On Saturday, October 28th, I was ready to do a more challenging hike than I can do when I have cross country practice in the afternoon. I had planned to go north and do the Blacks getting a start no later than 8:00 AM. I woke up a little later than I thought I might and asked Cody if she would like to go and She said she would. I knew that Sunday would be a washout due to a forecast of heavy rain and that I would be tied up as school nurse on Monday.The temperature in the morning was 33 degrees so we didn’t hurry to get ready. I put on tights an wore my Mammut hoody as I do not like to be cold. I also took a light hat and gloves. Sheila was ecstatic to be going anywhere which is her usual state. We got everything in the car and pulled out of Livingston Manor a little after 9:00 AM. We headed out DeBruce Road and turned left on Route 47 at the end to head toward Big Indian and Route 28. There were a few cars at the Biscuit Brook parking area but the Slide Mountain parking area was beginning to fill up. By the time we passed the parking for Giant Ledge and Panther they were beginning to park along the road. As we passed these pots where we have hiked before Sheila would “moan” as if she was asking me if we could stop and hike. I turned right on Route 28 and then left on Route 42 to head toward Spruceton. On the way from Shandaken to Spruceton on Rt 42 there were even a few cars at the Halcott parking area. Along the way Cindy began hinting that Sheila didn’t want to ride all the way to the Blacks! I decided that there might not be any parking when we got there and that Weskit would be a good substitute. I was also concerned that Cindy might not be able to handle Blackhead AND Black Dome in the same hike. Westkill is a special place for me as I spread the ashes of a previous hiking partner, Sheba, at the Buck Ridge lookouts. I turned right on the Spruceton Road and was glad that it had been paved nicely. Along the road we passed the puceton Inn which was gained a nice reputation and also the West Kill Brewery where I wanted to stop on the return trip. We were following a car that seemed to be looking for something and it continued ahead of us even when the road turned to dirt. The parking lot for Hunter was filled and when we arrived at the parking area for Westkill it was also packed. I decided to drive up the road to see if the smaller loot was also filled. When we arrived at the smaller lot, it was almost empty so I pulled in and parked. The signs warned that this was a snowplow turnaround but I was sure it would not be needed on this day. Several other cars pulled in right after us so we hurried to get ready. The temperature was 51 degrees and a stiff breeze was blowing so I was glad I had dressed warmly. I set my GPS, put Sheila on her leash and we headed out on the woods road toward Diamond Notch Falls at 10:25 AM. The trail was nearly dry with only a few wet spots but there was a good amount of water in the stream. The stream was making quite a noise and I was tempted to stop several times to take pictures. I decided to put this off until the return trip. There was a couple behind us that were dressed as if the falls was their destination. I could see a couple ahead of us and soon they came back to me to sake if they were on the trail to Westkill. I said “Yes” and gave them some suggestions about the hike.
At the falls, we turned right on the Devil’s Path and then right again at the end of the bridge. I was again tempted to take pictures but decided to wait until the trip back. As we continued to follow the trail it began to get steeper and wetter in spots which made it slipperier. The couple that had asked me some questions were just behind Cindy and were obvious faster than us so we let them pass and they soon were out of site. I was beginning to get very warm so I stopped to take off my hoody. At the same time I decided to take off my tights which I had only done one time before. After ditching these two items I felt light but was a little cold as I had built up a real sweat. As we continued the ascent, I began to remember that the ascent was long and steep in some places. We came to a section of trail that requires some side-hilling and is much more difficult when there is snow. As we continued to hike we met a few hikers and pairs of hikers coming back from the summit. It didn’t take us long to get to the spot which is a near vertical climb. This is a short ascent but leads to a longer one. In the winter this is often a sheet of ice and can be exciting on the way up and the way down. Sheila scrambled up without much trouble and we followed making use of the roots as handholds and our poles. Once we passed this point there were still some steep areas to conquer. The mile climb from just after the falls to where the trail begins to level averages a 20% grade and can be very tiring. Once we got to the more level part there were still some small climbs and a few descents but the going was easier. From that point to Buck Ridge and the summit is still well over a mile. On our way to the rock overhang or “cave” we passed the 3500 foot sign. I could have sworn the sign used to be just above the overhand but I checked my GPS and the new placement seems more correct. We continued to meet a few hikers coming down the trail. There were a lot of branches on the trail, and no one seemed concerned about removing them so I did. In one spot a tree had fallen across the trail leaving the choice of crawling underneath or pushing through some dense brush on the sides.
We were soon above the “cave” and after this the trail turns almost due west and levels off slightly. A hiker approached and I grabbed Sheila as I always do. We said “Hello” and he looked very familiar. He asked of I was alone and I indicated my wife was not far behind. He continued passed me but stopped to talk to Cindy for a few minutes. When Cindy caught up, she told me it was Mike Dwyer, the Aspirants Chairperson for the Catskill 3500 Club. He had thought I loooked familiar and knew my name when Cindy told him. We finally came to the little descent before the final ascent to the Buck Ridge Lookouts. We worked our way down and were soon at the base of the final ascent. We climbed up to Buck Ridge arriving at 12:35 PM. It had taken us 2 hours and 10 minutes to hike 3 miles! So much for keeping a good pace. The couple that had gone ahead of us were relaxing at the lookouts. They were from Albany and had laready been to the summit. I leashed Sheila to a tree and gave her a drink. Cindy and I also drank some water and Cindy got out a bar to eat. I decided to take some pictures before continuing on to the summit. I took a few shots from the lookouts toward the south but there was quite a bit of haze. There was some color left on the trees which was mostly yellow from the beeches. I released Sheila and we walked over to the lookout to the north where I had taken my favorite picture of Sheba. Sheila jumped up on the large boulder there but the view is almost completely blocked by trees now. I took a few shots and returned to where Cindy was sitting. I shouldered my pack and headed toward the summit just as a large group of hikers arrived. Hiking to the summit of Westkill is a short trip but serves no purpose other than to allow a hiker to claim they got to the summit. It is only about .1 miles and it took us about 15 minutes to get up and back to the lookouts. There is still a sign at the summit that says “Westkill Mt. Summit and a large stone cairn. When we got back to the lookouts, I rook one more picture of an interesting tree and then we started back down the trail from Buck Ridge at 12:55 PM.
We tried to keep a quick pace on the way down without stopping but the going was not easy in some of the steeper spots. We met several individuals hikers, pairs and groups on the way up. One young lady had left the parking area just behind us but was just getting to the top as we were descending. We continued down the trail which was certainly easier than hiking up! We stopped for a few pictures at the rock overhand where we met two pairs of hikers coming up the trail. On the way down toward the vertical climb, I saw a hiker coming up the trail and one coming down behind us. The hiker who was descending was the young lady that had just passed us going up to the summit. It occurred to me then that she was not slow but had probably done Hunter and the Westkill! At one point I looked up to see a dog approaching without a leash. Sheila and the other dog approached each other and seemed to get along. As the other owners approached I called Sheila and they controlled their dog. The other dog was a beautiful red brown color and I asked about his breed. I was surprised to find out he was a Fox Red Labrador since I would have said he was a hound of some kind. I had never heard of this color variation but it was very striking. I was also surprised when the owner said he was only one year old as he was already much larger than Sheila. We continued down the trail and met no ore hikers coming up. Just before the bridge at the falls, I walked off the trail to the left and took some pictures of the bridge and the falls. I also took a shot of Cindy and Sheila on the bridge. I took a few more shot from the rocks under the bridge and then some more from the bridge. We crossed the bridge at the falls and Sheila and I negotiated the short but steep drop to the base of the falls. Sheila did not seem to be interested in a dip in the cold water. I took pictures of the falls with several different settings on the camera trying to get the soft, wispy effect that some people like. The stream has actually changed its course slightly and now flows more on the left rather than the right side of the bed. We climbed back up the bank to trail and continued back to the car. We did meet some more hikers coming up the trail but all looked as if they were only going to the falls. I stooped a couple of times to take some pictures of the smaller rapids along the way. Back at the car the temperature had risen to 60 degrees which was warmer than when we started. We were back in the parking area at 3:05 PM having covered 6.4 miles in 4 hours and 40 minutes with plenty of time allowed for photography. The total ascent was 2070 feet. I was tired but glad we had made the trip. On the way back, we stopped at the West Kill Brewery and found it was packed. We parked at the bottom of the hill and walked up to the brewery where there was an “event” happening. A lot of people were “hanging out” drinking beer and having a good time. They had some cheese boards and a wood-fired pizza oven. We got in line which is when I found out Cindy did not intend to have any beer. I was disappointed as I wanted to stay around for a little while and enjoy the happening. I did get a chocolate porter which was very good even though porters are not my favorite. I drank it down as we walked back to the car which was not what I had intended. I scrapped my plans to go to Pancho Villas or The Alamo and drove back to Livingston Manor for supper. There were still quite a few cars parked at the various trailheads on the way home taking advantage of the beautiful day.