With respect to completing the Grid for September, I was full of valiant intention, prepared to squeeze hikes in at odd hours, take the month’s last week off entirely, whatever it would take — but there was still the sore ankle to contend with. So I settled for a 6.6-mile round-trip to Panther Mountain, at night since that was the available window, and instead of covering a lot of ground, I’d look and listen and ponder.
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.
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….
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.
In a recent post on lichens, I quoted from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself: “I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” I also mentioned that Whitman’s poetry echoes 13th-century Japanese Zen Master Dogen, who wrote: “There is a world of sentient beings in a blade of grass.” These sages question the modern propositions that big is more impressive than small, that sentience is only a human quality, that loafing around is a waste of time.
My last climb for August would be Windham High Peak, and as I began to plan the hike, I suddenly recalled that unlike many Catskill mountains, the path to Windham is lined with grass. There would be, it seemed, the opportunity to achieve three goals with one hike: to reach the summit, to observe the grasses along the way (and perhaps identify a species or two), and to reflect on Whitman’s message.
The Grid entails climbing the Catskills’ thirty-five high peaks in each calendar month, and on the drive home from the Adirondacks I planned to swing by and knock out Kaaterskill High Peak, one of two climbs left for August. But as I pulled into a parking spot on Clum Hill Road, the project seemed suddenly pointless. When runners cover ground with no particular training goals in mind, they call these “junk miles,” and now that term seemed like the right description for this hike, whose only purpose was to scratch a name off a list.
It didn’t help that Kaaterskill is one of my least favorites. There’s a long hike in on a wet, rocky path, then you have to cut through the woods to reach a snowmobile trail that’s in truly atrocious condition, and the summit is guarded by steep rock scrambles. Clum Hill Road offered a slightly shorter route, but I’d never been here before.
I got out of the car, glanced at the overcast sky, and didn’t bother changing into hiking clothes or grabbing my pack, didn’t bring any water, and forgot my compass, but headed out instead wearing a polo shirt received as a birthday present and a clean pair of shorts.
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.