October 22, 2010
The run into the woods today held a certain measure of intrigue for me. The intrigue came in the form of a story I had read on the back of one of my trail maps about the Dunderberg Spiral Railway. As the story is written there, this railway was part of a project plan that would, at its core, involve the building of a large resort hotel at the top of Dunderberg Mountain. As it so often happens in these kinds of situations, funding for the project ran out and it was never completed. But two tunnels that had been built – and almost all of the grading that was done for the railway – are visible and accessible from the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail (R-D). And so it was with a certain excitement that I drove around the eastern side of Dunderberg Mountain along Route 9W in search of the trail head.
The trail began in what is essentially a swamp, and the way the parking area was set in relation to the marshy ground left me momentarily stumped as to where the trail head was. But after some foraging around and a closer study of the map, I managed to get the trail markers in sight and I was on my way.
Almost immediately I came upon a remnant of the old spiral railway. Nestled here at the base of the mountain, among twisted vines and a great many downed trees, was a tunnel through which the trains going down the mountain would have been intended to pass through. This tunnel must have been built in either 1890 or 1891, so was a good 120 years old. By its marvelous condition, I wouldn’t think it to be a day over 100. I guess it just goes to show you that when things are well-built like they used to be in the days of yore, they last!
So after a quick look at history, I turned around and up Dunderberg Mountain I went! For nearly the next half mile, I was running along the graded section of the old railway path. But the word “graded” here is not exactly the proper descriptor, as this was among the most difficult kinds of running I have seen so far here in the park. In this case, a very steep slope coupled with a trail that was so full of rocks that it looked like there had been a rock slide there. My legs were not so happy.
It took me a while to complete my first mile and to reach a scenic viewpoint there that directly overlooked the Hudson. 27 minutes to “run” a mere 1,760 yards. I don’t know if that constitutes running, but I can safely say that my heart rate had to be well north of 150 for most of that mile. Catching my breath and downing a few swallows of Powerade, I looked out over the river at one of the Hudson Valley’s most infamous industrial facilities – the Indian Point nuclear plant. It’s always calming to know that you’re just a few miles away from serious radiation poisoning in the event of a full-scale meltdown. I snickered, and sneered. You probably would have, too…
Beyond this point, the trail hooked around to the left, and after a brief tease of flat ground, went upward yet again. I was now heading west, and back in the direction of where that wonderful hotel would have stood if it had been built all those years ago. When I finally reached the top, I was treated to the beauty of a huge hawk, who jumped out of his perch in the trees upon hearing me scamper through his usually quiet territory up here. I also noticed that the trees here were unlike any others that I had seen. I’m not familiar with the variety, but they appeared as a broad assemblage of leafless spines, almost like toothpicks on this barren mountain top. The trail undulated but remained reasonably flat for about the next half mile, but the wind up here was fairly strong, and although the sun had been out when I started, it had gone behind a mostly gray sky now, and it occurred to me that I may have been under-dressed.
I traversed down the slope of the southern ridge (feeling a bit warmer as I got out of the wind) and then began back up the slope of the northern ridge, passing another bed of the spiral railway as I did so. In fact, the rail bed duped me into thinking it was the trail for a few moments, but when I stopped seeing markers, I backtracked and managed to right the ship.
The next mile comprised a long, very gradual climb up and over the next ridge. Through this area I encountered many wild blueberry bushes, all of them now ablaze in red as they prepared to drop their leaves for their winter’s sleep. I must have become lost in the glory of all these fiery leaves, as before I knew it, I was at the junction (and trail head) of the Cornell Mine Trail.
In front of me now was a quarter mile of steep and dangerous trail carrying me down the precipitous northern face of Dunderberg Mountain. I had walked this trail section with Catherine only about a week ago, and it was helpful to have that experience and memory with me as I tackled it again today. Anxious to find flat ground fast, I made considerable haste, and utilized as many natural “stair steps” in the rock formation as I could in the process. Reaching the base of the mountain rather quickly, I then enjoyed a fairly flat and scenic woods run from here all the way to Doodletown.
Ah, Doodletown. I had such a fond memory of running through here in the driving rain with my friends Dick and Ellen just a few weeks ago. And then another memory of a nice walking tour through here with Catherine only last week. But today, there was no rain, and no walking tour. So I took care of business, quickly getting through “town” and beginning the trek south back toward Dunderberg Mountain and The Timp. Now running along the 1777 Trail, I passed many historic markers denoting old Doodletown homes here on what had been Pleasant Hill Rd. I’m sure that the hill was pleasant to live on and to drive back in those days, but running up it now, over an hour and a half into my run, it was – shall I say – less than pleasant. ;p
The trail crossed the creek that feeds the Doodletown Reservoir, and then it began the steep climb up the back side of The Timp. Still on a woods road at this point, I stopped halfway up for a “nature break,” which was I realized was merely an excuse to stop and suck wind. I was running out of gas, with still a long way to go, and I needed to recharge and hydrate with some more Powerade. In reasonably short stead, I found the junction of the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, hung a quick left, and was on my way toward Bald Mountain.
Bald Mountain is sort of a companion mountain to Dunderberg, situated on the westernmost end of the Dunderberg ridge. I would take this part of the R-D to the junction with the Cornell Mine Trail that I had seen earlier. Catherine and I had hiked this last week as well, but we had hiked it straight through. Today it would comprise an out-and-back. When I’d been out on this mountain last week, the winds had been blowing like holy hell, and I remembered that despite the grand view it afforded (it was like Circlevision 360 up there), I had wanted to get down from it quickly. I had hoped that today would be better, but I was wrong. It was worse! The winds were blowing so hard that I was afraid my camera was going to be blown straight out of my hand! After a brief look at the astonishing view and a couple of quick pictures, I was gone, and I high-tailed it back to the trail junction.
After a brief revisit to the 1777 Trail, I came upon the junction of the blue-blazed Timp-Torne Trail. The Timp-Torne derives its name in the same way that several other trails in this park seem to do – combining the names of two points of notable geography. And true to that form, this trail runs its length between the mountains known as The Timp and Popolopen Torne, thus the name “Timp-Torne.” As I turned, I immediately encountered a short hand-over-fist climb up a rock face (some folks call this kind of thing a rock scramble), but I was over the top quickly. And although I still had a ways to go, at least now I was heading toward the car, which is always a big psychological help on these especially challenging runs. This final two-mile section of trail was nearly all downhill (a 900-foot elevation drop), and was scattered with switchbacks and all varieties of views of the Hudson River (and Indian Point again) down below me. Feeling as though I was in a bit of a hurry now, I pushed the pace on the flatter spots, and took perhaps a few more risks than I should have scooting down the steep, rocky sections.
I passed a few day hikers in what must have seemed like a mad dash to them as I made my way to the finish of this run. All along this grand journey of mine, I continue to encounter hikers whose facial expressions upon seeing me betray that they just don’t understand why the hell anyone would be running on these trails. Like you have a screw loose or something.
Well, before I could say “Rumplestiltskin”, I was back at the railway tunnel that I has first encountered three hours before, and then in a few more moments, back at the car, gasping, but with all my screws intact. And I would take great delight in going home, having a cold malt beverage, and putting this amazing run in the books.