Winter Still Reigns

The forecast kept me out of the mountains, I just didn’t have the heart to face freezing rain.  Where was Spring?

The next day dawned sunny, if not warm, so it was into the car and off to the north, time to get back to work on the Grid.  Along the way I noticed the sky was clear overhead, but cloudy along the horizon — upon reflection, it seemed this must always be the case, because when you look at a low angle, you see the mass of all those clouds and not the gaps between them.

Good spirits lasted for a little while until when cresting a rise on the highway, suddenly there were the Catskills right in front, with Plateau Mountain in particular stretching out as if with open arms to welcome, embrace, and crush me to pieces against its frosty white chest.  White not being the color of clear slopes and clean trails, like I’d been hoping for, but hardly a surprise, either, since the mountains create their own weather.

Pulling into the trailhead now, the valley socked in with a high cloud layer and snow dappling the ground…

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Winter Still Reigns

Searching for Spring

Spring!

Saturday started out balmy and clear, but on the drive north a line of dark clouds appeared above the horizon, looking like a coven of ravens frozen in mid-flight.  By the time I reached the Thacher Park Visitor Center outside Albany, the temperature had fallen into the 40s, a cold wind was whipping out of the north, and banks of gray clouds were massing overhead…

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Searching for Spring

Starting April, My Inner “Daimonion,” Cloud-shows

Patience!

Spring has come to the Shawangunks: sunny days, crocuses bursting from damp earth, red clouds of maple buds, pin-pricks of yellow on the forsythia canes.  There are birds everywhere: robins hopping through the grass, tufted titmouses calling out, “PETER, PETER, PETER,” red-winged blackbirds darting through the fields, swallows racing across the sky.  And from deep in the woods, spring frogs peeping away!

But reports are coming in of more snow in the Catskills, and on the drive out of the city, the distant mountain wall is deep white, flawless, flowing, molded white, white like porcelain.  Not what I’d hoped for….

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Starting April, My Inner “Daimonion,” Cloud-shows

Finishing March

March started out on a difficult note with four different snowstorms — which left me slogging through deep drifts, sinking up to the knees in fresh powder, toiling upwards one step at a time — just miserable hard work.  On one hike, I’d set out to climb four peaks but completed only one, which put me behind schedule.  As month-end began to draw near, there were seven peaks left — a feasible load — but then conference calls and meetings popped up unplanned for, and time started to get tight.  Now there would be little room for error, especially when the longest, toughest hike was left for the last day of the month….

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Finishing March

Swinging Birches

A week or so ago, our friends Ann and Jules invited me and my wife over to dinner, and after an excellent meal, Ann played a recording for us.  It was the poet Robert Frost, reading his poem, “birches“:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do.
Having just returned from a hike in the Catskills, I had to interject here and point out that in the mountains of southern New York, it’s not the birches that are bent over after winter storms, but rather the fir and spruce saplings, which are often crushed to the ground under heavy loads of snow.  Robert Frost lived in New Hampshire, I explained, and no doubt conditions up there are different.
Needless to say, on the very next hike in the Catskills, I was overwhelmed by bent-over birches….

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Swinging Birches

Payback Time

The Grid has turned into The Grind.  Last year I was busy with a high-pressure job, and every Catskills weekend was a chance to escape the office and leave behind the rigors of the corporate world.  What I recall most about last year’s mountain adventures is exhilaration and joy.  Now I’m between jobs and have all the time in the world.  But hiking in the mountains is morphing into work.

This is partly because of the commitment I’ve made to completing the Grid’s remaining ~100 peaks in 2018, rather than letting even a handful slip to next year.  The commitment is questionable, perhaps it’s insane, maybe I just haven’t freed myself of the sense of urgency and focus on results learned over a career in finance and before that the military.  In this regard, I am my own worst enemy.

The winter is also my enemy.  Someone inquired, if I was going to take some time off from the corporate world, why not do so during the summer, instead of the winter?  (The timing of these things is often outside ones control.)

True, the Mountains served up a gift in February, with the last few days of the month featuring beautiful warm temperatures, as high as 60 F, enough to melt most of the snow and let me scamper unhindered across the ridges.  But now it’s payback time:  March opened with two serious nor’easters, three to four feet of accumulated snow, and a return to freezing temperatures.

Half-way through the month, I’ve endured some of the toughest and most miserable hikes of my Catskills career, and while I’ve completed seven peaks so far, there are nine left to go.

And as I write this post, it’s snowing yet again….

But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you ambush yourself in caverns and forests.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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Payback Time

Back to the Cats: Completing the February Grid

“There’s no rush.”  Wise people counsel patience when I explain I’m trying to complete the Grid for the Catskill High Peaks, an obscure project that entails climbing the thirty-five peaks in each calendar month.  But the project is important to me, and I feel a sense of urgency to get it done.

February has been weighing on my mind.  To start with, it’s a month of challenging conditions — and not surprisingly, my log shows I’ve tended to steer clear of the Catskills during February:  only fifteen of the high peaks are complete, which means there are twenty to go.  That would be a lot for a full month, but with a trip to New Zealand scheduled for the first half of February, those twenty peaks will need to be climbed when I return, that is, within a two-week period, of which, after subtracting various commitments and appointments, only a handful of days is available.

Some nights I lie awake, reviewing different approaches for each of the twenty peaks, trying to devise the most efficient routes to get them done in the available time.  Be safe, I remind myself, it’d be fine to finish off February next year — but then I go back to calculating how to pull this off — and wondering whether I have the strength to do so —  and feeling vaguely uneasy.

And now the plane from New Zealand is touching down at JFK, and here I am back in New York…

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Back to the Cats: Completing the February Grid