Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Long "White" Path

The last bit of driving to Rt 23 at Windham was under winter conditions with plows out salting the road and pushing the 2 inches of snow off the road.  My friend Bob met Chris and I at the parking lot where the LP crossed Rt. 23 and the Escarpment trail ended.  Bob lives in the area and shuttled us to the beginning of our hike at Dutcher's Hollow trail head.  After seeing how far he drove us, he said we were crazy to do this in the snow.  We thought he may be right, but this was our opportunity to hike the 15 miles up and over Black Head and Windham high peaks prior to the full winter covering the area and making it near impossible to continue on until the spring melt.
We headed up the access trail and the snow covered rocks and made it slippery.  There was no ice, so the micro-spikes in my pack were not going to help here.  We soon passed two armed hunters that looked like mountain men with rifles.  They were looking for Bear.  Soon after we heard a shot ring out below. We wondered what they shot at, and hoped they were not aiming uphill. Next, we saw fresh paw prints, probably a bob cat.  We arrived at Dutcher Hollow and reconnected with the LP.  Chris was a bit anxious about Blackhead, especially the North side. The trail book describes it as:  "The Long Path drops precipitously down the north face of Blackhead, plunging over ledges in one of the steepest descents in the Catskills."  With most likely over 4 inches of fresh snow up there, we knew this would be tough day. Up we climbed and the snow did get deeper at the higher elevations.  Towards the top, I was pushing through 6 inches of fresh snow.  I wished I invested in "gators" because my pants and boots were getting cold and soaked.  It was suddenly colder up here, like in the mid 20's. We walked by four backpackers who camped the prior night just below the 3500' mark on a nice flat shoulder area.  
Chris on top of Blackhead Mt.
The surrounding pine trees were beautiful with fresh snow
We made the summit but there were no views due to the heavy fog. Next, we headed down the foggy abyss called the North side.  I was in the lead and relied heavily on my poles as we snaked down the steep cuts in a precipitous descent. We made it down the worst part, but soon after I tripped up with lost footing an fell headfirst in a crash down into several rock. Only my pride was hurt and Chris helped me up as I was unceremoniously lodged between the rocks.  He took the lead as I worked down behind him and nursed my bruised ego.  We continued down and still leaning heavily on the poles, I unexpectedly crashed again.  Chris kindly reminded me to use the poles downhill. I said I thought I did, and as I lifted my right pole we saw it was broken in half and useless.  My first fall must have damaged the pole, and it's collapse led to my second hard fall.  Chris tucked the pieces in my pack and we moved on, with me going slower on only one pole for support.  We soon past a group of day hikers going up the trail and we chatted about how "snotty" the trail was up slope, but it was easier going up than down.  We both breathed a sigh of relief when we finally got to the bottom saw the yellow-blazed Batavia Kill Trail to the left. I was pretty psyched up and it was a hell of an adventure getting up and down Blackhead in fresh snow.
We made it over Blackhead!
We continued on without a break and the trail began a gradual climb up an unnamed knob and then up to Acra Point. We reached the point and were only greeted with grey clouds.  This day would hold no views and it was a bit of disappointment we joked about.  We took 10 minutes and ate, in our only real break for the day. We descended to the col junction between Acra Point and Burnt Knob and we met a backpacker reading a map.  The next junction said 5.2 miles to rt 23.  We already hiked over 9.5 challenging miles and it was a bit tough pill to swallow another long climb up a few knobs and then up and down Windham high peak.  Up we climbed and I'll admit I took shorter and shorter steps just to kept the legs moving uphill. We finally reach the Windham high peak summit and we hardly said anything except we both were relieved to be here.  The day was getting late. The descent from Windham seemed tame in comparison to Blackhead with well designed switchbacks and easier grades.  A brief view to highland farmlands to the west opened up on one point and we snapped a photo.
The only view of the day
(to the west )
I ended up on my butt a few more times as having only one pole meant if I slid out on the other side, I was going down.  This happened more than I'd like to admit, but I got up, brushed off the snow and continued on down slope each time. The trail suddenly entered magnificent grove of Norway spruce trees. In the late hour it was dark and foreboding, our equivalent of entering the land of Mirkwood in the Hobbit. The roots were large and twisted and the trees were amazingly tall.  This is a place I would love to revisit on a warm sunny day. We soon cross Elm Ridge Trail and see a lean to sitting under the pine.  This is really a great spot to camp and was the best lean to location I have seen to date on the LP. With 1.2 miles to go, in fading light we continue the pace and soon make Rt 23 in relative silence.  It was five PM and we could just see the cars in the dark and we made it with no room for error.  We congratulated each other for doing it.  I honestly admired Chris's determination and expertise as this day was incredibly tough on us both and he pulled at the lead for a considerable portion of the day and never once fell. Finishing this escarpment section now is a big milestone with the all the Catskill high peaks behind us, and gives us the ability to continue this winter over the lesser mountains to the North.

Trail Stats: 14.8 miles total with 12.9 miles on LP.  

December 15, 2012
Mt Haydon / Nebo View to the Northeast
Today’s goal was to hike LP sections 24 and 25 and end at South Mountain Rd in Conesville NY after starting at Rt 23 junction near Windham. Chris met me at the end of Forest rd after we both navigated from East Durham and altered course after experiencing a “bridge out” detour on Bush Rd. We then shuttled back to the Rt. 23 trail head by 9:20 AM. With the relatively short day and cold weather, getting a 14.3 mile hike completed required an early departure from NJ. I now find myself driving about 260 mile round trip, including shuttles, to hike here for a day. It is clearly more difficult logistically than before, which is why we are both trying to get the most miles in when we can. The newest edition (2010?) of the Northern Catskill map set contains a detailed map of the LP over these mountains. Turn the main map over, it is located on the back side in a small area near the top. I thank our fearless guide Chris for pointing that out. This map is the only accurate guide now and the trail we will follow. All other maps are obsolete, but there is a trail conference written update here:

Chris - resting on summit of Pisgah
Mt Richtmeyer views to
Blackhead range
Along section 25
The trail started parallel to Rt. 23 and was easy and we joked about how nice it was to hike something easier than Blackhead and Windham (those two pretty much kicked my butt last time out). We hiked up Jennie Rd and a Beaver pond was on the left. The trail became very steep going up to Jennie Notch and we soon reached the summit of Ginseng Mountain. We walked down the backside, some views of the valley below were present, but it was a bit hazy to see all the way to the Adirondacks (I really hoped to see them because it would be a mental milestone proving how far we've walked this year). We soon walked up to Barlow Notch and Mt. Haydon. It was at a good clip and we expended a lot of energy on the climb which seemed more difficult than I thought they would be (based on the old trail profile on the conference website). After crossing Cunningham rd near the end of Section 24, we were walking along a logging road and I completely missed a trail marker and we had to double back a short distance to reconnect to the trail. We soon crossed Rt 10, and began section 25. This was the section that the trail guide mentions an overgrowth of brambles. This ended up not being an issue in the winter time. The next climb was initially along some scenic escarpment rock and it turned into a steep climb to the top of Mt Pisgah which required another big push of energy. I almost hate to admit it, but at this stage all I could think about was I did nothing over the last two weeks except say “yes” to every rich meal and beverage that came my way. I was now sweating off this bloated, sloshing, excessive lifestyle to the point that even my outer wear (a fleece lined hoodie) was completely soaking wet. I laughed about it because I knew there was another huge Christmas party right after the hike and with it I would immediately restart my cycle of excess.  Appetizer? Yes! More Wine? Why, yes of course!  Even more great holiday food?  Absolutely YES!
Top of Forest Rd.
Big miles today
We reach the summit of Pisgah and were immediately surrounded by a grove of beautiful pines here. We broke for lunch in the col between Pisgah and Richtmeyer Peak. Nearby, at the top of Richtmeyer, I was able to take some photos of the Blackhead range and the Devils Path beyond. We cleared a lot of deadwood branches from the trail as we plodded forward and made an effort to assist in maintaining the trail. Chris said only one maintainer was handling abut 45 miles, so we wanted to help in any way possible. Since no good deed goes unpunished, I later realized I lost my good pair of sunglasses somewhere on this section when clearing deadwood. Hopefully the next hiker is rewarded by finding them since it made no sense to expend the energy to backtrack and find them. We soon after came upon a woods road, which immediately dumped us into a majestic grove of towering Norway Spruce trees. It was a very healthy stand of trees and exited the bottom in the midst of a bubbling stream.

Clear cuts #2
Catskill Clear cuts
Forest Rd entrance (end of section 25)
We walked on a packed red dirt Bluebird forest road and exited to the right and into another pine grove. I decided I really love the pines on this hike and it was the best part of the day. The last section of the day was a steep uphill climb through a DEP section that was not very well thought out in terms of being a fun hike. It seemed to focus on the borders/boundary line of a few tracts of land and we simply were walking up the steep edge. I started uphill in long strides, and instantly twisted with a terrible cramp in my inner thigh. It actually brought me crashing down to the ground in withering pain as the muscle group completely knotted to the point of tearing.  Upon seeing my contorted face and how I was holding my leg, Chris suggested it was the abductor muscle (the one that has a special machine (leg spreader) in the gym dedicated to it). He reminded me with a hopeful smirk that I still had to walk out. We both know that even if hurt, you have to finish - no matter what. The cramp finally subsided and I shook it off.  I was ok to go on and just used shorter steps going up the hill. At the top of the hill we had to turn downhill on the forest road, which was cut through a grove of stellar pines. The road ended by the car a mile later.  We drove back over the mountain up Bluebird Rd.. Even though it was a dirt road it seemed well maintained. We saw clear cutting on the summit and tooks some photos. On the backside of the mountain facing Windham, there were beautiful dusk views of the Catskills.
Sunset to the south from Blueberry rd
Today’s hike was very scenic and most rewarding. I will admit I was also sore, cramped up and tired. We covered the 14.3 miles in about 6.5 hours, including breaks, so the pace was a bit fast for comfort but was the correct call. It gave us day light to cross the mountain on the dirt road and capture some incredible vistas to the North and South from the warmth of the car. I was so happy we did this one today. 
Trail Stats: 14.3 miles on the LP.
Current total:  While the end is clearly not in sight, we did complete 255 miles so far this year on the LP and accomplished something good. I hope to go again over the coming holidays for anyone interested in Section 26 and part of 27.

Link to Next LP Section: S Mountain Road to Mine Kill

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