I arrived at the trailhead of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway Trail at 8:00AM. I was up nice and early this morning and rearing to get on my way. Sipping my coffee, I enjoyed a pleasant drive to Tomkins Cove, NY, with very little traffic and fresh, cool air whipping through my open window.
This was the first day of the year where I would be expecting temperatures to rise above 80 degrees while I hiked. In 2017, I started this circuit in July and grew accustomed to tolerating scorching temperatures and all the sweat, burns, and thirst that came with it. I have enjoyed the extended winter hiking, but I was looking forward to the sun, comfortable air against my skin, and being able to feel all of my digits throughout the entire trip.
Surprisingly, on such a beautiful day, I was the first car in the lot. I lingered around my vehicle for about 15 minutes as I enjoyed the solitude on the side of the lightly-trafficked road, organized my gear, reviewed my map, and finished my coffee. The forest just beyond where I parked was lush, wildly overgrown, and clearly beginning to come alive.
As I calmly filled pockets and adjusted straps, another car pulled into a spot nearby. An older Asian couple emerged from the vehicle and we made some small talk about the trail and hiking in general. The woman told me she had just started hiking recently, but that her husband, who stood behind her silently with a smile on his face, had been hiking for some months now since his retirement. They wished me a good hike and I wished them the same.
With my map spread out across my trunk and mountain to my back, I took some time to really appreciate my surroundings and truly examine what brought me to this point today. I have completed nearly 50 straight weeks of hiking (although I missed one completely due to a bad cold and packed in more than one in other weeks) and still get outlandishly excited the night before, on the way, and as I start out on a trail.
After securing all of my gear, I sprayed myself liberally with sunscreen. The temperature was rising as I started out along the side of the road toward the red-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. Immediately, I was struck by the thickness of the brush along the narrow path. Passing a small pond and hopping up onto large rocks, I could hear creatures scurrying about. A salamander ran across the trail ahead; I hadn't seen one for months now.
I don't know just what type of salamander it was; truly, I don't know much. I am the first to admit that I don't know the name of most of the trees or plants that I cross out in the forest. I don't always know which mountain or body of water I'm looking at without closely examining my map. I don't know which species of birds are whizzing by me as I wander. I have been trying to learn, but as I have said many times before, I primarily enjoy the physical activity and the mental stimulation.
As I started ascending the extremely rocky trail, I began sweating profusely under the early morning sun. The views came of the Hudson River came early on in the hike and I took a moment at each of the few spots to enjoy the scenery. The Indian Point nuclear power plant stood prominently across the sparkling water. I recalled the first time I spotted the plant, back in the fall when I hiked Anthony's Nose.
The trail eventually ascended even more steeply and I decided to do some bushwhacking up to an outcrop that was a bit off of the trail. I enjoyed a different perspective of the river before pushing branches out of the way and ducking under fallen trunks to get back on track. I was now high up on the mountain and the cooler breeze was misleading as the hot sun mercilessly beat down on me.
I knew the trail would eventually lead me over Bald Mountain, which I had first visited in early February. That winter day found the whole forest covered in a sheet of ice and made the steep ascent up the side of the mountain very dangerous and difficult. However, today I would be approaching from the opposite direction and there were absolutely no hints of ice on the ground.
The plan would be to take it somewhat easy until Bald Mountain and then really push it into gear on the way back to the trailhead. I continued along the trail, my shirts completely soaked in sweat, moving slowly but steadfastly toward my destination while enjoying the amazing conditions of the day.
I arrived at a lookout point that allowed for a similar view as the one from Bald Mountain, although I would dare say I enjoyed this spot even more. The Bear Mountain bridge pressed between Bear Mountain and Manitou Mountain was straight ahead and a lone ship traveled slowly beneath it and up the river towards me.
I removed one of my shirts and reapplied more sunscreen as I had certainly sweat it all off at this point. "This would be a perfect place for a picnic," I thought as I sat and followed the ship with my eyes. This view was simply breathtaking so lingered. Although I didn't want to leave, I knew there were miles yet to go and I had more to see.
So, I carried on along the trail, deeper and deeper into the forest. Leaves were starting the flesh out the trees. As I came over a small hill, I startled two white-tailed deer frolicking about 20 yards ahead. Startled, but not spooked, they stood with their heads twisted in my direction and allowed for some pictures. The creatures only wound up galloping off as I pushed closer and closer to them.
Eventually, I arrived at a flat, surrounded by trees. I generally do deep breathing at times like this, but on this excellent day I felt compelled to engage in full-blown yoga. Contorting into warrior pose under the sun, in the silence of the forest, I felt very much at peace and the short yoga session reinvigorated me.
The sun was getting hotter and hotter and I began to feel the heat on my skin. The sunscreen may have been working to stave off any burns, but the heat was exhausting. I turned my extra t-shirt into a makeshift turban to shield from the rays and continued along the trail, beginning to incline even further now.
I finally arrived at a fork in the trail that I recognized from my trip in February. Last time, it was here where I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee from my thermos after a precipitous struggle up the mountain. Now, I sauntered along to the top. The view contrasted greatly with the one I had viewed back in the winter. I was cold and in pain back then and had to carefully make each step to avoid slipping and falling. This time, I took time to think deeply as I made my way freely along the
Now, as I had planned, I would move rapidly and vigorously along the path as I completed the last 3 miles or so of the trail. As I took quick, determined steps, I recalled traversing the same trail in February, slowly and apprehensively. I arrived at the banks of the Timp Brook, where I had previously slipped and bruised my hip, and found it easy to cross. Over the brook, I climbed a narrow trail upward, where I ran into two more deer. These deer also allowed me to take some pictures before casually making their way out into the trees.
I arrived at the blue-blazed Timp-Torne Trail and began to move more quickly. I live for feeling that I am pushing myself, that I am pushing myself to my limits, and that I am pushing myself into uncertain, vulnerable territory. There were a number of great views to take in along the trail and I ran into three more deer, all of which seemed quite comfortable with my appearance.
In short order, I arrived back at the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, my body feeling the miles and my shirt draped over my face. I began to hear road noise again as I came near the end of the hike and was surprised to see the couple that I met in the morning taking slow, careful steps down the side of the mountain. They allowed me to pass them and told me they needed some time to rest. I wished them well as I made my way back to my car.
The parking lot was absolutely full now as I dropped my pack into my car and got into the driver's seat. I was spent and covered in sweat, and yet still feeling completely amazing. I opened the windows to let out some of the accumulated heat and sat to bask in my own achieved exhaustion.
The Ramapo-Dunderberg Spiral Railway Trail featured many wonderful views and a number of strenuous climbs that made this hike amazing on an amazingly ideal day. Revisiting Bald Mountain during the spring, after seeing it in the dead of winter, with completely different aesthetics, was a huge highlight. Also, coming across as many deer as I did was completely unexpected but totally welcomed. I will likely be back to this location in the future and actually hope to picnic at the alternate viewpoint of the Bear Mountain Bridge.