Wild Earth Adventures has been organizing and leading hiking & walking trips, backpacking & wilderness camping trips, cross country skiing trips, and other nature-oriented and wilderness-based adventures since 1980. According to their website, “We’re here to help you enjoy the extraordinary rewards and benefits of hiking and other wilderness activities, and to make it easier for you to fully connect with the natural world. We’re willing to wager that these pursuits will enrich your life immeasurably.
On our hiking trips we visit the wildest, most beautiful, and most spectacular natural areas in New York, northern New Jersey, western & central Connecticut, southwestern Massachusetts, and eastern Pennsylvania — including a number of little-known areas of unusual scenic interest. We offer over 80 different one-day hiking itineraries in NY, 30 such itineraries in NJ, and more than 20 different hikes in CT (and new hiking trips are added to the schedule each year). The trips range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.
Our hiking trips attract an interesting, friendly, and congenial group of people from the New York City metropolitan area, upstate New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and far beyond (including other parts of the United States and abroad), people with all levels of hiking and other experience in outdoor activities. Beginners are welcome on many of the trips. Instruction and other assistance are available when needed. On most trips we become a little traveling community, with lots of positive feeling generated.
We offer guided hiking and walking trips year-round — as well as wilderness camping, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing trips — visiting some of the wildest and most beautiful parks and natural areas in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other northeastern states. We have a huge repertory of locations and often unique New York hiking trip itineraries (and a host of scenic New Jersey and Connecticut destinations) that include little-known areas that are off-the-beaten-path, and we also hike on famous trails like the Appalachian Trail. On our hikes, walks, and other excursions we explore many of the region’s most spectacular mountain ranges, enjoying (and letting ourselves be inspired by) lovely scenery that includes splendid mountain vistas, pristine lakes, rushing streams, wild rivers, and roaring waterfalls.
Transportation from NYC is available on all of our hiking trips and other outings for those who live in the New York City metropolitan area or who choose to meet us in NYC. Participants who live elsewhere — and our hikes attract substantial numbers of people from upstate New York, northern New Jersey, western and central Connecticut, eastern Pennsylvania, and other nearby states — drive directly and meet us at our destinations. Beginners are welcome on the trips, as are experienced hikers, wilderness campers, backpackers, cross country skiers, and snowshoers. Instruction and additional assistance are always available for those who need it.
Charles Cook is a well-known and seasoned hiking/wilderness expert who has founded several outdoor organizations. Charles is a licensed guide who has led more than 1700 trips over the past 30 years. His personal trips have included a 5-month, 2,100-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Known for his warmth, gentleness, humor, and responsiveness to participants’ needs, Charlie has led all of our trips since the 1980’s. He’s available to answer your questions over the phone.
Charles Cook is also the author of five highly-praised books, including Awakening to Nature: Renewing Your Life by Connecting with the Natural World (Contemporary Books, 2001). His other books are: The Essential Guide to Hiking in the United States (Michael Kesend Publishing, 1992), The Essential Guide to Wilderness Camping and Backpacking in the United States (Michael Kesend Publishing, 1994), The Essential Guide to Nature Walking in the United States (Henry Holt, 1997) and The Essential Guide to Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing in the United States (Henry Holt, 1997).”
Charles took the time to speak to us about recent changes he has seen in the forest, his favorite hiking shoes and trails, and how his hiking club members’ health can improve dramatically with regular walks.
What shoes would you recommend for hiking?
I would recommend proper hiking boots, rather than shoes, and boots that give support to the ankle area by coming up over the ankle. There are all kinds of boots made for outdoor and hiking to choose from now, and the selection has expanded over the years. Hiking in this part of the country can be very rocky, so you need a boot with good ankle support, as it reduces the chance of a sprain. The lower cut hiking shoes offer no protection if a rock moves under you, and you suddenly shift or roll. It is also a banner year for acorns and they can be like ball-bearings under the feet, making it very slippery. Your foot can turn under you and you could fall hard. That is the advantage of having a boot with ankle support. Lightweight hiking boots are also good and they can keep the muscle or tendon from carrying a lot of weight. The sneaker or low cut shoe is when people can get sprains as they don’t provide enough support. There are sharp rocks in the Kittatinny Mountains so the hike is a lot easier with good ankle support. A good boot will also protect your feet from the cold and wet when it rains. For easy hikes you can use sneakers but just be careful, watch your footing and look down. Be very careful not to trip on any rocks. I recommend going to a store you trust to buy your boot. I like Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) as they have a good return policy and a good selection of boots. Just make sure you try on the boot and make sure it fits properly. It is an investment of sorts, but a lot of shoes now use synthetics, which don’t last as long as the full leather boots, and they are more expensive but might be a better value in the long term. You can trust the quality of their items at EMS, unlike the typical outdoor army/navy stores, which have junk mixed in with good quality items. Go to the better stores that you can trust and don’t go in a hurry. Take your time and try the boots on to make sure they fit. Comfort and fit are very important. It also has to be the right shape of shoe for your foot. The ideal is a lightweight hiking boot with good ankle support, but not one that is too stiff around the ankle. It should be comfortable but there is still some stiffness there for support around the ankles. I find Vasque shoes are good, and also shoes from Austria or European shoes. I also like Merrell shoes but it really depends on people’s personal needs. At EMS you will find at least 7-10 brands of light and heavy, some waterproof and some not. So just look for comfort and fit and don’t over-research. Don’t buy a brand that you heard was good but doesn’t fit your foot right. Go with the shape and your fit for comfort. Make sure you go into the store and try them on as well, and don’t buy online.
Do you give people a commentary, explaining the history and geography of an area, when hiking?
I give a brief commentary while walking, although I am not a trained naturalist. I have been doing it much of my life though. I may or may not know the names of plants but I talk generally about the parks, mountains, I give a brief history, and talk about the wildlife. People ask me about old stone walls, foundations, or wildlife they see. Some people treasure the peace and quiet, but some like to ask a lot of questions. As a group we sit by waterfalls and listen to the sound while eating lunch. Some people love the peace so I limit the commentary because some people like quiet, but they will also spread out so they are alone. I have been doing this since college, so about 40 years. I have been a hiking expert for this area for 40 years now. I even wrote a book about this part of the country, so I am pretty knowledgeable.
Have you seen any obvious changes in the wilderness since you started hiking?
There are changes over the years that maybe we don’t see, but I believe there haven’t been terrible changes over the years. Some changes are just natural, such as the hemlocks have been dying. Some kind of bug or parasite has been killing them off, and a lot of the trees are stressed by acid rain. Some are gradually dying, but I noticed there used to be a lot more hemlock trees than what there are now. They used to be the most popular evergreen but now they are dying off. Hemlocks have short needles but since many have died you don’t see those on the floor anymore. When you see big tree trunks on the ground it is usually a Hemlock tree. Harriman State Park has a whole part of the northwestern section where all the hemlocks are gone. In the 1970’s it was a deep evergreen forest and now it has all died off. What used to be beautiful evergreen forest is now a tree graveyard. Gradually other trees take over and there are young seedlings. A combination of bugs and parasites will get to them. They are already stressed by acid rain and then the bug kills them off totally. Extreme weather is something I haven’t noticed lately as well. More extreme storms, and extreme cold and hot temperatures. There are a lot more trees knocked down by severe storms, thunder, lightening, or tornados. So the park rangers have to clean them up more after winter is over.
Please tell us about members whose health has improved from regular hiking.
Some people have knee problems and the doctor said they were crazy to be hiking, or starting a hiking regime, but they did and now they are doing very well. There are a lot of people who have lost weight or were older and gradually worked their way up from easy hiking, and in a few years they are going on strenuous hikes. Knee or back problems seem to take a while to heal but eventually do with regular exercise. These are people that were told they can never hike, but they did and eventually worked their way up to strenuous hikes. I knew one lady that her family couldn’t believe she was hiking, and in the course of a few years she totally loved nature and hiking, and she climbed the highest mountain in Maine. She became an incredible outdoors woman. She left a baby with her husband because she missed the mountains so much and went for a week long hike. We have quite a few people who are total regulars. We have a 70 year old man that started 5 years ago. He was always dropping behind in the first year, and he would always need a break and ask when the breaks were. He lost 60 pounds over 5 years and is now very fit. We have people in their 20’s that can’t keep up with him now. He is usually at the head of the group or close to the front and fitter than many others. He could pass for his 50’s with the way he looks. So there are lots of examples of improved health with hiking. One man thought he couldn’t do it but has since hiked the Grand Canyon with a full pack, which is a lot of weight. He has done that a couple of times now and is now very physically fit. Hiking regularly is good for you, as well as watching what you eat. Diet is extremely important. I would get sick all the time when I was eating junk food, but now I don’t get sick that often. I once had a very bad reaction to surgery. That is when I got into hiking but I couldn’t get up the mountains with the way I was eating. I discovered that eating better made me much healthier and was very important. You have to have a licensed guide to take groups out to hike, so my club is perfect for beginners. My doctor tells me many younger people are in worst shape than me. I never get colds or the flu anymore and I haven’t been sick in bed for 20 years. In my 20’s I was sick all the time and that is because I was eating junk food. My sister is an MD and she couldn’t believe how healthy I was. I hiked 5 out of 7 days after surgery and the doctors couldn’t believe it. When you stay in great shape and eat well your body can heal so much faster. I already had the exercise when I was young, but the diet really helped me a lot. Now I am hiking more, eating better and in the fresh air more, so I’m a lot healthier.
Being one of the first 100 to complete the Appalachian Trail hike, can you please share some memories from the experience and how it impacted your life.
I was one of the first 100 people to hike the whole trail and it certainly changed my life. It took me 5 months doing about 14 miles a day, and there are some really hard mountains along the trail. Some of them are 3,000 feet high and you could climb 6,000 feet in a day, walking 14 miles a day. I did it quickly because I had a job waiting for me and I was also running out of money. You also have to end at a certain time because of snow in New Hampshire. It is very dangerous with ice by mid-October, so people have to finish by mid-October. You can’t start in early Spring in the South because of snow in the South mountains. I was lucky and never had severe injuries. After walking the trail I realized I had to find some sort of work that didn’t keep me in an office all day. It did have a big impact on me and it was the happiest summer of my life. It took me 7 years of my life to figure out how to make hiking my living and I then started my own company. I thought about being a park ranger and then realized I could lead my own trips. It has now been 30 years (since 1980). If it wasn’t for doing the Appalachian Trail, I wouldn’t have gotten as hooked as I am on hiking. I have written the Essential Guide to Hiking the United States. I love awakening people to nature and inspiring people about nature.
What are some of your favorite hikes?
There are so many beautiful areas and I am a promotor of going to a lot of different places. Some of the best known are not always the most beautiful. Bear Mountain is nice but there are too many people there. There are dozens of beautiful mountains and hikes in this area including the Catskills. So many great walks in New Jersey alone, mostly in the northern part of New Jersey. Among the great ones in New Jersey is the Delaware Water Gap Recreation areas to Highpoint State Park. All of the Delaware River and Kittatinny Mountains area is great. The Appalachian Trail runs through there, but at lower elevations there are other trails. It’s all part of a National Recreation Area which also includes Pennsylvania. It’s a protected area so there is very little development. With an 1800 feet elevation there are truly wonderful vistas and also great lakes. The mountain streams are nice but don’t drink out of the lakes. I once got sick in the Adirondacks because there were parasites in the lakes there. You can’t see the parasites from the look of the water, although you only find out a couple of days later when you get sick. The only safe place to drink from is a mountain spring, where there is no source of pollution and the water is filtered through the earth. Once it is above ground it could be contaminated. Never drink the water near a town or highway, but if you are up in the mountains and you find a spring then it should be OK. You can also buy water purifiers to take with you. They sell from $50-100 and they are light weight to take with you. Take 1-2 litres of water with you when you hike. Don’t take the chance of being without water. I love the Northeast as I feel the mountains are cozier here. Here we can hike year round pretty much, except in a big snow storm. I never get tired of the hikes here and I love the mountains in this region. I don’t enjoy the long drives to get there but I love the mountains once I am there. It is one of the good things in life. Our bodies feel wonderful doing this exercise in the fresh air. Most people feel great during and after a hike, and it is unthinkable for me to get bored around here. Happy Hiking!!!!!
To find out more visit wildearthadventures.com and speak to Charles Cook personally