Andrew's Post on our Carris Hill Adventure


Gina had the idea to use Carris Hill as a prelude to our 10 mile Pemberton Hike, we previously wrote about here and there and also here. As we discussed in our posts the Pemberton Hike was more a nursing home field trip than a strenuous Pine Barrens trek. Carris Hill, on the other hand, was something else entirely. We finally got there last Sunday, starting late (3:45) figuring it would be a leisurely 5 mile stroll up to a nice view and maybe a good place to snack on some pretzels. 

We packed exactly *one* bottle of water, half a bag of pretzels, our hammock and, luckily, a GPS/Digital Compass that we got for our anniversary. By “we packed” I mean Gina packed. Like an imbecile I left the car with nothing but a headcold and a wicked cough. At the start of our hike we passed a lot of people coming in the opposite direction. Elderly Japanese fellows, families, and boyfriend/girlfriend couples that did not appear to be returning from hell. We talked about how great the trail was, how it was challenging, but easy. It would be our new favorite! “Isn’t this great?! Isn’t this great?!” and “Do you want a pretzel?”, the conversation for the first … mile.

We made it to Chik Falls, but we were only able to take a few photos, because we forgot the SD card for the digital camera.

But we did have *a map*. It was a wonderful map. We took two in fact! Just in case one of us got eaten, the other would be able to safely navigate her way out of the woods. We haven’t mentioned, this is a black bear and timber rattlesnake area. We didn’t know that until we got out of the car, and read the sign. Woops.

Unfortunately, Gina made the mistake of leaving the map interpretation up to me. I found the largest P for parking lot, assumed that was our parking lot, and interpretted the map accordingly. Somewhere around dusk, I realized that there were actually about 6 parking lots marked on the map, but more on that later.

After the falls we continued on to Carris Hill, and started the arduous ascent up the “hill”. I, in Hush Puppies, Gina in sneakers. Later investigation of the website that we got the idea from showed that the author suggested this trail not be taken, as it was poorly maintained and organized.We managed to find our way to the top before sunset, and enjoyed the beautiful view.

Getting up the hill, though challenging as the elevation topped 1000ft, proved not to be the hardest part of our little excursion. It should be noted that, visible in the photo is the Manhatten skyline. We were situated just north of West Milford, which is some 40+ miles from NYC.

The trouble started as we descended from Carris, around 6 o’clock. We expected to reunite with our original trail and head back to the parking lot. What we found was the unsettling fact that the trail had *several* WHITE trails that separated in to 3 distinct directions. Not anticipating this, and due to the fact that I was still assuming our parking lot was the wrong one, we missed the trail we needed. Already somewhat on edge due to the setting sun, we moved quickly in the wrong direction, and put at least a mile between us and the correct turn in the trail. We also found ourselves maneuvering increasingly tricky river crossings which easily ate up 45 minutes of our remaining daylight. All for naught.

Once we realized our mistake, a debate arose. I, being the expert navigator, felt that deviating from the trail and following the GPS’s arrow indicator towards the car, was the best bet. Gina suggested we continue on the trail, as it was marked, and even if the sun went down, at least we’d know where we were. Worst case scenario, we end up at the wrong parking lot and take a taxi back to the car.

We backtracked to the point where the white trail veered off in three directions, and decided it was best to rely on the GPS. This led to some fun bushwhacking. And let me just point out here, while we may have gotten out of the woods, this was the worst idea I could have come up with. Crossing through the rattlesnake infested woods, off the trail, and trapsing through piles of leaves was a really, really, dangerous plan. Also, I continually harrassed Gina to let me use her Rubbermade water bottle to fill up on creek water. She told me I’d get the shits. This warning was later found to be warranted, when we discovered toilet paper with brown matter on it strewn next to the creek.

Though also thirsty, Gina was more concerned about bears. I remember on several distinct occasions, specifically as we removed our shoes for yet another river crossing, her eyes darting around the surrounding woods. I thought she was concerned hikers would come upon us and be appalled at our shoelessness. After we were safely at an Outback Steakhouse, she told me she had been checking for bears.

As we neared the sub-1 mile mark on our return trek back to the car, the GPS began blinking for low battery. Luckily, right before the sun had fully set, we got to the point where we could see cars on the highway ahead of us, up one last ridge (This was around 8 o’clock, in early April). We used the cars’ location as a guide, hiked up to the lowest point on the highway, and began the last leg of our journey back to the car. By this point, it was entirely dark. Intead of bears and rattlesnakes, we had motorcycles and cars to contend with, driving on the steep turns and not seeing our nutty asses until they were right upon us.

As we walked up and spotted Gina’s delicious white Infiniti alone in the parking lot, I continued my slow shuffle, while Gina began dancing footloose and running. There was much guzzling of water, and discussion of how we needed to eat something that had siblings. As we dined in an Outback Steakhouse, a solitary dog tick climbed up my arm. Our only real interaction with the wildlife of West Milford.

We spent that night laying on the floor and talking about how lucky we were to be alive. We’ll definitely go back, but maybe next time we’ll bring two bottles of water.

The device that saved our lives:


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