Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Twin Mountain loop hike, 2013-09-14

On Saturday, September 14, Kevin decided to climb Twin Mountain, on the Devil's Path in the Catskills. This peak is the next mountain west from Indian Head, which Kevin climbed back in August.

Kevin made the always-thrilling drive up the Platte Clove Road from Saugerties, and parked at the Prediger Road trailhead. He headed in on the Devil's Path, the same start as for the Indian Head hike.
Map of the hike

The Devil's Path begins as a level walk a short distance from the parking lot and register box to a fork in the trail. Not wishing to reclimb Indian Head just at the moment, Kevin takes the left fork on a rockhop across a babbling brook, onto the Jimmy Dolan Notch trail.

Rock hop

This trail proceeds around a contour line for about half a mile until it reaches the lip of the Schoharie Creek ravine, and then begins a strenuous climb up to the col between Indian Head and Twin.

Kevin starts to huff and puff a little bit as the climb steepens around 2800 feet, and turns to look back through the trees. "Uh-oh," he says to himself as he observes that the tops of the Blackhead Range are shrouded in cloud.


Fortunately, the clouds burn off, and the rest of the day offers perfect hiking weather.

Another few hundred feet of strenuous climbing
Typical section of trail
bring Kevin up onto the ridge, where the Jimmy Dolan Notch trail rejoins the Devil's Path. Instead of proceeding left toward Indian Head or right toward Twin, however, Kevin decides to go straight ahead to explore an unmarked herd path heading south. He discovers that it leads to a large and pleasant campsite,
Nice campsite
and beyond it to a vertiginous ledge that elicits the reaction, "Good heavens, that's a long way down!"
Jimmy Dolan Notch overlook
and commands a striking view down into the Hudson Valley across the shoulder of Overlook Mountain.
Jimmy Dolan Notch overlook

After photographing this view (with considerable trepidation, because his eyrie feels quite unsteady indeed), Kevin retreats back from the ledge to the campsite, where he sets up his stove and fixes a quick hot lunch (linguini with aglio e olio, Parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and abruzzese sausage).
Kevin unpacks to cook lunch

With a happy tummy and a slightly lighter pack, Kevin now sets about the remainder of the climb to the south summit of Twin. The trail here is steeper still, with one or two spots requiring the use of hands, but in fairly short order he finds himself (in the company of three other hikers and a yellow dog named Kali) passing the 3500 foot marker. As usual, the trees have read the sign, and the trail passes the abrupt transition into the balsam forest.

At the entry to a switchback, a ledge offers views of Indian Head and Overlook Mountains, with the silvery band of the Hudson River lying beyond.
Indian Head and Overlook Mountains
Indian Head Mountain
Overlook is readily identified by the communications tower rising from the ruins of the Overlook Mountain House on its south flank.
Overlook Mountain and communication tower
A few steps farther on, another boulder offers a somewhat obstructed view of the Ashokan Reservoir
Ashokan Reservoir
and the first glimpse of the Burroughs Range.
Burroughs Range
From here, it is only a few minutes' walk to the south summit, from which Kevin can take in magnificent panoramas to the west, with the Catskill high peaks laid out in splendour.
Devil's Path and Burroughs Range
Burroughs Range
There is rather a crowd gathered on this overlook, but all are congenial. After a few minutes of conversation, and rather more minutes of photography, Kevin snags a final image across the Esopus valley
Burroughs Range
and sets off on the walk through the balsam forest to the north (true) summit of Twin. This walk involves only about a hundred feet of elevation lost and regained, and breathes in the heavenly fragrance of the fir trees the whole way. The few broadleaf species that cling to life at this elevation, like the hobblebush (Viburnum) are already in their autumn colours. Winter comes quickly to the mountaintops.

The north summit, while not as striking as the south, offers a nice look at Sugarloaf Mountain, the next climb on the Devil's Path.
Sugarloaf Mountain
Kevin is a bit surprised to see that the ridges of Plateau and Hunter Mountains are just barely discernible to the right of Sugarloaf.
Plateau and Hunter Mountains
Hunter can be identified from the fire tower on its summit.
Hunter Mountain fire tower
Kevin pauses to hobnob with the crowd at this summit, which includes four young men from Israel, guest workers in New York City, who have set up an ibrik on their Snow Peak stove and are brewing up Turkish coffee! With some regret - it's been fun - he leaves the party, nearly setting off mistakenly in the direction of South Twin again. Both directions of the trail depart the summit to the east! He quickly realizes the mistake, sets off on the correct trail, and descends a steep switchback to a spot immediately below the summit rock. He calls up a farewell, and proceeds down the trail toward Pecoy Notch.

Here the character of the trail changes. It has been strenuous up to this point, but now runs into some considerably more challenging rock scrambles. Kevin must descend a vertical crack,
Rock chimney
duck under a hanging ledge,
Overhanging ledge
and remove his pack to manage a squeeze between two boulders.
Boulder crevice
(The Israelis overtake and pass him at this point. One of them simply leaps off the top of the boulder squeeze like a gazelle rather than contorting himself into the crevice.)

Kevin then comes onto a ledge that offers a puzzle: here's a cliff top, where's the trail? (About here, his GPS goes wonky from being in a heavily treed box canyon, and stops tracking.) After walking back and forth as far as he can without being blocked by rocks, he's stymied. He backtracks to the last blaze - yes, the trail is on this ledge, but where the heck is it? He finally spots an arrow that someone has engraved into the rock with a trekking pole, and then a dead tree with a couple of nails in it, where a marker disc once hung. OK, the trail must go over the ledge here, onto ... what? There's a sloping slab of wet shale, tilted at a crazy angle, and it's too slippery for Kevin's boots to gain purchase to walk down it. Finally, Kevin manages to cling by his hands to the roots of the tree and lower himself down the slab until he can jam a boot toe in a crack to check his slide. He comes off the slab into a jumble of fallen rock, with overhanging ledges all about.

Rock scramble
"Wow," he says to himself. "That was pretty stupid. A few inches to the right, and I'd have fallen right off that thing." But he sees no better way; everything else is blocked by one overhanging rock or another. Anyway, he's down safely. He helps spot another party making their way down. The lady in blue is standing at the base of the treacherous slab.

From here, it's only another short and scrambly way to the next trail junction; the really treacherous bits are behind. Kevin restarts his GPS logger, and turns right for the two-mile hike out on the Pecoy Notch trail. The surprises are not over, because shortly the marked trail disappears under water.
Beaver pond outlet
A family of beavers has decided to make it their home. They've left ample evidence that they intend to keep enlarging the pond that now lies where the trail once ran.
Beaver activity

Their work has let in enough sunlight that sun-loving wildflowers have colonized the banks of the pond, putting on a fine show.

The beaver pond's outlet quickly becomes a noisy stream, that cascades merrily down the steep rocks. The trail follows past a series of small waterfalls. Kali the dog, of course, must plunge right in, and then shake the water off herself onto everyone else.

After crossing the stream near one of the falls, the trail climbs away from it, ascends a small rise, and enters Dibble's Quarry, one of the many abandoned bluestone workings in the Catskills. The old quarries are popular places for the locals to picnic, and they have put in tremendous amounts of backbreaking work to build chairs, tables, benches, firepits, and even fireplaces with chimneys, all out of the rock that was broken out but never shipped. One cozy seating arrangement surrounds a tall central cairn,
Dibble's Quarry
and a 'throne room' dominates the upper part of the quarry.
Dibble's Quarry
The thrones have a fine view of Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top:
Kaaterskill High Peak
a view that is also offered to lesser mortals in stadium-style seating on the hillside below.
Dibble's Quarry

On the remaining gentle grade out, Kevin strikes up a conversation with a Canajoharie family who are walking to the same trailhead. He mentions that he was doing the loop from Prediger Road and still has a roadwalk ahead. They offer him directions on which road to take, and the lady of the family commiserates, "I've done that loop, and the roadwalking stinks." He takes his leave at the trailhead, lights his headlamp (the Sun is setting), and heads off down the gravel road. About five minutes later, a car pulls up behind. It's the family leaving the trailhead.

"Can we give you a lift?" the driver asks. Success! Kevin's managed to yogi1 a ride back to his truck! "Gee, thanks!" A few minutes' car ride cuts out an hour and a half of walking, and Kevin is delivered to the trailhead where he started. Another Catskill peak conquered.

1Yogi: To yogi is to finagle or inveigle tourists and soap-scented dayhikers into offering you food or other assistance, without actually asking. It is an art form unto its own, with innumerable methods of enactment. Implying you need help is not asking for help!