Monday, November 3, 2014

2014-11-02 North Dome - a pilgrimage, or a bugbear laid to rest.

On November 2, 2014, I climbed North Dome in the Catskills with Jon, an occasional hiking partner of mine, and his friend Chris.

The trip that this report describes is in the nature of a pilgrimage, and the slaying of a personal bugbear. As far as I know, I'm the first in my family to climb North Dome Mountain since the tragic events of 1940.

Note: I expect to be able to include more pictures soon. My partners did most of the photography on this trip.

I'll let the newspapers describe the piece of family history that North Dome represents.


From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 29 November 1940, page 7:

Brother Vamps Join Search for L.I. Hunter Missing 3 Days
Special to the Brooklyn Eagle

Inwood, Nov. 29—Twenty-five members of the Inwood Volunteer Fire Department today joined the search for Wesley Meserole, 28, of 143 Lord Ave., here, who disappeared last Tuesday on a hunting trip in the mountainous countryside near Spruceton. Meserole is a member of long standing of the local fire company.

Headed by Nassau County Police Sgt. Robert O. Kirk of the Woodmere Precinct, brother-in-law of young Meserole, the firemen left here in five automobiles. The missing man's wife is on the verge of collapse at his home, where she and their two children are anxiously awaiting news.

Police Continue Search

Spruceton, N. Y., Nov. 29 (UP)—State police, CCC workers and volunteers continued to search the woods near here today for Wesley Meserole, 28, who disappeared on a hunting trip Tuesday. Meserole, father of two children, left his Inwood, L. I. home Monday. Hunters at a Catskill mountain camp said he had ascended nearby North Dome Mountain. State police were notified when he failed to return that night and a search has been in progress since.


From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, January 9, 1941, page 5:

Shells Identified As Fired By Meserole

Shotgun shells found in Mink Hollow, town of Lexington, were positively identified by experts as shells fired by Wesley Meserole, Inwood, L.I. hunter who has been missing since November 26 when he left a Spruceton farmhouse to go hunting.

The search for the hunter is expected to continue whenever weather permits and many county residents, CCC boys and friends from Inwood have participated in the search.


From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, April 24, 1941, page 1:

TO SEARCH FOR MISSING HUNTER AGAIN SUNDAY

Volunteers are again requested to join in a search of the Mink Hollow and Broad Street Hollow sections near Westkill in a final effort to locate some clue to the mysterious disappearance of Wesley Meserole, Inwood, L.I. hunter who vanished during a hunting trip on November 26.

The search, to be held Sunday, May 4, is sponsored by the Inwood Volunteer Firemen. Cooperation will be offered by county volunteer firemen and others from several sections of the state. State Troopers, game wardens, fire wardens, local police, and residents will also join the hunt. It is hoped that sufficient manpower will be present to comb every inch of the territory in which Meserole had been hunting.

Searchers are requested to report at Westkill Community Hall at 8 a.m., Sunday. Sandwiches and coffee will be served throughout the day.

Since Meserole's disappearance, several attempts have been made to locate the missing man, his gun, or some definite clue which might help in solving the mystery of his disappearance. After January 12, the search was discontinued due to the snow on the mountains.

The only clues found so far have been discharged shotgun shells identified as the same type used by Meserole.


From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, May 15, 1941, page 1:

EXPECT 500 MEN TO JOIN SEARCH FOR MESEROLE

The search for Wesley Meserole, missing Inwood, L.I. volunteer fireman, who disappeared while on a hunting trip near Westkill, town of Lexington, on November 26, will be organized this Sunday, The search, a final attempt to solve the mysterious disappearance of the hunter, was originally scheduled for May 4, but was cancelled when the state closed the woods to the public due to the danger of fire.

More than 500 searchers, consisting of volunteer firemen and co-operating residents from Inwood, Meserole's home town, and communities throughout Greene and adjacent counties are expected to join the searching parties.

Charles Stewart, president of the Green County Firemen's Association, is in charge of the arrangements. All searchers will leave the Westkill Community Hall at 8 a.m.


From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, May 22, 1941, page 1:

SEARCHERS FAIL TO FIND ANY TRACE OF LOST HUNTER

Although upwards of 400 men gathered at Westkill on Sunday for a final search through the Broad Street Hollow, North Dome, and adjacent areas, no trace of Wesley Meserole, 29, was found.

Meserole, a volunteer fireman from Inwood, L.I., has been missing since he started on a hunting trip last November.

Participating in the search Sunday were volunteer firemen from nearly every company in Greene ounty, as well as representatives from Columbia and Schoharie counties, Inwood, and residents from the nearby communities, headed by men from the Conservation Department, the sheriff's office, State Police, Charles Stewart, president of the Greene County Firemen's Association, and Frank D. Meserole, the missing man's father.

Any number of miscellaneous objects, left by countless hunters in the area, were found, but nothing could be located to indicate the whereabouts of Meserole.

Many persons apparently are convinced that Meserole was accidentally shot and killed by another hunter, and that the body and all equipment which he carried, have been hidden in the rocks or buried. The mystery may remain unsolved forever. Providing Meserole was killed by another hunter, hope has been expressed that a guilty conscience may cause the killer to reveal the whereabouts of the body in due time, either by personal confession or by an unsigned message to the authorities.


From the Catskill, N.Y. Examiner-Recorder,, May 29, 1941, page 1:

$1,000 REWARD OFFERED FOR BODY OF W. MESEROLE

Determined to solve the mysterious disappearance of his son, Wesley Meserole, Frank Meserole now offers $1,000 reward to any person or persons locating the missing Inwood, L.I. hunter, dead or alive.

Meserole disappeared on November 26, 1940, while hunting rabbits in the town of Lexington, south of the Westkill and Spruceton road, presumably in the Broad Street Hollow area.

Thousands of searchers have combed the mountainous area of North Dome where the hunter was last seen. The hunt continued for some time after Meserole disappeared, although the men were handicapped by snow, the first of which fell the night Meserole was reported missing.

A final search was organized on May 18 when a large group of men, composed of volunteer firemen, civilians, friends from Inwood, state police, game protectors, and men from the sheriff's office combed a large area, but failed to find a single clue to indicate the whereabouts of Meserole.

The theory that Meserole had died in the woods as the result of an accident, or from wounds inflicted by himself, is now discounted, since it is believed that his body would have been found on May 18 had the remains been exposed since his disappearance.


A couple of side notes: I'd describe Wesley Meserole as having gone hiking. A strict Methodist, he was never one to "eat the bread of idleness," but carrying a gun would give his expeditions purpose, however unsuccessful they might be—and they most often were. In his time, there was little in the popular conception to distinguish recreational hiking from vagrancy.

The $1,000 that the elder Meserole offered as a reward was quite a substantial sum, more than half a year's wage for a journeyman carpenter in those days. Nobody ever stepped forward to claim it.

Wesley Meserole was the father of Roy Meserole, who eventually became my mother's long-time companion. (I often refer to him as my stepfather, although they never contracted a formal marriage, owing in part to the fact that doing so would jeopardize the assets of both should either ever suffer a severe medical problem.) Among my family, North Dome was a mountain whose name was uttered in hushed tones. When I took up mountaineering in the Catskills, my brother strongly reminded me of the tragic events that befell the Meserole family, and told me in no uncertain terms that I must not leave my wife a widow! With that background, North Dome was the one of the Catskill 3500's in particular that filled me with profound unease, if not indeed dread.

It was against this background that Jon called me on November 1 (rather at the last minute), inviting me to hike North Dome and Mount Sherrill on the following day. I accepted, warning him that I would be a bit of a nervous Nellie on the trip, and telling him some of the family history that made that so. We agreed to meet at the Shaft Road trailhead to shuttle cars.

We got started from the Mink Hollow trailhead in Spruceton (do you recognize names from the newspapers?) in reasonably good order, if at quite some delay, owing to the fact that I got delayed a little bit north of Schoharie village for some sort of police roadblock. I never found out what was going on. They were talking with a good many drivers, but when I finally got to the head of the line, they waved me through.

We walked in on the Devil's Path to roughly the first place where it's possible to turn up North Dome without trespassing. We rock-hopped the Mink Hollow brook, and started up the steep ascent to North Dome.

Mink Hollow Brook

About a quarter of the way up, Jon had to sit down, and started looking quite ill, and talking about aborting the hike. Chris and I of course stayed with him, and offered considerable reassurances that we'd not be at all annoyed at an abort, Objective Number One is to come home safe! But it turned out that he'd skipped breakfast, and had had nothing to eat that day but a couple of cups of coffee, and a Slim Jim munched in the car washed down with a can of Red Bull. He got out some of the food he brought, and had a sandwich. We made sure to get extra water into him, since he'd had nothing earlier in the day but salt and caffeine! He came around nicely, and said, "Let's try just moving slowly, and do just North Dome," insisting over our objections that he was well enough to travel.

In the event, it turned out that he was right. He continued to improve and was soon hiking strongly. Nevertheless, I'm a slow hiker, and the various delays made it obvious that we didn't have enough time to do Sherrill and descend to the west.

There had been a dusting of snow at the trailhead, and it gradually got deeper until it was boot-deep at the summit. The snow atop slippery fallen leaves made the ledges quite challenging. It was difficult finding safe footing for scrambling. Still, nobody had a bad fall or got hurt.

We eventually made it onto the north spur of the mountain, making the ledges slightly less high. They were still just as precipitous, and as frequent. They were just somewhat less tall. They continued up into the balsam forest.

Conditions on the ascent

Finally, we emerged onto an open path that led for about half a mile across the flat summit, depositing us directly at the canister.

Crossing the summit plateau

At last, I'd reached the spot that my family's lore had me believe was cursed.

Kevin at the summit

I wrote a lengthy inscription in the log book:

Memorial inscription
IN MEMORIAM
F. WESLEY MESEROLE
BORN 1911
LAST SEEN ON THIS MOUNTAIN
NOV. 26, 1940
LEAVING BEHIND
HIS WIFE GEORGINA
AND TWO YOUNG CHILDREN
ROY AND ETTA

THIS NOTE LEFT
NOV. 2, 2014
ALL SOULS DAY
BY HIS STEP-GRANDSON
KEVIN KENNY 

I hope that for me, at least, that particular ghost will now be laid to rest.

We then started back down the mountain. Jon was quite enjoying his descent, glissading wherever possible. I was going at it considerably more gingerly, glissading only when necessary, mostly when the arses of the two hikers ahead of me had compacted the snow into a slippery mass that would not give me stable footing. A few of my glissades were of the "inadvertent seated glissade" variety. There wasn't really enough snow for a good slide, and I suspect that the rocks may have done some damage to the seat of my pants.

On the way down, I happened to notice a row of trees where the snow had made near-perfect AT blazes - nowhere near the Appalachian Trail. This potential confusion is one reason that I find the AT is interesting to navigate in the winter.

Not AT Blazes

Without much further ado, but on an approach trail that seemed much longer in the afternoon than it had in the morning, we made our way back to my car, shuttled back to grab Jon's car, and got on the road.

After getting into dry clothing, we adjourned to the Sportsman's Alamo Cantina in Phoenicia for a post-hike celebratory meal. The verdict: a successful day.

Map of our tracks:

Map of the hike

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Bridges of the Northville Placid Trail

I was ruminating about my attempt at hiking the Northville Placid Trail, and realized that my posts and photographs had a couple of common themes. One of them is: bridges!

The Northville Placid Trail, traversing a water system as it does, has a great many bridges. Their condition is, naturally, of great concern to hikers. The condition varies wildly.

Some of them were clearly carefully engineered.
Hamilton Lake Stream bridge

The engineering of others is best described as, "it just happened."
Bridge, such as it is.

Some of them are brand new, and stand proud and handsome.
Bridge over West Stony Creek
Some of the new ones, alas, have already had trees fall on them.
Preston Ponds trail

Others are so old that they've nearly crumbled to dust, and the unwary hiker can drop through them into the muck below.
Bog bridging

Some inspire confidence. A bridge on one of the old tote roads, unused for decades for vehicles, looks as if it could still carry logging trucks.
Ward Brook Truck Trail

Others inspire vertigo.
Cold River suspension bridge

Some cross for hundreds of feet, high up in the air.
Whitehouse suspension bridge

Others are even longer, floating in the water.
Bog bridging

Some are no longer there, and most likely will never rise again.
Duck Hole dam

Some have been washed away, but wait patiently for their footings to be relaid.
Wet feet again, or where's my bridge?

Some exist only by the good grace of the beavers.
Beaver dam

And sometimes there's no bridge, and you simply must put up with wet feet.
Chubb River

Wet feet or dry, there's always a view of water, from pretty glimpses at a beaver vlei:
Rare glimpse of sunshine
to awe-inspiring vistas of magnificent lakes.
Rodney Point

It's a beautiful trail, however wet.


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Peekamoose and Table, 2014-08-17

On Sunday, August 17, I was feeling a need to get out and move (I'd committed a few dietary indiscretions at a Polish festival the night before), so I sneaked off to the southern Catskills to climb Peekamoose and Table Mountains, the southernmost of the 3500-footers. Since I was feeling the need of a workout, and since I'd just been at the Denning approach trail last month, I decided to go from the Peekamoose Road trailhead. By the time I reached the trailhead parking lot, it was full to overflowing, with several cars parked across the NO PARKING signs. Instead, I wound up driving another quarter mile (and losing some more elevation) down the road to the Bear Hole parking lot.

Since Bear Hole is right off the road, I strolled in to have a look. (I apologize for the image quality on some of these shots. I didn't have my usual camera with me, so all of these are taken with a cell phone.) It's a lovely little waterfall, with crystal clear water. I could see the bottom of the plunge pool as clearly as looking through window glass. I could also see trout lurking below some of the rocks and snags above the falls. Fishing was not on the agenda for the day, though. Getting up to the top of Peekamoose and Table was going to be time-consuming enough!
Bear Hole Bear Hole

While not particularly technical, Bear Hole to Peekamoose is a strenuous hike. In a little less than four miles, the trail gains about 2700 feet of elevation. The first 500 are on a well-graded woods road, but then there is a fork, and the trail turns right while the old road heads left. While unblazed, the road looks hikable, even easy. Maybe one of these months I'll get back in that hollow and see where it goes.
Woods road

Shortly after the fork, there's a bit of a sculpture garden, where hikers have built cairns on a slab of conglomerate rock that is making its eons-long descent down the mountain. I have no idea why this spot might have been chosen, nor what significance the cairns might have. So I just paused a moment, added a stone to one of them, said a prayer for the intentions of whoever built it, and hiked on.
Sculpture garden

Not far after the little array of sculptures, the trail starts to show its true character. From here on to the top the hike consists of walking a couple of hundred yards and scrambling a rock ledge,
Ledge on Peekamoose
walking another couple of hundred yards and scrambling the next rock ledge,
Ledge on Peekamoose
and so on, pretty much all the way to the summit.

The drudgery is occasionally relieved by a bit of trail maintainer whimsy, as at this spot where the maintainers, instead of removing a blowdown, have cut a doorway through it. Theyve even used the removed billets to build a little stoop!
Doorway

At about 3000 feet elevation, one of the scrambles climbs to Reconnoiter Rock, a boulder perched precariously on the edge of a ledge. The guidebooks claim that it boasts a good view, but at this point, it's all grown in. There may be a limited view in winter when the leaves are off the trees.
Reconnoiter Rock

A few steps past the 3500 foot sign, a herd path branches right to a framed overlook looking west. This herd path is surprisingly well beaten. I suspect it's because northbound hikers mistake it for the view in the guidebook, which is only a little bit farther along. (There are several more rocks atop this cliff that overlook the same vista, with faint herd paths to them. Even if it's crowded, you can find a 'room with a view' for lunch.)
View from Peekamoose spur

By far the best view in this section is to be had from this boulder, which is right beside the trail. Stepping out on it reveals a panorama to the west. The most prominent peaks on the horizon are Balsam Lake Mountain and Doubletop at right, with Big Indian, Fir, Eagle, and Haynes partly hidden behind the bushes. In the foreground, Van Wyck Mountain, Woodhull Mountain, Red Hill, and Denman Mountain march off to the left toward the Shawangunk Ridge. (The view is actually wider than this image, but the trees were swaying so much in the wind that I couldn't capture the wider panorama.)
Viewpoint
Overlook south of Peekamoose
  summit

Another few hundred feet of climb lead to the summit of Peekamoose. The actual high point is this boulder in the trail. It once had a view to the east, but the view has grown in.
Peekamoose summit

I grabbed the obligatory summit selfie.
Summit selfie

A short, steep descent to the north leads to a pleasant walk through boreal forest in the col between Peekamoose and Table. The innumerable footfalls and copious rainfall have worn away the sand and silt in the conglomerate rock on the trail, leaving only the white quartz pebbles. Like the Garden Path between Cornell and Slide Mountains, it looks like an artificial gravel path.
Trail through the
  Peekamoose-Table col

In another half mile or so, the trail ascends steeply once again to Table Mountain. The summit of Table is, as you might imagine from the name, flat, and the actual height of land is indeterminate. What hikers account as the summit is a small clearing at the north end of the table, marked with several little cairns.
Table Mountain summit

Of course, this sight occasioned another summit selfie.
Table Mountain summit selfie

I'm told that just north of the summit clearing, a herd path branches off to another fine view. I didn't explore this one, for no better reason than the fact that I completely forgot it was there! It's something to do for another trip, I suppose.

On the return trip through the col, I was surprised by an animal crashing out of the path into the woods to one side. I thought is was a fawn at first, but saw that it was a huge snowshoe hare, nearly the biggest I've seen. With only the cell phone, I was able to grab only a poor picture.
Snowshoe hare

I was also able to mosey a bit more leisurely, knowing that after the short climb up Peekamoose, the hike would be all downhill. I noticed that there were yellow and white wildflowers (some sort of chrysanthemum?) blooming anywhere that a shaft of sunlight managed to penetrate the canopy.
Wildflowers More wildflowers

In the shade of the summit rock of Peekamoose, I noticed a few Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) growing. These plants always fascinate me because of their complex relationship to the forest. They are flowering plants, not fungi, but they have totally lost the ability to photosynthesize - they entirely lack a functioning gene for chlorophyll. Instead, they live, like mushrooms, off other life forms. Unlike mushrooms, however, they also cannot break down leaf mould for sustenance, so they can survive only by parasitizing the mycorrhiza of the Lactarius mushroom (which itself, in turn, parasitizes tree roots). Because their ecological niche is so precarious, Indian pipes are uncommon. I'm always glad to see them.
Indian pipes (Monotropa
  uniflora)

From here, I put the phone away and motored down the hill back to the car. I needn't have hurried as much as I did. I got back to Bear Hole with well over an hour of daylight left.
Map of the hike


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Friday, July 25, 2014

Lone, Rocky and Balsam Cap - 2014-07-19/21

I'd been meaning to hike the Bushwhack Range (Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, Friday) for some time, but going to somewhere that remote as a solo hiker is beyond my risk tolerance. On July 19, I finally got my wish, as my hiking buddy Sarcasm the Elf agreed to give it a whack (no pun intended). (Well, maybe intended just a little bit!) He wanted some basic lessons in bushwhacking, because he wasn't comfortable at all about knowing where he is. The Bushwhack Range is a surprisingly safe place for that, since the fundamentals of navigation there are easy: up goes to the summit of whatever mountain you're on. Down goes to the river. Since we were parked at the Denning trailhead, the river goes to the car (although getting off at the bridges and following the Finger Lakes Trail out is surely the better option).

We got on trail in good order on Saturday. The plan was to hike Lone and Rocky on Day 1, Balsam Cap, Friday, and the plane crash on Day 2, and try to explore a route up to the Garden Path (the Burroughs Range trail between Slide and Cornell) on Day 3. Of course, my plans are always too ambitious. This is intentional; I almost never will go beyond what I've put in the safety plan, but have few qualms about cutting a trip short.

We came in to the bridges where the Peekamoose-Table trail crosses the Neversink, and got on the unblazed fishermen's path. On the way in, I started coaching Elf on pace counting and reading a sighting compass. (Not that either is all that useful on a Catskill bushwhack, but I try to follow the Army syllabus for land navigation. I gave him a ranger-style protractor, a couple of map scales for NYNJTC maps, and a set of ranger beads.

The path was reasonably easy to follow—it does get a little thready in spots—down to Donovan Brook, where I had my first goof with a rock-hop, and wound up with my boots full of water. Water-filled boots were to become the norm for this trip.

On the way in, we passed some fresh beaver activity. Seeing them that far up the Neversink surprised us a bit. The gorge there is pretty narrow, and the beavers can't get very much pond area. We wouldn't have thought they'd be interested.
P7190275

We turned off a little bit past the brook, and started up the northwest spur of Lone.
P7190277
The forest is fairly open there, and so I was able to show Elf the trick of sighting on a tree as far away as possible on the compass heading, walking up to it, and repeating the process. We got fairly easily up to the ledges around 2900 feet. The rock chutes that get around them are pretty obvious, and the herd path above them is fairly clear (although you'll still get scratched up by brush when you follow it).
P7190280
The path leads right to the canister.
IMG_0961
We signed in, checked out the viewpoints south of the summit (which don't totally grow in, even in high summer),
IMG_0960
P7190283 - P7190284
and then made for Rocky.

The herd path drops down the northeast spur of Lone for a couple of hundred vertical feet, then veers abruptly right, angling downhill to cross below the base of the cliff on the southeast side of the summit. That drop places the hiker in the broad, flattish, col between Lone and Rocky. Here, of course, we lost the herd path in the woods. Sighing, we pushed forward into the balsam and spruce.
P7190292
P7190294

Spruce. Ouch. More spruce. Lacings on gear caught on the twigs. Christmas trees, two feet apart with their branches interwoven. Needles down the back of the shirt. Needles in the pocket of the pack. Branches suddenly breaking, allowing the branches next to them to swing into the hiker's face.

"Hey Kevin, did I tell you what an awesome idea it was when you told me to bring safety glasses?" becomes the tag line for the entire hike.

I do try to zig and zag a bit climbing the ridge, but spot very little in the way of paths until we're just about on top of the canister. This time, I walked right past it—it's on the back side of the tree from that direction—but the Elf spotted it right away. Once again we signed in, and saw that the hiker before us had claimed he got from Lone to Rocky in 37 minutes. We shook our heads in incredulity, barely believing that such a feat was possible.

On checking out the viewpoints, we saw why nobody gets onto the northeast spur of Rocky. The cliffs there are definitely top-rope territory. Rocky has nice views, though. The descriptions in the guidebooks underrated it.
IMG_0963-IMG_0965
IMG_0969
P7190302 - P7190303

We took the advice from Catskill Mountaineer, and backtracked back down toward the col. We were able to follow a faint herd path a fair way down, but then lost it and dropped off the ridge to the north. We were able to angle laboriously down the slope into the drainage there.
P7190307
The spruce was replaced with Viburnum. Viburnum runners getting wrapped around your ankles and tripping you. Viburnum branches at ankle level untying your boot laces and unzipping your pants legs. Viburnum leaves hiding the stiff branch that's about to stab you in the knee, and the gap in the rocks that is about to grab hold of your other foot. Not for nothing is the stuff called hobblebush.
P7200351

"Hey, Elf, did I mention how glad I was that we remembered safety glasses?"

The drainage was slightly clearer than the stuff around it, in that very few things grew right in the center, so we could rock hop down that while pushing the rest of the stuff to the side. After a while, there was too much water to use it as a path. (Elf: "Uhm, Kevin, this isn't a wash any more. It's a creek.")
P7190308
We scrambled the bank and pushed through the dense mat of vegetation near the stream. We found the occasional game trail to aid progress, but all of them petered out really quickly. Progress was slow enough that daylight was fading by the time we got down to the river. We found a spot to make camp off the path. It was just far enough from the river to be legal, and just big enough to pitch two Tarptents.
Striking my tent in the
  morning
P7200313

I'm sure that my bear bag was very attractive, since when I sat down to eat, I discovered that not only had my little plastic bottle of olive oil ruptured, but so had both of the Ziploc bags that were supposed to contain any spills. There was olive oil everywhere. Oh well, my shrimp primavera was still tasty. Elf lent me another Ziploc to at least contain what oil was still available, since I still wanted to have some for the next day's cooking.

I had checked the higher-summits forecast for the weekend right before I left Niskayuna around 0600. It said "Precipitation: nil. Lightning: nil" for both Saturday and Sunday. So what blew in on Saturday night? A thunderstorm, of course!

"Kevin?"
"Yeah, Elf?"
"It's storming."
"Uhm, I kind of noticed."
"Just thought you might want to adjust the pitch of your tent."
"Just did."
"OK. Good night, again."

Next morning dawned hazy, but no rain. The only wet gear I had was my tent, socks and boots. We ate, packed up, and headed for the col between Balsam Cap and Friday.

The NYNJTC map, and Google Maps, show only one stream coming from that direction, but in fact there are two. This map shows both. The larger one is shown as the intermittent stream, and that's the one we started off trying to use as a guide to take us up the mountain. It took a little walking upstream, with careful compass reading, for me to be confident we were on the correct one. During that process, I stepped in the water again. My boots couldn't have gotten any wetter than they already were, but now I had wet feet again.

The streambed turns into a canyon pretty quickly, and we thought it was prudent to scramble up the wall to the ridge between the two streams.

Viburnum. Alternating with patches of spruce. Worse even than Rocky.
P7200316
And then—the biggest field of blowdown that I've ever seen. Starting at about 2840 feet on that ridge, there's a bunch of trees piled helter-skelter like matchsticks, witth nary a one left standing. Elf suggested that it might have been a microburst that did it. I speculated that it had been a full-on tornado. The blowdown looked to be a few years old. It also looked to me as if, with the uprooted trees loosening the soil, there had been rockslides down both sides of that ridge. The slope on the side toward the brook we'd been following surely didn't seem stable.
P7200317
P7200318
P7200319

If we wanted to get up to Balsam Cap, then, we'd probably need to go over, under, around or through the blowdown. We started clambering about in it. At times, the ground was a long way down, as we'd climb up on one huge log lying across another that is in turn supported by, who knows what? I think it took us the better part of an hour to go a couple of hundred yards through all the debris.
P7200320
P7200322
P7200323
P7200325
P7200326
Then it was back to the spruce.

We worked our way along the canyon rim, sometimes catching a glimpse of lovely waterfalls below. (I suspect that the intrepid waterfall photographers of Catskill Mountaineer are making a note of this!) The canyon got progressively shallower, eventually turning into a dry streambed that we were able to hike up to about 3400 feet. Imposing ledges loomed before us, so we turned left and fought the spruce approximately on the contour line into the col.

Right at the edge of the cliff to the east, just as promised: a well-trodden herd path! We turned right, and with renewed energy tackled the three or four ledges between us and the summit, knowing we had good places to scramble because the rocks were covered with crampon scratches.

We paused only a moment at the overlook, planning a longer stop there after we'd signed in. We then proceeded to spend the next half hour crisscrossing the summit of Balsam Cap searching for the canister. Apparently we weren't the only hikers with the same problem, because the place has a labyrinth of herd paths everywhere. Elf found it eventually, and we signed in and went back to the overlook to eat lunch while drinking in the view out over the Ashokan valley.
P7200337
P7200339

Then came the inevitable strategy conference. It was already midafternoon. We'd got started late, because we'd both overslept after the storm. We'd taken about twice the time we thought we would up to this point, between the tornado and the hunt for the canister. And we were down to about a litre of water apiece. Friday and the plane crash, we decided, would still be there another day. We walked back down to the col and headed west.
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We spotted a dry stream bed almost immediately, going in the right direction, We followed it, and others (the streams go underground at times), back to a larger gully that led into the canyon we'd skirted on the way up. It joined the stream well below the waterfalls (which had looked dangerous) but still above the debris field. We were able to walk carefully above the steep bank, sometimes clinging to tree roots or scrambling a ledge, below the mess, needing to dodge only a couple of trees and boulders that had slid off the rim into the gorge. If you're going to sneak up on Balsam Cap and Friday from behind, this is definitely a better route.

When we got to the Neversink, we decided to try to hike out on the fishermen's path. We were thinking that perhaps we'd make camp late at one of the campsites by the bridges and try for Peekamoose and Table in the morning. By this time, the thought of reclimbing Friday and hiking out in a day was out of the picture for both of us. Before long, we were hiking by headlamp, and eventually we reached a point where we faced the choice—in the dark—of fording or rockhopping the river, or finding our way on the bank around the intersecting creek that the path was crossing the river to avoid. We decided that safety dictated that we camp where we were. We got as far as we could from the water, set up, had a cold dinner (neither one of us felt disposed to cook), and crashed. The Bushwhack Range had done us in for this trip.

On the morning of Day 3, I found the skin on my feet all red, cracking and peeling from two days' immersion in the alkaline river water. Climbing Table did not sound like a pleasant possibility, even if it is pretty easy as these things go. I promised Elf to treat him to lunch, and we agreed just to hike out to the cars. We took our time, pausing to admire some nice trout along the way,
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gave 'two thumbs up' for a successful trip (showing, of course, a few battle scars)
2 thumbs up for a successful
  trip
and drove out to Ellenville for a hamburger at the diner there.

So, what went right? Practically everything. Our names in three canisters. Elf's a great partner for me. We've got a similar style and he's content with a slow pace. Balsam Cap has a great view, and the Neversink is one of the loveliest trout streams I've ever seen. Did I remember to mention how glad I was to have thought of safety glasses?

What went wrong? Running out of time on Day 2. Because of the storm, we both overslept, and then got further slowed by the huge blowdown field. But we didn't give in to 'get-there-itis' and were back down to a safe campsite rather than getting stuck on the mountain. (I've slept on a ledge on a Catskill peak before. I don't recommend it.) Friday (and the B-25) will be there another day.

Lessons to share: The big one is: if you're doing Balsam Cap or Friday from the west, avoid that tornado-damaged spot. (It starts around 3840 feet on the ridge between those two streams.) It's bad news. Even the spruce is better than that. Aside from that spot, the climb from the west, although unpopular, isn't a bad route at all. It's got a lot less elevation gain than from the east, and no scrambling to speak of. There's very little spruce to speak of: the tangled brush is mostly hobblebush and beech saplings. And we ran into no nettles at all.


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