It’s still a week before deer season opens around here, so I decided that while waiting I would just go and relax in the woods. After some searching over the maps, I noticed that there was a marking for an old cemetery in the northern section of Harriman State Park. I figured I would make a trip out of it and make my way to it.
The weather was brisk, around 40F (4C), and very windy. It still wasn’t bad for mid November.
Rhea came along for the ride. In fact the reason why I picked this part of the woods is because there is no hunting here and I could bring here safely.
I took the long way to my destination so I could pass by an old mine. Back in the 18th and early 19th century, in these forests there were a number of small villages and homesteads that were eventually abandoned. Sometimes you can see the remnants of house foundations, but the best preserved evidence of their existence is the small cemeteries and iron mines cut into the rock.
The mines are usually very shallow, going about a dozen feet into the rock. They were cut with hand tools, and followed the iron ore veins running on the surface.
From there it was a steep climb up the mountain. One of the frustrating things about Harriman State Park is that there are limits on where you can overnight. There are “shelter” locations dispersed through the mountain, and you have to set up within a certain distance from them. This is done to decrease the overall impact on the forest, and it has the added benefit of limiting the number of people overnighting in the forest. You can’t just walk 100 yards into the woods and set up a huge camp. If you want to spend the night, you have to walk in at lest good five miles, which requires some commitment.
The down side is that you can’t chose your location based on the weather conditions. These shelter sites, which are no more than a makeshift leanto, are usually set up in locations with nice views, which in turn are usually on top of mountains. That is great during summer, but in adverse weather, such as this past weekend, where the winds were extremely strong, setting up in such a location is far from ideal. This is the shelter I encountered when I got to the top of the mountain; a leanto on a rock outcrop:
I never use the leantos. It never appealed to me, and besides, there are people who rely on them, especially some through-hikers, so I usually go as far away from them as I can under the regulations (usually about 100 yards), and set up my camp. In this instance, that left me exposed to some pretty severe winds.
I haven’t had to fight winds this strong in a long time. They were strong enough that even with my four season tent, it wouldn’t stay up unless I pitched it directly into the wind. Even then, several times during the night I had to get up and put my body against the tent wall to keep it from collapsing when wind directions changed.
After I pitched the tent and secured it, my next challenge was to cook dinner. For this weekend I was testing a small wood burning stove called the Solo Stove. I was asked to test it by the manufacturer, so I’ve been trying to get some use out of it. For all practical purposes, it is a Bush Buddy clone.
The first problem was the wind. It was so strong that cooking in it without a stove specifically designed for the purpose, like an MSR Reactor, would be extremely difficult. The wind just sucks the heat out of the stove. Ordinarily, under such conditions I would just cook inside the tent. Unfortunately you can’t do that with a stove like this one. So, I found a somewhat sheltered spot near some rocks, and gave it a try.
The second problem was that such small wood burning stoves rely on your ability to make a fire, and having the resources to do it. It is relatively easy to do if you were in an area abundant in birch and pine trees. You can easily make a small fire within the stove with such woods. However, where I was there wasn’t a single birch or soft wood in sight. All I had was hickory, oak, and maple. For tinder all I had was grass. Hickory, oak, and maple make great fuel woods because of their extended burn time. However, they are very difficult to light. They require a lot of heat to get going, even when they are processed into small pieces. The usual solution is to build a larger fire set up. You use a good bundle of grass to get the fire going, you surround it with thin pieces of wood, and then larger ones. Ones the grass start burning, the wood around it traps the heat, and eventually the ignites the wood and reaches sustainability. Doing that is a tiny stove however, is extremely difficult. You just can’t place enough tinder (grass) to raise the heat high enough to light the wood you are using.
Long story short, it took me nearly an hour to get the stove working and somewhat warm up some water (the wind wouldn’t allow more than that).
The night was pretty cold. I had with me my three season bag, and I was cold. The wind was relentless all night, and had to get up several times to secure the tent.
In the morning I got up early and headed down the other side of the mountain. It was an easy hike to the cemetery that I was looking for. There were no trails leading to it, but there were some unmarked paths. The cemetery was easy to spot this time of year. It was surrounded by the remnants of a low stone wall.
Some of the grave stones were toppled over. Most of them had the name Bailey on them. That’s why I am referring to it as the Bailey cemetery. This is pretty common in this area. There were many small villages and homesteads, at time composed only of one family.
All of the grave stones were from the 1800s. The one above shows the realities of life back then, marking the grave of two and a half year old child.
On that somber note, I made my way back, going around the mountain, and out of the forest. It was a good weekend to test the gear against some strong winds. Everything worked out well, and it was a lot of fun.