Rainbow Falls


The plan for this week was to hike the trail known as Gertrude's Nose in Minnewaska State Park. This would be my first trip to this area and I was excited to set my feet on some new trails. I woke up on Tuesday morning at 6:00 AM and felt somewhat rejuvenated after feeling inexplicably lethargic after last week's icy hike up Bald Mountain and through Doodletown.

After breakfast among geriatrics at the Stewart Airport Diner and a drive through farm towns with dilapidated structures lining the road, I was passed the Mohonk Preserve Visitor's Center, climbing the gentle incline of Main Street. The road ahead cut a tight angle and the incline became more intense.

As my Camry climbed the edge of the cliff, I looked to my left and had my first glimpse of the expansive view of the park and the towns below from about 2000 feet. I recalled driving up Skyline Drive in Virginia and the awe I felt as we passed the first of many scenic overlooks in Shenandoah National Park.

I pulled up to the automatic parking barrier (the Minnewaska State Park requires a $10.00 parking fee) and then ascended the mountain some more, finally arriving at the Lake Minnewaska parking area. Over the edge of the horizon, peeking out behind some trees, the Catskills loomed in the distance.

Walking down a small hill toward the trail head, I arrived at Lake Minnewaska, the sun beaming down on its frozen surface. Immediately I noticed a familiar coating of ice stretched out on the ground ahead. It was an expected hindrance, but I wasn't yet certain to which degree. As I approached the steep carriage road leading to the trail, I was dismayed to find a thick, 2 or 3-inch layer of solid ice covering the entire width of the path.

Knowing Gertrude's Nose is a tough hike with many treacherous sections, I concluded that I would return to the park to hike this trail another day, once warmer weather rolled in. I referred to my map and decided to hike to Rainbow Falls instead. Ice would still likely be an issue, but the noted elevation changes did not appear to be too critical and I figured I could find a way around it.

A short drive to another parking lot and I was on my way. The trail started on a slippery carriage road lined with forests of hemlock and mountain laurel and I could hear rushing water from Peter's Kill (a river) from somewhere within the brush. I decided to make the walk more interesting (and less icy) by straying just off the trail into the woods to the right of the road from time to time. The forest was surprisingly lush in some areas, like an Asher Brown Durand painting; rays of sunlight shot through treetops to reflect off the scattered snow piles and accentuate the green moss on the ground.

There were many pitch pine-adorned open rock slabs, nature's courtyards, along the way. Eventually, I crossed under some power lines, back onto the carriage road, and across a small bridge over Peter's Kill. The view from the bridge had a very calming effect and so I stood for a while with my arms perched atop the rails and stared out into the forest. This hike, so far, was not strenuous at all. However, from my map, I knew the elevation gains were ahead.

The orange blazed Rainbow Falls Trail was just off the carriage road. The trail starts out with a brief descent before I was spit onto an open rock slab. I traced the orange paint up the steep incline of the slab and was elated that I might finally break a sweat. I began navigating my way up the smooth rock, careful to avoid the haphazard ice slicks.

After a few minutes, I stopped and looked over my shoulder. The ghostly impression of the Catskills mountain range was beginning to peak up from behind the trees across the river. I wasn't sure if I would get a better view, so I sat on a rock and drank some coffee and water as I admired the sight.

Once i finished, I carried on following the orange blazes and they again began to ascend. If I had worried about the view not getting better, I was entirely wrong. As I went higher and higher up the slab, the Catskills rose above the horizon until I could see most of the entire range projected across my line of sight. This was the spot to enjoy the view. The steady rolling of rushing water from the river and many tributaries was the only sound and the surrounding forest was still. I took some time for deep breathing as I sat atop of small boulder.

Back on the path, I found myself having to find alternative routes across tricky tributaries as sheets of ice had formed along the banks. I trounced through some small bush, hopped to a thin tree branch, then to the edge of a rock sticking up through the small waves, and eventually to the other side. Eventually, I exited the rock slab through a tunnel of a tree branches and onto an open rock ledge with a view of the forest below. On my map, I noticed a star indicating Rainbow Falls.

I hadn't properly researched the trail as this was done on a whim, but I had a feeling I was mistaken. I could hear the heavy flow of water from all around me and I glanced through the trees for the sight of a waterfall. I could see some water flowing across the valley, but after enjoying the views for a few moments i carried on. The path quickly descended into the ravine. The forest below was paradoxical, more snow-covered than the rest but with richer moss and greener leaves.

Stumbling over the rocky and slippery path for a short period, I suddenly caught a glimpse of the trail's namesake ahead. Rainbow Falls had been below me when I stood on the rock ledge above. Now, I could truly see the majesty of the falls. Huge pillars of ice, once powerful, flowing water, scaled the height of the cliff as other streams, fortunate enough to be free, careened off into mists at the base. I was truly surprised that the trail led straight to the falls.

I could imagine this would be a great place to wind up on a hot summer day after a long hike. However, today the entire surrounding area was almost glacial. The entire floor was either ice or snow and I could hear water running from all over below me. Grabbing tree branches and relying on the larger rocks, spared the frosting due to their size, I was able to pull myself to a great vantage point, face to face with Rainbow Falls.

Crows ominously squawked and fluttered in the surrounding trees. I had a hard time pulling myself away from the amazing sight in front of me - literally and figuratively. The awesome beauty of the frozen falls mesmerized me and the precarious, icy conditions forced me to carefully plan each step as to not slide down into the river. I safely made my way to level ground below and took one last look, straight into the mist, and continued on my way.

I wound up exiting the Rainbow Falls Trail onto the carriage road (this time the "Upper") and made my way to the blue blazed Blueberry Run Trail. This trail descends for a bit and comes to another open rock slab that runs straight to Peter's Kill. To the right, I found the trailhead to the yellow blazed Mossy Glen Trail. Mossy Glen runs parallel with Peter's Kill and, from time to time, leads right to the edge of the coppery water. Minerals and runoff alter the composition of the river and some icicles appear as brown as tree branches.

The trail leads over a number of rustic footbridges and onto some areas of planks or boardwalks. Although still icy, the rest of the trail was simply a straight, low-elevation walk through the rich forest back to the parking lot where I started.

As I came to the conclusion of the trail and back onto the carriage road, my car came into view. The sky above was bright and the soft, scattered clouds in the sky had the effect of a kaleidoscope as they floated and melded into each other. The temperature had increased significantly and the sun had melted the ice that I had parked atop; it was a beautiful afternoon.

Although this hike was not as strenuous as I usually seek out, I truly enjoyed the views of the Catskills and found Rainbow Falls to be an amazing sight in all of its frozen splendor. As I drove away, back through the parking gate and down the mountain, the expansive view I appreciated when I arrived appeared once again. As I passed the scenic overlook, half of my conscience told me to get out and take a picture. However, I continued to drive and took one last look before descending. A picture without the effort to shoot it just isn't worth it; I'll be back again for a picture when I have to actually work for it.

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