Random notes on seven more peaks climbed in the Catskills so far in September, bringing the total to twelve, with eight more to go…
September 7, 2018 – Indian Head
- Heading out from the Prediger Road parking area, I’m surprised at how bad the trail is. An ancient logging or bark road, probably well over a hundred years old, and even though it’s pretty flat here in the woods, the trail is totally washed out, consisting of piles of rocks with roots poking out; it feels like walking through an intermittent stream bed. Actually, it feels like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, because with each step you have to look around and fit your foot between sharp rocks or find something flat-topped to step upon. Very slow-going, requires unremitting concentration, it’s actually sort of annoying.
- No views on the top, just clouds.
- On the way back, a hickory tussock caterpillar hanging from a strand of silk and turning and dancing in the air. Funny little creature, I wonder if it is building a cocoon.
- Right knee a little sore, will have to get back in the practice of doing step-down exercises.
September 9, 2018 – Friday, Balsam Cap, Rocky
- Meet Ralph Ryndak and his friend Kelly on Moon Haw Road
- Ralph grew up in the Catskills and fell in love with the mountains at an early age. He is one of the most experienced hikers I’ve ever met. This will be roughly the 50th time he’s been up Rocky Mountain, he mentions, then pauses for a moment to check his figures. 50 times! This will be my 10th. I don’t expect to catch up to Ralph, or get anywhere close. But that’s OK. Great fun to hike with him and listen and learn.
- Moon Haw Road is named for Chiefs Moon and Haw, Ralph explains, who conveyed the land to settlers back in the day. Ralph theorizes that the trail we’re following was a path used by Native Americans for trade between the Esopus and Neversink river valleys, the route through the mountains being considerably shorter than trying to go around.
- Kelly’s a Long Island native and longtime resident of the southern Catskills. Full of spirit and a non-stop talker, she’s an entrepreneur, volunteer firefighter, hunter, and having recently lost a lot of weight is now training for a 30-mile Spartan obstacle race. Her husband collects arrowheads and rare coins which he finds while walking in the woods.
- It’s a cool cloudy day, with heavy rains forecast for tomorrow, but hopefully we’ll stay dry today.
- With Ralph in the lead, it’s up the ridge and on to Friday. He sets a steady pace and leads us unerringly. It helps to have a veteran guide: this is the easiest ascent of Friday I’ve ever experienced.
- On to Balsam Cap following a nice social trail which spares us fighting with the fir and spruce thickets. Rocky is a little more difficult, though. Ralph takes us a little east and it’s hard to find a way down through tall ledges; we end up tangled in a bunch of deadfall before finally getting down to the saddle. It’s refreshing to find that the mountains can snare anyone, even the most experienced. Ralph assesses the situation: “It’s more difficult following the social trail downhill, because you can’t see where it drops over the ledges.” (a very useful observation, which I make a note of for the next time out here.)
- As a special treat, Ralph leads us up through another set of tangled deadfall (much of which dates back to Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene in 2011) to Rocky’s summit through the “Keyhole,” a gap in the rocks just big enough to squeeze through. This is something new to me, I’d never even heard of the Keyhole.
- On the way back, clouds move in on the summits, blocking the views. It’s chilly up here on the ridge, a couple thousand feet above the valley. It’s time to start adapting to fall conditions. This is a little stressful on a body that’s been enjoying the warmth of summer.
- The return trip passes quickly as the three of us chat about various topics. Ralph and Kelly are real Mountain People: positive, self-reliant, and in tune with the environment — what fun hiking with them!
September 17, 2018 — Blackhead, Black Dome, Thomas Cole Mountains
- I’ve been reflecting on September: it’s such a misty month. The average temperature drops by one degree from July to August, but then by seven degrees in September, while the average humidity rises by 3 percentage points. Summer’s ending, the environment is starting to turn cool and wet, yet the winds are calm — perfect conditions for the formation of fog, and in fact in New York, fall is the foggiest time of year.
- On the drive north, fog blankets the ground and obscures the forests. To the east, clouds of vapor lying over the Hudson River, glowing white the morning sun. To the west, small dark clouds hanging in the air — dark, I surmise, because with the sun still low over the horizon they are caught in the shadow of the Hudson River fog banks . To the north, a break in the mists, and Kaaterskill High Peak pops into view for a moment.
- As I drive further north toward Platte Clove Road, the fog lifts. It’s turning into a sunny morning with blue skies. Long strands of cirrus cloud stretch above the mountains, looking like a river branching into a delta, or a herd of wild horses running through a valley. Those white streaks — ice crystals? — because the winds accelerated as they squeezed between peaks, cooling the air?
- Pulling eventually in to the Big Hollow parking area and heading out for Blackhead with a light load-out, since I want to run a little. Rain jacket, trekking poles, and headlamp stay behind. The probability of rain was quite low, according to the forecast I checked before leaving.
- The familiar climb to Blackhead, past the new lean-to. Along the way, pausing at a northern vantage, looking out at remnants of the radiation fog that formed over night and is now dissipating in the sun. And while I’m looking, mist blows past me on a southerly wind (I can see vapors moving through the trees just a few yards in front), and soon the views are obscured.
- At the summit I pause to inspect a lichen-encrusted fir tree. Two dead trees covered head to toe in these lichens, which shine in the late morning southern sun. So many different kinds: hammered shield, hooded tube, variable rag, beard, boreal oakmoss, sea foam, greenshield, and cladonia lichens. Mostly all the same silvery color, they vary in the details of their architecture, with different kinds of filaments and lobes reaching out to capture the light.
- Jogging now (slowly) on the path where it’s level, before dropping down into Lockwood Gap, the saddle between Blackhead and Black Dome. Half-way down, the familiar open spot on the trail, fringed with some tall goldenrod, with views to the south, where a line of clouds is gathering against the flanks of the southern Catskills (Slide, Table, Cornell, Wittenberg, and Friday clearly visible).
- Passing through Lockwood Gap and now up Black Dome, pausing at the familiar vantage point (so many familiar points! — but that’s because this is my 12th visit to these particular mountains!) and looking north. Way off on the horizon, in a band from north-northeast to north-northwest, waving shapes of distant mountains in the Adirondacks and Vermont. The sky glowing light robin’s egg blue along the horizon, brushed with streaks of milky white.
- From the summit of Black Dome, now looking south: more clouds gathering, lapping against the ridges. On to Thomas Cole at a slow jog and back, and now from the same vantage looking south once more: the clouds have advanced and are now pushing over the tops of Plateau, Sugar Loaf, Twin, and Indian Head, obscuring the summits. Clouds are on the move in the east, too, and making faster progress where there are no mountains to impede their progress.
- One more stop at the vantage on Black Dome’s northern flank. I sit and listen to the southerly wind pushing through Lockwood Gap, slow but constant, in no hurry because no power on earth, not even our technology, can slow the movement of these fronts. Perhaps this weather system reflects the remnants of Hurricane Florence, which has been sitting on top of the North Carolina coast. I look across the way at vantage point on Blackhead and spot someone descending the trail wearing an orange shirt. Listening to the wind pouring steadily across Lockwood Gap, I nod off for a minute.
- On the way back to the parking area now, the clouds have caught up to me; my shadow persists for awhile, grows indistinct, and fades away. The day has become solidly gray, but there are colorful mushrooms growing along the side of the trail.
- I jog where the trail’s not too steep or rocky. Hardly a fast pace, probably slower than a determined power hike (in shoes), but this trail is much easier for me now, compared to my first barefoot hikes here.
- The puffballs are maturing and will soon burst easily in clouds of dark gray spores…wood asters and whorled wood asters and asters with purple leaves….white snakeroot with black berries….little gray hickory tussock moth caterpillars squirming around on the trail…tiger’s eye (brown funnel polypore) and suede bolete fungus
- Summer is ending, fall is approaching, the warmth is subsiding, the cold is approaching. Time is passing for me, too. I’m learning to reallocate effort from speed and distance to a focus on form. Great fun to trot barefoot on these trails, even if slow, and maybe with more practice I’ll get a little bit faster….
- On the drive home, a few sprinkles against the windshield, and then it rains.