On Christmas Day, my friend called me and asked if I wanted to go camping. Of course I did! Christmas was on Thursday, so we planned on a quick one-night outing to Harriman State Park for Friday evening. I had recently been to the Fingerboard Shelter and thought it would be nice to head back. I packed up my gear that night, and we were on the road shortly after noon the next day. It was a nice warm winter weekend in the park. Temperatures during the day didn’t go below 50 degrees and the skies were clear and blue.
Last Minute Camping
One of the tenants of Leave-No-Trace is to “Always Plan Ahead.” This is an important rule, as ill-prepared travelers tend to cause more damage to an ecosystem than those who know what they’re doing. Always having a plan is also an important aspect of camping safely. In order to have a safe, enjoyable time, you need to know where you’re going and what to expect. You should prepare to navigate to and from your destination. It is also important to have the right equipment and provisions.
All of these considerations are what led me to choose a return trip to Fingerboard. I had just been there a few weeks earlier, and I knew the way. Fingerboard Shelter is an easy 1.5 mile walk from the parking lot at Tiorati Circle. I looked at the weather forecast and saw that it was would be warm and sunny for the entire weekend. This was a great opportunity for a last-minute getaway.
I am always ready to go camping. I keep all of my seasonal camping equipment in a bin in my room. When I want to go camping, all I have to do is transfer my gear into my pack. The only item I don’t keep in the bin is my sleeping bag. All of my sleeping bags are kept in large mesh bags in a closet. A sleeping bag should never be compressed for longer than necessary.
With my gear loaded, all I needed was food. I usually keep a few home-made backpacking meals ready to go. In this case, I had plenty of meals, but had to mix up a new batch of trail mix. I had also been on a hot coco kick lately, so I needed to head out to the store to pick some up.
Headed to Harriman State Park
The next day I met up with my friend Evan and his cousin. We left town for Harriman State Park around 1pm the day after Christmas. Harriman State Park is a 46,600 acre mix-use recreational area in Southern New York. It is a quick drive for anyone in Northern New Jersey or Southern New York. It took us about an hour to skirt up the Thruway and Seven Lakes Drive to the parking area at Lake Tiorati. Just driving across Harriman is a real treat and I recommend it to anyone who lives in the area.
Hiking to Fingerboard Shelter
Having parked, we slung on our packs and made our way up the trail. It was only about 2:30 in the afternoon, but the sun was already low in the winter sky. The first leg of our hike was up a blue blazed trail that parallels Arden Valley Road. That trail intersected the Appalachian trail along the ridge of Fingerboard mountain. We reached the ridge just a few minutes after leaving the parking lot, but were already warm enough to remove some layers.
The ridge sloped gently uphill towards the south. As we made our way, the forest thinned out and gave way to an alpine-like region. This 1,300 foot ridge would normally be low enough to support trees. Years of repeated forest fires had cleared the top and deprived it of rich soil. After passing the remains of several un-authorized camps, we made it to the shelter.
Night in Camp
We found the shelter occupied by a large party. Most of the group indicated that they were leaving, but one older man was planning to spend the night. He suggested that we camp at another established site a few hundred yards away, so we moved on. The site he sent us to was actually quite nice. It had a few cleared places for tents, and a large fire pit. The fire bit was unique: it was built against a large flat rock that worked like a table.
After pitching our shelters, we spent some time gathering fire wood. The temperature was still in the 50’s, but a big fire would be nice. I don’t normally build a fire at all, but we had arrived at the site early enough and were planning to be up for a while. It was worth it.
Evan and his cousin had brought Christmas leftovers wrapped in aluminum foil. They warmed the food over the fire and had a delicious meal. I was a little jealous as I ate my simple quinoa based boil-bag meal. I should consider indulging on fancier food when I have the opportunity. After dinner, we had some hot coco and chatted around the fire for a while before going to bed.
I slept under my MYOG Backpacking Tarp for the first time. There was no rain, and very little wind. I probably didn’t need any shelter at all. Temperatures at night only went as low as 35 degrees, according to my weather station. I was plenty warm in my winter bag. My friend’s cousin wasn’t as lucky in the old bag he had brought along. He got up in the middle of the night to cook a second dinner. Eating a warm, fatty meal always helps get the furnace going.
The Next Morning
We slept nice and late the next morning. One of the really nice things about winter backpacking is that you get to sleep a lot. The sun goes down early, and then there is nothing to do but sleep. Having a short walk back to the car makes it even nicer. I boiled water for coffee. After we were refreshed, I made some more hot water for oatmeal. I was hungry that morning and munched on a bag of trail mix in addition to my regular breakfast. I like to include chocolate covered espresso beans in my trail mix for an extra kick.
After breakfast, we packed up our gear and were ready to go. It was a quick and easy walk back to the car by the same route we had come. I like these short camping trips. Very often, I try to push to get as many miles into a weekend as I can. Evan usually tempers this drive, reminding me that its time to relax, not kill ourselves. Regardless how long we’re out, its always nice to be camping and away from our busy lives at home.
Where’s your favorite quick getaway? What do you like about it? It doesn’t have to be camping related. You can answer in the comments section below.