The mission was to climb Balsam and Eagle as part of the Catskills Grid, which is a project that entails ascending each of the thirty-five High Peaks in each month of the year. I didn’t realize it until I returned and checked the spreadsheet, but this was the 12th time I’ve climbed these two mountains, which means that with respect to the Grid, they’re done. (Although I will surely return in the future just for fun.) In terms of overall progress, I’ve now completed 350 out of the required 420 peak-month ascents, leaving 70 to go. And while there’s no time limit to complete the Grid, for such an important project I feel a sense of urgency to finish it this year.
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…
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.
Last fall I was amazed by the autumn foliage. It was an especially vivid season, and also Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Autumnal Tints,” had inspired me to seek out the colors. This year the foliage has been somewhat muted. A disappointment? — only if you must have big bright shapes. Lean to focus and there’s always something to observe. I’ve found when seen up close a single maple leaf fills the field of vision, just the same as the forest from a distance.
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.
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:
(Please vote in the poll at the end of the post!)
With inclement weather in the forecast, another barefoot hike in the mountains might’ve seemed a questionable proposition. But I had become determined to conquer all 35 of the Catskills’ highest peaks — and with six down so far, I had set my sights this weekend on completing four more — and then growing ambitious and impatient, imagined climbing six or even eight. But upon reaching the trailhead on a very grey afternoon, the car’s thermometer read 45 F, and it was raining. For a system still acclimatized to summer, this would be a shock.