Friday, May 2, 2014


Our last full day in the Catskills was bright and sunny but very windy, so we shelved a plan to climb Giant Ledge and instead made the long drive west to Alder Lake, a gorgeous spot we had been captivated by last year. Our plan was to hike around one side of the lake, then follow the Mill Brook Ridge Trail up the peaceful, secluded valley of Alder Creek to three beaver meadows, one of which hosts a lean-to built in 1997.

On the way over along Rt. 28 we stopped for a quick photo of Balsam Mountain, one of the 3500-footers, presiding over the hamlet of Big Indian.

After driving for miles along the contorted Pepacton Reservoir, then over steep, winding Barkaboom Road and along the fabled Beaver Kill, we pulled into the Alder Lake trailhead to find it empty. We had this whole beautiful area to ourselves for the day.

Alder Lake was once the private estate of railroad magnate Samuel D. Coykendall, who had an impressive lodge built here in 1899 and created the 45-acre lake with a dam. He even had a private railroad spur built to this remote location for the convenience of his guests. The property was sold to a fishing club in 1945, and in 1960 it was purchased by the Nassau County Boy Scout Council and was operated as a backpacking destination for Scouts, complete with its own trading post. The Scouts had to hike 10 miles to get here. Click here for some history on the Scout camp. Alder Lake was acquired by the state of NY around 1980. The lodge was in need of major repairs and was dismantled by the state a few years ago. Only parts of the foundation and pillars remain.

Surrounded by high wooded ridges, Alder Lake is one of the prettiest spots in the Catskills. Today there were dozens of graceful Tree Swallows swooping over the water.

We also saw an adult Bald Eagle soaring over the lake. You can get a glimpse of the eagle in the center of the photo.

We headed out on the gentle trail along the south shore of the lake.

Blue, blue water seen through the trees.

At the east end of the lake we turned onto the Mill Brook Ridge Trail.

There's no better place to be on a sunny April day than the Catskill hardwood forest.

A view of Alder Creek, which flows down from the beaver meadows to Alder Lake.

Alder Creek meandering through the first beaver meadow. I visited this meadow last year and immediately declared it to be one of my favorite spots in the world.

A half-mile farther we approached the second beaver meadow, site of the lean-to.

Trail signs behind the lean-to.

These hardwoods behind the lean-to are "first growth forest" - never logged or burned - according to renowned Catskill ecologist Dr. Michael Kudish, whose classic The Catskill Forest - A History is a must-have for the Catskill hiker.

Carol heading over to check out the lean-to.

The view from the lean-to, looking across at a spur of Cradle Rock Ridge.

We hung out in the sun on a great sandstone sitting rock at the edge of the meadow.

The privy reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park.

After a long break we continued a short distance to the third meadow. Not feeling like climbing up to Mill Brook Ridge, we turned around not far beyond here.

Spring was springing in the Catskills. We were a little early for most wildflowers, but did see a number of spring beauties.

Love those open hardwoods!

A huge old sugar maple behind the lean-to.

Looking across the meadow to the lean-to, with Mill Brook Ridge in the background. An idyllic setting!

I stopped for a brief sit-down break at the first beaver meadow.

Back at Alder Lake, we followed the trail along the north shore.

Alder Lake and Cradle Rock Ridge, one of the "Catskill 100 Highest."After our hike we went to the Cave Mountain Brewery in Windham for dinner and ran into Tom and Laurie Rankin. They are the "Views and Brews" folks and also are the volunteer interpreters and coordinators for the Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower. Laurie was up there this day, at the other end of the Mill Brook Ridge Trail from where we were. Tom is also President of the Catskill 3500 Club, which I eventually hope to become a member of. A few days later Laurie emailed some of her personal recollections of Alder Lake. Her great uncle was the caretaker there, and he and his pet otter were featured in the 1961 Disney episode, Flash the Teenage Otter., which was later released theatrically. Laurie has also accompanied Dr. Michael Kudish in studying bogs and first growth forest on Mill Brook Ridge.

On the way back we stopped at Belleayre Ski Resort for a view of Halcott Mountain, which I had climbed the day before.

A neat view of Panther Mountain and its north ridge from Rt. 28.

The next morning, before heading to Connecticut for a family visit, I took a short walk up the Becker Hollow Trail to Hunter Mountain to see a cascade on Becker Hollow Brook. A nice bridge spans the brook.

Some Irene residue visible on the right.

The cascade tumbles over a ledge near the remains of an old dam.

On our way across to I-87, we stopped briefly at the Escarpment Trail trailhead on NY 23. A two-minute walk brought me to this peaceful scene on the Windham Kill.

The state DEC has recently developed a network of mountain bike trails here.

I took a quick walk around the shorter trail loop, leading through a scenic area of old pastureland.

Another view of the Windham Kill, a final Catskill scene to hold us over til our next visit.

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