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