A few weeks ago, I made my first trip out to Minnewaska State Park, fully prepared to hike to Gertrude's Nose. I was excited by the promise of amazing views and a challenging hike. However, after being teased by an obstructed vista in the parking lot on this 19 degree morning, I found the uphill path leading to the trail covered in a thick, slick sheet of solid ice. In fact, this ice covered every surface and made me quickly realize that trying to traverse this trail, which is considered to be generally treacherous, would likely become a practice in the art of slipping and sliding as opposed to an enjoyable hike. That day, I hiked to Rainbow Falls instead, but I placed Gertrude's Nose on my short-term hit list.
So, now into spring, at least a week removed from any significant snow, with temperatures up above freezing, and only a partly cloudy sky, I felt like it was about time to return to the Shawangunk Mountains for another crack at the Nose. I got an early start and made a stop at the Walden Diner in Walden, NY for a hearty breakfast before making the last 30-minute trek to the park. Passing through the small, rural towns on the way is always relaxing; it was just about when I hit Gardiner that the music playing through my phone suddenly cut out, leaving me to enjoy the rustic sights in welcomed silence.
After passing the Minnewaska Lodge (which I fully intend on enjoying a night's stay at sooner than later), Main Street heads steeply up the side of the mountain and to a parking area near Lake Minnewaska. As I parked, I glanced in all directions for signs of impassable ice and happily found none. However, there was certainly a lot more snow on the ground than at the lower elevations. Reviews on Alltrails.com from only a week prior had indicated that there was 2 feet of accumulation, and although this did seem accurate in some sporadic areas, it was certainly not that bad throughout. Again, the Catskills peek out from over the edge of the mountain here and act as some serious motivation right from the start.
I geared up and headed to the old carriage road leading to the trail with my fingers crossed and was elated to find only a thin layer of packed snow. Under the overcast sky, the partially frozen Lake Minnewaska to my left lacked the extreme sun glare that lit it up on my previous visit, but this did not impede the beauty of this lake which sits 1,650 feet above sea level. I continued on this path for a short distance, catching glimpses of the white cliffs across the lake, before moving onto the yellow-blazed Millbrook Mountain Carriage Road on my way to trailhead to Gertrude's Nose.
The first of many, many amazing views came after following yellow blazes for only a short period as the trees open up onto a stony ridge and I arrived at Patterson's Pellet. The "pellet" is actually a tongue-in-cheek reference to a huge glacial erratic that sits at the edge of the cliff overlooking the Palmaghatt Ravine below. On some hikes, this would be the goal, the paramount vista, the climax, and yet, this was only the very beginning. I took some time here to enjoy the landscape and look out far ahead between the slopes at an even greater view that I knew I would eventually be treated to later on in the hike.
Following the ridge, over patches of snow, I reentered the forest once again before arriving at another open slab. As I walked along, basking in the glory of what seemed like an endless view, my trekking pole dug through the snow and into a gaping crevice. I knocked some of the snow out of the way and glanced down into the darkness, reminding myself to be careful as I moved along. This particular nook was not large by any means, but acted as a good warning of what was to come.
I was immediately struck by a powerful ledge resembling a bird's beak that stuck out off the side of the cliff, separated by a vertical gap. It almost appeared as though the
immense stone was levitating on its own. I carefully made my way over the gap and hopped to the edge for some photos. Surprisingly, I am not a fan of heights and do have some level of fear when being high up on a man-made structure. For instance, on a trip to Overlook Mountain in the Catskills, I had no problem while standing at the edge of the 3,140 foot-high cliff overlooking Woodstock, NY. However, it took quite a bit of personal inner dialogue to make it to the top of the mountain's fire tower. So, despite this ledge's appearance of hovering, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting at the fringe and sipping some coffee. I suppose I trust nature more than man in some instances.
Eventually, I moved along and soon arrived at the start of the red-blazed Gertrude's Nose Trail. After another short, uphill stint through the evergreen forest, I emerged from the woods onto another ridge, this one leading to Gertrude's Nose. I gazed ahead in amazement at a number of raised cliffs with precipitous drop-offs and countless deep fissures (some partially or completely covered by sheets of snow) in the rock. Vibrant green pitch pines peppered the ridge alluringly among the white snow patches and gray stone.
I enthusiastically hopped along the edge of the ridge, cautiously avoiding the cracks in the ground below and checking the blankets of snow on the ground with my poles. The views are so plentiful here that to describe each of them would certainly wind up resulting in both hyperbole and redundancy, but I cannot stress enough just how breathtaking this area is. The trail is, at times, difficult to follow as the blazes are painted on rocks and the ground, however, it was sometimes clear as walking straight ahead would lead to a sheer plunge off the side of the rock.
Snaking through the forest to avoid the drop-offs, I spotted out many areas that have likely gone untouched for quite some time due simply to the size of the crevices between many lips or ledges. Each short jaunt into the trees and back onto the ridge would open up a view to another, higher edge. On many occasions, I thought I had reached the peak only to find another cliff further out in the distance. Panoramic view after panoramic view had my adrenaline flowing and I hadn't even reached the actual vista known as Gertrude's Nose.
After taking time to savor each of these viewpoints, I arrived at the southern end of the ridge, Gertrude's Nose. Here, expansive views of the rural land below and the mountain ranges in the distance are some of the best that I have seen since Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Personally, I find that the views are more interesting with the trees still bare as you can spot out particular homes and structures below. I spent a good amount of time snapping pictures and breathing deeply here. This is the type of vista that conjures deeply contemplative, contradictory thoughts. I often think about the immensity of the universe and about our minuscule place in it. After all, I am looking at a seemingly endless view and it makes up less than 1% of Earth, while I am just a solitary man, among 7.5 billion, standing on a big rock.
Nevertheless, this view from this brow is absolutely stunning. As I moved along, the view, although partially obstructed by trees, followed me as I began to work my way around the ridge. I eventually arrived at a very steep rock scramble and was happy to come across this somewhat strenuous patch. I climbed up and came out onto a large, rocky hill absolutely covered in more bight pitch pines. Here, three trails intersected: the blue-blazed Millbrook Ridge Trail, the yellow-blazed Millbrook Mountain Carriage Road, and the red-blazed Millbrook Mountain Trail. I would enjoy one last view off of Millbrook Mountain before finally descending into the forest for the trip back to Lake Minnewaska and my car.
After so many amazing views, you might believe that a trip through the woods would seem less interesting. However, this portion of the hike provided me the workout I crave and, with many ups and downs, I finally started to break and good sweat and felt my blood start to truly flow. There was some rock hopping over attractive tributaries decorated with snow spots and steep inclines which allowed for even more views, albeit obstructed.
The rough trail eventually met up with the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road and circled around the lake toward the parking lot. Along the carriage road, I came across a woodpecker working hard on pounding a number of holes into a fallen tree. A wide pile of wood shavings lay under the trunk and a nearby tree, still standing, was ridden with a number of holes from its previous project. The bird was surprisingly larger than others of its species that I have come across in the past, almost as large as a duck. I was able to snap a number of pictures and get very close to the creature before it decided to fly away.
A short time later I was back at my car, packing away my gear. As I drove back down the hill to exit the park, I drove past the scenic overlook that I had passed on my previous visit. That day, I told myself I wouldn't stop at the overlook for a cheap picture because a picture isn't worth anything without working for it. I am happy to say, I
took a number of great photos of that very same view, only after hiking the ridge and putting the proper work in to take them.
Unfortunately, directly after this hike, I would be attending the wake of one of my best friend's mother who passed away, way too soon, at age 49 from cancer. Both my mother and father were 49 when they passed away and so this situation was one that I could relate all too well to. I had thought of her and her family quite a bit since she was diagnosed only a few short months ago, especially within the solitude to nature. So, as we say goodbye, under the most difficult of circumstances, let all of those who depart too soon remind us to cherish each day and motivate us to try to better ourselves, however possible, while we can.