Highlands Trail #11: Hopatcong

~6 miles, ~6 hours, moderate, but long, and look out for the void

Hike #11: Man And His Trappings

At Camp Jefferson, raising the roof

At Camp Jefferson, raising the roof

I used to drive New Jersey highways unaware of the different topography surrounding me, the rivers, mountains, and valleys hazily emerging into sight from around bends in the road. Going from point A to point B, my most important consideration was what I wanted to listen to next on Spotify or Pandora. I would drive by land masses without even noticing them. It wasn't because I thought of them as foreign or irrelevant; they were simply invisible to me. Now, when I see them, something like what you see below, I am agitated, filled with nervous excitement. Have I been there? What was it like? I want to be there. Off of this road. And on that rock.

Today's episode begins at 62 Higlen Road in Stanhope. On some maps, it will be Higlen, on others High Glen. Francis Terrace is the cross street. That doesn't exist on most maps. This is the first of myriad challenges encountered on hike #11, so make sure you are strapped in. Park next to these sizable spruce trees. Look for the Shop Rite, it's right across the street.

I was tired this morning and got started a little late. By the time I left my house and started hiking at Saffin Pond (your Lyft destination), it was 10:15AM. That was the first lemon. There were more to come. 

Saffin Pond

Saffin Pond

Come down the east side of Saffin Pond on the connector trail. That guy on the right.

yeah, that guy on the right, the one with the teal highlands trail blaze and dot in the middle

yeah, that guy on the right, the one with the teal highlands trail blaze and dot in the middle

Cross over the bridge and go west and then south on the Highlands trail.

The Highlands trail heads west and intersects with a power line, then continues south to run parallel with Route 15. Cross over Weldon Road when you get to it.

Underneath the power line and its melody of high intensity voltage is a good spot to eat yogurt and think about the grid and try to catch drops of melting snow in your mouth.

A real power breakfast:

At this point , you start going south, walking parallel with the power line. It's not the most inspiring scenery. In fact, it is a pretty poignant reminder of what has been lost on our quest to dominate nature. Looks like a huge lawnmower came through and took out sections of the forest.

The snow had fallen the night before and was untouched by any foot traffic. Animal tracks were everywhere. It was unreal. 




The fact that there was snow was my second lemon. I didn't expect it, so I didn't bring my second set of socks. This would have come in handy when my feet were soaked through later on. I also did not have my hiking poles with me, which help navigate the rocky terrain when it is slippery. One might count these as two lemons, but I'm being aggressive with my calculation.

different phases of wet and dry, bark

different phases of wet and dry, bark

Keep heading south until you reach Camp Jefferson. You've already crushed Mahlon Dickerson, so no need to check that out, just ignore it. Taunt it, if that's more your style.

Goddamn, look at this boulder. Talk about dignity and nobility. Imagine being a fly on a tree and watching it for a few hundred million years.

cattails, wish I knew more about how to harvest it

cattails, wish I knew more about how to harvest it

Everything was going swimmingly well up to this point. Just finished a nice meal of pasta and peas in a nice little shack sheltered from the cool air outside. Belly full, I felt emboldened to get on my way and tackle the next part of this journey. This is where things started to go [figuratively] downhill.

This is the part you need to pay attention to if you've been nodding off thus far. You will be relying on the NY/NJ trail conference maps 126 and 127 for this hike. And they will fail you. They are part of a two sided map when you buy map 126. Map 126, Jersey Highlands-Central North Region, is one side, and Map 127, Allamuchy and Stephens, is the other side. My assumption was that these two were contiguous, so you just need to follow the Highlands trail from one to the other. That was not the case. There is actually approximately 8-10 miles of unmapped Highlands trail that you need to traverse before you are back on the map again. We call this being "off the map". Once "off the map", you don't really know for sure how long you will be back "on the map". Some might call this being in "no man's land".

From Camp Jefferson, I got on Weldon Road headed south to Route 181. An elderly couple cleaning the snow from their driveway started chatting with me as I hiked by their house. They wanted to know what I was up to. I told them about the Endeavor. The woman thought about it for a moment and then asked, "what is your purpose?" It threw me off guard and I had to ask her to repeat the question. She did. And I mumbled something stupid about working in the city and needing a moment of calm. I was haunted by this question for the rest of the hike (see photo below).

A road walk drags down the soul, particularly a solo one, sucking life from you like a root that's been ripped out of the ground. A moment before you trudged through the snow and mud, across rivers, slid down rocks, face to face with soaking wet tree bark and massive trunks impaled on one another. And a moment later you are walking on concrete slabs, gargantuan trucks streaming by, with jarring mounds of roadside debris everywhere.

road walk abyss

road walk abyss

You are now looking at road signs for direction and the sides of telephone poles.

Put your turn signal on and turn right at the corner of Espanong Road.

Pass a tribute to the Endeavor:

You've been on the road for a while now. There is no reason to stop. You keep grinding it out to get to the woods again. But you are down and out and it's not Paris or London, g.

You'll walk along the northern tip of Lake Hopatcong.

You keep taking Woodport Road or Route 181, same shit, and hang a left into the woods when directed to do so.

You follow the power line for a while while remaining along the outskirts of a quarry. Yes, this part of the hike blows. But it's not all fun and games, the Endeavor. It is a test. It is a quest. Of what and for what depends on who you are and your position and direction in life (i.e. what your shtick is).

Which brings us to the next part of this hike: the switching station.

Some thick brush you have to get through to get to the switching station. Just make sure you go towards the rock.

Once you reach the switching station, you will shortly be off the map. 

I miscalculated the magnitude of no man's land. I thought it would be 2-3 miles max, but had grossly underestimated. The sun was going down as I realized this and was attempting to recalibrate. Google Maps told me I had more than five hours to my destination. I didn't like that calculation, as I couldn't tell how much of that was woods vs. roads. 

I started running to get out before dark. It wasn't a frantic run. Very controlled. Very disciplined. Methinks, methinks.

Luckily, within 20 mins I saw houses and heard a road. I called it quits here at 447 Maxim Drive in Stanhope. I wasn't going to continue another 3-4 hours not knowing the terrain and definitely going into darkness. Even us HiEnders must recognize our limits. In addition, my feet were soaking wet from climbing in the snow.

In those last few hours, I kept hearing gunshots off in the distance. Knowing there were humans pulling those triggers, I found the sound of them oddly comforting. 

Use NY/NJ trail conference maps 126 and 127 for this hike except for that no man's land piece. There ain't no trail map for that.