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 head's on Spruceton road, 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 night's rain.The trees were richly green compared to the glowing yellows and oranges I had enjoyed the last time I was in that area. 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 badly for the next few days. I wanted to minimize his exertion so I kept him on leash for the hike.

After Diamond Notch 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 on 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, soaking 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 excellent 1976 setlist 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.

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