Brundage Cat Ski Adventure

On March 23rd I had the opportunity to visit Idaho for a day of back country skiing in Payette National Forest. My friends invited me out and we rented a house for a couple of nights as well as a guided Cat Ski tour. The trip was run by Brundage Mountain’s Cat Ski Adventures. We were blessed with some gorgeous weather. For the most part we had crystal clear blue skies. This was really my introduction to Cat Skiing and I have to say, it has really made it hard for me to ever want to go back to a resort. One day of fresh pow pow without any tracks and it’s hard to ever go back to East Coast groomers.

Adirondack Winter Ascent On Whiteface Mountain

For the past four years I have been taking an annual trek to New York’s Adirondack State Park with New York Backpackers Meetup Group. This trip always takes place the weekend before Christmas when the group rents out the entire T-max and Topos Hostel in Lake Placid. Every year it turns out to be quite an adventure due to the unpredictable trail conditions resulting from the seasonal transition. In 2012 everything was covered in a one inch coat of ice. As a result, my friend Scott fell off a ledge on Armstrong Mountain and dislocated his shoulder. In 2013 temperatures hovered in the mid thirties and it rained all day. Once the sun set the temperature dropped creating freezing rain. This caused near hypothermic conditions for all on the hike. All good things come to those who wait and on December 20th, 2014, I was blessed with some of the clearest weather I have ever experienced in the Adirondacks. During the drive up on the night of 19th Scott and I agreed that we wanted a hike with a view and Whiteface and Esther Mountains seemed to foot the bill. After arriving at the Hostel, it turned out that three other people were intending on hiking up Whiteface and skiing down the resort. This opened up the opportunity for Scott and I to spot cars at Connery Pond and Wilmington Reservoir so that we could do a traverse of Whiteface and Esther between the two points.

We left the Hostel at 8:30 a.m. to proceed with the car spot. We had three cars in total, Scott’s was to be left at Wilmington Reservoir, Billy and Jill planed to leave theirs Whiteface Mountain Resort and George was to leave his at Connery Pond. Just before the Connery Pond trailhead George pulled over and announced that he left something back at his hotel room in Cascade Inn and needed to go back and get it. He asked if we could handle the car spot. I said yes, Billy, Jill, Scott and I proceeded to the resort where we figured out how to get over to the reservoir trailhead in Billy and Jill’s car. There we waited for George who eventually texted asking us where we were. After a phone call we determined that there was a communication failure and he was planning to meet us at the Resort. I had misunderstood thinking that we starting our traverse on the Reservoir side of the mountain. At this point it was approaching 10 a.m. So Scott and I decided to skip the traverse and just hike down the resort ski trails with the Skiers. We met George at Whiteface after some more difficulty because a parking lot attendant wouldn’t let us into the lot George was in. Eventually we picked up George and all crammed into Billy and Jills car where we headed to Connery Pond to start the hike.

By the time we were geared up wearing our snowshoes and ready to hike it was 11 a.m. This was turning into a late start for the shortest day of the year, but we were all very experienced and prepared hikers so we weren’t too concerned. Scott and I started off in front hiking the flat section of trail past Connery Pond. The trail was well broken by cross country skiers and we were able to hike the 3.5 miles to Whiteface bay in about an hour and 15 minutes. This left the three carrying the extra weight of skis in our dust. It was a beautiful crisp, crystal clear day with sun shining through snow covered branches. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather at the end of December.

It immediately became clear upon leaving the trail register at Whiteface Landing that the nicely broken trail was becoming less well established. Just a few pairs of snowshoe tracks were packed into the snow before us. This made the going somewhat more slow, but we were thankful that their was still a nice track to follow through the foot and half of fresh snow.

When we arrived at the Whiteface Brook shelter we were surprised to find it occupied by a lone camper who came in the night before. It was a cold, clear night on Friday with temperatures dropping down to approximately five degrees Fahrenheit. The camper hadn’t actually made to the lean-to on Friday. He had difficulty following the trail in the dark with no prints to follow so he pitched a tent near Whiteface Brook. He was pleasantly surprised that another group of people had a fire started over near Whiteface Landing so he spent a good bit of time warming himself there overnight. The three sets of tracks we had been following were actually only his as he doubled back between his tent and Whiteface landing. Much to our chagrin, the trail up the rest of the ascent to Whiteface summit had not broken. Scott and I would now have our work cut out for us. However, it was a beautiful day, so really, who cares.

From this point forward it was slow going as we put one foot in front of the other wearily breaking trail through what gradually became two feet of snow. The distance from the Whiteface Brook Shelter to the summit is only about 3.7 miles. We were only averaging about 1 mile an hour, though because there is an additional elevation gain here of 2772 feet. This climb was a painful process. We would hike, sometimes crawl up several feet and then the snow would give way causing us to slide back down the mountain. All the while the small trees above would rain snow down upon us. It became clear in the first half mile that I needed to put a raincoat on to try and stay dry in the freezing conditions. I have the unfortunate disadvantage of sweating profusely while exercising regardless of temperature so I almost never wear a coat whilst hiking. In this case, though, sweating under a raincoat seemed preferable to becoming soaked from falling snow.

The ascent was definitely a struggle. Through it all Scott and I kept saying, “This going to be totally worth it, the view today is going to be spectacular.” We got our first glimpse of the world below treeline at about 3,800 feet in elevation when we reached a small slide caused by a fallen tree. We could just make out some of the peaks through the trees confirming our belief that the day was just spectacular.

Perhaps after another third of a mile we finally reached treeline at a small rock scramble. From here we could see the world below. The Adirondack Great Range spread out before us in all of its glory. The mountains base were shrouded in low flying clouds giving us the impression that we were truly standing on top of the world. Scott and I took a short break here. We discussed the strong likelihood that our companions carrying ski gear had decided to turn around. Surely the low canopy of snow laden trees that had constantly been dumping their powder on us would ensnare the skis strapped to their packs and they would be forced to turn around. Meanwhile we were eating some dried mangos and taking some photos. The sugar from the mangos soon raged through our veins and we were invigorated to make the final push to the summit a quarter mile away. We could actually see the summit from this spot, but our ascent above treeline was far from over despite its short distance.

We debated removing our snowshoes as we started to climb the scramble, but decided to leave them on and see what lay ahead. It quickly became apparent that we made the right call because the trail above was shrouded in drifting snow, and there was not anymore rock scrambling to be done. Still the trail was difficult to follow above treeline because snow covered the yellow markers and there were no cairns to follow. We wandered aimlessly in a few spots following what we thought was the trail only to find ourselves enclosed in saplings 100 yards further up forcing us to backtrack and climb up once again.

Eventually we reached a DEC sign pointing us in the right direction and made the final push up to the summit. At this point I thought I heard screams behind me, but attributed to wind and paid it no mind. As we reached the actual summit which is complete with an observatory, I heard a distinct, “Wait for me!”

Much to my surprise I turned to find George hustling up the hill below us. I ran to the observatory building and through off my packing grabbing my camera and ran back to take a few shots of George as he made his final push up to the summit.

Conditions on summit really could not have been much better for the end of December. There was next to no wind on this day. As a result of our long, arduous, trail breaking climb we didn’t get to Summit until about 4:15. Therefore, we were blessed with an amazing view as the sunset over Lake Placid casting a golden light on everything that lay around it. Indeed our handwork had paid off and it was totally worth it.

George said that Billy and Jill were stopping too frequently and he needed to keep climbing up. So he left them behind shortly after the lean-to. We were all certain that they would have turned around due to the difficulty of the climb. Sadly, the cold air temperature forced us to pack our gear back up and start our descent off summit despite the beautiful scenery and lack of wind. I had removed my gloves to better use my camera. Even after only 10-15 minutes of exposure, my hands were extremely cold. When I put my gloves back on I discovered that they were frozen solid. It was becoming increasingly clear that I needed to get off that mountain as soon as possible.

I had skied at Whiteface resort on numerous occasions previously, and I vividly remembered a clifflike wall just below summit above the highest chairlift. I was concerned that it would be very difficult to climb down from there. Scott was equally skittish based on his previous experiences resulting in a dislocated shoulder. There was a trail sign indicating that the ORDA ski runs were accessible in a northerly direction. It was lucky that George had caught up to us at this point. He insisted that the best route down to the ski runs were just past the sign to the right.

We followed George down through a small break in evergreen trees. After only a hundred feet I noticed what seemed to be an unofficial blue blaze. This made me feel quite relieved because I still wasn’t convinced that this was a safe route down. George continued to break trail through some incredibly steep glade terrain. I ended up glacading down frequently. At two points my glacading uncovered fixed ropes buried in the more than two feet of snow. This proved helpful to Scott who followed behind me. Eventually the top station of the Summit Quad Chairlift appeared just below me. I ungraciously tripped over my snowshoe and tumbled down to it, now feeling quite relieved that we were out of harms way.

At this point I changed into my winter jacket as I was becoming increasingly cold in my raincoat. Fortunately, my gloves were beginning to thaw out despite getting snow in them through the multiple glacades above. Meanwhile George struggled to get into his ski boots. Scott and I set down on foot promising to meet George at the bar in the ski lodge. George would no doubt beat us to the bottom in the skis that he had dragged on his back until this point.

The sky was still aglow with the final embers of dusk as we struck down the ski trails toward the lodge at the bottom. This was the first time Scott had ever set foot on a ski resort, and he really didn’t know what to expect. We followed the blue trail for a while but it seemed to be taking us too far out of our way so I opted for a black diamond that seemed to lead in a more direct route. Scott was concerned, but followed suit. Eventually we bottomed out into several functioning snowmakers as their attendants busily worked moving them into proper position.

During the descent Scott turned around and noticed some lights towards the top of the mountain. I figured they were probably the crew working the snowmakers.

The snowmaking crew zoomed past us as they rode their shovels down the ski runs. I was actually quite surprised at the speed they managed to gain. Further down the mountain we strode past the snowmaking crew again as they congregated around a snowcat near the entrance to a terrain park. From here we followed the ski lift down to the main quad. Running in spots as the ski lodge became more and more into view.

I walked up to a picnic table and unceremoniously threw off my pack and snowshoes, and strapped them all together with my trekking poles. A curious group of smoking, drunken bystanders asked where I had come from. They were intrigued by the idea of walking up and down the ski mountain. I explained to them that one of my companions actually skied down and we were about to meet him inside. Scott and I were surprised that George was no where in sight. We assumed he grew tired of waiting for us and headed back to the hostel. We enjoyed a couple of overpriced drinks. Especially the fact that they were waiting for us right at the trailhead. My phone soon buzzed a text from George stating, “injured myself. Self admit to the hospital.” Followed later by, “Dislocated shoulder, it’s popped back in. Immobilized.”

What a tragic end to an otherwise great day. Scott and I drove back to the hostel, took showers and ate some dinner. At about this point I noticed a text on my phone from Billy saying, “Hiking Whiteface.” I replied, “At Hostel.” His reply, “Who’s coming back for us? Can see the lodge now. Almost there :)” To which I stated, “I’m driving back for you in a minute.”

The bar at the lodge was closed by this point so Billy and Jill waited patiently for me at the drop off area, but man, they must have been freezing. We loaded up the car and touched base about the day’s adventure. They started off skiing down Whiteface and reached summit at about the same time we reached the ski lift. After a short distance on skis they found the uneven terrain and lack of light to be to difficult and switched back to snow shoes. All of the time spent changing in and out of ski boots added another hour to their track. The lights Scott had noticed towards the top were most likely Billy and Jill as they struggled to with their ski gear.

I assured Billy and Jill that they made the right decision relaying the information about George. Even with his misfortune we all agreed that we had been blessed with a glorious day. Boy were we all exhausted though. According to my GPS track the day totaled 12.1 miles and it took us close to eight and half hours to complete. Perhaps this isn’t the best time for this route, but I still feel it was a pretty major accomplishment.

Secret Bear Mountain State Park Slab Scramble

Bear Mountain is one of New York State’s most popular public parks. However, despite the thousands of people that visit the area each year, the mountain still has a few secrets that only a few hikers in the area are aware of. Perhaps the biggest secret is the rock slab on Bear Mountain’s Southwest slope.

Four of us decided to pay the slab a visit on September 10, 2013 despite the extremely humid weather. So humid that it seemed as if the rocks were sweating almost as much as the hikers were. We started off from the main Bear Mountain Parking lot. To make the hike a bit more interesting we extended the trip through Doodletown following the red blazed 1777 trail heading west until it crossed the Appalachian Trail (AT). From there we followed the AT North crossing Seven Lakes Drive and continued onwards until it reached Perkins Memorial Drive. We then hiked about 50-100 yards up Perkins Memorial Drive. There is a large rock outcrop jutting towards the road on the right, which marks the beginning of the off trail slab scramble.

We stayed close to the treeline on the left so as not to be too exposed. After about a 30-40 yard ascent the treeline opens up on the left and you cross over onto a completely open and exposed slab. There was no room for a margin of error in this location. One slip and we would have slid hundreds of feet straight down to the road below resulting in serious injury or death. At this point we stayed right along the treeline which gives a bit more security. We then pushed up to the top of the first slide. This is a nice spot to stop, catch your breath and take in the surrounding views.

From here we pushed up through another row of trees. There is a 2-3 foot rock overhang that you have to drag yourself over. It is a bit exposed, but there are a few trees to cling to in this section. As we continued our push upward we entered another steep slab clearing. This section was pretty taxing and once again there was not really any room for error, although the slab wasn’t quite as steep at this point. After about another 50 yards the slab leveled out. We stopped there for a long time as members of the party drank some beer and reflected on the days events.

We then continued up the moderate incline until we reached the junction of the blue trail and the AT. From here we followed the AT back down to our cars which were parked near Bear Mountain Inn.

Northern Half of the Suffern Bear Mountain Trail

On Sunday, September 8, 2013 Dorothy led a large group of as many as 40 Hudson Valley Hikers (HVH) through Harriman State Park. Due to the large group size I decided to sweep the hike. This gave me the opportunity to take more photos than usual on an HVH trip. The twelve mile Northern traverse of the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail (SBM) started at the Jackie Jone Fire Tower parking area on Route 106 near Stony Point, New York.

The Northern Half of the SBM is a really exciting section of trail. It offers two moderately challenging rock scrambles. The first of which is ascending Pyngyp Mountain. Prior to Pyngyp, though, hikers need to ascend Round Swamp Mountain and cross the Palisades Interstate Parkway (PIP).  The assent up Pyngyp is just up the road from  the North bound Lake Welch Exit on PIP. Several of the more inexperienced hikers quickly began to question their abilities heading up the Pyngyp scramble. Fortunately there were several views along the way up that allowed people to catch their breath.

The trail descends after Pyngyp and then quickly ascends a hill known as The Pines. Prior to the Pines Ascent the SBM becomes confusing as it crosses a very well defined woods road. About half of the HVH trip members made the mistake of following the woods road and ended up skipping The Pines as well as the next small peak Horn Hill which marks the half-way point of the Northern SBM. I took a short lunch break on Horn Hill with a few other HVHers.

After descending Horn Hill the trail begins to make its approach to the Cat’s Elbow scramble on West Mountain. I made light work of the scramble and decided to head back down to take photos of some of the other hikers as they ascended. To my surprise the other half of the group that made the wrong turn down the woods road was on their way up. As I continued my way down Patrizia beckoned me to go all the way to the base and sample some of her cake. Patrzia is known for the fine baked goods she carts along on hikes, so I opted to go all the way back down. Besides, the Cat’s Elbow scramble was a lot of fun and I wanted to do it again anyway.

After reaching the Cat’s Elbow overlook, the Suffern Bear Mountain trail continues to ascend West Mountain. Near the West Mountain summit SBM doubles the blue marked Timp-Torne Trail which leads to the West Mountain Shelter. I was waiting for a few of the slower hikers in this area and decided to take a side trip over to the shelter to examine the view of the New York City Skyline and Hudson River. The West Mountain shelter must be one of the more scenic camp sites servicing the AT. I highly recommend a night’s stay in this area to anyone that likes a good backpacking trip. Water is a serious issue at this shelter, however. There really is no steady source anywhere near it. It being September, most of the small tributaries were bone dry between the Pines and West Mountain. This actually caused a problem for many of the hikers (including the author) who didn’t bring quite enough water. I was banking on finding a stream to filter around Horn Hill, but they were all dry.

Eventually my stragglers caught up and we finished the final approach up West Mountain leaving most of the day’s elevation gain behind us. At this point you catch a fleeting glimpse of Perkins Memorial Tower. The SBM then steeply descends West Mountain on it’s Northern Side and then passes through Doodletown. The trail then takes a several hundred foot ascent up the base of Bear Mountain just before crossing Seven Lakes Drive. The trail continues up an easy grade and then gradually descends bringing hikers out into the main field at Bear Mountain State Park right next to the ice rink.

I quickly found my way to a faucet to quench my thirst and then found numerous Hudson Valley Hikers who were celebrating at the bar area on the second floor of the Bear Mountain Inn. All and all a wonderful experience I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who isn’t a beginner hiker.

 

Views from Ramapo Torne

I have long admired the rocky out cropping known as Ramapo Torne. It sits perched above the interchange of Interstates 87, 287 and Route 17 and is easily visible while heading North on the New York State Thruway near the New York/New Jersey border.  Inspired by the remarkably clear weather the New York City area has been experiencing lately I decided to take a evening hike and explore the area first hand On Friday, September 6th, 2013. Upon reaching the summit I was pleasantly surprised by a fairly clear view of the New York City Skyline. There is something very enchanting about the Ramapo Hills as they roll down towards Manhattan and the Atlantic Ocean.

Ramapo Torne is a fairly strategic location with a steep craggy face up its western side. Supposedly George Washington once scrambled up Rampo Torne with a telescope to observe the British fleet off of Sandy Hook. This may be the case because there was definitely a garrison of continental soldiers stationed in what is now the Village of Suffern below. Today, the spot more easily surveys the hills of Northern New Jersey and Rockland County. Ramapo Tone also boasts a wonderful unobstructed view of the New York City Skyline. On my visit I neglected to bring a telescope.  However, I brought my modern DSLR in order to share the observation point’s sightings with you.

The Bradley Mine in Harriman State Park

The land of Harriman State Park holds important iron resources. During the 19th century the iron ore held in the Harriman State Park area was mined extensively. Much of the Ore removed was taken to Clove Furnace, which is visible from I87, to be turned into pig iron. The resulting pig iron was taken to area foundries where it was transformed into cast iron objects. Much of the Harriman State Park ore was transported to West Point Foundry in Cold Spring where it was used to create cannons and other munitions in the Civil War. You can read more about this here. Today, most of the mines have been been completely collapsed, flooded or closed off making them impossible to enter. However, there are a few that remain intact. Of these remaining mines one of the coolest is the cavernous Bradley Mine.

The Bradley mine sits relatively close to the Appalachian Trail and is great photographic subject matter because of its well defined entrance light source. I took a stroll into the mine with my DSLR and a tripod recently to try and capture its essence.

Bradley mine is very dark inside so visitors that want to see it first hand should come prepared with headlamps. Proper caving gear also includes a helmet, overalls and waterproof boots. Bradley Mine is partially flooded so be prepared to get wet if you want to do a full exploration of it.

Stormy Breakneck Ridge to Sugarloaf Loop

For many serious hikers in the Hudson Valley, Breakneck Ridge is a favorite training ground. The Hiking Group Hudson Valley Hikers often hosts evening and night hikes on Breakneck Ridge and looping back to the parking area on 9D via Sugarloaf mountain . Wednesday August 7, 2013 was one such occasion.

On the drive over to the trailhead I was eyeing the sky and questioning whether this trip was such a good plan. There were ominous clouds which indicated definite rain. I have a waterproof camera case, and in the summer I sweat so much that rain is actually a relief, so I decided to go for it.

By the time we got to the first hump on Breakneck it was clear that it would rain. The trip leader Mirek advised those that didn’t want to get wet to turn around, but that he planned to continue because it didn’t seem to be an electrical storm. It started to rain a warm summer shower with medium sized drops almost as soon we left the first hump. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last for too long and had passed before the most of the group had made it to the third hump.

The large group of seventeen hikers pushed on to summit in its entirety and took a break at an overlook pst the fourth hump before continuing on to Sugarloaf Mountain via a bushwhack.

By the time the Hiking group made it to Sugarloaf Mountain, the sky was near black with threatening clouds. We all stopped to enjoy the dramatic view before heading back down the red trail to the autos waiting in the parking lot.

Platte Clove Ice Scramble

Platte Clove is a deep ravine located in the Catskills. Water that gathers on High Peak Katerskill rushes off the mountain forming a deep chasm which rushes into the Hudson River. In the summer its waterfalls create deep pools which can make for some excellent cliff jumping and swimming. However, in the cold winter months the stream comes to a standstill giving thrill seekers the chance to test their skills on crampons and ice axes. The Devil’s Kitchen area is a favorite spot for ice climbers. However many adventurers try their hands on the waterfalls leading all the way to the bottom of the ravine.