Tuesday, April 30, 2013


We wanted to take it easy today, and decided to explore a new area in the central Catskills - Alder Lake, which I had read about in several guidebooks. It was a long drive out past the Pepacton Reservoir and over typical steep, winding, paved Catskill back roads, but it proved to be more than worth it.

We stopped briefly on Barkaboom Road to take in the view of Big Pond and Barkaboom Mountain.

Sign at the trailhead.

This property was once the estate and private fishing preserve of railroad magnate Samuel Coykendall.

We liked this spot immediately.

The Alder Lake Loop Trail makes an easy and pleasant 1.6 mile circuit around the lake.

On the south side it's a bit away from the water on an old woods road.

Alder Creek, just before it flows into the lake.

I headed about a mile eastward up the Mill Brook Ridge Trail while Carol completed the loop around the lake and embarked on a second loop.

Beautiful hardwood walking on Mill Brook Ridge Trail.

Spring beauties were in bloom.

My objective was the first of several beaver meadows along Alder Creek, about a mile from Alder Lake. (The second meadow, a half-mile farther, is the site of a lean-to.)

Tucked in the valley between Mill Brook Ridge and Cradle Rock Ridge, this was one of the loveliest and most peaceful spots I've ever seen in the Catskills, or anywhere, for that matter.

The spot where the stream exits the meadow.

Springtime, and the livin' is easy.

After a nice break in the dry grass, I meandered along the edge of the meadow and back to the trail.

A bit farther east was evidence of more recent beaver activity.

I strolled back to the Alder Lake Loop Trail, met Carol back at the junction, and accompanied her on her second pass along the north shore, where there were many views across the water to Cradle Rock Ridge.

What a great trail! The only people we saw were a handful of fishermen.

The lake was a sparkling blue in the afternoon sun, as viewed from the field at the west end.

The remnants of Samuel Coykendall's mansion. The full building stood here until a few years ago, when the state razed it despite efforts by a volunteer group to have it restored.

This was a hard place to leave. We eventually broke away and made the long drive to Woodstock, where we walked around that hip and fascinating town and dropped a few bucks in the local bookstore.

On the way back to Hunter we drove through Stony Clove and stopped for a look at Notch Lake, nestled in the depths of the pass. Another great day in the Catskills!

Sunday, April 28, 2013


On the only cloudy day of our vacation week we took an afternoon walk to beautiful Diamond Notch Falls, and continued up into Diamond Notch, the wild, sharp cut between Southwest Hunter  Mountain and West Kill Mountain. We parked at the northern trailhead for Diamond Notch Trail in the beautiful Spruceton valley. Up to the falls, the trail follows an old woods road along the West Kill.

Along the way we passed several sets of small, attractive cascades.

Diamoond Notch Falls (aka West Kill Falls) is located by the junction of Diamond Notch Trail and the Devil's Path. For the best view you must descend a short but steep side path.

The course of the falls was drastically altered by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The photo below shows the falls as they appeared in 2010, when they were in the center of the streambed. Now they are on the left edge of the streambed.

The old course of the falls has barely a trickle now.

Also during Irene, the footbridge over the West Kill just above the falls was swept away. This can be a very difficult crossing without the bridge, and we ended up going about 0.1 mile up the Devil's Path and bushwhacking down to the brook for a better crossing.

We passed this magnificent old hemlock on the climb up to Diamond Notch.

The Diamond Notch Lean-to occupies a secluded setting near the top of the pass.

Looking down into the cut of the notch from in front of the shelter.

At the top of the notch the trail skirts along the base of an extensive talus slope on the flank of Southwest Hunter.

This trail shelf  reminded me of the Ethan Pond Trail through Zealand Notch in the Whites.

Just south of the height-of-land a flat rock provides a view south to the distant Burroughs Range, including Slide Mountain. Unfortunately the peaks were socked in today.

Heading back up to the height-of-land. Diamond Notch was an excellent four-mile trek for a cloudy day.


Today's objective was Thomas Cole Mountain in the Blackhead Range of the northeastern Catskills. At 3940 ft., Thomas Cole is tied for fourth highest of the 35 Catskill 3500-ft. peaks. It was named for the famous 19th century artist who painted in both the Hudson Valley and the White Mountains. Our approach was via the Black Dome Range Trail from the end of Barnum Rd., just a few miles north of Hunter. This route, a moderately strenuous 6 miles round trip, leads over two spur peaks - The Caudal (3320 ft.) and Camel's Hump (3550 ft.), each of which provides some interesting views.The summit of Thomas Cole is wooded and now viewless, though there is an outlook on the way up to the summit.

From Scribner Hollow Rd., we had a look ahead at the three peaks on the day's itinerary.

One of the typical "TRAIL TO" signs used by the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation in the Catskills.

It was good to be back in the beautiful Catskill hardwood forest.

Carol works her way up a steep pitch climbing The Caudal.

At the top of the steep stretch there was a great ledge perch just a few yards to the right of the trail, looking SW.

A closer look at Hunter Mountain, seen beyond the pass we drove through on Scribner Hollow Rd.

Classic Catskill terrain on The Caudal.

A short descent off The Caudal led to a wonderful level traverse on the ridge leading across towards Camel's Hump.

A moderate climb up Camel's Hump led us through some neat first-growth hardwood forest that has never been logged, as detailed by Catskill forest histoiran Michael Kudish in his classic The Catskill Forest: A History.

Approaching the summit of Camel's Hump. Except in winter, camping is prohibited in the Catskills above 3500 ft.

Boulder at the summit of Camel's Hump. This peak is not on the 3500-footer list because it has only about an 80-ft. col with the taller Thomas Cole Mountain.

A short side path led to a long view NW from Camel's Hump.

Windham High Peak, a 3500-footer that Carol and I climbed a few years ago, is seen close by to the north.

By scrounging around off another side path, I found a good look at fir-capped Thomas Cole Mountain, our next objective.

In the saddle between Camel's Hump and Thomas Cole the trail passes through some beautiful high elevation meadows.

An outlook on the flank of Thomas Cole offered a view back to Camel's Hump and distant ranges beyond.


As we ascended Thomas Cole we ran into a few remnant snow patches. One of the beauties of the Catskills in late April is that the snow is mostly melted out, except in the highest and shadiest areas. Once into the conifers above 3600 ft., there were quite a few icy patches on the trail, but there was little snow in the woods.

At the high point of the trail on Thomas Cole. The actual summit is somewhere off-trail just to the north, but it was hard to tell exactly where. We considered continuing across the range to Black Dome Mountain, which has a fine south-facing outlook ledge, but a probe in that direction showed more snow and ice than we wanted to bother with, so we headed back down towards Camel's Hump.

Descending through the conifers on Thomas Cole.

Heading back across the saddle - great ridge walking in the sun!

We took a nice long break at the north viewpoint on Camel's Hump.

A neat trail scene descending off Camel's Hump.

A beautiful hardwood shelf beside the trail.

Mossy ledges on The Caudal.

Time for another break at the view ledge on The Caudal, looking towards Hunter, West Kill and Rusk Mountains beyond the East Jewett Range.

The rugged peaks of the eastern Devil's Path: Indian Head, Twin and Sugarloaf.

A steep and rocky pitch off The Caudal. Blue skies, beautiful woods, good views, and interesting ridges combined for a magical spring day in the Catskills.