Another weekend means time for another backpacking trip! This weekend was calling for some hot and sticky weather, but we had decided that we wanted to backpack anyway and decided on another section of the Finger Lakes/North Country Trail, this time on map M19 which is partially in Kennedy Memorial State Forest just outside of Dryden/Cortland, New York.
We started off our hike by climbing up Virgil Mountain (the highest point in Cortland County) and Greek Peak from Tone Street. This 700-foot climb was steep in some places, made more difficult by the mud leftover from the past weeks’ rain. After climbing to the top of Virgil Mountain we were rewarded by walking through waist-deep grass and underneath hot powerlines before walking through more waist-deep grass on Greek Peak. Thankfully the blackberries haven’t fully come in yet, but I’d say within two weeks this portion of trail won’t be pleasant due to thorny berry vines!
From here, we had a fairly uneventful walk undulating to the Firefox lean-to. For being 11 years old and incredibly close to a road, this lean-to was in great shape and well-maintained, even with a picnic table for our lunch break! We continued westward on the Finger Lakes Trail, climbing up an incredibly steep hill on the west side of Babcock Hollow Road, some areas even provided ropes tied off to trees to help us get up the grades! Finally, we came to the split with the blue-blazed Swedish Loop Trail, which we decided to take for a change of scenery. Instead of starting our day with a road walk, we pretty much ended our day by walking the 0.5 miles down Daisy Hollow Road. The 4 p.m. afternoon sun combined with 85+ degree temperatures made for a pretty hot half mile. From here, the Finger Lakes Trail turned right across the road, but we stayed on the left side to the Spanish Loop orange blazed trail. After going in only about 1000 feet, we noticed there was a blue blazed Irwin Trail leading directly to the Irwin biouvac site, which is where we were planning to camp for the night. We took the blue blaze for a short 0.2 miles where we found a tiny campsite stocked with a 5-foot tall pile of firewood, a bench, a fire ring, and if you headed up the trail about 250 feet, two adirondack chairs set up looking at a small cascade. The campsite was a beautiful site to be sure.
We ended up meeting the trail/campsite maintainers about an hour after arriving to camp. They walk the trail system over here every single day and try to bring back dry wood to keep the campsite stocked and inviting. We thanked them for all their hard work and told them their love of the place really showed! We got to sleep that night in the cool breeze blowing up from the small gully containing the creek next to the site, which was incredibly welcoming considering it didn’t get below 65 all night.
The next morning instead of heading back out the way we came in, we decided to follow the Spanish Loop back into Kennedy Forest and follow the old roadbed to the Swedish Loop Trail to cut some mileage off. Our dog woke up with swollen feet that morning and we wanted to keep her comfortable, taking plenty of rest breaks in creeks for her to calm down the irritation in her feet (which are fine by the way! She’s just getting older now and gets a few aches and pains like all hikers do!) We followed the Finger Lakes Trail for a very short period of time after the Swedish Loop, all the way until just past the lean-to. After the lean-to, we met up with a figure-eight trail intersection and took an old logging road which partially composed the Virgil Mountain Loop trail, which we followed back to the powerlines we hiked under the first morning out. Then, it was an easy 1.4 miles through the waist-high grass and down the steep hill to the car (and some time to play in the creek!)
The photos today are: A really cool tree root system, NoKey and Gracie walking in a dense pine forest, an abandoned steam engine, the view from the FireFox Lean-to, a Finger Lakes Trail sign at a road crossing, and Gracie relaxing next to the fire in camp.