Peck Hollow

My son Philip was in town for a couple of weeks before resuming college, and since he’s an Army ROTC cadet and expected to be able to navigate with map and compass, I offered to take him out to the Catskills for some practice.

Our goal would be to start from a parking spot in Peck Hollow, a place I’d never been to before, and then undertake an 8.5-mile bushwhack loop to the summits of North Dome and Sherrill and back, with Philip leading the way, me keeping an eye on the GPS just in case, and Odie along to supervise the both of us.

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Peck Hollow

Natural Navigation Fail

The goal was not just to bag three peaks for the Grid, but also to practice “natural navigation” i.e., moving straight through virgin forest without using map, compass, or GPS (although these would be carried just in case).  Glancing at the map, we all agreed that the bushwhack up to Balsam Cap, although long, would be relatively straightforward, all we’d need to do was follow a twisting ridge….

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Natural Navigation Fail

August in the Catskills

I’ve been reading a very good biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that’s been encouraging me to think about and try to articulate why I seek to spend so much time on the trails:

  • As modern society is becoming more and more digital, I want to stay physically active, as it seems to me mind and body completely are intertwined, so one can’t be healthy and happy without the other
  • As the world is becoming more and more artificial, I want to spend time in nature, which seems like the real source of joy and exhilaration, of which media and other content are but faint imitations
  • As people are becoming more and more interconnected, I want to cultivate an attitude of self-reliance, not meaning that I shun relationships, but rather how can you interact meaningfully with others if you can’t stand on your own two feet

Which brings me back to the Grid, which is the goal of climbing all 35 of the Catskills’ high peaks in every calendar month.  Heading into August, I was in pretty good shape, with 27 done and only 8 left to go, thanks in large part to my August 2016 attempt to thru-hike the entire 35.

Here are some notes from a recent hike where I completed 6 of the remaining 8 together with my friend Alan D.

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August in the Catskills

Moonhaw

I was dimly aware that people had climbed Wittenberg from a trailhead or parking area on Moonhaw Road in the tiny hamlet of West Shokan.

The name “Moonhaw” had caught my attention.  I pictured moon-glow in a dark forest, and then imagined a donkey braying.  “Moon” and “haw” are two familiar-sounding syllables, yet the sense conveyed was of some kind of atavistic lunar exuberance, an experience or feeling that would be completely alien in a modern, urban, high-tech world.

The Internet yielded no clues to the origin or significance of Moonhaw.  You would pronounce it, I thought, like this:  “moon-HAAAW.”

And so this became the focus for my next Catskills adventure…

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Moonhaw

Notes from Recent Catskill Hikes

Half-way through July, and I’ve completed just over half of the Catskill high peaks, many at night due to limited windows of opportunity during the day, but the rest of the month is tighter, and time is running out.  The Grid has become a burden, and I feel a little like Sisyphus, doomed to push a rock up the mountain only to see it rolling back down again.  But without burdens, life would be unbearably light, which is why Camus wrote that one must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Without enough time to write full articles on each climb, here are some notes from recent hikes, mostly for my own purposes in keeping track of the Grid Experience:

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Notes from Recent Catskill Hikes

Bushwhacking the Neversink

I’d spent all week at my work desk, focused and diligent, but deep in my heart the Catskills were calling, and every so often I’d pull out the map.  The weather for Saturday looked good, and my weekend plans steadily became more ambitious:  first to bushwhack up the Neversink River to its headwaters below Cornell Mountain, next to visit Wittenberg and taken in the splendid views from its summit ledge, then to return along a pathless ridge covered in some of the Catskills’ most ferocious fir thickets, and somewhere at some point to pitch a tent.  And on Sunday there’d be time to do more.

But upon arrival late Saturday morning at the remote Denning trailhead, and despite a big breakfast and double espresso, my enthusiasm had cooled.  A visit to the doctor’s had yielded a surprise: the sore ankle that had plagued me on and off for the last year was not a strained tendon after all, but rather a minor stress factor.  This was good news, because the prognosis was better, and hiking (although not running) was still allowed….but, at the same time, the stress fracture was only one of a number of recent injuries.  Perhaps there was a message here, that 54-year old runners should be a little more mindful of bodily wear.

In any case, it was time to get going, and so I marched out purposefully, feeling a bit like a knight in armor that maybe once was shining but now was somewhat dented and rusty, and instead of carrying a shield, I was wearing three shirts to ward off the morning chill and shoes with inserts to support the ankle….

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Bushwhacking the Neversink

May in the Catskills

The mission was to complete the remaining twelve peaks needed to scratch the month of May off the Grid, and accordingly I arranged to take a week off of work.  But the Rock The Ridge 50-miler left me with a sore ankle, which required a reduction in speed and mileage.  In Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Walking,” he used the word “saunter” to describe the act of sallying forth into the woods, which was for him the adventure and escape of his day, and he likened this daily saunter to the motion of a stream flowing downhill to the ocean:

The saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

— Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

To complete the Grid for May, I’d need to saunter instead of run — and rather than pushing myself, I’d need to “flow” through the mountains, just like a stream, except I’d be going uphill as well as down…

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May in the Catskills