Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Peaked Mountain 9/24/16

It's been interesting and fun to adjust my style for planning a hike. With Hunter we leave town later and don't want to hike as many miles since he's stuck in the pack. I've made a new list of peaks that are closer to home and average between 3 and 8 miles. I don't want to sacrifice beauty though and between this hike and Moxam, I think we've actually seen more beauty in some ways than when we were focusing primarily on the high peaks.

We thoroughly enjoyed the drive up north with the fall color slowly creeping in. I always enjoy exploring a new area and from the map it looks like this access point to the Siamese Ponds Wilderness has a ton to offer. We've been working to depend less on Hunter sleeping through the drive and this time he spent the first portion of the drive awake and happy. I guess we've worried that if he isn't sleeping he'll be upset. He was definitely nice and chill. At the trail head we bundled him up, gave him a bottle and changed his diaper in the trunk haha.

At the trail register we noticed that Thirteenth lake is ringed with campsites. It looks like a very lovely place to camp! It's a very short walk from the lot to the shore of the lake where there's a picnic table and fire ring with a stunning view. Worth the visit even if you aren't hiking!!! We followed the trail around the lake to increasingly stunning views of this serene body of water  ringed with mountains. The whole family was in high spirits, immersed in the quiet beauty.

The trail twists along the shore of the lake with many fine views and several pretty amazing campsites. It reminded me of a slightly less brutal version of the trail around Flowed Lands, lots of little ups and downs avoiding the natural obstacles of the shore. We soon entered the deep woods along Peaked Mountain Brook. It was a very different form of lovely with many tumbling falls. At times it reminded me more of brooks in the high peaks with the water cutting incisions into widely exposed swaths of bedrock. It was super pretty and interesting but didn't photograph well with the dark forest. It was a steady climb and we worked to gain elevation until a bit of a break along the shore of Little Thirteenth Lake. The edges of this lake were grown in quite a bit with marshy vegetation so it was hard to catch a view of the lake itself.

The trail then winds along Peaked Mountain Brook through several old beaver meadows. We were several miles into the hike already and starting to wonder if we'd bitten off a little more than we could chew taking Hunter so deep into the woods. The trail just had such a deeply remote feel to it. Something I've always sought out but now had a completely different edge to it with Hunter in our care. He seemed quite happy and content though and we still had juice left so we continued on.

The second beaver meadow gave us our first look at Peaked Mountain and we were deeply inspired. What a craggy little bugger! Very interesting in comparison to the surrounding peaks which tend to have a more rolling nature. This gave us motivation to continue following the beautiful brook to the shore of Peaked Mountain Pond. I can't imagine a more peaceful or beautiful little mountain pond. It's truly a worthy destination on its own and the designated campsite there is extremely tantalizing for future weekend camping plans.

A dark cloud rolled over the pond as we made our way along the shore and gave a bit of an ominous feel to the start of our ascent. Immediately care needed to be taken with many short scrambles. The stakes are very high now that I'm carrying Hunter on these climbs. Slipping or stumbling is no longer an option. Nothing was too challenging though and we were soon exhilarated but views far off in every direction. I have a difficult time recalling an Adirondack Mountain with views stretching so far off into the distance. It was neat to see Blue Mountain to the Northwest.

Along the mellowing summit ridge we encountered several lovely overlooks which guided us onto the craggy, multi-level summit. We felt a great sense of accomplishment for making the climb. We both feel like we've lost a step or two since Hunter was born and it was nice to know we still had the climb in us. We took pictures from the 2-3 different vantage points before getting Hunter out of the pack in a safe grassy area well off from the edge. He ate and played, truly enjoying climbing on the rocky features and...gnawing on sticks. We feel like bad parents at times letting him interact so deeply with 'dirty' stuff like this but feel in our hearts that this must've been what it was like for a long time before antibacterial soap and the sterilization of the first world. We also had to do our first high elevation poopy diaper change which went pretty well hahaha. We ended up hanging for about 45-50 minutes and met several small groups of folks, the first we'd seen hiking all day. During my research, I got the impression this was a popular hike, but it ended up being pretty quiet with a trail that didn't bear evidence of much traffic at all.

The climb down seemed to fly. Some of the features that felt difficult to climb were much more easily descended. We put Hunter's sun cover up which makes it much easier for him to sleep. He'd stayed awake for the entire hike thus far and we knew he was due for a nap. Within 5 minutes of hiking off the peak he was out like a light. Even with us talking loudly and jostling him while working down the craggy summit path. I'm hopeful this continued ease of sleeping in challenging environments is a trait he can carry in to later life. It makes so much of life easier if you can just pass out when you need to. The obstacles flew by as they sometimes can on the hike out and we made great time as the gradual loss of elevation rolled us out of the woods. With the light a bit better in the afternoon sun I attempted to gets some shots of the dramatic Peaked Mountain Brook. After about a 40 minute nap Hunter was up again and babbling happily as we reached the shore of Thirteenth lake.

We stopped at the picnic table at the head of the lake, gave Hunter a bottle and basked in the quiet beauty of the sunny fall day. It was a truly incredible hike and such a great thing to share as a family. J and I both hope so much that exposing him to nature at this age is leaving its mark in some way. We think it does. It's just given the two of us so much peace in our hearts and minds through the years and hope it can offer him the same in this challenging world we live in.

We had slightly underpacked food for ourselves so made our way to the North Creek Stewart's for an awesome late lunch/ early dinner of soup and the amazing seasonal pumpkin pie ice cream. It was a feast for the ages with Hunter downing a hefty portion of chicken rice soup. Unable to let go of the awesome day we headed over to Barkeater chocolates, which if you haven't visited yet, I highly suggest you do and got an excellent stash of truffles. With our Adirondack day now complete we made our way dreamily down the Northway and back home. This fall has been great so far and I can't wait to see whats next!

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.