Choosing to stay in the States for 3 months was not something we had planned on when we set out on our adventure, but it has afforded us some unique opportunities. One of those is getting to see friends around the Northeast that we don’t get to see very often. This past weekend I was able to get out in the Catskills with Brandon, a Cornell friend, one of my groomsmen, and an outdoorsman seriously in need of a hike. This was a pretty exciting opportunity as I’ve never been hiking in the US, which presents a couple of different challenges than the ones we’ve had in South America.
Brandon met me in Connecticut off my train from New York City and we headed for the Catskills to hike part of the Escarpment Trail. Since we only had one car, we parked near the end of the trail at 4pm and hiked 3 miles on blacktop to the opposite entrance point. The first campsite was only a mile in from the trailhead. We arrived to the campsite around 5:30 where we setup camp and headed to the spring to get water. In South America, our water options were either clean (Patagonia), where we could just drink the water straight from streams, or filthy (Peru), where we only drank bottled water on the trail. Using coffee filters to strain out any sediment and a Steripen to sterilize it, we enjoyed some of the best tasting water you’ll have in New York State.
Brandon had packed a pretty good dinner for our first night, so we wrapped up potatoes, broccoli, onions, and chicken with a mesquite spice and a bit of water to steam everything in foil and set them over them campfire. Darkness comes early in the woods, so we ate by the light of our headlamps, but definitely didn’t need to worry about going to sleep hungry. One thing that Danielle and I never had to think about in South America was the threat of animals getting in to our food. Other than one campsite in Torres del Paine that boasted mice as the resident annoyance, the only animals that were near us at night were cows or horses that never seemed to care much about our food. In the Catskills, as well as most places in America, you hang your food over a tree limb so that raccoons, coyotes, or mountain lions don’t get in to it (though truthfully, probably mice were our biggest worry here as well).
Just as darkness comes early, morning light comes late in the dense woods, so we slept until 7:45 on Saturday morning. After a light breakfast of soup – nothing like a warm cup of soup to get your blood moving – we headed out for our first full day of hiking. Most of the hiking I have done in the states has been in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. There mountain peaks are usually above tree line or at least have some sort of view point at the summit. On Escarpment, none of the peaks featured a view. Sometimes there was a marker on the path to indicate that it was a high point and, if we were lucky, a viewpoint near the summit. The peaks we crossed this day were Windham High Peak, Burnt Knob, and Acra Point.
We started off about 8:45am and arrived at the Batavia Kill campsite around 1:30pm. While it was early, we were more interested in camping out, than hiking as much as possible, so we pitched the tent, built a campfire and enjoyed some snacks while playing Rummy 500 (Brandon won 2 of 3 games). After a dinner of tuna fish mac and cheese, we refilled our water bottles from the nearby stream. This was really putting our trust in the Steripen to a test, but as far as I know, neither of us came out on the losing end. Without anything else to do, we headed for bed at 6:30.
An early night means an early morning. We were up at 6:45am and on the trail at 7:45. This was our hardest day, starting out with a 1200 foot climb up to Blackhead Mountain over the course of about a mile (that’s an average of a 20+% grade). Having spent 4 days hiking at 3000 to 4700 meters only a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t venture to say that these were much easier on the legs or lungs.
We turned off the Escarpment Trail and headed back towards the car on Blackhead Trail. We had two summits that were easier – Black Dome Mountain and Thomas Cole Mountain, but our knees still let us know they were not fans of the steep uphills and downhills. We got back to the car around 11am and headed home with a stop for some well-deserved cinnamon rolls and a celebratory drink of Firestone Opal Proprietary Reserve.