Rain drops splattered against the window pane as I considered my next hike. The weather had not been ideal over the subsequent days and I now found myself searching for forecast town by town, further and further north. Ringwood, NJ would have pouring rain, the Hudson Highlands would have some drizzling, and the Shawangunks would see clouds along with some drizzle. However, the conditions in Woodstock, NY promised to be pleasant and comfortable and so I decided to take the trip.
I woke up at 4:30 AM, without an alarm, itching to hit the road and get into the woods. An inspection at work caused a slight change in my routine which forced me to postpone my hike by a few days; the desire to hike compounded irrationally over the course of these additional 48 hours.
As I traveled north on the NY Thruway, the sky went from a shade of gray, to completely white, to a patchy blue. The strength and consistency of the rain decreased with every passing mile as I adjusted the windshield wipers accordingly. Eventually, as I approached the Catskills region, the dry blades were scraping across the glass like nails on a chalkboard.
Misty white cloud plumes hung low in the air and intermittently drifted across my line of sight in front of the distant mountainsides. Shortly thereafter, I was parking the in the empty small lot at the base of Mt. Tremper. As soon as I stepped out of the vehicle, stretching after a long trip, countless gnats swarmed me, attracted by the previous days' rain.
Lush, green mountains surrounded me on all sides along the small rural road and the trailhead was directly ahead. The board indicated that the summit of Mt. Tremper was
3-miles and 2,040 feet away. I gathered my gear and slipped into the trees onto a small footbridge that led directly to a rocky, moss-covered trail. Faint rays of sunlight shone through cracks in the vibrant, verdant leaves on the trees, illuminating the entire forest.
The muddy ground was completely saturated in some areas and the irregular slabs that stuck out of the dirt were treacherously slick. Carefully, I ascended further and further up the mountain on a wide path. As I climbed higher and higher, I could see peaks of other mountains starting to appear through the trees. The trail continued to ascend. Each time I took a moment to appreciate the sights, gnats seemed to appear out of thin air and swarm me yet again, so I continued to move.
The wide trail narrowed as I approached the summit and I was now within the misty clouds I had spotted on the road some hours prior. I took a small trail that passed by the Balwin Memorial lean-to, but could not stop for long to appreciate it due to the gnat swarm. The fog floated through the tree trunks and the sun appeared directly overhead as I made the final approach to the summit.
Beyond another vacant lean-to to my left, the fire tower that sits atop the mountain came into view through the trees ahead. I was surprised, as I stepped to the base of the tower, that there was no view at this location unless I climbed the creaky, rotting wooden steps up to the top. I generally do not trust fire towers, but the calm conditions of the day gave me little reason to worry.
The old wooden steps were soft as I made my way to the top. As I rose above the treeline, I looked off into the distance and could only barely make out the top of a mountain in the distance poking faintly through the thick curtain of white clouds that had gathered. I was supremely disappointed and was almost angry that I had wasted so much time on a strenuous ascent to finally arrive at a nonexistent view.
As had happened previously at Overlook Mountain in Woodstock in January, my only other trip to the Catskills, I watched as the clouds were briefly pushed away by the wind and a sweeping view of the landscape appeared in front of me. I sat on the steps of the fire tower, taking pictures, eating trail mix, and enjoying the view, as the curtain eventually overtook the view once again.
Once my sight once again went white, I descended the tower and retraced my steps back to my car. The trip down was almost as difficult as the way up due to the slippery rocks and loose stones. By the time I had arrived back at my car, my shins were stinging and I was covered in sweat. I also suspect I had unintentionally swallowed a good number of the swarming gnats.
I had at least gotten a solid workout, but I found this trail to be somewhat uninspiring. Without much variation in the landscape, being unable to rest due to the inundation of insects, and the limited view from the top, I simply saw this trail as good for physical exercise, but it did little for me mentally. I was actually happy to have finished, not due to an extraordinary accomplishment, but due to the trail being rather lackluster. I hate to say it, but I will likely not see this trail again.