Trekking the NCT: The Western Wall

May 3, 2022

Trekking the NCT: The Western Wall

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

New York- state four. Miles- over 1,900. Percent complete- 40. Covid- negative.

Weather continues to be an issue. The rain and low temperatures might not be to blame for getting sick, but after I caught some random virus, the nasty weather made it harder to get well. I’ve sat around or slept this past week more than I’ve hiked. 

The climbs and descents are now more likely to be 600 to 900 feet with each swoop of the trail line across the topographic map. Cattaraugus County, the one in which the North Country Trail leaves Pennsylvania and heads into New York and onto a shared pathway with the Finger Lakes Trail, is nicknamed by the Empire State foot travelers, “The Western Wall.” There’s always hope that trail builders have graded switchbacks up the big climbs. This is best for hikers and for the hills. Pathways that go straight up or down the fall line of a hill are not only unnecessarily difficult, but they are also likely to become one more eroded drainage creek that washes away soil and plants. But I’ve clambered up and down some of each. Cattaraugus County just grinned and reminded me that the glacier never scraped it down to more manageable heights.

New York state is my geographic home, although I’ve lived in Michigan for over 50 years. The blue hills rolling away to the horizon—another gift of the glaciers—always make me smile, even when I have to walk over them. 

And the heart of the Finger Lakes—many places claim to be just that—steals my heart yet again. A bolt of joy stabs through me every time I top a hill and find the lovely blue of a lake awaiting me on the other side. The distinctive “chunk” made by loose flat shale as I walk across creeks sounds so right. Even the smell and taste of fine gray clay dust hanging in the air says “home.”

Now, I’m east of The Western Wall, but if any of you have tried to travel west to east in New York anywhere other than along the Mohawk Valley (the Thruway) you know that it’s not an easy trip. The state is ribbed with north-south ridges. On foot, each one must be crossed. The serendipitous result of these ridges is an abundance of rills, waterfalls, gorges, and lakes. In particular, the Finger Lakes define the region. 

So far, I’ve seen three Finger Lakes from the trail: Keuka, Lamoka, and Seneca. Not all of them are visible from my current pathway of choice, but I know they are there. 

Spring is bringing the hillsides to life. Wildflowers bloom in abundance, and the trees are beginning to green up. I’m entering month six of my journey, and the warmer air and unfurling leaves are welcome. 

I’m back on the trail, still coughing, but my strength almost restored. The fifteen-mile days are rolling beneath my feet. A three-hundred-foot hill is hardly worth noting. The eight-hundred footer I hiked this morning got my attention, though. It was followed up by three more at 550 feet. Some people say, “go out west and find some real hills.” I say, “go east and get a real test!”



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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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