Posts Tagged ‘Hudson River’

Bull Hill — 21 July 2012

Info

  • Map: NY/NJ Trail Conference, East Hudson Trails, Map 102
  • Trails: Nelsonville, Undercliff, Washburn
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance:  approx. 5 miles
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Exertion: Moderate

Getting There

From the intersection of NY 301 and NY 9D in Cold Spring, head east on 301 though the village of Nelsonville.  Just before you get out of the village, make the left onto Woods Ave, which becomes Gatehouse Road.  (If you hit the fork where County Road 10, Fishkill Rd, heads off to the left, you just passed it.)  Gatehill Rd turns into a single-lane dirt road but keep going until you see the hikers parking on the right.  A kiosk with trail information will confirm you’re in the right spot.

The Hike

So today I made a wonderful discovery: how to get to the top of Bull Hill, AKA Mt. Taurus, in under an hour.  If you take the Washburn trailhead on NY 9D, you have more arduous climbing to do, and could be at it for half again, or even twice as long.  I made that from-9D hike for a second time last September, but never finished the blog post; I will incorporate some of that information here to atone for my sin.

The New York Walk Book considers the Washburn from 9D route the most strenuous hike in the Highlands region.  While I’m not up for arguing this point, the hike up Breakneck Ridge, just to the north across hollow of Breakneck Brook, is in the same ballpark and certainly the terrain there is more rugged.  This I also did last September and wrote about here.  As with that hike, getting to the top of Bull Hill provides you with a panorama of the Hudson, West Point, Constitution Island, Storm King Mountain, and several other points of interest.  From the summit you can clearly see Stewart Airport in Newburgh down to the Manhattan skyline, a distance of at least 60 miles.

From the parking area, head west on the green-blazed Nelsonville Trail.  It’s an easy, flat woods road that quickly hits the junction with the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail.  You might be confused as I was because the diamond-shaped plastic blazes still say “Nelsonville” on them, but I think that’s just because you’re still in the Nelsonville Nature Preserve.  In any case, hang a right onto the yellow trail, and it will begin the noticeable but not gruesome ascent of the mountain.  After a short climb, the trail forms a little U to bring you out to a nice overlook that provides a view that is merely a hint of what is to come.

About 15-20 minutes later you reach a rocky outcrop that provides a great river view facing southwest, including a complete overlook of the USMA at West Point, across the river.

West Point from Bull Hill

West Point from Bull Hill

The land mass in the foreground on the east side of the river is Constitution Island, which is not open to the public, but which I have walked on an approved tour.  It’s nice, but up here’s better. :-)   As the photo shows, it was a wonderfully clear day, with temps back down into the 70′s and almost no haze.  It was simply a day where the outdoors just begged me to get out of the house.

Very soon after the outcrop, you hit the junction with the white-blazed Washburn Trail, where you go right.  (The Undercliff continues up to Breakneck Ridge.)  I recognized the junction from my earlier hike, and quickly realized what a short cut this way had been.  Yes, you miss some of the great views on the way up the Washburn, e.g., here is one from that earlier hike:

Cold Spring from Bull Hill

Cold Spring from Bull Hill

You do get a better shot of the town of Cold Spring on the river, and there is an old quarry you pass at the beginning, which is nice too:

Quarry on the Washburn Trail

Quarry on the Washburn Trail

In either case, right after the intersection of the Washburn and Undercliff trails, you hit a section of the trail where there are nice views across the river to the Crows Nest and Storm King Mountains.

Storm King Mountain

Storm King Mountain

Shortly after these vistas, you hit the Main Event, if you will.  Look for the letters “NYC” painted on a boulder, scramble to the top of a huge rock ledge, and you can see the Manhattan skyline with the naked eye.  Here’s what it looks like at 14x zoom:

Manhattan on Top, West Point on the Bottom

Manhattan on Top, West Point on the Bottom

Due to the long zoom and the twisting of the Hudson, you would swear that the person taking this picture was on the west side of the river, i.e. on the same side as the USMA.  But as you know, I was on the east side of the river.  I estimate this view at about 50 miles.  If this doesn’t make you want to come up here, nothing will!

Since at this point you’re pretty much at the summit, most of the serious climbing is done, it now becomes a ridge walk for about a half mile before you start the downward trek.  The map indicates you cross the Catskill Aqueduct at this point, but it’s not obvious to me on any of my three trips up here exactly where it is.  I have my suspicions, but that’s about all.  There is a dual vista up here where you can look south or north.  Look for a split in the trail and take the southern view to the right first.  It’s nice, but since you’re facing more easterly at this point, there’s nothing too impressive.  That’s reserved for the northern view to the left, where the trail turns out onto an exposed face and you get river views of Newburgh and Beacon.

Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over Breakneck Ridge

Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over Breakneck Ridge

Mount Beacon

Mount Beacon

You can see the agonizing trail of Breakneck Ridge before you and the river, bridge, and city of Newburgh behind it.  Turning right, you catch sight of the comm. towers on Mount Beacon.  The latter destination I last visited in August of 2011, but did not write up.  Great place to hike, especially if you like to walk uphill!

After these wonderful views, it’s time to wend your way back.  The Washburn Trail descends on the woods road it joined at the summit on a series of switchbacks.  Except for the rocky footing, it’s an easy way down.  It ends at the joint trailheads of the Notch (blue) and Nelsonville trails.  We return to our original path by going straight and continue the gentle exit off the hill, passing two smaller trails, the Lone Star (blue) and Split Rock (red), along the way.  When you cross the Catskill Aqueduct this time, it’s obvious and also a signal that you’re right around a bend from where you parked the car.

This is a perfect hike if you have the following goals in mind:

  • Great views
  • Under 3 hours
  • Not a lot of climbing
  • Great views

So wait for a clear weather day, and fit this into your busy schedule.  You can thank me later.

Three Hudson-Palisades Loops — 1, 4, & 8 July 2012

Info

  • Map: NY/NJ Trail Conference, Hudson Palisades Trails, Map 108
  • Trails: Shore Trail, Long Path, Huyler’s Landing, Dyckman Hill, Closter Dock, and Carpenter Trails
  • Type: Loops
  • Distance: Loops A & C, approx. 4 miles; Loop B, approx. 7 miles
  • Time: Loops A & C: 2 hours; Loop B: 4 hours
  • Exertion: Easy, with one moderate climb on each loop

Getting There

Loop A: Palisades Parkway to Exit 2 (Alpine).  Follow signs to Alpine Boat Basin.  There is a reasonable $5 parking fee at times.
Loop B: Palisades Parkway, Rockefeller Lookout (first of 3 on the Parkway).  Parking is free.  Note: if you’re coming from the north, you need to go to Exit 1, and get back on the Parkway northbound to get to the lookout.
Loop C: Palisades Parkway to Exit 1 (Englewood).  Follow signs to Englewood Boat Basin.  Again, the $5 parking fee is a good investment.

The Hikes

Here I will combine three hikes I took within eight days in the same general area.  The basic outline of these loops is this: the Long Path (teal blazes) rides along the crest of the Palisades, while the Shore Trail (obviously) goes along the shore of the Hudson River and has white blazes.  Every few miles there is a short, steep trail connecting the two, which makes for some very nice loop hikes.  The ascent is about 300-400 feet from river to clifftop, and some of these connector trails are very well built with steps and switchbacks.  It goes without saying that the only safe way to get between these two major trails is via the connector trails.  Every few years someone falls from the top of the Palisades to his death, and going off-trail in this area is a Bad Idea.

Of the two parallel major trails, the Long Path (which begins in Fort Lee, near the GW Bridge) is the more popular.  Except in its southernmost section, the Shore Trail is much more deserted.  In many parts it feels very isolated, with the river at your feet and the cliffs hanging above you.  And although there is the paved Henry Hudson Road only a few dozen feet above you for the entire way, it can get very lonely down there.

Loop A (Closter Dock to Huyler’s Landing)

For this I began at the Alpine Boat Basin and willingly acceded to the $5 parking fee to make sure that the climb up the Palisades was in the middle of the hike, not the end.  It’s not easy to pick up the Shore Trail from the parking lot, but just walk south and as soon as you run out of Boat Basin, you’ll catch the little dirt path that continues along the river.  I must say that for some reason, perhaps just the mood I was in, the whole run along the river seemed somewhat gloomy.  Perhaps the plaque commemorating John Jordan, which appears on a boulder at the start of the hike, gave a melancholy start to the day:

John Jordan Plaque

John Jordan Plaque

Apparently Captain Jordan slipped on some ice and fell down the Palisades, although from where is not clear.

The trail is narrow and sandy, with occasional breaks in the brush to allow you to view the opposite shore.  At this point, what is across from Alpine is my home town, the city of Yonkers, NY, a working-class place where both sides of my family, at least back to my grandparents, were born and/or raised.  Yonkers since its heyday in the 1940′s, 50′s, and 60′s as a bedroom community for NYC, has been a perpetually hard-luck town, known more for its crime, corruption, racial problems, and poor schools than for its Victorian-style homes, river views, and diverse population.  But I do feel a connection to it, as I view what still looks like a vibrant city across the river from tony Alpine, NJ.

Yonkers Pier, from Alpine, NJ

Yonkers Pier, from Alpine, NJ

The run down to Huyler’s Landing takes you almost opposite the Yonkers/Bronx city line, but as best I can tell, you are still across from Yonkers when you hit the little beach and breaker that mark the Landing.

Looking at South Yonkers from Huyler's Landing

Looking at South Yonkers from Huyler's Landing

A word about Huyler’s Landing and the eponymous trail we’re about to ascend is in order.  Per some signs back in the Boat Basin we’ll mention at the end of this hike, in November 1776 Gen. Cornwallis landed 5,000 British troops here and marched them up this trail to the top of the Palisades to attack the Colonial army at Fort Lee.  This was shortly after he had beaten the stuffing out of Washington’s army in Brooklyn, as well as capturing Fort Washington in Manhattan.  The Americans just barely escaped into the the (then) wilds of New Jersey, abandoning Fort Lee.  Thus began an ignominious retreat for Washington across the state, which would only be halted on Christmas Day when he crossed back over the Delaware and attacked the Hessians at Trenton.

So we climb up the trail those lobster-backs took that day, although we won’t get quite to Fort Lee as they did for now.  The trail is pretty wide at the start until it crosses over the paved Henry Hudson Drive.  Then it gets a little narrower, but it’s still pretty well laid out with a moderate grade.  The distance is about a half mile, so although not very steep, you do have about 15-30 minutes of exertion.  You’ll know when you’re near the top by the wonderful traffic noise of the Palisades Interstate Parkway (PIP).  It will be our constant companion as we head north back to Alpine after making a right onto the Long Path.

There are only three points of interest along the crest here.  The first is an overlook on a pulpit overlooking the river.  Because of its protrusion from the cliffs, you get nice views up and down the river.

The Pulpit

The Pulpit

Upriver from the Pulpit

Upriver from the Pulpit

Downriver from the Pulpit

Downriver from the Pulpit

The next point is the Alpine Lookout, which does not have any views to compare with the pulpit, so you can just skate right on by this.  The last point is the Zabriskie Ruin, which will appear on your right.  From the bits I’ve dug out on the web, this mansion, called Cliffdale, was quite the residence.  I took some pics, but this web site has better ones, taken on a very sunny day in the winter, whereas mine were under full leaf cover, and later in the day, e.g.:

Zabriskie Ruin

Zabriskie Ruin

This is really quite an extensive set of ruins, just be careful as you walk on the first floor tiles because there are lots of holes you wouldn’t want to fall into.

The rest of the hike is getting to the Closter Dock Trail (orange blazes), and back down to the shore, making a right to get back to the parking lot.  As you enter the Alpine Boat Basin from the northern end, you walk past this impressive plaque:

Incorrect Plaque

Incorrect Plaque

Unfortunately, as we now know (and as a newer, albeit less durable sign right next to this plaque tells us) the Brits did not land here, but rather about 1.5 miles south at Huyler’s Landing.  (These signs also disagree on the date as well–Nov. 18 above and Nov. 20 for the newer one.)

The Straight Scoop

The Straight Scoop

Somehow the metal plaque bolted onto a boulder seems more impressive, in spite of its factual missteps.

Loop B (Huyler’s Landing to Dyckman Hill Trail)

In keeping with this Revolutionary War theme, I thought it apropriate to return to Huyler’s Landing on July 4th and continue with another cliff and shore loop.  This time, I parked in the Rockefeller Lookout and headed north on the Long Path to the Landing Trail I’d come up on Sunday.  It’s 2.4 miles.  There are a couple of views across the river of the Bronx, but we’re jaded now, and they’re old hat!  The nice thing about the LP here is that it is very flat and for the most part not rocky, so you can make good time and not have to focus most of your attention looking at your feet so you don’t trip.  After the last serious Hudson view (Clinton Point), the trail turns off the cliff top to skirt the Greenbrook Sanctuary.  You’ll know because of the chain link fence that follows you on the right for about a mile.  In the middle of this mile, you walk past the gated entrance as well as the connector trail into the Lost Brook Preserve to the west, which has an extensive set of trails, albeit without any of the vistas you get on the LP.

The junction with the Huyler’s Landing Trail is a welcome sight of an old friend from the previous hike.  This time we’re going down.  At the landing, I spent a little time, re-hydrating and cooling off some.  It’s quite an isolated spot, although you do get some power boats whizzing by from time to time.

Huyler's Landing

Huyler's Landing

Once recharged, I proceeded south on the Shore Trail.  This section seemed a bit less dark and oppressive than the run from the Alpine Boat Basin on Sunday.  There are more river views and a bit less overgrowth.  It’s 3.3 miles to the Englewood Boat Basin and the exit trail back up to the LP.  For the first couple of miles, the trail is pretty sandy with easy, flat walking.  On this day my progress was slowed by the abundant raspberry bushes which were covered with ripe berries.  I stopped at least a dozen times to grab a handful.

There are two waterfalls along this section, Greenbrook and Lost Brook Falls.  However, since it’s not rained much lately, the former was down to a trickle, while the latter was bone dry.  I have seen the Greenbrook when it was running heavy, and it’s very nice, so someplace to think of when we get bombed with rain again–or maybe even better, in winter after a big snowfall!

Greenbrook Falls, down to a Trickle

Greenbrook Falls, down to a Trickle

There are also two “docks” interspersed between the falls, Lambier’s and Powder Docks, which are little more than a pile of rocks extending 50 feet into the river with various clumps of debris scattered about.

Shortly before the Undercliff Picnic Area, I walked passed a simply amazing section of these orange flowers coming from the rocks and scores of butterflies flying in and out of them.  Unfortunately, I am not a botanist nor a entomologist, so I don’t know what these are, but they sure looked nice:

ShortlyButterfly & Flower

Butterfly & Flower

I took some short videos of these creatures, and it is a poor representation of them because (a) I’m a lousy videographer, and (b) they move very fast.  But you can get some idea; just imaging a hundred of them all around you!

Video: Butterflies on the Hudson

Shortly after you leave the flutterbys behind, you will hit the Undercliff Picnic Area.  This is a nice little spot on the river with ruins of a former bathhouse from the days when people actually swam in the Hudson like we do at Jones Beach these days.

Bathhouse Ruins at Undercliff

Bathhouse Ruins at Undercliff

I wasn’t trying to get all artsy-fartsy with this pic, but the sun was right above the ruins and I had some limited angles.

As you approach the Englewood Boat Basin, you can see the Henry Hudson Bridge across the way that spans the Harlem River from Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx to Innwood in Manhattan.   (Innwood Park, BTW, is an amazing place that I hope to cover in some future post.)  On this day, as I had spent some extra time picking raspberries and being hypnotized by butterflies, I opted for the “high tide” route of the shore trail, even though it was clearly low tide.  This brings you onto Henry Hudson Drive and gives you an extra hundred feet or so of altitude when you start to climb up from the Boat Basin.

The route out is the Dyckman Hill Trail, a very nicely-built set of stone ramps and steps that comes up along a small waterfall.  Since I shortcut up to the drive on this leg, I did not get the pleasure of the full ascent–that would have to wait for my next trip.  At the top, you’re right at the entrance to the PIP, but the sign for the Long Path is obvious and you trudge back to the Rockefeller Lookout, with darn little to see that you’ve not already peeked at earlier from better vantage points.  OK, so maybe I was getting a bit tired.

Loop C: Dyckman Hill to Carpenters Trail

A few days later it seemed logical to continue the theme here with a third loop, this time starting from the Englewood Boat Basin, up to the LP, then south to Carpenters Trail and back along the shore.  All of this was old territory to me, but I had only a short time this day, and no inspiration, so I figured it would at least make for a better blog post.

As with its Alpine cousin, the PIPC charges you $5 to park at then Englewood Boat Basin, but hey, they can use the dough, and it’s only a finn.  It also fits in well with my tactical philosophy of doing the hard part first when you’re still fresh.  It was a pretty hot day, as the others had been, so best to get the steep out of the way early.  When you park at the Basin, you get a nice clear shot across the river at the aforementioned Henry Hudson Bridge and Innwood Park.

Henry Hudson Bridge & Innwood Park

Henry Hudson Bridge & Innwood Park

The Dyckman Hill Trail can be picked up at the picnic area, or just go back up the road a bit and you will catch the yellow blazes on the stone walls.  It is a wonderful construction of stone blocks that ease you up the hill for the first part, followed by elegantly wide steps for the steep bits.  (The phrase, They don’t build ‘em like that anymore, came to mind.)  There is a stream which rolls downhill, becoming a waterfall in some places, which was even running a bit although it’s been pretty dry here of late.  It’s really not a bad climb, closer to 300 ft. in this part, and the footing is excellent.  At the top, go south (left) on the LP, and re-encounter our old bugbear, the Palisades Parkway.

There is a little spur almost immediately to an overlook, then back onto the PIP track.  At St. Peter’s College (on your left, separated by a chain link fence), you get a very interesting shot through the trees of what I am pretty sure is the Whitestone Bridge, which connects the Bronx to Queens on Long Island:

Whitestone Bridge from St. Peter's College

Whitestone Bridge from St. Peter's College

If you have binoculars and shift yourself around on the path a bit, I believe you can also pick out the Throggs Neck Bridge a bit further to the east.  This is about a 10-mile view.

A little more walking brings you to a little hidden gem called Allison Park.  The plaque on a boulder near the edge of the cliff explains the origin of this place:

Allison Park, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Allison Park, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

This is a quiet little spot, cut off by the PIP, with unobstructed views of the river, benches, rest rooms, and a water fountain.  (If you were to do a long, southerly hike along the LP, you could do worse than to stop here for a break.)

As we’re approaching the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, that structure looms in all our views.  Directly across the river is yet another Manhattan treasure, Fort Tryon Park and the tower of the Cloisters (I’ll save the GWB pic for later):

Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan

Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan

The LP continues on uneventfully, with occasional overlooks.  The Ross Dock in Fort Lee is our target below, and we get to see it from above from a nice pulpit near the end of our LP journey.

Ross Dock, Fort Lee, NJ

Ross Dock, Fort Lee, NJ

Of course the graffiti on the rocks enhances the view so much.  Kudos to our resident mutants!  This is a good spot to take a few snaps of the GWB, opened according to Wikipedia in 1931, the bridge with the most vehicular traffic in the world, 4th longest suspension bridge in the US (was first in the world until 1937, now 20th), and oh yes, a perpetual choke point of the NY Metropolitan Area.  That said, I think this is a pretty nice photo of the bridge–I guess I got lucky:

The George Washington Bridge

The George Washington Bridge

Shortly after these vistas, the Carpenters Trail comes in first on the right, from its journey under the PIP and its trailhead in Fort Lee.  The route down on the left comes a few steps later, and oddly, there’s no signpost for it.  Just look for a four-way intersection and take the hard left, almost a U-turn.  This is an exceptionally well-built trail that descends a very steep path down to the shore.  Not as elegantly appointed as the Dyckman Hill Trail we first took, but it has a much harder job of keeping you from falling off the Palisades, and it does it quite well:

Carpenters Trail

Carpenters Trail

BTW, you should not get the impression that this was some trail that in the bygone days, salt of the earth carpenters used to get up and down the cliffs to do their work of building this great nation of ours.  In fact, it’s named after the Carpenter Brothers Quarry, which, had it not been for the efforts George Perkins (he of Perkins Memorial Tower atop Bear Mountain), would have chopped up the entire length of the Palisades for trap rock.  (See the Palisades book in the References.)

Back at the river, we’ll go left and head back north.  If you have a few extra steps you want to take, it’s worth the half mile or so to follow the Shore Trail to the GWB for an impressive view of the span from its underside.  On this day the Ross Dock was very crowded with picnickers, but come back in the winter when it’s empty for a nice restful view of the NY skyline.

The trip back up the shoreline is uneventful and under a mile and a half.  This part differs from some of the more forlorn bits we did in the previous loops.  The crowds from the Ross Dock or Englewood tend to meander up and down the river, and the path is well traveled, as demonstrated by the raspberry bushes which were stripped pretty clean this Sunday compared to Wednesday’s cornucopia north of Englewood.  At several points along the way stone docks appear on your right with steps going down to the water, evidence of the days when the entire Hudson shore was heavily used for recreation before pollution turned it into a notorious waterway.  Near the end of the trip, an interesting little garden and bench with a plaque commemorating Dan Holovach sits on a quiet little beach with a nice view of Fort Tryon Park across the water:

Beach Garden

Beach Garden

The Boat Basin pops up around a corner, and you’re back to the car.

Summary

So there are the three loops.  The opposite shore regions roughly work out to Yonkers, the Bronx, and Manhattan for A, B, and C, respectively.  They can be combined for longer hikes, and Loop C could be extended to go all the way south to Fort Lee Historic Park, which would add another couple of miles.  The upper run of the Long Path provides more vistas because of the height, while the Shore Trail has much more varied attractions: beaches, waterfalls, docks, picnic areas, interesting flora and fauna, and no traffic noise!  At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve hit all of the Shore Trail at one time or another.  If you want to be a Shore Trail completist, be aware that north of the Forest View Trail (the last connector trail in NJ) are the Giant Stairs.  This is a poorly-named section of boulders quarried off the cliff that pour down straight into the river that is a strenuous rock scramble.  There was a sign in the Stateline Lookout restaurant I saw last week that indicated the Giant Stairs were closed for now due to instability.  Should they be re-opened, be aware that it is not something to be attempted on a rainy or icy day.  Although well-blazed it is still tricky.  The half-mile run will take at least an hour, and it will be a workout.

The run from the GWB up to the NY state line is about 11 miles.  The Shore Trail ends there, but the Long Path continues on into Rockland County because it is… well… long.  It continues along the Palisades as they turn inland near Haverstraw, and keeps on going through Harriman Park and onward.  The run along the river is probably the most dramatic part of the LP until you get up to the Shawangunks.

A One-Year Update

Went back to Loop B on 7  July 2013, particularly to check out the butterfly situation.  Hurricane Sandy that roared through in the Fall of 2012 seems to have somewhat nailed the site with the orange flowers.  There were still a good number of the butterflies, but the bushes with the flowers seem to have been upset a bit by the storm.  The flowers were not as plentiful, and the insects seemed a bit reduced, although there was another spot a bit to the south that also had quite a few of them, albeit without the flowers.

One other nature note:  last year’s trip on 4 July reported abundant raspberries along the trail.  This year on 7 July, the bushes seem like they are just about to pop.  Only got a few of the early birds.

Storm King SP, Crow’s Nest — Nov. 13, 2010

Info

  • Map: West Hudson Trails, Map 113, NY/NJ TC
  • Trails: Howell (blue), Stillman Spring (white)
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: a few miles
  • Time: a couple of hours
  • Exertion: strenuous to start, then moderate afterward

Getting There

Take the Palisades Parkway to the Bear Mountain Bridge circle, then head north on 9W.  Take the second exit for Rte. 218 N.  (You can take the first, but you will have to slog through some town streets.  The first exit is for the West Point Visitor’s Center–a fine diversion on its own, but stay on 9W if you can.)  Once on 218, you’re actually going through USMA territory, so don’t be tempted to pull over and bushwhack.  Once you go past the Lee Gate on the right (blocked with boulders), start looking for a parking area on your right.  As I recall, there’s a small one first, and then the “real one” in a few hundred feet.  The start of the Howell Trail is directly across the street, as well as the start of the Stillman Spring Trail.  It looks like this:

Trailhead, Howell and Stillman Spring Trails

Be warned: as I found out on a follow-up hike a couple of weeks later, for a few days after a heavy rain Rte. 218 is closed because of the danger of rock slides.  There will be a sign as soon as you get off Rte. 9W that the road is closed.  I suppose you can find this out from some local resource, or else wait for a dry spell.

The Hike

Trying to reduce the backlog here, I dug out my notes and pics for a hike I took in the late autumn of last year.  This goes up a mountain known as the Crow’s Nest in Storm King Mountain SP.  Storm King Mountain itself is right next door, and has some nice trails as well, but this hike is a quickie and has some very nice views of the Hudson, looking north to Newburgh.  (You will not get a view of West Point, in case you were curious, but there are other hikes that will provide this.)

Getting to the top of the mountain is a a bit of a hump, but it is another good bang for the buck.  My time to get to the top was about 45 minutes, and I did take a number of pictures, so I was not racing.  Curiously, the views as you are going up are better than what you can see from the actual summit, so be sure to enjoy the scenery on your way up.  E.g. here’s a shot across the river with Breakneck Ridge from about halfway up.  (That big hole in the mountain is an old quarry.)

Breakneck Ridge on the Hudson, from Crow's Nest

A bit further up you get a nice look at Pollepel Island, upon which the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle can be seen.  (This is a nice tour my sister took us on a few years ago; it leaves from Newburgh.)  That’s the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge there, although only Newburgh is in the shot, on the left:

Pollopel Island and Newburgh-Beacon Bridge

Pollopel Island and Newburgh-Beacon Bridge

The Catskills are in the background.  I’m guessing about a 40 mile view here.  It was a very nice day as far as the air and temperature were concerned.  The foliage was well past “peak,” but I’m not primarily a leaf-peeper anyway.  As I said, getting to the top is a bit of a letdown, although I did get a nice shot of the park’s eponymous mountain and its eponymous highway (AKA Rte. 218) here from the North Point of Crow’s Nest:

Storm King Mountain and Highway

Storm King Mountain and Highway

There is also a nice big boulder, AKA a glacial erratic for those who want to confuse, right on the summit.  Comes in handy on a windy day if you want to sit and absorb the view for a bit.

Several years ago when I first hiked this mountain, it was soon after a forest fire, and the summit looked something like a moonscape, with fallen black and gray logs strewn all about and no real vegetation to speak of.  Now you can still see plenty of dead logs, and there are only a few small trees and bushes, but the entire summit is grass-covered, and on the way back.

Now of course the smart thing to do once you get to the top is to continue on the Howell Trail until it intersects the Stillman Spring Trail in the clove between Storm King and Crow’s Nest.  This will loop you back to the car in well under an hour.  It’s not a very scenic walk, but it’s quiet and secluded.  Since I already did this before, I tried to locate an unmarked trail that the map indicates should intersect the Howell Trail in the clove.  On the way up I had noticed that the Howell took a sharp left at one point to join what looked like a woods road.  The map indicates that this is the continuation of the unmarked trail, so it seemed like it would be easy to find its opposite end at the top of the clove.  But despite going back and forth a few times, I was unable to find any obvious trail junction or cairn.  So I went off the trail at some point that I thought might be a good way down, but I really could not find anything that indicated there was a trail, and I wound up bushwhacking the entire way down.

When you get to the bottom you can view the Stillman Memorial where the car was parked:

Stillman Memorial

Stillman Memorial

As mentioned above, a few weeks later I tried to get back and follow the unmarked trail from the lower point at the start of the Howell trail, but I was thwarted by the closure of Rte. 218.  My attempt to get into the trail loop from the parking area on 9W north of the 218 exit via the Bobcat Trail was thwarted by the cold weather and my inappropriate outerwear.  One of these days I will find this hidden route and place a cairn at the junction.

Harriman, The Timp — Oct. 30, 2010

Info

  • Map: Harriman Park — North Half, NY/NJ TC
  • Trails: 1777, Timp-Torne, Ramapo-Dunderberg
  • Type: Modified out-and-back
  • Distance: a few miles; time: about two hours

Getting There

Park at the hiker’s lot on US 9W, less than a mile north of where Cty Rte 118 comes out.  The lot is on the right if you are going north, and there are no signs indicating this is a trailhead lot, but it’s pretty big as these things go, although I think there’s an abandoned truck or car there for keeps.  To get to the trailhead for the 1777, carefully cross 9W and head north for a little bit and you can see the red plastic blazes with 1777 on them.

The Hike

I like the Timp, which is a peak within Harriman that provides a tremendous bang for the buck.  By that I mean, with a little exertion, you can be at the top of this cliff in under an hour with a great view, and (depending on the weather and crowds) find a great spot to sit and contemplate your existence.  For history nuts like me, it’s also a chance to traipse through a path that those British lobsterbacks did in 1777, on their way to capture Forts Montgomery and Clinton on the Hudson.  When you first hit the trail, there’s a nice little sign board describing the history of this trail (as well as the 1779 trail, which is not part of this hike):

Historical 1777 Trail

This hike only goes over a small bit of the historic trail, so the first goal is to reach the blue-blazed Timp-Torne trail, so named because it runs over two major peaks in the park, the Timp and Popolopen Torne, for a distance of almost 11 miles.  Today we just want to get up to the Timp and back because we have food shopping to do later.

About a half mile up the 1777, there is an unmarked trail, the Jones Trail, that comes in from the right.  I’ve come down this trail a couple of times to hit the 1777, but on this day it seemed impossible to find, both on my way up and my way back.  It’s relatively easy to pick up from the Timp-Torne trail if you start from there further north on 9W, but it was not revealing itself to me this day.  There was a cairn on the 1777 trail approximately where the Jones should have been, but there was no obvious trail to see there.

After missing the Jones, you skirt above Tompkins Lake, which can only be seen when the leaves are gone, and just barely.  This looks like a nice little community pond, and there is a clear path that seems to lead down there, but I’m not big into invading other people’s private property.  After this point, the trail gets steeper and rocky, so it’s time to bear down and make some altitude.  If you push, you can probably hit the T-T in about 15 minutes.  There’s a big rock in the middle of the trails’ intersection, so you can’t miss it.  Hang a left here and take the T-T west over some more rocky stuff.

The trail map shows a vista star less than a half mile in from here, right around the junction with the unmarked Red Timp trail (which I’ve never walked since it leads into a Girl Scout camp which does not want hikers strolling through).  There is a viewpoint here, although on this particular day, it was a bit cloudy.  You can see NYC from here, but this is not the big view.  A little more plugging, and you’re at the top.

The Timp has about a 270-degree view.   The view to the south-east is blocked by trees, but you can see the river to the north, and all around counter-clockwise to the south.  Here’s the best shot I got on this day, when the autumn leaves were maybe a bit past peak:

Atop the Timp, Looking North

Through the trees on the right you can see the Bear Mountain Bridge.  Curiously, the BMB held the title of longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1924.  That lasted for just over a year and a half, when the Ben Franklin Bridge between Camden and Philadelphia was opened.  (Both bridges I’ve had the pleasure of driving over many times!)  We’ll probably get a closer look at the BMB in future posts, but here’s a picture I took while walking over it this September (looking north):

Bear Mountain Bridge, Looking North

Like I said, the views from the Timp are worth stopping to enjoy.  You can see the Perkins Memorial tower atop Bear Mountain:

Perkins Memorial Tower on Bear Mountain from the Timp

Perkins Memorial Tower on Bear Mountain from the Timp

This day, the wind was a little tough, although moving to the north side of the peak and taking a few steps down into the rocks cut down the wind quite a bit.  The colors were nice, if not stunning, but that was mostly due to the light.  After a nice contemplative rest, I headed back down the T-T, but took the split for the Ramapo-Dunderberg trail to avoid retracing my steps.  This crosses the 1777, within sight of the T-T, so you just hang a right and pick up your return path.  If you are adventurous, you can go left on the T-T trail when when you hit it and then try to pick up that Jones trail on the right after a mile and a half.  But since I was on the express, I just backtracked on the 1777 and got back to the car pretty quickly.

This was a nice, short hike with some good views, and nothing too strenuous.

Mount Marcy, Sept. 11, 2010

Arrival

I arrived in Lake Placid the day before (the 10th), staying at the Lakeview Motor Lodge—not as hokey as it sounds, actually a pretty comfortable place with a nice view of Mirror Lake off my balcony.  Stocked up at the local Price-Cutters and got to bed early, after dining on a Subway Veggie Delite ©, although I was a little leery of what effect this might have on intestinal activity whilst on the trail.

Mirror Lake, Lake Placid Village

Mirror Lake, Lake Placid Village

I did not sleep well.  I guess I was anxious about the hike, so I woke up around 5-ish, tried to get back to  sleep, but could not.  I was on the road by 7:00, with two granola bars and a cup of the in-room coffee (yuk) for breakfast, but a backpack full of trail mix, beef jerky, cheese and crackers, grapes, blackberries (which were awful as it turned out), Fritos corn chips, and more granola bars.

The Climb Up

I parked at the Adirondack Loj [sic] around 7:30.  I had scouted the place out the day before, and decided to invest in the $10 parking fee, thus cutting 0.6 mi out of my round trip instead of parking along some dirt road in front of the Loj, as one blogger had suggested.  Turns out, I would have gladly paid $50 by end-of-day to cut out the 0.6 mi., so kudos to me for making the non-stingy-bastard choice.

I scoped out the grounds of the Loj, whose parking lot was about half full, with plenty of folks about, and got on the trail at 7:45.

The first stretch to Marcy Dam was nice going, even if the woods were a bit on the dark and dreary side.  The trail was well-pounded down, and had no tough ups or downs.  So far, so good.  Got to Marcy Dam at 8:45.  This is only about 2.2 mi, so I was not thrilled with my progress—I like to do 3 MPH if possible when the terrain is easy—but I knew it was going to be a long slog, so 2+ MPH would be OK.  At the Dam, there was a nice view of a pond and some mountains, but it was not Chateau Lake Louise by any stretch!  I did find it interesting that Marcy Dam seems to be build from logs, so I wonder how they can keep that thing in place.

Lake at Marcy Dam

After the Dam, it’s a not-so-bad climb up a rocky part.  I thought I was doing OK, leap-frogging other hiking teams, as they did me.  A DEC ranger powered by me on the trail with an ax in his backpack.  He was a young guy, who would pass later me on his way back down, well before I was close to Marcy peak.  By 9:35, I was crossing a footbridge over Phelps Brook, and this is where the easy terrain ended.  I didn’t know it then, but now, besides a continuous, unrelenting UP (which I expected), the ground would be rocky, wet, muddy, and just  generally unpleasant for walking.

A large portion of the trail from here on in was arguably a stream bed, because flowing water was constantly coming down the trail, making puddles, slippery rocks, and mud pits all along the way.  By 10:20 I was at Indian Falls, which was the only other landmark of note until the summit.  Not much of a falls, as these things go, but the view of the Mount Colden and Algonquin Peak was very nice, and it was a good place to sit and have a snack.  I was tired, but still raring to go.

Top of Indian Falls

So, more rocky, wet, muddy, slippery, up, up, up.  I’m lucky if I made 1 MPH at this point—turns out that’s about all I was doing.  At 11:24, I got to a junction with the Hopkins trail, and I could see Mt. Marcy for the first time from the little clearing there.

Still 1000 Feet Up to Go!

The sign tells me I have 1.2 miles to go, but I guesstimate that although I might have only 1/7th the miles left, I have about 1/3rd of the altitude to gain, so I’m not optimistic.

Almost There?

So now, in addition to the water, mud, and rocks, I now have to deal with prospect of gaining 1000 vertical feet in 1 mile.  The last 0.6 mi is really where the terrain gets steep, but in some way, it’s a welcome break from the water and the mud, and you’re in the sunshine finally after being entombed in the dense forest for the last four hours.

If I’d had any energy left at all, I would have relished this rock scramble, above the tree line, following only cairns and yellow blazes painted on the rocks, but I was exhausted.  I could do no more that a hundred or two linear feet without needing to rest.  There were lots of people at this point—some on their way down (bastards!), some, like me, agonizing their way up.  Some seemed as genuinely beat as I, which made me feel a little better, since they were about 25-35 years younger than me, but pride was in the backseat of my emotions at this point.  All I wanted was the summit, which I got to at 12:25.

Finally!

At the Summit

It was like a little city up there; I estimated 50 to 70 people.  This was a perfect day, weather-wise, and I guess everyone else in the area had figured this out as well.  So, well, OK, this was something else I’d expected.  It’s a large, denuded summit, so I found a nice little depression in the rock, collapsed, and had lunch.  It was a little cold, with the wind at my back, but once I put on a jacket, I was fine, laying there, eating my meal of hiker’s delicacies, listening to some Beethoven on my iPod.

All along the summit, there were little plots of vegetation roped off to keep people from stepping on them.  I’m not sure how effective this is, since it wasn’t so much “roped off” as “stringed off,” but people seemed for the most part to be respecting this.  (Unlike two months before on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, where it seemed all the signs in the world couldn’t keep the Great American Public from traipsing through the shrubbery.  I guess one of the differences was that on Cadillac, almost everyone had driven to the summit, while on Marcy, that was not an option.)

I strolled around the summit, which is large–a good thing considering the lunch hour population I encountered.  There is a metal plaque memorializing the 100 year anniversary of the first ascent in 1837.  This plaque seemed to be a good spot to take a self-photo, for which I asked a fellow hiker to assist me in.  The resulting picture is, putting it mildly, not among my best.  My total exhaustion is shining through, and I was so numb that I forgot I had my ear buds in, but at least I took off my goofy hat.

Proof of Life

There’s an obvious “top of the top” section, which I made sure I stepped upon, then made sure I’d taken photos of the entire 360°.  I could see the ski jumps from Lake Placid as well as the village.  It was sobering to realize how far I would have to walk back to get to the car.

At the Summit

The Slog Down

I left the summit around 1:15.  While the vista deserved more time, after a while one gets so sated with mountain’s majesty, that you run out of awe.  I was also feeling the effects of the climb, the wind, and probably the altitude, and decided that some lower point on the mountain might improve a malaise I realized had come upon me.  Also, in the back of my mind was the Marcy trip of my son’s chemistry teacher, who had broken an ankle on the descent the year before.  After seeing the terrain on the way up, I was aware of how easy a that kind of mishap might be, and I wanted plenty of time to navigate the rocks, mud, and water.

The descent down the treeless section was very dicey, with me needing to slide down on my ass in a few sections.  It was very slow going until I hit the treeline.  There were still a number of people coming up, and I tried to lend them some encouragement, although I’m not sure I was very convincing.  Once back in the woods, the hike became a monotonous replay of the hike up, with the gasping for air replaced by pain in my feet, knees, and ankles as I slid over the boulders and battled gravity to stay upright.

By the time I reached the junction with the Hopkins trail, and that first view of Marcy, it was 2:15.  That meant it had taken me as long to go down the 1.2 mi. as it had going up.  Any hope that I had of making good time on the return had just gone out the window.  The good news was that the lethargy I’d felt at the summit had gone away.  Now it was just a question of plugging away.

I reached Indian Falls an hour later, at 3:15—still pretty slow going.  On the way up, two guys who had been leap-frogging me had had a conversation about whether they should leave the short detour to the falls for the return trip.  It was a good thing I decided take it then, otherwise I probably would have just blown on by the the falls on the way back.  I wanted down and back, no detours, thank you.  I didn’t take a single photo on the descent.

At 3:50, I’d hit the wooden bridge over Phelps Brook.  This was arguably the worst terrain of the return trip.  It had been no picnic on the way up, but with gravity looking to make you fall at every step, and the saturation of almost every part of the trail, it became an episode in what I called “Rock Dancing,” i.e. how to find the next step that would not cause me to (a) fall on my ass, (b) break my ankle, like my son’s teacher had done on this stretch, or (c) kill myself.  I’d had a notion to listen to some podcasts on the way down, but the mental effort needed to maintain my footing made me realize I couldn’t possibly follow a narrative.  After the bridge the Rock Dancing continued, although the trail was a little wider, a (very) little dryer, and there were some patches of bare dirt into which one might place a foot carefully and eliminate the chance of slipping.

But it was now about 8 hours in, 3300 feet climbed, a dozen or so miles, and the tank was empty.  Every step, even on the slightly more forgiving section along the brook, hurt.  Some of my problem was my pack.  It had probably weighed 25 pounds when I put it on, and for some reason, I had not drunk as much water as I thought I would.  By my reckoning, I still had a liter in my camelback, and I was forcing myself to drink all the way down.  I dumped the 750 ml. bottle in the side pocket of the pack, figuring that worst case, I’d use the filter bottle I’d brought for backup.

Marcy Dam came into sight at 4:30.  This was a welcome point for two reasons.  First, I got to sign out at the register, so this was a definitive step to ending this hike.  Second, I knew the trail would be much gentler from here on in, if not always descending.  Frankly, after the punishment of the downgrade, I was looking forward to a little upgrade—just a little, though.  I sat down at the edge of the Dam for a few minutes, trying to drink some more water and eat a little.  I was neither hungry nor thirsty, but I knew that I should keep stuff going in.  I’d only peed twice on the trip, early on the way up, and soon after coming off the summit.  So things were not working great in the GI area.

The last stretch was the longest two miles of my life.  I kept telling myself that it was only 2/3rds of the way around Rockland Lake, a 3-mile loop I’ve done maybe 100 times.  Of course, it’s flat and paved, so I can walk it at 4 MPH, but I figured maybe I could get to 3 MPH on this stretch and not need an entire hour to get back to the car.  It was not to be.  Although I did regain some of my speedy pace near the end, and actually passed 3 or 4 other groups, it seemed like the signposts were lying and I was traveling a whole lot more than two miles.

Whatever it was, I managed to trudge off the trail, into the parking lot around 5:30.  I imagine it must be fun to sit at the Adirondack Loj and watch these wretches come off the trail.  An experienced observer can probably tell who the neophytes are by seeing the wobbly legs that we have after we walk from the registration kiosk and look at the paradise of autos before us.

Back at my car, I barely had the energy to enjoy sitting down on something soft, taking off my boots, and opening a fresh bottle of water.  I didn’t linger, but got out of the Loj parking lot urgently.  On the road out I could see the cars of the cheapskates parked along the approach to South Meadow Road, and thanked my stars that I had been willing to part with the tenner for the lot.

Reflections

First, I’m glad I did this.  It was grueling, tedious, and at times nerve-wracking, but it was an opportunity to do something moderately notable.  Despite the number of people at the summit, it’s not something very many people get to do, nor a place in this world very many people get to visit, so yea, I would do it over if I could roll back the clock.

That said, I think it may be some time, or another lifetime, before I walk across Marcy’s rocky summit again.  The vista was great, although my ability to fully appreciate it may have been compromised by my exhaustion.  The summit aside, it’s not really a very appealing hike.  The terrain and ascent aside, it’s 7 hours of being buried in the woods, with two ancillary viewpoints (Marcy Dam and Indian Falls), neither of which can be in anyone’s Top Ten list.

Although I lucked out with the weather, the price was hiking in a relative “crowd.”  While probably not as bad as a weekend in the heart of the summer, there were still too many people to make the hike notable for any sense of wilderness.  Given its prominence, I accepted this; the highest point in the most populous state in the nation is unlikely to be deserted on any but the most brutal of days.  Given that the following two days (the ones I originally targeted for the ascent but abandoned due to the weather report) would have had me rained or hailed upon, as well as rewarded with a cloud-covered summit, I gratefully accepted the mini-city I found on the top and slopes of Mount Marcy.

This was a stretch for me as a hiker, because of the distance and height, and because I had not been consistently hiking in the last year or so as I had in the past.  I knew I was up for some agony, but had deluded myself into thinking it might be not so bad, in part due to some needlessly nonchalant blogs about the hike I’d read before my trip.  Marcy is not Mount McKinley, but it’s not Breakneck Ridge—the most challenging hike in the Hudson Valley—either.  It’s another notch up from that.  I suppose you can always find a taller, badder mountain after you struggle up your last challenge, until you get to Everest, but I have no interest in that, or McKinley, or anything even remotely in that neighborhood.

But to me, hiking is more than just distance and altitude.  It’s a combination of the land, the location, the scenery, and the quiet.  It’s an odd calculus to think that I struggled for almost 9 hours to enjoy 45 minutes of a great view.  Is the top of Marcy more inspiring than the top of Mount Taurus on the Hudson?  Maybe—probably, but I can get to the top of Mount Taurus in 2 hours and feel a damn sight better than I did atop Marcy. So IMHO, Marcy’s ROI is debatable.  The physical benefit of the exercise seems to be evened out by the risk of injury plus the punishment to my feet.  I went back to my hotel in a kind of daze and spent the night with some odd fever and chills that went away the next day.  I’m not sure what exactly my body was telling me, but I might have been something like, “Don’t do this to me again!”

Based on my observations of the fellow hikers I encountered on the trail, there surely are things I can do to help my body out the next time I try to do something like this.  First, I need to train a bit better.  I was not in poor condition, but neither was it optimal.  Also, those sissy ski poles I saw people using on a trail such as that Van Hoevenberg Trail up Marcy, are definitely useful.  I carried an old 5′ stick taped with tennis racket grip, and while I love my stick, something lighter and one for each arm might have been a big help, especially on the way down.  (I was frankly astonished at several young hikers who sped past me on the way down, several women among them, who had no poles whatsoever.  I have no idea how they could make it over those rocks at that pace!)

On an historical note, my trip took place just under 99 years from the day (Sept 12th, although different accounts put the date on the 13th), that Teddy Roosevelt hiked up Mt. Marcy.  On his descent he stopped at Lake Tear of the Clouds for a late lunch.  (This small lake is the source of the Hudson River.)  Before he could dig into his lunch, a mountain guide caught up with his group to hand Roosevelt a telegram informing him that President McKinley, who had been shot on Sept. 6th in Buffalo, but had been making a good recovery, had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to live.  Roosevelt then began a mad dash on foot, wagon, coach, and train to get to Buffalo.  By the time he arrived, of course, McKinley was already dead, and Roosevelt had become president before he had even left the Adirondacks.

Coda

I spent the next day strolling around Lake Placid.  I took a kayak from the hotel onto Mirror Lake, but had to come back after about 30 minutes due to rain.  I walked the path around Mirror Lake, which has pavement stones every few hundred feet with the High Peaks names and heights.  Here’s the one for Marcy:

I also checked out the Olympic Ski jumps and John Brown’s farm State Historical Site.  (Both recommended!)

Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jump

I was pretty beat up, but nothing like the night before.  The next day I headed home, stopping off for a short hike in a place called Snake Den Harbor north of Westport, NY on Lake Champlain.  Just as I got the to the cliff overlooking the lake, it started to rain, and I walked back to the car, soaking wet.  This was the best picture I could get:

Lake Champlain at Snake Den Harbor

I liked the Westport train station, shown here:

Westport, NY Train Station

Just to cap off the trip, I ran into the most intense hail storm I’d ever been in on the Northway just south of Lake George.  Here’s the video I took when I pulled over to wait until I could see:

Hail Storm on Northway