Peace on Popolopen

I didn't intend on making repeated trips to the Hudson Highlands. The whole area just seems to pull me in like a magnet. I have wound up hiking Butter Hill and Storm King Mountain (twice each), North and Pitching Point, and Popolopen Torne over the course of the last month.

As I debated where to hike next, I rationalized that I should avoid the region and explore elsewhere. However, Popolopen Torne had been on my radar for some time and the day was shaping up to be spectacular, excellent weather conditions for the Highlands.

The trail started out at the Fort Montgomery Historic Site, descending into the trees. Making my way through the lush forest, I quickly started to run into wildlife as a number of deer frolicked along the edges of the path.

The trail crosses many remote roads, none of which did I find any cars on. I love the desolate feeling of these roads. The quiet, the emptiness, the void - it reminds of something out of the Walking Dead. Off the road a bit, deep in the brush, I ran into an extraordinary cat who appeared to be living comfortably in the woods.

Eventually, I arrived at the "Trail of the Fallen". The rocky trail leads steeply to the summit of Popolopen Torne where there is a fallen soldier memorial - a decorated rock pile made up of stones carried from the base of the hill, an American flag and a MIA flag as bookends, and 2 marble benches (the benches are dedicated to soldiers lost in battle, Darren Hidalgo and Thomas Kennedy respectively). I hopped over a number of snakes on my way up as they relaxed on the rocks.

Alternative open slabs are abundant in the area surrounding the memorial. I claimed the top of a large rock on the southeastern tip of the mountain. I basked in the sun and made myself comfortable. This hike is only a few miles and since I was making good time, I decided to spend some time at this location and really soak it all in. I rarely take enough time out on my hikes to truly enjoy any particular view and this felt like just the time to do it.

I spent about an hour and a half sitting atop the world, overlooking Anthony's Nose, the Bear Mountain Bridge, and the rolling forest below in all directions. The endless space above was nearly cloudless, the sun shining brightly. A breeze would sweep across the mountaintop from time to time, whipping the trees and cooling the air. I kept watch for other hikers, pivoting my head from time to time to the trail markers about 20 yards away in either direction. Nobody ever passed by; the summit was mine.

As I meditated deeply, I was shaken from my peace by artillery blast from training taking place associated with nearby West Point. I turned toward the sound of gunfire to find a black plume rising above the treeline miles away in the distance. Eventually, my ears grew accustomed to the blasts and they became soothing background noise as I stretched across the rock.

Each time I opened my eyes after deep breathing, the landscape popped and appeared even more incredible than it had moments before. Chemtrails streaked across the sky; in particular, one spanned the whole length of the sky from one end of my eye line to the other and projected unusual, thin black shadows into the river. It was a bit disorientating, but once I realized I didn't burn my eye out, it was interesting to witness.

The first issue I ran into was convincing myself to leave. I felt this way the first time I visited Carris Hill: a connection, a calm, an innate fascination. The second issue was actually leaving once I packed up my things and slung by bag over my shoulders. The hardest part of enjoying a beautiful location is really the cooling effect as getting back into a rhythm can take some focus after so much lounging.

So, I lingered at the spot for few more minutes before I carried on down the other side of the summit. For a moment, I lost the trail before noticing blue blazes painted on a jagged rock down a nearly vertical rock slab. Carefully, I lowered myself down the slab and then to a few more before moving back into the woods. After spending good time at the summit, the subsequent walk through the trees was even more enjoyable and soothing than usual.

I again broke into some sprints along the trail and made good time returning to the Fort Montgomery Historic Site. The short walk on 9W back to the parking lot (especially the portion on the side of the bridge over the water) was satisfying in itself. With the mountains and blue sky as a backdrop, the sun illuminated the clouds like light bulbs.

I will undoubtedly return to Popolopen Torne. In fact, these last few trips up the Hudson Highlands have definitely solidified my affection for the region. The sights here possess a rich history and a distinct character. I feel a strong bond with the area and can confidently say that it is my hands-down favorite place to hike.




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