boardwalks similar to the one pictured above. Volunteers must have spent a long time doing all of this work to construct these sections of boardwalk. Some sections are thousands of feet long. Occasionally in drier areas we walked on the ground and then would be back onto boardwalk in the marshier areas. There were a few places with no boardwalk and no puncheon planks where the standing water and mud was three or four inches deep. We walked as carefully as possible through these areas.  I used one of my trekking poles as a third leg. It was easier to pull the pole out of the mud than it was to pull my hiking boot out of the muck. I tried to follow the guidance of Mike who was the lead scout on this expedition. We passed a couple of young women who were trying to figure out how to get past these marshy areas without getting any mud or water on their sneakers. Good luck with that. We later saw a couple of girls who had removed their socks and sneaks before wading barefoot through the muck.

Less than a mile after starting onto the boardwalk, we came to the Pochuck Creek Suspension Bridge. A sign over the bridge warns that there is a twenty person maximum on the bridge.

My AT Trail Guide (17th Edition, 2011) provides this bit of background info:

“The 146 foot long bridge was completed in 1996 for a cost of  $30,000 not including thousands of volunteer hours. The foundation essentially floats and the walkway is fourteen feet high. This height was chosen as it is five feet above the 100-year flood level and should permit the bridge to withstand floods that send logs and debris down the creek.”

After leaving the bridge, we continued past various streams and more boardwalks on our way to climb over stiles at the railroad crossing for the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway which hauls freight between North Bergen, New Jersey and Syracuse, New York (according to the same AT guide).

We covered the last quarter mile of puncheon across a field and we could see Rt. 94 ahead. After climbing over one more stile, we had reached the northern end of New Jersey Section #2 at 1:10pm. Thanks Mike for another great section hike.

I have now hiked 109.7 miles of the AT (89.8 miles in NY and 19.9 in NJ).

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