Two Hikes in the Blackhead Range

Cliff east of Black Dome

Cliff east of Black Dome.

September 14th/15th, I took two hikes in the Blackhead Range. The range lies in the far northeast of New York’s Catskill Mountains. I hadn’t planned on two hikes, it just turned out that way.

The first trek—the longer—took me over the range’s three main summits—Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and Blackhead, all nearly 4,000 feet high. There were things to enjoy along the way. I’ve always liked Catskill rock formations, which somehow are easy to imagine as the seabed they once were. The hike also involved some ridge-top flat stretches on soft carpets of pine needles. But the day did not offer views. From start to finish, the Blackhead Range was shrouded in wind-driven cloud. This was atmospheric but it meant I missed, on the flank of Blackhead, views that according to the Catskill Mountain Guide “are considered among the Catskills’ very best by knowledgeable hikers”.

At nine miles, amply filled with summits and saddles, rocks and roots, this out-and-back Blackhead traverse had been fairly strenuous, and I only committed myself to returning the next day in search of those best views after a long sleep and confirmation of a much-improved weather forecast.

My second trek was shorter and easier, a quick climb of Blackhead via Batavia Kill and a short descent to the ledges on its flank.

And what a difference a day makes! From those south- and west-facing ledges I felt I could see most of the Catskills, from the summits and notches traversed by the Devil’s Path in the middle distance to—far off—Slide Mountain, the Catskills’ highest peak.

Blackhead Mountain Trail - view from Blackhead Mountain

Looking SW from Blackhead – Hunter Mountain middle distance, center image; Stony Clove Notch between Hunter and Plateau Mountain left; Slide Mountain far distance just left of center.

 

MORE PHOTOS:

 

GPS TRACKS:

Blackhead Range Routes

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

Big mouth and eyes, flat nose

Big mouth and eyes, flat nose

This was one of those hikes that grew out of wanting to go hiking but not having much of an idea where. Looking for ideas, I browsed my maps, this blog, and my old Taking a Hike newspaper columns. I didn’t want to drive very far but I did want something new. The New York Appalachian Trail, starting at the Connecticut line, fit the bill—an hour’s drive north but virgin path for me. Then there was the matter of what I’d hike to, so much better than just turning around at some nondescript point on the trail that just happens to be far enough. Studying the map, I noticed Quaker Lake sitting off the AT but reachable via side-trails. That, surely, would do as a target. And so it proved, the lake providing welcome sun and sky after a long forest trek.

 

DATE: Sunday, September 8th.
START & FINISH: CT-NY line, Hoyt Road, Sherman/Dover (GPS 41.641020, -73.520110).
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail (AT) south to Pawling Nature Reserve; counterclockwise loop around Quaker Lake on the Reserve’s Red and (for a short while) Yellow trails and Quaker Lake Road (dirt); return to Start on the AT (north).
DISTANCE: 12.4 miles.
TIME: 5¾ hours (8:50am to 2:35pm).
TERRAIN: A gradual climb to the Reserve, a dip down to Quaker Lake, a return to the ridge, and a steady descent back to Start—all on good, well-blazed trails.
MAP: National Geographic AT Topographic Map Guide 1508.

WEATHER: Sunny and mild (upper 50s to low 70s).
WILDLIFE: The standout was a spotted fawn beside Quaker Lake Road.

BREAKFAST: Coffee and bagel at J.P. Gifford, Kent even though it was a little out of my way.
LUNCH: Propped against a pine in Pawling Nature Reserve.
UPS: A long walk in peaceful woods.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: No bug spray required.
COMPANY: Very little but, nearing the end, I met a group wearing Gaia GPS caps. Turned out one of the group worked for Gaia and kitted out the whole crew.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GAIA GPS TRACK:

Gaia GPS Route

Day Hike Notes – Ashokan High Point

Slide Mountain from Ashokan High Point

Slide Mountain from Ashokan High Point

This was my first visit to the Catskills in a year and a half. The Catskills are just that bit too far from home to encourage frequent trips. The trailhead for this hike is a 110-mile drive each way and I had to be on the road soon after 5am to hit the trail decently early. But the Catskills are my nearest big mountain range, both in terms of elevation (up to 4,190 feet) and extent (half a Rhode Island of mountainous forest), and when my Friday opened up, I decided to make the trek. Ashokan High Point was a new hike for me. I enjoyed it, but would not rate it as highly as some of my other Catskill treks.

DATE: Friday, July 26th.
START & FINISH: Kanape Brook parking area on CR 42, West Shokan, NY (GPS 41.934993, -74.328989).
ROUTE: Ashokan High Point Trail, which is a lollipop loop. I went around the loop counterclockwise.
DISTANCE: Just under 9 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (7:45am to 12:45pm).
TERRAIN: It is a 2,000-foot, 3.6-mile climb to High Point. The first 2.6 miles are a very steady 1,000-foot ascent on a broad track; the next mile, obviously, is steeper, but still on good trail. Coming off the summit, the longer part of the loop is rough and overgrown in places, and occasionally hard to follow. I don’t think it is much used.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Sunny and warm (60s early, rising to low 80s).
WILDLIFE: Nothing much.

BREAKFAST: Bagel on the road.
LUNCH: Cheese & ham baguette sat on a log near the end of the hike.
UPS: Undoubtedly the blueberry bald just beyond High Point with fine views of Slide Mountain and other peaks to the NW.
DOWNS: Pushing through brush, cobwebs, and bugs on some sections of the loop on the return leg.
KIT: A few months ago, I started recording my hikes with Gaia GPS. Gaia lets you see your route on a topographical map, which I enjoy (the track of this hike is shown below). But I have also discovered that you can import a Gaia track into Google Earth and see your route across the landscape in 3D. Very cool!
COMPANY: On my way up I met a young woman with a full-size backpack. She’d spent the night out, she said, and had felt scared. I was much older than her when I spent my first night alone on a mountainside and I had felt anxious too.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

GPS TRACK:

Ashokan High Point -- GPS

Day Hike Notes – Verkeerder Kill Falls from Awosting Reserve

Shawangunk Ridge, Sam's Point

On the Shawangunk Ridge, Sam’s Point to the right.

I arrived at Sam’s Point just before 8am, anxious to get walking! But the entrance to its ample parking lot was barred and a sign said the gate would not open until 9:00. “No parking” signs lined the approach road. I could have foreseen this issue, but I hadn’t, and now I was a little angry. Why on earth wait 3½ hours after sunrise to open a state park! Other cars were arriving too. At 9:00, the gate would be like the front door of Macy’s on sale day. This was not what I had come for at all.

I looked at my map and saw another entrance to the park about 30 minutes’ drive away. It looked very much like a back door, with “unmaintained trails” leading from it to the Shawangunk Ridge, which was my destination. I set off immediately and discovered an empty, informal, and OPEN parking area at the foot of the ridge. By 8:45, I was climbing the slope toward Lake Awosting.

DATE: Sunday, June 30th.
START & FINISH: Aumick Road, Gardiner, NY (GPS 41.675857, -74.263490).
ROUTE: Awosting Reserve trails to the Scenic Trail just south of Lake Awosting; Scenic Trail to Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail via Mud Pond; Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail 0.3 miles to the Falls. Return more or less by same route.
DISTANCE: 13.5 miles.
TIME: 6¾ hours (8:45am to 3:30pm).
TERRAIN: Long, steady climb from Start to ridge (1,300 feet over 3 miles). Although the ridge-walk is all between 1,800 and 2,000 feet in elevation, the trails are not flat and easy. There is a lot of stepping up and down and the occasional scramble.
MAPNYNJTC Shawangunk Trails, Map 104.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny; breezy; warm (heading toward 80).
WILDLIFE: Two timber rattlesnakes (see photos for one of them).

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Fishkill.
LUNCH: Sat on a ledge just after starting the return leg.
UPS: The sights on the ridge come thick and fast, from close-up flora to the distant Catskills.
DOWNS: See intro.
KIT: I should have slathered by neck in sunscreen, though no serious damage was done.
COMPANY: None until the Falls; plenty at the falls; a few conversations on the return leg.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Day Hike Notes – Bull Hill

Hudson River and Storm King Mountain from Bull Hill

Hudson River and Storm King Mountain

I first noticed Bull Hill two years ago. I was on a cold, gray March hike in Fahnestock State Park and Bull was a view—a distant snow-and-forest-covered hump off toward the Hudson River. I told myself I’d climb it some sunny day. Sunday was indeed sunny and though colder in fact than that 2017 Fahnestock hike, it did not feel so at all.

Bull Hill is a decent workout, but above all it is a hike of views—views of the Hudson Highlands, of the Hudson River north and south, and even of Manhattan skyscrapers 45 straight-line miles away. I think these are scenes I will keep coming back to in different seasons and at different times of day.

DATE: Sunday, February 10th.
START & FINISH: Fishkill Road (CR 10) NE of Cold Spring NY (41.433793, -73.936795).
ROUTE: Counterclockwise lollipop—Lone Star, Nelsonville, and Washburn trails to Bull Hill summit; Washburn, Undercliff, Nelsonville, and Lone Star back to Start.
DISTANCE: About 6.5 miles.
TIME: 3¼ hours (9:00am-12:15pm).
TERRAIN: Bull Hill summit (1,421’) is a nearly 1,200’ climb from the trailhead. Ascent and descent are sometimes moderately steep. The trails were good in the day’s dry conditions.
MAP: NY-NJ Trail Conference East Hudson Trails (#102).

WEATHER: Sunny and cold (20s).
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: Plain toasted bagel with butter and swiss (Connecticut Coffee & Grill) consumed in the car and at the trailhead.
LUNCH: Sandwich in the car after the hike and before heading to Manitou Point Preserve for a stroll down to the Hudson.
UPS: A bright day with big views.
DOWNS: A painful neck crick for a few moments toward the end of the hike.
KIT: I carried traction devices but did not need them. The few icy sections of trail were easily circumvented.
COMPANY: Some hikers, dog walkers, and joggers, mainly after the summit. One guy asked me to take a photograph of him and his dog, aptly named Hudson!

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

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