Tuesday, May 19, 2015


On a day that started cool and cloudy but became sunny by noontime, I enjoyed a leisurely bushwhack loop from the Breezy Point trailhead to two favorite southern spurs of Mount Moosilauke. With just one limited view, this trek was all about the woods, passing through many gorgeous stands of sugar maple. Readers who follow this blog will recognize these destinations from previous reports, but every trip into the woods offers new rewards.

One of the purposes of the trip was to look for spring ephemeral wildflowers, in particular Dutchman's breeches and blue cohosh, as some of the maple stands in this area looked like they had potential. The flowers had gone by - alas, I was a week too late - but I did find a sizable patch of "rich woods" on the west shoulder of Bald Hill, and smaller pockets on the south slope of Chokecherry Hill.

Before heading up to the trailhead at Breezy Point, I stopped for a look at Moosilauke Falls on the Baker River, under the bridge on Breezy Point Rd.

I did a little birding around the fields of Breezy Point, where once were located the Breezy Point House, then the Moosilauke Inn, and from the 1950s-1980s, a smaller motel-like complex. There was also a nine-hole golf course here.

To get to the beaver pond at the head of Merrill Brook, from where I would launch the bushwhack, I followed a familiar route up an old logging road and then an informal trail, where I waded through a sea of hobblebush.

It was evident that moose are fond of this area.

Some nice stands of paper birch adorn the path.

I sat for a while on the shore of the beaver pond, gazing across at Chokecherry Hill and listening to the whistling of a white-throated sparrow.

Wonderfully open woods predominate on the gentle bushwhack up to the broad crest of Bald Hill.

The woods were surging with fresh spring greens.

Can you really call this bushwhacking?

At the top of the ridge I stopped for a look at a small bog-meadow.

Nearby is another natural opening, a dry meadow that is the last vestige of Bald Hill's baldness.

Soon I headed down the west ridge of Bald Hill, where vegetated ledgy dropoffs alternate with gentler terraces.

Red trilliums!

A shrubby slope of tall hardwoods.

A neat little grassy shelf below a ledge front.

At about 2250 ft. I descended into a sizable patch of "rich mesic forest," a nutrient-rich stand type that is uncommon in the White Mountains and usually occurs at the base of slopes or cliffs. A more accessible stand of this type is found along the Ore Hill Trail/Appalachian Trail a half-mile south of Route 25C.

Blue cohosh is one of the characteristic herbs of rich woods.

Dutchman's breeches is another. Unfortunately I missed the flowers by about a week.

These open woods are dominated by sugar maple and were stunningly beautiful in their new spring greenery.

I continued down the west ridge to spruce woods and ledges just below 2000 ft., where I basked in the sun and took in a hazy framed view of Mount Cube.

Zooming in, I could see the quartzite ledges at Cube's north summit.

A lower ledge offered an even hazier vista of Smarts Mountain.

On the way back I passed this vernal pool, which was a small snowy opening when I snowshoed through here in January.

Back into the rich woods and a solid stand of blue cohosh.

Turn-of-the-season coexistence on the forest floor: foamflower poking up through the leaves of Dutchman's breeches.

Back atop Bald Hill, the meadow beckoned for a sojourn in the high spring sun.

Then I headed north along the ridge. After a brief tussle with some messy conifers, I emerged in this beautiful hardwood col, where I listened to a pair of barred owls engaged in a hooting duel.

On the south side of the col this old yellow birch appeared to be bending over backwards.

Farther along, I swung east towards the south side of Chokecherry Hill. Along the way I passed this giant yellow birch.

I climbed through a conifer band and emerged in another magnificent maple stand high on the south slope of Chokecherry Hill.

A natural stone wall along the edge of the hardwoods.

The upper end of this park-like glade was carpeted with bellworts.

Some wonderful gnarled old yellow birches marked the upper limit of the hardwoods at 2800 ft.

These stalwarts lean over like guardians of the gateway to the glades.

A few trout lilies retained their early spring glory.

A magic carpet of bellworts.

A look back up the slope while descending southward through the maples.

Around 2400 ft, I found some more Dutchman's breeches, including this one that had just recently gone to seed.

The open maple glades continued well down and across the slope. I hope these gorgeous stands never feel the bite of a chainsaw!

I descended to Merrill Brook and followed it downstream for a half-mile.

It's an attractive stream, though in this section it lacks the gradient for any significant cascades.

Back at the fields of Breezy Point, Mounts Cushman and Kineo loomed large. As dusk drew on, I placed a geocache in its hiding spot, then watched as several American woodcocks performed their spectacular courtship flights, soaring high in the darkening spring skies.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Another in a string of sunny spring days in the Catskills! Today I wanted to "bag" a new peak for my 3500-footer list, but wasn't up for a long bushwhack in the warm sun. Eagle Mountain via Rider Hollow and Haynes Mountain beckoned as a great wooded ridge walk with miles of old-growth hardwood forest and the potential for lots of wildflowers. It also provided Mike with the opportunity for a trek to Balsam Mountain with its fine eastern viewpoint. And I held out hope that I might find some views from Eagle by bushwhacking west a ways off the summit, as suggested on the Catskill 3500 Club website.

A quarter-mile in from the trailhead a  relocation on the Rider Hollow Trail (aka Oliveria-Mapledale Trail) around Tropical Storm Irene damage led to a new junction with the Mine Hollow Trail.

Just beyond, we crossed a footbridge of unusual design.

We took a break at the Rider Hollow lean-to, just a half-mile in.

The lower part of the trail offers nice views of Rider Hollow Brook.

A great stretch of smooth walking high above the brook.

Red trilliums and an old stone wall.

Dutchman's breeches were starting to bloom.

Rider Hollow is a gorgeous valley.

Some big hemlocks at the start of the steeper climb up to the ridge.

Well up on the slope the trail enters first growth hardwoods.

Mike makes his way up the last fairly steep pitch to the col between Haynes and Balsam Mountains.

Trail signs in the col, at the junction with the blue-marked Pine Hill-West Branch Trail.

The col is a nice spot for a break. Mike studies his guidebook before heading north up to Balsam Mountain, where he enjoyed the eastern views for an hour and a half. Partway during his sojourn he spotted smoke off towards Hunter Mountain - the start of a forest fire that burned 200 acres.

I headed south towards Haynes Mountain, clambering up this small ledge band.

There were wonderful long stretches of level walking through first-growth hardwood on the shoulders of Haynes. According to the classic book The Catskill Forest: A History, by ecologist Michael Kudish, there are more than 11,000 acres of first-growth forest, never logged, on the Eagle Mountain Range.

Looking back at Balsam Mountain.

A long corridor with trout lilies lining the trail...

...and growing in the trail.

Looking back at a ledge band just south of the nearly indistinguishable 3420-ft. summit of Haynes.

A bright and beautiful afternoon for a long ridgecrest stroll.

Heading up to Eagle past the DEC elevation sign.

There's a fair amount of balsam fir along the crest of Eagle.

A well-beaten path leads to a clearing that is presumably the 3600-ft. summit of Eagle. The summit area is broad and flat, so it's hard to tell precisely where the highest point is. A poll of 3500 Club finishers ranked Eagle as one of the least favorite summits, but despite its lack of views, forest historian Michael Kudish ranks Eagle Mountain among his favorites because it is quiet and peaceful and offers a good representation of Catskill vegetation.

After a break under the shade of a balsam, I traversed west across the extensive summit plateau, then descended partway down the slope beyond.

I came upon a ledge band around 3300 ft. or so and found no open views, but did see some interesting rock formations.

Doubletop and Graham Mountains could be seen through the trees.

There was a really neat hardwood shelf along the base of the ledge band, which I traversed for a third of a mile or more. This area had a very remote feel to it.

Looking up at part of the ledge band.

There were some great patches of spring greenery sprouting along the shelf.

A glimpse of Balsam Lake Mountain.

After a 1 3/4 mile bushwhack loop, I returned to the summit of Eagle, then did a little poking around on the east side of the ridge. Again, no open views, but I did catch a glimpse of Slide Mountain, monarch of the Catskills.

Heading back along the trail through the Eagle-Haynes col.

There are many wonderfully gnarled old hardwoods - many of them black cherries - along this ridge.

Heading back down the Rider Hollow Trail, where I took a drink from an ice-cold spring near the top.

Evening sun on the lower Rider Hollow Trail, capping another fine spring day in the picturesque Catskills.