Two days after last week's amazing hike of Storm King Mountain, severe winter weather struck the entire East Coast. Feet of snow fell in New England. Savannah, Georgia saw snow for the first time in 30 years. Even sunny Florida felt a brief freeze and had some accumulation of snow. Needless to say, New York and New Jersey had multiple inches added to the snow that was already on the ground and the week's temperatures remained in the teens. That is, until today.
As I planned this week's hike I was overjoyed with the weather forecast. Temperatures in my area were finally expected to be above freezing and up to 50 degrees in the more fortunate locations! So with the weather looking up, I went about the business of picking a location. Although my long "to-do" list of hikes spans trails in NJ, NY, and PA, I found myself looking at the Hudson Valley yet again. I would hike Fishkill Ridge, across the Hudson River from Storm King Mountain.
The mountainous Hudson Valley always provide a great opportunity for a strenuous workout and great views. Plus, with between 7 and 10 inches on the ground throughout the entire area, I surmised that the many inclines would be a more interesting hike than some of the other flatter hikes that I could have chosen. The only issue I had to square away in my mind was that the route to the trail is almost identical to last week's.
I generally like to go in drastically different directions each week as a means of brain stimulation, but I would make an exception this week. It was 27 degrees when I got into the car, which felt warm after dealing with 2 weeks of blistering cold. I was on the Palisades Interstate Parkway by 6:45 AM, a bit later than usual, and found I was sharing the road with a bit more morning traffic as well. I visited the Mount Ivy Diner again and had my pre-hike meal and proceeded to the Annsville Circle. It was here that I broke the Groundhog Day vibe, and instead of going towards West Point, I went over the Bear Mountain Bridge to make my way to Beacon, NY.
When I reviewed my map for this out and back hike, I planned on starting from the east and moving west, following yellow blazes, before blue blazing to the white blazed portion of the trail. This would provide me a good 5 miles or so and there were some pretty steep climbs that I was looking forward to. So, when I pulled up to the spot that I had marked on the map and found that the parking area was closed off with a "Private Property" sign, I was dismayed. Not to worry though, this is just something that happens sometimes as people and places change. Making a quick adjustment to my plans, I carried up a small side road and parked on a dead-end circle near a woods road.
The map indicated that I could follow the woods road, bushwhack a bit, and wind up at a small pond. On the other side of this pond I would be able to catch the yellow blazed trail and start my hike. There was a substantial amount of snow on the ground but it was thankfully packed down a bit by a truck that must have previously traveled through. Within a few minutes I spotted the pond through the naked trees and was walking off the road and through the woods to its banks. The pond was frozen over completely with a small boat encased in the ice.
I climbed up a snow-covered wall on the eastern bank of the pond and balanced my way across to the other side. The yellow trail hugged the edge of the water and circled around the other side. The rigid inclines were immediate and challenging due to the snow on the ground and this put a smile on my face.
I continued following the yellow trail on its approximately 600 foot climb for about a mile or so before I arrived at the blue markings that I believed to be those that I had intended on following to the white trail. However, blue arrows at either end of the set of blue blazes pointed at each other.
For some time, I walked between the arrows trying to figure out what they were trying to indicate. No other blue blazes were apparent either above or below me and there were no discernible trails leading anywhere other than back to the yellow trail. Admittedly, the map I have for this section is from 2014 (many of my maps are from between 2014-2016, but I have not yet had an issue with any of them being too far off for me to figure out), but there should have been a path to the white trail from where I stood.
What to do? In front of me was an endless white sheet with protruding bare trees which led to seemingly nowhere. To my left was a steep drop-off which was the opposite direction of where I was hoping to travel. To my right was about 200 feet of snow-covered rock which SHOULD lead to a white trail somewhere up there. I took a few more laps between the blue blazes and stared into the trees looking for another that might point me in the right direction. There were none.
I briefly considered going off trail and climbing the mountain to my right, but eventually decided this might be a wasted effort if I could not find the trail once I got to the top. I considered following the yellow trail some more, but my map indicated this would lead me onto a different loop and further from desired destination. I certainly did not drive all the way out here to walk into the middle of the woods and then back to my car. I inspected my map some more as I figured out my next move.
A few minutes later, I found myself walking back the way I had come. I was going back to my car. As I looked at the Fishkill Ridge trail on my map, I noticed there was a small icon indicating roadside parking near the other end of the trail. From this parking location I could START at the head of the white trail and hike my way up the scenic overlooks. This would allow me to complete the entire hike without having to worry about losing the trail back by those confusing blue blazes.
After a brief 17-minute drive through the small town of Beacon, NY, I arrived at the end of dead end road at the entrance to the Beacon, NY water supply. Just outside the vehicle barrier and "No Unauthorized Vehicles" sign, there was an empty space of snow-covered mud on the side of the road. I backed my car into the space and stepped out into the melting snow. It was now 37 degrees and straight ahead on a telephone pole where three white badges indicating the white trail I had been searching for.
I walked beyond the red barrier, past the Beacon, NY water supply dome, and up a woods road that passed a small gated reservoir. From here the trail crossed over a stream and straight into the woods. More slippery inclines followed, but this time I knew I would eventually end up at a vista worthy of all of the effort.
The trail tracked Dry Brook which had a sheet of ice covering its surface that had melted in some spots as the temperatures rose. The sound of trickling water from the holes in the ice and from beneath rocks followed me along the way. I was delighted that this portion of the trail was more straight-forward and more well-marked than the portion I had previously been on.
As I trudged up the trail, careful to catch my footing in the snow with each step, Dry Brook Falls suddenly came into view as I raised my head. It was a sight to behold. The falls had been completely frozen due to the extreme cold and was stuck in place, icy waves trapped as they plummeted over the edge. This short portion of the trail had already paid greater dividends than its other end.
The trail continued upward and took me back over Dry Brook again before spitting me out onto a woods road. I walked about 30 yards on the road before spotting more white blazes on trees in the woods on the other side. I took a moment to follow the path of the blazes that I could spot and noticed that they worked their way up the mountain to Fishkill Ridge.
I rested a moment before undertaking the final climb as, from the looks of it, this was going to be difficult. The snow drifts on this portion of the trail seemed to be just a bit higher than at the lower elevations and areas of ice were visible from where I stood. I would be climbing about 400 feet or so on a very steep mountainside, but I was undeniably determined to get to the top and find out what the pinnacle would let me see.
Immediately, the climb proved to be difficult. The snow was masking both hidden ice and the actual angle of the ground. My trekking poles would sink in to unexpected levels and my feet were slipping off the surfaces below me.
Each time I was able to pull myself up using a tree (either root or branch) or a rock, I would be able to balance myself for long enough to grab another rock or tree and pull myself up again. On numerous occasions I tossed my trekking poles up the mountain ahead of me as I needed free hands to grasp whatever was in front of me.
It was after a few minutes that I was able to plant my foot at the edge of an exposed rock and hold onto a sturdy tree branch to turn around. Through the trees I could see the town of Beacon start to come into view and the obstructed beauty of the sight motivated me to keep pushing up the side of the mountain to get above the tree line to see it clearly. This climb was definitely proving to be as strenuous as I had expected. I was breathing heavy and fighting hard to keep on moving.
My boots and pant legs were caked in snow as were my gloves. My hands were numb as I got just above the trees and the surface leveled-out to a degree where I could remove my pack, lean my trekking poles against a rock, and stand upright. I turned around to take in the panoramic view of Beacon, the icy Hudson River, and surrounding snowy mountain ranges.
Before moving any further up the mountain, I replaced my gloves with my secondary pair and lit a chafing dish wick to warm my hands over. I drank some water and popped a few Gatorade energy chews into my mouth. The jury is still out as to whether this is placebo effect or not, but all I ate after breakfast were 2 chews; I not only recovered quickly from the climb, but I also felt a considerable boost in energy afterward. Just these small acts and a quick rest found me completely rejuvenated, so I left my bags and poles and carried on for another 20 or 30 feet up the mountain to get the full view. I spent a good amount of time enjoying the amazing sights and snapped some photos. It was incredibly quiet atop the ridge and I savored the peace.
Eventually, it dawned on me: I was going to have get down this precarious mountain to get back to my car. I returned to my equipment and glanced downward the way I came and tried to plot out my best route. For as difficult as it was to get up here, it would be just as difficult getting back down. Many people believe it is easier going down than coming up, however, I imagine there are a lot of hikers who would argue otherwise. Despite the trepidation, I had confidence in my ability to navigate down this precipitous decline, I just wasn't sure what it was actually going to wind up looking like.
I took my first step as a frog hop down between two large rocks, with scattered ice slicks running down the middle, to a narrow outcrop. Then I took another step before sliding slowly a few feet down to another outcrop. I mixed in something comparable to skiing as I controlled slides through the soft snow. When I eventually reached the woods road again, I was relieved and satisfied with myself.
The rest of the hike was gentle compared to going up and down the mountain. I followed the brook back toward my car and was able to appreciate the frozen Dry Brook Falls one more time. I was soon back at my car and pulled out of the slush onto the road. I was full of energy and contentment as I drove home. The hike turned out to be a great one. I will definitely be on this trail again during the warmer months, when trails will be clear of snow, the waterfall will be flowing, and the climb will still be strenuous.