Last week, almost immediately after getting back home after hiking Manaticut Point, I began the process of choosing my next trip. It did not take long. Bald Mountain covered all of my criteria: over 1000 feet, a breathtaking vantage point from the top, and a number of routes to get there. I checked the weather on a daily basis and was encouraged by the "clear and sunny" symbol under Tuesday.
Punxsutawney Phil, the soothsaying groundhog responsible for predicting the end of the cold season, saw his shadow this past week. So, as legend would have it, we're in for another 6 weeks of winter. While most may be dismayed by this forecast, I personally look forward to the opportunity for just a little more winter hiking.
Aside from experiencing some difficulty in planning hikes around possibly volatile weather, I have found most aspects of hiking with Old Man Winter to be uniquely enjoyable. The trails are less crowded (or completely deserted), the views are clearer due to the lack of leaves on the trees, and any snow or ice adds to the natural beauty of any landscape. Not to mention, snow and/or ice also create an increased level challenge, and therefore, increased achievement.
I hadn't hiked in NY since Fishkill Ridge a few weeks ago and was excited to get back to, what has become, my favorite area for winter hiking. I woke up close to 6:30 AM and found the sky starting to illuminate ever so slightly. Having prepared everything the night before, I went straight to the car and got on my way. I planned to forego the diner this morning and would instead grab a breakfast sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, along with two coffees (one for now and one for the thermos).
By the time I was on the Palisades Parkway, the dawn horizon was glowing a pastel orange, wiping away royal as cadet blue took its place. Unfortunately, as I got closer to my destination, the sky became more and more drab. I spotted a few flurries as they melted on my windshield and it worried me slightly. However, snow was not in the forecast for this morning (the following day 3-5 inches was expected) so I drove on undeterred.
I ignored the flurries and I ignored when the flurries became full-fledged snow. Then, I ignored the hail. By the time I parked my car in the lot off an exit on Seven Lakes Drive and stepped out of my car, I was standing in nearly whiteout conditions. The snow had already began to stick to the ground and I could no longer ignore it. I reached for my phone to search when the snow was expected to stop and found I had no service in this area.
Thankfully, I had my NYNJTC map in hand and examined my options. Perhaps, I deduced, I was simply under a storm cloud and could avoid the snow altogether by approaching the mountain from a different angle. So, instead of taking a 7-mile hike southeast towards the mountain, I would be taking a 5-mile route and hike southwest. A few minutes later, with only a few snow flurries floating to the ground, I stepped out of my car at the trailhead of the blue blazed Cornell Mine Trail with the Bear Mountain Bridge looming up the river in the distance.
Crossing the road, I started on the trail which starts at the banks of Doodletown Brook. The path curved to the left and up a steady incline; I was ecstatic to find a rugged trail ahead. The ground was extremely rocky and there were a number of glacial erratics scattered in between the trees. Green moss carpeted the ground in areas, livening up the landscape.
As I carried on up the trail, twisting my head in all directions to absorb the sights, I suddenly felt my right foot slide across a sheen of ice. As I adjusted my right foot, my left foot slid. Although I didn't fall, I traced the ice on the ground ahead and found that almost every inch of every surface was covered. Not only the ground, but most of the protruding rocks, the dead leaves, and fallen branches were all slick. I slowed down and adjusted my cadence.
Instead of my usual pace, I now kept and eye on the ground to spot dry edges of rocks that I could hop to. When possible, I trudged along the edge of the trail on the thicker piles of brush as they provided some traction. This was a practice in both balance and patience. Nearby, an unmarked trail leads to the Edison Mine, a mine and plot of land that was purchased by Thomas Edison back in 1890 for research. Due to the precarious condition of the trail, I left the mine unexplored.
The trail moved further into the woods and I continued along carefully, mindful not to slip. A murder of crows fluttered about the trees, the only sound in the still of the forest. It wasn't long before I arrived at the base of Bald Mountain. The trail either climbed vertically or weaved into switchbacks up the side of the mountain to the peak where I looked forward to amazing views of the Hudson River and surrounding mountains of the Hudson Highlands. I've faced higher, steeper, and trickier climbs and conquered them successfully. However, as I scanned the trees and rocks for blazes on the way up, it was clear that the ice alone would make this one of the more difficult ascents I have attempted.
Sensing this would be an interesting climb, I attached the camera to my head. I started gingerly, each foot and trekking pole moving in unison to find the sweet spot. Every few steps I would stop to reevaluate my progress and gauge my elevation. The trail itself was even icier as the mountain rose higher and I found myself taking steps of faith into piles of leaves and brush of varying depths to avoid the ice and a possibly dangerous slide. A straight climb or traversing up dry switchbacks would certainly have been far easier, but that just wasn't in the cards. Eventually, upon turning around, I could start to make out the Hudson River through the trees. I was making progress.
On a steep approach about 10 feet from a flat area where I would be able to stand for a moment and take a rest, the ice spread straight across my path. As I searched for my next move, my feet slipped out from underneath me. At the moment I began to slide, I instinctively grabbed a solid tree root that was sticking out of the ice and hung on at a 40 degree angle. If I let go, I would have slid quite a way down the slope. So, I clung to the root and tossed my poles ahead of me before dragging myself just far enough to grab a fallen tree branch that was frozen into the ice.
When I finally managed to get back to my feet and looked out over the trees, standing on small level patch of fallen foliage, the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson River became clearly visible. The swathe of leafless trees in the forest below stretched out as far as I could see. However, there was more climbing to do, so I carried on a bit further until the ground leveled out at the end of the Cornell Mine Trail. From here, the red-blazed Ramapo Dunderberg trail stretched out in different directions; I was heading south to the nearby Bald Mountain. Cornell Mine is also close by, but I skipped exploring this mine as well in favor of continuing on the trail.
The red blazes carried on to the top of the mountain where there are noticeably less trees. I could see the sky clearly over the horizon line on the trail ahead and knew I would be coming up on the hike's main attraction, a unbelievable panoramic view of the surrounding area. Stepping out onto the summit, the view opened up in all directions over the Hudson Highlands. I was now looking at the Bear Mountain Bridge from above and I was peering down at the surrounding mountain ranges.
I spent a good amount of time on here at this vista, taking pictures, sipping coffee, and simply relaxing. It took a lot to get up here and so I wanted to savor the view. Each time I find myself at an amazing place like this, I take time to reflect and contemplate all types of things. Certainly, the nonsensical day-to-day gibberish that everybody deals with has no place here, and it simply melts away. I took time for some deep breathing. Especially after a strenuous climb, breathing in a measured way has a truly calming, reinvigorating effect. One of the most important reasons that I hike at all is to completely and entirely remove myself from my everyday routine and there is no better way to do that then to get far, far away to a really interesting place.
Eventually, I emptied my thermos and it was time to go. The trail worked its way back down into a valley and crossed over the Timp Brook. At one point, I found it easier to simply get onto the floor and slide myself across a sheet of ice than try to stand or find a way around it. It was painstakingly slow on the descent as I grabbed tree branches and hopped from patch to patch of stable ground. It was when I finally arrived at the Timp Brook that I took my eyes off of the ice for just a second and wound up sliding and landing on the ground. I caught myself well enough but was still frustrated by the fall.
The trail back to the car, the 1777 Trail, was originally carved out by British troops in 1777 to attack American troops at Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery. It is truly amazing to imagine Redcoats moving through the wild forest over 200 years ago on their way to attach rebel outposts. The trail leads to Pleasant Valley Road and through the abandoned village of Doodletown.
Pleasant Valley Road goes through Doodletown and is paved with asphalt in varying levels of disrepair. Former residents have put signs up to indicate what type of building once stood on different plots of land. Many walls, stairs, and foundations are still standing and there are some oak and maple trees that are 200+ years old that were originally on the land where some of the homes stood.
The highlight of the path through Doodletown was the Herbert Cemetery. There are 3 cemeteries along this trail, but while 2 are still "in use", this particular site appears to have been somewhat forgotten. It appears as though volunteers keep the overgrowth to a minimum and a newer fence was put up around a few headstones at some point, but the new fence has been destroyed by a fallen tree and many of the old stones are overturned or leaned haphazardly against trees. It is not quite as abandoned as the St. Patrick's Cemetery in Hibernia, but it is still an eerily remote final resting place.
This hike was relatively short, but difficult mostly due to the ice. I could imagine that this same hike would have been far easier without all of the sliding around and having to figure out where it was safe to step. I would even consider taking a new hiker on this trip (in a different season) because of the simple route to the summit of Bald Mountain and the rich payoff - the view from this mountain was one of the best that I have seen as of yet. Personally, despite being a bit of a hassle, the ice added an additional level of difficulty which I enjoyed having to adjust for. I'll be back to Bald Mountain in the spring to experience this hike on solid ground.