White Friday – Oneida and Madison County High Points (#16 and #17)

Friday, November 25, 2016

On a day when many people are heading to the combined-photo-for-blog-bannerstores to begin their holiday gift shopping, I decided to go in effectively the opposite direction and try to knock out a couple of county high points. This particular effort would prove to be different than the other excursions I’d gone on earlier in the year. Let me explain…

A few weeks earlier, my mother had invited me to drive up to the Syracuse area and join them for Thanksgiving dinner. Being that I hadn’t shared a Thanksgiving with them in quite a few years, I took her up on the offer and made the drive to Syracuse on Tuesday the 22nd.  Due to a spate of lake effect snow squalls over the course of the few days prior, many parts of Central New York had had 30, 40, or even 50 inches of snow dumped on them. Although the snow had abated by the time I made my Tuesday afternoon trip, the evidence of those storms was clear as I reached the Cortland County line, and then Onondaga County. Large mounds of snow on both sides of Route 81 as I passed through Preble, then Tully, and ultimately Lafayette, which looked like it had been hit hardest of all.

So anyway, after arriving safely at my folks house on Tuesday night, I relaxed and enjoyed their company for a couple of days, including Thursday’s feast. But on Thursday evening, after dinner, I decided to do some county high point research to see what might be possible within the time frame I had to work with.

After a short review, I decided that Oneida County and Madison County could probably both be accomplished within one day (or less). I considered adding Onondaga County to the plans, but it was also my father’s birthday, and I had wanted to stop by his house on the other side of town and visit with him for a few hours, so I scratched Morgan Hill off of my target list. Onondaga County would have to wait for another day.

And so on Friday morning, after drinking less than my usual daily intake of coffee, I hopped in the car and headed east from the west suburbs of Syracuse toward Oneida
img_1393County.  The drive out to Waterville, NY – the location of Oneida County’s Tassel Hill – took about an hour and 15 minutes, and was picturesque, even in the overcast weather conditions. US Route 20 was the primary byway for the trip, and was rife with rolling hills and glorious views of the Central New York countryside.

After passing through Waterville, which was a quaint town, I took White Street out about two miles in search of Tassel Hill Rd. According to Google satellite, Tassel Hill Rd would take me up to within about a half mile of the high point. By my estimation, this could make it a fairly quick hike, even with the snow. But upon reaching the intersection of White and Tassel Hill Rds, a dose of reality set in. Tassel Hill Rd, I immediately learned, is a seasonal road, and is not plowed. And so now this 1-mile hike would be more on the order of 3.5 miles. That’s 3.5 miles in heavy snow.

A bit annoyed by this discovery, but not totally put off, I got out of the car, pulled my YakTrax over my running shoes, and with a bright red shirt on (we’re right in the img_1395middle of hunting season, after all) began my hike up Tassel Hill Rd.

At first, the road was exposed to open fields, and there was heavy drifting. But as the road went gently upward and into the trees, the wet snow was primarily ankle deep, but no more.  As I continued on, I did see a hunter quietly perched in the woods, waiting for a target to appear. He didn’t even turn his head to look at me as I plodded by.

Up to this point, I had been following the boot prints of hunters. But not long afterward, the footprints disappeared, and I found myself breaking trail as the snow got deeper and deeper. About a mile img_1398and a quarter in, I made a right-hand turn and continued to pursue the upward ascent to the top of Tassel Hill. The snow got deeper still, and by the time I reached the top, it was thigh high in most places.

After a quick look around, and the taking of a couple of snapshots, I began the 650-foot descent back to the car. The ascent had taken approximately 45 minutes, and the hike down a mere 23 minutes, which I was pleased with given the deep snow and often slippery footing.


My next task would be to find a place to gas up the car, and get a sandwich and some more coffee before proceeding to the Madison County high point some 25 miles west of Tassel Hill.  After a quick stop at the Waterville Nice & Easy Quick Mart, it was onward to Morrow Mountain State Forest in the southern part of Madison County.  After a 35-img_141240 minute drive, I arrived at the base of Mack Rd, the main entrance into the state forest. But just like Tassel Hill Rd, this road is seasonal, and I could see from the get-go that it was going to be a push through deep snow all the way.

From the car to the summit was about 0.95 miles, with about 400 feet or so of vertical ascent. In knee deep snow, I trudged up the hill, encountering a couple of hunters along the lower portion of the climb.  When I expressed to one of them that I clearly wasn’t here in the forest for the same purpose that he was, he said to me “But we’re both enjoying the outdoors, and that’s what’s important.”  This made me smile.

About halfway up Morrow Mountain, I passed through a spimg_1409ectacular section of pine trees that inspired me to stop and take a couple of pictures.  The snow depth diminished briefly here, and was only ankle deep in most places.  Another 2 or 3 tenths of a mile later and I was at the summit, where there was a radio tower of some sort, and a small wooden building (not much larger than a shack) that was probably state forest property.

Having taken 23 minutes to make the climb, I made it back down in 13 minutes, bounding playfully through the deep snow along the way. At one point I heard a succession of 6 or 7 gunshots lower down the mountain. I stopped for a few moments, waiting to be sure the barrage was over, and nervous now about having it happen again as I reached the lower sectionmorrow-mountain-hike-run-route-topo-version. But the hunters had seen me as I went up the hill, so I trusted that they would exercise proper caution as I passed through their area again.

By the time I reached the bottom my legs were starting to feel it.  On the day, a total of about 5.4 miles of (mostly) deep snow hiking without the benefit of snowshoes, which I had unfortunately left at home before making the drive to Syracuse. Two days later, I would have muscle soreness in places that I had never had from running.

Two more CoHPs down, and now just 45 to go.  How long will it take me to complete them all?  Stay tuned.🙂

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Schenectady & Albany County High Points – #14 and #15

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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Two county high points were both within two and a half hour’s drive, and just 40 minutes apart from one another in the northern reaches of the mid-Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains.

Setting out from my home in southern Orange County, NY, I headed north on the New York State Thruway, the primary interstate toll road in the southern and central portions of the Empire State. Reaching the Albany area, I veered off of the I-87 section of the highway and onto I-90, which forms the central spine of the Thruway from here all the way to Buffalo some 300 miles to the west.

I exited in Rotterdam, followed I-88 to Duanesburg, and then a short series of back roads to a plateau of land centered around a small farm property with panoramic views of the Adirondack foothills to its north.

I was now at the home of the Hawes family, whose most recent patriarch Ray Hawes was img_0969mentioned in several trip reports I had read about reaching this county high point. (Note: I learned in researching this article that Ray passed away in 2015)

The highest ground here is in a patch of woods to the back of the Hawes property. And
having read reports of fellow peakbaggers, I knew it was better to knock on the door and ask permission rather than to quietly trespass across the open field on the southern part of their land.

Seeing img_0967a car in the driveway, I expected someone to answer upon my knocking. But the only response I got (after several tries) was from some dogs inside the house, who were clearly unaccompanied by humans, and quite interested in knowing why I had broken the silence of their otherwise quiet morning.

Giving up on having a human greet me at the door, I moved my  car from the Hawes driveway to the far edge of their property, adjacent to an abandoned cottage house. From here, I traipsed across the field, compass in hand, and entered the woods at what appeared to be the remnant of an old tractor path.

It didn’t take long to find the high point, as it was only about 150-200 feet into the woods, and img_0971the underbrush was very light. Picking the high spot that was nearest to the given coordinates I had taken from Peakbagger.com, I noted the elevation at 1477′, some 20 feet higher than the “official” altitude. But knowing that not all compasses read the same, I was satisfied with the latitude and longitude readings, especially given that there was no other ground higher than where I was standing.

As I left the Hawes land, I took one last look at the view of the southern Adirondacks before setting my bearings for the next high point – Albany County.

Getting to the Albany County high point involved a long series of back roads and country roads, with one of them being a dirt road named Ted E. Bear Lane (I kid you not!). Along the way, I also encountered two pretty  cool things. One was a sighting of Long Path blazes, those familiar teal rectangles I’ve seen on many trails in the Hudson Valley. This section of the Long Path is almost entirely on roads, and being north of the current northern terminus of the LP, is still considered “unofficial” at this time.

img_0979The second thing I came across was a stupendous panorama of the northern Catskill high peaks, spanning from the Black Dome range all the way west to Hunter Mountain and beyond. It was such a remarkable view that I stopped the car and got out, spending a few meditative minutes soaking in the wonder of it all.

As I moved past a number of farmers fields, I gradually got onto higher and higher ground, with appreciable hills around almost every bend in the road.  Passing through the towns of Berne and then South Berne, I eventually found myself on Peasley Rd, at the eastern edge img_0974of one of the many parcels of land that comprise Partridge Run State Forest.

I turned onto Boys Camp Road, which was unpaved, and featured red Catskill clay as the primary color in the roadbed.  At a small bend in about a half mile in, I parked,  and according to my AllTrails phone app, was now a mere 100 feet away from the county high point.

Entering the forest by way ofimg_0976 an unused woods road, I then veered off and bushwhacked some 40 feet to the point my compass showed as the highest spot, at 2196′ above sea level.

Satisfied in having knocked out two CoHPs in just one day (only the 2nd time I had accomplished that), I now endeavored to find a watering hole to celebrate the day. I drove first to Cave Mountain Brewing Co. in Windham, but found them closed, not realizing that they were no longer operating on “summer hours”.

So instead, I chose to drive to Phoenicia and have a cold one at the Alamo Cantina, a familiar spot, and one that I know I will probably visit again and again as I seek my peace (and malted sustenance) in the mountains.

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Hunter Mountain – CoHP #13

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

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At this point in my project, I have now completed all of the counties comprising the Catskill region excepting one, and that is Greene County’s Hunter Mountain. Besides being known for its popular snow skiing resort, Hunter is also notable (with an elevation of 4,040′) as the 2nd highest peak in the Catskill Mountains.  Scaling this mountain, which lies along the infamous Devil’s Path, is a noble challenge to say the least.

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And it’s not that I had been purposely putting this one off until last. It’s just that I had wanted to climb it with my friend Bob Harris, so I was waiting for our availability to synch up, and also to have a fair weather day for us to take on this arduous hike.

And so it was that Bob and I drove up to the trail head at Notch Lake, just 1/4-mile north of the Devil’s Tombstone campground, and 9 miles north of the Catskill village of Phoenicia.

Weather was excellent as we stopped and paid our $6 access fee at the ranger station, and then proceeded to the trail head.

Having examined the topo map in detail, we knew that the first segment of the climb was steep, and I have to tell you, it didn’t disappoint. Not only was it steep, it was also extremely technical and rugged. As tough as it was to getimg_0788 through the first mile or so, I knew it would be equally challenging on the way back down.

As Bob and I climbed, he told me stories about his friend Steve Hawkins, a talented trail runner with a fairly long list of accomplishments. We stopped only once in the early going to catch our breath and regroup, following red DEC trail blazes all the way to first plateau in the hike. At this point, the surroundings changed from jagged rock to more of a simple, deciduous forest. Fully distanced from the road below us now, the only noises we could hear were those of the mountain creatures.

At the 1.7-mile mark, we reached the junction of the yellow trail, where we made a hard right and began the remaining 1.6-mile hike to the mountain’s summit. The first section of the yellow trail img_0794featured a somewhat rugged tread underfoot, and also lots and lots of mountain blackberries. Endeavoring to be one with nature, Bob and I took a few minutes to eat some of these delicious fruits before continuing on.

After a mile or so of traveling eastward, the trail curled north, and with less than a half mile to the summit now, the trail was flat (and quite runnable, actually), and had mountain pines on all sides.The only disappointment in this last section, if there was one, was that there weren’t any notable viewpoints. We came across one short side trail that teased us, but when we got to its end, the view was still quite obscured by pine trees and tall ground brush.

img_0804After 1 hr and 52 minutes, we found ourselves at the Hunter Mountain summit, complete with ranger cabin, fire tower, and outhouse. With still no views to be had from where we stood, we knew the only option was to climb the firetower, and that we did. The “cab” door was locked, so we had to remain on the stair landing just beneath it. But the views were extraordinary on this crystal clear afternoon, as we could see the entire Eastern Escarpment to the northeast, and the eastern string of mountain peaks of the Devil’s Path to our immediate east.

img_0806The winds were calm as we stood there and soaked in the view. After taking a few photos and marveling some more at the views, we reluctantly descended the fire tower. But one thing we hadn’t done yet was to find the official summit marker. It took a few minutes of skulking around, and I used my AllTrails app to assist us, but we ultimately found the stone marker denoting the 4,040-feet that was the Hunter Mountain summit elevation.

Our return trip went smoothly to the junction with the red trail, whereupon we encountered a couple of young men who had been hiking the Devil’s Path all day, and who inquired how far it was to the natural spring they saw on the map. A quick check of mine showed they were less than a 1/4-mile away from it, and also only 3 miles from their car, which they told us was at the eastern end of Spruceton Rd.

img_0792Onward and downward Bob and I continued until we reached the steep section that comprised the final mile. As we began the descent, I remembered talking to my friend Ken Posner a few days earlier, who told me of his aborted attempt to fast-hike all 35 Catskill 3500 high peaks straight through. On that day, he had ultimately come out of the woods on this same descent, and he remarked to me how endless it seemed, especially on tired legs and in the dark.

Carrying Ken’s story in my head all the way to the bottom, Bob and I finally arrived back at Notch Lake, and were both able to put a ‘notch’ in our belts for having tamed Hunter Mountain.  The last task of the day, of course, was to celebrate with a cold one, which we found at the Alamo Cantina in Phoenicia.  A beautiful end to a beautiful day in the woods.

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North Bearpen Mountain

Saturday, August 20, 2016

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As I reviewed the NY/NJ Trail Conference’s “Catskill Trails” map #145, I noted that there are a couple of different approaches to the Delaware County high point, which lies on the northwest shoulder of Bearpen Mountain, and lists as approximately 3520′ in elevation.

Both route options are on snowmobile trails, but after having read the various trip reports on Peakbagger.com (the tool that I’m using to pursue my New York county high point project), I chose to go with the approach via Ski Run Road, which lies about 2 and half miles south of the quiet but quaint village of Prattsville. The image2sun was shining and the skies were blue as could be as I pulled in at the trail head shortly before 12:00 noon.

Before heading into the woods, I stared long and hard at the mountain in the distance – my destination – and thought about how far away it seemed. It’s funny; as a runner, 3 or 4 miles seems like such a short distance to me. But as the mountain returned my stare with a stare of its own, my thinking in that moment was that 4 miles was a long way.

And so, perhaps a bit intimidated but certainly not afraid,  I set out on Ski Run Road, a fairly well maintained woods road that I’m sure a 4-wheel drive vehicle could navigate successfully, but which my low-profile Nissan Maxima had no chance on. The forest was quiet, and for the first half mile or so, the road was reasonably flat.

From that point forward, it became a long, steady rise. There were no especially steep sections, but the grade was steep image4enough that I deemed a fast hike would be more enjoyable than a slow, gut-wrenching run.  And besides, I wanted to take pictures along the way, so an easy-going hike made the most sense to me.

I saw several interesting things as as traversed the edge of the mountain, with the valley on my left-hand side the whole way. One of the more common sights was mushrooms. Several
different varieties, in fact, and in one case, I found them growing straight up out of the strewn rocks that comprised the road bed.

I eventually came to a grassy clearing, a point at which there appeared to be several roads/trails to choose from. With a minor bit of examination (and a little bit of help from my AllTrails phone app), it was apparent that the way to go from here was to the left.

And so I did, but not before spying an interesting sign at img_0991the trail junction warning adventurers to beware of heavy construction vehicles as they advanced forward. Ha! Clearly this sign was for fast-moving snowmobiles, warning them about snow plows or some other sort of grooming machines. But seeing the sign from a hiker’s point of view made me giggle, as it was impossible to imagine a tragic encounter with a Sno-Cat, even in winter..

Anyway, now on the ridge line, the trail flattened considerably, and as I hiked the final mile or so to the North Bearpen summit, there were a number of wet areas in the road that I needed to walk around. Being that it had been dry weather for most of the past two weeks, it seemed to me that these sections were usually a lot swampier, especially in the late Spring.

image7Carefully watching my progress on the AllTrails app, I arrived at what seemed the best point to begin the last section of the hike, a brief off-trail bushwhack of perhaps 100 meters to reach the 3520′ mark.  It was a fairly simple task, with no serious bramble bushes or thick underbrush to impede my path.

Arriving at the summit, I took a snapshot of my AllTrails app, a photo of the forest (note: there are no views whatsoever from here), and a snapshot of my compass app, which showed me at an elevation of 3525′.

On the trip back down the mountain, I finally came across other hikers, a couple who were on their way up to the formal summit of Bearpen Mountain (which I chose to skip for today). Continuing on, I walked at first, but as I passed back through the clearing and onto the steeper downhill section, I opted to run.

To my delight, I found myself running the rest of the way back to the car, perhaps 2 and a half miles. Although it was a woods road and not a single-track trail, it still provided an able challenge to footing, and it felt good to use my “trail legs” for the first time in what seemed like a long time.

Back at the car now, I noted the round trip time of 2 hrs, 4 mins, which covered 7.4 miles in all. But I had just one more bit of navigation to attend to, and that was to find the Cave Mountain Brewing Company in Windham to celebrate the achievement with some delicious craft beer. Here’s to the next adventure!

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Huntersfield Mountain

Friday, August 5, 2016

On paper, the summit hike of Huntersfield Mountain seemed fairly straightforward, and All trails routenot especially arduous. As the Schoharie County high point, I knew I’d be traveling to the northwestern section of the Catskills – near Prattsville, actually – to take on this 3,423-ft mountain peak.

Anticipating approximately 2 hours drive to the trail head, I set out at about 9:00am up the New York State Thruway. Exiting at Catskill, NY, I followed Route 23 all the way to and through Windham, NY before finally reaching the turnoff onto the rural road that would bring me out to the western base of the mountain.

Parking at the end of the paved section of Huntersfield Rd, I took to the woods. The first segment was a brief walk on an unpaved extension of Huntersfield Rd, but in less than 2/10 of a mile, I reached a  “State Lands” sign, and then made a left onto the red-blazed DEC footpath.

At first the path was quite technical, and difficult to follow at times.  But after 1/4-mile or so of this terrain, the trail popped out onto what appeared to be an old loggingIMG_0385 road. Being that this was mid-summer, and the road likely gets very little traffic (pedestrian or otherwise), it was very overgrown, and even a little swampy in places due to recent rains.

Soon I came upon a sensational grove of tall white pines, which dominated the entire right side of the road. It occurred to me in that moment that these pines did not all grow here naturally. Perhaps – I opined silently – these gems had been planted a few generations ago on what had been farmland here at the mountain’s base. But now, they stood marvelously tall and proud, several thousand of them all together, as if forming a wall of protection from those who might have ill intentions toward this special piece of the Catskills.

At the 1-mile mark, the red trail blazes pointed to the right, and took me straight through the heart of the pine forest. The bed of pine needles beneath my feet was quite sublime.
Now coming onto the shoulder of the mountain, I began the IMG_03861,000-ft ascent that would bring me to the summit ridge. Along the way, it was a mixture of 4 or 5 steep sections, followed by brief plateaus, which gave me a break and let me regain my wind.

Although the pine forest below had a decidedly Adirondacks feel to it (at least to me), I was now encountering rock formations and deciduous trees and plant life that
was clearly of the Catskills variety.

About halfway up, I strode past a cave-like den in a huge, layered boulder, and thought it a great place for a small forest creature to take refuge during a storm.  As I began to see more bits of blue sky IMG_0387in front of me than above me, I knew I was nearing the mountaintop.

And in what seemed like only a few moments more, I found myself at a trail junction that, if not the summit itself, was merely a few meters from it. In fact, the red trail marker at the junction was befriended
here by a Long Path blaze, and I realize that I had unknowingly stumbled upon an abandoned section of this epic 357-mile hike path.

 

Turning right at this junction, I found my first viewpoint – this one looking south – and snapped a few pics. Moving around the summit ridge now on a yellow-blazed trail, I

IMG_0390quickly reached the Huntersfield Lean-To.  There was also a nice viewpoint here, and I decided it was a good place to plop myself down and lunch on the cheese and cashews I had brought along.

In what would seem to perhaps many of you as paradoxical, I played an Alice In Chains Pandora station on my cell phone as I ate. I also signed the lean-to’s register book, and as I reviewed prior entries, saw two names that I knew (which was pretty cool). I also noted that only 20 parties – most consisting of just one or two people – had signed in here in the past two months. Yes indeed, the Huntersfield Mountain trails would seem to be quite underused.

After lunch, I found my way back to the red trail junction, and perhaps 20 meters onto the trail, I encountered the Geodetic disk that often marks the official summit of a mountain, or high point of a region.

I took a brief picture of it, and began the descent, which was easy going IMG_0399and delightful. I waived goodbye to the pine tree grove as I left the woods road and began the final 1/4-mile trail segment back to Huntersfield Rd.

I felt especially joyous as I reached the car, and quickly hopped in to get the A/C going on what had become a fairly warm early-August afternoon.  My next stop on the way home would be Cave Mountain Brewing Co. in the village of Windham, where I would have my celebratory craft beer, and starting making plans for the next county high point summit day.

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Hike Stats
Distance up: 2.1 miles
Total elevation gain:  1,283 feet
Ascent time:  64 minutes
Descent time: 39 minutes

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Berlin Mountain

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

The main thing that struck me as I reviewed the Berlin Mountain summit details on Peakbagger.com was the drive time Route from Williams College Ski Centeras it compared to the hike distance. I’m sure I’m going to encounter this kind of disparity throughout the remainder of my County High Points project, but this contrast was somewhat new territory for me. Two and a half hours of one-way driving for the sake of a 0.9-mile hike from trail head to summit.

There were other ways to approach Berlin that offered more time in the woods, but as I looked at those options on Google Satellite, they appeared either harder to follow or perhaps even a bit too long compared to the route I had chosen.

And so I headed out on the road on my way to Williamstown, MA, where I would seek out a remote parking area at the bottom of the old Williams College Ski Area. Just a 1/4 mile or so off of U.S. Route 7 is Berlin Rd, which is paved for a time, but then becomes gravel IMG_3319(rough in some places) all the way out to the trail head.

After parking the car and surveying the hike from the base of the mountain, it looked especially steep, and it made me wonder how I would manage it without trek poles (which I had left at home).  But after setting out downward at first and then crossing a swampy patch of low land, I sighted a woods road to my right. A brief look up at the ski slope made up my mind for me; I was turning right instead of going up that sucker! I figured that if there’s a woods road here, it must head up the mountain, too, and perhaps at not as steep an incline.

The woods road didn’t last long before petering out, and leaving me scratching my head about what to do next. Should I go back to the beginning, and do the ski hill, or press on from here?  But spotting a herd path, I stayed with it, following the route over fallen trees and around large bushes as it side-hilled the mountain for the next 1/3 of a mile or so. But the herd path soon became a “no path”, and with still a long way to go, it seemed, I was now committed to an unintended bushwhack. Luckily, I had fair weather, so there was still plenty of joy.😉

Trying to minimize the hike distance at this point, I attempted IMG_3322to bushwhack straight up the mountainside. But it was steep – just as steep as the ski hill, in fact. By my guess, it was a 35-40% grade, and I was getting winded.  I also didn’t really know where the heck I was going any more, which made me a tad nervous. But good fortune shined on me (or maybe I just had good directional instincts), as to my left, I saw some sort of clearing. Realizing that it was the ski hill, I made a B-line toward it.  Once in its track, I trudged directly uphill, wondering how much  remained before I would reach the summit.

The answer came quickly, as I saw a familiar sight – a New York State DEC sign, which told IMG_3328me that I was not only back in NY, but also nearly to my ultimate destination. One hundred meters later I reached the large clearing that marks the top of Berlin Mountain. Success!

Despite the clearing, the views from the summit were a bit limited, and disappointing, affording only a semi-obstructed panorama to the east. Mount Greylock – the highest point in Massachusetts, and about 7 miles away by way of the crow – was the feature element of the view. So at least there was that….

After skulking around on the summit for 10 minutes or so, and having a look at the blazes of the Taconic Crest Trail (which passes right over this mountain in a north-south direction), I began the trek back down to the car.

Taking the ski hill all the way, the going was fairly easy at first, but became so ridiculously steep on the lower portions that I was reduced to a form of “woosy-footing” that I had never had to resort to before. Even at my snails pace, I was genuinely concerned about catching a toe and going into a headfirst tumble roll down the hill. In places, I had to descend sideways – no lie!

Happy to reach the car and put this summit hike behind me, I decided to have my celebratory beer at the Chatham Brewing Company in Chatham, NY, IMG_3350which I had passed by on the drive up. But discovering that the brewery was closed on Tuesdays, I chose instead to seek out a worthy pub in Pittsfield, MA. However, on my way to Pittsfield, a moment of serendipity happened, and I found myself in front of the Old Forge in Lanesborough, MA.

Having last been at “the Forge” as a young summer camp counselor in the early-to-mid 80’s, here I was again thirty years hence. And remembering the great food and beer I had here all those years ago, I knew it would be a sure thing, so I headed inside for my solo celebration of reaching the Berlin Mountain summit, my 9th New York county high point.

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Hike Stats
Distance up: 0.93 miles
Total elevation gain:  1,270 feet
Ascent time:  48 minutes
Descent time: 26 minutes

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Scofield Ridge summit

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Monday, May 30th, 2016

Wanting to take advantage of a free day in my schedule (it was Memorial Day, after all!), I decided to take on the summit of Scofield Ridge, which at 1540′ above sea level, is Putnam County’s highest point. It lies on the eastern edge of the Beacon mountains, a small mountain range in the Hudson Highlands that also contains the locally-famous Breakneck Ridge, a hike which draws legions of outdoorsy folks from New York City almost every weekend.

After a check of the map, I decided to avoid the heavily-trafficked Mount Beacon trail IMG_3209head, and instead drove over to nearby Glenham, from where I could approach the mountain “far from the madding crowds”, as it were. I set out from the red-blazed Overlook Trail, which began fairly quietly in terms of its degree of challenge, but within a few hundred meters, became steep and quite rugged.

I passed a sign at a trail junction that pointed to a place called Malouf’s Campground, beyond which the trail became notably more challenging. After crossing a small stream and curling downward around the mountain a bit, I climbed further and came upon first, one pair of scenic viewpoints, and then another about a 1/4-mile later, at the terminus of the Overlook Trail. In an obviously off-season tribute to IMG_3218.JPGChristmas, I found one of the fir trees here adorned with a variety of holiday ornaments and other decorations. It made me smile…..

From here I turned left, now following the white-blazed Fishkill Ridge Trail. The trail took me down into a hollow at first, and then up and over the top of Lambs Hill. After descending the back side of Lambs Hill, I reached my next scheduled turn, onto a blue-blazed connector trail, whereat I came across my second anomaly of the afternoon, a full-sized bulldozer!  I noted later on my Trail Conference map that this intersection is aptly called “Dozer Junction”. How long ago this piece of machinery was abandoned here I do not know, but it was an interesting highlight of the day.

After completing the blue trail in shIMG_3227.JPGort stead (which was an incredibly washed out woods road), I turned right onto the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, which carries yellow blazes, and at nearly 10 miles in length, is the longest trail in the Hudson Highlands State Park trail system. From here it was yellow markers all the way to the Scofield Ridge high point. Along the way, there were a couple of points that offered a nice vista of Clarence Fahnestock State Park to the southeast.

As I skulked about in the summit area, celebrating and catching my breath, I heard voices, so suspected I would soon be seeing some other hikers. As the minutes passed, no one IMG_3238.JPGshowed up, but the voices persisted. It was only when I looked west across the valley that I saw the Mt. Beacon fire tower, and realized that it was people up in the tower – hundreds of meters away – who I had been (and still was) hearing.  Voices carry!

A check of my watch indicated that I had underestimated this hike, and it had actually taken me almost twice as long to ascend as I had predicted. Accordingly, I wanted to choose the quickest route back to the car, and by my estimate, that was by way of the Casino Trail that goes up and down Mt. Beacon.  After reaching the trail junction, I turned right onto the now red-blazed trail and started to pick up the pace. Once I had passed the turnoff for the fire tower, I began to run, and pretty much ran the whole way down the mountain. Day hikers were everywhere; a few going up, but at 4:30pm, most were on their way back down. At one point, a hiker said “show off!” as I passed her group. I just giggled, as I know non-runners will never understand why we run mountains.

IIMG_3247 stopped on the descent only once, to take a picture of a large collection of cairns near the radio towers. I presume that this formation of rocks has been created over a number of years by local hikers, and I made a brief contribution to the top of one of the structures before moving on.

Ultimately, I reached the main trail head parking lot on Howland Avenue, and from here, had two miles to go to get back to the car.  It was hot, and I was a bit worn out, so I traversed the road from Beacon back to Glenham in alternating walk-run fashion. With the last part of Sunnyside Rd being about a 200′ vertical climb, I was happy to see the car again.

Scofield Ridge is now the 8th New York county high point I have checked off. All in all, a good day on the trails.

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