I woke up to the shafts of sunlight hitting my eyes through my shade less windows, I cursed the sun for waking me up so early- yet was happy that I could get an early start and have a whole day to work with. A quick shachris, cinnamon toast crunch, tuna fish sandwich in tin foil, filling of the camel back, dumping of my hiking socks and fleece into my car and I was off. I didn’t know exactly where I would go- but I just headed south on the Thruway, pointing my car in the direction of the Catskills with high hopes that I would catch the few remaining days of foliage, while the wind tried harder then ever to shorten the fall season, by blowing all the pretty leaves off the trees and blowing in some horrific cold front with November rains.
It was mighty windy as I drove down the highway listening to Neil Young who was searching for his heart of gold. 30 miles south of Albany, my sun disappeared, in its place a gloomy late October day, filled with dark foreboding clouds, wind whipped cyclones of leaves, and the inevitable rain. I think I will hike Overlook Mountain I decided as I got off at the Woodstock exit. It’s a fairly easy hike, but provides access to pretty good views if one chooses to hike further then the old Overlook Hotel, that is perched at the top overlooking the Ashokan Reservoir and the Southern Catskills.
It was cold and windy as I donned my boots, wick away T-shirt and windproof fleece. It was cold enough for a hat and gloves as well, which due to my reading of to many wilderness survival books I always get scared of being stuck in the woods and dying of something as stupid as not having a simple hat and gloves.
Overlook is an interesting place, unlike the other trailheads in the Catskills, this one is easy access and famous so it is always crowded. Crowded to me is more then one car, the hike up follows an old road that leads to the old hotel and the unfortunate scar of a radio tower- I cursed under my breath as this came into view. At the top I turned onto a trail for Echo Lake and Indian Head Mountain 2 and 6 miles respectively. I figured I would hike halfway to Indian Head, eat my lunch and then hike back to the lake. This is exactly what happened.
The gravel road instantly ended and I was cast forth into a completely different world. The clouds were scattered now and rays of sun reached me through the trees. The sun was brightly reflecting off of the remaining leaves in their peak foliage condition of red and orange. These crunchy red and orange leaves were also scattered along the trail wherever the wind had decided to relieve of their joy ride from their homes on the trees to the ground. The wind was incredible because the crunchy late season leaves swayed in a symphonic fashion as they hit one another every time a gust of wind got hold of them.
It was darned cold as I walk through the shaded path under a canopy of crunchy swaying wind driven leaves. The trail led down a hill and deposited me onto a ridge. About 15 miles east as the crow flies was the distinct Hudson River cutting a swath through Catskills and Taconic’s ultimately separating them into two ranges. I took in the view of the colorful lowlands meeting the gradual rise of the land as it met the Taconic’s at the Connecticut border. In the distance possibly 20 miles I could make out a town, Catskill or maybe Saugerties. The wind blew stronger now, and it started to rain. At least I thought it was rain. Rain doesn’t go sideways I thought as I realized it was snowing. My heart leaped for joy followed by the screaming of my happy praise the Lords- one passing by may have branded me a Jesus Freak, but I was in fact very grateful for this first snow of the season. All at once I started fantasizing about skiing across lakes and on the sides of railroad tracks and cooking oatmeal on the hood of my car while preparing for a day at Jay Peak. I started thinking if my tires on my car were Ok and all the other concerns and joys that come with the first snow. Of course this snow was merely flurries, but flurries conjure up all these thoughts that have been cast down into ones unconsciousness since last seasons final snow turned brown and was plowed into storm drains.
I walked with a new hype in my step. I had no cares in the world and just enjoyed the solitude that the forest along with the snow created. All that could be heard was the creaking of swaying trees and the crunchy leaves crumbling under the weight of my soles. My trekking poles looked like shish kabobs of leaves as they skewered leaves every time they staked the ground. The mud caked around my boots, and the sweat dripped off my brow, the snot dripped from my nose, my tzitzis stuck to my back, the snowflakes could be seen as they crash landed on my fleece-only to melt seconds after contact without chance for survival.
I walked and walked, a few miles at least until I found the perfect spot for lunch. I had walked about 6 miles before I ate anything at all, the only nourishment coming from in frequent swigs from my camel back straw. Down off the trail I noticed some old stone foundations and decided to check them out, being the abandoned structure addict that I am. Upon reaching them I was disappointed at their lack of uniqueness but noticed an even better thing.
There was a clearing and a wide vista of the Hudson Valley 3000 feet below. Smack in the center of this clearing was a lazy boy made of long flat pieces of rock. A perfect setting and if not for my running out of film a perfect photo opportunity. Setting my tired butt onto this slab of rock that reminded me of sitting on cold toilet seats, I relished in the view as well as the utter silence and small flakes floating onto my chin as I leaned back. My foil wrapped tuna sandwich was heaven even though it was soggy as anything. I sat munching on my sandwich and then just chilling for the better part of an hour. Then I turned around and went back the way I had come.
A quick mile detour took me down to a 13 acre pond and my first sighting of humans in the last 5 hours or so. Its funny when you realize that you haven’t spoken to anyone besides yourself or G-d all day. The lake was in the middle of two mountains covered in bright orange leaves and moss covered rocks creating a picture perfect setting. I sat on the edge of the lake and contemplated about how being unemployed rocks. Then I headed back up to the top of Overlook to climb the fire tower at the top.
The best time to see if your fleece that is supposedly windproof actually is, is at the top of a fire tower while snow is whipping at you in 50 mph wind gusts. Indeed the fleece works, I knew this already, The tower provides the viewer with 360 degree views of the central Catskills, the clouds obstructed much but too my joy I could see the bands of whirling snow wherever the snow bands were located. This was rather interesting to watch as snow approached me and then eventually placed itself on top of me. The cold wind forced me off the tower and eventually back to my car. Quite a refreshing little hike I may say.