When I last visited Carris Hill and Wyanokie High Point in February, on an unseasonably warm, beautiful day, I was struck by my uniquely strong connection with the trail. Something about the views, the terrain, and the forest along the way put me in an undeniable state of relaxation and ease.
So, naturally, when my long-time close friends, Guy and his sister Tina, told me they wanted to go on a hike, I immediately knew I wanted to share this amazing experience with them. Instead of the full loop I had completed previously, I planned out an adjusted route that would take us to Carris Hill and then backtrack to climb to the high point on the return.
I arrived at their home on Erskine Lake at about 9:30AM as thick white clouds rolled over the sun, intermittently spraying rays of light down on the still water. There was definitely a chance of nasty weather so ponchos and sweaters were packed. We took off to the diner for a quick breakfast before heading to the Weis Center parking area near the trailhead.
As we slowly crept along Snake Den Road toward the lot, I stopped to point out the strange purple structure - I suppose I would call it a shed or a garage - that I have admired on past visits. The completely purple shed has 2 violet Volvos parked outside in the yard, along with countless other purple items (a swing, a bicycle, and a small bench, just to name a few) and trinkets spread throughout the property. A quote from Jimi Hendrix is inscribed on the far wall: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." We pondered who could have possibly designed such a strange looking building and carried on to park the car.
An ominous lone school bus was in the lot as we pulled in, but thankfully it didn't look like the children were going to have the pleasure of hiking any trails as they crowded nearby in an open field, a tour guide giving some sort of lecture. I explained our route to Guy and Tina as I geared up and grabbed my trekking poles out of my trunk. The temperature was on the warmer side as we started into the trees, following the green blazes along the Blue Mine Brook.
Suddenly, up ahead about 50 yards, an older woman came in to view. She was completely decked out in purple attire, a purple scarf around her neck and a huge purple hat on her head. As she came within a feet of us, I noticed that even her stringy hair had been dyed purple. "I'm going to guess that's your purple house over there?" I said, pointing in the direction of the lavender shed.
"How'd you guess?" she replied hoarsely. She then claimed that she was about to be filmed as part of a "color documentary" along with a "green gardener" and others who share an unhealthy, homogeneous obsession with particular colors. I walked away from this encounter irreverently satisfied and happy to have given my guests something interesting right from the start.
We passed the natural pool, now drained and grungy, and moved across the rocks onto the blue-blazed Hewitt-Butler Trail. I had forgotten how quickly the trail began to ascend, but as we moved further up the mountain, the sights began to open up through the (still) bare trees and we stopped frequently for pictures. I advised both Guy and Tina that these partial views we were passing were not even the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the first sweeping overlook. I encouraged pictures as we sat on the slab overlooking the surrounding mountains, taking in the breeze. Despite the beauty of this spot, I again hyped what lie ahead. This particular location is home to one of my favorite trees - an old oak tree that stands distinctively among the bright green pitch pines along the outcrop.
As we continued along the path, the wind began to intensify and the sun succumbed to the clouds in the sky. Thankfully, the views weren't obstructed, but it began to feel like the seasons were changing from spring back to winter. We took in a view of the Wanaque Reservoir as cooler air swept in with a single rumble of thunder and sprinkling rain drops. Tina donned her poncho as we moved back to the trail.
We passed the intersection of the Wyanokie Circular and Highlands Trails; we would return later to climb to the high point for a fitting climax. For now though, we continued following blue blazes, descending into the forest and rock hopping over small tributaries. Soon, we arrived at Yoo-Hoo Point. I told my guests that the location was named for one's ability to "hollar" "yoo-hoo!" to hikers who are atop Wyanokie High Point; nobody was present to shout at, so we took a moment to relax and sip some water as the rain drops and wind subsided.
Shortly thereafter, after some ups and downs, we found ourselves arriving at the start of the yellow-blazed Carris Hill Trail (it was about here where I began to feel pulled toward the view at the hill by some unseen force). The steep vertical rock scramble that introduces the trail leads to a disorientating view of Wyanokie High Point which now appears much further away. After sitting at Yoo-Hoo Point, looking straight ahead at the high point, the view from the Carris Hill Trail gives you the feeling that you have walked more than you have. The wind suddenly kicked up and cold rain drops began to pelt the rock all around us as trees swayed and creaked.
The trail climbs a bit and eventually comes to an outcrop where a balanced boulder sits alongside a few vibrant pitch pines. Before we even ascended, 6 or 7 turkey buzzards could be seen gliding in circular formation nearby. As we peeked our heads over the trail horizon, I spotted another dozen buzzards or so, lounging alongside each other at the edge of the cliff and atop the boulder. I attempted to slowly and quietly creep up to the unaware creatures for some photos, but as I pulled my camera from my pocket, the noise alerted the birds. The volt, about 20 large buzzards in total, took off within seconds and glided away as they dissolved into specks against the white sky.
Here, the wind began to strengthen even more, and the pitch pines swung from side to side. We hopped off of the outcrop and back onto the trail, through mountain laurel, and finally arrived at Carris Hill. The air here was damn near frigid as the wind continued to pound the mountainside. That same sense of ease swept over me despite the harsh conditions.
The NYC skyline was visible, albeit very faintly, behind the furthest mountain range and traffic, appearing minuscule, rolled through the landscape along Rt. 287. The sheer immensity of the Wanaque Reservoir is clear from this angle as it encompasses much of what you can see from the hill. We took some pictures here as I spread my arms out wide, letting the wind slam into me, and breathed in and out deeply. I would have liked to spend more time at this spot, but after being forced to put on my sweater, I realized we needed to keep moving.
Before we backtracked toward Wyanokie High Point, I pulled a small rubber ducky from my pocket. The week prior, I went out with close friends to an establishment that had a claw machine filled with rubber duckies. Being a "play until you win" machine, their daughter (to whom I am "honorary godfather") won more than enough ducks. As we said our goodbyes that evening, her father jokingly handed me one of the ducks. I knew he was not privy to taking home more toys to lay around the house. I promised I would find a good home for the duck. So, I tucked the small rubber toy into a narrow crevice underneath a rock looking out toward the view.
Strangely enough, the following day, after posting a picture of the duck on Instagram, my cousin sent me a message telling me that our Uncle Tommy had a proclivity for placing rubber ducks along the trails in the Adirondack Mountains many years ago. I found this to be a very strange coincidence and felt that my seemingly inconsequential decision to cache a rubber duck along a trail was subconsciously a tribute to my late uncle.
Through the strong wind and increasingly consistent rain, Guy, Tina, and I came back the way we came, taking in the views again for a second time, and finally arrived at the start of the climb up Wyanokie High Point. On my last visit, I had completed the full loop and approached the high point from the other side. I was happy not to subject my partners to such a strenuous climb and we made our way up the relatively easy stone steps to the top.
Once we reached the pinnacle of Wyanokie High Point, the 360 degree view of everything we had been looking at and traveling through for the entire day opened up. Amazingly, the sky began to clear and the wind completely halted as the temperatures rose to a comfortable level. At the very end of our day, it had turned from unpleasant to ideal in a flash. We took a number of photos with each other commemorating the completion of a successful hike and took time to savor the surrounding landscape from nearly 1000 feet up. I was impressed by Guy and Tina's hiking ability. For people who don't hike often, they traversed the trail with relative ease and only sporadic, short breaks. I am sure that the immense allure of the trail and indescribable beauty of the many views made the work easier to accomplish. I'm glad I chose this particular trail, not only for them, but because I kept my pledge to return sooner than later. The connection I felt on my initial visit was still strong, if not stronger, the second time around. I'll be back.