Seeking the Scar at Schunemunk

July 15, 2018

I'm far less familiar with Schunemunk Mountain State Park than I'd like to be. Winter trips to the Megaliths and High Knob are all I can say about Orange County's tallest mountain. Those trips made it clear that this hill had it's own unique personality unlike anywhere else in the highlands.

 
Leaving my car at Rt 32/Evans Dr parking always feels uncomfortable. Parking on what seems like a random parcel of private land, it has a feeling of abandoning my vehicle and begging for questions to be asked by locals or law enforcement. Regardless, leaving my car on NYNJTC's "P" marker on their maps has never caused me any issues in the past.

The Long Path turns off Route 32 into a driveway. A rock staircase to the left leads underneath a train trestle serving the Port Jervis line of the Metro North Railway. Multiple property easements are in action for this trail, which parallels the tracks for a few hundred yards. I passed by a local enjoying a sunbathing opportunity beside the tracks. "Train's coming," he says. He seems to be well informed.

Soon the path turns into the forest. It seemed a little overgrown at first, but nothing crazy -- a result of typical seasonal growth on a lesser-used piece of trail. Eventually I'm forced to skip, hop, and duck around vegetation. I keep telling myself it's done after the next turn...or the next one...or the next. I turn another corner and find a section almost entirely reclaimed by the forest (pictured to the left).

I froze. I had no protection on my legs and wanted no part of ticks, chiggers, thorns, or poison ivy. I sized up the trail for a few minutes and planned my route through this mess. A Harriman-bound Metro North train came blaring down the tracks. That's the alarm clock; It's about that time to choose between going forward or going home. I don't have all day to sit and stare at plants or hang with the flies. I started hopping forward.

Every step was a hurdle that took a few seconds of planning. To the right a young doe runs off -- ticks confirmed. The poison ivy was everywhere: on the trail, in the surrounding bushes, hanging from above, wrapped around tree trunks. I had not seen ivy this bad since Giant Stairs in the Palisades. I was less concerned with thorns but they were getting in on the action too. It was a pretty unpleasant experience that was rewarded with something faintly resembling a trail just around the corner.

At this point I was officially committed to the climb. Passing that section on the way back to the car wasn't gonna be fun but that's an issue for another time. The trail re-establishes past a perpendicular ATV road and starts climbing. I start pushing up the hill hard, trying to get into a rhythm to trail run. But I only had so much hustle to give with humid heat in the 90s and two straight nights past my bedtime. I shut my mind off and go into Robot Mode.

Before long I reached my favorite section of this trail: a rocky scramble on the Long Path near a cliff. I'm a bit too attracted to ledges like those resembling the sandstone cliffs of the Catskills. It has a vivid and expansive view centered on the hamlet of Kiryas Joel -- a largely hasidic community that will split from Monroe to become the Town of Pine Tree, NY in 2019. It will be New York's first new town since the incorporation of Rye in 1942.

 

After taking in the view for a few minutes, I proceeded to the main attraction. It only took a few minutes to reach the primary view on High Knob, a flat clearing with equal parts grass and rock exposures. This view is much more expansive than the first. Most notably, the New York State Thruway leads the eye towards the eastern Hudson Highlands, dominating the horizon. Another major feature of this view is the valley of Woodbury Creek, which separates Schunemunk from the Black Rock Forest highlands. The Highland Stone quarry completes the vista.

 

Having a concrete idea of the shots I wanted, I nailed them down quickly. This led to having more time on my hands, which is always budgeted for shooting time. I then made the decision to explore a feature I've been curious about for years: the rockslide at Schunemunk. Being clearly visible from the northbound Thruway, it's the most obvious way to identify High Knob from the south and east.


I followed the rock outcrops through thick brush and found the first minor slide. A horizontal scar in the distance turned into a precarious boulder field up close. The loose piles of talus had deadly characteristics in very real ways. In 2002 a man accidentally dislodged a rock while hiking offtrail near this area, killing himself and seriously injuring two others. The situation required medivac to Westchester Medical Center by helicopter. Making matters worse, a firefighter suffered injuries while overturning his ATV on the brutal terrain. The dangers in this section of forest are obvious, with rocks and boulders constantly shifting below my feet in unpredictable ways.

 

 

Yet, I hadn't reached the biggest scar on High Knob. I continued downhill to a cliff ledge above the main rockfall. Contending with a 40 ft vertical drop, I wasn't about to get closer to see over the edge. I had enough; I was in the mood to return home in one piece that day. With a little effort and sense of direction, it didn't take long to get back to the upper viewpoint on High Knob. A return to relative safety meant the mission was officially accomplished.

I descended the scramble on the trail and flew down back towards the dreaded overgrown section, where I pleasantly rediscovered a Long Path reroute I missed on the first pass. It aligned with a well-established woods road that led all the way back to the train trestle and my car, which was ready to take on the afternoon traffic.

Though the trip involved traversing treacherous territory, increased familiarity with the terrain will likely lead to a return. Always on the hunt for elusive shots, I know Schunemunk will come calling again.

 

 

 

 

 

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