Saturday, May 29, 2010


On this sunny, hot day (90 degrees+) I decided to do some off-trail exploring in a favorite area close to home - the valley of Gordon Pond Brook on the SE side of Mt. Wolf and the lower Kinsman Ridge. Two years ago John Compton and I had struck off into this valley in search of a dark cliff on the escarpment-like eastern face of the lower Kinsman Ridge. We ended up too far to the N and missed the cliff, but did find two other ledges with fine eastern views.

After some map and Google Earth study, I headed onto the Gordon Pond Trail to complete the "unfinished business" of finding the dark cliff. Once across the last powerline crossing and a rock-hop over Gordon Pond Brook, the Gordon Pond Trail provides pleasant walking under a lofty canopy of hardwoods.

False Solomon's Seal was in bloom along the trail's edge. I didn't realize how many insects were feeding on this flower until I zoomed this photo in on the computer.

Partway along this lovely stretch of trail I headed into the woods and descended to Gordon Pond Brook.

I crossed the brook by this small cascade.

I knew from our 2008 trip that the bushwhacking on the SW side of the valley was almost exclusively through open hardwoods. Nice!

I used a tributary brook as a handrail to lead me to the dark cliff.

The woods were open all the way to the base of the steep escarpment slope.

The tributary brook route worked out well, landing me in between what turned out to be two dark cliffs a short distance apart. I made a side traverse to peek at the southern of the cliffs. I could see that there was a shelf halfway up, but it looked too steep and slippery to scoot across to it.

Instead, I scrambled up a gully between the cliffs, then thrashed around above them in steep terrain choked with thick vegetation and blowdowns strewn at crazy angles. I was looking for open viewpoints at the tops of the cliffs, but as it turned out both were essentially inaccessible from above. I did find one opening above the rim of the north cliff with a framed view towards the town of Lincoln, Scar Ridge and the Osceolas.

From a point well above the southern cliff, I got a look at Mt. Tecumseh and its long southern ridges, with Sandwich Dome on the right.

The whacking above the cliffs was slow and frustrating, compounded by the heat and swarms of biting black flies. When I decided to pack it in and drop back down to the base of the escarpment, I initially chose the wrong route to descend and hit a dead-end atop smaller cliffs, necessitating a climb back up and detour around. I was glad to finally get back down below the ledges. I traversed south along the base of the north cliff.

Then I reached the bottom of the south cliff and realized that I could access the shelf I had seen earlier with a not-too-tricky scramble from below.

It was nice to find an open rock perch with a view out towards the Hancocks and Mt. Carrigain.

From one spot there was a framed view of Mt. Flume.

The cliff is a pretty big slab of rock, with a small "meadow" at its base.

Some trees will thrive in the most unlikely places.

On the return trip I took a different route - still through open hardwoods - and came to Gordon Pond Brook higher up the valley.

I bushwhacked upstream to visit several cascades I had seen on another trip two years ago.

I continued up to this spot, where you look up the stream corridor to a series of cascades over 100 ft. high. Impressive even with a low flow of water.

Evening light on the walk out the Gordon Pond Trail.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

GIANT LEDGE: 5/21/10

If you want to hook a hiker on the Catskills, take him or her on the short, moderate trek to Giant Ledge, one of the premier viewing perches in the Northeast. For a hike of about 3 miles round trip, with 1000 ft. of elevation gain, the reward is a series of stunning clifftop overlooks taking in the mighty Burroughs Range, the wild forests on the slopes of Panther Mountain above Woodland Valley, and the skyline of the rugged Devil's Path peaks.

The parking area for Giant Ledge is at a steep hairpin turn on County Route 47. Amazingly, at 11 am on a sunny Friday, there were no other cars here.

Typical of Catskill trails, there is a register near the start for hikers to sign in. This being one of the most popular hikes in the Catskills, there were many entries in the book. But mine was the first registration for the day.

The trail soon crosses a small creek on a bridge....

...and ascends through beautiful open hardwood forest.

The grade is moderate, but sections of the trail are very rocky.

At 0.7 mile you reach a junction at the height-of-land between Giant Ledge and the northern spurs of Slide Mountain.

Turning left here, there is a long, level traverse along the crest.

Trail crews have placed many step stones here, providing easy passage through some muddy areas.

Interesting trailside rocks.

A short burst of rocky climbing lifts you up to the crest of Giant Ledge (3200 ft.).

A Jack-in-the-Pulpit had staked its claim alongside a rock.

The path eases again as you approach the clifftop overlooks.

There are four or five separate vantage points along the rim. My favorite is the first one you come to, a wonderful flat sandstone shelf. I've been here several times over the years, but that first look at the vista never fails to amaze.

Off to the NE, the Devil's Path peaks: L to R are West Kill, Hunter, the aptly-named Plateau, Sugarloaf, Twin and the bumpy profile of Indian Head.

Close by to the N is Panther Mountain and its great eastern spur.

To the SE is the Burroughs Range, featuring a closeup of Wittenberg (L) and Cornell (R). Friday Mountain peers over to the R of Cornell.

A zoom on Wittenberg & Cornell and the great basin between them.

On the far R is the massive head of Slide Mountain.

This perch is one of the great hangout spots on a fine sunny day. I spent two hours here, and in that time only two people came by, stopping briefly at one of the other outlooks farther to the N.

Wild Azalea was in bloom beside the ledge.

After my summit sojourn, I continued a short distance N along the trail, then followed a beaten path through a designated primitive camping area to the little-known western outlook.

This secluded spot looks across the Esopus Creek valley to the high, wooded, mysterious ridges of the Big Indian Range. In this picture are Fir Mountain (L) and Big Indian Mountain (R), both on the 3500 list.

Farther R are Eagle Mountain (L), another 3500 peak, and Haynes Mountain (R).

You can see why this is a popular camping area.

I visited all of the major viewpoints along the trail as it skirts the Giant Ledge clifftop. The northernmost one has a terrific perspective on the Burroughs Range.

Slide, that favorite haunt of the naturalist John Burroughs, looks suitably rugged.

One parting shot of the Devil's Path, and it was time to head for the trailhead and, eventually, my New Hampshire home.

I had one last look at the Catskills from a scenic overlook on the beautiful Taconic State Parkway. Can't wait to go back.