Thursday, August 9, 2012

Trip Report: Friday Mtn Airplane Crash Site 8/3/12 – 8/5/12 Part 1

So lately I have been looking for ways to make my outings in the woods a bit more focused. In particular, I have been looking for challenges which would put my bushcraft/backpacking skills to some actual use. To that end, I took the day off on Friday, and started planning a three day/two night trip. I had heard that in the Catskill Mountains, there were several airplane crash sites. A few of them were in locations, that were not marked on any of the maps, nor were accessible from any of the trails. For this trip, I decided to select one of these crash sites, and go into the woods in search of it.

There are several aspects of this trip that I thought would be interesting. To begin with, it just sounds like a fun idea to go into the backwoods in search of an airplane crash site. Furthermore, though, it would offer a good navigational challenge, not only in terms of finding the crash site, but being able to locate water sources for the trip, and planning out appropriate supplies.

After some research, I found that there was one crash site near Friday Mountain. I saw some pictures taken by a person about six years ago when he managed to find it. However, he had located the site by traveling up the mountain from the eastern side. That made for a relatively short trip. Since I wanted to spend some more time in the woods, I figured I would try to find it using an approach from the west. Here was the plan:


I would start out at the parking lot at the end of Denning Road. There I would catch the Yellow trail for a short distance. At the point marked #1 on the map, I would leave the trail, and start bushwhacking along the eastern branch of the Neversink River. The bushwhacking in this portion of the trip would not be particularly hard. While there are no trails, people do walk along the river to fish, so especially in the early stages of the river, the going is not that hard.

I would follow the river to the point where it branches out, marked as #2 on the map. From there I would take a compass bearing towards the area where my research showed the airplane would be. This would take me over the col between Friday Mountain and Balsam Cap to the point marked as #3 on the map. This would be very hard bushwhacking. There would be no good landmarks to follow other than the compass bearing. From a navigational stand point, this would be the hardest part of the trip. From the pictures I had seen of the crash site, it looked like it might be a good area to camp for the night, so that was my original plan.

The following day I was planning on taking a bearing towards the top of Friday Mountain, and reaching the summit, marked as #4 on the map. From there I would take a bearing towards an unnamed peak about a mile away (#5), and once I reached it, another bearing towards Cornel Mountain (#6). There at the summit, I would find the Red trail, and follow it down to a a water source, marked as #7 on the map. In terms of bushwhacking this would be the hardest part of the trip just because of the physical effort it would take to get through the thick spruce cover on top of the mountains. You may wonder why I wouldn’t just take a bearing directly from Friday Mountain to Cornel Mountain. The reason is that on the east side, judging by the map, and confirmed in practice, there is a steep cliff. To avoid it, I would have to navigate along a curve. This is the only way I know how to do it.

After overnighting at the water source, I was planning on following the trail to the top of Slide Mountain, and then following it out to the parking lot.

So, all that was left was to just do it.

I started out on the trail around 8AM. While driving to the forest, it became clear that my choice to have left over Chinese food the night before was not a good idea. I started to feel nauseous, and while this is something no one likes to talk about, I had to deal with diarrhea for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, I had Imodium with me, the woodsman’s best friend.  

I quickly covered the first portion of trail, reaching the first point. In order to actually get to the eastern branch of the Neversink River, which I would follow, I needed to make two river crossings. Here is the bridge at the first one:


It was accompanied by this sign:


Thanks! A very helpful hint indeed. Apparently a storm has washed away part of the bridge, which they were now rebuilding. Fortunately, the river level was very low, which allowed me to cross it with minimal effort slightly more upstream.

The second crossing had a functional bridge, although I am not a big fan of having to hold on to a rope while crossing a river.


Once along the river, I had time to take a few pictures of the plant I stumbled across there. There was a good amount of what looked to be Amadou.Horse Hoof Fungus.


I spotted some similarly shaped white fungus on a few of the trees.


Perhaps the two fungi were related. They were spaced close to each other, and some of the white ones had sections turning brown.


There was no shortage of mushrooms. Since I know nothing about them, I stay away from all of them.





There were a few berries along the way as well. I wasn’t sure what they were, so I left them alone.


Some sections of the river bank were covered in nettles. I spent a good amount of time walking with my hands up to avoid getting stung.


… and this one is worth mentioning just because of the size.


I had some trouble following the river. On a few occasions I found myself not being sure if I am following the main branch of the river, or some small offshoot. Because of the dry weather, the water level was off, making me think that I had lost track of the main part of the river. Luckily that wasn’t the case. That’s not to say, I wasn’t worried on more than one occasion.

The bears had been keeping busy as well.


All that aside however, I kept moving forward, and eventually reached the fork in the river for which i had been looking.


From here forward I would have to leave the river and start bushwhacking based on my compass bearing. This is the area marked as #2 on my first map.

It was getting to be around noon, so I took the opportunity to eat some lunch.


As usual, lunch was just a granola bar, some salami, nuts, and chocolate. I made some energy drink to go along with it.


As you can see, for this trip I have switched back to a metal cup. This is the Stoic Ti Kettle 700ml (lid removed) from Backcountry. It used to be known as the Backcountry Ti Kettle. The reason for the change is that I just wasn’t comfortable without a metal cup. There is nothing practical that I could point to, it was more of a psychological thing. I just feel more comfortable having a metal cup in addition to my pot. I may promptly change my mind when winter comes around.

After eating, I filtered a bunch of water. Judging by the map, I wouldn’t hit any water sources until I reached the area around the airplane site. I wanted to have at least three liters of water with me. 


After that, I took a bearing off the map, packed up, and started on my way.


The bush got dense very quickly.


Although from time to time things would open up, and some more interesting plants would emerge under the sunlight.


One of these more interesting sites was a man made object that I bumped into shortly after leaving the river.



I had no idea whose it was, or what it was, but I figured I would leave it alone and get out of there. It certainly wasn’t an airplane.

Not long after the forest transitioned into spruce and fir. This was not something I expected. I thought that the col would be too low for this kind of vegetation, but clearly I was wrong. This slowed me down significantly. To add to the problem, I encountered several rock outcrops.


After some circling around, I was able to find a way up this particular one along a gap in the rocks.


After getting over the rocks, it was time for a well deserved brake. My pace was much slower than I had expected, and I was quickly starting to run out of water. I had no choice but to find water after a got over the col.


After close to four hours of climbing, I reached the top of the ridgeline. I was exhausted, but could finally some some light through the trees.


Soon though my excitement was brought down several notches when I realized two problems that now faced me. The first was that the eastern side of the ridge was a very steep drop off. It would be very hard to climb down. The second problem was that I was clearly off my bearing, or more exactly, my bearing was a bit off. I was aiming for a river bed between the two mountains. However, I had ended up too close to Friday Mountain. I decided to stop following the bearing, which was useless at this point, and try to locate the airplane by following the geographical features. In effect, I started aiming of the lowest point between the two mountains, and looking for a stream bed on the side of the ridge.

The going was very though. The ground seemed littered with holes covered by vegetation. Everything was rotting and the rocks were unstable. On several occasions I had 100lb rocks roll out from under my feet because of the steep terrain. Soon however, the strategy started to pay off. Under some of the rocks, I started hearing the flow of water. It was particularly loud near some of the holes. Clearly, water was flowing underneath.


Not much further down, the water started coming out from under the rocks.


My water problem was solved, and just in time. I was nearly out of water. The only thing left was to keep following the stream down and try to spot the airplane. From the pictures this other person had posted, it seemed to be right near the stream bed. A few more minutes, and I started seeing metal objects scattered around.


The body of the airplane was mostly in one location.

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I was now at the location marked as #3 on the first map. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a horrible area for a camp site. The slope was very steep, and there was very little area that was not covered by rocks and holes. I sat for a few minutes, and filled up with water. The are where I had found the water coming out from under the rocks was the only one where I could see water. By the time the stream got to the airplane, the water had gone under again. As you can probably see from the above picture, I was exhausted. I still wasn’t feeling well, and wasn’t able to eat as much food as I should have. The salami and chocolate were fine, but I couldn’t keep down the granola bars and nuts.


There was a good supply of wood sorrow, which made for a good snack, even though hardly any calories. The sour taste was good for the nausea.


I also found a good chunk of chaga in sight of where I was sitting.


It was now getting to be around 5PM. The original plan called for me to set up camp somewhere around here. Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be as great of a location as I expected. That, combined with the fact that I was anxious about the bushwhacking I would have to do the next day, I decided to just push on towards my next destination, and look for a better location for a camp along the way. I took a bearing towards Friday Mountain, and started on my way.

This turned out not to be a good idea, and I should have known better. I had been told by others that on the east side, the summit of Friday Mountain was blocked by cliffs, which could not be scaled without equipment. I was told that there was only one pass up the cliffs that you had to find in order to make it. Now, I could have gone back up the col, and then climbed up the mountain from there, but I didn’t want to go so far out of my way.

Well, soon my path was blocked by cliffs, and more cliffs.



Just as I was about to call it a day, I noticed that a bit further down from the cliffs there was something that looked like a game trail. I figured this might be the result of other people who have climbed the mountain from this side. If there is only one way up, then it is likely that all of the tracks will converge at that location. I started following the trail, and luckily, it started making its way up through the rocks after some circling around.


I kept climbing. I didn’t think I would make it to the summit before night fall, so I started looking for locations where I could set up camp. I had to rush this a bit as I started hearing thunder. Luckily the rain never came to the area where I was.

I pitched my shelter on a rock outcrop. The soil was almost non existent. Instead, there was about a foot or two of pine needles. I had to carve out some extra long stakes in order to keep the shelter in place. While the Shangri-La 5 is huge, and it is hard to find areas where it can be placed, the fact that it has no floor, makes it easy to pitch on uneven ground and over obstacles.


When I finished setting up it was close to 7PM. There was not going to be any fire this evening. The composition of the ground would almost guarantee a forest fire. The Kovea Spider stepped up to the task. Even so, dinner was a complete failure. I didn’t cook the ground beef enough, so the food ended up being rather crunchy. Well, food is food, so I ate it, and called it a night. I hoped that drinking plenty of water and getting a good night sleep would make me feel better for the next day.

To be continued…

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