Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014-12-21 Blackhead Mountain

On Sunday, 21 December 2014, I went with Jon (a fairly regular hiking partner) and his friend Chris (whom I've been out with once before) to Blackhead Mountain (3,960 feet/1,207 m) in the Catskills. With this being the first day of Winter by the calendar, this trip counts for a winter ascent toward the Catskill 3500 Club membership.

Note that all pictures this time (except for the map) are Jon's. I was acutely conscious of being tail-end Charlie with two faster hikers, and for the most part tried not to slow things down farther with photography.

Jon started the day wanting to do the three Blackhead Range peaks, so we spotted Chris's car over at the Barnum Road trailhead. We then proceeded to stuff the back of my Forester thoroughly with mountaineering gear for the short drive over to Big Hollow and the start of the hike. The equipment for three guys on a trip like this makes quite a formidable heap!

The Big Hollow trailhead doesn't get snow plowing in the winter, so we parked up on the county road. There was a long row of parked cars. The mountain was busy today. We must have encountered fifty other hikers - and it seemed as if one hiker in every party was getting in the last climb for the 3500 Club. We snowshoed up the last unplowed section to the trailhead.

The initial ascent up the Batavia Kill is gradual. The trail was pretty badly postholed. I still stuck to it for the most part, but there were a number of spots where Jon and Chris found it easier to break trail than to walk over all the lumps and bumps. Jon was afraid of bending a snowshoe by coming down flat-footed spanning two of the lumps, and at one point I lacerated my shin by falling forward when the whole front half of my snowshoe sank into a cluster of holes.

After the trail junction for the lean-to, the trail gets much steeper and starts climbing up to the ridge west of Blackhead over a series of switchbacks.

About at that point, the trees started to show a beautiful coating of rime.

There's a piped spring above the first switchback. It was running well. Its outlet grew ice crystals in fanciful shapes.

While Jon tanked up at the spring, I had to sit down and adjust my sock liners. That can get to be quite the project when you have to undo snowshoe bindings, gaiters, boots, oversocks and plastic bags to get to them!
Alas, the adjustments didn't keep me from discovering a blister when I got home. (Memo to self: Don't forget the rubber bands when using newspaper bags as a vapor barrier, because they will mess things up if they slide down and bunch!)
At least there's one picture I took!
The switchbacks get trickier, with some icy ledges to negotiate.

Chris waiting patiently for me to catch up

Chris is the fastest hiker of the three of us. We caught up as he was waiting in Lockwood Gap, wondering what was keeping us. Jon stopped in the col to switch to full crampons. I was finding that ascent showshoes were gripping the slope well, so just flipped the heel lifts up and kept plodding along with snowshoes and poles.

In nice weather there would be spectacular views of Black Dome and Thomas Cole Mountain from the exposed ridge as we go up. This, time, though, we were completely socked in, and the clouds allowed us no views on the entire trip. (We did enjoy looking at the sparkling rime on all the trees.)

Chris on the ridge

I love Chris's "you have got to be kidding" expression!

And we continue on up the ridge...

... with me bringing up the rear as usual.

Finally, we got over the last big step. At that point, the grade moderates to a pleasant walk through balsam forest. We all got snow and rime down the backs of our necks, as we had to push our way through branches that were hanging down into the trail from the weight of ice and snow.

Chris was exuberant about reaching the summit. It was his first winter climb in the Catskills.
Up there, the trail signs are wrapped in hardware cloth in hopes of deterring the porcupines from eating them. Legibility suffers a bit.

A passing hiker was kind enough to get a group shot of the three of us.

Chris readies an ice axe before starting his slide.
And then it was time to grab a quick bite to eat, turn around and start the trip down. Jon was all for continuing on over Black Dome and Thomas Cole (finishing up, perforce, by headlamp), but I decided that I wouldn't be safe doing so, and I was really uncomfortable about even hiking out solo. After some discussion, we decided to take the prudent, if disappointing, path, and hike out the way we came. To save time (and have some fun!) we did an ice axe glissade down the ridge, with Chris getting some instruction in self-arrest before we started. I was a little proud of myself when, despite being decades out of practice, I finished up at the bottom by rolling into a self-arrest rather than heel braking, and heard Jon say, "Like that, Chris!" Apparently I haven't forgotten it all.

The trip past the switchbacks was uneventful, but I was continuing to flag. Having had only about four hours of sleep the night before wasn't helping much!

It wasn't until we were on the nearly level stuff on the approach trail that I really became glad that I'd talked the guys into walking me out. I fell over with a horrible leg cramp - I couldn't put weight on that side at all - and had to spend ten minutes there writhing in the snow [1] and trying to stretch before I could even stand up. I'd probably have had quite a panic attack had I been alone.

Upon regaining my feet, I continued to trudge shakily to the car, making it just as the last rays of twilight were fading.

I drove Jon and Chris back to the other car, and we parted ways with Jon shaking my hand and saying, "Until next time!" I think his patience is admirable when he is willing to say that there will be a next time!

What went right?  Ascent snowshoes performed admirably, and I managed to get in a small amount of ice axe practice. A lot of winter technique that hadn't been exercised in years came back to me. And now the four winter peaks for the Catskill 3500 Club are behind me. I have just a handful of ascents to finish up.

What went wrong? I was ill-prepared physically for an ascent in full-on winter. I'm writing this at home, still hurting some from the lacerated shin, the heel blister, and the muscle soreness from all the unaccustomed muscle uses: lifting heavy snowshoes repeatedly, rolling ankles and working calves to engage all the points on crampons, self-belaying on a ski pole, and so on. Then again, I don't know of any good way to prepare for something like this other than doing it. I just don't get the opportunity often enough!

Besides, if you don't come back battered from some of your trips, you aren't having enough fun!

Thanks to Jon and Chris for being so very patient with an old man!

[1] ^ Dear spelling checker: Please do not auto-correct 'writhing' to 'writing'. Writing in the snow is something that I do only when my bladder is full.


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:


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:


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:


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:


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
BORN 1911
NOV. 26, 1940

NOV. 2, 2014

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


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.


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!

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.)
Overlook south of Peekamoose

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

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