2018 Catskill Mountain 100K – Race Director’s Report

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August 12, 2018

As I said in front of most of you at the race on Sunday, I have been coming to the Catskills for CMRR since 2004, and from that very first year I have been absolutely awestruck by this event.  My 2004 team was comprised primarily of friends I had made on the commuter train to New York City, and accordingly, our team name that year was “Rail Riders”, for which we had custom tank tops made. We had an amazing day, which included a teammate losing one of his running shoes – we think it fell out of the car when they were scrambling to support me as I ran up the massive hill around the 35K mark.  My running mate ended up having to run his 2nd leg in someone else’s shoes, which was interesting to say the least.  We ultimately finished 11th out of 12 teams, barely breaking 9 hours,  and celebrated our “success” with a nice bottle of champagne at the Davis Park Pavilion.

And this, my dear friends, is the beauty of the Catskill Mountain 100K. It’s less about competition, and more about the experience of sharing a grand day out with your running BFFs. And I’m confident that it is this very thing that brings teams back again and again and again.  Just ask Scott Bartucca, Joe Marchesano, Scott Batten, or any of the girls from the NEPA Comeback Crew.

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The 2018 race featured a record number of registered teams (22 in all), and although our solo field was smaller than in prior years, it brought a considerable amount of talent to the start line in Phoenicia. Among those solo runners was 29-year-old Cole Crosby of Princeton, NJ, a member of the Red Newt Racing Team, and who had told me that his goal for the day, if the weather cooperated, was to break 8 hours.

After setting up the check-in tent a little before 2:00am and then driving out Woodland Valley Road to drop the turnaround cone, I hung out under the stars and awaited the first solo runners, who would begin arriving at about 3:00am.  By 3:45am, everyone who was going to be there was there, so we organized the customary pre-start group photo. IMG_4905After a short race briefing, runners toed the line, I counted down to 4:00am, and they were off.

To no surprise, Cole passed through the 10K mark first in a little over 45 minutes, followed closely by last year’s solo winner Jake Brown. Jake had run the first 25 miles of the 2017 race barefoot before switching to running sandals. But based on that experience, he had begun this year’s race with sandals on, and he trailed Cole by a mere 15 seconds after 6.2 miles.

The last of the solo runners came through the 10K point at about 5:06am, at which time I gave primary focus to checking in the first wave of teams, who would begin their 62.1-mile journey at 5:30am.  Team “Stop and Stretch” from Frost Valley was in that first wave. The Frost Valley YMCA camp is a splendorous property located at about the 50K mark in the course, and for several years staff there had been seeing our markings on the road and wondering what they were about. Sometime in early 2016 the runners among them figured it out, and they fielded their first team that year. After a 1-year hiatus, they were back for another race.

39086582_10213201796064252_6822535827206176768_nWaves of successively faster teams went off at 6:00am, 6:30am, 7:00am, and 7:30am.  The final wave had just two teams, one from the New York Harriers and one from the Dashing Whippets Running Team, both from New York City, and both with sights set on breaking 7 hours.

With all the teams now on their way, I packed up the start line gear and headed out onto the course to observe the progress of all the teams and solo runners, with close attention paid to safety issues. To my delight, everything was going well. I passed most of the teams along Route 28 between Phoenicia and Big Indian, and then a few more as I made my way through Oliverea and near the beginning of Winnisook Hill.  About a mile before the hairpin turn, I caught up with solo runners Julie Lyness and Tacy Powers. Both had run CMRR before, and with that experience knew that if there was a portion of the course that needed to be walked, this two-mile stretch was definitely it. They gave me a smile as they walked, said everything was good, and I wished them luck before continuing on.

At the hairpin turn I came upon Enide Mitchell, who was running the first 50K as part of a 2-person ladies team, and who had started their race at 4:00am with the solo runners. She was lumbering up the hill, slowly, but also with a smile on her face. She looked good.

Moving on, I didn’t catch up with the next of the solo runners until I was over the big hill and past the 40K mark. I passed female race leader Lynne Fahy of Geneva, NY, who was on the heels of Jonathan Smit at about 45K. She had trailed Rhinebeck’s Sheryl Wheeler when I saw them both at the 10K mark, but had moved herself into the lead, and as it turned out, a lead she would never relinquish.

Knowing that Jake Brown had dropped out early due to back problems, I knew that race leader Cole Crosby was now the only runner between me and the finish line in West Shokan. I finally caught him about a mile before the 70K mark in Grahamsville. He was taking a short break for some refueling, and told me that his race was going well so far. He had reached this point in 5 hours, 20 minutes, which he said was roughly a 7:20/mile pace overall.

With everyone now accounted for and looking good, I drove ahead to the finish line to set up.  My first volunteer, Melissa McCutcheon, arrived shortly after 10:30am, and helped me pop up the scoring tent and assemble the finish line structure.  Melissa is a 3-timer at CMRR, and a two-time solo finisher.  This year, in the midst of some serious hip issues, she had decided to give back to the race by volunteering. Scoring volunteers Chad Smith and Paul Reynolds arrived at a little after 12:00 noon, making us fully ready to start bringing the runners in and getting on with the post-race experience.

As Melissa and I were chatting in the scoring tent, Cole caught us somewhat by surprise, turning the corner onto Lang Rd at 12:16pm, and crossing beneath the finish line banner in a time of 8 hours, 16 minutes and 16 seconds.  This absolutely smashed the course record previously held by Ithaca, NY’s Matthew Fischer-Daly, who had run a 9:10:23 in 2016.  Although Cole was happy, there was a measure of disappointment in him.  39060361_10155739330025878_5515162488271798272_nAs I had gauged it based on his time back in Grahamsville, he was on track to run perhaps a 7:45. And as 11:45am had passed, and then 12:00pm with still no sight of Cole, I knew that something had gone wrong for him in that final 30K.

Attributing his struggle to the finish on an overambitious start and rising humidity late in the race, he relented and confessed that despite these difficulties, he was a happy man. The 3,600+ feet of aggregate gain, which would be nothing in a trail race of this distance, had apparently surprised him a little, and contributed to his falling slightly short of his goal time.

It would be over 2 and a half more hours before 2nd place solo finisher and overall female winner Lynne Fahy would cross the line in 10:59:13, falling just 5 minutes and 21 seconds short of Jordan Grandes 2015 course record of 10:53:52.  Lynne had a great race, seeming to manage the course extremely well, and pocketing a well-deserved win.

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In the interim between Cole and Lynne, teams had begun reaching the finish line, most notably the team called Harriers Meow, who had entered the race with the goal of 39038105_10100334948497648_5651145864442281984_obreaking the Mixed division course record of 6:48:55. They beat that time somewhat comfortably, clocking a 6:42:39, and also coming in 1st place overall in the team races.  Not far behind Harriers Meow were the Dashing Whippets Men, running a 7:04:26 and securing 1st place in the Open division.

At one point, the finish line turned somewhat chaotic, as many of the teams were merging in the final approach to Davis Park, and all of their teammates were congregating to cheer their final runners in. In just an 18-minute span between 2:23pm and 2:41pm eleven teams crossed the line, making for challenging work for Chad, Paul and Melissa, who were trying to sort out which team was which as nearly 70 people clustered along the final 100 meters of the race course, some running across the finish line as a team, leaving the scorers occasionally confused about which one was the Leg 10 runner.  Somehow, they were able to sort all of it out in the end, earning kudos from your race director.

Taking 1st place in the Female team division were the Donut Babes, representing the New York Harriers, and setting a new division record of 7:33:02, beating the old record 39155822_10112291043886373_5237152639635947520_n(held by the DWRT Ladies) by over 12 minutes. In 2nd place, close behind the Donut Babes, were those very same DWRT Ladies, completing the race in 7:40:06, and also breaking their own previous course record.

Winning the Superteam division were the young ladies from Northeast Pennsylvannia, the NEPA Comeback Crew. Team member Olivia Lanza was the only one among them to !cid_16533b101557d470f2e1run two legs, which included the especially difficult Leg 4.  Each year, Olivia always seems to get pegged with having to make the extra effort (one year she ran Legs 1 through 3 consecutively), but I know she enjoys it, and her teammates truly appreciate her ability and commitment.

Crossing the finish line in a net time of 12:32:23 was the 2-person Masters team Sole Sisters, comprised of Enide Mitchell and Heather Freilich. These ladies are both in39040880_10215850735255725_3148466441083158528_ntheir 50s, and have each completed 50-mile races before. They are the 1st ever to complete the course as a team of two, and their performance at this year’s CMRR was a fantastic accomplishment if there ever was one. Great job, ladies !

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Getting back to the solo race, Woodstock, NY’s Jack Ryon finished 2nd among the men in 11:12:59, followed by Jonathan Smit of Warwick, NY in 11:17:01.  Rounding out the top three on the ladies side were Sheryl Wheeler of Rhinebeck, NY and Stephanie Dar of Johnsonville, NY, finishing in 11:27:02 and 13:29:10, respectively.

All told, ten of the eleven solo starters made it to West Shokan within the allotted 15 hours and 30 minutes.  The final two were Tacy Powers and Julie Lyness, friends who live near each other along the Delaware/Maryland border, and who paced each other for most of the race. In finishing, Julie became one of a very short list of athletes to successfully complete the solo race three times.

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As I have said several times, I consider it an immense privilege to direct this race, and 2018 is now my 5th year as lead organizer. But as we all know, no race can go on without a lot of support, and I want to give genuine thanks where thanks are due.

First, to the aforementioned race volunteers Melissa McCutcheon, Chad Smith and Paul Reynolds. They spent the majority of their Sunday helping our runners to have a positive experience, and I convey to them my deepest gratitude.

Second is to race founder Brian Cavanagh, who was instrumental in bringing me in as 12376626_10206236928871166_2190515101692491174_nthe race director after the race began showing signs of failing five years ago. He has a plethora of historical and technical knowledge, and this race is all the better on account of his continued involvement in it.

Thirdly, I want to thank all of the folks who crewed for our solo runners. They may not be thought of as traditional volunteers, but they all had a very long day, which began as early as 2:00am when they were asked to arise from their slumber, get their runner and his/her gear into the car, and drive to the start line.

And lastly, I wish to give shoutouts to some of the folks who have committed to this event year in and year out. Scott Bartucca of the New York Harriers first came to CMRR in 2008 as part of three teams from his club. He comes back every year, and in 2018 organized six – count ‘em! – SIX teams for the race. I also want to thank Scott Batten (the other Scott B.) for helping to organize teams from his club, Dashing Whippets Running Team. Since 2014 he has worked to bring as many as four teams to the race each August, and tells me that he hopes to bring even more in years to come.  Then there is Stacy Cameron, the primary identity behind the Dirty Running Scoundrels, and who has been bringing multiple teams to the event for the past five years.  Also my dear friend Joe Marchesano, who was a teammate of mine that first year back in 2004, and who brought four Hudson Valley Road Warrior teams to this year’s CMRR. And finally to that great group of gals from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania, without whom it might feel like this event would be incomplete.

Not wanting to leave out the solo runners, I want to acknowledge the following “crazies”, for whom 100 kilometers in the Catskills doesn’t seem to be enough, and who are compelled to keep returning:

3-Time Solo Finishers
Christopher Regan – 2015, 2016, 2017
Phil Cappuccio – 2016, 2017, 2018
Julie Lyness – 2016, 2017, 2018

2-Time Solo Finishers
Jordan Grande – 2014, 2015
Timothy Burns – 2014, 2017
Melissa McCutcheon – 2015, 2016
Roni Belcheva – 2016, 2017
Frankie Swaha – 2016, 2017
Erin Willett – 2016, 2017
Stephanie Dar – 2017, 2018
Tacy Powers – 2017, 2018

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I hope all of you – runners, crews and volunteers – had a great experience this year, and will carry the memories of it with you as summer turns to Fall and the frost begins forming on the pumpkin. Stay tuned for the opening of registration for next year’s race, hopefully in late-January 2019.

=Todd=

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Pigeon Mountain – Fulton County (CoHP #21)

Kelsi Douglas photo of Pigeon Mountain from County Line Lake

June 15, 2018

Situated in Shaker Mountain Wild Forest, a 40,000-acre land parcel managed by the New York State DEC, Pigeon Mountain ranks as #12 in height among the 62 New York county high points.  Alltrails.com rates the hike as “Hard”, and after having completed this summit, I would generally concur with that assessment.

The weather forecast for most of Fulton County was for sunny with highs in the 70s. And when I stepped outside to get in the car at 5:30am, the weather in Orange County appeared to be the same. But as I traveled north on the NY State Thruway to meet my friend Joe in Clifton Park, the skies became more and more gray, and by the time I reached the parking lot of his office, it was raining.

IMG_4613After greeting Joe with a frustated “What the f*ck?” as I looked skyward with palms up, he said to me “Don’t worry. This will pass.” After a brief pop-in to his office for coffee and a bathroom break, we hopped in his Howard Hanna Realty company car – a forest green Chevy Equinox – and began the 80 minute drive to the Pinnacle Rd trailhead, about 25 mins north of the city of Gloversville.

By the time we got to the trailhead, the skies were sunny and blue.  There were two trails which originated from the parking lot, and after a quick consultation of our Alltrails phone app, we determined that the blue-blazed trail was the proper one to take.John Varin photo of bog  The first two miles of our trek were along this foot path, which meandered through a scenic pine forest, girded at times by Pinnacle Creek, which babbled melodiously, as if a symphonic instrument in nature’s morning song.  Although there was some elevation gain in the first couple of miles, and a minor stream crossing as well, the going was fairly easy until we got to the 2-mile mark.

As we reached the far end of a large bog and crossed over its small inlet stream, we veered left off of the DEC trail and began the “bushwhack” portion of the hike.  Ahead of us were about 8/10 of a mile of steep, fairly densely forested mountainside. At first the navigation was somewhat easy, as the slope and the density of the growth were manageable.  But less than a 1/4 mile into the bushwhack, the pitch increased, and we encountered more and more obstacles – blowdowns, patches of extremely heavy growth, and a couple of steep rock faces that could not be tackled head-on.

There was nothing that we couldn’t navigate around, but between the obstacles and the ever-steepening mountain slope, the going was slow. In places it seemed like we were dealing with a 35-40% grade. As we came nearer to the summit, I frequently referred to the Alltrails map on my iPhone and began measuring our position in terms of the number of vertical feet left to go. Our progress was heavily stunted by this challenging landscape.

John Varin photo of summit area   IMG_4614

But after passing the 2600-ft mark, the slope began to level off, and we made our way relatively easily through some ferns and a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees before finally reaching the summit area. The exact high spot was unclear, visually, but we remembered reading one trip report where a hiker had said she found a tree with pink engineer’s ribbon on it. We skulked around a bit, found the tree, and declared the ascent a complete success.

Keeping my phone in airplane mode, I had been able to navigate us to the summit using the aforementioned Alltrails app. But despite my efforts to conserve the battery, my phone died just as I started taking summit photos, so Joe took over the navigation responsibility All Trails summit diagram(using his phone) on the descent back to the blue DEC trail.

The going down the mountain was a bit slower than I expected, mainly due to the steep slope, and again, all the forest’s other natural obstacles. But still, we managed to make it back to the car 15 minutes faster than it had taken us to ascend.  In returning to the Pinnacle Road lot, our car was the only one there, just as it had been on our arrival nearly 3 hours prior.

We celebrated our success with a grand lunch at Druthers Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs, indulging in their fresh craft beer offerings and their famous “loaded” mac ‘n cheese.  All in all it was a grand day out !

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Photo credits:  Kelsi Douglas, John Varin

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Battle Hill – Kings County (CoHP #20)

Satellite 3D of Battle Hill

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The five boroughs of New York City are difficult to think of in terms of having summits, or even high points for that matter. I have personally lived in two of the five boroughs, and although I know there are some locations that a city dweller might consider a hill, the elevation change involved is all of perhaps 50 or 60 feet in gain.

At this point in my project, I had yet to check off any of the “lowest” 7 counties, which are Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, New York (Manhattan), Bronx, Richmond (Staten Island), Nassau and Suffolk (the latter two being on Long Island).  So when I was planning to visit a friend in Brooklyn, I asked her if she’d be interested in going over to Greenwood Cemetery with me to visit Battle Hill, and fortunately, she was game.

After parking in front of my friend Helen’s apartment on 17th Street in Sheepshead Bay at 8:30am, our first order of business was to go get breakfast.

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So at her suggestion we hit a local diner, and I had my usual diner order of two eggs over easy with corned beef hash, and a side of fries with gravy.  Suffice it to say that the food really hit the spot, and supplied me with all the energy I would need to climb the behemoth that is Battle Hill, which is wedged between the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Park Slope.

So Helen drove us from the diner to the entrance of Greenwood Cemetery, which is perhaps New York City’s most expansive and famous burial grounds.

The building at the main gate is akin to a European fortress. We were met there by a park employee, and when we told him we were there to find Battle Hill, he was kind enough to give us verbal directions, and then supplement those instructions with a printed cemetery guide, which included a map of the property.

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Onward we drove, and in less than two minutes we found ourselves on Battle Avenue alongside Battle Hill.  Parking the car roadside, Helen and I walked uphill about 70 meters where a large mausoleum clearly marked the highest ground in the cemetery.

Although we now stood only 220 feet above sea level, the location offered somewhat of a birds-eye view of northwestern Brooklyn, and in the distance to the west you could see lady liberty standing tall in Upper New York Bay.

After a couple of  minutes of taking in the view, we went back to the car and took 20 or 30 minutes to tour more of the cemetery. We visited the grave site of Leonard Bernstein, which was admirably understated, and included the graves of at least 5 other family members. Instead of a gaudy mausoleum, it had several sets of perennial shrubs that rimmed the site, and it impressed IMG_3368upon me the humility that this great artist brought not only to his life, but to his death.

As we were on our way out we encountered a raccoon in the middle of the roadway. Knowing that raccoons are typically nocturnal, and noting that this particular creature was sluggish and disoriented, we concluded that it might be rabid, and reported it to the staff on our way out.

After departing the cemetery, I convinced Helen to join me for a beer at Greenwood Park, a local watering hole with great craft beer. And to be sure, craft beer is always the best way to celebrate a summit, no matter how big or small.

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Snowy Mountain – Hamilton County High Point (CoHP #19)

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

My hike day began early, as I rose at 5:00am for the drive north to climb Snowy Mountain, which although not one of the so-called Adirondack 46ers, is the tallest mountain south of the 4,000 ft “High Peaks” region.

Heading out from Orange County at a little after 5:30, I arrived at my friend Joe Cardinale’s real estate office in Clifton Park, NY at about 7:15am.  The plan was for me to leave my car here for the day, and Joe would drive us to and from Indian Lake, where we would begin the hike.

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Allowing for a stop in the village of Indian Lake to check our email first (it was the only place in the region we could get any cell or Internet service), we arrived at the trail head along New York State Route 30 by about 9:15am. Only three other cars were in the lot, although with such nice weather, I expected we’d see a few more upon our return several hours later. We got off to a bit of a false start due to my forgetting to bring my phone (with its camera – IMPORTANT!), but we finally got going up the mountain by about 9:30.

With a summit of 3,898 ft in elevation and a clean prominence of over 2,200 ft, this hike looked on paper to be a challenging one. But the bottom of the mountain was forgiving,

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as the first 2 and a half miles of this 3.5-mile effort to the top were undulating, but certainly not steep.  It was only after our 2nd crossing of the Beaver Brook, which shadowed us on our right for much of the way up, that the pitch of the trail began to have a serious effect on our heart rates.

We took a break or two during the final 1-mile push, one of which was along a particularly steep section that not only required some hand-over-fisting, but was also difficult to follow for lack of frequent DEC trail blaze discs. But as we ascended what seemed to me to be the logical path, a red disc came into view, and I affirmed to Joe that we were still on track.

After reaching a false summit, but by all means a more IMG_3218navigable path, we continued a few tenths of a mile further to what turned out to be the final ascent to the summit ridge. It was again a hand-over-fist effort, albeit a brief one, and at last we had arrived at – or at least close to – the promised land. There was a clearing to our right where several other hikers had stopped to take a break and enjoy the view. But Joe and I passed up the viewing area and followed the trail perhaps 100 meters further, through a delicious grove of mountain pines, ultimately reaching the summit, where a 60-foot tall fire tower stood.

I skulked around for a bit trying to find a U.S. Coast and Geodetic marker. But finding none, I said to Joe “OK, let’s go up in the fire tower.” I didn’t have to twist his arm.

IMG_3228About halfway up the fire tower stairway I couldn’t help but notice that the fencing around it was, well, how do you say……. missing! This gave me brief pause, but it didn’t stop our ascent.  Although the skies had gone mostly gray during our hike in from the trail head, the view from the cabin was still nothing less than terrific. As is typical of any Adirondack or Catskill mountain fire tower, this one had plenty of graffiti in it. But the most notable one was a carving that said “Yeah hiking” which had been accentuated with some kind of red paint or pastel crayon.  I looked at Joe and said “Yeah, hiking!”

After gathering in the glorious panoramic views for a few minutes and taking a few pictures (enduring what must have been 50-60mph winds in the cab), we descended the fire tower and began making our way back down the mountain. As we did, it occurred to me that although this was my 19th New York County High Point, it was my first of the Adirondack High Peaks.  I would still have four more more of these to go (Marcy, Seward, Lyon and Gore) on my way toward completing my project, which is to stand on the high point of all 62 New York State counties.

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Although we got lost once on the way back down, following a false path for a short time, we didn’t stay lost for long. We encountered a couple groups of hikers who were on their way up, and shared the customary pleasantries as we passed. As we neared the trail head, we came upon a young woman who was also going in the other direction, and we stopped and chatted with her briefly. She was alone, and dressed more like she was going to the mall than hiking an Adirondack mountain. She had on khaki slacks, a dress blouse,  and a sweater tied around her waist. She did not have a backpack or a water bottle. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but it always seems to mystify me.

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“How could people choose to hike a rugged mountain in such an unprepared fashion?”, I always asked myself.

Anyway, she asked Joe and I how long it would take to reach the summit, and whether we thought she had enough time to get there and back. Knowing that we had just made a 4-and-a-half our round trip, I looked at my watch, saw the time of 2:10pm, and harumphed. Joe, being that man of reason that he is, suggested she proceed ahead for 2 hours, and that if she wasn’t at the summit by then, that she should turn around so as not to take the risk of being caught in the fading light of a late afternoon in the ‘Dacks.

Minutes later we were back at the car, and pleased to have somewhat effortlessly knocked off a 3,900-foot Adirondack peak. To celebrate the achievement, we drove south to the town of North Creek and had lunch and beers at Trappers Tavern.
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Black Mountain – Washington County High Point (CoHP #18)

Monday, June 12, 2017

IMG_2513The weather forecast for today was nearly picture perfect as I drove north – with the sun still below the horizon – to meet my friend Bob Harris in Newburgh.

From there, we would do what we’ve done on several of our county high point excursions, and that is, to leave one car behind and carpool to the trailhead.

On this day we were headed to Washington County, a drive of almost 3 hours to Huletts Landing, where the trail leading to Black Mountain is located. The mountain itself is situated in the Lake George Wild Forest, a vast tract of state land just east of the lake. As we drove the final few miles north on Rte 22, we were literally a stone’s throw away from the Vermont border, crossing – and then paralleling – South Bay, which is the southernmost portion of Lake Champlain.

Bob and I arrived at the trailhead at a little before 9:00am, and there were two vehicles there already, so IMG_2519we expected we’d see other hikers at some point, perhaps on their way back down while we were still going up.  Sure enough, about a half mile or so in we passed two guys coming down. Their only remark to us was “The bugs are bad. Hope you’re wearing bug spray.”

The first segment of the 2.5-mile trail to the Black Mountain summit is a woods road, but after passing a structure that we surmised was a DEC ranger cabin, the trail becomes single track. For most of the next mile, it was very rocky and washed out, so much so that in many places we could see that hikers had simply gone off trail, and worn down a new trail tread in the process.

The last 3/4 of a mile of the ascent is a little steep, with about 900 ft of vertical gain. But overall, this hike is modest compared to some of the tough Catskill hikes. The summit features both a fire tower and an electric-generating windmill  – the only one I’ve ever seen on a mountain top. The firetower and windmill were fenced off and inaccessible, leaving no opportunity to ascend further and improve the already terrific views of Lake George and the higher Adirondack peaks to the northwest. And we could tell that the windmill was working, as there was an audible hum that was no double a part of the electricity collection process.  Also part of the assemblage of equipment on the summit was a small array of solar panels, which were evidently furthering the collection of electricity.

The views at the top were marvelous, providing vistas of Lake George both to the north and the south that together allow you to see the majority of the lake’s 32-mile length.

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The view of Lake George looking north from Black Mountain

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Looking northeast from the Black Mountain summit

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Looking south at Lake George from the Black Mountain summit

And to memorialize this peak, there is an official U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey marker, dated 1942. According to the National Geodetic Survey website, there are about 400,000 of these markers throughout the United States and its territories.

Instead of returning the way we came, Bob and I opted to descend the back side of the mountain and loop back to the car by way of Black Mountain Ponds and Lapland Pond.

Just like the ascent had been, the descent here was steep at first before leveling off somewhat. We found ourselves temporarily off trail a few hundred feet above the first of the two Black Mountain Ponds, but managed to right the ship in fairly short stead.

IMG_2550All of the ponds were lovely, and just prior to reconnecting with the trail we had gone in on, we passed a body of water that was not on any Google or trail maps. But yet it was there, a small, swampy pond that had accumulated enough water to make a bog bridge necessary in order for us to successfully pass by.

We reached the car in just a tad over 3 hours of elapsed time. The weather had warmed quite a bit as the morning progressed, and Bob and I were happy to get into my air-conditioned car for the trip home. We had hoped to make a stop at the Chatham Brewing Company on the way back, but in learning that they wouldn’t be open until 4:00pm, we opted to head to Troy NY and have a couple of celebratory beers at Brown’s Brewing Company instead.

All in all it was a perfect day for hiking, and I pocketed my 18th New York county high point, while Bob knocked off #7 on his list.

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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

img_0979

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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