Hudson Highlands: Breakneck Ridge

Breakneck Ridge. Named after all the broken legs that have occurred climbing to its peak. The crown jewel of hiking in the Hudson Valley. Home to upwards of 1,700 visitors on its busiest days. That last little tidbit is the main reason why we have stayed away for so long. Going hiking should be peaceful, a way to escape the crowds. But if you come here on a weekend during the summer, that is what you will encounter. We’ve been pushing this hike off for a couple of reasons, one is the crowds, and two is just making sure we were actually able to complete what is a difficult hike. Starting January 1, 2018, Breakneck Ridge will be closed, for at least a year. I’m not waiting until 2019 to hike this thing, let’s do it now. So we did.

We timed our visit perfectly. An abnormally hot day in the fall on a Tuesday. We beat the crowds, still ran into more people than we like, but we survived. After travelling north on Route 9D, as soon as you exit the tunnel which travels under the mountain you are about to climb, we pulled over and parked on the right side shoulder, just before the Entering Dutchess County sign. Cross the street to hit the trailhead. There is a parking lot on the southbound side as well. When you reach the trailhead, there are signs warning you of the difficult trail ahead, ascending 1,250 feet in 3/4 of a mile. Bring it on. You start climbing up, and immediately are rewarded with views of Storm King Mountain and the Hudson River. Take in the views now, because in a minute you are going rock climbing. You scramble up the rocks, and then it gets tricky.  You have to constantly check for footholds and hand holds, and it’s a pretty steep climb. Jackie had some difficulty. Normally, she’s very flexible. But when it comes to lifting her leg up a foot to climb a rock, suddenly she can’t do it. I thought I would have to leave her behind. Luckily, there are spots here and there where you can rest. There was a small group ahead of us, and we had to keep stopping to wait for them to climb farther. It allowed us to stop, catch a breather, and look out over the Hudson. I can only imagine what it would be like if there were 100 people ahead of us and behind us. Nevertheless, you reach the first scenic overlook.

The first scenic lookout is a nice place to stop and sit. The American flag, views of the Hudson River, Bull Hill,  Storm King Mountain, Bannerman Island… It doesn’t get much better than that. You could sit there all day. But you need to get down eventually, and the recommended route is forward, so forward we went. Again, it’s more rock climbing. When ascending, you are given the option to take the easy ascent or the hard one. We chose the hard one. It was challenging, but not much more difficult than the first climb. Unless you are Jackie. Because then you will slide down a rock on your stomach headed for a cliff. She had a look of fear, I had a look of amusement.

The group we were trailing stopped and enjoyed the views from the second lookout, so we took that opportunity to pass them and leave them behind. The trail here somewhat levels out for a bit, and is just a little walk through the woods. That’s short-lived as you approach another climb to get to the third lookout. Again, you are given a choice to take the easy or hard way. Hard way it was. After the third lookout, you head towards the summit. The fourth area is the summit, which is still very nice, but doesn’t have the grand views of the rest. It is here you have some options. You can go left on the red trail which is the Breakneck Bypass trail to head down, or continue on the white Breakneck trail, which will eventually take you to the Mt. Beacon fire tower. We stayed on the white trail, which joins up with the blue Notch trail. This part of the trail is heavily wooded, and didn’t seem to be as heavily trafficked.

Arriving at a junction with the yellow trail, you can still continue on the white Breakneck trail, or go left to the yellow Wilkinson Trail. We went left, which will take you back to Route 9D. This also is a nice long walk through the woods, and then another ascent up Sugarloaf Mountain. Another steep descent with lots of loose rock makes it tricky, but it ends with a nice fairly wide trail that steadily descends back to the road.

This hike was a blast. With all the rock climbing, this hike is definitely a full body workout. My legs were used for climbing, my arms for pulling Jackie up because she had trouble. It was difficult, but not impossible. Despite our apprehensions, we would definitely do it again when it reopens, although we would probably stick to the quieter times of the week and year. I would like to try to make it to the Mt. Beacon fire tower via this trail. Looking forward to many more future hikes here.

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