Back to the Catskills after a summer out west, just a few quick notes….
September 2, 2018
- The Shawangunks are in a seemingly exuberant mood this morning, with goldenrod and loose strife painting the fields in psychedelic yellow-purple stripes. Plus a cacophony of crickets and cicadias. In contrast, the Catskills seem so serious, the big green forests somber, dark, and mostly silent.
- Steve Aaron and I meet at the Biscuit Brook trailhead to climb Fir and Big Indian. He catches me napping in my car, my espresso machine having experienced a mechanical failure this morning and produced only half the normal dose.
- It’s a late summer day, cool, misty, soggy….rocks on the trail beaded up with moisture….forest leaves dripping….that time of year when whorled asters with small white petals line the trail…that time of year when tiny spiders are busy spinning webs, and as you move through the woods, you inevitably collect thin strands on your hat and shoulders and are continuously brushing them off
- Past the lean-to, we cross an unnamed tributory of the Biscuit Brook which drains from beneath Fir’s southern shoulder, and then we turn into the woods, with Steve taking the lead towards Fir’s summit, most of the time following the tracks of prior visitors (including myself), which have coalesced into a pretty well-defined social trail.
- I introduce Steve to some of my acquaintances: the huge triple-trunked cherry half-way up the hill and then to the cluster of baby firs growing in the thin soil atop a large boulder. As we near the summit, we both remark on a band of dark-purple rocks sitting in red clay, which we take to be shale or mudstone, of the same sort that lines the Kaaterskill Clove, and which contrasts with the hard greywacke sandstone that forms many of the prominent ledges in the Catskills. We pass through a glade of common hay scented fern and find that a few of them are turning purple-bronze, a similar shade to the shale.
- Fir is number 15 in Steve’s quest to complete the thirty-five Catskill High Peaks. Now it’s on to Big Indian, and I take the lead on account of the thicker vegetation and more difficult navigation. I do a poor job steering, however, getting us hung up on the steep cliffs above an unnamed brook that drains to the west into the Biscuit Brook. We scramble back up on top of the spur and shortly thereafter follow an easier slope down to the saddle between Fir and Big Indian (memo to self: stay further north next time). From there, Steve leads us up to Big Indian which we reach without further navigational mishaps.
- Although it’s not a cold day, I’ve put on sweater and goretex shell, after getting chilled from brushing through wet foliage in sleeveless t-shirt and shorts. A mild chill is a small shock to the system, a portent of changing seasons, shortening days, and falling temperatures which are on the way.
- On Big Indian Steve eats a snack, while an inch worm descends along a strand of silk and hangs by my ear, drops level with my knee, and eventually reaches the ground and moves off, while on my other side a smooth caterpillar with a broad stripe on its back crawls by (one of the prominent moth species most likely).
- From Big Indian, it’s almost 5 miles back to the cars along the Biscuit Brook trail. After spending some time out west, I’ve forgotten just how rocky these Catskills trails are, and in some places lag behind Steve, who’s sensibly wearing boots. Along the way I discover a small trumpet-shaped mushroom, known as the black trumpet and a cousin of the popular chanterelle.
- We look for the unnamed brook that drains from the saddle between Big Indian and Fir, but miss it for the thick foliage. We cross the Biscuit Brook, and I admire the red rock and green moss shining beneath the glassy water. Steve asks if it isn’t refreshing to go barefoot, and I respond, “no, it’s cold.” However, as we’ve descended the mountain, the temperature has warmed, and the sun even came out for a second or two, and sweater and goretex shell are back in my pack.
- After saying goodbye to Steve, later that evening, I head out to Balsam Lake Mountain, making the three-mile hike in the dark. This trail is a lot rockier than I remember it, too. I’m feeling slow and tired, but a faint breeze stirs the trees every so often, and this is comforting to me, a reminder that nothing is static, everything changes and is in flux, both myself and the atmosphere. If I’m not moving quickly right now, the environment is moving around me, so there’s enough relative motion to satisfy my inner daimon, which is impatient and demands action. At the summit, I turn off my light and look upwards, thinking there’ll be nothing but heavy cloud cover, but quite a few stars peak through. A little while later, they’re gone.
September 3, 2018
- The next morning it’s on to Graham Mountain. Blue jays calling in the forest. Everything damp and misty. Sun rays slanting through the trees.
- Once on the summit of Graham, I heat a cup of tea for breakfast. The sky looks steamy this morning, with sun poking through in the east, but thick haze rising in the north. My feet have had enough of rocks, so Vibram Five Fingers go on for the return.
- On the way back a strange mushroom shaped like a ball and when out of curiosity I split it in half, find it is packed with a thick black filling. This is the common earthball, also known as a puffball: once mature, the skin will turn thin, the filling (which contains the spores) will develop into a fine powder, and if you step on one it will erupt in a small black dust cloud.
- I cross paths with a baby toad, which darts away. Another one, then dozens of these small creatures moving across the path, hundreds or perhaps thousands and no doubt many orders of magnitude more throughout the forest….it’s that time of year, evidently, when the moms give birth and these small creatures disperse. And then a large yellow fuzzy caterpillar with a few black spikes in it’s fur comes crawls over to introduce itself: caterpillar for the American Dagger Moth.
- Driving out from the trailhead, the sky has changed: no longer steamy, it’s clear in the south, but large cumulus clouds are peeking above the ridge to the north, as if looking for people to rain on.
- Last peak for the day is Vly, a quick march up a snowmobile trail. A short distance in, a large truck parked, engine roaring, its bed packed with ash trunks that were taken down several weeks ago.
- I march up the hill at a brisk 3 MPH, turn into the woods, bang a toe on a rock (good thing I’m wearing the Vibrams), and slow way down. Take my time heading up to the summit, being careful not to stress the right knee which seems to have forgotten how steep some of the Catskill trails are.
- On the way to the summit, the leaves rustling in the breeze, sort of a pattering sound, and then a couple of rain drops hit me on the face.
- I discover three other Grid aspirants were here this morning before I arrived. They signed in on the notebook indicating their total peak counts: 347, 348, and 379. I write down my peak count as 355, but later on realize this is wrong — I’m at 375. The race is on to complete the Grid! But then I reflect, how quickly you can reach the finish line depends on which months you need to fill. And there’s no point in racing, anyhow, because there’s no prize. For some of us, however, the Grid becomes all-consuming.
- Sitting for a moment longer at the summit, a rumble of thunder in the southwest. Heading back down, the mist has cleared, the humidity’s dropped, a dry breeze in the woods, the sun peaks out. Then I’m caught in a shower, rain crashing loudly against the foliage. A moment later sun is shining on the trail, and the rain ends. Flux, change, variability — we need some in our diet — and the mountains never fail to deliver.