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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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Fahnestock: Catfish Loop

After a few weeks of no hiking due to life things, I managed to get back out on the trails this morning. Jackie was away on a business trip, Robby with the grandparents, so I invited the next best thing, my buddy Josh. We had a little bit of a time constraint, so I figured let’s do the Catfish Loop in Fahnestock. It’s nice, it’s moderately easy, and doable in 2.5 hours or so.

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Parking on Dennytown Rd is usually spacious, but for some reason there were about 20 cars parked there around 7:30AM, and it seemed like a large group camping across the street. I managed to squeeze into a space, and away we went. The Catfish Loop Trail begins with 3 trails joining up. There’s the beginning/end of the Catfish Loop and the Appalachian Trail. We went left up the Catfish. It’s a heavily wooded trail that goes gradually up. This time of year leaves have begun falling, so at times it is a little difficult to follow the trail. About a mile or so in you meet up again with the Appalachian Trail, then another half mile you cross the Moneyhole Mountain Trail (read about that hike here). We didn’t deviate from the Catfish this time, we stayed on it for the whole trip. Not long after that junction is the only view on this trail. You arrive to these large boulders that you have to walk in between to continue on the trail, but if you stop and look straight across, you can see across the Hudson to Storm King Mountain, that is if there isn’t fog or a cloud obstructing your view. I climbed one of the boulders to get a better view; it wasn’t much better though.

This was also a nice spot to stop and have a beer. Because that’s what you should do at 9 in the morning while hiking before you eat breakfast or even had your coffee. Beer.

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After our little beer break, we continued along. I told Josh it was downhill the rest of the way, and boy was that a lie. It started downhill, but then you come to the “steepest” climb of the trail. I say “steepest” because it isn’t that bad, but when you haven’t hiked for a few weeks and just drank beer on an empty stomach, it’s a little difficult. We survived and chugged along, following the trail which goes along the property of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center, which is an education center outdoors in the Taconic region. We then crossed the junction with the Moneyhole Mountain Trail, and I knew we were close to the finish line. Off in the distance, we heard what sounded like creepy children singing, and smelled campfire. As we got closer, it smelled more of incense than campfire, and it wasn’t children, but a bunch of women. Chanting. In a strange language. Holy shit, we just stumbled into a gaggle of witches, or herd, or flock, not sure what it’s called. That explained all the cars. Moving right along, we got back to the car before we were turned into frogs or thrown into some stew.

Catfish Loop is a nice hike. It contains easy parts, with some moderate climbing sprinkled here and there. While lacking amazing views, it more than makes up for it in tranquil surroundings. This is the hike for you if you are looking for a nice quiet adventure. That is until you reach the camp of creepy as shit witches.

Gear Review: Backpack

When hiking, besides boots, I feel a good backpack is essential. It should almost become a part of you. With so many options out there, I had a hard time deciding which one I would get. Seeing as we are dayhikers, I didn’t need a large pack. Price was also a concern, I didn’t want to spend too much. After some basic research I settled on the TETON Sports Oasis 1100 2 Liter Hydration Backpack.

I love this pack. It holds everything I need; keys, phone, wallet, first aid kit, rain coat, etc. with room to spare. While the pack is not large, it’s good enough for me on my hikes. It’s very comfortable to wear. The straps are comfortable on my shoulders, the chest strap and waist straps help maintain stability. The best part of packs these days? Gone are carrying water bottles, now most come with hydration bladders. The 2L hydration bladder that comes with this pack is the right size for me, I have yet to run out of water. Cleaning the bladder is a pain in the ass, but that’s the case with all bladders.

The only downsides to this pack that I can tell so far is that my back gets soaking wet. I don’t know if it’s condensation from the bladder, or poor ventilation, or both. Also, it can be small depending on what you are trying to put inside. Aside from those two things, there is nothing wrong with this backpack. It’s an excellent purchase and a great bang for the buck.

 

 

 

Michael Ciaiola Conservation Area

After dropping the little one off at his first day of preschool, we drove over to Patterson, NY to the Michael Ciaiola Conservation Area. This hike has popped up on my AllTrails app periodically, and we have passed it when driving to Connecticut. On AllTrails, it is rated as hard and a 5.4 mile loop. Seems promising, huh?

Parking at the lot on Haviland Hollow Rd, we were the only car there at about 10AM. There’s a sign welcoming you to the area, with various warnings about ticks, hunting, etc. The trail map holder was empty, and it said to take a picture of the trails on the board. I started up the AllTrails app to start recording and we began.

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We started by following the red blazes, and only about 5 minutes in we got “lost”. Suddenly, we came upon green blazes. Not sure where they led, we started following them, and about another couple of minutes we realized that this wasn’t right, and turned around. Between AllTrails and the picture of the trails, we concluded we weren’t on the right trails at all. It turns out we ventured into the Great Hollow Preserve. But hey! I found a cool stone marking the NY/CT border. OK, let’s go back and find where the correct trail is.

Finally,  we found the red trail blazes off to the side. They were not clearly marked on the main trail. And they weren’t just red blazes, but red with white triangles, which was totally different then the solid red blazes we started following. This was just the beginning of the confusing times we had during the hike. After going on the trail for a bit, you come to an old campsite. A little shelter and an open area with a fire pit in the center lead you to the highlight of this hike. The gorge and waterfall are really nice, and makes for an excellent relaxing spot. Moving along, you follow the stream and come to a very sketchy bridge that takes you over the stream. After not falling to our deaths we continued along to the orange trail, or maybe red, or yellow, I’m not really sure, because there was so many different colors going all over the place we were confused. We just followed what AllTrails was telling us to do, and even that didn’t seem to sync up right with the actual trails.

After crossing the stream, you head up the hill to the top. This is the hardest part, but still not all that hard. It isn’t steep, just a steady incline. Once at the top, you have a nice view. Moving along, you follow the trail to another color trail for a bit, and then maybe another color. Eventually, you are on the orange trail, which is named the George C Cain Trail in honor of a local New York City firefighter who perished in the September 11 attacks. When you reach the summit of this hill, there’s a clearing with two tree stumps made into chairs, which I did take a picture of, but Jackie was sitting down on one and looked like she was going to the bathroom so she made me delete it. There is also a memorial for George Cain that you can look at while gazing upon the views behind it. Working your way back down, there’s more multicolored trail markers going in different directions and we still weren’t sure which was the right way to go, but we eventually made it back to the sketchy bridge, traveled back to the waterfalls and gorge, and then finally back to the parking lot, which had about 5 cars total in it.

This was not one of our favorite hikes. The confusing trail markers and trail map designed by a 10-year-old weren’t much help. If we were to do this again, it would be just to take the 20 minutes to walk to the waterfalls and gorge and then turn around. In my opinion, there are too many trails in a small area, with too many offshoots and connectors, it felt like we were just passing the same trail markers over and over. If I didn’t have AllTrails, I would have thought we were walking in circles. I’d only recommend this hike to others to see if they share the same thoughts as us. Maybe we are just stupid. Oh well, we’re ready to take our next hike!

Constitution Marsh

We had the day off today with Robby and wanted to do a little hike so we trekked on over to Constitution Marsh in Philipstown, NY. It’s an easy 1.2 mile out and back trail, good for a lazy day, or a hike with young children. Parking is at Warren Landing Rd and Indian Brook Rd. A word of warning, there are only 8 parking spaces available, and if you park along the streets, you will be towed.

After parking, you walk down a gravel road that has private houses along it. At the bottom, you arrive at the visitor center. Going right brings you onto the start of the trail. After crossing a little bridge, you walk through the woods. It is fairly level at first. It then goes up rather steeply, with rock steps to the top of the hill. You have views through the trees of the Hudson River. There’s a nice little wooden bench at the top to sit and take in the limited views. You descend down the hill and arrive at the boardwalk.

The boardwalk takes you though the marsh. Walking amongst the cattails, there are signs talking about the different inhabitants of the marsh. There are beautiful views of West Point across the river and Storm King Mountain.

Overall, a nice quick walk. It was very easy for Robby to do, he had fun, and so did we. Not having taken a hike in a couple of weeks, it was nice just to get out and do something. We will gladly go back.

Hudson Highlands: Bull Hill

I was using Alltrails last night trying to figure out what hike we could do this morning. I was looking for something that would be in the 3-5 mile range, and wasn’t too far away as we had to be home by a certain time. Stumbling across the Cornish Estate Loop, I looked through the pictures, and there were some nice ruins. I’m a sucker for ruins. It was only 5.3 miles, so it seemed perfect. We got way more than we expected.

The Hudson Highlands State Park is known for Breakneck Ridge, by far the most popular hiking destination in the Hudson Valley. We haven’t hiked it yet, but know that it gets pretty busy. We arrived at the trailhead for the Washburn Trail around 8:45AM on Route 9D in Cold Spring, noticing there were already a few cars there. There are signs for the Bull Hill Loop, Cornish Trail, and the Washburn Trail. We went right for the white blazed Washburn Trail. The trail starts out well manicured, with a gradual ascent. We bumped into a deer 3 minutes in, a foot off the trail. The trail starts to get a bit rockier, still moving up. You enter a clearing then continue right. This is where it starts to get tough, but rewarding. You walk along the ridge, and through the trees you get glimpses of the Hudson River. It becomes a steep, rocky climb, while challenging, but not overly difficult. The first viewpoint looks out over Cold Spring and the Hudson, with West Point in the background. Continuing upward, you reach the summit of Bull Hill. The views are absolutely gorgeous.

Leaving the summit, you start working your way down which is very easy. You meet up with the blue blazed Notch Trail, continuing north then west. Another junction is less than a mile away, so we headed south on the red blazed Brook Trail. You are on this trail very briefly, when you meet up with the blue blazed Cornish Trail. The 1.4 mile Cornish Trail is very easy. You are still descending but very gradually. Walking through the woods you start to notice some old foundations and stone structures. There is a garage that has just the skeletal remains of the roof, and right past that is the old Cornish estate. Like I said above, I’m a sucker for ruins. These did not disappoint. Jackie and I were able to imagine what a beautiful home it once was. Stone walls still stand, three-story chimneys rise up all over. It was fantastic, and we enjoyed spending some time exploring through them. Finally, we continued to the end, which was by far the easiest, you walk down the paved driveway of the estate.

Picking this hike, I didn’t know we were in for some amazing views. I would have been happy with just the ruins, so the views blew me away. This so far might have been our favorite hike. We loved almost everything about it. The one downside is the amount of people who go through here. We ran into a bunch of large groups of people, more than we have seen on probably all of our hikes through Fahnestock. When we got back to the car, there had to be hundreds of cars along Route 9D. In the future, I would probably try to stay away from these trails on the weekend, but if I had to, I would still go early like we did today. Maybe earlier.

Click here for pictures of what the Cornish Estate used to look like.

Visit Alltrails to see the recording of our hike

An Evening in Fahnestock

It was Sunday. I got a text from my friend Josh. He wanted to know if I wanted to take a hike Tuesday evening. Sure, I usually don’t do anything Tuesday evenings, and I haven’t done an evening hike yet. Josh was fresh off a trip to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National, basically a bunch of places that made me jealous. With limited time, I figured we could do part of the hike that Jackie and I had done not too long ago. The view is out to the west, and maybe we can get a nice sunset in.

Parking at the Hubbard Lodge, we walked around the lodge past the butterfly garden for a quick walk through the woods to meet up with the white/blue blazed School Mountain Road/ Fahnestock Trail. Passing over a couple of steel plate bridges, you come up to the junction with the Hubbard Loop. Jackie and I didn’t do this part the last time, so Josh and I took it.

Passing through the stone pillars, you follow the yellow blazed Hubbard Loop. The trail is easy to travel over. It’s fairly wide and level, passing through stone walls. Remnants of the Hubbard estate are evident all around, from the stone walls, a root cellar, miscellaneous pots and pans strewn around.

Getting back onto School Mountain Road, you come up to another newish trail, the Round Hill Bypass trail. There is a Round Hill bypass trailhead on Route 301, but they extended it to meet up with School Mountain Road. Being pressed for time, we took the bypass. It’s a gradual ascent up to the bottom of Round Hill.

Finally, you come up to Round Hill, taking the blue blazed Fahnestock Trail up to the summit. At the top, you get wonderful views of the West, across the Hudson to West Point. The sun was just beginning to set, so we hung out for about 10 minutes, then began our descent. The lower we got, the darker it got. It was getting tough to see, but we managed to find our way back.

I never really thought about taking an evening hike before, but I have a feeling there will be some more of these in our future.

See the recording of our hike here

Fahnestock: Catfish Loop to Moneyhole Mountain to Chimney Top Trail

Today felt like a fall day. About 60 degrees, overcast. Not typical July weather. But it was a good day for a hike. It was cool, albeit a little muggy. The chance of rain didn’t stop us either. Looking for trails Jackie and I have not yet done in Fahnestock, we decided on the southwest corner that contains the Moneyhole Mountain Trail and Chimney Top Trail. Driving down Dennytown Road, just past Sunken Mine Road, on the left you come to a clearing where you can park. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, and that is where we started.

Crossing the street, you see the trailhead for the Catfish Loop. The first few steps of the trail are technically the Appalachian Trail, but then you come to a junction where you have a few options. Going straight keeps you on the AT, to the left starts the Catfish Loop, and to the right is also the Catfish Loop. We went right this time. We’ve done the whole Catfish Loop previously, and since we wanted to do the Moneyhole Mountain trail, we went right which eventually leads up to the Moneyhole trail. Crossing over a rock wall, you follow the red blazed Catfish Loop west. It’s a slight incline, with narrow, rocky paths, and continues that way until you reach the top where it opens to a clearing and comes to the yellow blazed Moneyhole Mountain Trail.

When you arrive at the junction, head south on the yellow trail. Walking along here was fairly level, and wider paths. This part was a nice leisurely stroll, which is surrounded on both sides by what to us looked like blueberry bushes. See the picture below and let us know if you think it’s safe to eat. We did come across some bear scat, and what appeared to be a paw print, so we remained on high alert. Fortunately and unfortunately we didn’t come across anything. Looks like a bear horn might be in order soon.

You then come to another junction that crosses with the Catfish Loop. Stay with the yellow trail. Walking along, we noticed something pretty cool. It is heavily wooded, and then comes to a rock wall. Once at the wall it turns almost into a pine forest. It felt like a totally different trail.

Finally, you reach the white blazed Chimney Top Trail. From here, it’s a half mile hike to top. Arriving at the top, you walk into a clearing with a chimney just standing by itself. The chimney is a supposedly the remnants of an old estate that burned down in the 1960’s. Looking out to the west, you can see Storm King Mountain across the Hudson. We spent a few minutes here just relaxing, enjoying the view. afterwards, we headed back down the way we came to head home. We joined back up with the yellow trail until we came back to the Catfish Loop junction.

When we got to the Catfish Loop junction, we went right to take us back to the car. The trail returns to being narrow and rocky, going mostly downhill. In about a mile and a half, you reach the junction with the AT and the Catfish Loop that we started on, so we headed back out to the road. Another fun hike was in the books.

See our recording of the hike here

Fahnestock: Pelton Pond

Hiking with a four-year old. That has haunted us for the past year. We haven’t done it yet, but have always wanted to. We want Robby to get outdoors and appreciate where we live just like us. Too many kids are glued to tablets and TV’s, no one plays outside anymore. Today, we took the plunge and brought him on a hike. We found the easiest hike we can in the area, Pelton Pond in Fahnestock State Park. It’s just under a mile, and relatively easy terrain. We invited a few friends along, because why not throw a 3-year-old and an 18 month old into the mix.

Arriving at Pelton Pond, there is a spacious parking lot which can fill up fast, as there are lots of picnic sites to enjoy. We began going southwest on the yellow blazed trail. Walking past some picnic tables, you are always within site of the pond. There are lots of trees down along the path, some from the handiwork of beavers.

The second half of the loop has more “climbing”, but nothing too crazy. The kids were able to do most parts on their own. There is a little more up and down, but still nothing a person who has the ability to walk can’t handle. You get a nice view across the pond to the pavilion. Coming up and around a bend you arrive at the bathrooms, then a quick one minute walk to the parking lot.

I would have liked to write more, but there isn’t that much else to say. It’s a nice scenic view of the pond, easy to traverse, not much else you can ask for. I will say that in the .9 miles, we saw more people than we have on any other trail in Fahnestock. Lots of fishing, grilling, and picnicking going on. As for the kids, they surprised us. They were able to keep up, in fact they led most of the way. It’s also nice because they see stuff we miss. We had to stop a lot, but it allowed us to take in our surroundings while they looked at bugs and trees. After today, we won’t hesitate to take Robby along with us, in fact, we are looking forward to it.

Fahnestock: School Mountain Road to East Mountain Loop Trail to Fahnestock Trail

Despite the looming threat of rain and thunderstorms, we ventured out today to explore the northwestern part of Fahnestock State Park. Worst case scenario, we would have to throw on our rain gear. Luckily, it turned out to be a nice, albeit, humid and buggy day. Items that saved us today, lots of water, and Badger Anti-Bug Spray. That stuff is amazing. After a few  applications of the spray, the mosquitoes left us alone.

We parked the car at the Hubbard Lodge, and proceeded to look for the start of the trail. We walked around the lodge and didn’t see anything, so we ended up walking down the road and finding the trail markers. The trail starts off with the white blazed School Mountain Trail and blue blazed Fahnestock Trail. The trail is fairly straight, wide and level in the beginning. You walk over a few metal bridges that go over some creeks. We then approached two stone columns that lead to the yellow blazed Hubbard Loop. Jackie and I opted not to do that today, so we continued on the white blazed School Mountain trail. Walking over two metal I-beams across a stream, you continue along for a bit and come to a junction with the red blazed East Mountain Loop. That is the trail we decided to go with.

The 1.5 mile East Mountain Loop Trail starts out easy enough, then goes into an ascent up the mountain. While not steep, it’s a constant gradual climb. It was kicking our asses, and burning my calves. Stopping every few minutes for water, and to catch our breath, we eventually made it to the top. Sadly, the views were obstructed by foliage. I think the best time for this hike would be in the early spring or late fall. Continuing along, we passed by several snakes within a two-minute time span. Little known fact about me, snakes freak the shit out of me. If you are ever hiking and hear someone cursing and running in the opposite direction, it’s probably me coming across a snake. The descent down East Mountain is really nice though, the landscape strewn with rock walls everywhere you look. Abandoned farm equipment is scattered as well. At the end of the trail, where it meets up with the School Mountain Trail and Fahnestock Trail, there is a lovely abandoned house. It was fun taking a few minutes to explore the outside. As tempting as it was for me to go inside, something told me that the house wasn’t in the best of shape.

At the junction you can go north on the white School Mountain trail, or east on the yellow blazed Perkins trail, which we followed until it meets up with the blue blazed Fahnestock Trail. The Fahnestock trail going south takes you to Round Hill, so named for its rectangular shape. You begin an ascent up a hill and come up to the first viewpoint. Again, like East Mountain, the view is largely disrupted by the foliage. Descending down, you then come up to Round Hill. You ascend back up a hill to reach the top. Once there, you are rewarded with spectacular views. Again, slightly obstructed from the trees, but we were able to see West Point across the Hudson River . We sat on a nice rock clearing and relaxed for about 10 minutes, taking in the scenery and tranquility of the day. We then started the rather steep descent. Getting to the bottom you walk parallel to a stream, where there happened to be a duck that seemed pretty freaked out about us walking by, and feverishly worked his way upstream. Finally, we came back to the junction with School Mountain Road, crossed back over the I-beam bridge, and back to the car.

What a great hike. At 7.4 miles, while not the longest we’ve done, it was definitely tougher on us. I would definitely try this one again, either late fall or early spring, and try to take full advantage of the views.

See our recording of the hike here