Blue Skies To Gray

FLT Map: Bear Creek Rd (M4) west to S. Canada Hill Rd (M4)

Bear Creek Rd (M4) west to S. Canada Hill Rd (M4)

Hike Stats:
19.05 miles, 2.9mph avg moving, 2.1mph avg overall, 6h:39m moving, 2h:28m stopped, 9h:07m total time, max elevation 2050ft, total ascent 2695ft, 141.47ft/mi. FLT M4
Total trail miles completed to-date: 520.6 (87.7%)

Photos:
Google: https://photos.app.goo.gl/zNEdwL4mXD1QxhuUA

Blue Skies To Gray
A

number of years ago I volunteered to help out the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) with their social media outreach. I helped post items on the FLT’s Facebook page and I revived a dormant Instagram account. In 2018 I became chair of the IT/Web team; the group that oversees the web site and social media platforms. The team knew about my hikes and one of the members, Chase Gregory, offered to hike with me since I was getting close to his “neck of the woods”.

Chase and I coordinated on the hike and I watched the weather forecast as I always do during the week leading up to the planned hike. Saturday looked to be somewhat similar to my first hike of the year, although slightly warmer. The forecast predicted cool temperatures in the morning with sun, but clouding up by late morning. Sunday looked to be warmer, but there was a chance of thunderstorms.

As the weekend drew closer the chance of thunderstorms on Sunday increased and we decided that Saturday was the better choice. We planned to meet at Bear Creek Road access point, the place I had turned around on my last hike, at 7 am.

I left my house at 4 am; the drive, plus a stop for gas, would take me nearly three hours. As I merged onto the highway the full moon glowed brightly overhead. On the west side of Corning all traffic was diverted off the highway. I slowed and drove up the exit ramp and saw the reason; a truck and trailer had turned over on its side and was blocking the highway.

I returned to the highway and continued on as the sky began to lighten. At the Bath exit I made my usual stop for gas and coffee and then was back on the road a short time later. I was almost to my exit off the highway when I plunged into a wall of fog.

The trailhead was still about 30 minutes away. I slowed and exited the highway and continued on through the fog. The fog ebbed at times, but remained. I drove on and passed Huyck Road; I had crossed the road I was driving on last fall during a hike. Another turn and the road took me past Harwood Haven Campground, which I had passed through on my last hike.

Finally I turned onto Bear Creek Road and made my way to the trailhead. Chase had arrived before me and was waiting in his car. He got out and we shook hands and said hello; this was the first time we had met in person.

Broken foot bridge over Bear Creek at trailhead, trail heading west
Broken foot bridge over Bear Creek at trailhead, trail heading west

I got my pack out; I had decided to take a lighter pack since I was hiking with someone else. After pulling on my boots and grabbing my walking stick we started out (mile 0.0 – 7:14 am). We crossed over the broken bridge that had collapsed into Bear Creek and started up a wide path through tall wet grass.

Very quickly my boots and socks were soaked. Chase and I chatted as we continued our climb up the trail. He said he had missed a turn not far up and had been unable to find the trail. I pulled up the FLT map on my phone to make sure we did not miss it this time. Ahead the trail made a left turn (mile 0.5 – 7:27 am). He also recalled there being a series of steep switchback climbs, but we had not encountered them; perhaps we had missed a turn.

We turned left and made our way along the trail. The trail was rough in places, with many small “blow downs” that we had to toss out of the way or step over. After almost a mile we came to two larger trees that had come down and blocked the trail, our only choice was to bushwhack around them.

Looking north on a power line right-of-way south of Bear Creek Rd
Looking north on a power line right-of-way south of Bear Creek Rd

After making our way around the fallen trees we came to a power line right-of-way (mile 1.7 – 8:00 am). the sun was shining brightly in a brilliant blue sky. We stopped to take a few pictures looking north on the right-of-way. It was a great view, except for the power lines.

The trail turned left and followed a vehicle path along the middle of the right-of-way. It was soggy and wet. In several places we had to walk to the side through tall grass and low brush to avoid deep muddy ruts.

After nearly 500 yards we came to a right turn that took us off the right-of-way. Before we left the right-of-way Chase pointed out ahead of us, fog was settled in a distant valley. We both stopped to take a few pictures, again the only distraction from the view were the power lines.

Our track took us through a short stretch of woods and then opened out into a field (mile 2.2 – 8:15 am). A gorgeous view stretched out in front of us, this time unobstructed by power lines. We stopped once again to take a few pictures and then continued down through the field.

The trail took us down between a fence on our left and a row of small trees on our right before arriving at Bakerstand Road. A path had been mowed down the middle, but near the fence and trees the grass grew tall. The fence posts were old wooden poles that might have been painted white at one time. The fence wire between the posts had broken or sagged in many places.

Looking east on Bakerstand Rd
Looking east on Bakerstand Rd

At Bakerstand Road a farm with a silo sat to our left (mile 2.5 – 8:24 am). The fog we had seen earlier lay behind the barn and silo. The sun shone down brightly from above in a blue sky. The light made the dew on the grass and shrubs around the road glow and sparkle.

We crossed the road and made our way down into another field. Several trees of many different varieties had been planted here and the trail wound its way between them. All of the trees had plaques indicating they were a donation from a person or family.

The trail continued on through the trees and then finally entered the woods. It followed along near a small stream, Boyce Run. A short distance later we found ourselves in a little picnic area (mile 2.9 – 8:33 am). There was a trail register, a picnic table, and a chimney on one side of the trail. On the other, an L-shaped bench wrapped around two sides of a tree and a fire pit sat nearby. The bench and fire pit overlooked little Boyce Run.

Chase and I stopped for a quick break. I signed us into the trail register and grabbed some water and an energy bar. After a short rest we started off again, winding our way through the woods. A short time later we came to a set of very nice steps that had been built into the side of the bank and led down to Boyce Run (mile 3.1 – 8:46 am).

We walked down the four steps and stepped across a few rocks in the stream before climbing up the other side. Both of us echoed each others thoughts, “Why didn’t they just build a bridge!” — it seemed like a lot of work just for a set of steps. The trail continued on along the stream and then turned into a field.

Ahead we saw a house and yard. A short time earlier I had told Chase about hiking with my friend Tim and how we had found a few places where the trail traveled right next to a house. I had mentioned that I always felt a little odd walking so close to a house — and here we were doing just that.

A mowed pathway led past the house as it continued along next to the woods. A short distance past the house it turned left to cut through a hedgerow and then turned right on the other side. We made our way up the field along the hedgerow. Jackson Road lay just ahead of us. Just before reaching the road I looked back and saw another gorgeous view (mile 3.3 – 8:52 am).

View across a field at the intersection of Bakerstand Rd and Jackson Rd
View across a field at the intersection of Bakerstand Rd and Jackson Rd

After taking a few pictures we climbed up to Jackson Road and turned left to follow the road. We moved along at a good pace. The field to our left opened across a valley and another great view presented itself (mile 3.4 – 8:55 am). I stopped once again to take a few more pictures

View across a field on Jackson Rd
View across a field on Jackson Rd

We continued on along the road and then came to Jackson Forest Road; it was a DEC Truck Trail. As was typical with the DEC Truck Trails a barricade was at the entrance. It stood open and we continued on up the dirt and gravel road.

The road continued to climb and turned to our left. We continued moving along and finally arrived at the next trailhead (mile 4.1 – 9:08 am). The trail turned off the road to the right. Immediately we found a Wegmans Passport marker. I stopped to take a few pictures and then we continued on.

A short distance later we arrived at a pond (mile 4.2 – 9:11 am). The water was absolutely still and the blue sky and trees were perfectly reflected in its surface. We both stopped to take several pictures before moving on.

Pond west of Jackson Rd
Pond west of Jackson Rd

We made our way around the pond, crossing a pair of foot bridges at either end. The trail left the pond behind and continue on through the woods. We passed into a quiet and shaded pine forest. Both of us commenting that we enjoyed these sections of the trail.

Ahead, and off to our left, we saw a lean-to; Boyce Hill Lean-to. We turned off the main trail to take a rest break at the lean-to (mile 4.9 – 9:29 am). I dropped my pack on a picnic table next to a fire pit. A blanket had been left hanging in the lean-to. Two benches made of squared-off logs sat around the fire pit, one had a backrest built from boards.

Sign at Boyce Hill Lean-to
Sign at Boyce Hill Lean-to

A sign nailed to a tree pointed the way to an “air conditioned loo”. We both chuckled at the sign, but took the opportunity to use the facilities; it beat having to dig a hole in the middle of the woods.

After using the “loo” and taking a nice break we struck out again. The trail continued its way through the forest and then began to descend. The sun had still be shining while we were at the lean-to, but as we walked it began to fade behind clouds. At the edge of NY 242 we came to an old signpost (mile 6.5 – 10:23 am) . The mileage and locations had faded, but were still just legible.

Kiosk on NY 242
Kiosk on NY 242

We turned left onto NY 242 and continued down the road. The sun was now hidden behind clouds, which in some ways was a blessing on a road-walk. We moved quickly along the shoulder making good time. After about 1.25 miles we came to a kiosk with large metal signs attached — “North Country National Scenic Trail” (mile 7.8 – 10:46 am). The Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) and the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) run parallel through much of New York.

We checked the maps in the kiosk and noted that a blue spur trail headed away from the road to the right of the kiosk. The white-blazed main trail was nowhere to be found. I walked a short distance up the road looking for the blazes, but with no luck. Finally, I came back to the kiosk. As I walked back Chase caught sight of a white blaze further down the blue-blazed trail. It appeared that they ran together.

We made our way down the trail away from the kiosk and NY 242 and soon came to a railroad track (mile 7.9 – 10:51 am). The trail climbed up and crossed over the track. I stopped to take a few pictures looking both ways on the track.

Foot bridge over Devereaux Branch north of NY 242
Foot bridge over Devereaux Branch north of NY 242

After leaving the track behind we immediately came to an L-shaped footbridge that crossed over a stream called the Deveraux Branch. There were eight steps that climbed up to the bridge. We took the steps up and made our way across. The bridge turned to the left and then deposited us on the other side. The builders of the bridge crafted a small bench in the angle of the “L” to allow hikers to pause and enjoy the stream running below.

Once across the bridge we came to a split in the trail. The blue-blazed path turned off to the left and the white-blazed trail, our trail, turned to the right. We walked a short distance before the trail turned back left and began to climb up a hill. A small stream tumbled down across the trail. We continued to climb and a short time later arrived at a sign post. The blue trail connected back in at this point, continuing straight on up the hill. The white-blazed trail turned sharply to the left.

Scarlet Tanager perched on a small limb north of NY 242
Scarlet Tanager perched on a small limb north of NY 242

Just after turning to the left I caught sight of a bright red bird flitting through the trees (mile 8.3 – 11:05 am). We both attempted to snap a picture of the bird, but it kept hopping and flying about. Finally after several attempts I was able to snap a few pictures. I thought it was a Scarlet Tanager; later I looked it up and confirmed that it was.

We left the bird behind and continued on arriving a short time later at another sign post and another Wegmans Passport station. The Passport plaque was fixed to one side and a map was on the other. The blue-blazed trail crossed the white-blazed main trail here.

Past the sign post the trail began to curve to the right. It gently descended as it curved its way around a hill. The trail then made a quick turn to the left and descended down a muddy slope through brush and small trees to open out onto Fancy Tract Road (mile 9.1 – 11:28 am). Chase and I both slid a couple times as we picked our way down to the road.

At the road we turned right and followed it as it climbed up and passed a junction with W Fancy Tract Road. Beyond the junction the road changed its name to Canada Hill Road. A short walk up the road and we arrived at the trailhead and our turn-around point (mile 9.6 – 11:39 am).

Since it was nearly noon we decided to stop and have our lunch. We climbed up from the road and sat down in a grassy area. Although the sky was clouded over the temperature was nice. I removed the bottom part of my hiking pants to convert them into shorts. Chase and I chatted while we ate.

Looking south on Canada Hill Rd
Looking south on Canada Hill Rd

After finishing our lunches we pulled on our packs and climbed back down to the road. We descended down along the side of the road and arrived at the trailhead a short time later. The climb up from the road was muddy and slippery. Each of us slipped and slid several times before we finally made it to more stable and level ground.

We made our way back up the hill and past the blue trail. Soon we were once again crossing the L-shaped bridge over the Devereaux Branch (mile 11.1 – 12:57 pm). Once across the bridge we climbed over the railroad track and then up to NY 242 and the large kiosk.

Walking quickly, we continued on down the shoulder of NY 242 and a little over twenty minutes later we arrived at the next trailhead. We climbed up away from the road on the trail. After a short walk of about one-half mile I notice a massive gnarled tree that stretched its limbs above the path (mile 13.0 – 1:33 pm). We had not noticed it on our way past earlier.

Old gnarled tree east of NY 242
Old gnarled tree east of NY 242

We both stopped to take several photos of the ancient behemoth. At first we thought it might not still be living, but sprouts of green leaves crowned its lofty branches.

Leaving the gnarled tree behind we continued on along the trail. Soon we arrived at the short pathway to the Boyce Hill Lean-to and turned off once again to take a short break (mile 14.0 – 1:58 pm). After a drink and a quick rest we set out once again.

We continued on and another short walk found ourselves back at the small pond near Jackson Forest Road. The view was more muted with the cloudy sky. Gray reflected back from the brown-tinged water. We continued on around the pond, not pausing for pictures this time.

Looking north on Jackson Forest Rd
Looking north on Jackson Forest Rd

A short distance later we arrived at Jackson Forest Road (mile 14.9 – 2:30 pm). Although sun and blue sky would have been better for pictures, the clouded skies did make for a cooler road-walk. We moved quickly down the dirt and gravel road and soon were back at Jackson Road.

We continued moving along quickly, but about mid-way along the road I noticed something that caused me to stop (mile 15.5 – 2:43 pm). A small scraggly tree at the side of the road had been painted sky-blue. The paint was peeling and had fallen away in many places, but enough of the paint was left to determine the color. We both wondered at the painted tree, but could come up with no explanation for it.

Blue tree on Jackson Rd
Blue tree on Jackson Rd

After leaving the blue tree behind we turned off the road and made our way along the edges of the fields. As we approached the house that sat near the trail we noticed a man on a riding mower. He was working on mowing the path that we were walking along. As we watched his tractor became stuck. He tried to jostle it out of its rut by quickly shifting backwards and forwards — to no avail.

Chase and I dropped our packs and stepped up behind the tractor to help. We leaned into it and pushed as hard as we could while the man powered it forward and backwards. The stuck tractor seemed to barely budge, but finally the tires found traction and it lurched forward. The man drove off and resumed his mowing as we collected our packs and continued on.

Dryad's Saddle growing on the side of a tree
Dryad’s Saddle growing on the side of a tree

A short time later we crossed Boyce Run and climbed up the expertly-made steps (mile 15.9 – 2:53 pm). As we walked I noticed some mushrooms growing on the side of a tree. The tops of the mushrooms were brown with darker specks and the undersides white. I stopped to take a few pictures. I learned later that they were called Dryad’s Saddle.

We left the mushrooms behind and quickly arrived at the small picnic area and chimney along Boyce Run. We stopped again for a quick break and I signed into the register once again.

After another short rest we continued on. We made our way through the commemorative tree grove and back across Bakerstand Road (mile 16.5 – 3:21 pm). The trail climbed up through the field along the fence and soon we were back at the power line right-of-way. The trail remained soggy and we picked our way along the track until the trail turned off into the woods.

Soon we were back at the top of the wide path we had climbed up earlier through the wet grass. Instead of following down along the wide path the blazes led off to the right through the woods. This was the section we had missed earlier (mile 18.5 – 4:08 pm).

The trail was rough and narrow in many places. A number of small limbs and logs had fallen across the trail and we had to keep picking our feet over or dodging around them. Finally the trail turned to the left and began a series of switchbacks down a steep hill. It was tough going and our legs were aching and tired by the time we reached the bottom.

The narrow path opened back out onto the wide path and we saw where we had missed the turn in the morning. The remainder of the walk was easy. We passed by a patch of wild leeks, their light garlicky smell wafting in the air. A short distance later we saw our cars ahead and then crossed over Bear Creek (mile 19.05 – 4:21 pm).

Our hike was complete. I changed out of my boots and socks and pulled on a clean shirt. Chase and I said our goodbyes to each other and then we pulled our cars out of the parking area and drove off down the road. We had arrived back at our cars somewhat early and I would still have daylight to drive home in. The sun was just beginning to set as I pulled into my driveway nearly three hours later.

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