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