09 February 2014

Snowshoe Hike at North South Lake - 9 Feb 2013

Winter is a magical time for me.  The views are often phenomenal: you can see further without leaves, and you can see geological features that are otherwise hidden when the ground is lit up with snow.  The air is crisp, cool, and refreshing, and the world is dazzlingly bright.  The terrain is often easier to traverse, since snow fills in many features that you would have to step over otherwise, and the winter months are devoid of bothersome insects and especially bothersome arachnids, and I don't mean the harmless spiders or daddy longlegs.  Bushwhacking becomes much, much easier in some regards, though you'll still need to watch out for thorny plants, which seem to thrive through every season.  In short, I love winter.

Boulder Rock
Boulder Rock, with Kaaterskill High Peak in the background,
and a cut snowshoe and ski path wandering off into the woods.

Ken and I set out on a snowshoeing hike at North/South Lake.  I've been there several times, but it's been over a decade since I was last there.  The trail leading from Schutt Road has been improved from the confused mess that it used to be, and I swear there are more signs and junctions than there used to be.  Ken had been there several times over the past few weeks, and he knew exactly where he wanted to go, so I let him lead.

The trail from Schutt road over to the first junction (with the ski trail) was well cut and an easy walk.  Once we got to the junction and signed in, we started up the horse trail towards the top of South Mountain.  The trail was once again well cut, with a clear snowshoe track running parallel to ski tracks.  The snowshoe tracks abandoned us at a junction leading to the Palenville Overlook (an awesome place to sit a spell), so Ken and I took turns breaking a new snowshoe trail.

When we arrived at the tangled junction near Kaaterskill Mountain House loop, we saw a relatively large party of snowshoers (5-7 of them).  We exchanged greetings, and then headed on our way around the loop.  Here there were no ski tracks, just a broken snowshoe path.  The trail was only cut for a short ways, and we were soon back to breaking trail. 

We circled around and Ken lead us over to the old cistern, across from a small pond and a tangled mess of tracks.  It looked as if we had found the local deer party spot.  where we stopped to enjoy some food.  We had done nearly all of the height, and now it was just a matter of getting back to the car.  After enjoying a short food break, we continued circling around the small pond, heading toward the flat area where the hotel used to be.

As we did that, we came across a curious set of tracks: they looked feline, but with a walking pattern (or possibly running pattern) that I don't normally associate with cats.  Two larger paws were side by side, and then behind them, in a T formation, were two smaller paws.  I'm kicking myself now for not stopping to photograph them with a reference point, but it appeared to be a feline paw (at least up front): 4 toes and no visible claws.  If I had to guess, I would guess that a bobcat or lynx had come tearing through there trying to get at the deer whose tracks we had seen on the way in.  I don't know enough about reading tracks to say for certain, though.

At the site of the Kaaterskill House, I looked around, trying to find the top of South Mountain.  There are two possible areas: one is the height of a fairly open and level area, which you pass by near the start of a counter-clockwise loop.  The other is a small rise to the other end of it.  I decided to go climb up the small rise.  To my surprise, I found a decent sized foundation up there, along with footings for another building.  I told Ken about it, and we both spent a few minutes checking it out.  Then we circled around the building and started looking for a way off of the rise and back down to the trail.  It ended up being a relatively gentle descent on the line that we had chosen, and Ken spotted a marker within a minute.

We made our way back to the junction where we had seen the large group, and started over toward Boulder Rock.  We came to yet another junction, and then another.  The latter led on a short but somewhat steep descent down to Boulder Rock.  Had it been any steeper, we would have been taking our snowshoes off, but as it was, we did ok.

Boulder Rock is a glacial erratic that sits right near the edge of the escarpment.  When we arrived there, we found that we had caught up to the  same large group of snowshoers.  As we strode past, heading for the view, one of them commented on the size of Ken's snowshoes: "they're so BIG!"  I said, "yes, they are," with a chuckle, and we kept on moving.  (Ken's snowshoes are sized for traversing unbroken snow, whereas most of the others, myself included, were wearing snowshoes meant for broken snow and the occasional rocky terrain you encounter on hiking trails.  On fresh powder, he floated a solid inch above mine when we stopped to compare.)

We enjoyed the view off of the escarpment for a few minutes, commiserating with a group of skiers about frozen Clif bars.  Ken offered me a choice, return by the way we had come (more or less) or head back over a unmarked trail (which is described on the NYNJTC maps as such), between a cliff and a rock wall.  I took one look, said "f- that" to going back the way we came, and we headed off.  Ken lead the way to the unmarked trail, which one or two other snowshoers had already cut for us.  It lead through beautiful woods, and past massive erratics that looked ready to topple the next time the region gets a big earthquake.  The snowmobilers we had been hearing all day were getting louder and louder, and as we neared the road, we saw them driving past.

The road was covered in snow, and pounded hard and flat by a lot of snowmobile traffic.  I imagine this makes for decent skiing, but for snowshoeing it's the equivalent of concrete.  I don't like running on it with snowshoes, and I don't particularly like hiking on it (with snowshoes or with spikes).  Still, we only had to hike on it for a tenth of a mile or so, and it ended up being ok.  We turned left onto the ski trail that led back to the first junction, and headed back to the car.

We saw a few more new parties on our way out, including a group of kids, one of whom decided to run off through the woods when he caught sight of us.  Apparently we're getting scarier-looking in our old age.

That was about it.  All told we did 5.2 miles, and it was a good trip.  By the end of it we were both getting a lot more comfortable on our snowshoes, and I'm looking forward to more winter adventures, hopefully soon.  Hiking on the road also brought back unexpected memories, of grey skies and wet ground and wandering forever over these roads, but that tale will have to wait for another day.

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