On October 26, 2019, Steve Aaron and I stood on a vantage point near the summit of Balsam Mountain and celebrated his completion of the Thirty Five. We stared across the valley at pumpkin-colored ridges and frothy marshmallow-mist swirling beneath cerulean sky, while overhead the clouds spread out into a celestial ribcage (the scientific term is cirrus vertebratus) and I thought, how strange that the sky would celebrate Steve’s accomplishment and then, wouldn’t it be even stranger if this was all coincidence….
(Photo credit: Steve Aaron Photography)
He staggered for a step or two. I saw the concentration in his eyes. The inward scan and assessment. He seemed to understand that he could not go on. He seemed to accept it.
Afterwards, we called my son to let him know. My wife relayed the news, while I tried to add a comment but somehow couldn’t speak. Later I retrieved an image and sent it to my son. And then I dove into a decade’s worth of photos and began the process of reflecting and understanding….
A few notes from my latest Catskills hike, in this case, the ascent of Eagle and Balsam with my friend Steve Aaron, for whom these were the final two peaks in his quest to join the Catskills 3500 Club. To spare ourselves the staircase-steep climb out of McKenley Hollow, we met up Saturday morning at Rider Hollow, where we were joined by Chris Rokos, an avid hiker and volunteer maintainer on the Long Path. I’d hiked these two peaks from this trailhead on November 3, 2017, and in addition to accompanying Steve and Chris I was looking forward to repeating the same route at the same time of year and seeing what would be the same and what different — but this visit was going to be a completely new experience….
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….
In a post last fall, I shared a photograph taken from the summit of Twin Mountain and made the point that after years of admiring the Catskills from the vantage of the Shawangunks, I had for the first time made the reverse connection.
Last weekend I returned to Twin Mountain, but this time with my friend Steve Aaron, who is a talented landscape photographer. And this time I saw something new….
Northern Shawangunks, seen from Twin Mountain in the Catskills. Photo: Steve Aaron Photography
I hadn’t been out to Gertrude’s Nose in many years, so I jumped at the opportunity to join Hudson Valley photographer Steve Aaron on a hike, and of course, Odie the Labradoodle was eager to come, too. In fact, when I hopped in the car to run an errand (I was going to come back and get him), Odie was so upset, he cried and howled. So Odie came with me on the errand, and then we headed off to Minnewaska State Park Preserve and the trail to Gertrude’s Nose.