Monday, September 26, 2016

Rusk Mountain 9/23/16

After dropping Hunter off at daycare I went back home and scooped Koda up for the now familiar drive into the Central Catskills. I've talked about this route before but I can't say enough about what a pleasant drive it is. Each leg, each turn made is away from the urban, towards the simple and natural beauty. On this trip, as I made my way through Oak Hill, Wyndham, Lexington and Spruceton, the first flush of fall color could be seen on some trees.

I listened to the Grateful Dead's performance from 2/21/73 Assembly Hall, University of Illinois while snaking my way through fertile farm valleys and mountain passes. In many ways 1973 is the apex of their career for me (though I can find joy and beauty from 1965-1995). Their playing is so lovely and restrained. They are playing a lot of the more Americana-tinged material and their jamming is dynamic and jazzy. Not too shreddy, not too spacey. The Truckin'>Eyes of the World>Stella blue segment from the second set was especially good and I left it on to finish the Stella while getting ready at the trail head.

The hike begins on a wide gravel road along Hunter Brook. I love seeing my sons name everywhere I hike. The Catskills get bonus points for this. After the bridge I was on the lookout for the sharp turn. At the turn I poked around a little and consulted my map. I could see a faint herd path heading into the woods. From the description I'd read I know I wanted to cross the main drainage, a smaller one, and find my way onto the ridge. This herd path took me exactly where I wanted to go and though faint at times was easy to follow.

It felt good to be where I wanted to be. I was a bit surprised by how well defined the trail was as I had been expecting it to be more of a true bushwhack. I was not complaining though haha. I kept checking my bearing to make sure I was on the right track and began the work of gaining the ridge. The climb was very steady and was a test for my current fitness levels. My engine was running very hot and I was panting and sweating. The woods were a lovely back drop to my toil though. Koda was panting pretty hard too so I gave him half a liter of water. He'd been off leash since the trail and was doing a great job of scouting the route and following the scent track.

The last push on to the ridge was a bit steeper and of course more rocky. I could see open fields of nettle and prickers which this herd path dutifully avoided. Again, quite grateful to be following it. Once on the ridge several different herd paths sprung off or intersected the one I was on and suddenly my gift of a climb was a bit less sure. I adjusted my bearing and tried to make the right choices even though the paths weaved across the summit. I was really starting to doubt I had made the right choice when I popped out into the summit clearing. Relieved and excited I signed the log book, had a bite and fed Koda.

 I had read about some cliffs to the west so set a bearing for where I thought the were and began down a bit of a herd path. It was spotty and I lost it several times but was able to stay on my bearing. After poking around for a bit and not finding them, I gave up and headed back. I looked at the map while writing this up and realize that they weren't where I thought the were. I thought they were still within the summits contour line but you actually have to descend a bit to get there. I should've made a note or taken a screenshot. Next time.

I decided to try out a different herd path on the way down and followed a track that took me due south off the summit. It petered out once off the ridge and I found myself truly bushwhacking. The going was certainly harder than the lovely path I took up but nothing too brutal. I was following a nearly due south bearing and after consulting the map realized I needed to adjust to the southeast to not emerge in someone's back yard on Spruceton rd. We stumbled on some older bear scat along the way.

I kept contouring slightly climbers left of my bearing in hopes of clipping the herd path and after descending off a familiar looking steep ridge, found myself back where the livings easy. I popped a squat in a particularly pretty spot and let the silence of the forest envelop me as Koda explored the drainage. When he came back up the hill I got moving again.

We ended up on a slightly different braid of the herd path that brought us back to the trail just bellow the big turn. The easy trail walking was very enjoyable along with the scenic and peacefully babbling Hunter Brook. I was glad to have had a successful climb but definitely want to continue to improve my backcountry navigation skills in order to take on more challenging peaks in the Catskills. This brings my total up to 13 with most of the northern and central peaks completed. I've never explored the southern Catskills and am excited to see a new part of the park 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Moxam Mountain 9/11/16

I've been reading about the new trail to Moxam Mountain for years and now that we're looking for slightly shorter hikes to do as a family it was the perfect time to explore. With the turn in weather towards cooler days both J and I caught the hiking bug again. We left Albany when it was time for Hunter's nap and pulled in to the trail head mid-morning. I've really loved exploring the Catskills but my heart feels most at home on an Adirondack trail. The trees, the smells and crisp morning air had myself and the whole family beaming from ear to ear as we made our way along the trail.

The first leg is a moderate climb up onto a small bump before climbing the summit ridge. We chatted, riding our morning caffeine high. It made me so happy to be in the Adirondacks with my whole family (sorry Koda, we just aren't ready to do the dog and baby thing). After 10-15 minutes of effort we were taking in the first of many stunning views.

After the series of overlooks the trail makes its way down to a marshy area and crosses a brook or two before it begins to ascend the ridge. This trail visits many different types of forest and gives a really nice sampling of all the Adirondacks have to offer. Some sizable glacial erratics dotted the hillside and added to the variety of scenery. Once on the ridge some moderate effort of climbing would yield view after stunning view. Reading about views of Gore Mountain was one of the things that brought me here and you could see it almost the whole time which was awesome. It was fun to chat with J about our many awesome days skiing those trails. The terrain was varied and fun, challenging but in the good way. Without too much toil we found ourselves at the famed viewing spot of the main rocky summit. It did not disappoint! What an impressive sight!

We loved the views down to the beaver meadows and the endless stretch of peaks off into the distance. The final climb up to the summit had many views to the south and west and filtered views to the north. I imagine with a bit of exploring you could find some views north to the high peaks. It's nice to have future explorations in mind. On the summit it was quite windy but we found a nice wind break below to enjoy lunch. We ate, Hunter ate (including sticks) and we soaked in the views on a perfect September day. It was so funny to watch Hunter explore the summit. We have a feeling he's going to be a climber!

Having Hunter with us makes me so happy. I know he isn't quite taking in or processing everything but I feel certain that something is happening and that it's positive. He's spent far more time outside than in front of screens and we are going to work to keep it that way. When we are out in the world, I just see such peace and calm come over him, especially in the woods. The forest has the same effect on me. I hope that he will continue to enjoy it as he gets older.

On our way down, the inevitable happened...Hunter passed out in the pack. I can't believe he can rest in that position but I won't begrudge him the rest after all that stimulation. It's pretty darned cute too. We made great time down the gradual ascent and Hunter started waking up as we got closer to the car. We gave him another snack and started our drive home still so inspired by our day, planning our next trip out. The weather is only going to get nicer and the leaves will start to change. Fall is coming!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Southwest Hunter Mountain 9/9/16

With all the life changes that accompany a new baby, Koda our German Shepherd has not been getting out like he used to. Sure he gets walks every day but a walk around the city is NOT a hike. I finished a work project I've been on since March so rewarded myself with a day off and a hike with my buddy.

I started the drive down listening to the first set of the Disco Biscuits 8/20/16 performance at the new Coney Island Amphitheater which I was fortunate enough to attend. I've been seeing this band for 15 years and have to admit they might just be playing the best they've ever played in their career right now. The show was marked by tight transitions, nailed compositions and their trademark full steam ahead improvisation.

After the set was over I switched to the Grateful Dead's performance at the Beacon theater on 6/15/76 to stay in a New York State of mind. This is a really interesting time in the bands history as they've just came off their first extended hiatus and are clearly reworking their material. Throughout most of their career there is a certain degree of predictability to their setlists. This is not the case in 1976.  The Saint Stephen>Not Fade Away> Stella Blue segment to start off set 2 was as atypical as it was awesome. Samson and Delilah is a song I can take or leave. This version was a standout and rocked me into the Spruceton rd trail head parking area.

On my past 3 Catskill high peaks hikes I haven't seen another soul on the trails. Passing the trail heads on Spruceton trail head, I realized my streak was going to end. Lots of cars and hikers gearing up for their days. I hiked Westkill Mountain from this trail head last year and loved the area so much I wanted to plan at least another hike or two from there. I know you can do a big loop and Climb Rusk, Hunter and SW Hunter all in a day but I was looking for a shorter time commitment so I could pick up Hunter from daycare (and also because I am definitely out of shape hahaha).

The conditions were a stark contrast to my late fall climb of Westkill. The creek was running high from the previous nights rain and the trees were richly green compared to the glowing yellows and oranges I had enjoyed the last time. It was just as lovely in a completely different way. Koda loves to play in creeks but we've noticed that the past few more ambitious hikes he's been on his hips tend to ache pretty baby for the next few days. I wanted to minimize his exertion so I kept him on leash for the hike.

After the falls I was exploring new to me trail. It was quite nice with a gradually increasing climb. It was much gentler than the Plateau climb I had recently done so I was grateful for that. It also helped not to be carrying a human being on my back this time though I did miss him. I felt like I was making good time even with frequent blackberry breaks. I really enjoyed climbing along the shoulder of Hunter Mountain. There were filtered views through the woods of the peaks beyond and a cooling breeze. We reached Geiger Point and enjoyed a nice look at Southwest Hunter from a precarious cliff.

There was a bit of steep climbing to gain the height of land which you traverse to reach SW Hunter. I checked the map and saw I'd hit the herd path just after a big bend. We found a faint herd path with a few branches thrown across it. I knew I was looking for a cairn but didn't see one. We headed down the trail anyway. From the descriptions I've read I thought this was a well defined herd path and not a bushwhack really. After reaching a fire ring, the trail I was on basically petered out. Koda seemed unsure (he's usually glued to the human scent trail on a hike) and I felt pretty unsure. He was even pulling back to the direction we'd come from. I decided to catch my breath and get my compass bearing for the summit and check out the map again before making any decisions. After I'd established I was following essentially the right declination I heard footsteps. 30 ft through the woods to my left a dude was hiking with big open strides indicative of easy trail hahahaha. I said "thanks for helping me find the herd path" and started sheepishly making my way to him. I had to laugh when I hit the trail. It was as wide and well defined as what I had been hiking all day. Oh well, gotta have some excitement on a hike from time to time.

The herd path was so nice. More filtered views through the woods of the beautiful landscape surrounding us. we met another nice guy his way down. He wanted to meet Koda but after a long day alone in the woods he was a little shy. Coming around the bend and seeing the canister was a neat experience for me. I've read a lot of Adirondack history and there used to be canisters on the trail-less summits of the Adirondack high peaks. I always thought that was so neat so was really excited to sign my name on top of a mountain. I had a pb and j and fed Koda a bunch of treats afterwards and soaked in the nice day.

The hike out went very quickly. The trail was just the right pitch to propel you out of the woods. Koda was tired but not destroyed so I felt good about my choice of keeping him leashed. What Koda didn't know was that I had rushed us past a beautiful waterfall on the hike in. Since he's been such a good dog even though most of our attention has been on Hunter, I wanted to reward him with a nice swim and splash. A father and his 3-4 year old daughter were enjoying Diamond Notch Falls when I arrived. I asked him if it was OK if I let Koda off leash to swim and he said go right ahead. We chatted while Koda frolicked. It was her first time camping! She was so sweet and nice and wasn't shy when I asked her questions. It was such a pleasant way to end this hike (a nice conversation at the end of the hike appears to becoming a Catskill hiking tradition for me) and got me really excited for when Hunter is old enough to camp.

Once Koda's brains started running out of his ears I got him back on leash and finished the hike out. The bright and sunny day quickly dried off his coat and I loaded him into the trunk where he passed out hard. He didn't show any hip pain in the days after the hike this time which made me really happy. We continued on with the '76 show to take us on home. The Wheel>Sugar Magnolia>Scarlet Begonias>Sugar Magnolia to end the set was another typical 1976 curveball. Always interesting to hear a Scarlet before the debut of its partner in crime Fire on the Mountain. I pulled over on the way back and snapped a bunch of shots from the amazing view of the Durham Valley and Northern Catskills on Rte 10. It was a really phenomenal capper to a great day in the woods.

Plateau Mountain from Notch Inn Road 8/26/16

Whittling away at the Catskill list has been a really enjoyable gearshift after the 46, Koda 46 and winter 46. With all the newfound responsibility of fatherhood, shorter hikes, quieter trails and a whole new region to explore has been just what I was looking for from my hiking hobby.

Hunter's daycare was relocating to a brand new building so they were closed on Friday the 26th for the transition. I figured it would be a perfect day to try out a more ambitious hike with him. We've been exploring all of the local preserves in the Albany area and steadily increasing mileage. I've gotten pretty comfortable with carrying Hunter on my back. I was able to find the older version of the Osprey Poco Premium from REI at a nice discount and find it to be very comfortable. We actually use it a lot in the city as well as on hikes as its a bit more convenient than a stroller.

Timing a hike with a baby is very different than solo. He wakes up between 5-6 every morning so I waited until it was time for his morning nap to drive down. I listened to the Grateful dead's performance from 9/3/88 at the Capitol Center in Landover, MD. This nights music had a very lovely airy, lovely but almost plaintive feel to it. This feel was especially apparent during the first set's Bird Song and Peggy-o and the second set's Victim or the Crime, Foolish Heart and Eyes of the world. Hunter slept the whole way :).

After a stunning drive through the many bucolic country roads of the Catskill park we parked at one of the pull offs on Notch Inn Rd. I got our stuff together and gave Hunter a snack before slinging him over my shoulders. He was well-rested and in good spirits as we made our way to the unmarked trail head.

The morning forecast was slightly iffy but I was optimistic. There was the lightest of drizzles for about 5 minutes right at the start but each moment after that got more lovely.  The pack has a sunshade which we keep up most of the time so Hunter stayed dry. The hike starts an a wide old tote road before breaking off onto a soft and seemingly lightly traveled trail. Climbing started gradually along the tote road and kept increasing as we climbed the ridge. The woods feel very different to me than the Adirondacks and this trail reminded me a lot of the Hudson Highlands. Certainly more of a downstate mix of trees and vegetation.

There were filtered views through the trees as we got higher. I imagine the early spring or late fall would be a pretty spectacular time to do this hike. It was a welcome break to gain the ridge and take a break from climbing. It was very humid and with the additional effort of carrying Hunter and my efforts to control my hiking to make sure I didn't fall or jostle him too much, I was pouring sweat and short of breath. Hunter continually looked around and babbled (to himself or me? No idea) while I climbed. He really loves being carried around in the pack and seeing the world. I feel proud that he is 9 months old and has probably seen a million trees already. While he may not remember, his little brain is forming and some of this must imprint.

The ridge was a lovely place to walk and was bursting with all the greens of late summer. The narrow trail wound through a pristine forest that doesn't appear to suffer from much human abuse. No erosion  or garbage anywhere along this path. At some point we entered the coniferous forest which is always more jarring in the Catskills compared to the Adirondacks. in a matter of 20 ft it seems like the forest completely changes. As we neared the end of the ridge, I noticed Hunter wasn't as active. I turned my camera around to selfie mode and saw Hunter peacefully sleeping.

Hunter continued to snooze as way as we came off this subsidiary ridge and started the steep climb up to the Plateau Ridge. Just before the down climb there is an absolutely stunning view out into a deep cleft between the surrounding peaks. Which Hunter slept through completely. I felt challenged by the climb up onto the Plateau Ridge. It was one of the steeper sections of trail I can remember in the Catskills. Luckily it was fairly brief. Once on the Plateau....plateau, the day went from partly cloudy to nice and sunny. It was a nicely timed pick-me-up as my energy was flagging a bit.

Whereas the lovely and isolated-feeling hike in felt atypical of the region, the hike to the high point was extremely typical of the Catskills. Hunter woke up for the muddy meander through tight pines until we reached the scenic overlook at the end of the ridge. I didn't see any indication of the exact high point but we obviously hit it at some point. We nestled in on the viewing ledge and had a bit to eat. Hunter was glad to be out of the pack and moving around. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as there were drop offs on all sides but I just stayed right with him. I let him play and explore for 10-15 minutes before we packed up to head back

By the time we were off the summit ridge Hunter had passed out again. I have no idea how he can sleep so peacefully in his pack but am glad he does. I walked carefully but quickly through the woods on a beautiful late summer afternoon. It was very peaceful and calmed my mind. Hunter woke up for the last 10 minute of the hike out. We met the property owner who's house I had parked closest too and he was very excited to talk to me about hiking with his son when he was Hunter's age. It was a really lovely way to end the hike.

We finished the '88 dead show on the way home. In doing the research for this blog post I turned a neat little snippet about the second encore, a rare bust out of the American Beauty classic Ripple. Read a little more here if you're so inclined. It was a really nice hike and a terrific experience with my son, taking him out for a much bigger day than he's done previously. He did super well and it's always so nice to get to spend extra time with him. I love you so much Hunter.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thomas Cole over Camel's Hump 5/21/16

My wife and I have been taking turns giving each other breaks from child care to tend to our souls. Sometimes its to do something social with friends, sometimes it's to pursue our outdoor passions. J recently shared a great hike of Mount Marcy with our friend Tara so I decided for my next outing I'd start back on my Cat 35 list.

J, Koda and I attempted this one a few years back in the winter but ended up turning back at Camel's Hump as one of us wasn't feeling good. I was excited to return and enjoy in a different season. I drove down  NY 32 from Albany and enjoyed a brilliant sunrise while listening to the Grateful Dead's recently released July 1978 box set. I was halfway through 7/3/78 when I started my drive so I got to start with a Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain which always gets me excited to climb a mountain.

The drive was a mere hour and 15 minutes from my door which was a welcome break from hauls up 87 to the high peaks. It was a lovely morning and we had the trail head to ourselves. It was nice to simply let Koda out the back. Even in places without leash laws like the Cats I like to respect folks right not to be sniffed by my hyper goober of a dog at 6AM. The beginning of the trail squeezes between private property. Lovely place to live or spend time I'd say. Koda quickly found someones man mad pond which borders the trail. He was very happy for a dip but got moving when I called him.

The trail follows what appears to be an old tote road at first (as many Catskill trails seem to). We made a hard left onto the more narrow trail where I signed in at the register. The morning was lovely despite the distant threat of afternoon showers. The whole forest had a fresh coat of vibrant green. I won't lie, its taken me longer to fall for the Catskills than for other areas. It always seems so bleak to me and so much evidence of man. I realized part of this perception was my own fault. I often hiked there in the shoulder seasons as a substitute for the Adirondacks. So I often found myself there in March or November in crummy weather. With the lovely late spring weather and all the new growth, I was deeply intoxicated by my path this day. I realized other days I've really enjoyed in the Cats were also in the spring. I've definitely found a much deeper appreciation for the Cats in the past year or two, especially since I've been working in Prattsville and Lexington.

We got quickly down to the business of gaining the ridge. I was huffing and puffing pretty hard. I've let my fitness slip and gained some weight with all the life changes that come with having a baby. I felt glad to be able to keep pretty much my usual pace, it was just harder to do hahaha. We climbed the first crag (which actually turned out to be the only really scrambly section of the hike) and I began to notice wildflowers everywhere. Red trillium and columbine were first ,interspersed with all those pretty little white flowers that seem to always cling along the sides of rocks. There was a nice filtered view at the top of the crag.

As we gained the Caudal/ Camel's Hump Ridge, the wildflowers along the sides of the trail reached riotous levels. Now trout lilies joined the mix and the occasional red trillium gave way to great bunch of the pretty primeval spokes-flower for wilderness areas everywhere.  the hiking was pleasant and my body felt grateful to be doing what seems to be its most natural activity.

I soon realized my photo set had a distinctive theme: Dog, trail and flowers. Nearly every shot I took had at least 2 of these elements. I couldn't help it. I love these things and they were quite beautiful on this day. On the Camel's Hump summit after checking the view towards Thomas Cole, I settled down to take in the panorama from the rock. Koda was content and after a few treats, entertained himself with a stick. I sat quietly and breathed it all in. The world and my head were quiet for a few minutes. Completely. With a high drive dog, a new and amazing baby boy and a whole adult life to manage I was actually able to enjoy a full moment of peace. I exhaled all my struggles and troubles of day to day life and breathed in the peace we seek in the forest. It's a moment I won't soon forget.

Koda and I hiked on along the ridge. It's a very beautiful trail with little erosion. Painted in strokes of bright spring green, I couldn't imagine a prettier place to be in the world. It was almost jarring to reach the elevation of the coniferous forest. You spend so much time in it in the Adirondacks. It's something I often miss in other forests. There I was and sniffed deeply the perfume of the pines. Is there a better smell? Well yes, but you feel me right?

We reached the summit of Thomas Cole around 8. Koda I kept going. Who am I to go against the wind? I followed after him and in about 10 minutes we were standing on the viewing ledge of Black dome. I didn't linger long as we had maybe pulled a bit of a fast one on the mountain gods, sneaking an extra peak. Koda and I trotted out of the woods, finishing our water supply on the way while taking in all the loveliness we had wandered through all morning noticing things we hadn't seen the first time through.

I was so happy to be able to get home to J and Hunter by about 11:30. Not having to commit 12 hours to climbing some peaks is one of the many allures of the Catskills Park. We started the drive home with Sugar Magnolia from 7/3/78. Such a run of the mill song the Dead played nearly every other show from 1970 on. This version may well be one of the hottest I've ever heard. Every place someone could rip it up or embellish the standard, they did. Throughout this run, Kieth Godchaux, the keyboardist is playing just about as well as I've ever heard him and this period, is past his prime in my opinion. He smokes it on this Sugar Mag and nearly everything else these five nights in the summer of 1978. I dedicate this hike to Kieth.