With a Nor’easter blowing in, it was touch and go, but I managed just barely to complete the Grid for October, and along the way was the chance to explore some off-trail ridges. These are magical places that make you feel like you’re walking across a suspension bridge, or the battlements of a castle. They give you a break from the claustrophobic tangles that blanket much of the Catskills, reveal the wild and soaring topography of the mountains, let you revel in space and light.
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…
I’d climbed Halcott several times from the west, but driving along route 42 one day I noticed a small parking area on Halcott’s eastern flank, where the road cuts through a steep-walled mountain gorge. This area is labeled on the map as “Deep Notch,” and appropriately so: the mountain walls rise 1,500 feet to the summit of Halcott’s neighbor, Sleeping Lion Mountain, reaching grades in some points of 100% (equivalent to a 45-degree incline). But if you could make it up to Sleeping Lion, it occurred to me, a long, flat ridge would take you straight to Halcott. This was intriguing…
There are times to go fast and times to go slow. Recently I headed off for the Catskills with the goal of bagging a few more peaks for my record of barefoot ascents. It had rained earlier in the morning and was still cloudy, but the rain had let up, the winds had calmed, and the temperature hovered in the mid-50s — conditions which encourage a person to relax, move at a more leisurely pace, and take in the sights. In no particular hurry, I was sauntering up the gravel road that leads to the saddle between Bearpen and Vly mountains, looking down at the ground to avoid stepping on sharp rocks, when I noticed a small green ball of puff lying on the ground.