Hiking the Letchworth Trail, NY

Last week end, I participated in an organized hike set up by the GTA TEAM Outdoor Extreme meetup group. 
 We spent two days hiking the 37km of the Letchworth Trail, part of the Finger Lakes Trail.

The group left Toronto early on Saturday morning. Two people of the group (including myself) being French, we had to wait a bit to cross the American border. We eventually drove through Buffalo and reached Letchworth State Park. 
 After leaving one car at the end of the trail, near the visitor center, we drove the other one to the trail head, near the dame to start our journey.

Cumulative delays made us hit the trail around 12pm. 
 Anyway, off we went!

We were warned many time it was hunting season. So we were all wearing bright colors.

Assumed to be a long but flat and easy trail, we soon enough realized we would have to go through some elevation. And the map and instructions provided by the visitor office were not very helpful to plan ahead. In total, we logged a full kilometer of elevation.

Weather wise, the forecast was a 60% chance of rain with temperature around 10°C. We dodged the rain for most of the first day but eventually, it pierced through the canopy. It was too hot and humid to wear a waterproof shell though, and once again, my Hoodini pullover did the job.

As nightfall came, we reached the “lean to” we booked and quickly settled. Everybody was hungry as it was the first proper stop of the day. We had walked 24km in 6h, mostly in forest, going up and down river beds.

We went to bed around 8pm as the rain started. It rained during most of the night.

Next morning, we had a slow start and went back on trail around 10am. As the delay kept accumulating, we tried to take a shortcut. That was a bad idea. The group got split in two: one continuing on the unmarked shortcut, the other one, in which I was, continued on the trail. A short hour later, a ranger drove the first group back to us.

We finally reached the car we left the day before and finished the 37km with a total time of 9h 10min.

Navigation

The trail by itself is well marked, with yellow vertical strip painted on trees every 20 to 40m, in both direction. From time to time we would also see a milestone signs. 
 There is also several road access along the trail, marked with a yellow sign and a number; the access trail itself is marked with vertical blue strips.

The map though, is an other story. The only one available at the visitor center is a photocopy of a PDF version available online. Elevation is absent, as well as refuges and access points. Other trails are marked on the map but were not to be seen on the ground. If you’re looking for the campground or the pool, it’ll work, for hiking purposes, it’s barely good to start a fire.

And as it was an organized hike and the organizer seemed to know what she was doing, I did near to nothing to prepare navigation wise. My bad. We were left to speculate on the distance and time remaining to the next landmark. Incertitude in a group is never good, especially when people start to get tired.

The “shortcut” episode also stressed the fact that knowing where you are and where you go will save you a lot of time. We had the good reflex to turn around and retrace ours steps once we realized we could not see the trail anymore.

What is true on the trail is also true on the road. Poorly prepared route leads to many detours and put more time constraint on the hike itself.

Next time: Be prepared, even when joining an organized hike: it’s always good to have a backup. And if navigation goes south, that might not be your fault but you’ll still have to suffer the consequences.

Equipment

As opposed to the navigation, I had spent time preparing my backpack. 
 The hike being as sub 24h overnighter, you don’t really need a lot of thing:

  • water
  • food
  • sleeping system
  • clothes to stay warm

That’s pretty much it. The rest is purely comfort:

  • a waterproof jacket: the forecast was calling for rain;
  • no stove, extra water and filtering system: the organizer warned use it might be hard to resupply on water. That wasn’t true at all but better to be safe than sorry. No stove saves water you’d use for cooking and washing your dishes. Note: everybody had a stove and a filtering system. When I ask if I had to bring my filter too, the organizer told my she wouldn’t share her. Sharing stoves and filters would have saved a lot of weight for everybody though.
  • first aid kit: that one is obvious.

All of that fits into my running day pack and makes a compact setup. The extra water and the lack of hip support wouldn’t make it a good idea for longer hikes though.

I was pleased to see that my sleeping system passed to rainy night test. Because it was warm and the bivy was closed and wet outside, it didn’t breathed as well and I got a bit of condensation inside. Nothing annoying though. 
 Eventually, the lack of room might be a problem. I would not spend more than a short night enclosed in the bivy. You also have to be flexible (if you need to change you clothes for instance).

I also got to try my new new MEC -10°C sleeping bag and an inflatable pillow (we’re all creature of comfort). All good here.

The group

That was the good surprise. I’m not used to run/bike/hike with people. Even less with many of them! Getting to know each other and what they thought about the journey and how they reacted to challenges was a really good experience.

I would definitively join these people for new adventures.


Originally published at gravier.io on November 2, 2015.