The week of December 9th began with several inches of snow on the ground from a light snowfall that fell for most of Saturday and into Saturday night. The temperature at 6:30 AM was 14.5 degrees! The forecast for Sunday includes some early morning show showers changing to partly sunny skies with a high of 33 degrees. Monday will have times of clouds and sun with highs around 32 degrees. Tuesday will be cloudy with highs in the mid 30’s with a possibility of 1 to 3 inches of snow. Wednesday will be COLD under mostly cloudy skies. The highs will only be in the high teens but the wind chill will make it seem even colder. Thursday will be sunnier but still COLD with highs in the low 20’s. There may be some snow shores. Friday will have periods of sun with snow showers and highs in the high 20’s. Saturday will be more of the same with cloudy skies and highs only reaching to 30 with more snow showers possible.It is time to break out the warm clothes and the winter gear. Microspikes are now a “mandatory” item on many trails and, certainly, on the 35’s. When the weather conditions are constantly changing , be sure you are dressed appropriately in clothing which will wick away moisture to prevent it from accumulating in your clothing which can bring about hypothermia. Layering should be with non-cotton materials as cotton tends to hold moisture. Keeping hydrated is important no matter the temperatures since hydrating properly will allow you to hike longer and in greater comfort. Be sure to carry plenty of water with you as local water sources can be unreliable and may be contaminated. Once you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated! Remember, the weather forecast is only a prediction and always contains percentages. Be prepared and have a plan for the most likely and least likely forecast! Are you prepared to stay out overnight on a trail? Conditions in the morning can change drastically by afternoon. Conditions at the trailhead do not always reflect the conditions on the peaks! Variable trail and weather conditions are a hallmark of these mountains. BE CAREFUL AND BE PREPARED!
On Monday, December 11th I planned to meet my brother-in-law, Jeff, to hike the Trout Pond loop. We agreed to meet at the Roscoe Diner at 9:00 AM since it is an easy place to find and meet. When I awoke at 6:30 AM the air temperature was 25 degrees with a slight breeze and I really wanted to crawl back into a warm bed. By 7:30 AM the temperature had dipped to 23 degrees which did not increase my enthusiasm. I knew that it would not be getting much warmer this winter and that I just needed to get out! I got my gear ready and made sure I had a set of spikes in my pack and another that Jeff could use. As I got dressed I put on a full baselayer including tights underneath my Columbia Omniheat pants. On top I decided to wear a medium weight Patagonia wool top. I wore a heavier hat and gloves putting a pair of mitts in my pack. I also decided to put on a pair of winter boots settling on my Salomon Nytros. I headed for Roscoe on the Quickway at 8:30 AM which was probably a little too early. I parked at the diner and waited for Jeff. When he arrived I wasn’t sure how Sheila would react but Jeff has apparently become one of her “pack” as she greeted him in her overenthusiastic way. I suggested we ride ion my car as there is limited parking and Jeff agreed. I drove out the Rockland Flats on Route 206. Just after the Roscoe Nursing Home I turned left on Morton Hill Road and followed it for 3 miles to the intersection with Russell Brook Road. I turned around and parked on the side of the road avoiding the private parking area. We both remarked at the amount of snow which was from 3 to 5 inches. It was 9:20 AM when I set my electronics and we began our hike with the temperature still in the high 20’s. I like the walk down Russell Brook Road and Shiela seemed to be having fun running ahead and coming back to us. The forecast was for cloudy skies but there was plenty of blue and a little sun as we continued down the road. I was surprised that the road did not seem icy and we were able to make good time. I listened for the sound of the water in the brook and heard some noise but not as much as I expected. When we came to the viewpoint over the upper falls, I could see there wasn’t as much water going over the falls as I had hoped so we continued on the road down to the lower parking area. There were no cars in the lot but the gate was open to allow snowmobiles access to the trails. We continued down the road and crossed the bridge over Russell Brook. I found that the Japanese knotweed appeared completely dead but knew it would be back next spring. We continued on the road turning right on the path to the falls. We walked over to the path down the bank to the streambed and carefully descended to the brook. The falls were flowing nicely but I was disappointed there was no “frozen falls” to the right as there often is in winter. I got out my camera and took some pictures of the falls and then posed Sheila sitting just in front of the falls. After Sheila walked away, I took a few more pictures before putting away the camera and walking back out to the main trail. At the trail junction just after the register we continued straight ahead to walk up to Trout Pond. As we walked, Jeff and I talked about many things that we had in common including our churches and coaching high school sports. When we arrived at the pond, we walked to the left to the “beach” at the outlet end of the pond. The water level was a little lower than it had been but the lower end of the pond was covered with ice. The skies were very blue so I knew I had to take some pictures. I took some panoramic pictures and then zoomed in on very parts of the scene. Sheila decided to walk out on the thin ice which, fortunately, supported her weight.
We continued on the main trail on the east side of Trout Pond walking toward the inlet end and the lean-tos. I told Jeff about some of the history or logging n the area for tanning and the wood alcohol industry. The trail continued to be covered in snow but there was not much ice. I was very warm even though the climb is very gentle. I opened all the sippers on my Mammut hoody to dump as much heat as possible. I also lowered the hood as the hat was warm enough. As usual, I had overdressed but I would rather that than be too cold. We stopped at the lower lean-to for a moment and I checked out the privy which was in reasonable condition. We stopped at the bridge over the inlet and I took a few shots before continuing on the trail. We turned right to follow the trail up Cherry Ridge. As we hiked I found it satisfying to look at the many places where I had cleared branches and blowdowns from the trail. There were some new branches on the trail and several small blowdowns we were able to clear by moving them to the side of the trail. There was even more snow on the trail in this area but it did not impede our hiking. The skies that had been all blue were now blue in one direction and dark and cloudy in another. Soon we were at the highest point on Cherry Ridge and starting down the other side. This part of the hike can drag sometimes but it seemed to go very fast with someone else along to talk to and we were soon at the woods road and snowmobile trail that runs by Mud Pond. We turned left and start the short walk uphill. At the top of the hill we began the long descent back to the trail junction where we had started. The descent lasts for .7 miles and drops 385 feet to a bridge that crosses the outlet stream from Trout Pond. At the junction we turned right and headed back out to the lower parking area. Sometimes the walk back up Russell Brook Road seems long and tedious but I was still feeling fresh and Jeff seemed to be doing just fine. We started up the road and soon arrived back at the car. It was 12:35 PM when we arrived back at the car after hiking 5.6 miles in 3 hours and 10 minutes with a 1120 foot total ascent. The temperature was still just below freezing. I drove Jeff back to his truck at the Roscoe Diner and we agreed to hike again as soon as possible.
On Saturday, December 9 I was committed to an all-day track meet at West Point. On Friday the meet was cancelled due to the forecast of snow and I was free to plan a hike. I decided I would try one again to go to the Blacks and asked Cindy if she would like to go. I was very disappointed when she said “NO!”. We had been hiking together on Saturdays and, I thought, we had taken some very nice trips. I did a few quick chores around the house and was ready to leave by (;00 AM. It was only 25 degrees so I put on a full baselayer and wore my Columbia Omniheat pants. I wore a heavy Mammut pullover underneath my Mammut hoody. I wore light gloves and a hat but brought warmer gloves and mitts along as I did not expect the temperature to rise much during the day. I decided I would go to Sugarloaf which was a little closer than the Blacks. The forecast was for cloudy skies and light snow in the afternoon. My plan was to park at Roaring Kill and hike up the eastern side of Sugarloaf. After hiking over the summit and down the western slope to Mink Hollow, I could decide whether or not I wanted to try Plateau. We left Livingston Manor at 9:00 AM and Sheila seemed very happy to be getting out of the house. I headed out the DeBruce Road and turned left at the end onto Route 47 which passes by Frost Valley and the parking areas for Big Indian, Slide and Panther. There were a few cases in each lot. I turned right on Route 28 and decided to drive all the way to Phoenicia. I turned left on Route 214 and headed north through Chichester. At the end of Route 214 I turned right on Route 23A and then right onto Bloomer Road. When I got to Platte Clove Road I made another right and drove 3.3 miles to Dale Lane. I turned right and followed Dale Lane until it change to Roaring Kill Road where the surface was gravel. Shortly after that I turned left into the parking area and parked next to the only other car present. There was a slight wind blowing and the air seemed “raw” with an air temperature of 26 degrees. I set my electronics and we were on the trail by 10:00 AM. The first part of the trail to Pecoy Notch was frozen mud. After only .25 miles on the yellow Roaring Kill Trail we came to a trail junction. The blue Mink Hollow Trail turned right but we continued straight ahead on the blue Pecoy Notch Trail. I noted that having two different blue trails at the same junction is confusing! We continued on the trail ascending gently and began to run into evidences of bluestone quarrying. The trail flattened and then descended to Dibble Quarry at around .9 miles. Here visitors have built “furniture” and walls from the bluestone left lying around. I looked over toward Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top and saw that they were enveloped in snow. So much for the forecast of snow in the afternoon! I knew this would not be good the snow would soon reach our location making the rocks slippery. It would mean the drive back home would also be interesting. I took pictures of the two mountains and then a few of Twin. I also took shots of the furniture. Sheila sat on one of the stone chairs and I took some photographs of her and the stonework before continuing. I knew that the beaver pond was not too far along and we arrived there at about 1.4 miles into the hike. There was no evidence the beavers had been at work recently. The pond was greatly reduced in size and was no on two smaller parts. I stopped to get some pictures. We walked to the area below the dam and had no problem crossing as the water level was so low. I stopped again to take a few more pictures of the pond and a few of Sugarloaf. The snow was now falling lightly and I put away the camera so we could continue on our way. We crossed a small stream and I took a few more pictures. As the snow fell, the rocks became slipperier and it was hard to see the patches of ice. Sheila was great help as I could see where she walked and either go the same way or avoid a questionable spot. From about 1.2 miles to 1.4 miles there was a steeper grade which led to a flat spot just before the trail ended at the red Devil’s Path at Pecoy Notch at 1.9 miles. We made a right turn on the Devil’s Path to continue up to the summit.
After making the turn, we began to encounter more than a thin layer of snow and ice on the rocks. This is due partly to elevation but also to the fact that the trail at this point has a northern exposure. As I was hiking along, I was being very careful to watch my footing and to watch where Sheila was going. I have had some interesting experiences on Sugarloaf. One winter I was hiking over a slab of ice with spikes. The ice was so hard I lost my footing and took a nasty fall. Fortunately, I was with other hikers and it was in an area where I could not slide very far! Another winter I did a solo ascent through several feet of snow. I remember that as I made the final approach to the summit I would take three steps forward and then slide back two! I am not sure how I finished that climb. I do remember that the return trip was much quicker. I was thinking of these things as we continued up some very steep rock scrambles which I knew would be worse on the way down. Just passed 2 miles we acme to a lookout toward Twin Mountain and I stopped to take a few pictures even though the snow was no falling more heavily. We went back to the main trail and started up the steepest part of the climb. There seemed to be less snow but more ice the farther up we went. Sugarloaf is one of the mountains that I always underestimate despite my checkered history on its slopes. I always think of it as a relatively easy hike and it is until the turn on the Devil’s Path. After that turn, the next .5 miles average a 26% grade with some places being nearly vertical. Sheila was scampering ahead of me and doing a good job in most places of showing me a good line. Sheila and I continued through more steep places and until the trail leveled slightly as we approached the summit. We met no one on the way up as we passed the summit at about 3 miles. There was about an inch of snow in places and some ice but it was all manageable on the fairly level areas near the top. We started to head down the other side to make the loop but I noticed that going down was VERY slippery. Just a few hundred feet passed the summit is a spur trail to the left which gives views to the south but I was disappointed when we arrived as the views were mostly blocked by trees and obscured by the falling snow. Standing on the open stone ledge was very cold as the air temperature had dropped and the wind was blowing. At this point I decided we would abort the loop and return the way we had come. We headed back on the Devil’s Path and across the summit to the descent. The increasing amount of snow made me think about every step I took and every foot placement I made.
At the lookout toward Twin I noticed I could barely see the mountain. Just below this as I was trying to negotiate a downclimb, Sheila began to bark and advance on the trail. I called her back and saw another hiker coming up the mountain. I moved off to the side of the trail but he stopped for a moment. He was wearing Microspikes which I had avoided as they do not work well on rock. He said we had just come down Twin which I knew was a very steep descent. Hew was determined to continue his climb and passed us as we continued down. There were still a few more steep rock scrambles and I had a few close calls. By 1:45 PM we had hiked about 4.6 miles and were back at Pecoy Notch. We turned left off the Devil’s Path to take the Pecoy Notch Trail back down the mountain. This trail is not as steep as the areas on the Devil’s Path but the increasing amount of snow made the going slow. Eventually we crossed the small stream again and walked passed the beaver ponds. I stopped just Before Dibble’s Quarry and took some pictures of the piles of bluestone and the areas where it had been quarried. At Dibble’s Quarry we stopped again so that I could take pictures. This time the rocks were nearly covered in snow and Twin was barely visible. The valley below and Kaaterskill High Peak were completely invisible. I picked up my pack and we continued won the trail until Sheila alerted again. This tome two young men were hiking toward us. We said “Hello” and I warned them about the ascent of Sugarloaf. I have been a volunteer EMT for some time and think often in those terms. I hoped none of these hikers would take a fall! We continued down the Pecoy Notch Trail to the trail junction where we picked up the Roaring Kill Trail back to the car. We arrived at the car at 3:05 PM after hiking 6.1 miles in 5 hours. The elevation gain was 2100 feet. As I have said before, climbing the 35’s can be a humbling experience. The trip back was very slippery in places even though the road crews had advanced warning of the storm. The trickiest part was driving up the hill by the Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain parking area and trying to allow for the inexperienced drivers without winter tires or all-wheel drive!
On Thursday, December 7th my brother-in-law, Jeff, came to our house to do some “shopping”. I have entirely too much hiking equipment and Jeff has recently decided to begin hiking. After picking out some boots and a set of poles, we decided we should check them out by going across the street to hike on Round Top. Jeff put on a new pair of boots and I got dressed to hike. The temperature was still in the high 30’s so I wore my Mammut hoody since it has a lot of zippers to dump heat. Sheila was happy to go as I put her on her leash to walk across the street. We walked through the field next to the church and walked up the steep but short cemetery hill with Sheila giving me a little help as she pulled me up the hill. We turned left and entered the trail at about 10:15 AM. At the first trail junction Sheila turned right to head up the more gentle slope and we followed her. Where the trail split we continued to follow the yellow blazed lower trail which skirts the base of Round Top. At the next trail junction, we stayed on the yellow trail as it turned left. We walked down to the lookout over town and stopped for a few minutes to take in the view. We walked to the lower rock ledges to get a better look and then headed back to the main trail. We walked down the hill and back to the first trail junction. We turned around and headed back up to the lookout and followed the yellow trail to the trail junction. This time we continued straight ahead on the blue blazed upper trail which is a little steeper. We walked over the summit of Round Top and down the other side. At the trail junction we continued straight ahead on the lower trail and walked back to the first trail junction. At this point it was getting a little late so we turned left and headed out to the trailhead and down the cemetery hill to the church. We walked across the field and back to our driveway. It was about 11:30 AM and we had covered about 2 miles. What made the trip really worthwhile was that it allowed Jeff to “trail test” the boots which he found comfortable and supportive.
On Wednesday, December 6th I knew I needed to get out after several days of family commitments but I had to do it before my indoor track practice started. I decided to simply head across the street to Round Top and do some figure 8’s just for the exercise. Sheila was happy to get out as we headed down the driveway and across the street for a hike on Round Top at about 10:00 AM. We crossed the street with Sheila on her leash and walked to the back of the church. We began the ascent of the steepest hill behind the church. The hill is short but really gets the circulation pumping and is the steepest and longest climb on the “trail”. Sheila helped me along by pulling me up the hill. When we got to the top of the hill, we started out on the trail by turning left at the trailhead. As soon as we entered the trees I released Sheila from her leash. At the first trail junction we continued straight ahead to walk the steeper path to the viewpoint. At the lookout I noted that there was no garbage and everything was in order. We followed the trail to the right and started the gentle climb through the woods. When we reached the next trail junction, we stayed to the right to follow the lower trail around the base of Round Top to the next junction. At this junction we turned left and started up to the summit of Round Top on the steeper blue trail. We walked across the summit of Round Top and down the other side which is also a little steep. When we got to the yellow trail, we turned left to follow it to the second trail junction. This time we turned right and followed the yellow trail back to the very first trail junction. Just as we turned onto the woods road there was a small tree across the trail. It was long enough and heavy enough that I could not move it. I decided I would come back with a saw in the near future to remove it. At the trail junction we turned around and retraced our steps taking the more gentle path this time. When the yellow trail turned left, we followed it to the next trail junction were we turned right and headed up the blue trail to the summit. We walked over the top and down the other side to the yellow trail again. We turned right and followed the trail along the base of Round Top. Where the yellow trail turned left, we followed it to the left and down to the lookout. From the lookout we walked down hill to the first trail junction. My goad was to do four figure 8’s. It takes me about 20 minutes to do one. We repeated the first two figure 8’s with me taking time to think about various topics. Sheila was well-behaved and stayed with me most of the time except on the final round. She decided to go absolutely crazy and dash up and down the trail as she sometimes does. After finishing the last figure 8, we walked out to the trailhead. I put Sheila on her leash and we walked down the cemetery hill and across the field to our driveway. It was 11:45 AM and we had hiked about 3.3 miles in 1 hour and 45 minutes. It must have been a good workout as I was tired.
The week of December 2nd began with a cool Sunday with overcast skies and highs in the low 40’s. There was some sun in the afternoon. Monday will be partly sunny with highs in the mid 40’s. On Tuesday the temperatures will rise again into the low 50’s under cloudy skies with a chance of afternoon showers. Wednesday will be much cooler with highs only in the high 30’s with clouds giving way to some sun. The temperatures will continue to drop on Thursday when the highs will be in the low 30’s with periods of clouds and sun. Friday will be cloudy and the cooling trend will continue with highs barely making it into the 30’s. Saturday will be cloudy with highs in the mid 30’s. When the weather is warm, a rain shower sometimes feels good. In cooler weather wet clothing and a light breeze can be the start of hypothermia. When the weather conditions are constantly changing with cold mornings and cool afternoons, be sure you are dressed appropriately in clothing which will wick away moisture to prevent it from accumulating in your clothing which can bring about hypothermia. Layering should be with non-cotton materials as cotton tends to hold moisture. Keeping hydrated is important no matter the temperatures since hydrating properly will allow you to hike longer and in greater comfort. Be sure to carry plenty of water with you as local water sources can be unreliable and may be contaminated. Once you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated! Remember, the weather forecast is only a prediction and always contains percentages. Be prepared and have a plan for the most likely and least likely forecast! Are you prepared to stay out overnight on a trail? Conditions in the morning can change drastically by afternoon. Conditions at the trailhead do not always reflect the conditions on the peaks! Variable trail and weather conditions are a hallmark of these mountains. BE CAREFUL AND BE PREPARED!
On Saturday, December 2nd, I had planned to hike Balsam Lake Mountain from the Millbrook side wife my wife, Cindy, and her brother, Jeff. After reading some of my descriptions of hiking, Jeff decided he wanted to try hiking the Catskill 35’s and maybe even all the trails in the Catskills. I though that hiking the more gentle trail from the Millbrook trailhead to the Balsam Lake Mountain firepower would be a good introduction to the 3500 foot peaks. We agreed to meet at the trailhead at 10:00 AM since he lives in Delhi and we were coming from Livingston Manor. On Thursday night Cindy got a text from Jeff saying he had a commitment on Saturday and would be unable to hike. I was disappointed but decided I would do the hike any way since it had been some time since I had hiked to Balsam Lake from the Millbrook side. When I got up in the morning it was only 23 degrees so I decided to wait a little before starting out. I asked Cindy if she would like to go and she agreed. Cindy and I got dressed and got our gear ready to go. It was still only 35 degrees at a little after 10:00 AM so I decided to wear tights and a baselayer on top> I wore my Columbia Oniheat pants and, as always, my Mammut hoody. We hadn’t hiked in two days so Sheila was very excited as we put her in the backseat. We headed up the Quickway and took Route 206 towards Downsville. This route is a little longer than the Beaverkill Road but has less twists and turns. It seemed that every time we passed a spot where we had hiked before Sheila began to whine as if to say “Let’s stop here!” I took a right on Route 30 when we reached the reservoir and then took the BWS roads to Millbrook Road. I drove passed Kelly Hollow and soon after pulled into the parking lot that serves Balsam Lake Mountain and Dry Brook Ridge. The lot was almost full with some people already parking on the road which was surprising. I found a spot that an earlier vehicle had vacated and managed to park in tight quarters. I set my electronics and we started the hike by crossing the road at 11:15 AM. I was still feeling the effects of a lingering cold but was happy to be out although I wished Jeff could have joined us. Unlike the climb from the Beaverkill Road which starts out almost flat, the ascent from Millbrook starts with an uphill gaining over 200 feet in the first half mile. Although the temperature was still only 27 degrees we both were comfortable at the beginning of the hike and began to warm up on the ascent. The trail is really a wide woods road which is passable by a high clearance vehicle. We were making good time by keeping a fast pace but it was making me a little tired.
At .8 miles we began a switchback which eventually brought us to a flatter area at about 1.25 miles. I had not hiked from this direction many times but it seemed longer than I remembered. The tradeoff between the two starts is that the Beaverkill start is flat for some time and then has a steep climb. The hike from the Millbrook side climbs from the beginning but is not as steep as from the Beaverkill Road. Along the way there were some interesting rocks including some that had been eroded so that there were only a few “pillars” left separating some layers. There was some ice on the rocks and I stopped to take a picture and took one of Sheila licking the ice. The trail was icy in spots but it was easy to walk around it. The ice did remind me that packing spikes from now on would be a good idea! At 2.1 miles we came to the turnoff to the left for Graham and I knew the trail to the summit of Balsam Lake split off just ahead. My plan was to continue straight ahead and walk down to the steeper trail up the mountain. I like the challenge and this would allow us to make a sort of lollipop loop out of the hike. When we got to the point where the trail split, Cindy insisted on simply hiking to the top and then back out the way we had come. I was disappointed but knew there was no reason to argue. At 2.3 miles we turned right and started up the trail to the fire tower. Just after the start of the trail there is a metal gate. The climb alternates between steeper and more level sections and we were making good time on both. As we began the serious ascent, we met a group of three hikers coming down the mountain and heading back to Millbrook. They said there were some young people at the top and that there were bear tracks along the way. This did not surprise me as I have seen bear on the trail a number of times. As we continued up, we met a young man hiking down the trail and we said “Hello” as we passed. We continued on our scent and soon the trail flattened a little and we could see some old bear tracks in the ice. Several of the steeper ascents had ice and snow on them and we had to be careful as we negotiated our way around them. Soon I could see the cabin and hear voices. I put Sheila on her leash and just before the clearing I leashed her to a tree to keep her away from other people. There was a group of about a dozen young people at the summit clearing.
It was 12:50 PM and we had hiked 3 miles. I put down my pack and got put my camera and began to ascend the tower. I noticed that the skies were still cloudy and as I climbed the wind picked up. The winds that were not noticeable at ground level were certainly noticeable as I climbed to just below the cab. I could hear Sheila barking and whining and if she was loose she would have no problem following me up the steps of the fire towers! I took pictures in all directions even though the skies were not ideal. It was nice to get some views of the hills and valleys. Balsam Lake is the westernmost 3500 foot peak and most of the other peaks are visible from it. I took few shots through the tower structure. Before putting the camera away, I took a few pictures of the tower from the ground. Before we started our return trip, I struck up a conversation with the young people. They were members of a hiking class from Binghamton University along with their instructor. They seemed to be having a good time and the instructor seemed very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I asked them about the class and what hikes they do. Several members have taken Wilderness First Aid through SOLO. We started back down at 1:05 PM and I knew we probably would not be able to make good time because of the icy conditions. The sun was still pretty high in the sky as we began a careful descent of the icy path down to the Dry Brook Ridge Trail. Once we made the the left turn onto the trail back to Millbrook Road we picked up the pace a little but we were really in no hurry. There were a few short ascents along the way but otherwise we kept moving quickly. We passed through the switchback which signaled to me that we were almost back to the car. Soon we were crossing the road and walking through the lot back to the car. We were back at 2:30 PM after hiking 6.0 miles in 3 hours and 15 minutes with a 1350 foot elevation gain. Although this is not a difficult hike I was pleased with our pace and glad we had decided to do the hike.
On Wednesday, November 29th, I wanted to get in a longer hike but one not too far from home. I also wanted to stay in an area where there is not too much hunting and use well-established trails. I decided to go to Hodge and Frick Ponds and do a route I had not done before which would add a little mileage to my typical route. I had a few things to do around the house but eventually got my gear ready. The temperature on the back porch showed 52 degrees but I knew it would be colder at the trailhead. I donned my Columbia Omniheat pants but did not put on tights. I did wear a baselayer on top underneath a Mammut shirt and on top of that my Mammut Ultimate hoody. I made sure I had an orange hat and brought along a light pair of gloves. We had not been out in three days so Sheila was ready to go and kept an eye on me the whole time. We left Livingston Manor at 10:00 AM as I drove out the DeVRuce Road about 6 miles to Mongaup Pond Road. I turned left and drive to where the road split and stayed left on Beech Mountain Road. When we arrived at the trailhead parking at 10:15 AM there was one pickup truck in the small lot. I parked next to the truck and got ready to hike by setting my GPS devices. The temperature was 47 degrees so I put on my gloves and we headed out toward the trail register at 10:20 AM. The trail had deep ruts which seemed to be new and were far enough apart to be from a small truck. The trail was wet and muddy all the way to Graveystone Junction and the truck had really chewed up the trail. I intended do a figure 8 pattern so at the junction we turned right on the Loggers Loop. The ruts continued all the way to Times Square creating an ugly scene and destroying a good part of the trail. I began to think about the e-mail I would compose to the forester for the area again requesting a gate or a chain for the woods road leading from the parking to the Quick Lake Trail! The weather for hiking was almost ideal with blue skies and a few white, puffy clouds. The only drawback was the wind which was blowing all the time and producing some really big gusts. I kept hoping nothing would fall on us as we continued through Times Square on the Loggers Loop. There were quite a few branches on the trail and I removed them including a few larger ones that I had to take some time to drag off. I had hoped the ruts would end at Times Square and for a short distance it seemed like they did. The ground must have been harder as we climbed the Loggers Loop because within a shirt distance the ruts were back. At some point I started to notice that some work had been done around some of the culverts that cross the trail. The older metal culverts had been replaced by newer, plastic ones. I suspect that the DEC or a DEC contractor has been doing this work. If so, they picked a terrible time to work on the trails! The summer was very dry and the work could have been done without destroying the trails. I would have to say that the damage they have done is probably worse than the problems they are trying to correct!
At 11:10 AM we had hiked 2.2 miles and were at Iron Wheel Junction. I felt very fresh and we were keeping a fast pace. We continued straight ahead on the Quick Lake Trail heading for Junkyard Junction and the Flynn Trail. I cleared a couple more blowdowns on the way up the Quick Lake Trail and removed numerous smaller branches. The distance between the two junctions is a little over 1.5 miles and the elevation gain is about 480 feet. This means the grade averages only about 5% but the ascent is noticeable and continuous most of the way. The weather remained beautiful and I was in a particularly good mood which made the hiking go rather quickly. By 11:45 AM we had hiked 3.7 miles to Junkyard Junction where we turned right into the Flynn Trail. The walk along the Flynn Trail was uneventful but pretty. There were some muddy spots which we avoided. When we reached Hodge Pond we turned left on the jeep road around the back of the pond. I wanted to get the maximum distance for the hike and I wanted to avoid the section of the Flynn Trail to the outlet of Hodge Pond as it has been very muddy. As we walked around the head end of Hodge I couldn’t help but stop and walk down to the shore of the pond to take a few pictures. The sun was already high and to the south which made photographing tricky. I took some pictures, got a drink and a bar and then headed back to the trail which we followed down to the outlet end of the pond. Here we walked over to the shore so that I could take a few more pictures. I was surprised to hear a tinkling noise and to see the wind blowing a thin sheet of ice toward the outlet. The spices of ice were hitting each other and the shore to make the noise. The wind was blowing fiercely across the pond so I took my shots quickly and returned to my pack. We walked to the Flynn Trail and up the hill toward the junction with the Big Rock Trail. The hill can sometimes seem long and tiresome but I was still feeling very good. About halfway up the hill, Sheila alerted and I could see three hunters headed toward us. I put Sheila on her leash as the hunter approached and we said “Hello” as we passed. I was going to asked them if they knew they were on private property and not state land but decided against it.
We continued to the top of the hill and walked the flat part of the trail to the junction with the Big Rock Trail. We turned right and started our walk down the Big Rock Trail. The sun was still out ad despite then wind I was warm. The trail had obviously carried a lot of water recently and there was a wide and deep ditch on the northern side. About two-thirds of the way down, we came across two very large tree trunks across the trail. I stopped to take a few pictures to document the blowdowns and to send to members of the snowmobile club who are allowed to use chainsaws. These trees could, of course, be removed by hand tools but it would be a real challenge. At 1:00 PM we arrived at Times Square again after hiking 5.7 miles. We continued straight ahead on the Big Rock trail which travels around the head end of Frick Pond and down the western side to the Quick Lake Trail. We walked over the wooden bridges and then the wooden walkways. The water was high in the small creeks. The walkways have needed work for some time and we have done we are happy to we could to shore them up with stones but they need some major work. The DEC does not seem concerned and it seems that their attitude is to wait until things break and then repair them rather than do preventative maintenance. We were soon at the end of the Big Rock Trail at the junction with the Quick Lake trail. We turned left to walk to the outlet of Frick Pond. We stopped at the bridge and I took a few pictures before the windchill made me retreat to my pack and don my gloves. We walked across the bridge and up the hill to Gravestone Junction. All that remained was to hike back out the short stretch of the Quick Lake Trail to the car. Just before the register, I looked up to see two hunters headed toward us. I leashed Sheila as we passed by wishing each other a “Good day”. We were back at the car at 1:25 PM having hiked 7.7 miles in 3 Hours and 5 minutes with an elevation gain of 1100 feet. I was surprised that the distance wasn’t over 8 miles. I was also surprised when I got home and plotted the “new” route only to find out I had done it before!
The week of November 26th began with a cool Sunday with overcast skies and highs were in the high 30’s. A stiff breeze all day made it seem even cooler. Monday will be partly sunny with highs in the high 30’s. On Tuesday the temperatures will rise again into the mid 40’s under partly sunny skies. Wednesday will also the partly sunny as the temperatures again increase reaching the high 40’s. On Thursday there will be periods of sun and clouds but the highs will drop into the low 40’s. Friday will be cloudy with a possibility of showers with highs in the mid 40’s. Saturday will have some sun and clouds with highs in the low 40’s. When the weather is warm, a rain shower sometimes feels good. In cooler weather wet clothing and a light breeze can be the start of hypothermia. When the weather conditions are constantly changing with coid mornings and cool afternoons, be sure you are dressed appropriately in clothing which will wick away moisture to prevent it from accumulating in your clothing which can bring about hypothermia. Layering should be with non-cotton materials as cotton tends to hold moisture. Keeping hydrated is important no matter the temperatures since hydrating properly will allow you to hike longer and in greater comfort. Be sure to carry plenty of water with you as local water sources can be unreliable and may be contaminated. Once you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated! Remember, the weather forecast is only a prediction and always contains percentages. Be prepared and have a plan for the most likely and least likely forecast! Are you prepared to stay out overnight on a trail? Conditions in the morning can change drastically by afternoon. Conditions at the trailhead do not always reflect the conditions on the peaks! Variable trail and weather conditions are a hallmark of these mountains. BE CAREFUL AND BE PREPARED!
On Saturday, November 25th I wanted to get out for a hike but had to do some chores in the morning. When I was done, I decided to head for Big Pond even though rain was forecast for 1:00 PM. I decided a short hike was better than none at all. Brad was willing to come along so we got dressed and got our gear ready to go. The temperature was only in the high 30’s but it was very sunny and felt much warmer. It was hard to believe that rain was in the forecast! I wore my Mammut hoody and Columbia Omniheat pants but did not put on a baselayer as I thought I would be too warm. I had considered several possibilities to do a loop from Big Pond to Little Pond but realized this would depend on the weather we found as we hiked. We left Livingston Manor a little before 11:00 AM and headed north on Old Route 17. Just outside Livingston Manor I turned right on the Beaverkill Road and drove toward Lew Beach. The further we went the cloudier the sky became and the more likely the forecast of rain became. I drove through Lew Beach and turned left on the Barkaboom Road just before Turnwood. I turned left on the Barkaboom Road and drove to the parking area for Big Pond on the right. There were a few cars parked including one with the door hanging open! As we were getting ready to hike, a young couple came up to the car from Big Pond. They were staying at the North Branch Inn and wanted to know a little bit about the trails in the area. I gave them some information about hiking to Little Pond as I set my GPS. We crossed the road and headed up the trail at 11:20 AM. As we passed the register box, we could see several branches and tree trunks across the trail. I had not planned to do much clearing and had not packed any tools. Despite my intentions both Brad and I began to remove obstacles on the trail and this continued for the whole hike. As we were slowed by the work we were doing, the couple we had spoken to caught up with us. They asked a few more questions and then went on ahead. The first mile of the trail gains about 775 feet with an average grade of 15%. Some places are almost flat which means there are a few steeper places. I began to notice that the blazing of the trail was becoming intermittent due to the fact that several trees with blazes shad fallen. The DEC will no longer let volunteers put up the trail markers so the forester will have to come out to blaze the trail. We continued our hike up Touch-Me-Not Mountain under skies that were increasingly dark! We found a couple of new blowdowns that would require my big saw and an axe. We also found several that had been on the trail for some time despite my request to the FLTC to schedule a sawyer to help me remove them. In a few places the trail travels along the side of the hill and this made for some tricky footing. At the trail junction we had to make a decision and we chose to turn left and hike the Campground Trail down to Little Pond. This decision was influenced by the gathering clouds and a wind that blew up suddenly.
The other hikers were taking a break at the junction as we made the left turn and started over the top of Touch-Me-Not Mountain. After a few moments, I looked back and saw them following us. I though that when we got to the campgrounds we could decide what route we would take as there were several possibilities for longer and shorter hikes. The Campground Trail is supposed to be maintained by the DEC but it looked as if no work had been done for some time. From the top of the mountain the trail drops 560 feet in .4 miles for an average grade of 26%. There are several areas where the descent is much steeper and the slippery oak leaves were not making the trip any easier. At some point I began to listen carefully and could hear the distinct sound raindrops hitting the leaves. We looked back several times but did not see the other hikers following us and wondered what had happened. The rain didn’t keep up for very long and soon we were on the flatter part of the descent which led us out to the campgrounds just behind the main bathrooms. The skies were still dark and I did not feel like getting wet so we agreed to hike the roads back to the car. I was annoyed as I would have liked a longer hike but hoped we would get in about 4 miles anyway. The campgrounds are a little eerie when they are closed with no one around. We walked out the access road and passed the main entrance without seeing anyone at all. The walk out the access road is about .9 miles and is mostly downhill. We passed through the upper gate which was closed. There were four cars and trucks parked in a small pulloff near the gate and I knew these were hunters. We continued down to Barkaboom Road where we turned left and started the uphill walk back to the car. Having Sheila on her leash really helps as she pulls me up the hills quite nicely. Since there were no leaves on the trees we could get a good look at the stream that comes out of Big Pond. I looked down and saw an old foundation I had not seen before. A “ditch” led from upstream through the foundation to farther downstream. This is a good indication that this was mill of some type and the stream led through the millrace and, most likely, and undershot wheel. This is further supported by the dam on Big Pond that looks as if it had a series of boards to control the water level. The walk back to the car went quickly and we arrived back at the lot at 1:15 PM. We had hiked 4 miles in 1 hour and 55 minutes with a vertical gain of 1055 feet. I was disappointed that it had not rained and that we had cut our hike short anyway. Still, a short hike is better than no hike at all!