Blackhead Range Traverse

Never lose my sense of adventure.  This is my third and final hike for the winter season.  The Shawagunks, Hudson Highlands, and now the Catskills have stolen a piece of my heart.  My mind has been blown on way too many mini-adventures within these travelled miles.

It’s 4am on Sunday and I’m not surprisingly hyper for the days’ adventure.  A solo trip to Upstate NY with three hours of open road.  Bag, supplies, food, and incidentals are all in check.  Those twice missed tissues are officially in my bag and ready to go. So what does one do for a long solo road trip? Explore music.  Blast it, sing at the top of your lungs, and do some crazy shoulder / arm / neck kind of dancing. Yes, I’m feeling super determined.

I drive past the road sign for Woodstock and immediately feel the mountain town vibes.  You’re in the sticks. Lots of open air markets line the sides of the highway.  Local maple syrup, hot apple cider, and mason jars stacked high with local jams. As I get closer to the the destination, my heart feels a little more full.  It is impossible not to feel humbled when you’re driving on the winding roads of the Catskills.  Look out of your sunroof or poke your head out the window just to see the mountain tops.

GPS location achieved, oh crap, we’re just parking on the side of a random road. I forgot this was a thru hike. I offer to leave my jeep at the starting point, a total of three jeeps carried the group over.  Two other hikers hop in and 10 minutes later we reach our base location.  It feels good to recognize some familiar faces. The plan is to tackle five mountains and get started pretty quickly.

The first mile or so really felt like you entered some sort of enchanted forest.  The deep greens, golden yellows, and chocolatey browns were gorgeous.  We all warmed up pretty quickly despite it being a cool 42F.  Our trail lead warned us that after 3000 feet of elevation we would be hiking in icy conditions so I braced myself.

And then it got steep, and scary.  Our trail lead ended up using his 50 foot rope and ice picking his way down to aid us in the climb.  I’m not going to sugar coat it. The climb was tricky, we bushwhacked a small part of it, and my heart skipped a couple of beats.

These ice trails became 75% of our overall path. Throughout all the miles I laughed, I challenged some fears, and I felt deeply centered.  Many of the lookout points were obscured by pine trees, but there were enough places to grab a bite with a view.

The miles continued. We worked like a great team.  Many stories were shared that will stay on those mountains. So, for the final half mile we were able to take off our crampons and give our legs much needed relief.  I opted to forgo dinner with the crew for the Super Bowl with friends.

Here’s the tally. We travelled the Blackhead mountain range in the northern region of the Catskills. In order, this included Blackhead Mountain, Black Dome, Thomas Cole, Camel’s Hump, and Caudal Mountain. Final stats: 12.87 km, elevation gain 2678 ft, time 6 hours.

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Storm King Mountain

5 am. Up and slightly groggy after only 5 hours of sleep. Yesterday was my long run day logging in 12 miles and many errands.  My pups were rowdy so we played well into the night.  I’m blaming my lackluster morning on them.  The bag, clothes, and incidentals were all in check.  Except those damn tissues that were nowhere to be found when I needed them most on the hike.

On the road by 6 am.  Filled up the jeep and headed over to pickup my fiend Liz.  I cannot underestimate the power of going on a hike with your badass soul mate.  She’s a nurse, I’m a nurse. Beautiful – we speak the same language. She’s athletic, I’m athletic. Bonus – we’ll travel fast.  We are both thrill seekers. Hell yeah!

We arrived at 9am to an amazing crowd of hikers.  Did I mention that this specific hike was the group’s 6th year anniversary?  Story has it that the first hike ever only initiated 2 or 3 hikers.  I have always found it extra special to see the evolution of a small movement.   So here I am with 50 other hikers.  The diversity was palpable. One of the group leaders made a short and slightly emotional speech once everyone arrived. Oh yes! I did mention 50 hikers.  It was controlled chaos but the sweepers were definitely on point. Here’s a couple of pics for historical value.

 

Finally, the hike.  The plan was simple enough. A figure eight loop covering parts of the Buttermilk, Bluebird, and Stillman trails. Unfortunately, there weren’t any trail maps at the 9-West parking area. So we head up the mountain pretty much blind.  This was our first ascent. Looking up. Scrambling, yes!

 

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And here’s the first lookout.  Really cool to see the main road.  And the Hudson River.  Stunning.

 

20 minutes into the trails and the group of 50 dispersed into smaller groups of faster, mid, to slower hikers.  Who knows where Liz and I fit in.  They were cool and everyone was doing there own thing.  I shed my wool shirt and gloves. The group ended up stopping for a few pictures and taking in the scenery.

Miles later, it seemed like a good amount of people were able to regroup and snack.  It’s funny to over hear some of the conversations. It was very clear to me that Liz and I were one of the very few people from New Jersey.  The subject of Taylor Ham versus pork roll ensued.  I just said the truth… Bacon is my answer to everything.  I love bacon!  Then the subject of health came up.  It was very cool to see everyone eventually come to the consensus that you eat and live to enjoy life.  When your time comes, it comes.  Internally I thought, wow, these conversations are so different at work.

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The terrain seemed to change from this point on.  Parts of the path were ice covered requiring us to scramble above or below parts of the trail.  Basically, side lying trees and trunks were your friends at that point. There was also a steep increase in vertical climb.

We made it to our second destination on the mountain.  A great look out point to eat, while watching the Hudson river, and rest.

We hiked on.  At this point we were in a small group of 5, then 3.  It worked well. Another change in terrain shortly thereafter. One of the locals, Scott, told us about a brushfire from about 14 years ago that scorched through the area. Once I found out that he was a local, I just kept picking his brain.  And he didn’t seem to mind.  This is, of course, one of the better ways to find out about the local hot spots. We had also arrived at the last part of the trail. An incredibly strenuous climb to get back to the car.  Let’s just say it was a combo of scrambling and super lunges. Throw in some patches of ice. My legs were on fire, begging for relief. I was drenched in sweat and loving it.

Arrived at the jeep.  Final stats: 5 hours, 12.7km, and 4181″ elevation change.  We opted on the local brewery.  Reminiscing in the best way possible.

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The Gunks

 

4am. I’m up and ready to conquer the day.  Or find some semblance of winter.  It’s been extremely mild in NJ and I’m craving the chilled winter air.  My pre packed bag is ready.  I rummage through it real quick and am good to go with food, clothes, and incidentals.  For some reason I kept obsessing over baby wipes to the point where I woke up several times though out the night.  Hey, if we’re stranded on the mountains I want to be clean.  Oxymoron, yeah, got it.

About an hour and a half later I’m on the road and pick up two friends.  While the plan is to meet up with a larger group of hikers at the base of the mountain, my gut feeling is that there are too many quirky personalities to risk an awkward hike.

By 9am we reach the Catskills and an amazingly beautiful wilderness conservation center.  Completely decked out with stuffed wildlife hanging from the ceilings to the floor, wall painted murals, and the friendliest staff.  $10 for all day parking.  Meet up with the group, a pretty chill bunch.

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I started climbing and was immediately awestruck by all the tabletop rocks.  There was a bit of ice and snow, no big deal as long as you had microspikes.

 

Next stop was Lake Maratanza, halfway up the mountain.  This was the first and only time the sun poked through the clouds.

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Miles later we stopped to check out the views of New York.  Snacked and kept moving. The  group hiked at a quick pace.  I stripped a few layers.  It was all good. We made it to Verkeederkill Falls.

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Our last and final stop was to reach Sam’s Point Ice Caves.  It was gated off, closed.  Just our luck.  Much to my content there were a few renegades that just kept it moving.  When you drive over two hours, you want to check out the caves.

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I slowly lowered myself into the cave.  It felt like someone put the air conditioner on high.  Freezing was an understatement. Also, let’s just say that a foot or so of ice and no railing made that part of the trip pretty unmanageable.  I’m okay with that.  When I think of caves, leave the manicured stairs and railings out of it.  Give me scrambling pitch black openings into the earth.  I want to rappel into a bat infested hole and feel my heart beat out of my chest.

We ended up turning back and headed towards the car.  I received a call from family that it finally started snowing pretty hard down south so we opted to leave early.  The rest of the group headed into Ellensville to a little Mexican spot.  Yum.  Missed out on that one.