Back on the trails again, in the pines, welcomed by fresh, dewy cobwebs stroking my face and hands like ghostly fingers warning me that I’m on my own. This time Huckleberry Loop: a very long, meandering trail that intersects with Dry Brook Ridge in two places, that was deserted except for a special neighbor who arrived to walk her dogs along the loop’s road. Sometimes good things happen when you dither in the road with a map.
You should dither here – and plan well – because there are plenty of places to join the loop and I can imagine it would be easy to get stuck on it. You must know exactly where you are joining it. Take a map, and compass to be sure of the direction you’re going in. The entire loop (plus Dry Brook Ridge) is a total of 12.85 miles around according to the NYNJ Trail map. I only wanted to do a section, specifically I was looking for the two views on the ridge. I started at one of the trailheads on Hill Road and went northeast on the red blazed Huckleberry Loop trail for 2.3 miles.
This was an hour uphill to about 3000 ft, at a swift pace on a bouncy trail of dead pine needles to a chorus of birdsong, darting rabbits and the heady aroma of pine, mushrooms and wet dirt. It was steep and strenuous. About two thirds of the way up, the going gets rocky and flattens out. Then you meet Dry Brook Ridge, where the sign says that you’ve only come 1.7 miles and not 2.3 as the map says. I went south on the ridge line and it was rockier and dotted with tall ferns in pockets of sunlight. I found a cairn – that is, a handmade pile of flat stones or pebbles assembled by a previous hiker – that I left alone. There’s a strident campaign against cairns in some hiking circles. Yes, if you could imagine, people loathe those little piles of flat pebbles. They film themselves pushing over these piles and proudly post the videos to social media. It’s heady stuff.
So I left the cairn, because it didn’t seem that threatening, and continued past an exquisite shelf polypore (pictured below) and pressed on to the top. That was one handsome mushroom.
There are two views at the top of Dry Brook Ridge at about 3,460 ft, but I stopped my hike at the first (westerly) view for several reasons. Views from the tops of mountains are at once riveting and foreshadowing. You’re elated to be on top of the world but simultaneously wondering if you’ll get down alive. There’s hardly any cellphone service here and you’re truly alone. After a fast walk up a steep mountain, you’re tired. All it takes is the stepping the wrong way on a rock while you’re waving away a mosquito and – hello broken ankle. I was also in a rush to make Jack’s Arkville Bread Breakfast which closes at 2pm. Laurie makes her own hummus and it’s worth rushing for the hummus veggie wrap or the bean burger wrap. Finally, I had run out of water and because I have not yet found a way to convey to the dog that he’s about to walk a very long way indeed and he should please drink some more water before we leave, he drank all mine. I can only carry so much and this is why I like to do trails with water source.
Parts of the trail were overgrown with brambles and ferns, some brambles being shoulder high, which made me think of ticks, of which I found none. Either ticks hate me, or my dog, or they hate the 20% DEET that I sprayed on my arms and legs, or they hate the essential oils that I sprayed on the dog’s collar. Or perhaps there were no ticks? Or, more likely, perhaps the ticks were thinking: “no, madam, yoga pants are NOT appropriate daytime attire” and waved me on with a haughty sniff while they posted my pants on social media. Who knows? The horse flies certainly loved me until I applied the DEET. The plot thickens.