In the past, I have discussed my reasons for hiking and the many physical and mental benefits that it provides. The last few trips I have made have definitely allowed me to push myself to my limits and have also sparked my imagination.
When conditions were less desirable during the fall and winter, I was not inclined to take my time and think deeply. I would generally try to safely make it back to my car without slipping on ice and without suffering frostbite. However, the excellent weather in my region these past two weeks made sitting still somewhat comfortable.
On my descent back to my car, after about 6 hours of hiking some tough terrain, I paused for a moment and looked at my phone - it was 3:00PM. I would be able to make it back to the parking lot in about 30 minutes, which was a half an hour ahead of schedule. I decided to take a moment to sit, finish whatever coffee was left in my thermos, and to just simply relax.
As a general rule, and for a number of different reasons, I limit breaks while I hike and sometimes regret that I don't spend more time at certain overlooks. So, I sat there on a large rock and stared at the Hudson River through the bare treetops as the sun shone from a high perch.
As I unzipped my pack and pulled out my thermos, the sound of a train whistle echoed through the mountainside. One of the things I enjoy most about the hikes in Hudson Highlands State Park has been the trains that sometimes appear on the tracks that are visible from the trail. There are tracks at the base of the mountains on either side of the river and a portion of the track runs directly over the water as it travels from tip to tip.
The train, with cars of assorted, bright colors, appears from a tunnel, looking tinier than a toy train set from high on a rocky outcrop. There is something very whimsical about it. At times like this, I might have the thought, "where am I?" Perched on the side of a mountain, with the vantage point and the surroundings, things can begin to feel surreal. So, as the long snake of train cars rolled over the tracks and the wind whipped the branches of the trees, I took deep breaths and stretched my neck.
After coming to an old quarry early on, the hike led me up a lot of steep inclines and down a lot of precipitous declines, to many different views of the Hudson River and
surrounding towns. The day started out with a strenuous 1000-foot climb in less than 2 miles on the white-blazed Washburn Trail. Much of the trail is made up of jolting rock and heads straight up, with areas that provide expansive views to the east.
Eventually, I continued onto the blue-blazed Notch Trail. This trail descended into the forest alongside a brook and led to the ruins of the Cornish Estate. Nature is overtaking the mansion, the pool, and the other supplemental structures on the property. The estate was built in the early 1900's and was acquired by Edward Cornish, president of the National Lead Company, in 1917. He and his wife died within weeks of each other in 1938. The estate stood under the watch of the Cornish family until a fire destroyed most of the buildings in 1956.
So, now we have what is left of some of the walls, some dark rooms, a chimney, the bones of a tractor, and some other bits of strewn, rusted metal. I investigated the area, finding most of the rooms carpeted in detritus and some of the walls in questionable shape. However, the stonework is impressive and some of the architecture is interesting, especially the slanted doorway and the tower.
Now, from this spot, I could have gone south on the red-blazed Brook Trail to head back to my car. Or, I could stay on the Notch Trail to head north toward Breakneck Ridge. The weather was spectacular for February and it was still early enough, so I decided to extend the hike for a couple of more miles. I followed the saturated path, low on the forest floor, between the surrounding mountainsides.
I knew from the NY-NJTC map that the elevations were going to change drastically in the upcoming areas and was prepared for big climbs. It started as the Notch Trail began to gently incline. This became greater and greater until I reached the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge Trail. From here, the trail heads up hundreds of feet of rock in less than 1/5 of a mile. The views of Storm King Mountain and the town of Cornwall from the top is worth the effort.
After climbing down from this summit, the trail steadily inclines again and then heads straight up another rock; then it does that up-and-down again. Any of the views along the way are worthy of few moments of your time. Finally, the path descends to the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail which traverses the rocky and muddy edge of the cliff down to the forest floor. This portion of the hike requires a slower pace and attentiveness and turned out being one of the more demanding descents I have faced.
At one of the lowest points on the trail, I came across a sign that read "Easy Way Out" and advised that hikers could make a right-turn to follow green blazes back to the road to avoid the heavy climbs ahead. I chose to continue on the Undercliff Trail and re-climb Mount Taurus. This side of the mountain did not offer as many views aside from expansive forest, but it was definitely strenuous. The many ups and downs gave me an excellent challenge and I enjoyed it.
Eventually, I had made it all the way back up to meet the Washburn Trail (the trail I initially climbed at the beginning of the hike). I now descended the mountain, passing some of the vistas I had enjoyed earlier in the morning, when I looked at my phone and decided that I had some time to relax on a rock. My clothes, covered in sweat, quickly went cold without movement producing body heat. The train rolled by. I sat and pondered.
I thought back to a few years ago, before I decided to reconnect with nature, to when I likely would have a lot of trouble finishing these hikes and really didn't get myself moving as much as I should. Back then, I would have been more likely to partake in any one of my self-destructive vices. I like to think I've come a long way, but planning for progress is always on my mind. I would also like to believe that I'm in control of my own future. These are the types of things I think about up there.
Looking out over West Point and the Hudson River, the silhouette of NYC skyline at the horizon, and the surrounding towns from such a height really gives you an interesting perspective. Everything seems so small and so vast at the same time. I properly savored this moment of rest and contemplation before continuing down the rest of the mountain and back to the parking lot.
It is always bittersweet to complete a hike; both satisfying to successfully make it back to reality in one piece and disappointing to have to return to that same reality so quickly. However, each time I make it to the finish line, I feel emboldened, euphoric, and free. The feelings might not last when I have to return to the office, but knowing that I can step outside and take myself to my own physical limits gives me something to look forward to.
This hike, on another unseasonably beautiful day in February, was a tough one. There were enough laborious ascents and descents to consider this hike a difficult one, but it provides those seeking a taxing hike a decent challenge. This trip can also be turned into a very short hike with a great payoff if somebody wants to simply climb the Washburn Trail to one of the early views and then turn around. I personally had a great, arduous day hiking the Hudson Highlands. It was 3:40PM when I finally sat down in the driver's seat, still ahead of schedule. I wasn't in much of a hurry so I opened the windows and sat, staring at the road, for a few moments. I listened to a song or two, blissfully exhausted, before heading out onto the road and back to reality.