Here are some important reminders, especially for people new to hiking in southeastern New York.
What to take on the trail
Experienced hikers wear good hiking boots, dress appropriately for the expected weather and carry a daypack with most of the following items, depending on the hike: adequate fluids, cell phone, first aid kit, light jacket, snacks, sunscreen, knife, hat, book or map, flashlight, binoculars, compass and whistle.
When traveling in the more remote areas you should consider taking additional gear: raingear, “space blanket,” extra food, and money. If traveling by bike, you should wear a helmet and carry tools, including: spoke wrench, chain tool, screw driver, Allen wrenches, box/open end wrenches, pliers, swiss army knife, patch kit, spare tube, pump, duct tape.
Fluids are essential when hiking, biking or staying outdoors. Often, people go hiking or biking and wind up the day with a mild headache. Usually, this is attributed to too much exposure, too much sun or too much wind. Many times, the problem is too little fluids. Vigorous outdoor activity requires a minimum of a half quart of fluid per hour, or more, depending on the temperature, humidity and elevation change. Alcohol does not count. It is a diuretic, which means that it removes fluid by osmosis in the stomach. It is always a good idea to carry water and to drink it regularly whether you feel thirsty or not. Do not drink water from streams or lakes. It may contain giardia, a microscopic parasite that can cause severe stomach and intestinal problems.
Poison ivy for some is a minor irritation, for most, a major irritation and for a few, a medical emergency. The best advice is to learn to identify the plant by its leaves and avoid touching it. An old saying is, “Leaves of three, let them be.” In fall, poison ivy leaves turn crimson red and drop off. In winter, the bare plants are difficult to identify, yet still retain their toxic oils. It helps to stay on designated trails and to stay clear of branches that lean out onto the trail and vines running up nearby trees. A great deal of information on poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, including many pictures and tips for avoiding and dealing with these plants, may be found here.
Ticks and Lyme Disease
Deer ticks that carry Lyme Disease are common in Putnam County. Ticks are active during all but the coldest weather. The best way to avoid ticks is to stay on trails. It also helps to wear light clothing so that ticks can be seen. Be sure to brush yourself frequently, especially after passing through tall grass or shrubs. After being outdoors, check yourself completely.
The state of New York Department of Health has an excellent page of information about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Check it out and follow their advice.
Rattlesnakes and copperheads
Both of these animals are present and dangerous, but rarely seen in Putnam County. Rattlesnakes and copperheads will often sun themselves in open areas when it’s sunny but still cool. The best way to avoid them is to stay on the trail, avoid climbing over loose rocky areas, and look where you are about to put your foot or hand.
Black bears are the second largest wild mammal in New York state. (The moose is the largest.) They have erect, rounded ears; a long, narrow, brown muzzle; and a short tail. An average adult male weighs about 300 pounds while females average about 170 pounds. Bears aggressively defend themselves when they feel threatened. Be especially cautious around cubs as mother bears are very protective. Never run from a bear. If you feel threatened, maintain eye contact and back away slowly. Do not throw your backpack or food bag at an approaching bear. This practice will only encourage bears to approach and “bully” people to get food. See the DEC page on black bears in the back country for more information.
Coyotes are well established in New York state. Usually, they are shy and steer clear of humans, but some coyotes living near built-up parts, including parts of Putnam County, have lost their fear of people and have learned to associate people with food. A coyote that is not afraid of people can be dangerous and should be treated with caution. As with bears, don’t run away — it makes you look like prey. Maintain eye contact and back away slowly. Remember, though, nationwide there are only a handful of coyote attacks on people. For more information, see the DEC’s page on Coyote problems.
Officially, there are no mountain lions in New York state. But every year there are reports of sightings. Most of these are probably misidentified bobcats which are pretty shy of humans. Some may have been released or escaped “pets.” Some are certainly fakes.
If you do see a mountain lion, don’t run. Stand your ground, keep eye contact, make yourself look bigger, perhaps using your jacket or daypack. Then, slowly back away. If attacked, fight back vigorously.
Mosquitoes are a fact of life in Putnam County. There are about 65 different species of mosquitoes in New York State. Several mosquito species have been associated with West Nile virus, an infection that can cause encephalitis. Some mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn when the air is calm, and that is when the females are most likely to bite. However, others may be present at any time of the day and feed during the daytime and at dusk. If you are worried about being bitten by mosquitoes you may wish to consider using an insect repellent. The Environmental Protection Agency has a helpful page on the subject which may be found here.
It is surprisingly easy to get lost, especially when hiking. There are four major reasons for this: there are lots of old logging and farm roads, some trails become overgrown, many junctions lack trail markers, and people — many on ATVs and trail bikes — take short-cuts. If you are in a new area, our advice is to follow the hike carefully and note each junction on the map. You might even want to use a stopwatch and reset it at each junction. That way, you can tell roughly how far you’ve come since the last junction.
Remember: In Putnam County, you’re never really all that far from civilization. If you get thoroughly lost, stop, look and listen. Really. Find a nice place to sit down. If you have some water, take a drink. Listen and look. Chances are you’ll be able hear traffic or see signs of civilization. If not, hike a little farther, stop, look and listen again.
Disclaimer – Don’t rely on our descriptions
When it comes to trail safety, there are four reasons why you can’t rely on books or web information — ours or anyone else’s. First, trails change. Hillsides erode, trees fall down and trail markers change. In winter, some trails are impassable. Second, a map is not the trail. No matter how descriptive a map or text is, it can’t describe every feature, root, rock or rut. Third, there are errors in our descriptions. Fourth, our descriptions may not apply to you. When we say a hike is easy or moderate, it may be too difficult. Now for the fine print.
The members of the KCAC cannot accept responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of our maps, trail information or trail conditions. Additionally, we do not accept liability or legal responsibility for any injuries, damage, or losses allegedly caused by using our web pages.
Many thanks to marintrails.com, from whose excellent website much of this material was adapted.