Butter Hill & Black Rock Forest

After moping around all week voiceless with a sore throat and having missed hiking altogether the week before, I was itching to get back outdoors and there was little that would have kept me from doing so. So, despite weather forecasters advising people to stay indoors due to the brutally low temperatures, I simply laid out more layers of clothing and slapped on a face mask for a trip to Butter Hill.

I was up earlier than usual, and with more of a spring in my step, as I excitedly prepped to break my stir-craziness from a week of nothing but home and office. My route took me up the always beautiful Palisades Interstate Parkway where I was able to catch some views of the sun rising over the Hudson River to my right.

My breakfast plans were up in the air as I hadn't picked a place to go, so I stopped a little over halfway at the Mount Ivy Diner in Pomona, NY for my usual pre-hike meal. I had previously visited this diner before an earlier hike to Anthony's Nose and so they have provided a good experience for me twice now.

I carried on my way after eating and found myself approaching Annsville Circle in about a half hour. My brain has now paired Annsville Circle, with the Bear Mountain Bridge towering nearby, with expectations for great hiking as it acts as a gateway to a few of the better trails that I have been on recently.

As I neared the parking area at the base of Butter Hill, a pull-off on the side of Rt. 9W, the crisp views were already grabbing my attention. Snow covered much of the ground and most of the surrounding mountain peaks, adding to the overall allure of this wintry landscape. I would argue that there are few places that would look as nice under similar circumstances. The many rocky peaks, the icy blue river, and the winding mountain road all made it feel like I was standing inside of a Christmas card.

The windchill slapped me in the face as soon I stepped out of my car and I hurried to put on my gloves, my hat, and mask and cover everything up with the hood on my jacket. I had been gifted a proper hiking jacket from REI for Christmas that is both very lightweight and extremely warm, even in single digit temperatures. With the addition of long johns and a thermal undershirt, I hardly felt cold at all. Now, fully equipped, I was ready to step into the snow and get up this mountain.

A placard stands on the side of the road, in front of already amazing views of the Hudson River, indicating that this route was part of the "Freedom Road" which was traveled by the Iran hostages from Stewart Airport in New Windsor, NY to West Point back in 1981. Within moments of stepping into the snow, my gloves were off and I was already snapping some great shots of the valley. This is one of those hikes where the payoff can be immediate.

I left my trekking poles in my trunk for this hike as I knew it would require a lot of climbing and figured I could always saw off a good branch if I needed a stick to guide me. It turned out to be a good move. Immediately, orange blazes start to work their way up steep, icy rocks, and with each rock, the views below got better and better. The sun was slowly rising above the mountains and casting bright rays of light across the terrain. On a dry, summer day this climb would likely seem less treacherous, but with snow blanketing sheets of ice along the way, attention and proper foot placement was certainly required. I loved the exertion and difficulty.

Somebody had been here with their dog previous to my hike as I was able to follow their footprints once I made it to ridge above. A message of "Happy New Year" has been carved into a sheet of snow which inspired me as I knew I was starting 2018 off on the right foot. The trail carried on through a wooded area and continued on up the mountain on a steady incline. Solid icicles hung from the side of the rocks like stalactites and glistened in the sunlight coming through the naked trees.

There were many inclines and declines on this hike which were welcomed as I had felt more than lazy for skipping my hike the week before. Eventually things flattened out to a degree and the trees opened up to a view up the Hudson River. This view is familiar to me, although my previous hikes have laid it out to me from opposing angles. After some switchbacks, climbs back up the mountainsides, and many scenic overlooks, I was spit out of the forest near the Storm King School. The trail follows along the road and through an eerie one-lane tunnel. A sign advises drivers to watch for hikers who might be passing through the tunnel and to honk their horn. As I passed through the tunnel the sun shone in so brightly that I was blinded until I reached the end and the trees and narrow road appeared ahead of me.

Here, I would have been able to turn off and carry on back to my car. Since I was still technically recovering from the illness that had me moping around, I had originally planned to wrap this hike up quickly after 2.5 miles. However, feeling better than I had expected, I decided to continue on the yellow-blazed Stillman trail into the Black Rock Forest for an extended walk. My 2.5 mile hike turned into almost 8 miles as I continued on through the snow with the mountains peaking up from time to time when I was on inclines.

For all the warnings about how cold it was going to be, my layering was really working and the addition of toes warmers kept me comfortable the entire time. I had no sense

of urgency to get back to my car. For a time there were no extraordinary views or scenic overlooks, but I was enjoying the vast quiet of the woods and the snowy trees and frozen streams which were beautiful in their own right. They were certainly more beautiful than my desk in my office at work which I was happy to not be sitting at and coughing right now.

Eventually, I reached the banks of Upper Reservoir and the trail led me around to the other side. The surface of the water was frozen over and topped with snow. The stepped spillway on the opposing edge of the reservoir had scattered trickles of water running from the ends of ice sheets. The trail led back into the woods and onto a woods road. One direction led back to the reservoir and the other led back onto the trail. The map indicated that I could stay on the Stillman Trail for about another 2 miles before meeting up with Hulse Road, another woods road, for the final 1.5 mile walk back to the highway where I would be able to walk alongside the road back to my car.

I took this opportunity to remove my mask, eat a granola bar and a Gatorade "Energy Chew", and drink some water. I purchased these chews, small gummy pieces that are supposed provide a burst of carbs, calories, and B6, with a bit of skeptisism. However, whether or not placebo effect took over, they (along with the granola) seemed to provide me a little spark for the rest of my hike.

The rest of the hike was rather uneventful but unrelentingly attractive throughout. Even Hulse Road, wide and crossed by fallen trees at times, was a joy to trot down. There was nothing but more bare trees along each side as I followed the steady decline down the hill, yet I was as content as I had been in a while. Perhaps the fact that I had to spend a week without a hike had caused me to subconsciously appreciate the outdoors and the serenity it delivered even more than I previously had. I eventually reached the highway and made my way back to my car, passing back across the front of the Storm King School which I had originally seen hours before.

I opened the door of my salt-splashed vehicle and tossed my bags into the back seat before turning around to take one more look at the view of the valley. The sun was higher in the sky now and warmed the air to a very comfortable 19 degrees. I was extremely satisfied with the way my day had turned out and was glad that I extended my hike as I had. I got into the driver's seat and sat still for a moment as I allowed the car to warm up a bit, thinking to myself, 2018 is going to be a good year.




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