Night Hike

With September’s Grid looking pretty sparsely populated (only 4 of 35 peaks complete), there would be a lot to do this month.  To get the work off to a quick start, I hatched a plan for a night hike, which would entail driving up to the Catskills after work on the evening of August 31st, with the goal of climbing two peaks during the early morning hours of September 1st.  Night hiking is not my preferred mode of operation, but it’s something I’ve done on occasion when commitments take up the daylight hours. The next day being the Friday before a holiday weekend, hopefully things would be quiet at work.

  • Arrived at the McKenley Hollow trailhead around 10 pm.  A man was walking two small dogs past the parking area, evidently surprised to find someone hiking at night, they came over to say hi
  • I’d been here last during July and before that during the winter and remembered the trail pretty clearly.  The path starts out crossing a bridge, then it rises up and over an embankment, and here in the light of my headlamp was a small forest of intermediate wood ferns.  A short while later the path dropped back down and made a sharp left turn onto an old forest road.  There’s a prominent sign marked “Trail” to keep people from wandering accidentally into private property.
  •  The surface was rocky, but not unbearable without shoes.  As I approach 1,700 miles in barefoot running and hiking over the last two years, my feet have toughened up.  It’s a great joy to walk briskly across a trail that was significantly more difficult the last time.
  • The trail crossed a stream atop a series of smooth rocks and a little while later made another left onto another old road, the turn marked this time with a cairn.  And then a little while later, I crossed the stream once again and passed a lean-to although I didn’t see it in the dark.
  • So far, so good, but that was the easy part of the hike.  From here the trail from McKenley Hollow turns straight up.  In fact, it has the reputation of being one of the Catskills’ steepest trails.  At one point where the path parallels a stream, there’s a long stone staircase fashioned by expert trail builders.  In this area the grade is around 50%.
  • I scampered uphill pretty quickly, all things considered.  Its been four months now without running due to a sore tendon in my left ankle, but at the same time, I’ve gotten a lot climbs in, both in the Catskills and the Adirondacks.  If not in running trim, at least I’m still in decent overall condition.  Going uphill barefoot is easier than down, because going up you place foot onto ground without as much momentum.  There’s nothing more fun than rushing uphill and passing people in boots, and for a moment I thought of the sore tendon in my ankle and hoped it wouldn’t get worse and keep me off the trails completely.
  • After a few minutes heading uphill I began to sweat, as I was wearing a fleece pullover, but didn’t want to take it off.  The temperature was 49 F when I left the car and probably mid-40s here being 1,000 feet higher up.  It’s usually the best idea to stay cool, even a little chilly, to keep from sweating unnecessarily.  But that’s more difficult this time of year as the body is still acclimated to summer heat (and so is the mind).  I started to feel clammy
  • As I approached the saddle between Eagle and Balsam, the wind began to blow through the trees
  • From the saddle, I headed off on the 2.1 mile trek to Eagle.  The trail rose steeply at first, then leveled off and took a brief dip.  There was a short scramble up a ledge and at some point the trail passes Hayes Mt., although you’d never notice it unless you were paying attention, and then there’s a short scramble down.
  • I was looking at the wildflowers in the light of my headlamp:  St. Johnswort, and whorled wood aster, with thin white flowers and leaves that smell like peppermint, and other kinds of wood asters with similar flowers but different leaves (alternate instead of whorled, and with heart-shaped indentations at the base)
  • As I began the long gradual uphill to Eagle Mountain, I began to hear the wind again, but it sounded like it was rushing around down in the valley to the west, as if it were massing below before attempting to rush the saddle between Hayes and Eagle
  • The small clearing on Eagle’s summit is marked by a stone cairn.  At some point I’d taken off my fleece pullover, so I didn’t pause here, not wanting to get chilled.  When I returned to the car a few hours later, the temperature was 40 on the thermometer so it might have been in the mid-30’s up here.

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  • A few steps past Eagle on the trail is a bed of knights’ plume moss growing on rocks on the side of the trail — it’s a distinctive moss and a favorite place.  I nodded to the moss and kept moving, wondering if it grew in other places in this area.  And then, just as I was starting the ascent to Hayes Mt. again, I found myself stepping directly onto another rock covered in knights plume moss.  The good news is that bare feet do little damage stepping on moss.  In the headlamp, the moss glowed golden green.
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Knights Plume Moss
  • In due course, I regained the saddle between Hayes and Balsam and began the short ascent to Balsam’s summit, passing another favorite spot:  a flat stone that serves as a step, the underside of which is home to a green lichen that shines like chrome when wet.
  • At the summit stopped by the cairn and switched my light off for a minute.  What a surprise to see the stars appear through gaps in the trees!  The wind moved through the canopy, then paused, with a rhythm reminiscent of waves at the seashore.
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Summit of Balsam Mountain
  • The descent was slow and uneventful.  My feet have certainly toughened up.  I used to wear sandals on the downhill, and last time out here, I recall picking my way down very slowly on the rocky trail.
  • On the way down the staircase, there were enormous leaves to the side of the trail.  A young basswood sapling had sprouted leaves fully a foot across.  The nettles were shoulder high in places with huge leaves, too.  Why was everything so big right here?
  • Made it back to the car around 5 AM and home by 6:30.  Grabbed a short nap before it was time to open up the lap top and check in for work.  That afternoon, a short phone call ended up taking an hour and a half, and I found it difficult to stay fully engaged….
  • The tendon had felt pretty good during the hike, and I was thinking that perhaps I’d turned the corner, but the next day my ankle was sensitive to the touch, and the tendon was sore that day and the next.  It is turning out to be a long road to recovery from this injury.

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Running the Long Path is available on Amazon

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Night Hike

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