Follow me and my friends on our adventures outside.

European Vacation Part 2

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Thursday, September 7th, 2017.

Sloane and I were up early to finish packing our suitcases - we had a train to catch in Budapest at 830AM. We called a cab, and were at the train station with over an hour to spare. After collecting our tickets we walked across the street for some good old American starbucks - Sloane really wanted yogurt, and we knew it could be found there. After our underwhelming breakfast, we gathered our bags and headed for the train.  We had a quick 2.5 hour ride to Vienna, Austria, where the train station was incredibly modern compared to Budapest's.  We disembarked the train, and found our way to the car rental area to pick up our ride for the next few days.  I had reserved a VW Golf, but in true rental agency fashion they did not have one, so we were awarded a KIA Cee'd instead. Our final destination was only an hour and a half away, so we decided to get lunch in Vienna. Again we dined al-fresco, even though there were some serious gusts of wind blowing napkins and silverware all over the place.  Once we paid our tab, we took a stroll up the road to some shops Sloane had been interested in going to, and we found a grocery store to get some food incase our accommodations (a hotel/hostel on top of a mountain) for the night didn't have any vegetarian options. We finally started our drive around 2:30 or so which put us at our destination around 4:30 with the traffic we encountered leaving the city. 

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Our hotel.

We had no issues driving to our destination, and the scenery just kept getting better as we rolled along. We stopped along side the road at a small pull off to take some photos of what I was guessing was our home for the night, and I was correct.  When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we packed everything we would need for our overnight stay into our backpacks and a few re-usable grocery bags. The gentleman selling the tickets for the cable car was quick to point out the last ride down the mountain was in 45 minutes, but was less concerned once he found out we had "reserved" a room at the Raxalm Berggasthof. When I say we reserved a room, I mean I had emailed in German with some person at the lodge, and without taking any credit card information, they simply said we had a reservation. Given this information, Sloane and I were a bit worried we may be hiking back down the mountain in the dark and sleeping in the car. We arrived at an empty lodge, and began poking around the restaurant and bar area looking for anyone who might work there. We finally found a friendly bartender/waiter/front desk person who spoke enough english to confirm we did in fact have a reservation, and he kindly showed us to our room for the night.  Sloane decided to go for a quick run on the trail/road behind our chalet, and I opted for a beer and my camera. 

Beer with a view of the valley we just traveled.


I managed to snap a few photos before I saw Sloane coming back down the trail, I ran down from my perch on some high rocks and gave her the key to the room so, she could shower up for dinner while I finished up my photo safari. Our room was very basic with a queen size bed, small tv, a shower and toilet, and front porch with an incredible view.

The view from our room.

The view from our room.

We made our way down to the dining room around 630 - which is when we were told the last dinner service would be. The same guy who helped us to our room was the waiter and we ordered a drink while we looked over the menu. I ended up getting wiener schnitzel, which for a rustic hotel was very good and Sloane had a salad and some soup. We sat and enjoyed our simple meals and booze watching the last light hit the mountains across the valley, it was very relaxing and most definitely the best view we enjoyed while dining on our trip.  We finished up our food and ordered another round of drinks to take up to our room for the night.  I set up my camera on the porch and did some long exposures while Sloane read her book in bed.  

Moonrise from our patio

Star trails and a wind farm on the ridge across the valley.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Sloane had agreed to get up for a sunrise hike with me - so we were both up around 6 am to head out the door.  I stepped out onto the balcony to check the temperature, and it was cold (37 degrees), Sloane of course agreed and we went about putting on as much of our clothing as possible - we hadn't brought any layering since we would only be in the mountains for a few hours of our week long trip. We were out the door just in time to see the sun peek above the clouds across the valley.

Sloane outside our hotel at sunrise.


The hotel had a small zip-line which I had played around with while Sloane was on her run, and I talked her into taking a ride on it before we departed for our hike.

Sloane and I quickly warmed up as we ascended the hill in front of us towards the next mountain house - OttoHaus. This is where I had originally intended to stay, so we could hike a little further in the morning, but after researching both places, it seemed the Raxalm Berggasthof had nicer accommodations, and more food options for Sloane's vegetarian diet (the Austrian's eat a lot of meat).  We hiked and took photos for about an hour until we reached this second house, scaring up roe deer and chamois along the way.

Hiking to OttoHaus


The trail to the Alpengarten - they grow veggies to be used in the kitchen of the Ottohaus here.

At the overlook in front of Ottohaus, it's pretty much straight down from here.

It was incredibly windy and cold at this overlook, and Sloane decided she had enough of being cold, so she turned back for the warmth of a shower and some coffee at the hotel.  I went ahead, slowly climbing the hill behind OttoHaus towards the summit of the ridge and Jakobskogel.  Aside from being almost blown off the trail a few times, the hike was relatively easy, even in my sneakers.

The iron cross at the summit of Jakobskogel ridge, behind Ottohaus.

The foundation of an old building on the Jakobskogel ridge.

View through the old windows.

After about half an hour on the summit trying to take long exposures, but failing due to high winds, I decided to turn around and go back to the hotel the long way on a trail that followed along the edge of the cliff. 

View descending from Jakobskogel, towards our mountain house.  In the middle of the image you can see a steep rocky trail called Törlweg, which I wanted to hike up from the bottom, but I opted for the cable car ride to help keep Sloane happy.

View of the small tunnel on the rocky road Törlweg.

View of the small tunnel on the rocky road Törlweg.

A view once through the tunnel on the Törlweg.

Ants with some primo real estate. 

The perfect little mushroom on the cliff side.

I made it back to the hotel around 9, and after a quick shower Sloane and I went downstairs to the dining room to enjoy some breakfast. Breakfast was a set menu, as it was included with our accommodations. We ordered some coffee for Sloane, I had my usual water and our friendly waiter brought us out a spread of cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, jams, jellies and nutella - it was incredible.  We both enjoyed breakfast with the same view we had the evening before, this time with large groups of hikers who were unloading from the cable car and prepping for their journeys in the mountains with coffee on the outdoor patio. After breakfast, we went back to the room to pack all our belongings, which as usual had exploded all over the room.  We managed to fit them all back into our bags and went down to pay our tab.  During our stay, we had given no form of payment for anything, the waiter simply charged it all to our room. Our grand total for accommodations, dinner, drinks and breakfast came to just under $200 - I definitely have plans to go back and do this sort of traveling again, this time hiking from house to house. We paid our tab, said auf wiedersehen to our friendly waiter/hotel manager and jumped on the next cable car back down to our car. The next leg of our journey was a drive along Höllental Straße, an incredibly windy and scenic road through the Höllental, or Hell Valley. I shifted the Cee'd into sport mode - and drove like an old woman on the way to church through the valley, so Sloane wouldn't get car sick. This road is very popular with motorcyclists, and they were out in huge numbers, it was a warm fall day and everyone seemed to be taking advantage of it.

At the beginning of the drive through the Höllental. 

After what seemed like an eternity of hair-pin bends, avoiding motorcycles and hikers, we found ourselves back on a boring old highway for the last few miles on our way to Krems, a small town on the Danube in the Wachau Valley, known for its' wineries and gruner wines. We had booked an air BnB here, and were anxious to unload our things and taste the wine, but first we had to have lunch. Sloane found a cafe on a small college campus that had good reviews, so we sat down and enjoyed the sunshine while we fumbled through ordering food in German with a waiter who did not speak very much English (how dare he). After lunch we met our host, had a quick tour of our home for the evening and made a very sloppy plan for visiting wineries.

The courtyard in to our apartment.

We drove around for about 45 minutes, quickly getting lost in quaint little town on the side of a steep hill, with the gps blindly leading us to wineries - which as it turns out are not the same as they are in the States. Wineries in Austria are simply where grapes are grown, harvested, and sometime processed for wine making, but they do not actually have tasting rooms, as is popular in the U.S. After failing at three would be wineries, we decided that we would head to town to the one winery listed in our travel book, that was guaranteed to have a tasting room. But on the dirt road we had just gotten lost on, I ran over a large piece of metal that decided to lodge itself in the front passenger tire. We were lucky to have heard the noise coming from the tire, before we drove on a flat tire very far. After getting our car off the private property we had been accidentally trespassing on, we pulled over a few hundred yards down the road at a parking lot. While I did the dirty work of changing the tire, which by now was completely flat, Sloane took on the fun job of calling the rental company. After being passed from one German speaking person to the next, she finally was transferred to an English speaking person who basically just told us to do what I had already accomplished, change the tire and bring it back when our trip was over. After our whole flat tire ordeal, we drove our car to the one winery where we new we could at least taste some wine. We couldn't find a place to park, since it was in the middle of town, so we ended up parking at our apartment and walking.

Finally, wine!

The Cee'd, grapes and a castle. This is where the tire swap took place.

Instead of paying for our tasting, which would have been 12 Euro, we opted to buy a bottle for 20 Euro. Sadly after all our effort, we only drank a small amount of this wine, and left the rest in our room in Prague.

After our tasting, we discovered a street with tons of little shops and cafes - which we decided to take a stroll down on the way to our room. Nothing too exciting caught our eye, but it was a cool little street to find nonetheless. 

Long shadows and shopping in Krems.

Krems killing it at blending the old with the new.

After our walking tour of the city, we killed some time at the apartment looking for a good spot to eat dinner and did some research for our travel day to Prague. We ended up walking to a new wine bar/restaurant in town called Leopold, and had the best cheese and meat plate we had experienced in a while. Our waiter was super friendly, and although they didn't offer a wine tasting either - he concocted one for us, allowing us to try five different wines from the area - it was fantastic.

Leopold's meat and cheese plate.

Leopold's meat and cheese plate.

As we sat and enjoyed our wine, the sunlight began to disappear and I was in a hurry to go take a few photos at dusk. Sloane was a little annoyed at this (it's always a small battle we wage, between dinner and photography at dusk) but she finished her wine and walked back to the apartment with me so I could get out and shoot. Sloane stayed behind this time, and I took a short drive down the Danube to photograph Durnstein, the town we had been lost in earlier that day.

Durnstein from across the Danube, There is a 12th century castle ruin that you can see lit in the middle of the frame - history lesson here.

Krems from across the Danube.

I made my way home by 930, and Sloane and I were asleep soon afterwards. 

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

We slept in until 830 or so, once again packed our belongings and made a light breakfast with bread, jam and nutella that I had borrowed from the hotel breakfast the day before. We were out the door by 10 and headed back to Durnstein to for a quick hike up to the castle on the hill, we only had an hour until we needed to begin our drive back to Vienna.

Sloane overlooking the Danube from the base of Durnstein Castle.

The view from Castle Durnstein.

On the steps of Castle Durnstein.

We took a short cut on the way back, we were cutting it close to our 1 hour of paid parking and didn't want to get a ticket. Google maps said there was a trail but I was skeptical, and Sloane was even more so. It all worked out and we were spit out onto the streets of Durnstein from an overgrown trail.

Sloane bushwhacking on the way down from the castle.

Sloane and all the grapes! 

Our drive back to Vienna was slow, but scenic. We stayed off the highway since we had a donut on the car, and did not want to risk blowing that one out from driving highway speeds. We arrived back at the train station, dropped the car off, printed our train tickets and grabbed a quick bite to eat before our train boarded at 3pm. We had a 4 hour ride to the 3rd leg of our journey - Prague. We spent our time studying where to go and what to see.  Stay tuned for the 3rd and final installment of our european vacation.

Sloane enjoying some booze on the train ride to Prague.

European Vacation Part 1

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Buda And Pest, Two Sides Of The Danube.

Sloane and I just got back from another fantastic trip overseas to Europe.  Sloane had mentioned Prague when we were planning our trip last year, so we decided to try it out this time. My family has roots in Hungary, (see our delicious family tradition here), so I was excited that Budapest was so close to Prague and easily accessible. We researched a bunch of different options: flying in and out of both Prague and Budapest, renting cars, riding trains and flights from city to city.  Our plans began to take shape when we finally purchased plane tickets in late July.  We found it was cheaper to fly into Budapest and out of Prague, so that gave us a starting and end point. We planned the rest afterwards as we talked to folks who had already travelled to these areas.

Our journey began with a 6pm flight out of Baltimore on Sunday September 3rd that landed us in Frankfurt, Germany at 4am our time.  We did our best to sleep on the plane ride over, and then caught some much needed sleep in the airport during our 4 hour layover.  We arrived in Budapest at 1:30 on Monday the 4th, very much sleep deprived, but ready to start our trip.

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The adventure in Budapest started with Sloane's phone being left in a taxi, which thanks to our friendly driver we were able to recover quite quickly. We hurriedly took showers at our BnB, unpacked our belongings and were on our way to the Szechenyi thermal baths, where we had booked massages. I assumed this would be a relaxing way to start our journey - but it was a bit more stressful than anticipated with the tight timeline we were running on.  We made it with a few minutes to spare, were directed to our changing cabin and were able to get in the outdoor bath for just a couple minutes before our massages began.  Compared to our last thermal bath and massage experience in Iceland, this was much more affordable - although it was a bit less impressive. As we were heading out the door we ran into an old friend, who happened to be traveling in Budapest for work, and made some plans to meet up the following night.  Small world.  

Szechenyi thermal baths - very affordable massages.

We took a quick walk through City Park, one of the first public parks in the world, founded in the early 1800's.  I could've spent all evening here shooting the old castle and Heroe's Square, but we were both very hungry and I was politely urged by Sloane to continue our our walk towards dinner, which was about a mile away.  

The back side of Heroe's Square at dusk.

We had dinner at a cool little place we happened to walk by, and began our al-fresco dining experience in Europe the right way.  Our food was good, and the price was incredible, less than 30 bucks for us both to eat a 3 course meal with drinks. 

Dried chilis and twinkly lights on the exterior of Kantin - our first Hungarian dining experience.

Sloane in front of St. Stephen's Bassilica 

We finished our meal and made the quick walk back to our apartment to finally get some serious sleep. On Tuesday I was able to get myself out of bed relatively early if you consider the time difference of 6 hours, and persuaded Sloane to follow soon after. We were able to rally ourselves and get out the door by 1030. The apartment we rented came with the use of two bicycles, the main reason to me that it was so appealing. Budapest is an incredibly bike friendly city, and aside from three cab rides, it is the only form of transportation we used to get around.  

Hungarian Parliament - this sucker has over 600 rooms.  We went in zero of them.

Hungarian Parliament.

We rode around our neighborhood, down to the Danube and across a bridge to Margaret Island.  This island is a pretty large green space in the middle of the Danube with plenty of cool stuff: bars/restaraunts, gardens, bike and golf cart rentals, medieval monastery ruins, running and biking paths, thermal spas, a waterpark and a concert venue.  We did a circuit of the whole island, which is about 3.5 miles and stopped in one of the waterfront bars to have a quick drink to figure out what the next stop was.  I took zero pictures of the island, so Google it if you want to see it!  We decided to head over to the Buda side of the Danube next, there are hills here - big hills.  We found a place to lock up the bikes and ascended a lot of stairs to the top of Fisherman's Bastion in the Castle District, it looks like a fairy tale up there. 

Fisherman's Bastion.  The guy on the horse is St. Stephen, the same guy who's church you saw Sloane in front of on her bike.

Tourist photo.

Tourist photo.

Matthias Church in the Castle District. Incredible roofing job.

Fisherman's Bastion is one of those places with throngs of tourists, so we didn't stick around very long. We paid our tourist tax to walk on the top of the Bastion and go into some of the towers - which is cool, but so many people.  We had enough of the crowds and headed back down the hill, much quicker than we had gone up it.  We had an early dinner reservation, so we hopped back on our bicycles and crossed the Chain Bridge in rush hour traffic. Looking back we probably should have taken the pedestrian walkway, but we were in a hurry so we rode in traffic, over the Danube and back to our apartment. Our reservation that night was at Borkhonya, a Michelin star restaurant right in our neighborhood.  I didn't take the big camera out, since it was a fancy place, but I did document the meal with my iPhone, like a true tourist. We got a table outside, and were the first diners there, by the end of our meal the place was packed. We both enjoyed the tasting menu, paired with wine - which was amazing. The kitchen even allowed Sloane to substitute fish for the meat courses. iPhone photos in the gallery below. A vague description of the dishes, from left to right: delicious Duck liver, cold potato soup, branzino over beans, the best steak I have eaten in a long time, and desert, all kinds of delicious things here. 

After our intense, amazing meal, we walked over to one of the ruin pubs (Szimpla) to meet our friend who we had run into the previous day at the thermal baths.  Ruin pubs are a big deal here, they consist of a bunch of different bar areas in old buildings and courtyards in the city, they are very popular and this one was incredibly crowded. We found a small table in a corner to sit with our drinks, and ordered a hookah to enjoy with our friend. This was probably the latest we stayed out while we were in Europe, and it was only midnight.  

I was up early Wednesday morning to try and catch some sunrise shots.  I rode my bike hurriedly 2 miles to Heroe's Square, only to be disappointed that they don't keep the lights on all night.  However, there was no one there, so I set up the tripod and took a few shots while I considered where to go next.  

Heroe's Square at 630 AM.

I decided to cross the Danube and try to get a cool shot of the parliament building reflected in the river, which I had also tried the day before, but the skies were overcast and very boring.  So I packed it up, jumped on the bike and rode another 3 or so miles to the Buda side, found the right spot and set shop back up again.

Hungarian Parliament from across the Danube.

From here I rode up to the chain bridge, locked up my bike and just wandered around for a bit.

Parliament from the Chainbridge.


Coat of arms below the Buda castle.

St Stephen's Basilica once again, this time with some flare.

St Stephen's Basilica once again, this time with some flare.

After a solid photo safari around town, I made my way home, but first I stopped and grabbed some serious pastries from a spot I walked by, it was the first time some one I interacted with actually didn't speak english, but we figured it out anyway. I got back and Sloane was still sleeping at 830, so I gently woke her up by banging on the window to our apartment, since I had left the keys with her.  She was pretty unhappy, until she saw the bag of pastries, and she was suddenly a bit more enthusiastic to see me. I ran back downstairs and up the street to the local coffee shop to get some juice and caffeine for her as well, she had a bit of a hangover. We both enjoyed our pastries sitting on our patio, then grabbed much needed showers and made a plan for our last day in Budapest.  We started off the day with a sun filled bike ride to our first destination - the Great Market Hall - the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest.

Great market hall from the inside.  Food, people and souvenirs everywhere.

This place is an impressive collection of Hungarian things.  Sloane was on a mission to find us a pillow case or table runner and our nieces a perfect gift.  Mission accomplished after about an hour of us walking around.  After our first and only souvenir purchase in Europe, we decided to leave the people clogged market to eat lunch outside, and found a quick place right across the street.  Nothing to write about here, just some ok shawarma and falafel.  With our bellies full we once again got on the bicycles, rode across the Danube to Buda, locked the bikes up and hiked up some hills. On the way up Gellert Hill there is a church that is partially in a cave, I really thought it would be cool, so we paid the small fee to get in and listened to an audio tour as we walked around. It was a neat idea, but I think we may have wasted a little too much time staring at old stuff we had no idea about.  Halfway through the audio tour, we decided we had enough and made a hasty exit. We continued on our hike up the hills towards the citadella and the liberty statue.  It was hot, and we were out of water - thankfully there was an oasis at the top, with the most expensive bottled water ever. After a small fortune, we were hydrated and ready to join up with the rest of the tourists who had mostly arrived at the top via a road and bus.  

Sloane and the liberty statue, and the people.

Liberty Statue on top of Gellert Hill.

After about an hour of walking around amongst all the other tourists, we were ready to head back down to our bikes and figure out what to do next.  We decided to ride back across the Danube to Pest and get lost on our bicycles in the not so touristy spots in town.  We found a great spot on the water to grab a drink and then started our ride from there.  

Sloane cruising some of the less visited areas of Pest.

Budapest's sewer covers are well designed, something the US is missing.

Bullet holes and graffiti - a very different view of Budapest from the tourist areas.

Battle scars.

After wondering into some areas that seemed we might not want to be for too long, we pulled out google maps and found the way home. After a few wrong turns, our neighborhood welcomed us with open arms. We had decided to try out a restaurant just around the block for dinner. Our cab driver had told us about this place on our ride from the airport, and it was fantastic.  If you come to Budapest and want and awesome casual meal, try out Most, it has an awesome ruin pub courtyard, and delicious food of course.  Our last night in Budapest was a good one.  After our fantastic dinner, we strolled back to our apartment in a light rain.  Budapest had been good to us, but now it was time to pack up and get ready for Austria.

Dusk view from our balcony - St. Stephen's Basilica in the background.

Late night views looking up from our courtyard in Budapest.

Sweat, booze and ticks.

The fellas hiking up the Bald Rocks area on the aptly named Lichen Trail. It was incredibly hot, and if you look close, you can see the vulture in the middle of the frame on a  dead tree, he was keeping an eye out for dehydrated hikers.

The fellas hiking up the Bald Rocks area on the aptly named Lichen Trail. It was incredibly hot, and if you look close, you can see the vulture in the middle of the frame on a  dead tree, he was keeping an eye out for dehydrated hikers.

I recently took a trip north for a long hike through the woods of Harriman State Park in NY with my adventure buddies Loren and Frank.  There were no open campsites at the limited car campgrounds - which is what we usually do on the eve before a great adventure, so everyone can meet up throughout the night at various times easily. We decided to hike in to the first shelter area on our trek - which happened to be a sweaty 2 miles up hill.  Frank and I car pooled and arrived at the trail head around 6pm. Of course we had to bring beer with us, thats what we do on the first night of our trips, so I loaded my already heavy pack up with cold beers in coozies, and Frank decided to bring his entire soft sided cooler with him - it was hysterical - it even had his name embroidered on the front of it - a groomsman gift from a wedding long ago.  When hiking with beer, you of course must drink beer - so we set about climbing the steep hill to our first nights destination with beers in hand, and some extra weight in tow.

Trail Boh.

Trail Boh.

Frank right before the steep climb, adorned with his "Frank" cooler and enjoying a trail IPA.

Frank working his way up the hills, with the sun sinking low.

Frank and I made it to our first nights stop, the Stockbridge shelter at the top of the trail. It had some pretty incredible views, and we were tempted to make camp up there, but I was quick to remind Frank of the last time we camped on an open mountain top - we didn't sleep because it was so damn windy.  I was able to talk Frank into a campsite we had passed just below the summit, so after hanging out and seeing the views, we headed back down to set up before dark.

Frank at the summit.

This guy got sucked in by the beauty up on the summit - I'm sure he had a windy night.  Side note - the grass up here seriously looked like someone mowed it on a regular basis.

Frank on the chimney of the Stockbridge shelter, getting the best view.

View from the chimney of the shelter.

Dangerous photo ops.

Stockbridge view.

Frank and I had just about finished setting up when Loren wondered into camp - it was damn near dark and we quickly said our hellos and went back to camp chores.  I got some wood ready for a fire while Frank and Loren finished up setting up their hammocks.  We didn't need a big fire, since it was near 70, but of course we needed something to stand around and stare at.  Our campsite had a fire ring built into the rock wall, which made us feel a little bit like cave men. Frank and I got the fire going and we proceeded to boil up water on Frank's fancy new wood gasifier stove for some Mt house meals.  I'm not 100% on the technology involved but it works well, except for the fact that is leaves a ton of carbon on whatever cup, pot or pan you are cooking with. We made sure to drink all our beer (except for the two Frank and Loren had for breakfast) - we certainly didn't want to carry it 10 more miles the following day.  

Campfire chillin' like cave men.

I was up early the next morning as usual and grabbed the camera to see if I could catch the sunrise from the shelter area. First I went about getting the bear bags down from the tree we had hung the previous night - on a dead limb. As I pulled down on the rope, I heard a cracking noise and I quickly dove backwards. The bags came down quickly, along with the twelve foot limb they had been hanging from a second ago. I was able to escape injury and the food seemed to be ok, except for the crackers, which we would discover at lunch, had mostly turned to crumbs. A quick lesson was learned, to make sure the bear bag limb is a live one. After assuring Frank and Loren I was ok, I headed up the trail, unfortunately there were some folks camping in the shelter area, and I figured they would appreciate me not waking them up by climbing on top of the metal shelter roof so I wondered around a bit, but didn't find too much exciting, with trees blocking the sunrise.  

Sleepy morning hammock views.

The neighbors were snoring.

Sunrise over the shelter.  This was the first time I ever encountered one of these inflatable loungers that some one actually slept on - looked pretty comfy.  His dog was up there with him as well.

Looking down on our camp from up near the shelter area.

Lorenzo's grape juice.

The rest of the gang was working on getting up when I finally climbed back down to camp, we had breakfast, packed up our gear and were on the trail by 9ish - not bad for drinking the night before.  

We headed southwest along the Long Path which followed a ridge line for the first mile or so, then once you reach the top of Stockbridge mountain the trail descends into a small valley where we found some running water and stopped to filter some for the long, hot day ahead of us.  We spent the next few hours hiking past swampy areas and through large sections of what used to be hemlock forest, now a sad graveyard for fallen giants.  I can assume the cause is from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that feeds on the sap of hemlocks and essentially sucks the life of the tree.

Loren at the crossing of the AT and the Long Path.

I was ready for some lunch, but Frank and Loren were determined to eat lunch with a view, so they coaxed me into a serious hill climb on an empty stomach.  We veered off the Long Trail onto the Lichen Trail which took us to the top of the bald rocks area, where of course there was a spectacular view - but it was also about a million degrees in the direct sun.  Loren went ahead and found us a shady spot off the trail that we could eat in comfortably - so we all took a much needed load off and chowed down in the shade.

Lunch time in the shade up on top of bald rocks.

The mountain laurel was in full bloom.

After some seriously needed food and hydration we were back on the trail, just as lots of people started showing up at the vista, the perfect time for us to make an exit.  Hiking up here was very reminiscent of the Dolly Sods in WV, lots of boulders to traverse, low vegetation, and trails that are sometimes easy to lose.

Frank and Loren climbing up a huge boulder on the Lichen Trail.

We barely hiked a mile up on the rocks, but it was a tough one for sure, lots of scrambling and dodging giant thorn bushes, and almost zero relief from the relentless sun.  We stopped at the top of Hogencamp mountain to take a group photo, we had a pretty incredible view from up there. 

The crew on Hogencamp Mt.

Loren, the Dunham man, and I busting balls.  Guest photography by Frank JG.

From Hogencamp mt, we descended down to an area known as times square - where a bunch of trails intersect - it was pretty underwhelming.  We picked up the Arden Surebridge trail from here and were heading towards what we thought was going to be our campsite along a babbling brook.  When we got to the site Loren had imagined, it had a posted sign that it was an illegal site and was patrolled - so we decided against staying there for the night.  We wondered around for about half an hour more - looking for sites that weren't deemed illegal, but found none.  So we sat down by the buggiest section of the creek to filter some water and sat in misery while we filled our bottles and came up with a plan B.  After a brutal 15 minutes of fighting off no see-ums and mosquitos, we were finally ready to head out to find a legit campsite near a shelter on the AT.

We did a little bit of bushwhacking to find a trail, but we managed to pick up one that was marked by bottle caps nailed to trees, it was one that hadn't been maintained for a while, so it was really tough to follow.  We managed to stay on it most of the way, and it took us back up to a ridgeline, we followed that for a mile or so and met up with the AT at Fingerboard mountain, where we set up camp for the night.

Back up on the ridge, heading for the AT and a legit camping spot.

We got to camp and slowly set up our gear, I was exhausted and I think Frank and Loren felt the same way. We put in about 10 miles, so we were ready for some food and rest. We set about checking ourselves out for ticks, and Frank was the winner with two attached that day - it appeared as though Loren and I were in the clear - I found one crawling on my arm but he hadn't attached yet. After a proper tick check and setting up my hammock, I quickly went about getting water boiled for dinner, and ate it as soon as it was ready to go.  Frank and Loren soon joined me and we were all feeling much better after a full meal.  We grabbed the whiskey that Loren had been graciously carrying all day, and headed up the hill to check out the sunset. 

The sun getting low over Fingerboard Mountain.

These guys carried chairs, I opted for the camera and a tripod.

Loren likes to climb trees with out health insurance, its more fun that way.

After a great happy hour on the hill we walked back down to camp and lit a small fire, to sit and stare at for a few hours. I was able to pull together enough energy to put my boots back on and gather my photo gear to paint the tree from our sunset adventure with some light, before the moon had come up.

A dead tree on top of Fingerboard Mountain, along the AT.

When I got back, Loren had already turned in, and Frank was working on gathering his gear for the bear bag.  He and I got it hoisted pretty quickly and headed to our hammocks to embrace the slumber we had been putting off for the last few hours.  We were up around 7 the following day, had our breakfast, packed it up and were on the trail by 830, for a quick 6 mile hike back to the cars.

Camp at Fingerboard Mountain.

Our first priority was water, we only had a 1/2 liter between the 3 of us after cooking breakfast, so we decided to take a quick 1/2 mile detour down to a swimming area at the nearby lake to grab some water for the hot day ahead.  Once we were back on the AT we made good time and found ourselves back on the Menomine trail that we had started out on after only a few hours.  

Frank staying hydrated.

We made it back to the cars around 1130, just in time to go grab lunch up the road in Tuxedo, at a spot Loren had been to a few times.  It was an amazing feast to finish our journey.  After a long drawn out lunch, we piled back into our cars for the long ride home - mostly for me, since I had a five hour drive ahead of me.  I did happen to find on tiny tick attached to my hip area after showering, it hadn't engorged yet, so we pulled him off fairly easily.  I think everyone else managed to catch their ticks at camp and remove them with the swift action you want in those situations.  Harriman was a beautiful park, and I am sure we will make a return someday soon, perhaps in the fall to peep those leaves.

Post hike feast at Dottie Audrey's.