Sunday was beautiful: sunny, calm, warm (in the 50s!) — a respite from the snow, ice, gusting winds, and heavy cloud cover more typical of February in New York. A great day to be alive and outdoors.
Driving back to the city with Odie the Labradoodle, I pulled over at a trailhead on the Long Path, figuring we’d sneak in a two- or three-mile hike. The snow had largely melted, leaving only scattered patches, so I took off sandals and stepped gingerly onto the path and found it to be a manageable mix of dirt and mud that had warmed up nicely in the morning sun. Odie scampered ahead, while I sauntered along, and soon we were clambering up the lichen-crusted granite rock face that marks the summit of Long Mountain, a 1,155-foot peak in Harriman State Park. Carved into the rock is a memorial to Raymond Torrey:
It’s interesting that Torrey’s friends remembered him as a “great disciple of the Long Brown Path.” The reference is to the poetry of Walt Whitman, who celebrated the unique path each individual follows through life and expressed the optimism felt by late 19th-century Americans about democracy, opportunity, and the growing importance of a young country on the world stage:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,Healthy, free, the world before me,The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.— Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
I looked up from the memorial: in the distance rose Bear Mountain, with the Perkins Memorial Tower perched on one end of the broad summit. The Appalachian Trail passes up and over Bear Mountain and then a few miles later crosses the Hudson River over the Bear Mountain bridge. And a few miles to the south, the Appalachian Trail intersects with the Long Path.
Eager to stretch our legs, Odie and I continued northwards on the Long Path, descending from Long Mountain’s summit and heading toward a glacial U-shaped valley. Now that we were on a north-facing slope, there was more snow on the ground, and this was fine in bare feet for the first few steps but then became uncomfortable rather quickly. “Numb is dumb,” as they say, so I was glad when the snow gave way to dirt and leaf litter, with a few rocks and acorns to keep things interesting, but not too many. Then the path dropped steeply down the side of the valley, forcing me to pick my way through rocks and more snow. Below a stream meandered across the valley floor. I recalled crossing this valley in August 2013 during my through-run of the Long Path and encountering a multitude of small frogs hopping about on the trail. When they saw me coming, they’d jump into the nearest puddle, squeaking in alarm. Today the valley floor was covered in snow. We turned around and headed back.
On the way back to the parking area we discovered a side trail that led up to Long Mountain’s summit on a slightly different route. Curious, I took a few steps and discovered what appeared to an alternate branch of the Long Path. Strangely, the blazes were brown instead of the official color aqua. A plastic disk identified the path as a historic route of the “Long Brown Path,” as did some graffiti on a rock. It was an odd memorial for a 100-yard stretch of abandoned trail.
Back on Long Mountain again, I looked out one last time at the Perkins Memorial Tower in the distance and then as I was turning to leave noticed some small trees growing among the rocks. They looked like the yellow birch seen all over the Catskills, with the same characteristic lenticels (horizontal stripes in the bark), but the bark was dull gray, not yellow. Maybe this was young black cherry, whose bark has similar lenticels but is darker. I peered at the buds. On birch, the buds grow alongside the twigs, whereas on cherry they grow at the tips. This was a birch.
Running the Long Path is now available on Amazon — click on the image to check it out.