Day Hike Notes – West Kill Mountain

There is no reason to linger at the very top of West Kill Mountain (3,890 feet). It is utterly wooded in, nothing to see but fir trunks and fir branches and a sign announcing the summit attached to one of those trunks. But a short distance east of the summit, and scarcely lower than it, the real reason for scaling West Kill Mountain is found; this is Buck Ridge Lookout, a narrow outcrop with 180-degree views of Catskill summits, valleys, and notches. Buck Ridge Lookout will bring me back to West Kill Mountain again and again.

From Buck Ridge Lookout—Hunter Mtn (left) and Plateau Mtn (center distance)

From Buck Ridge Lookout—Hunter Mtn (left) and Plateau Mtn (center distance)

DATE: Monday, December 11th.
START & FINISH: East end of Spruceton Road, West Kill, NY.
ROUTE: Diamond Notch Trail to Devil’s Path to West Kill Mountain summit.
DISTANCE: 6 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: 1,800-foot ascent/descent, made somewhat tougher and trickier by 3-5” of powdery snow hiding—and making slippy—the trail’s underfoot features. A few half-scrambles. Trails otherwise good, with most of the climbing achieved on the first mile on the Devil’s Path.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Mostly overcast, calm, cold (23 degrees at start, likely less on summit).
WILDLIFE: I was scolded, or so it seemed, by a wee bird when I paused in the spruce forest.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Kingston.
LUNCH: Sandwiches and snacks at different times and places.
UPS: The views from Buck Ridge Lookout—fantastic!
DOWNS: None really.
KIT: I used microspikes on much of the descent; I was glad I took water bottles instead of my reservoir (tube would have frozen); I wished I had brought a second pair of liner gloves—mine became wet from sweat, and therefore cold when I rested at the lookout.
COMPANY: A set of footprints preceded me on the climb. At the lookout, I learned they belonged to Ron, whose company I shared for about a minute before he headed down.

No views from the summit (3,890 feet)

No views from the summit

Day Hike Notes – NY AT: Nuclear Lake “Lollipop”

Nuclear Lake from the Appalachian Trail side

Nuclear Lake from the Appalachian Trail side

For many years, my habit has been to hike on Black Friday, blowing away the cobwebs after Thanksgiving and burning off any excess. This year, family schedules moved the turkey & stuffing to Friday, and my hike moved accordingly.

NYNJTC’s interactive map suggested a 12.7 mile New York AT loop starting from NY Route 22. That was a bit more than I wanted, so I shortened the lollipop stick by starting farther west/south. I parked at The Dover Oak, a thick old tree.

As for Nuclear Lake, I had hoped its name might have nothing to do with nuclear energy, let alone nuclear accidents. Not so, I am afraid. According to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, a 1972 bang in a research facility beside the lake sent “an unknown amount of radioactive plutonium dust dispersing throughout the structure and surrounding shoreline and woods”. Cleanups followed, and the lake I found on Thanksgiving Day was attractive, and home to waterfowl not nuclear scientists.

DATE: Thursday, November 23rd.
START & FINISH: The Dover Oak on W. Dover Rd, Pawling NY.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail south to Nuclear Lake Loop Trail, then AT north back to start.
DISTANCE: 7.2 miles (5.4 on the lollipop stick, 1.8 around the lake).
TIME: 4¼ hours (8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A steep climb (650 feet) from W. Dover Rd, then level or descending on good trail to the north end of Nuclear Lake. Nuclear Lake Loop Trail (lake’s east side) had a few short rocky bits, but the AT along the lake’s west side was often broad track.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Sunny and cool (just below freezing at start, upper 30s by finish).
WILDLIFE: Squirrels; waterfowl; and I believe I heard a turkey in the woods!
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Danbury.
LUNCH: Cheese baguette, eaten on ledges overlooking Pawling.
UPS: A mostly gentle hike to a pretty lake.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I nearly forgot my gloves, and was glad I did not.
COMPANY: Later in the morning, I ran into several groups of backpackers. I assume they were using their Thanksgiving holiday to hike a section of AT. I can’t think of better weather for it as long as they carried warm bedding.

Boardwalk on the NY Appalachian Trail

Boardwalk, or puncheon, on the NY AT

Day Hike Notes – Hunter Mountain

Notch Lake, Devil's Tombstone Campground, Hunter NY

Notch Lake, Devil’s Tombstone Campground – Start and Finish Point

The Catskill Mountains are over 100 miles from home. It’s hard to get an early start to a hike. I solved the problem this time by camping at Devil’s Tombstone Campground the night before, more or less right at my planned trailhead. I didn’t take much gear—1-person tent, sleeping bag & pad, pillow. It made for an easy, low-stress morning. I’d struck camp, breakfasted, and packed my day-pack in time for a 7 a.m. departure. The one drawback was no coffee, but I got over that eventually.

DATE: Friday, September 1st.
START & FINISH: Notch Lake, Devil’s Tombstone Campground, Hunter NY.
ROUTE: Devil’s Path, Hunter Mountain, and Spruceton trails to Hunter summit, then Spruceton and Colonel’s Chair trails to the Colonel’s Chair. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: 10-11 miles.
TIME: 7.5 hours, with rests and a (short) wrong turn (7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A real mix: A steep, rough 1,000-foot climb for starters, followed by much gentler grades for the next 1,000 feet. Hunter Mountain summit has flat soft trails. The 950-foot drop to the Colonel’s Chair is accomplished mostly on good, broad tracks.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Sunny and cool (48 degrees on Hunter Mountain at noon).
WILDLIFE: I scared a covey of ground nesting birds, that’s about it.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: A bagel at the trailhead.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwich on Hunter Mountain.
UPS: September 1st, but no bugs!
DOWNS: Hunter Mountain resort at the Colonel’s Chair must give a lot of people a lot of fun, particularly skiers. For a summer hiker, it’s an eyesore.
KIT: I could have done with gloves at times.
COMPANY: South of Hunter Mountain, a solitary backpacker; north of it, two runners and, at the Colonel’s Chair, a troop of zipliners.

Looking northwest from the Hunter Mountain fire tower —Thomas Cole Mtn, Black Dome, and Blackhead right of center

Looking northwest from Hunter Mountain fire tower —Thomas Cole Mtn, Black Dome, and Blackhead right of center

Day Hike Notes – Avalanche Lake, Adirondacks

The heat had been building through the week. In Silver Lake Wilderness, Monday had been pleasant (60s). By the time I left the Wilderness on Wednesday, we were heading for the high 80s. Thursday was warm even atop the High Peaks. But thunderstorms came along in the evening, and Friday dawned cloudy and mild. There was still a chance of storms in the forecast, so I didn’t want to climb another mountain. I was anyway quite happy with the prospect of a valley-floor hike to end my Dacks trip. Here it is:

DATE: Friday, May 19th.
START & FINISH: Adirondack Loj, near Lake Placid, NY, Adirondack High Peaks region.
ROUTE: Trail to Marcy Dam, then trail to Avalanche Pass and Lake. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 8 miles roundtrip.
TIME: Hmm, 5 hours maybe? 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
TERRAIN: Under 700 feet of elevation gain on mostly good trails, so pretty easy.
MAP: Trails Illustrated Adirondack Park, 742.

WEATHER: Overcast and mild on out leg; rainy on back leg. Temperatures in lower 60s.
WILDLIFE: Nothing to note.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Oatmeal and coffee at Loj campground.
LUNCH: Trail food.
UPS: (1) Moody scenery in moody weather; (2) finding snow at 3,000 feet in May.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I got to try my new rain jacket, and like it so far.
COMPANY: A few small groups. At Avalanche Lake, I chatted with two young backpackers from Montreal. They were on their way back to the Loj after a trek deeper into the High Peaks Wilderness.

Cliffs by Avalanche Lake, Adirondack High Peaks

Looking back to Avalanche Pass from Avalanche Lake

 

Day Hike Notes – Wright Peak, Adirondacks

You-know-who on Wright Peak

On Wright Peak, Algonquin Peak in the background

In Silver Lake Wilderness I met no one in two days and two nights. At times the trail had been hard to follow. The Adirondack High Peaks, which I drove to after leaving the Wilderness on Wednesday, was quite different. Even mid-week in May, there were lots of other hikers about, and the heavily used trails were clear as day. Most of the company was good, and I was pleased to have it.

I had thought I might climb Mount Marcy again, 15 years after my only previous ascent; but the Adirondack Mountain Club ranger at the information center at Adirondack Loj said there was still snow on the way to the summit. I could have rented microspikes from him, but didn’t feel like dealing with snow even with them. He listed off summits that were snow-free, and I chose Wright Peak (4,587 feet). Thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon, and it looked like a trek I could be done with before the rumbling started.

DATE: Thursday, May 18th.
START & FINISH: Adirondack Loj, near Lake Placid, NY, Adirondack High Peaks region.
ROUTE: Trail toward Marcy Dam for 1 mile, then trail up Algonquin Peak for 2 miles to Wright Peak side-trail. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: 7 miles roundtrip
TIME: 6 hours (8:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A 2,400-foot climb that starts out easy and gentle, and becomes increasingly rough and steep, with some significant scrambling on the approach to the summit (butt-work on the way down).
MAP: Trails Illustrated Adirondack Park, 742.

WEATHER: Hot. Even on the windy summit, it was comfortably warm. Down below, it was in the 80s.
WILDLIFE: Nothing memorable.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Mountain House Spicy Southwest Breakfast Hash at Loj campground.
LUNCH: Trail food.
UPS: Lying back on the summit and watching the clouds swirl.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: My old, damaged trekking poles did not collapse down and stow in my pack. My new ones do, and this was extremely useful on the scrambles near the summit.
COMPANY: Ascent, none; summit, 2 couples; descent, plenty.

On Wright Peak, Adirondack High Peaks

On Wright Peak

 

Silver Lake Wilderness Backpack

Silver Lake, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

Early morning on Silver Lake

Last July, I posted that I was going to backpack in Silver Lake Wilderness “at the drop of a hat” sometime in August, September, or October. I meant that I would go at short notice, when weather and free time aligned. It didn’t happen. It would not have happened last week either unless something else had fallen through. I was booked, you see, to spend the week of May 15th in Maine’s Baxter State Park. I had my hikes there all picked out.

Now, the people at Baxter State Park are helpful and friendly, and they did warn me that my part of the park might not open on time. It was, they said, all a question of how soon the snow on the park roads melted, and how soon after that the roads dried out. Four days before my planned departure, they called from Millinocket to say that the road to South Branch Pond would not be useable. Fortunately, I had a Plan B ready to dust off, and headed instead for the Adirondacks.

DATES: Monday-Wednesday, May 15-17.
START & FINISH: Godfrey Road, Upper Benson NY (43.252824, -74.345014).
ROUTE: Short side-trail (yellow-blazed) to Northville-Placid Trail (NPT, blue-blazed), then NPT to Whitehouse. Return by same route.
DISTANCES:
MONDAY: Godfrey Road to Mud Lake – 12.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Mud Lake to Whitehouse, then back to Silver Lake – 11.6 miles.
WEDNESDAY: Silver Lake to Godfrey Road – 7.0 miles.
TIME: Just over 48 hours (9:45 a.m. Monday to around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday).
TERRAIN: No big elevation changes (entire route between 1,300 and 2,100 feet up), but trail often rough, overgrown, and blocked by blowdowns and other obstacles.
MAP: The one that came with Adirondack Trails: Northville-Placid Trail guide.

DSCN9084

Trailside sculpture

WEATHER: Mild and breezy on Monday; hot and sunny on Tuesday and Wednesday.
WILDLIFE: Standouts: moose scat, wailing loons, calling owls.
PHOTOS: Here.

ACCOMMODATION: Mud Lake lean-to (Monday) and Silver Lake lean-to (Tuesday). At Silver Lake, to escape the evening bugs in the lean-to, I pitched my tent, but did not put on its fly (to catch a breeze and see the stars). About 10 p.m., I was woken by rain, and had to move everything quickly into the lean-to. It turned out to be a feeble shower, but I wasn’t to know that.
MEALS: Mountain House for dinner, otherwise cold fare (of which cheese and tortillas were the best).
UPS: Many, but I’ll settle for waking in the middle of the night to find the moon shining on Mud Lake and flooding the world with its light.
DOWNS: At times, bugs – no-see-ums? – were a nuisance. When combined with heat and fatigue, they made for a few no-fun stretches.
KIT: I need to lighten my load for future outings. I was weighed down with too much stuff I did not use.
COMPANY: None at all, and no cell coverage, for 48 hours. Two young women, trail-runners, passed me near the end (the sudden noise of them behind me had startled).

West Branch Sacandaga River, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

West Branch Sacandaga River, my turnaround point

Taking a Hike – Fahnestock Summits

My April Taking a Hike column has been published by The Hour and Hersam Acorn Newspapers. It describes an early spring (aka wintery) hike in Fahnestock State Park:

Relishing hardship, starkness of Fahnestock State Park at Hersam Acorn
Gray skies don’t dim the appeal of state park trek at The Hour

One thing I liked about the hike is that it helped me join up some bits of local landscape. I’d hiked in Fahnestock twice before, but it had stayed a disconnected, standalone kind of place in my mental atlas. I knew the Hudson River was off to its west and Connecticut to its east, and that the Appalachian Trail ran through it. Other than that, I had little sense for how it fitted with other places I like to hike.

Bull Hill (right) and cliffs south of Storm King Mountain (center) from Round Hill

Photo 1 – Hudson Valley from Round Hill, Fahnestock SP

The joining-up happened on west-facing slopes near the end of the hike. I saw the Hudson Valley, the steep-sided part of it near where the river flows between Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain (Photo 1). Now, I had seen this stretch of valley from another angle, on another hike, years ago (Photo 2).

Most of the scenery in Photo 2 (taken looking south from Sugar Loaf Mountain) is hidden in Photo 1 behind Bull Hill (middle-distance summit in the right of the picture), but the scenes definitely join where the Hudson flows beneath the bluffs just left of center in Photo 2. It is possible to cover most of the distance – about 4 miles in a straight line – between where I took each photo on trails. I’d like to do that one day.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Hudson Highlands State Park, NY

Photo 2 – Looking south from Sugarloaf Mountain